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Less of Me (part 2)

If you haven’t read part one, please do so now, I’ll wait…………

So there I was being seen by a nurse and she was shocked that I was a bit on the yellow side.  She told me that according to the symptoms (and my lemony complexion), it looked like I had Hep C.  After this came a very delicate discussion in which the nurse tried to probe carefully but not insultingly into my activities.  I caught on right away and bottom lined it for her.  I told her I don’t drink, use drugs, smoke, or do anything that would make me resemble a Simpsons character.

She was sure it was Hep C, and ran a blood test to confirm.  The test came back a few days later and it was negative for Hep C (and all the other Heps).  Her course of action was to run the test again because as she told me sometimes Hep C doesn’t present right away.  Second test came back negative, and so of course she ran the test again.  They brought a doctor into the mix and his suggestion was (wait for it….)  to run another test.

By this time I had enough needles stuck in me to achieve pin cushion status, yet still had no answers.  I was getting more yellow (or yellower if I used correct grammar), and couldn’t hold down much food because my liver had a tiny “out of service” sign on it.  I knew it wasn’t Hep C, but whatever it was, it was doing a number on me (that line could be a lyric from a really weird song)!

On my birthday (November 7th for those of you who want to send a card), I got a call from the health center.  It seems the latest test came back with results that were off the chart.  Specifically it was the bilirubin level in my system (bilirubin by the way is the yellow pigment found in bile – eww).  In normal adults, the level of bilirubin is around 1.  In my system the level was at 53!  The nurse said they had an appointment set up with me at Mass General with a liver specialist.  I asked when they said in a few hours because things were that bad.

So I spent my birthday getting the same 3rd degree about my life style and the same poking and prodding, only this time done by a doctor who was top in his field of study.  The blood work came back negative but really messed up.  Instead of running them again however the doctor put me through a series of tests to figure things out.  I had a CAT scan, and MRI, an endoscopy, a colonoscopy and some other fun medical procedures .

Now you may be wondering how I could afford all these tests when in part 1 I  had mentioned I was bereft of health insurance.  Well in a stroke of good fortune and great relatives, my cousin actually at one point ran the very health center that had a “Hep C or Bust” philosophy and found a way to get me free treatment from Mass General.  I am not naming names, and I am sure no one connected to this tale will read this and know who I am talking about, but in any case I wanted to thank her, because without that help, I would be still to this day telling stories to pay medical bills!

Back to our tale….So after a bunch of tests and getting drained of more blood than the main course at a vampire buffet, I had one of the best liver specialists in MGH look at me and say “We don’t know what this is!”  He decided to do a liver biopsy because whatever it was, was getting worse and until they knew what they were dealing with, they didn’t know how to treat it.  A liver biopsy is a very scary procedure involving needles the size of javelins.  I was very nervous and for the first time a bit scared.

To calm me, the doctor made small talk and we chatted about this whole crazy thing.  He said “Are you sure you didn’t do anything different in the last few months and I said “No”.  As he was prepping the giant needles, I offhandedly mentioned that I had taken some medicine for an ear infection in August.  He looked at me with the dumbfounded look my wife gives me when I do something horribly stupid.  He asked why I never mentioned that before, and I told him I thought it didn’t matter (yes in hindsight I realize it did matter, but at the time I didn’t think there could be a connection – yet another reason no one calls me Dr. Big Joe).

He went into a medical database and found that indeed the drug I took had a one in 5 million chance of causing liver damage in people who took it (never won the lottery, but take a pill and I hit the jackpot!).  He told me that he would run the results of the biopsy against this new information, but the odds were good that was the culprit.

Sure enough the ear medicine and my glow in the dark complexion were related.  So now he knew what it was, but stopping it was another matter.  We had a very deep conversation in which he told me they had a plan and were going to try some medications to fix the situation, but if that didn’t work they would have to do a liver transplant.  He said the problem is that even with the transplant my system may be so damaged that it may not take and…..At first I didn’t get what he was driving at, but then I got the point. If the drugs or transplant didn’t work, I would soon be telling stories in Heaven (or Hell, it really could go either way with me).  I am a man of great wit and many jokes, but in that moment staring at my own mortality, I didn’t have anything funny to say.

I asked him what the plan was, and he laid it out for me.

