Friday, December 21, 2012

An opportunity blown; an icon's luster tarnished

The National Rifle Association, handed a golden opportunity to be a thoughtful participant in a national discussion on responsible gun ownership, instead came out in Friday's "press conference" shouting "SQUIRREL!" and pointed to old violent video games, greedy Hollywood moguls, the mentally "deranged" and, in general, all the evil doers plotting their next massacre on the innocents of America who unfortunately are walking the streets unarmed.
People who criticize semi-automatic weapons can't even get the correct nomenclature down! And the .223 caliber as powerful? Pshaw!
The answer? Protect our schools (yep, all 133,000 of them) immediately with armed volunteers. Don't worry; we'll train them. We have 11,000 trainers standing by. We understand this is controversial but, no, we aren't taking any questions. Stay behind that velvet curtain, please. I said no questions. Bye now. Bye, bye.
What a surprise. What a waste.
I am a gun owner and have been for a number of years. I have been pretty defensive against self-righteous zealots calling for the banning of all guns as the end-all answer to today's violent society. (By the way, the deadliest school disaster was done with a bomb, not a gun.)
I grew up with the NRA representing everything honorable about responsible ownership and usage especially teaching young lads like me how to use firearms safely. I started out as many did with a BB gun, then a .22 caliber rifle and then a shotgun. You were taught patience and respect not only for your weapon but for everyone around you. It was like Boy Scout training - be careful, considerate and trust-worthy. Being a member of the NRA was like being a member of the Youth Conservation Corps, training to be a serious adult, a patriot and defender of the realm.
Somewhere along the way, however, the NRA lost that aura and Friday's "press conference" brought it home.
It was like your drunken uncle showing up soused at your office party picking fights with your co-workers, spilling his drink while ranting about the evils of money-grubbing corporate America especially those whiny spoiled Hollywood types ruining the morals of our youth.
You're embarrassed, apologetic as you try to distance yourself from the remarks but understanding he's part of your family. It's not him, really; it's his behavior.
Well, maybe it really is him. In this case, the "new" NRA.
While in the past, it represented its members who were hunters and sportsmen who used firearms, today they are chiefly spokesmen for the weapon industry. After the Newtown killings, the industry felt it was under assault from all corners and that threatened their livelihood. A major investor of Freedom Group, maker of the Bushmaster rifle used by the Sandy Hook killer, announced it was selling off its stake in the company. Stock prices for all publicly-traded gun makers was headed down and the companies felt under siege.
Rather than talk capitulation, they did their fiduciary responsible thing and deployed their shock troops to divert attention in the most uncompromising and potentially damaging way possible.
Damaging now because past defenders of gun ownership and responsible usage of firearms will be painted with the same broad brush used to paint the NRA. Uncompromising, disrespectful, unapologetic and hardly civil. The antithesis of what the old and respected NRA stood for.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-election thoughts

(UPDATED 11-7-12 225 p.m.) - With Minnesota DFL now in control of state government, we could see renewed confidence to push harder on placing a higher tax on top earners especially with the apparent success of California's Proposition 30. That initiative will raise the sales tax by one penny for every $4 spent for four years but it also raises the income tax on the state's highest earners for seven years. Conversely, California defeated a proposition that would have raised income taxes on everyone for 12 years. Tax the rich? Good. Tax me? Not so good. The "tax fairness" issue has been a hallmark of the DFL for a number of years and Gov. Dayton this year has said he will continue that push. Update: WCCO reporter Pat Kessler tweeted at 2:23 pm that "Gov. Dayton backtracks on promise to pass inc tax hike on weathy. Says it depends on economy, budget"
- With defeat of the marriage amendment, we also could see moves to repeal state law that now bars same sex marriage passed in 1997, pending the outcome of the Benson v. Alverson lawsuit in Hennepin County which deals with some constitutional issues. But the outcomes in Washington, Maine and Maryland apparently approving same sex marriage may indicate attitudes have changed and the DFL may feel emboldened. Update:  Marriage victories bigger than it seems Update: Sen. John Marty say he will work on repeal in 2013.
- The state GOP loss of seats will undoubtedly give it pause on the need to refocus. Especially telling is the very narrow victory of U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann. Despite a massive war chest and redistricting that gave her a more conservative territory, her victory was surprisingly close.  Even Rep. Tony Cornish - who ran unopposed - posted on Facebook that he is "licking his wounds" this morning but adding "Everything is a learning experience, in victory or defeat." The party is in disarray right now both politically and financially. It spent a great deal of social capital on constitutional amendments that were soundly defeated.There will be calls to stick with spending issues especially now with the DFL in control. But more importantly, given the stinging losses across the state, the party needs to define what it stands for in a more constructive way. 
- Locally, nothing has changed in either state or national representation. U.S. Rep Tim Walz (D) beat back Republican Allen Quist in a pretty testy fight. In the contested state legislative races, Rep. Kathy Brynaert (DFL) handily beat back challenger Thad Shunkwiler with 64 percent of the vote. Further south, GOP Rep. Bob Gunther defeated challenger Kevin Labenz and GOP Sen. Julie Ann Rosen won decisively against challenger Paul Marquardt. Incumbents Reps. Cornish and Terry Morrow (DFL) ran unopposed as did state Sen. Kathy Sheran. One could argue with all the newly elected legislators in the state, leadership and mentoring will fall to those with experience which this area has plenty of. Cornish, however, will lose his chairmanship of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance committee.
- In the City of Mankato, although the city council now has fresh faces with Chris Frederick and Jason Mattick don't expect to see any dramatic changes. Actually, a DFL-controlled state government bodes well for the city's continued attempts to get funding for the civic center. A newly hired Director of Government and Institutional Affairs by Greater Mankato Growth whose job is to raise the visibility of the Mankato area with state government may have found a more fertile ground now with the election outcome.
- In North Mankato, however, the election of Kim Spears to the council will change some of the dynamics in city operations. Count on a confrontational Spears joining councilman Bob Freyberg in affecting big decisions yet to come including the hiring of a new city administrator, the future of the Port Authority and most recently the six-story Marigold 2.5 building downtown.   
(NOTE: In earlier version I misspelled Allen Quist's first name) 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why we don't endorse

