The Unremarked Lives.

Misty OutlineA day or so ago, someone commented on my post about my first surgery on this slab of meat that I inhabit. And they said, “One might call you generally unremarkable.” Taken out of context, that’s a bit of a slap. Taken in context, as it was done, was also a bit of a slap filled with assumption, but I gauged the intent otherwise and decided to interpret it as, “One might call your health generally unremarkable.”

But take a moment. Why would one have to dig into that? Because we all want to feel that we are remarkable in our own way. That somehow, we’re special.

I’m certain of who I am, and I’m certain that my life so far has not been like others, and I can say that with a grim authority that only I may have because I am special in my own right and, gentle reader, no matter how unremarked your life is, there is something remarkable about you – if even it is that, should you somehow be unremarkable, that you are remarkable.

To be unremarkable is certainly worthy of remark. There has to be something about cognitive dissonance regarding the uniformity vs. being special aspect of humanity.

While someone who doesn’t know you well could say that you have an unremarkable life, the reality is that they cannot tell because they have not seen any remark and thus have paid less attention to you – because that, too, is how it works. Popularity, a complex subject by itself, drives what people think is remarkable. If someone sings very well and sells their music, it doesn’t make them popular. Are they unremarkable? Or are they just unremarked? That a relatively small newspaper writes an article about you – let’s assume positively – means to that audience, you are considered remarked upon and therefore, possibly, remarkable. Possibly.

The harsh reality is that the vast majority of people live unremarked lives other than being statistics for revenue streams or votes, and the only reason that they are seen as remarkable is when they affect them. In social media, we call them social media influencers. This sounds like a really impressive thing to be because one who is an influencer and gets to find out can have all sorts of effect on society. They can convince people to drink Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana, or to work together for bettering something or the other in society. To be an influencer is to have a level of responsibility that, arguably, wiser people might avoid.

And so, the only truly unremarkable people in an age where social media has made it possible for everyone to shout or whisper, “Look at me!”, are those unremarked.

To be unremarked today is to be quite remarkable.

The Surgery

doctors-call-768It was planned, this surgery, and while the particulars aren’t important, I found the process worth writing about. After all, people poking about in one’s body has become remarkably commonplace in the last century.

No one holds the gas light anymore, since Nikola Tesla blessed us with alternating current and Edison takes credit for the light bulb. Centuries prior to that, bacteria was discovered by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in 1676. Robert Hooke who described the fruiting structures of molds in 1665, which also puts him in the running on that. We could go on and on about all the technology that brought us to modern medicine, and we probably should at some point though I leave it to the reader to affect their own diversion on this.

Suffice to say, medicine has come a long way, and as an old Navy Corpsman who had peered into the insides of others, I was well heeled for this. I went in at the appointed time, was promptly tested for Covid-19, the ever present reality of our time. I then found myself upstairs with a Cuban nurse who matter-of-factly told me I should take everything off and put on a gown, surgical slippers and a hairnet which I was told was for my hair – and I had to wonder where someone else had placed it in the past to create such a need.

A young man, 19 years old, was in line before me for the Surgeon, so I knew I would wait until he was off the assembly line. He looked calm up to I last saw him, but his calm was that of a bomb, appropriately scared of what would come next. At 49, with the life experience I had, I had an idea.

The anesthesiologist came in and saw him – quite clear and calm, hailing from India if I had to guess, brisk and efficient, which promoted confidence in me but not as much in the younger man as I heard his voice quiver with answers. He would not be getting the general anesthesia I would, and he had concerns that he felt he was being rushed through – but it was just the unfamiliarity of it all, I think. There is little that really prepares you for this sort of thing except actual experience, and mine was not that of being on the bed that much.

Myself? I have been poked, I have been prodded, I have been stitched and I have stitched, having performed minor surgeries myself in the Navy. Still, the mind wanders. I would not calm him with the history of why Surgeon’s are called ‘Mister’ in the UK, a history of the surgeons being that of butchers – really, butchers – that came in through the back door to homes to ply their trade. We are all simply slabs of meat made kinetic through ways we still do not fully understand. Admittedly, I am more marbled than I used to be, but this surgery would allow me to lean up again.

The anesthesiologist then visited me, a loud and clear voice, and we spoke at length about pain management, alternative pain management (he had just read a paper out of Jamaica on the use of marijuana for pain management, a topic we both warmed to), and I was comfortable with him as I was the surgeon who showed up not much later. 

The young man left for surgery, and I wish I had brought a book though I was not comfortable with the gown. I understood why I needed to wear it, but I did not like wearing it, but preferred an attempt at dignity provided rather than what I knew was coming.

Time passed.

