Saturday, February 20, 2010

Filthy Water Cannot Be Washed - My long association with water - 2/20/10

There is no predicting where inspirations to write will come from. To be honest, they come often, but I am basically too lazy to transliterate from a thought to the written word. Today, I had a fusillade of motivation, possibly drug induced.

My weight-loss program includes consuming copious amounts of water. As I was retrieving a bottle of Kirkland (Costco) “Spring” Water from the refrigerator this morning, words from a Kipling poem echoed in my mind. The synapses of my aging mind are puzzling. I usually can’t recall what I ate for lunch yesterday, but I can rote recite a poem I memorized nearly fifty years ago:

“It was crawlin’ and it stunk, but of all the drinks I’ve drunk, I’m thankful for that one from Gunga Din.”

While walking squirrel patrol with Skooter this morning, some anecdotes about my association with water came to life:

When I was growing up in northern Idaho, I didn’t know much about water and I don’t think my dad did either. Whether our water was hard or soft was not an issue to my dad. All that mattered to him was that the water was wet and mostly translucent. I can remember television commercials for a water softener, “Hey Culligan Man,” but I had no idea what they were yelling about.

Dad had more important issues than the PH of our water. Ours came out of our faucet ice cold, even in summer, and that was all that mattered. I had never heard of keeping water in the refrigerator until I ventured south. In the winter, we often had to leave the water running in the faucets to keep the pipes from freezing. In spite of that, I can remember dad crawling under the house during particularly extreme winters with a propane torch, thawing frozen pipes. I know that water was never a particularly important issue during my upbringing. It was taken for granted.

Dad died before bottled water became widely available in the 90s, but I know he would have laughed at the concept of buying water. What emitted from the sink would have always been sufficient for him. I found out later that the water of my childhood contained more heavy metals than a Monsters of Rock Concert.

When we lived in the Philippines, we lived on “the economy”. This means that our house was in the local village and not within the perimeter of Clark AB. Because the water that emitted from our spigot was roughly the same content as that of a bedpan, we lugged water in huge jugs (heh heh, I said huge jugs. Obscure Beavis and Butthead reference) from the supply at the base. We actually didn’t know for sure if base water was potable, but at least light passed through it. We did not have a water heater, so showering was a dodgy process, though the water coming out of the shower head was at a minimum, lukewarm. We heated it on the stove to bathe the kids. Again, whether the water was alkaline or acidic was of no consequence.

My first experience with really soft water was in Scotland. I got into the shower and poured my usual dollop of shampoo into my hand. When I applied it to my hair, it literally exploded into lather. It seemed there was no end to the foam. Had I been an 80s hair band, and assuming they actually washed their hair, there would have been sufficient suds for band, groupies, and roadies. But the major problem was during the rinsing process. I could not rinse the shampoo from my hair. Since Scottish water heaters have roughly the capacity of a Mr. Coffee (do those still exist?), I was soon both soapy and freezing. I quickly learned that in Scotland, a bottle of shampoo can age like single malt scotch.

Shortly after my Air Force retirement I worked for the Wyoming State Engineer. That office controlled the rights for all usage of both ground and surface water. Water is a precious commodity in the semi-desert climate of the high plains. Range wars have been fought over it and there has been an ongoing lawsuit for decades between Wyoming and Nebraska over usage of the Platte River, which flows through both states. Permits were required for any water consumption. One of my responsibilities was the processing of well permit applications. One of the requests that came across my desk was from a resident of Jackson Hole who wished to drill a well on his property. The name on the form was Harrison Ford. I think everyone in the office ended up with a copy of that signed document.

My sister’s family lives in rural southeastern Georgia. They get their water from a well and it has extremely high sulfur content and emits a fragrance somewhat like rotten eggs, and sometimes comes out of the tap opaque. It causes you to come out of a bath more offensive smelling than you went in. Sulphur water is therapeutic at a spa, but makes crappy sweet tea.

I have had to learn to like water. Until December 1, 2009, when my efforts at weight-loss began, when I was "swinging on the refrigerator door" (mom's words), water would not have been one of my druthers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center - 2/1/10

I am a disabled veteran. I was not disabled by enemy or friendly fire, shrapnel, or any other wartime peril. My disabilities come from playing sports, overindulging in nearly everything I have ever indulged in, and listening to AC/DC at an extremely high volume setting. But since I spent 20 years making myself available for armed conflict, I am eligible for Veteran’s Administration (VA) benefits, such as they are. This is because most of the events that have resulted in me being in the condition I am in occurred when I was on active duty. On active duty, in this case, meaning enlisted in the air force.

The extent of my disability was determined by comparing the condition I was in during my induction physical in 1972 with the state I was in upon retirement in 1992. According to the VA, I am only 70% of the man I was at 19 (who isn’t). If I could get a psychiatric team to follow me around for a few days, they would up that 30% disability significantly. But the 30% gives me full medical benefits, such as they are.

Today, I traveled to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston on board the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) van. I am entitled to ride the nearly 200 mile round-trip in the DAV van as part of the prize package from being disabled. It departs Myrtle Beach at 5AM and returns after the last rider’s appointment. Skooter hates being walked at 4AM nearly as much as I despise walking him at that profane hour. But the trip is free and free is good.

Today’s journey was for a routine CT scan of my lungs. Though I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, it seems I have what are called nodules festering one of my lungs. Growing up breathing air toxic with lead/silver refinery emissions combined with 20 years of inhaling jet engine exhaust may have contributed. Scanning my chest regularly inspects for any change in the nodules which could mean T-R-O-U-B-L-E . So far, they are just perched there to annoy me. On the plus side, this procedure can cost up to $1,500 each time, in the real world. I get it free with your tax dollars. Thanks.

Each time I visit the VA hospital I am in awe of the parade of heroes that pass by while I am in the lobby waiting for the return trip. There is a plaque near the entryway that reads simply:

This could not be more true. So many have sacrificed so that we don’t have to. If you are not appreciative of this, you suck. The Charleston VA Medical Center is named for Medal of Honor recipient PFC Ralph H. Johnson. A memorial honoring him is near the entrance. I always take a moment to pay my respects when I walk in.

There are many volunteers throughout the facility that give their time as tribute to the champions who are treated there. A sweet lady named Helen dispenses coffee and pastries to those waiting for their prescriptions. The driver of the DAV van that brought me there is a volunteer as well.

Today, I was inspired to share these thoughts. I am going to try find more things to encourage me to write. No promises.