Four years ago, we adopted the policy of no longer providing endorsements. Most readers I heard from applauded the move. This year, we have some contentious issues on the state ballot and an extremely tight presidential race. Everyone is looking for an edge to their side and we’re getting challenged to take a side. We respectfully decline.
Let me recount our 2008 explanation on why we changed that policy:
When newspapers first came upon the scene in America, they were backed and, indeed, funded by political parties. The papers were staffed by party functionaries. There was no expectation of fairness or objectivity in news coverage; it was all opinion and slant.
It was only late into the 20th century that news organizations began to seriously look at what was happening to their craft. We were determined to improve people’s perception of our reporting.
News councils began to crop up. Journalism reviews grew in number. Ethics courses were included in journalism curricula. One huge mistake made during this time was to profess that journalists are objective and unbiased. No, journalists are human and have to work at being balanced and fair. But we still held onto one vestige of the old newspapers — or, it should be said, publishers did — endorsements. If these publishers were honest about it, it was a way of trying to influence the outcome.
Other people were under the impression that endorsements were given to whichever candidate took out the most advertising. When candidates then used those endorsements in their own political advertising, it just fueled that impression even more. Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, blasted the practice of political endorsements in 2000, saying, “When newspapers endorse candidates editorially, their political coverage on the news pages becomes suspect in the eyes of readers, rightly or wrongly.” USA Today does not endorse candidates.
Even earlier than that, Neuharth pointed out that “Readers want to be fully informed about issues and candidates. They welcome debate. But they rebel when we dictate. They resent being told how to vote.”
The editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, which also does not endorse candidates, said the editorial page has a more fundamental purpose, which is to “stick up for those principles” it deems important.
Jay Rosen, chairman of the journalism department at New York University, was reported to have said that endorsements were “a tool of power” that newspapers paraded out as their civic authority in leadership. Editorial writers would proclaim that, because of their access, they were more knowledgeable and thoughtful and could be more credible in their opinion. Even if this were true at one time, it’s not the case anymore. Today, voters have access to a lot more information — just as much access in many cases as do editorial writers.
I can’t speak for all newspapers, but I don’t think newspapers should be in the business of making kings – or telling people how they should think. Regardless of who is sitting in the seats of power, each should be held accountable to whom they represent, and that’s the job of news organizations. An endorsement appears to give a seal of approval and taints the perception of readers of our true intent, regardless of how hard we work at fairness. That puts our reporters in a difficult position. 
Ending endorsements doesn’t mean there will be no opinions about the candidates. 
These will appear as signed columns from various authors. They could be opinions of a syndicated columnist or a particular Free Press writer, not the opinion of the Free Press editorial board. We will, however, recount what issues we feel are important to this region and this state and raise questions we feel need to be addressed.
Readers then can use that information as a barometer against their own thoughts about issues and candidates, as it should be.
And, in our reporting, we will still present to our readers the differences between the candidates. We will still question every potential office holder and hold them accountable.
And then armed with our reporting, publication of various sides of issue and individual columns, you can decide for yourself.
This year, you also will decide for yourself on constitutional amendments. Our job is to provide as much information – and opinions - from all sides that we can so you can make an intelligent choice.
In a democracy, it is the people who decide how they want to be governed - not one individual, not a party, not a movement and certainly not a newspaper. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trying to makes sense after a senseless death

     She took off her glasses and started wiping her eyes as she spoke softly into the phone. "Oh, Michael. I'm so, so sorry."
     As I listened from the other room, my chest tightened. My wife was catching up with our son in the Twin Cities. We learned a friend of his from Viterbo College, Jake Beneke, was shot to death. He was one of 10 victims - six dead, four wounded - in the shooting at Accent Signage in late September. The gunman, an employee who was terminated, fired methodically at those inside the shop. Then he turned the gun on himself. Utterly senseless.
     Michael recalled Jake. He was a gentle soul and wondered "Why him? He was a real passive guy. He wouldn't hurt anyone," and trying to attach some rational thought to what happened, "I don't even think he would even have rushed the shooter. He was that kind of guy."
    Jake's roommate and Michael's best friend, when he heard the news, had an immediate admonition for my son. "Michael, next time it better not be you."
    Michael listened. His fiance suggested they take a firearms class and they talked about how to protect themselves.
    He called me for advice. "Which handgun would be best?" "What should we look for in a shooting range?" "What about at work?" But it really came down to "Dad, how can I stay safe and protect the ones I love?"
    We talked for awhile. It was natural after someone close to you dies a violent death to put yourself in the same situation and wonder "What if?" You want to be prepared.
    Some of us are good at using hindsight to make sense of senselessness, to reassemble order in our lives, to put an event in some context we can hope to understand. But sometimes there is no understanding.
    Predictably, there are calls for banning handguns as though those are the only weapons that kill. Conversely, others want everyone armed to defend themselves believing everyone has the capability of taking a life, regardless. I've heard all the pros and cons. There is no one answer for all of us.
    This I believe. There are disturbed people in the world. More than we want to believe but less than some people fear. Sometimes the safety net you think is there has rips and you don't see them until it's too late.
    But, in this country, ordinary people shouldn't have to live in constant hyper-vigilance waiting for evil to occur. And we shouldn't be so oblivious to our existence we miss signs of something about to go terribly wrong. How do you recognize those signs? Which are real red flags and which are just something odd? And more importantly what do you do?
    Instinct comes with age and wisdom is wasted on the old - unless it is passed on. The advice I gave my son is for my son only, rooted in my experience. I don't know if it's right but, in today's world, we all at least should be having that discussion without hyperbole or a misplaced conviction there is one true answer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Final word: Lessons learned from my knee replacement