I heard him come back and his discomfiture. The nurses had their hands full, he was panicked and possibly in pain and cold. I empathized knowing my time was coming, but with a bit more experience. I’d never worked the OR myself, only in emergency situations at that old Naval Hospital in Orlando, now a VA clinic. My experience was all about emergencies. It was not about the planning and hoops one must jump through for a planned surgery. He calmed, I suspect that they sedated him while piling a blanket on him.

Now they would be prepping the OR for me. It took an indeterminate amount of time – my timepieces were not with me, but it seemed long waiting and short in retrospect. And then I was wheeled off, an uncomfortable experience. And then the worn ceiling tiles made way for the solid ceiling of the OR, two lights above and I commented to the nurses and anesthesiologist and scrub nurses that they really had a nicer ceiling than elsewhere. We wrestled me over to the surgical table, parts of me helping and parts of me not for reasons I could not describe. I was told firmly that they would be doing everything and I should stop helping.

“I’m not used to that.”
“We know. But you have to let us do this.”, the Cuban nurse said.
“OK.”, I responded, sounding hollow. I do not like losing control. I do not like it at all, but I knew I had to, and thus… I tried.

The gas mask came down, “Breathe in deeply, then breathe out”. Simple instructions, easy enough, though the gas took me back to when I was a young boy – I knew the smell. It was the smell of the gas that a dentist once tried to use on me and failed – his mistake being telling me about pink elephants, which through power of suggestion, I saw. He and I did not know until then that I was not fond of pink elephants, trunk to tail, one baleful eye each staring at me as they slowly trudged.

I struggled, surprising myself. The anesthesiologist had it under control, “You are anxious. It’s ok. You know this, you can do this, breathe in and out.” Perfect. Had a dentist told me that 4 decades prior, I would not have reacted this way that time, but there it is. In, out. Deeply in, deeply out. Deeply in, deeply out. 

The recovery room. Surgery was over, I was awake and hooked up to monitors – my oxygen saturation was low 90s and high 80s, so I focused on my breathing through the remaining haze of the anesthesia. I needed to get that sat up. I could hear the young man going downstairs in the wheelchair. It had not taken that long, this surgery.

Within about 15 minutes of consciousness, my mind was clearing – I had latched onto my pulse oximetry as a thing to focus on and change, and change it I did – getting back up to the high 90s, then rewarded with the removal of all the equipment and the ability to get dressed – the nurse let me know that she could help. I dressed, practiced as someone who had pain but working through and around it. She was back within moments, I told her to come in – I was fully dressed.

And within another 10 minutes, I hopped in a friend’s car after following protocol to be wheeled down. That part was over.

Now, the recovery, which seems to be going well enough at this point. Everything works. Swelling is going down, and pink elephants no longer are an issue.

An End, a Beginning.

190791_5430910859_2445_nIt was strange when I revisited this image on Facebook. Everyone seems to like it. I’m not sure exactly why it is popular, but it is.

For me, now, I look back at this image and remember that day and what a confusing period of life it was, where I had simply decided to continue placing one foot in front of another for a while on paths that showed up if only so that I would keep moving.

It was taken at the first Mobile Active Convergence, in September of 2005. The links are all broken, the MobileActive.org site gone to the wayside with other internet detritus, the 1s and 0s being recycled to form other stuff that will later become detritus. It was a horrible event for me. Non stop. People who had more passion than ideas, I would reflect on later, as every little thing they were using mobile phones for was spun so positively yet I could see so many negative effects that would, later, rear their head through the use of the devices for bad things.

I did not fit in. It was a younger crowd – in the picture there, I’m just about to turn 34, and was taking a moment between assaults on my faculties by what I considered overly positive people with overly positive ideas that did not seem to account for the bad side of what their stuff could be used for. And I was becoming angry. Angrier, perhaps, because it was a constant barrage.

And then there was the backdrop. The BBC article on the Alert Retrieval Cache had come out that January, which should have been a good thing. Every time something happened around the world, I’d get contacted, and it was something that never get traction. The idea of text messages getting to the internet was so new that – get this – Twitter had not yet come into being (they showed up in March, 2006, over a year later after our work we were trying to give to NGOs for free). A quote from the article makes the point:

…But there’s still another challenge. You have to get people to know that the system is there for them to use.

“It’s amazing how difficult it is to find someone to pass it along to, and say, look this is what we’re trying to do and everything like that,” says Mr Rampersad. “So the big problem right now is the same problem we’re trying to solve – human communication.”…

I saw the MobileActive Convergence as a means to better make the idea visible for humanitarian reasons – a gift to the world, if you would, in my own naiveté. It was a year of naiveté, I would find later.

