Crying Out in the Dark

If you took a Venn diagram of flu, cold, and covid symptoms, what I had would fit in all three but not exclusively in any of them. Looking over the common symptoms of the Omicron variant, it is pretty clear that is the version we had. While I don’t have a test to prove it definitively, we have some pretty solid contact tracing that proves our own diagnosis.

What has taken me mostly by surprise is how much this disease just refuses to let go. I’ve had the flu and cold before. With both, I’m usually back on the mend within a couple days. Covid, even this “milder” version, is very different. From Tuesday through Friday evening, there was just a steady decent. Even as I type this, I’m still fighting back nasal congestion and drainage and feel I’m likely two days away (at a minimum) from being back to normal.

However, from a mental perspective, last night was when I was at my lowest point. Keep in mind this disease had worn on me for several days already and it appeared I was making no progress. Yesterday evening, I spoke to my stepmom via text about how I was doing, and the conversation was as expected: she expressed her concern and gave general advice on how I need to take care of myself.

As the evening went on, I lost general interest in doing… anything. Even the routine laying on the couch and playing a mindless Xbox game seemed too mindless to me. I went to lay in bed and for the first time since her death a year ago, I had an unshakable urge to talk to my mother. I ultimately just laid there and spoke to God as I fell asleep.

Sometime during the night, with all the drainage and congestion it started to become a chore to breathe. Not that I was having trouble breathing; only that it was becoming a chore to breathe. If you have never been in that state, it is impossible to explain the experience to you. But if you have, then there is nothing further I need to say.

I was half asleep when our gas furnace kicked on and the usual initial sulfur-like smell exited from the vent. When it hit my nose, a great fear rose from within me. My spirit cried out, “Daddy!” and I wasn’t looking for my earthly father. I forced myself awake, cleared out my lungs, and said, “I have got to get through this.”

I got up for a few minutes to let the drainage work properly and reset my pillows. I then slept the rest of the night without issue.

This morning, I was able to get up and shake the collected sleep out of my system. I then curled up into the arms of my wife, who is a few days ahead of me on the recovery. I reminded myself that the whole “two become one” thing means we are in this together and also made a vow to try to stay on my feet all day.

This disease has been one crazy experience so far. I am grateful I was two-shot vaccinated and it hasn’t been any worse. But the experience of my soul crying out to God in a moment of absolute weakness shows that I need to do more crying out in moments of absolute strength.

A Christ Carol

As has been a mild Christmas tradition in my house recently, we came home from the church candlelight service and turned on the best Christmas movie ever made: Muppet Christmas Carol.

Stick with me because something about the movie struck me this evening. The story of Scrooge’s redemption parallels the experience of another rich man almost 2,000 years ago.

For those who wonder why I think Muppet Christmas Carol is the best Christmas movie of all time, give it a serious watch. It is extremely faithful to the source material, which itself is a literary classic. While engaging in usual Muppet antics, they never get in the way of Michael Caine delivering the definitive version of Scrooge.

Unlike the follow-up Muppet Treasure Island where a lot of the music and jokes feel a bit forced, Muppet Christmas Carol flows naturally from scene to scene with the Gonzo/Rizzo antics taking place at obvious breaks in the story where it makes sense to move things along (or break tension). The only misstep was the bizarre decision by Disney executives to remove the song where Scrooge loses his fiancé due to his love of money over her, despite the wishes of the entire Henson team.

As a reminder, Scrooge is an absolute pariah due to his love for money and his greed. As he gets ready to go to bed on Christmas Eve, irritated with a world that feels the need to throw its money away once a year, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Marley (and Marley in the Muppet version) who warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits to give him a chance to change his ways. Failure to do so will doom him to the chains currently imprisoning his old friend.

Scrooge with Marley (and Marley)

After visiting the past and present to see how Scrooge got to where he is now and to see how other people see him, he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. This Ghost not only shows Scrooge a future where Scrooge is dead and no one is sad about it other than those who can profit off his death, but also shows the death of Tiny Tim and the effect it has on his faithful assistant.

