Tuesday, August 18, 2015


(Click photos to enlarge.)

(Yes, we will have words here again one of these days.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Big Plans for Tomorrow

I recently determined that something had to leave my schedule—every second seemed allocated to something or other—and so, with regret, have ceased to be a Laguna Honda volunteer.

During my months of going there, I always started by visiting two residents who were formerly guests of the soup kitchen. I never knew them there, but the soup kitchen’s director told me about them.

M. was usually lounging on his bed with the TV on, wearing a half-smile as he announced, “I’m getting out of here tomorrow!” In the beginning I would say “See you next week” when I left, but finally learned not to, as he always answered, “Won’t be here!” After that I said, “I’m lucky I caught you before you left.”

I liked to ask what he planned to do after he got out. The first time, he said, “Get drunk!”

“What are you going to do after that?”

“Get laid!”

“Sounds like it’s going to be a wonderful day!”

Sometimes his answer was, “Go see [the soup kitchen’s director]!” or “Have a cheeseburger!”

The last time I visited him, he said he was planning to get drunk and then “find a woman.”

“Where do you find a woman?”

“At the bar!”

“Oh, so you can do both things at the same place. What’s your favorite bar?”

“One that’s open!”

M. once pointed out a framed photo of himself with the Dalai Lama, from when the latter visited the soup kitchen several years ago. That was the only observable photograph in his room.

N., the other fellow, I think must have had a stroke, as he really can only make the sound “Uh.” Consequently, our visits usually weren’t very long. His dog is being cared for by another guest at the soup kitchen, but the couple of times I said, “So-and-so is taking good care of Annabel,” it didn’t seem to mean anything to him, though by then I had figured out he could understand me perfectly. At first I (stupidly) assumed that because I couldn’t understand what he was saying, he couldn’t understand what I was saying.

Once I realized the incomprehension didn’t go both ways, I started speaking to him more normally, and it seemed to me that, over the months, his speech improved a bit, or maybe I began to be able to tell one “Uh” from another. He was always lying in bed, staring at the TV, holding the nurse call device to his ear as if were a phone. There are a number of photos of friends, family members and animals in his room.

In my final weeks of volunteering, his face would light up when I arrived, and when I went into his room for my last visit, he put his hand on the cart next to his bed, but I couldn’t figure out what for. We had our usual type of exchange, with me talking and him saying “Uh.” However, his face was becoming increasingly animated and it really did seem as if we were somehow communicating better. I said, “It seems as if your speech is getting better. Does it seem that way to you?” and he nodded. After a short while, I got up to leave and he put his hand out on his cart and I realized he wanted me to take his hand. I took his hand and said, “How sweet! Thank you!” It really made my day. I will miss him and might go see both him and M. from time to time, though maybe neither will recognize me if I’m not there every week.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Narrator on Aerator

In recent months, the hot water coming out of my kitchen sink faucet began, at times, to be a very diminished flow which would persist for several days and then return to normal. More than once it returned to normal after I turned it off especially firmly, and when the plumber arrived, he suggested the hot water handle might just need a new washer, though he quickly caught himself and said a whole new faucet would be even better.

As with many things in life, I should have just left well enough alone, but after a while, I decided it would be good to at least try replacing the washer, which requires turning off the water to the entire building, because my hot water shutoff valve is cemented into the wall.

The plumber arrived and quickly convinced my building manager that, given the age of the equipment, a new faucet would be the best way to go. He went out to his truck to see what he might have available and installed a shiny new faucet. Cost: $600.

The new faucet turned out to differ from the old one in that the water emerges higher and much closer to the back edge of the sink. This meant that any time the water was on, there was a tremendous racket as the water fell from on high down to the surface of the sink—conversation proved to be a bit impaired—and it also meant that a vast amount of water was splashing onto the counter. Also, I was having to reach farther to get to the water. It was only a few inches’ difference, but I could feel the slight additional strain.

Over the course of a couple of months, I thought this over and solicited suggestions: Was there a more appropriate faucet out there somewhere? Could an S-shape piece be fashioned and fitted to the end of the spout so that the water came out farther forward and closer down? I discussed it with the building manager, assuring her I’d pay for any further work or parts.

A few weeks ago, when the plumber was in the building checking something in another unit, he stopped by and agreed the water comes out too high and too far back, but concluded that the real problem is that my sink is too shallow. What I needed was a much deeper sink, to reduce water splashing onto the counter. Or perhaps the real issue was the height at which the pipes come out of the wall, which, to be sure, is comically high. Therefore, he thought we might consider tearing the wall open and lowering the pipes, and I’m sure we would certainly consider that if we wanted to spend $5000, extrapolating from the cost of the new faucet.