It's now officially three weeks since my knee replacement and I'm finally easing back into the mainstream. The operative word here is easing. It will be half days of work for a little while. I feel extraordinarily blessed being on the receiving end of a great surgical procedure and now attentive physical therapy at OFC.
Three weeks is not ordinary and believe me I'm not yet at normal speed. In fact, I find myself shuffling around the house in my slippers rather than walking. What a pitiful sight. No wonder I don't have house guests.
I would not encourage anyone to expect three weeks as some kind of norm especially if your job is more physical than mine and whose isn't. In fact, sitting for a long period of time is NOT recommended and neither is walking or standing too often. You have to find the situation that is "just right" for you, baby bear.
OK, that said, I did want to end this serial saga with some questions I received from those contemplating knee replacement. If you've been following this blog, the following answers will make sense. If you haven't, well, you have some catching up to do:
Knowing what you know now is there anything different/more you would have done prior to surgery in preparation for your recovery?
I would have done more stretching exercises to loosen up the tendons/muscles surrounding the knee. I knew they were tight going in because I had neglected exercise and then the pain was reducing my flexibility. Now most of my therapy is trying to improve my extension.
Did your outpatient physical therapy start immediately upon your discharge or were there a few days of in-home therapy?
The therapy starts immediately (it was next day for me) at the hospital with a “therapy camp.” These are with other people who have undergone either hip or knee replacement and we do basically the same routines. Some people (depending on their physical condition/age) would be transferred to a place like Pathstone to complete their therapy. It also depends on who you have at home. If no one or if the care provider needs some help, then for sure they will discharge you to a rehab center.
Physical therapy – how many days a week is it and for how long?
It starts out at three times a week for about six weeks. I made some pretty good progress so mine will probably be only four or five weeks.
I live in a two story home – how difficult were stairs to manage your first week home?
Stairs? Are you kidding? You'll have trouble negotiating that edge of the rug. Seriously, plan on living on the first floor for the first two weeks at least even with a care provider.
How long did you have to give yourself shots (of the anti-coagulant)?
Ten days. It really wasn’t that bad. Just something very new for me.
When do you expect to drive by yourself? Was your surgery on your driving knee?
As long as you are on pain meds, don't drive. It took me until the start of my third week, when I dropped the pain meds during the day did I do some driving. And frankly that made for a long day. And yes, it was my “accelerator knee” that was worked on. I would plan on probably driving four weeks after surgery.
Did you ever consider having the surgery elsewhere? (I had a second consult in the cities so am pondering my options)
A few things to consider: The consult after surgery. Do you want to drive that far or will you be staying in the cities? The physical therapists and surgeons know each other here and what each can offer. That knowledge has to count for something. And the advice I received is the same I will pass on - go to someone who has done a lot of these and, in fact, will be the one actually doing the replacement. I had no intention of being a final exam for some intern.
Any general advice about my thought process in knowing what I need to know?
The hardest part of this is not the surgery. Nor is it the hospital stay. It’s the therapy. It will be difficult right out of the chute. But it gets better – slowly. I don’t know how to take care of the sleep deprivation other than to say it doesn’t last TOO long. Be patient – look at the destination, the end result and not the here and now. I can tell you it not only gets better. It IS better than living with the pain. I expect to be not only pain free in a couple of months but looking forward to getting back to snow shoeing this winter. My time was pretty well spent at home with work with no problem. Because it was very short-term attention span. I was able to continue writing editorials and my blog so my “fogginess” was not as great as I had last time. I think the drug used eight years ago with my last replacement - Vicodin - was terrible. The one this time – Percocet – was much easier to tolerate. Reading a novel or a book? I found myself re-reading a lot of pages and eventually just stuck with doing crossword puzzles to keep the mind active.

LAST BIT OF BIG ADVICE: If you are on regular prescribed medication, DOUBLE CHECK AND TRIPLE CHECK the meds you are given at the hospital. Ensure they know UP FRONT what you are taking. When they call to double check your meds, have your list in front of you. If you have someone who can be a patient advocate for you, let that person know the same information. Give that person the Health Agent power necessary. This is really were most things can go wrong – medicine mixups.
Finally, thanks to all who sent their prayers and good wishes. It apparently worked. And now, back to your regularly scheduled blogs.
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#KatoKnee: You think therapy's tough? Try getting some sleep

