I have had some decent success so far this January in getting out hiking; the month is not yet quite half over and I have gotten out three times for 28.5 miles so far. I only got out once in January of last year, and not at all in February, so… a good start!
We are currently at the trailing end of another massive storm – wind and rain once again. And again, a lot of branches down, but nothing major, and the back yard is almost half underwater. A decade or so ago, these last two storms would likely have been all snow, which would have been crazy; not commenting on the climate here, just giving thanks that it is the warmest January I have seen in my entire lifetime.
I finally have my appointment for my MRI – a week from today. I am not nervous about it in the least, but am not looking forward to it, mostly because it is scheduled for 8AM – on a Sunday. Yuck!! I need to get up around 5:30AM to prepare and all that fun stuff, without food or drink, although that won’t be a big problem for me. I need a light diet all day beforehand, meaning mainly just soup, so I will be primed for going out to eat Sunday night!
I have finally succumbed to my doctor’s insistence that my “high” blood pressure is not “white coat” syndrome and needs to be addressed. I am already on a BP medication but it is the lowest dosage made. I generally resist medications, and while on this one, I shunned the idea of a dosage increase for a long time. None the less, I have acquiesced and have started on the higher dosage; and aside from some lightheadedness the first day or two, no real complaints of side effects. It seems to helping as some of my readings have been the lowest I have ever seen come from my body; especially the lower number – the diastolic.
Like everything else it sometimes seems, they keep changing the rules for blood pressure. It used to be 120/80 was the gold standard. Now they say if your readings are below 120 and below 80, your BP is normal, and 120/80 is now considered “elevated”. They also used to claim that the diastolic – the pressure of your heart at rest – was the critical value, but now they say the systolic – the pressure while your heart is pumping – is the better indicator of potential problems.
Ultimately, we all die – that is a lesson learned early on in life. Great gifts often are accompanied by great cost. The gift of life is absolutely the greatest gift one can or will ever receive, but the price is our own mortality – we all die. A fact that is undeniable, unchangeable, and unescapable. I think of a line from Julius Caesar that I learned (through memorization) so many years ago…perhaps 6th grade?
“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
the valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the winders that have yet seen and heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
will come when it will come.”
That was Caesar to Calpurnia in Shakespeare’s play: “Julius Caesar”. I do not recall why I needed to memorize that line – it was not like I was in the play! But for whatever reason my teacher had, I am thankful for it has resided for well over 50 years, like a bumper sticker on my brain. The point is obviously that we all die. And beyond that, don’t live in fear of dying, for it will come at its time and there is nothing to be gained by living your life in fear of that moment.
I have been in a rather large number of moments where death could have been imminent. I have no idea because I’ve never asked anyone, but I assume this is fairly normal (especially for a male). I recently read one of those sayings/quotes that show up on Facebook by the thousands in one’s daily feed; you know the ones, fancy forceful font on a dramatic picture background. This one was along the lines of “you never know how many times you were just two seconds away from death” or something similar.
It immediately brought me back to a post “The Songs of Chance” from February 2018. It dealt with the chance encounters that did, or did not, occur. The red light we caught that delayed our drive by 30 seconds and saved our life by making us miss an incident that would have killed us – that sort of thing. The message of being just two seconds from death is cut of wood from the sane tree. And it got me thinking of all the times I really was two seconds away that I actually knew about. Without being morbid here, as I look back I think I should have died a number of times through my years; I know cats get nine lives, wonder what a Wolff gets?
