Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Another great day today. I feel better than I have in months. I haven't even had that overwhelming need for a nap when I get home that I have had since the beginning of school. I had just thought it was middle age running me over like a steamroller.
I talked over some changes in the multi-media class with Mr. Mitchell this afternoon and I am looking forward to implementing them during the second semester.
The students will all be writing daily blogs. It won't be total freedom for them, even though that would be nice. I will have their passwords in case anything needs to be edited to meet school standards. Plus, the students and their parents will have to sign a contract, agreeing to abide by the rules In addition to adding a writing component to that class, I also intend to add a reading component. The students will be required to read either two or three news stories per day, one of my choosing, the others of theirs, similar to the setup I had in the computer lab at Diamond Middle School for my reading skills class. Non-fiction reading is overlooked far too much by reading teachers. I also talked with Mr. Mitchell about ways we could eliminate the mechanical obstacles that have kept the South Middle School website from being operational. We did come up with some ideas. Hopefully, we can put them into action sometime near the beginning of the second semester.
I am also excited about teaching speech during the second semester. The best part about it is no textbooks. I will have to come up with my own material and I have always enjoyed doing that.
I have also been planning some changes for the communication arts classes. I plan to hit flea markets, used book shops, the internet, whatever it takes to get enough copies of "Portrait of Jennie" for my classes to read it for their novel. The book is short enough, yet it has that fantasy element that attracts young readers, plus I love it and there's a great movie to go with it (you know how much the kids love those black-and-white movies).
I also plan to work with the kids to try to get some of their writing published in some of the teen magazines and teen Internet sites.
Plus, I have been working on some methods of teaching grammar, sentence construction, etc., that won't bore the students stiff and will actually get them interested in those things. That may be one task I don't come close to pulling off, but I am looking forward to trying.
The assemblies will be coming fast and furious the remaining days this week at South. On Thursday, the choir will perform seventh hour, while on Friday, the Student Council will present toys to the Joplin Fire Department, which, in turn, will present them to needy children.
Tomorrow is the day of my checkup to see if there has been any slippage in my condition since my release from the hospital Saturday morning. I am scheduled to see Dr. Buchele at 10:45 a.m. I will be at South until about 10:20 or so, then I will return hopefully in about an hour and a half, in time for fifth hour. Other teachers are filling in for me during their free hours, which I greatly appreciate. Hopefully, I will be able to return the favor for them someday.
I received more good news over the weekend. Cait Purinton, who worked for me at The Carthage Press, right after she graduated from Lamar High School, became Mrs. Travis Day during a ceremony recently in Las Vegas. Cait was the youngest person to ever receive investigative reporting awards from the Kansas City Press Club and the Missouri Press Association while she worked at The Press. At the age of 18, she wrote a series of articles exposing wrongdoing at a Lamar nursing home. The series ended up in the closing of that nursing home, the criminal prosecution by the federal government of its owners, and changes in the the way the Missouri Division of Aging operates its inspections. I was so proud of Cait. After her graduation from the Kansas State University School of Journalism, she worked two years for The Kansas City Star, but the position she had there was one at one of their regional outposts and offered no benefits. She now works as a reporter for The Topeka Capitol-Journal, an excellent newspaper.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The near-death experience that caused me to miss my first day of work in 26 years

The streak is over.

After nearly 26 1/2 years of never missing a day of work, I took a sick day Friday. As it turns out, if I hadn't, my streak probably would not have lasted much longer any way...I would have been dead in a few more days.

It's a scary thing to be in a hospital room, hear a nurse answer her cell phone and tell the caller that someone else will have to take care of the problem. "This patient has priority."

As those of you read this blog (both of you, three of you?) are aware, I have been under the weather recently. Several weeks ago, I began having problems climbing the steps to my apartment. When I reached the top, I was totally out of breath. I had to nearly crawl to my bed and just lie down for 15 to 20 minutes until I had the strength to get back up again.

This didn't bode well for South Middle School, since I teach upstairs first and second hours, downstairs third and fourth hours, then upstairs again fifth and sixth hours. When school resumed after the holiday, I found myself having to stop every two or three steps to rest up before I could keep going. I also had other symptoms which I associated with the flu, even though I had taken my flu shot last month.

My principal, Ron Mitchell, told me a number of times I needed to call a doctor. At first, I foolishly resisted, but I called the St. John's Clinic and made an appointment two weeks ago. The soonest they could fit me in was 10 days later. Meanwhile, I continued to get worse.

Nevertheless I kept getting up every morning a little after 5, brushing my teeth, taking a shower and shaving, then lying back down for about 20 minutes because I was totally worn out from those innocuous activities. Then I would drive to school and somehow make it through the day.

As soon as I could when school was over, I would drive home and then crash until the next morning, then begin the cycle all over again.

Finally, last Wednesday night, I began to feel a little better. I felt almost normal Thursday. I left school early for my appointment. I arrived 20 minutes early, filled out the paperwork, then waited for more than an hour. Finally, I was called in.

It turned out the doctor I had made the appointment with was Dr. Dailey, the father of my former Diamond student, Bryce Dailey. The first thing he and the nurse did was to take blood, then I had to go through some other routine tests.

When my blood tests returned, Dr. Dailey said he had some bad news. I never would have guessed how bad that news was going to be.

A normal hemiglobin (red blood cell) count is 12. The test showed my count was 3. In other words, somehow I was walking around with 75 percent of my blood missing. (No wonder so many people kept telling me how pale I looked.)

Dr. Dailey said there could be no delay. I would have to be admitted to the hospital...and there was no way he was going to let me drive myself over there in my condition. So a few moments later, the doctor himself drove me to St. John's, where I was immediately admitted and given a room in the oncology unit.

Within a couple of hours, the blood transfusions began (thank God for all of those people who donate blood). By the time the transfusions were finished in the wee hours Saturday morning, I had received 10 units of fresh O negative blood.

Of course, replacing the blood was only part of the problem. The major concern was the cause of this massive loss of blood. On Friday, I underwent all kinds of tests. The one thing they all seemed to agree on, was that there was no way I should have been functioning, much less driving to Joplin and back and putting in a full day of teaching every day. There was some wonder that I was even still with the living (though apparently not by much).

After undergoing two probes Friday, the doctors did find a small polyp in my colon and another in the upper regions of my body, biopsied them, but did not seem to think that either of them posed a problem.

I did not have colon cancer, which they had feared (even though I do plan on keeping my fingers crossed about those polyps). I did not have any kind of silent ulcer.

The only source they could find for the bleeding...and Lord knows I absolutely hate to admit this...was hemorrhoids. So once I had all my new blood and was released from the hospital late Saturday morning, I picked up a number of prescriptions at the Wal-Mart Supercenter Pharmacy and I am planning to follow the doctors' instructions to the letter. I have a checkup set for 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Fortunately, my friends and family will never have to say, "He'd still be showing up for work every day, but those darned hemorrhoids put him in his grave."

Thanks also to everyone at South who wished me well and sent a nice balloon bouquet to my hospital room. Those people, especially Mr. Mitchell, probably saved my life by continuing to encourage me to call a doctor. And by the way, I feel great now, probably for the first time this semester.