We all agreed. The hardest part of joint replacement is the therapy; the second hardest part is getting a good night's sleep after surgery. For many of us, that still hasn't happened even two weeks later. And, in one case, the sleep deprivation lead to slight hallucinations and a trip to the emergency room.
It was a rehab camp "reunion" today in the waiting room of Orthopaedic and Fracture Clinic. Four of us who had surgery at the same time were together again this time to have our staples removed. We had shared a couple of days of pretty intense therapy immediately following surgery and quickly grew to know each other. Comrades in pain tend to bond pretty fast.
And rehab is like Vegas for gimps. What gets said in rehab stays in rehab so don't look to me for any hints on identity. But they are pretty interesting people.
For instance, the patient with sleep deprivation knew enough about it having been trained on surviving such torture while in the service. His body took enough beating back then the future holds a few more joint replacements - one more hip and both knees.
In his most recent case, he was sent home and told to take some 5 mg of melatonin, an over-the-counter herbal supplement that is supposed to bring on sleep. It helped. His wife said there was no way he was taking Ambien. Her relative, while on the drug, got up in the middle of the night, cooked breakfast and went back to sleep not remembering a thing. At least that's what she said.
In my case, the longest stretch of sleep I got actually came in the afternoon after therapy. It was for one hour and 45 minutes. When I awoke, I was disoriented, grumpy and still tired. That also ruined it for me that night not getting more than one-hour stretches of sleep.
I'm told this is not unusual so if you are contemplating joint replacement, ponder how you will deal with this. First off, it's best to have your own bed and your own bedroom if you can manage it. You will be up often and your mate doesn't want to hear you whining and grunting in the middle of the night. She needs her sleep too just to take care of you the next day.
My earlier readings of others in similar situations found that most patients get beyond this after about four weeks. Great. Two more weeks to go.
This was my first visit with Dr. Kyle Swanson since the hospital and I knew he would be glad to see me. I had my left knee replaced eight years ago in Indiana and already can tell a big difference with this one. I didn't need the walker once I got home. I've been walking without a cane now for a few days, much earlier than the Hoosier knee. When I told him this surgery was four times better than the last, you'd thought I just scored him a perfect 10 on the uneven bars. "It really makes my day to hear we did better than the last guy," he beamed. I love competition.
Dr. Swanson showed me the X-ray taken immediately after surgery and it was beautifully straight. He said may leg extension looked fantastic for just two weeks out, told me to stop taking naps or I'll mess up my sleep cycle and gave me my permission slip for the principal so I can return to class.
"You want it for when? You know you can take six weeks off, don't you?"
"Yes but I'm going stir crazy."
He was still reluctant for such an early return so I relented.
"OK, I'll give you no more than four hours a day starting next week. No lifting. No sitting for prolonged periods. And take off when you need to."
"Can you add that no one should piss me off?" It's political campaign season, you know. He didn't but he did prescribe more Percocet. And there you have it - going for the symptoms not the cause.
I did get to keep the staples, all 31 of them (see photo below) but I couldn't retrieve my original knee. Hey, it's not that weird. I still have all my kids' teeth having rescued them from that cheapskate tooth fairy. Yes, I'm that kind of guy.
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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#KatoKnee: Just when you think it's OK, it's really not

On the one-week anniversary of the knee surgery, I was feeling pretty good. My movement around the house was smooth. I didn't need the walker and many times didn't need the cane. While I still haven't been sleeping well, it seemed I had enough energy to test some limits.
I became more convinced after my Monday therapy. Afterwards I felt invigorated and ready to put a little time in at work.
So the next day, I thought I would just drop in, conduct a weekly meeting, tidy up some loose ends and paperwork then go home. My wife had an appointment in town. She could drop me off at 9 a.m. and pick me back up at noon. It seemed perfect.
What the visit turned into was a lesson on how sensory deprivation combined with pain numbing drugs as a recuperative strategy.
While at home, I had very few things to concentrate on - keeping my leg elevated, figuring out my crossword puzzles, reading news events and an occasional TV show.
It would seem very little of my body's energy was expended so it could focus on repairing the wound.
I mistook that energy as getting back to normal and arranged for a three-hour visit at work. It fell apart the moment I walked in.
My antenna went into high gear to acknowledge my settings, say hello while mentally trying to connect what happened one week ago to today, calibrate what needed to be addressed today and what can wait and why. Earlier I was determined to be clear headed so I skipped the pain killers. So now my body's defense mechanisms (I could hear "Danger Will Robinson") starting to kick in and draining my energy. I was sweating heavily under my dress shirt and across my brow.
I rushed through the agenda as quickly as I could and made my way back to the office where I sat resting, drinking water and slowly answering emails, waiting for my wife to pick me up after her appointment. It was the longest "short" morning I've had in a long time.
Are there any physicians out there who can explain what happened here?
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Caution: Knee surgery results, therapy not for squeamish

It's Day Five since my knee replacement. I've been to the grocery store (briefly), had lunch at a pizzeria and helped straighten up my home office.
I've also had some fitful nights when pain woke me up, an upset stomach from not eating enough while on pain medicine and frustration from being so darned bored. In other words, I'm recuperating about as planned, even better.
I'm one of the lucky ones. I had a knee replacement done about eight years ago and thought I knew what to expect. Truthfully, this one is going far better than the last. Sure, there is still pain, just not as severe; my hospital stay was short and while my range of motion is restricted, I'm able to walk with the aid of just a cane rather than a walker (the kind with neon yellow tennis balls stuck on the front legs) a lot sooner than before. Now that benefit is a little risky because it makes me cocky, feeling I can rush things along - which I can't.
I'm also lucky because I waited too long for the surgery. I was in such great pain before the surgery, the recovery is less painful and at least now I know this is an end.
And there's the real answer to when you should have your own knee replaced - when you don't have another choice. Now I will suggest you evaluate that situation very carefully.
In today's world of instant gratification, some people want the option of replacing a knee because they feel discomfort maybe because the cartilage is worn or you tore a meniscus. But brother, it's not like popping in a new battery into your iPhone and on you go. There is no "on you go."
In this case, you have to be marathoner not a sprinter
And you need to be less self-conscious about how your legs look in shorts (see photo above - that's going to leave a nasty scar.)
Replacing a knee is not for the squeamish. But pain is minimized, and therapy - if done right - is purposely long to ensure the recuperative effect lasts. But understand that, at least in my case, the end justifies the means. Contrary to what my wife believes, I am not a big fan of pain.
Some researchers have found four overarching themes why some people put off their decisions.
One conclusion was people needed more education and support about total knee replacement which is one of the reasons I am writing this blog.
You really can return to a normal life like walking the dog, gardening or doing housework with very few restrictions.
My goals are returning to snow shoeing this winter, bicycling to work in the spring and taking long walks with my wife at night. I'm more than halfway there now that I took that leap of faith.
I learned early on that delays and excuses will not make the situation better; only action can take care of that.
The next phase is therapy which will be tough because of the scar tissue and the massive swelling of the leg that will come down but only over time. See you on the back side.
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Thursday, July 26, 2012