After vowing change, Scrooge wakes up the next morning a changed man. He begins using his money for good and makes Bob Cratchit his new partner. He makes massive donations to the poor and changes his business practices.

The Apostle Luke tells us of another rich pariah: the tax collector Zacchaeus. Like most Jewish tax collectors of the day, he sold out his people to collect taxes for the Romans. This action made him extremely rich but also extremely outcast. So much so that in order to even see the passing Jesus, he was forced to climb a tree.

Jesus was aware of this action and told the tax collector to climb down and invite Him to his home. What actually happened in that house is not documented in Luke’s account, but we do know what happened afterwards: Zacchaeus gave away half of his possessions and paid back four-fold to those he cheated.  

Imagine an experience so profound you change your entire behavior. In the great literary classic, it took three ghosts and a face-to-face recognition of how Scrooge had doomed himself. Zacchaeus simply needed to answer Jesus’s call to accept Him into his home.

I doubt Dickens had the Biblical account in mind when he wrote his tale, but it is an interesting parallel, nonetheless.

Now In Stereo

We take many things for granted. That goes without saying, too often. But a recent experience with a truck on a TV really brought that home and I did not have time to really dwell on it until recently.

Angela received her second Cochlear brand Cochler Implant in early December 2020. Just before Christmas, her new implant was turned on. But we really could not do anything with it just yet. She had to get used to it first.

In January 2021, they upped the volume and she saw her normal audiologist. This is the one that I must remind insurance companies to cover as she is literally the only person in the Southeast qualified to handle Angela’s condition. After that appointment, Angela returned home, and we set about setting up her Bluetooth TV streamer.

The Journey

Back in 1997, Angela received a Cochlear Implant in her right ear from Bionic Ear, now Advanced Bionics. At the time, it was essentially experimental technology just years after Angela’s mom was told there was nothing that could be done for her. So, the fact this device could be installed at all was seen as a minor miracle at the time.

What it allowed was the then 12-year-old to really start picking up the language more easily to the point that she has a Southern inflection if you really listen to her. I have often joked with her that the reason Alexa doesn’t listen to her is that Amazon didn’t exactly expect to have to deal with Southern Deaf. But in terms of her communication, she only received the implant in one ear and relies heavily on reading lips.

She only received the implant in one ear because the thinking at that time was to “save” the other ear for a better technology that was to come along.

Fast forward to 2017 and we are working to get Angela back to her regular audiology appointments that she needs to keep her hearing processor in proper programming. These appointments are required because the nature of Angela’s condition means the implants are never truly fixed. They require constant adjustment.

We were having to deal with the aforementioned insurance companies after the Affordable Care Act proved it wasn’t and wading through the mountain of paperwork it now took to get anything covered. In order to get Angela’s audiologist covered by insurance, she first needed a referral from a doctor who could state he was inept to provide the same service. This started a journey where we would go doctor to doctor. Not because they refused to help us, but because they couldn’t.

Angela’s condition is so rare and unique, no one in Montgomery would even bother. It was out of their league. So, we went back to a doctor in Birmingham we had seen before. Unfortunately, even he was unable to help as Angela’s condition was even beyond his skill. So, he referred her to an ear specialist who was at UAB at the time.

This doctor ended up flipping the script on us. Rather than us looking for a referral to her audiologist so Angela could get her then 20-year-old implant tuned, he asked if she thought about upgrading it.

This took us aback. She had never considered it. Up to this point, no one would even touch her! Not only that, but he also said she was eligible for implantation on the other side! Angela had only had hearing on her right side for twenty years and now the doctor was not only talking about upgrading it but allowing her to add the left side as well!

The medical thinking had changed in 20 years. It no longer made sense to “save” a good ear. “Use or lose” works for all aspects of your brain. So, we had a decision to make. We simply wanted a tune-up. Now we were talking a full replacement.

 What is it?

There are better guides than this, but what a Cochlear Implant entails is putting a wire with a series of electrodes on one end within the cochlea of the ear. The other end has a magnet and an induction receiver that is then implanted under the scalp.