I have only the dimmest memory (and faintest scars) from a fall at a very young age. I recall a split-level house with a driveway that curved around to a garage on the lower level in the back. There was, of course, a retaining wall with a one-story drop from the front yard to the driveway below in the back. I was, for some odd reason, in the front atop the wall, looking down to the driveway below where someone was throwing me a ball. The toss was short and away from me so I leaned for it and fell to the driveway below. Bear in mind I said the dimmest of memories; I do recall the scene and I do recall leaning to catch it, but I do not recall the fall, the landing, or anything resulting. I know that I hurt my chin and there are still faint scars that appear, at least to me, as if I had landed on gravel just like a driveway. And I vaguely recall having a ridiculous bandage on my chin – like a big white half a ball stuck on it. I’ve asked a couple of times and only one relative basically confirmed the incident, but without much added detail to offer. I assume because it wasn’t that big a deal in that I apparently wasn’t hurt too badly – maybe just the scraped up chin. And I intuitively know that this happened extremely close to my mother’s death, either just before or just after, so that may have had an effect on who remembered this incident. That was the first close call I have memory of and while there was no bad of lasting result, one has to assume that a twist or turn one way or the other and I could have fractured my skull or broken my neck.
Another faint memory was of falling off a porch into a bunch of shrubs. There was a bee’s nest in one of the shrubs and I was stung from head to toe. Another one that is really faint, but was confirmed to me when I asked about it. It happened shortly after we lost mom and I was at a relative’s house. Happily, we found out that day that I am not allergic to bee stings, not even a hundred of them! But still a close call.
It gets harder from here, believe it or not, to figure out what to list and what to ignore. I know that seems weird since the first two were my oldest barely conscious memories and the newer ones should be fresh in the mind but the reality is that I did a lot of stupid stuff and I can’t remember all of it! In addition, I had a long, long list of close calls in my 44 years of shipbuilding and it is hard to pick the right ones to include here.
This particular moment is high on the list of things that causes young boys to be considered stupid and reckless. I was maybe 12 or so and we had just gotten buried in a couple feet of snow from a storm. We were all out playing in the snow in the neighborhood when the plows showed up. I was mesmerized by the huge wave of snow coming off the plow blade – all I could think of was the waves at the beach. So I decided I needed (yes, “needed”) to somehow bodysurf that wave of snow. I crouched down and hid behind a snowbank on the side of the road and waited for the fast-approaching plow. When it was just about upon my spot, I jumped up…and was immediately hit with a couple of tons of wet slushy snow, ice, and road salt and gravel. The sheer impact alone threw me at least 15’ and then instantly buried me. I was as immobile as I’ve ever been or ever care to be again; couldn’t move a muscle. Couldn’t breathe so well either. Luckily, my friends saw the whole thing and came running over and dug me out. Forrest was right: stupid is as stupid does. I was, and am, fully aware that I was stupidly close to dying that day.
I guess the next one is one I’ve written about here – falling through the ice. To recap, it was nighttime and while I had friends on the ice, when I went through, I was alone at the back end of the pond in sort of a cove, very much out of sight and away from the dock, the lights, and the others. I struggled several times to get myself onto the ice but it was too slippery and anytime I began to get close to reaching the “pivot point” (where the hips are the fulcrum), the thin ice would break again. Using an old swimming trick, I allowed myself to drop all the way to the bottom (not that deep – maybe only 6’ or so) and then with my feet and skates on the bottom, bending my knees and then pushing upwards with all my might. That gave me enough to get 51% of my body on the ice and having broken through most of the black (thin) ice, it was able to support me and slithered out of the hole and skated back to the dock, a frozen solid fourteen-year-old immortal boy. Was I two second from death? Not sure, but looking back I think it was close enough to make the list.
When I was 16 or 17, I was out exploring and came across a construction site. I found these strips of plastic with what appeared to be bullets in them, so I grabbed a bunch of them. There were two different kinds. One type looked exactly like bullets but the shell itself was pinched or crimped where the bullet would normally be. The other type had a flat top where the bullet would normally be and the tops or plugs in the end were different colors. Later in life I found out that they were .22 caliber blank rounds used to fire nails into cement or concrete. The crimped end ones were the lowest strength with the crimping just opening up when fired. The others were more powerful, using a cardboard plug to seal the end in place of a bullet; the varying colors represented different thicknesses of cardboard with the thicker ones allowing more pressure to build in the casing, thus being more powerful. I of course, had no clue about any of this then. I just knew that they probably made a good bang if I could figure how to detonate them. And I quickly found that a hammer worked great. I began with the crimped end ones and had a blast (pardon my pun) with them. I then moved on the ones with the plugged ends and did a couple of them. On the third one, I hit it and immediately felt a sharp pain in my knee. I rolled up my pants leg and there was a fresh cut that was bleeding. I decided to stop at that point. I would later realize that while the crimped ones would discharge by merely “uncramping”, the plugged ones would pretty much explode and rip the casing open. Several years later I developed a painful red lump on the knee right at the scar and ended up having a ¼” piece of shell casing removed from my knee. A slightly different angle or trajectory and that one could have been an instant fatality.