With surgery completed, new lifestyle begins

In the parlance of restless sleepers, I'm a tosser. Just ask my wife. I'll find a comfortable spot on the bed with two pillows - one under my head and the other off to the side. I first lie on my right side, then on my left side, on my back and finally on my stomach which is where I usually end up. Then I settle in and wait to go deep. That lasts for about fifteen minutes before I get restless again. It's a routine I must follow or it takes much longer to fall asleep. It's almost like a cat that has to twist in a circle before it settles in.
I've tried going straight to the stomach and forsake the drama but that has yet to work. Colleen's not too happy with my nocturnal habit but most times she does get used to it.
Tonight it's going to get worse.
Following my knee replacement surgery Tuesday morning, I was released from the hospital this afternoon, nearly a day early. because there were no complications, the range of motion was improving and I was able to walk a long distance with my walker.
So we packed up and headed home.
Not the home I left, but rather an accommodating home that holds a temporarily handicapped resident for about three months. Furniture was pushed back to widen passageways, throw rugs were removed, a side table was brought into the TV room so I could continue my computer work and Colleen put together a shower stool for easier showering.
Those are the easy ones. But these past two nights at the hospital forced me to take a hard look at my sleep position alternatives. There is no way I will be able to toss and turn.
Hospital beds can be maneuvered electronically and mechanically in all sorts of positions. But the one at home just lies there, mocking me again to find my own mysterious comfort position. With my 31 metal staples in a perfect line, each twist brings a shot of pain. If I lie directly on my stomach with legs straight out, I'm also pressing my wounded knee to the mattress. Not a good choice.
Lying on my sides is out of the question because those previously mentioned muscles and tendons come alive. The least objectionable position may be lying on my back sandwiched between two large pillows to minimize my swaying and twisting. I will still feel the muscles underneath the knee - already sore from being held aside as my new metal joint was installed - stretch and complain quite bitterly for awhile. But that's just a prelude to my off-site physical therapy awaiting at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Post surgery and the infamous pain day

Midnight is here. Time for a pain pill (Percocet) and a much needed sleeping pill. Despite bringing earplugs to block hospital noise, I was only able to catch cat naps from 9 am on.
My next scheduled check-in came thankfully a little at 420 am. That gave me a good four-hour sleep from which I was awakened for another pain pill; stripping off the big bandage, and disconnecting tubes including the drainage from the wound site. Getting more freedom today to really push therapy which everyone is telling me will be tough, rough and worth it.
During my 8 am med routine something new was introduced. I get to shoot myself up - an anticoagulant called Lovenox. Even though I was a child of the '60s, I've never injected anything in my body so I was not sure about this one. Then I thought about my son, Michael who recently discovered he has Type One diabetes. Even though he had a strong almost panic aversion to needles, he does this all time. So it looks I'll be the block off the old chip. I did it today with no problems and will continue to do this every day for a week and a half.
After dressing in street clothes and eating a healthy breakfast we traveled slowly with my walker, Colleen following behind with my recliner to morning therapy session. Most all therapy will be done in this chair the comfort of which belied what I was going to experience.
I was joined by four others, two of whom had knee replacements. The therapy was not for strength but rather to gain confidence and range of motion. It proved to be easier on some while others weren't as comfortable with the pain.
An aside for the moment about Mayo Health Clinic System personnel. I've been in my fair share of hospitals in my life so this observation is qualitative in nature. Not only are personnel here helpful but very friendly, familial friendly as though I'd always been here. Very open, communicating all things you should need to know and even a welcoming "town square" conversation even about family life. They all end their discussions with something you rarely hear in a hospital "Is there anything else I can get you? They have that "improve the patient experience" down pat.
11am and I've earned my "green feet" designation meaning I can travel the halls unaided except for the mandatory walker. If I'm caught walking without the walker, I'm back to red feet and have to sit in the corner with no TV for two hours.
The afternoon therapy session is just a repeat of the morning so it already seemed like a routine.
Tomorrow - barring any surprises - the highlight will be taking a shower. And hopefully learn what time on Friday I can go home. Who knows? Maybe a Dino's Pizza is calling my name by then.
Earlier Post

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Knee Replacement day: Not bad ... So far