To Be Continued

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Long Time Gone

Today’s assignment in my writing course is to talk about someone interesting I have met this year.  Now in my line of work (storytelling and all around charming person) I meet a lot of interesting people and some very interesting people.  I also meet a lot of kids who are interesting for their own reasons 🙂

I could talk about someone new and interesting I met this year.  However I would rather wax poetic about someone I have known for a long time and got to reconnect with this year.  His name is George, and he was one of my first friends. We met in kindergarten and hit it off from day one.  He was shy and kind of nerdy, and I was shy and kind of nerdy (still am – well except for the shy part) so got along famously.

We grew up together, and shared all the ups and downs that came along with it.  We did things together, we talked about things together, we had adventures together, and we got in trouble together (and never threw the other one under the bus to escape trouble – well mostly never).  We fought, made up, and then fought and made up again.  We were like brothers and went through all the things brothers go through.

He had a very interesting personality, that at times complimented my own personality and other times challenged it.  No matter what wavelength we were on however we always got each other.  We were as close as friends could be, and had the vision of us being together forever.

Of course like all things, life sometimes gets in the way.  George and I went to different high schools, and while we still saw each other quite a bit, we weren’t joined at the hip as we were in our elementary school days.  After that came college and soon after the real world. As we tended to our career paths, the paths that usually led us to each other started to diverge.

George was married in 1996, and his wedding would be the last time I would see him for a long stretch.  Soon after marriage, he moved away to Florida.  With the internet still in its formative years and Facebook and Skype being years away from creation, there were very limited ways for us to stay in touch. It would have been tough had we not both had lives, but we did which made things more difficult.

The person I used to talk to every day to hear about what was going on, now became someone I only heard about secondhand.  His mom would tell my mom something that happened and I would get the information.  I learned things both mundane and important, but learned them all from a distance.  I learned he had a medical condition, and that he was trying to find his birth parents (George was adopted which had a profound affect on him as we grew up.)

I could have reached out more and he could have as well, but he had things going on and I had things going on and we both let time and space drift on by. This January marked the 19th year we hadn’t seen each other in person.  I was taking my wife to Florida for her birthday, and decided to use the opportunity to stage a reunion.

He was as excited as I was, and anxious to see me.  Finally the night arrived and we got to go out to dinner with our wives. It was strange being out to dinner as “adults”, but it was also kind of fun.  It was amazing how quickly we slipped back into a rhythm and were talking and joking like we always had.  It was 19 years gone by, but together at that table it was like no time had passed at all.

George did indeed find his birth parents, and the tale he told that night was more fascinating than anything I heard in a while. It was interesting to hear about his life, but kind of sad that I wasn’t a part of it. He had a different life and different friends and so did I.  The thing I realized however is that no matter how much distance is put between us or how separate our lives become, we will forever be connected, because true friends always are!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2015 in From The Mind of Big Joe

 

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Less of me (Part 1)

Today’s topic from my writing course is loss.  I thought about all the things I have lost in life, from the simple and irrelevant (like pens and keys) to the life altering and tragic (like the death of my father.  The simple ones don’t really seem worth writing about, and the more tragic ones would be hard to bring forth (and would bum me out!)  So I decided to tell you about a loss that was both simple and life altering.  It is a tale I haven’t told to anyone outside of my friends and family, but seeing as I want those of you nice enough to read this blog to get to know me I would like to share it…

I am known as Big Joe.  Back in 2001, the name could be used not only as a term of endearment, but also a descriptor of my physical state.  During my preschool teaching days, I was in very good shape because there is no better workout than chasing 18 four year olds around.  When I left teaching to become a storyteller, my lifestyle became less hectic and a bit more slowed down.  My new job required less physical activity, so I wasn’t as active and put on some weight.  At my heaviest I was about 235. While I wasn’t gigantic, I was much bigger than I was and it showed.

I tried to diet and get in shape but it was tough. I would have sought the advice of a dietitian or a doctor, but at that time, we were without health insurance because my wife’s temp job offered her no benefits and I was self employed and unlike today individual plans were way too pricey (come to think of it, it is just like today).  Without insurance, I was very fearful of getting injured or sick so I was very cautious when exercising or trying any type of diet that could possibly affect me.

Of course as cautious as I was, I did wind up getting sick through no fault of my own.  I got an ear infection in August and took a nice expensive trip to the doctors.  He prescribed me Augmentin a commonly  prescribed antibiotic.  I took exactly 6 pills and after 3 days the infection cleared up.

Fast forward ahead to October. My wife and I were coming home from a movie and I felt sick.  I was light headed, had the chills and felt kind of blah.  I figured I had the flu, and by the next morning my figuring seemed correct.  I had a fever, felt achy, couldn’t hold down food, and had no energy to speak of.