Angela then wears an external processor that is held in place by the magnet and gravity. Sound is picked up by a microphone and converted into an electrical signal. That signal is then sent down that wire into her cochlea where the electrodes generate electrical impulses. Those impulses are then translated as sound by the brain.

The number of electrodes determine the frequency range of the implants and the volume is handled by increasing the voltage. Sound bypasses the ear canal completely. To upgrade from her 1997 model to her 2017 model was the equivalent of upgrading from an AM radio to a digital Dolby surround system. That is the change in technology we are talking about. The number of electrodes grew exponentially.

The new ones

As we came to the decision, we decided to get the new implant before we replaced the old one. Our thinking was simple: let her get used to the new one while she still has the old one to fall back on rather than completely take away all her hearing for a period of time. The doctor and her parents agreed that was a good plan.

The first surgery ended up being more eventful than it should have been. While wrapping up an otherwise routine implantation, the assistant to the surgeon noticed Angela had a rash on her leg and immediately realized what was going on. Angela was having an anaphylactic reaction to the bacitracin they used to sterilize the implant and implant site. They ended up having to intubate and resuscitate her but saved her life.

After a few nights in the ICU, Angela was able to go home. A month later, she shed several tears as she heard out of the left side of her head for the first time since what little hearing she ever had there disappeared as a child.

Turning on the left side for the first time.

After a series of tests to positively narrow down what Angela was (and was not) allergic to, and after another round of dealing with “improved access to healthcare” thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we finally got Angela’s second implant installed, replacing the original 1997 model two years after the first surgery. This surgery was far less eventful, and the surgeon even waited until Angela was awake before coming to see me. The hospital staff were made well aware of the last surgery and all made it their personal mission to make sure Angela walked into my car that evening.

A new world

Now in January 2021, Angela now has both processors turned on and I spend an hour dealing with the weird user interface provided by the Cochlear company to get Angela’s TV streamer working. To test it, I went into the Disney+ app and picked a random movie on the front screen, which oddly enough ended up being a Fox movie.

The movie starts with a truck entering the frame from the left and driving to the right as the camera pans to follow. After about ten seconds, I press pause and ask Angela if it sounds okay because I obviously cannot hear what she is hearing. She looked at me concerned and said, “the truck sound started on the left and then moved to the right and then the sound matched on the next scene.”

Watch out!

I grinned a little as I realized why she said that. At 35 years old, she had never heard stereo sound in a movie before! Since she received her second implant in 2018, she could hear the speakers in both ears and there is some help in terms of localizing sounds, but the external mics on her processors do not have the kind of nuance that our ears have. It was not until I set up a direct Bluetooth connection directly to both of her implants that she and I realized what she had been missing all these years.

Taking for granted

I always took that level of detail for granted. I knew I could hear better than her; that was always a given. In fact, Angela sometimes talks at a volume that makes me think she forgets my hearing is fine. But when I ran the audio for the video stream at FBC Huntsville, I would mix it so that the various instruments would sound like the were in the middle of the sound stage if you were watching with headphones. Even if you weren’t in the room, I wanted you to feel like you were. Up until January of this year, Angela would have never been able to enjoy that experience.

We still have our struggles. The new technologies simply fill a gap. We still watch TV with captions, and I still have to repeat myself if I’m talking to her and she can’t see my face, even when she has both processors on. And I still handle most official phone conversations for her.

But for me, of this entire adventure, the one thing that I will remember most will be that truck driving across the screen and being there as she experienced that for the first time. Unlike when she received her second implant, there were no tears. But the look of wonder was something I will never forget.

Wrapped in a Blanket

My heart has ached for weeks. No news has turned into bad news. Now, I face the real possibility of losing my mother in the near future. I’m not sure my siblings could tell how anguished I was on the phone or if my professionalism simply hid it. But inside, I’m tearing apart. I want her to be healed but not if it comes with suffering. My prayer has simply become for God to do His will… expediently.

We were not actually supposed to be at church early this morning. Angela just had cochlear implant surgery three days ago. It was the grace of God and the Holy Spirit she felt like getting out of the house. But Angela, Jonathan, and I were in the sanctuary when I heard the worship team practicing “Who Would Have Dreamed.”