Even though I've had many surgeries before this one, my anxiety level was embarrassingly high this morning and even the night before.
The nurse said waves of heat were coming from my body. BP was 154 over 125. I was assured "we have meds for that." It is a hospital after all. Deep breathing, distraction, talking with my wife - nothing calmed me. What's with this? Wife Colleen chalked it up to old age; I thought it was related to having too many experiences. Been down this road before and all went well. What are the chances I keep escaping complications.
Then there was the filling out of the Living Will. Did I just awaken a subconscious fear of mortality? I'm 62. People my age read the obit section; there but for the grace of God, etc.
But the medical staff was reassuring, confident and very thorough. Knee area shaved, tubes put in and information collected all mixed in with cheerful small talk.
The gurney journey to the OR was bright, cold and busy with everyone readying their respective stations. Lots if talk, instrument alignment and one warm blanket. Did I mention it was cold?
Then when all was ready I sat up on the table, legs dangling off the side. I leaned forward with my forehead resting on the chest of a staffer and stared at the floor.
Behind me, hands were searching out the right spot using the telemetry of the hip bones and then a finger selected the right spot and stopped.
"You'll feel something cold on your back for a minute." it was the numbing medicine prior to the epidural. If something happened after that I don't remember. No counting back from 100. No spinning OpArt. Just "zonk." It was 6:50 a.m.
At 8:20 I woke up in the OR feeling absolutely relaxed and in no pain ... And numb from the waist down. How long this is going to last no one could be sure. But it eventually will be the last comfort I get and most of the day I enjoyed it.
It was a short visit in recovery. I was pretty clear and lucid so they sent me up to my room on the second floor, a short walk to physical therapy the next day.
At about 1245pm, I got my first taste of exercise - moving from the bed to chair. "That's it? I'm raring to go and I merely hop one step?"
They want to ensure I don't get dizzy, faint and crash to the floor. At my 240 lbs., who can blame them?
Meals so far have consisted of coffee (decaf), broth, Jello and juice. Later I can graduate to a solid piece of toast. Oh joy.
All in all, this is a much better experience than eight years ago when i had my first replacement. A lot has changed since then.
Now therapy will be the true test.
That's tomorrow. Later
Earlier Post

Monday, July 16, 2012

Knee replacement countdown: One day to go

MONDAY (One day to go): Have to admit, this morning butterflies were fluttering in my stomach. I've been compartmentalizing the emotions until now and the immediacy of the moment is finally upon me. I have lots of loose ends to take care of including showing my wife how I take care of the bills electronically. I'm also dropping off my Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) papers for the doctor's office to fill out and return to my employer. This secures my leave of absence should I run out of sick days, personal days and vacation days if I'm hospitalized longer than I expect. I am contributing to the economic comeback since with this amount of paperwork, surely it's keeping someone employed at the doctor's office.
And I'm looking to secure two witnesses for my "living will" signature who won't be creeped out by the experience.
"This is for what now?"
"You know, if I go into a coma or on life support."
"Do I have to pull a plug or something?"
"Only if you want to." Stand in line.
Over the weekend, we bought over-sized pajamas and shirts which will be easier for me to change and I settled on the footwear that's secure but easy to slip on and off. My overnight bag is already packed and I laughingly included a book to read. Let's see how pain killers affect my ability to retain an ongoing plot scheme. I'm also including an iPod which is more practical.
One last procedure before I go to bed tonight (besides fasting) - I'm to wipe down my whole body with some antibacterial wipes provided by the hospital which, according to the instructions, "leaves the body feeling sticky." As if I need another reason to not sleep well tonight.
The adventure begins in earnest tomorrow with a 6 a.m. appointment at the hospital. One difference this time compared to my last knee replacement could be the anesthesia - an epidural which will numb me from the waist to the toes. It apparently is the preferred method giving a better post-operative effect - longer lasting numbness, I suppose. And I will still be lightly asleep for the procedure so that takes care of any "tweeting" I had hoped to do during surgery. I'll try after coming out of the recovery room. Time me. See you tomorrow.
THURSDAY (Five days to go): Started on the leg exercises last night, the most important one was the "knee extension stretch," or rather the "let's see how much you can take before it really hurts" exercise. It goes like this: You prop your foot up on a chair facing you and place a towel or some sort of brace under your ankle. Then you put 5-10 lbs (that's right, five to ten POUNDS!) on top of your knee and have it sit for 15 minutes. This passively stretches the ligaments and muscles around the knee which is supposed to improve your range of motion and your balance.
I couldn't find any 10-lb bags of rice lying around so I used my wife's two 5-lb dumbbells and some towels. It wasn't too bad during the process and I actually did feel better afterwards - like fifteen minutes afterwards. That's because when I lowered my leg off the towel (remember, the bone now is ground itself into a socket) and the knee readjusted itself, there was a painful reminder why I was having the replacement surgery. The real fun starts after the surgery, however, when I have to place the weights on the operated knee. But by then I will be in the hospital's physical therapy room, sufficiently doped up and I am hopeful the comparison at that point will be moot. Although I do recall the therapists warning us ahead of time, this is the "least favorite" of the exercises. Apparently we are not doped up enough.
WEDNESDAY (Six days to go): Today, I filled out my Health Care Agent form and the directives should I be unable to direct myself. I've been putting this off for some time now for no good reason other than I didn't want to face my mortality quite yet. That's not a solid reason. I've seen what happens when you force others to second guess what they think you wanted done. It tears apart families, brings a great weight of responsibility on people you love who suffer through the guilt afterwards as they second guess what was decided. If you love the people close to you, fill out a health care directive.
Don't have anyone close? OK, then ponder this: the high cost of health care is primarily tied to keeping sick and dying people alive just a little longer, maybe weeks. I for one don't plan on adding that particular debt to the next generation especially if the quality of life just isn't there.
If you do pen your health care directive, let others know you have one and where it is stored. I filed mine with my hospital and my financial planner as well as giving a copy to my wife.
TUESDAY (Seven days to go): Early in the morning, I visited the MCHS lab to have some blood drawn. And today I stop taking all the vitamins, supplements and, my friend in pain, Aleve in prep for surgery.
Not much else to do until Monday night when fasting begins, an antibacterial wipe down occurs and a fitful night of sleep for a 6 a.m. arrival at the hospital the next day.
MONDAY (8 days to go): Attended the Mayo Clinic "Pre Op Total Joint Class" for a two-hour lecture on what to expect. About a dozen patients - the majority of whom are facing knee replacements - learned we should start doing exercises now to get the body ready, keep pets away and off the bed before and directly after the surgery to avoid infections, leave your wedding ring at home or it gets cut off and we're going to get a lot closer in "group physical therapy." Sadly, I also learned of a change from my earlier surgery: I won't have the CPM (continuous passive motion) machine waiting for me at home. It was such a relief at the end of a tough therapy day to lie down, strap your leg in and let it slowly raise and lower your knee to keep it flexible. I also felt secure at night knowing I wasn't going to twist or roll onto it while deep in sleep. Apparently research found patients did no better and no worse with the machine in recovery. Still I wished they would have asked me. I found great comfort in that slow, humming, hugging contraption.
SUNDAY (9 days to go): "So when are you going to write about how much pain you're in?" She sat staring at me, holding my cane.
"And why should I?"
"To let everyone know that delaying it doesn't make it better." My wife has little sympathy believing I put off the knee replacement far too long.
She's right, of course. I procrastinated about one month longer than needed with lame excuses about family obligations, a business conference in Iowa and some loose ends at the office.
All that did was give the pain more time to worsen and a steady diet of Aleve only slightly numbed the pain. She suffered herself, watching me grimace far too often.
Truth be told, there is never a great time. There will be at least three days in the hospital and afterwards figure on six weeks of outpatient therapy no matter what you have planned. And for you Type A personalities: Do not try to rush the process. You could end up back in surgery or at least leave you with a noticeable limp.
Earlier Post