One of the few benefits of working with kids was that I developed a very strong immune system. As a result, I hardly got sick, and when I did it never lasted for more than a few days. This time however I wasn’t getting better.  It had been a week and I was still feeling sick. Not wanting to fork over a ton of money for a doctor visit, I decided to go to the health clinic in the neighborhood I grew up in to get checked out by a nurse.

I was sitting on the exam table when the nurse came in.  She took a look at me and had a shocked expression usually reserved for seeing a ghost.  She asked me “Have you seen yourself?” which to me was a very odd question to say the least.  I asked what she meant and she clarified her statement by asking me if I had seen myself under florescent light.  I said no , and she held my arm up towards the light and close to my face.  That was when I saw it. My skin which was normally a peachy beige color was kind of yellow. She looked at me and said “I think there’s something wrong with you!”  The fact that I had turned a primary color made me tend to agree with her diagnosis.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Let It Go (PLEASE!!!)

I was at a preschool today and saw a sign that made me laugh.  The sign read “Days without someone singing a song from Frozen” and the number under it was zero.  I took pity on those teachers as I take pity on every adult who has had to hear a Frozen song over and over and over. Of course the biggest sonic ear worm on that soundtrack is “Let It Go”!  Don’t get me wrong, it is a very nice song.  The problem is after hearing it a billion times both from the soundtrack itself and from the mouth of a small child, it’s niceness wears off quickly. I know adults who would rather have their own ears removed then hear that song again.

Sadly I know what they are going through all too well.  When I was a preschool teacher, The Little Mermaid was all the rage as was its very catchy soundtrack. I will admit, the songs from that movie are great and are now classics.  However at the time, I would have given anything not to hear them ever again.  We had a ton of CDs in our collection, but every day (usually a few times a day), the kids would beg and plead to hear “Little Mermaid”.  Being the nice guy that I am, I always obliged (well except for that one week where I just couldn’t take it anymore and the CD got temporarily “lost”) and played it over and over.

As a result, the songs became stuck in my head and I could do nothing to remove them.  I would be doing paperwork, and all of a sudden start humming “Under the Sea” or I would be at a restaurant with a date and the song “Part of Your World” would start playing in my head (ironically the song “Kiss the Girl” never played in those situations!)  It got to the point where those songs that at first seemed fun and exciting, became the soundtrack to my nightmares.

The amazing part of all this is that while adults get repetitive stress disorder from hearing these songs over and over, kids never grow tired of them.  That is why my preschoolers had me play that Mermaid CD till we almost wore it out (an outcome I often prayed for) and that is why today kids constantly listen to and sing Frozen songs and will do so until the next ice age.

As adults, our goal is to make kids happy, so we will let them sing and listen to their heart’s content to the songs that make us shudder.  The teachers who put up that sign that I mentioned, did so in good humor, but I know they are anything but happy about it, and I really feel for those poor unfortunate souls (see what I did there?)

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Happy Place

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I do a lot of teacher training and motivation workshops in an effort to help preschool teachers survive their very stressful job.  One tool I use in my instruction is the old tried and true method of going to your “happy place” when things get crazy.  Just taking a breath, closing your eyes and picturing the one place in the world that will make you feel good.  Everyone has their own happy place and some need to go there more than others.  Heck when I was a preschool teacher I had to go to my happy place so often I had my mail forwarded there.

Over the years my happy place has changed.  I have been to new destinations and had new experiences and that has redefined for me the place that puts me at ease.  I have kept my happy place to myself, but seeing as today’s assignment in my “Writing 101” course is to describe one place you would go to right now, I thought it would be nice to share my happiness destination.

A few years ago, Mrs. Big Joe and I took a cruise to her home country of Greece.  It was so amazing being right next to historical places like the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and the McDonalds in Athens (where the Spartans got their Big Macs apparently).  I saw places I only read about in history books and got to be up close and personal with objects from ancient times.

While there were many sites to behold, the one place that stood out was the island of Mykonos.  It was one of the last stops on our journey, and after all we had seen, I wasn’t sure if there was anything on that island that would thrill me.  Mykonos is famous for its windmills, and while they are lovely, they weren’t nearly as impressive as ancient wonders we got to see.  As it turned out however it wasn’t the windmills that were amazing but rather what happened at the windmills.