I know I’ve fallen and jumped out of enough trees that at least a couple of them could of, should of, killed me, but none carry the memory of being a really close call so I won’t include them. That may be contrary to basic premise of the saying, perhaps not recalling any single specific fall or leap means I just didn’t know I was two seconds away, but this is my perspective on the saying so I get to choose how I relate to it!
I remember being 20-25’ on a ladder up on a tree, clearing limbs damaged from a hurricane about 40 years ago. A neighbor was paying us $100 to cut down the branches and trees that had snapped but had not fallen. This was a fairly large section of the tree and was tangled with some other one. When I finally got the piece cut through deeply enough, it broke and fell as expected. What wasn’t expected was how the remaining section of tree reacted, behaving much like a catapult with the release of the tension and I was the projectile. I was able to hang on and not fall. During all this the hot muffler on chainsaw hit my hand burning it causing me to drop it. The ladder fell as well. But I survived with just a hand burn.
I was heading home from work on my motorcycle once, cranking it through the gears in exhilaration and in relief of a day’s work done. There was a bunch of traffic still heading into work for second shift and I saw one car with a left-turn signal on. There were several side roads to my right, one of which I was fast approaching. I assumed that based on my speed, and the fact that I was only fifty feet away or so from the road and that the oncoming car was still several hundred feet away, that he would turn behind me once I passed. Wrong. He initiated a long sweeping glide to his left in an effort to beat me to the side road and make his turn. I have NEVER braked so hard and ferociously on a bike as I did in that moment. I still recall that as the bike began to violently fishtail and I was basically sideways that I looked down at the pavement and picked the exact spot I was about faceplant. I ended up somehow being able to both recover the sliding and fishtailing bike AND avoid creating a massive dent in the passenger side door of the car cutting me off. I pulled over, stopped, and sat on the curb and smoke a cigarette with shaking hands. Scary close.
I’ve been shot at several times, all of them while hunting for arrowheads. To be precise, I was shot at twice in a row in one place, and twice, not in a row at another place. The first was on the shore of a severely low reservoir, walking the shoreline looking for arrowheads. I heard a shot and the gravel by my foot sprayed. I yelled and the immediate response was another shot, also hitting near my feet, but instantly followed with the sound of a ricocheting bullet flying past my ear. At this point I turned and ran up the shoreline to the woods for cover. The other time was walking rows of corn in a field – during pheasant season. I guess somehow a hunter a couple of rows over thought I was a pheasant because all the tops of the cornstalks exploded into dust with single gunshot. I yelled and got an immediate “sorry” shouted back and we moved on. A few weeks later, the same thing happened and again, since I was looking for arrowheads I was bent over and the shot did nothing but create cornstalk dust above my head.
There were many, many moments at work through my years shipbuilding – shocks, fires, burns, chemical exposures, falls, elevating equipment mishaps and the like – too many to even go into because of the amount of detail needed to fully explain why it was a close call. But several clearly demonstrated that it simply wasn’t my time even though it really should’ve been given the incident; no idea how I walked (or crawled) away from those moments. We had essentially no safety back in the early days there; it was a jungle – a steel jungle. I lost friends to death here in this shipyard, and every one of them was an unspeakable horror – no gentle passing in your sleep – they were violent deaths, the stuff of nightmares.