It stuck with me. I’m not sure why, but I feel a peaceful vulnerability when I hear it, despite it being a six-year-old song. Maybe it is because its words reflect the vulnerability God took on and the promise it foretold.

The creator of the universe could be held in the hands of His creation. God subjected Himself to the death we dread because it was the only way to defeat it. It also reminds me to be at peace for nothing is a surprise to Yahweh.

He knew what I needed and made sure I was there to get it.

I searched the internet for a version to wrap up in like a blanket as I come to terms with where my life is. When all was said and done, it was this version I liked the most. Performed on December 8, 2019, at First Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama, the simple duet of two exceptionally talented people with just a simple guitar is what my spirit needed.

Who Would Have Dreamed – Performed by Meagan Anderson (ft. Carter Reeves).

On a starlit hillside, shepherds watched their sheep
Slowly, David’s city drifted off to sleep
But to this little town of no great renown
The Lord had a promise to keep

Prophets had foretold it, a mighty King would come
Long awaited Ruler, God’s Anointed One
But the Sovereign of all looked helpless and small
As God gave the world His own Son

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan

To save the world

Wondrous gift of heaven: the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse
So we can be daughters and sons

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan

To save the world

To save the world

“Who Would Have Dreamed” Words by Jason Hansen and Bob Kauflin

Grace in the Storm

As we came out of my son’s bedroom closet after we got the all clear from the weather service, I figured most of the action was over. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. While the action was over for us personally, my weather alarm would go off one more time as the storm system that prompted our initial trip to my son’s closet would spin up the tornado that would ultimately hit Wetumpka.

As I looked at the pictures of the devastation, my heart sank. Such beautiful buildings lost. Such history destroyed. But through it all, I took comfort in the fact that no one was killed and the injuries appeared light. This tornado could have been much worse. The people of Wetumpka had plenty of warning and it appears most headed them.

However, due to my heartbreak over the loss of those beautiful, historical churches, I’m ashamed to admit that a part of me wished it would have hit that stupid casino further south. But unlike the churches it demolished on a Saturday afternoon, the casino would have been full of people. The death toll could have been devastating.

Alternatively, if the tornado had gone to the north, it would have taken out the state’s women’s prison. A facility that also would have suffered multiple deaths with a direct hit by what has been ruled a large EF-2 tornado. Despite holding some dangerous killers, those women don’t deserve death in that manner.

This tornado showed us God’s grace. I oppose casinos, but as a Christian I should be reaching out to those who put their faith in gambling. I oppose crime, but as a Christian I should be reaching out to those who have thrown their lives away by breaking the law. However, I can’t save the dead.

So, as weird as it may seem, the tornado hitting those historical churches was the best path for it. It ensured the safety of the people who need those very churches.

2018 Year in Review

As I have gotten older, I have realized one mistake we as a generation make is comparing ourselves to our parents as they stand now instead of comparing ourselves to where they were at this same point in their own lives. Looking around, I’d say I’m trending slightly better than where my dad was when he was my age and so I’d have to say I’m doing well.

I am 36 years old, which means I’ve hit 18 for the second time. To say I have learned more since graduating high school than before would be understating it. The change in 2018 alone would be enough to make my head spin. The year started out with me working as a business analyst, living in an apartment, two kids in public school, and a wife with a single, twenty year old old cochlear implant.

Career

As a male, it is no surprise I find a great deal of my identity from my career. That’s not a criticism or a statement about our culture. It is simply a recognition that God gave man a desire to be productive and our careers are a function of that.

Sign outside the office

As a business analyst at DXC Technology in Montgomery, Alabama, I was responsible for maintaining the document database subsystem. It was a little outside the normal role of what DXC usually requires for their BAs, but it was one I enjoyed. In addition, it came with a ton of paid overtime. My boss recognized that the role was more suited for systems engineers and decided to move me into that role instead.

