Sunday, January 23, 2005

SNOW TIME! A Day At The Races, A Night At The Neighbors

Well folks, it's been a few days since I updated, but cut me a break. I've been snowed under. Literally.

Through the incredibly accurate measure of Alex's arm, we've determined that an even foot of snow fell on Millington between midday Saturday and midday Sunday. The snow on top of the Explorer was as deep as the distance from the tip of Alex's finger to his elbow - now we know he has a foot between his finger and his elbow. While he doesn't actually have an extra foot (in the five toes, arch and heel sense), he did have some extra protection against the snow. When we announced we were planning a romp in the yard, Alex disappeared and quickly reappeared with his own announcement: He was wearing four pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks and three shirts and was ready to go.

Tasha was fascinated by what appeared to be a snowball tree outside her window, reminding me of the famous Russian folk song, Kalinka, an ode to a snowball tree.

Because we named our children Alexander and Natasha, Nancy and I are often asked if we're Russian. We're not, of course, both being the youngest of six in Irish Catholic families. We just liked the way a long first name worked with our four-letter last name.

I never studied Russian, but the words to Kalinka are indelibly etched in my brain thanks to a somewhat wacky political science professor at Rider College (now University). For years, Fred Yeager - a former State Department employee who survived the Bataan Death March after he started with fellow prisoners the ''I Like It Here'' Club to keep their spirits up - would teach the words to foreign songs in the last 10 minutes of every class. Of course, as a serious student, I swore I would never go along with such silliness when there were matters of State to be debated. But, of course, I soon was hooked, and I'm proud to say that, I, and my fellow Perpetually Partying Peruvian Peacocks, were enshrined in Yeager's Songbird Hall of Fame after a rousing performance in the college pub. The songs he taught came in surprisingly handy in my travels over the years. On a trip to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, years ago, I led a small crowd in singing ''A mi me gusta el pimperimppimpim,'' a Spanish song which praises the sound that the wine makes when it's being squeezed from an animal skin flash into your mouth. I both sang ''Kalinka'' with a group of Norwegians at a villa on the Greek island of Santorini and forcefully recited the Russian words (and only those words) in response to two Moroccan hustlers in Tetoun who wanted to act as my ''guide'' and practice their English. The two spoke such fabulous English I never did understand why they didn't just go off together and knock themselves out, speaking English with each other until they were blue in the face.

But, back to the snow at hand.
Small, egg-sized snowballs had collected on the tips of branches on the evergreens along the driveway. The snow was far too fine to make snowmen or even snowballs, but naturally formed snow boulders were strong enough to hold together for throwing. Nancy pulled Alex and Tasha through the yard on the sled, but it was rough going and required a lot of shifting and jockeying by Alex to avoid tipping. The destination - the playset - was soon reached, though, and with little prompting, Alex scurried up the ladder to his pirate den and then down (or partly down) the snow-jammed slide. Moments later, Tasha was doing the same before opting for a ride on the swing (with a push from Nancy) instead. She declared herself a ''roly poly snow bug'' and appointed me to the role of a woolly bear caterpillar, so I could stay warm.

Before the snow hit on Saturday, we ventured out early to Alex's Pinewood Derby race, run by the local Boy Scouts, where big hopes rest on very small wheels. Alex designed a racing car on his sketch pad and it was up to the parents to fashion it as planned into a 5-ounce Mean Machine. Thinking of it now, a large hacksaw probably wasn't the best tool to do the carving, but somehow we managed to get it together and keep it together, even though my deep cuts near the axle threatened to keep the wheels from staying on. Alex had his dream car, though, which he lovingly painted black with orangy fire designs and labeled with a No. 6 decal. A neighbor offered a sleek car he'd crafted a couple of years ago, with weights strategically placed in the frame for increased aerodynamics, but Alex rejected it. He was determined to race his own car down the small banked track whether the wheels came off it or not. He was delighted when it passed the official weigh-in and was impounded until race time, according to the derby's strict rules.

Come Saturday morning, Alex, who picked out his outfit for the race two days earlier, didn't place in the winners' circle, but his car made a strong effort and disappointment was eased by a trip to Dunkin' Donuts. For me, the race, attended by many friends and neighbors was a first step back into the wonderful community that's been so helpful to Nancy and the kids during my hospitalization. A morning spent greeting so many friends was a fabulous start to the day which later included a hike through the snow to the neighbors - it felt like going for a moon walk to me - that evening. There was much ribbing from the crowd of Yankee fans (I don't hold it against them) that my new liver from a wonderful donor from the Bronx may not decide to reject me until opening day of the baseball season, when the Red Sox start their defense of their World Series championship.

Once again, this time in the guise of snow angels, our neighbors - armed with snow blowers and shovels - pitched in to clear our walkway and driveway. It's another reminder for us of how blessed we are to live in this wonderful community.

Earlier in the week, my one-month anniversary with my new liver was celebrated in the style I had hoped. Apart from filing my own application to be an organ donor after my death, I received an e-mail shortly after my last posting to the Blog. An old and dear friend wrote that she and her husband had downloaded the donor forms I wrote about and were also faxing them in on my anniversary date.

That's a start people, but we've got a very long way to go.

The important web address are, again, for New Jersey residents:

Information on how to be an organ donor in all states and Puerto Rico is found at:

And for our many readers in the U.K., my sister Maryann writes from London that the site to see is:

Anniversary Wednesday included the weekly check-up with the doctor at the NYU Transplant Center. This time, I learned, by happenstance that my gall bladder was also removed during by liver transplant, as it is no longer needed. I don't mind that...I just thought I might have heard about it a month ago when it was removed. Here's the deal - the gall bladder's nerve endings are what tells it to release the bile that it stores up. Since those nerve endings (unlike the valves etc) can't be reconnected to new liver, the gall bladder would simply become a bloated reservoir for bile. ''It would become bigger than you,'' mused Dr. Ahmed Fahmy at my check up, pointing out that the other bright spot is I now can never get gall stones.

Dr. Fahmy again cut down on some of the meds, based on my solid performance, so far, as a transplant recipient, but reinstated some of the water pills and that has successfully put a stop to the lingering swelling in my feet and ankles. The tidbit of bad news is that the steroids I take to slow down the healing process so that scar tissue doesn't develop around the liver is also slowing down the healing of an uncomfortably located bedsore, an unwanted souvenir from my 23 days in the hospital.

Nearly a month after Christmas, Nancy took the ornaments of the tree - which, dangerously, had begun to shed them randomly by itself - and the brittle tree was plunked out on the lawn in the Saturday snow. There it becomes, temporarily, another ''snowball tree'' until the town's trucks come around.

That leaves plenty of time for another song. Everybody, snap your fingers, let's go: ''Ka-linka...Ka-linka...Ka-linka...''

- David


At 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy belated anniversary, David. Your gall bladder too!?!?! And, oh, by the way, you didn't happen to need that big bean shaped purplish-red organ too, did you? I think they call that one the kidney. Hmmmm, oh well, I guess it makes for less to go wrong. Have a Happy Day!



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