Massive submarine cylinders reached forty feet high or more, often outside due to their height. While under active construction, there was rudimentary staging inside and out to facilitate access for work. But sometimes you had to go in and up to the top for some reason before or after the staging was there so you were left to freeclimb the frames inside the cylinder. You would tie a rope around a 2”x12” eight-foot board and then tie the other around your waist so once you got up there, you could pull the plank up and lay it across in order to walk on it; a fall would mean instant death.
I recall being sent to 3rd shift to work on a difficult job: cutting dummy frames out of the inside of a cylinder – in this case the massive nose of Trident submarine cylinder. The dummy frames helped hold the hull plates in the desired position and dimension during construction. Once all permanent frames were in, the dummies were removed. So this cylinder is nose down, like a giant milk bowl, with the dummies all up at the top. No staging; I was “dropped” on the top dummy frame inside by a manlift. Using a torch, I would cut two holes in the frame, lower the overhead crane hook down and run a hook and chain through each of the holes I had just cut. The frames were only partially welded to the hull plates – typically a 6-8” weld every five or so. I would then cut the dummy frame on each end about 5’ apart, and then cut the weld or welds holding it to the hull plate. If successful, the 5’ long section would now be completely unattached and held only by the crane and chains. Unfortunately, cutting steel free 40’ feet in the air, alone, at 3AM, is never quite that easy. There are a lot of inherent stresses placed on temporary restraining pieces like dummy frames, stressed created through the welding and heat of construction; they rarely just separate quietly; instead, they release with an enormous bang – almost an explosion of the sudden release of the forces. Often the entire massive cylinder would shake from the force. And all the while, there I was sitting/kneeling on the adjacent frame section, with a lit torch in my hand, desperately trying to hold on! Pucker factor was huge on that task and more than once I was almost taken out, or thrown off, by an unexpected sudden release of a frame section.
As a kid – teen mostly – I used to be a bit wild: I would walk into the woods after a decent snowstorm, find some really deep drifts, climb a tree, and then jump/dive into the drifts. I would think nothing of walking out on the ice when the bay froze, more than once out to the edge at the still open channel a half-mile from shore, on ice that moved up and down with every wave in the channel; go through there and life expectancy is about 30 seconds. There was no dare I turned down from letting someone kick a football off my chest while lying flat on the ground (he missed and caught me square in the collarbone with all his weight – I threw up it hurt so bad), to riding my bike off the roof of a barn, to letting someone shoot me with a pellet rifle while I used the lid of a garbage can to “shield” myself (didn’t work so well because he was either a horrible shot or wanted to hit me), to shooting Roman Candle fireballs at each other, and a million other stupid things that could have ended up with me meeting my maker.
Oh yeah, fell asleep driving my brand new 1978 Camaro home from Florida – sound asleep as in Chevy Chase in the family trickster in the movie “Vacation”. I hit a guardrail which immediately ricocheted the car into the air and back into the lanes of travel – I awoke in midair with all the crap in the car sort of floating in the air around me. Happily, there were no other cars near me and I was able to regain control of the car and get to the breakdown lane to stop and assess the damage (the entire side of the car, bumper to bumper). Another three feet and I’d have missed the end of the guardrail and would had shot unimpeded into the wooded ravine between north and southbound lanes and most likely have either hit a tree or flipped the car.
Well that all came out to be far longer than intended! All to get to the simple point that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come; and not before. So facing elevated PSA values and a MRI, or facing high blood pressure, or facing whatever else, is not cause for fear. Because we can’t live out lives in fear.
Ok – far too much and taking far too long. I need to stop this and get it posted. So here, in a nutshell, is my wrap-up: I’ve had the MRI (easy procedure without any issues) and I’ve gotten the results (as low a chance of any significant cancer as possible). So it would seem that all I have is an enlarged prostate with no evidence of cancer being the cause of the elevated PSA. Hallelujah!! I will catch up with other news in a future post, for now – trust in medical care: see your doctor, get your bloodwork done, and follow up with your doctor’s recommendations. Stay well dear reader!