However, in 2017, I had finished my Masters in Information Systems Management and I had a desire to put that degree to use. When an opportunity came open for me to apply for a project management role within the same office, I let my boss know I was interested. In October, I started transitioning over into the role and in November, the role became official.

That is not to say it was not a rocky start. I jumped right on a project that was running a tad tight on its deadline and there were concerns about having all the required approvals on time. However, everything worked out. I learned a lot and I think I am going to enjoy this new position.

Home

In 2017, we had tried to buy a home but a technicality kept that from happening. While the details of why that occurred is not important, it resulted in us looking again in 2018. This time we took a different approach. We found a new neighborhood that had new construction homes. Located on the northern end of Prattville, the homes are built, contract to close, in about four months. We signed the contract on April 4 and moved in August 3.

Bell Ridge … What I’m currently calling it.

It is a beautiful home with an open floorplan that is perfectly sized for what we want. It is 2,000 sq. ft. as anything bigger would be too much for our family of four. We have two kids at 10 and 9 and they either will be in college or gainfully employed in nine years anyway. Therefore, there is no need for any more room.

With four total bedrooms, I have a dedicated office for the days I work from home and AT&T fiber gives us 1-gigabit download speeds with no data caps. Gas heat and a tankless water heater gives us luxuries we have never had before and we have been a bit spoiled. The garage gives us room to store our popup camper while we decide its fate. The yard is spacious enough but not too large. Which is fine by me, as I hate mowing anyway.

School

As we moved to Prattville, we made the decision that time was right to start homeschooling. While we personally know teachers that we love and respect, the cultures of the public schools themselves were no longer acceptable. Part of this is in part the result of administrators who no longer stick with the tried and true methods of teaching while utilizing suspect resources that result in me telling my fourth grader I work at an actual IT company and I don’t care what her little handout says.

Lincoln’s hat

On the other hand, I believe a major part of the culture problem at public schools are the parents of the other students. Those parents are either so committed to the idea their kids are infallible that the schools have to adopt a policy of universal achievement that nothing is actually learned or those parents are completely not involved and the schools are nothing more than glorified daycare centers.

Schools have to take on so much of the personal development of the students that time is wasted and with the student to teacher ratio continuing to climb, teachers are spread too thin. While I am no child education expert, I just felt that there was a better method. I know personally that I got bored when I was in school being one of the smarter people in class and it, paradoxically, lead to poorer grades.

Private schools end up with better academic achievements because that what parents end up paying out of pocket to get and the teacher to student ratios are smaller. However, private schools were just too expensive for us to pursue and so we went the homeschooling route. We have had a few growing pains, but I think we are starting to get a strategy lined up.

Hearing

What started as a way to get our insurance to cover Angela’s out of network audiology appointments turned into an accidental adventure. During the process, we learned that her non-implanted ear was eligible for cochlear implantation. In fact, it was highly encouraged as the medical science and opinions over the last 20 years had changed. A CT scan and a chewed up deductible later, we decided to pull the trigger and set a surgery date.

Programming the processor

The surgery itself was successful as the doctor was very pleased with how the implant went in. The nerve to the cochlea looked good and the coil on the implant went exactly where he wanted it. The surgical site has healed nicely and compared to her surgery in 1997, this one was minimally invasive.

It was not until after they wrapped up the surgery that things went wrong. Angela had an anaphylactic reaction to what is currently suspected to be the antiseptic they used to store the implant and clean the surgical site. Fortunately, she was still in the operating room at the time and they were able to save her life. If she had been anywhere else, the results could have been deadly. She has an appointment with an allergist in early January to get a definitive answer on the cause.

A month after the surgery, she got her new Cochlear processor turned on. She is still learning to hear with it but is getting more confident with it every day. She enjoys listening to videos over the Bluetooth streaming directly into her brain, something of which I am a little jealous.

Other Events

Of course, we did other things throughout the year.

In February, I went backpacking and realized my mistake doing that. I will likely never be invited again and I am fine with that. Scouts will likely give me more than enough of that than I can handle anyway.