Friday, July 13, 2012

The long saga returns: Another new knee

If I could go back in time, I would tell the younger me to knock it off.
I was ridiculously active in everything involving my legs - running, backpacking, hiking, hill climbing, even leg presses. I had built up strong thigh muscles and often put them to the test. But, over time, it was taking a toll on my knees. Arthritis in my family's gene pool didn't help and eight years ago in Indiana, I had a full knee replacement in my left leg.
About nine months later, I returned to hiking, biking and hill climbing. Unfortunately, I had to stop running which was most therapeutic for me. But at least I was active again pushing the limits, of course. Then, last year, the right knee finally started going out. The doctor found torn meniscus and quite a lot of arthritis. I delayed the inevitable by taking an injection of Synvisc, a lubricant, that helped a little while waiting for the most opportune time for the surgery. It had to be when my wife could take time off to help in the recovery. Men can be such wimps.
Meanwhile, because I couldn't exercise, I ballooned in weight and that just put more pressure on the knee. It got to the point where it's "bone on bone" and a rather painful groove has formed.
So here we are. On July 24, the right knee will be replaced. This is not an uncommon procedure. More than 600,000 replacements are performed each year and in ten years, as many as 3.2 million surgeries could be performed annually. Since this looks like something many of us baby boomers will be facing, I thought I would chronicle the experience and share it with you over the next few weeks both in this blog and on Twitter.
Having undergone this procedure before, I am not looking forward to the journey - especially the therapy - but I anxiously await the destination. I can only hope that since my last surgery the process from operation to therapy has improved (I'm looking at you, doc). I will offer some insights comparing the two experiences and I'd be interested in hearing from those of you who have undergone this type of surgery or even thinking about. Meanwhile, for the rest of you, invest in really good running shoes. You'll thank me later.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let's fulfill promises made on Benson Park and fund it