2005 Was A Crazy Year

I had spent most of 2005 living out of bags as I pinged about Latin America like a lost packet on the Internet, then editor of LinuxGazette.com which was at odds with LinuxGazette.org, Corporate Publishing vs. Community, and I found myself unwittingly smack dab in the middle of it, trying to broker peace between an angry community and an angry publisher so that we could move things forward. I was a believer at that point. I saw potential with everyone working together, but I had no idea of the animosity, even from one of the editor’s of SSC’s Linux Journal. You can read the sanitized version of how that Linux Gazette debacle ended on Wikipedia. It was not that clean, and at the time I had no idea of the USPTO stance as well.

So I worked myself out of a job, telling my boss Phil Hughes that the community was not interested in middle ground – given the temperaments of people on both sides of the fence, I can only imagine the history prior to me showing up thinking of rainbows and unicorns. It was an acid bath for me that lasted about a year.

The View The travel was good, though. I had started in Panama City, Panama, with my Spanish the failure that had simply progressed from Secondary School. So I had to learn Spanish, and the way I learned was not too different than the way people learn English in such conditions – and the people in Latin America, I was to find, were very helpful in this regard once they realized you authentically were trying. And I was.

Humility is getting a haircut when you can’t communicate in the same language as the barber, or ordering a sandwich when there’s nothing to point at. Necessity might be accused of being the mother of invention, but I found it to be the mother of learning. And so when I closed the loop after my travels and ended up in Panama City again, to house sit for friends who were attending a graduation of a daughter in Malta, I met some of the same people and one said that after all the months my Spanish was improved, but that I spoke with a Brazilian accent. I’d say that was progress. We laughed. We drank. We ate pizza with salami. My Spanish got better.

My most amusing anecdote out of that trip was being in Estelli, Nicaragua, and despite being warned by my then boss, Phil Hughes, I managed to break the carafe for the coffee maker and left early to see if I could find one in downtown Estelli. I wandered through the open market, from shop to shop, looking for one, until finally, exasperated in (of course) a coffee shop, I asked them what the word for carafe in Spanish was. Carafe. I asked for one at the first place I stopped, laughing, and I bought it for $10 US and happily returned to the home of Phil Hughes who had no problem telling me he had warned me about the carafe.

I saw so much country, and I did not stay in the tourist places. I made friends wherever I met, people who helped me out, whose couches I slept on. We talked about Linux, sure, that was part of the job, but I was enriched by a truly South American perspective of the world from gente real. That was good.

After closing the loop in Panama City, Phil let me know that I was no longer needed since LinuxGazette.com would no longer be around. I don’t know if he did hire me originally because he wanted it solved – I think in retrospect he just wanted to say he tried, which is fine, because I gained much out of the experience – even the bad parts of trying to find middle ground with the folks from LinuxGazette.org. I think some of them knew that I had really tried, but man, there were some nasty folks in there too who I wish no kindness upon. In all of their nastiness, I never once responded in kind. I unapologetically do not wish those people well, for they were intent on simply beating a whipping boy while I was there sincerely to try to get things to work. I do not wish them poorly. I simply do not wish them well.

And so, untethered, I found myself in Panama City with no real prospects for about a month, when suddenly I was being requested in Guyana to network St. Joseph Mercy Hospital since IBM wanted an unconscionable amount to do it. And so I went there to find out that the head IT person there at the time was completely against connecting the hospital because of nothing more than hubris. In the middle of dealing with that nonsense, my father passed away – August 5th, 2005, so I flew to Trinidad, cremated him, got angry with family who – within less than 24 hours- had emptied the house and picked all the avocadoes without waiting for me… but was patient. I even endured the Hindu rites and did them properly just to keep the peace, when peace was the furthest from my mind.

Then to Guyana again to network the hospital – we ran the cables for, literally, pizza, but these would later not be used because of their IT head who felt that the project had been ‘stolen’ from her.

Then along came MobileActive Convergence, and I thought, “I could really use a win now.”

190791_5430910859_2445_nIn this picture, oddly enough, I had begun accepting that there was no win for me there. That the world didn’t want things to be better, that people were petty and uninterested in the common good – they were interested in their own ideas gaining relevance even if they had not themselves been circumspect, and they were not open to constructive criticism to make their ideas better or, worse, to demonstrate the ideas were not good.

This is a picture of naiveté defeated, crushed into the dirt even before people abused even my name to make their projects look to be of worth. This is the picture of me realizing that the crabs in the barrel do not want to make the barrel a nicer place. They want to escape the tragedy of the world they see and will ignore reality to make that happen. This is me beginning to make peace with that before I turned 34, the beginning of a slow turn to who I am now.

The world did not beat me. I did not join it. I wasn’t myself crushed beneath the wheel, but I was changed and this picture, to me, shows the peace of that turning point.

I knew that guy. It’s a bit tragic he’s gone.