Fortunately, after that I went on a walk with my walking friend and he suggested a flow restrictor to reduce the volume of water. I went over to Cole Hardware on 4th St. between Mission and Market and talked to David, who has helped me many times, and he sold me an aerator/sprayer with a swivel joint. It cost $7.60 and has completely solved the problem! The volume of water is less, so it’s not objectionably loud when it hits the sink, and the flow can be aimed forward, so it’s easier to reach and there’s much less water on the counter.

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


When I realized that Hammett’s usual cat sitter would not be able to apply his gel-based thyroid medication, it was just two weeks before I was scheduled to leave for a trip to Michigan. I went to Mission Pet Hospital and got a list of potential cat sitters, a few of whom are actual veterinary technicians there. I called a few of them. One person’s outgoing message consisted only of his or her last name, stated in a firm tone: “Smith!” I couldn’t tell from the name on the list or the voice on the phone what gender this person might be, but I left a message and Smith showed up, well ventilated with piercings and covered with tattoos, including a giant one across the front of her neck.

I fetched Hammett from his cozy bed in the closet and picked him up. He frantically pedaled all his arms and legs in the air: put me down, put me down! But when I did, he ran straight for Smith. He stopped about six feet from her, but then walked the rest of the way over to her and let her scratch his head, so Smith is our new cat sitter.

I went on my trip as scheduled and had a lovely time with Mom and Dad, and my sister, and friends Amy and Ginny. With both Ginny and Amy, I had a salmon burger at CafĂ© Zola. I also got together with my Uncle Rick, cousin Rick, and cousin Rick’s two boys, Ben and Luke, for dinner at Haab’s in Ypsilanti one rainy night. One day I told my father that my sister would be coming over shortly, and he said, “I’ve already heard about that, and don’t call me ‘Shortly.’”

When I got back to San Francisco, I found everything completely shipshape. Smith had even made notes for each day on how much Hammett had eaten, no doubt something she does in her work as a vet tech.

The gel has ended up working out great. He has barfed only twice since starting it, and his thyroid levels are nearly back to normal, with no sign of the kidney problems that can be masked by thyroid problems. (The kidneys can look perfectly fine, bloodwork-wise, until the thyroid is straightened out, and then it becomes clear that there is a problem.) The first time I applied the gel, it was a harrowing experience, but it got easier every time I did it, and he now sits serenely on my lap in the morning and evening to have one ear cleaned with a damp cotton ball and the gel applied to the other ear. After the gel, he gets a treat of two Pill Pockets, chicken in the morning and salmon in the evening. Once a week, I clean both ears with witch hazel.

I hope he’s gained back some of the weight he lost. He seems calmer and more robust, and that brief period in the morning when he was acting like a savage jungle beast has all but faded away. Over the past year, he would get extremely wound up when I was making the bed and bite and claw me. A time or two, he even sprang into the air as I walked through my apartment, trying to bring me down from an upright position! Evidently, it was all due to his thyroid levels being out of whack.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Blogger Narrowly Escapes Inflammatory Breast Cancer—This Time

Early in May, I woke up with a painful tubelike lump in one breast and that evening, before showering, I noticed there was an accompanying red streak about a quarter of an inch wide and three and a half inches long. I immediately called my breast cancer surgeon, and he called back within minutes (this was about 8 p.m.) and said to come in first thing the next morning. These symptoms pointed to two possible conditions: mastitis, a mammary gland infection which is not a big deal, or inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), which is always stage III or IV when diagnosed and fatal for most. It’s like what I had before—ductal carcinoma in situ—except no longer in situ.

When I saw my doctor the next morning, he said, “I don’t see how you could have cancer—you just had a clean mammogram four months ago,” but the Internet says that IBC is very aggressive and can easily get to a late stage between mammograms, unlike other forms of breast cancer, so that was not at all relieving. Regarding mastitis, the Internet says it is most commonly seen in nursing mothers and that it’s frequently accompanied by fever and chills. It’s often discovered when women seek medical treatment for what seems to be the flu. Figuring he would try the simplest thing first, my doctor prescribed antibiotics to be taken every six hours for a week. I asked how I could have gotten such an infection, if that’s what it was, and he said he didn’t know. He asked twice if I had fever or chills—flu-like symptoms—but I didn’t. I didn’t realize the significance of that until after I got home and performed more research, and then I was even more worried.

The antibiotic was Cephalexin, which I mention because, unlike other antibiotics I’ve been on over the years, it did not cause stomach upset or a yeast infection. The red streak got no worse and began to fade slowly, and the pain abated, but the lump actually became larger and rounder for a few days. However, I figured that if it was IBC, which does not respond to antibiotics, the redness would be getting worse. After several days, the lump also started to get smaller and, in the course of a couple of weeks, went away completely, so it was some kind of localized infection, thank goodness.