We were on our own to explore the island, and it was indeed very pretty.  We had just about an hour left before we had to be back on the ship and decided to get up close to the windmills.  It had been windy that whole day and the ocean around the island was choppy.  While we made our way towards the windmills, the wind died down (which in an ironic twist robbed us of seeing the one thing “windmills” do best).  The ocean calmed with the wind and the waters stilled.  From where we were standing, it looked like there was no motion out there at all.

As we stood there, the sun began to set.  It was amazing how quickly it happened. One minute the sun was over our heads and the sky was a stark clear blue.  Just a few minutes later, the sun dropped low on the horizon and blue sky faded into a mix of red and orange. There was a short wall in front of us, and I climbed up on it to get a better view.  I wanted Mrs. Big Joe to come up with me, and at first she resisted ( ever the law abiding citizen she didn’t want to climb on someone’s property.) Finally I convinced her and she climbed up with me.

We sat on that wall and watched nature’s spectacular light show.  The sun sunk slowly on the horizon, and every inch it dropped turned the sky brilliant shaded of red, orange, and brown.  It looked like the sun was striking the ocean and setting the horizon on fire. We were in awe at the beautiful site before us.  I pulled my wife close to me and kissed her cheek as the sun vanished from the sky. As we gazed at the setting sun, we were silent. I realized at that moment that there was not only silence from us, but from everyone around us. Moments earlier there had been the din of tourists talking and moving around the island. Now everyone was still in a moment of magic and majesty.

When life (and or small children) make me crazy and I need to be at peace, I go in my mind to that wall in Mykonos next to my wife and in front of that breathtaking sunset and just like that I have arrived at my happy place 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Writing 101

I  suffer from what some would call arrested development, Peter Pan syndrome, or pretty much an unwillingness to grow up.  In some ways this condition is a hindrance, like when I am in serious situations, or having to deal with the lovely woman who was lucky / unlucky enough to marry me.  On the plus side, how I am works very well in my job as a storyteller.  I am able to connect with audiences filled with young children mostly because I am on the same wavelength as them. I think like a kid so I am very good at giving them what they want.  This goes not only for the way I perform but also the stories I tell.

When I find stories to perform, I look for ones that will thrill me and entertain me.  If a story makes me smile or get excited, I know that it will make my audience happy as well.  I love a good story and those are the only kind I will tell. I do this mostly because I want to entertain my audience but also because I want to entertain myself.  I have to tell these stories, and if it is not fun for me to tell them, it will not be fun for kids to hear them.

The same goes for writing stories.  When I write, I want to create something that is just as fun for me to tell as it is for others to listen.  I have been blessed with a very vivid (and slightly out there) imagination so I try to come up with tales that take full advantage of it.  I let my mind wander and sometimes the places it arrives at are quite interesting.  I don’t write as an adult writing for kids, I write as a kid trapped in the body of an adult.  This is another area where the whole “unwillingness to grow up” aspect of my personality serves me well. I can write for kids because I can write like a kid.

Of course as much as I have the mind of a kid, I am an adult saddled with all the responsibilities, and duties that come with it (by the way to prove the “mind of a kid” part I just giggled typing the word “duties”!)  I have a job that entails making kids happy, but it is still a job.  I have to book shows, deal with paperwork, pay bills, and market myself to the storytelling loving world.  That takes a lot of work and a lot of times takes me away from what I love to do best which is finding and writing stories.

The more popular I get, the busier I get and the less time I have to do that thing I love.  I would love to find an assistant to take care of the business side of things (and by the way if you are reading this and are interested in such a role please contact me – I’m serious!), but until that happens, I need to find a way to balance work and creativity. Recently I realized that I hadn’t written or found a new story in months.  Yes I have a ton of tales in my collection, and the audience I tell them to probably never heard them before so it is okay for them.  The thing is I have heard the stories (a lot) and the thrill in telling them starts to fade.  I need new material to keep things fresh and fun so my thrill and excitement can be passed on to my audience.

I say all that to say this.  A few weeks ago I got an email about a writing program from WordPress (the wonderful hosts of my blog) called “Writing 101” it is a way to develop a better writing habit and to tap into the creative process.  I decided to join the program because I need to get back into the habit of writing and creating and finding and producing stories I know everyone will love.  Like exercising after a long layoff, I know it will be tough to get back to where I need to be.  The thing is getting there is very important because being a storyteller and telling stories is very important to me.

If you are a reader of this blog (and if you are please encourage others because I can always use more readers and fans), you will get a chance to see me in action as I try to be all that I can be and become a better writer and hopefully a better more creative storyteller!

So my “Writing 101” journey begins now…..

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in From The Mind of Big Joe

 

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