In June, the kids went to DC for a few weeks to visit their aunt and uncle. Jonathan, a bit of a history buff at the moment, really enjoyed the trip and made it a personal mission to see Abraham Lincoln’s hat. Something, I am happy to say, he was able to see. I really enjoyed the tour of the Pentagon by Angela’s brother and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was deeply moving.

We. Have. Made. Fire.

In August, Rebekah joined her brother in Cub Scouts. She was well received and he joined the group feet first. This coming year, we will start a new girl troop under the Scouts BSA umbrella with the intent of going to Summer Camp in June. Lots of details to work out, but hopefully everything will work out. I will say that much of the public outcry against the Boy Scouts of late has been overblown. Criticisms by people who have no experience with the organization who have no do not know what they are talking about.

In November, Jonathan went squirrel hunting for the first time. However, he only saw one squirrel be harvested. It rained the entire time. It has been a rather wet fall and winter by Alabama standards. Since October, I have not had to run the sprinklers on my new lawn because it has stayed wet.

Jones Squirrel Hunt 2018 for the ten seconds it wasn’t raining

Looking ahead

What does this last year of the decade hold? Well, I do know we plan to move towards getting Angela’s older cochlear implant replaced. We also plan to shore up our finances since we did buy a house last year and Angela’s medical expenses did take a chunk out of our wallets. I do not think much movement will happen in terms of my career this year.

I plan to let my weight continue to drop. A medicine I have been put on has caused my appetite to be destroyed. I have lost ten pounds over the last month but I think I will wait until around August before I complain about it. Even then, I will still likely meet paper definition of overweight.

As I mentioned above, I plan to help start up a Scouts BSA troop for girls in Prattville. We think we have enough interested girls to get it going so that we can get into summer camp in June. We just need five girls and I know of three solid. As those girls share the details of what they do, I am confident we can get some more. Getting parental buy-in will be huge.

As for the kids, we will stay the course with homeschool for the rest of the spring and try a new advanced curriculum this fall that will take the weight off Angela’s shoulders. Since we will not do that until August, we have time to prepare for it.

As I hit 37 this year, I will make sure I keep my perspective and remember that I do not need to beat my dad today. I just need to beat his 1991.

Head in the Clouds

A couple of weeks ago the VA realized they were double-medicating me and had me stop taking the antidepressants they prescribed me for nerve pain. The medicine I take for tremors also treats nerve pain and so the antidepressant was unnecessary.

The problem with stopping antidepressants are the severe withdrawal symptoms. I suffered from dizziness, fuzziness, and an overall “drunk” feeling that persisted. I also was very sensitive to loud noises and even had to walk out of my brother-in-law’s “charismatic” church service because of how it was affecting me.

These are not unique. In trying to see whether I need to be concerned, I did a basic search online for the medicine I was on and one of the top results was a medical discussion about its withdrawal symptoms. It recommended not going cold-turkey and instead slowly backing off the medication.

I planned to do that, but I also read most people are over the withdrawal within two weeks. With a week already into it and me planning to take a week off to travel to DC, I decided to just dive in feet first. While it made for a very fuzzy DC trip, I wanted to be off it.

Finally, the withdrawal symptoms from coming off the antidepressant are starting to subside.

I am also noticing benefits of stopping the medication. My Fitbit is showing that my quality of sleep has increased, and I do not feel as drowsy as I used. Rather than looking for justification to work from home so I can take a nap or stay in bed, this past week I got up every day and went into the office like normal. My energy levels are up as well.

I am not a fan of mind-altering drugs. This is the second time a doctor prescribed me to one and the second time it has messed with me. The first was an anti-seizure medication to treat migraine. I am at the point now where I do not want a medication if it is designed to work on the head. I would rather deal with the occasional migraine than take anti-seizure meds. I would rather drink a glass of milk than take Ambien. And I would rather just deal with the nerve pain than take an antidepressant.

My suggestion: if you are prescribed antidepressants for anything other than depression, please ask your doctor if there is an alternative. There might not be, but it is better to take meds that do not mess with your head.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor and have no desire to be. If your doctor prescribed you an antidepressant for depression, DO NOT STOP TAKING IT!

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