I was quoted recently in this story concerning the North Mankato City Council decision to install a plastic playground in a park designated for a nature park. For context, here is the full statement made to the City Council on June 18, 2012:
Mister Mayor and council members. I am Jim Santori a now FORMER member of the Parks & Green Spaces Advisory Committee. In deliberations with other former members, we have prepared a little background for those new to the council and a statement.
1. In 2007, the North Mankato city council formed the Parks and Green Spaces Advisory Committee and told its role was threefold: Planning, advising, and action
2. In 2008, we and city staff surveyed city residents who told us to develop our parks with an emphasis on “natural settings by increasing wildlife habitat and cultivating safe horticultural practices.” Oh yes, and more restrooms.
3. A few months later, the committee, city staff and with the help of a specialty firm in Minneapolis funded by the city council created a Master Plan for Benson Park. It was decided to move away from a neighborhood park and build a world-class regional park that would attract visitors from a wide area. There was even discussion of school buses visiting the park to provide instruction. Residents were telling us to think bold. It was exciting. After public hearings, the plan was approved and can be found on the City’s website.
4. Funding was to come from the local option sales tax. In fact, in January 2009 we were told $625,000 was available for improvements to Benson Park over the next five years.
5. Then in April 2009, the committee was told the city needed a state matching grant of $700,000 but that prospects were good because the grant specifies rolling hill prairies, woodland habitat and oak savannah habitat.
6. Then on September 16, 2011 we were informed that the project needed a state grant of $997,000 from the state – far exceeding what was needed for the five-year plan. We all understood that with state funding cuts, some sacrifices needed to be made. But Benson Park was the only one requiring matching state money to build what appears to be nearly half of the entire long-range project.
7. We had asked for more information and requested the city develop a more long-term parks committee like those operating in St. Peter, New Ulm and Fairmont. Instead, one week later we were told our job was done.
8. Since the plan was formalized, we have seen little significant development except for some seed planting and installation of donated trees.
9. But now with its most recent action the council agreed - on a motion made by the chair of the former Parks & Green Spaces committee - to install a plastic recreation space in the area specifically designated for native plantings, seedlings and interpretive signage.
10. The Master Plan does include multiple playgrounds including a woodland play area, a water play area and further development of Little Bug Bay all of which would be located with a main shelter and second picnic area on the North End of the park.
11. During the comment and development stage of the plan, consideration was given to a playground in the SW corner. However, it was determined that because it lacked adequate infrastructure in which to build a toilet there we should to keep the area above the present picnic area as wildlife habitat. The alternative of porta-potties was contrary to our charge to develop a world-class plan.
12. We are being told the council is following the plan. Respectfully, no it is not. …
13. A playground design and location is contrary to directions from the community to develop a regional park, not a neighborhood park. We understand long delays are frustrating to residents and the pressure to do “something” becomes greater over time. This is why we follow plans rather that make decisions on the latest pressure point.
14. Plastic playground equipment is not following the plan as pointed out earlier. In fact, there are many alternatives to this plastic recreation center. Rep. Terry Morrow reminded me of the community built structure following the ‘98 tornado in St. Peter that incorporated local & regional history. But unlike St. Peter, we have no Parks Committee to provide the council with alternatives.
15. And even the funding, now based on the largesse of the state, is not following the plan. A five-year beginning phase for the park system can be found on page 23 of the Master Plan. It was understood then that more ambitious funding would come later.
16. And despite the guiding principles set forth for the Park committee “to respect the concerns of residents near the parks” there was no discussion with the residents closest to the project many of whom are retired.
17. Therefore in light of this background,
a. we respectfully request the city council reverse its earlier decision and instead work toward a more reliable funding mechanism for development of the Benson Park Master Plan. Without a more reliable funding stream, one commentator told me we should do the honest thing and call this the Cinderella plan – it won’t happen until or if Prince Charming shows up.
b. We also respectfully request revisiting an offer made by the Master Plan's original designers Hoisington Koegler Group Inc to assist in securing the funds necessary to complete the project.
c. And finally, we request the city council more permanently install a Parks and Green Spaces Committee whose mission – again spelled out in the city’s own website – is (NOT WAS) to support and continue to build a world-class park and green spaces system for the city of North Mankato.
It can help the city council – especially new members and now a new city administrator - in future deliberations to understand history and context regarding development and improvement in the parks and green spaces of the city.
There was some discussion by council members who said when they voted for the playground, they thought it was part of the master plan. One council member said this was the first he knew there was a master plan for Benson Park.
After the testimony, the City Council did approve plans to build North Caswell soccer fields estimated to cost about $1 million. However, nothing was budgeted for Benson Park.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why - and how - newspapers will survive

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the newspaper's death is an exaggeration. Newspapers tend to quote naysayers while neglecting ample arguments for their own position citing it as too self-serving. Our editorial over the weekend takes a more positive outlook for the newspaper as a viable product - if it remains true to the communities it serves.
And then there's digital news founder Michael Bloomberg, who reads eight print newspapers a day because “I always thought the broadsheet presentation has real value.”

Thursday, May 31, 2012

'I'm talking to you!' The real reason behind bullying

Scorching rants on AM talk shows. Back stabbing gossip of "reality" TV shows. The extreme of political polarities. Demonizing the wealthy or those on welfare. Bounties to cripple NFL opponents. Compromise is weakness. Retard. Homo. Slut.
In this environment, are we really surprised our children are bullying others?
Not to Walter Roberts Jr., a nationally known expert on bullying and professor of counselor education at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Roberts stopped by the Free Press offices at our invitation to help us determine what role we might play in addressing the latest scourge, bullying.
We didn't walk away encouraged.
"It's like trying to pick up a basketball with your teeth," he said. The problem and its causes are too big.
We're all talking about what needs to be done in schools. We're looking in the wrong place. It's a lot wider than that.
Primarily, Roberts said, it's the lack of civility in today's culture that is giving our kids the green light to act without empathy or caring.
Our children feel such behavior must be all right because they see it all the time on television shows, news broadcasts and movies. Our culture is not only permitting it but fomenting it.
Take a look at some of the comments that appear on our own Free Press Facebook pages. It only takes about two comments before it starts to devolve into a string of accusations. Rather than respecting a different perspective, commentators go on the attack labeling each other as being stupid, ignorant or a lefty socialist or a neanderthal neoconservative.
The anonymity of social media has exacerbated the problem. We say things online we would dare not say in the supermarket. When using social media, we don't humanize the people so our normal inhibitions to act civil don't kick in and it's a free-for-all to see how clever and biting we can be.
When will that all change? According to Roberts, when civility returns as a virtue.
If we keep finding entertainment and virtue in demonizing those with whom we differ, don't expect our children to behave any differently.
It all starts at home. It starts with you and me. It starts with us looking in the mirror and determining what kind of role model we want to be. Don't try to change the world if you're not willing to change yourself first.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beyond Tough Mudder, this father's love

It's Monday. I purposely scheduled today off so I could hear my internal voice screaming, "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?"
My right leg, a month earlier begging for a knee replacement, now is swollen, painful and wrapped in an Ace bandage. It's very angry with me. I have a bruise the shape (and size) of Nevada on my inner thigh. My upper body muscles are sore and as I am writing this my clothes are soaking in buckets of water to loosen up the caked up mud from Saturday.
That was when the Twin Cities Tough Mudder was held (not in Minnesota but at Somerset, Wisc. Go figure). It's a nationwide charity event that helps fund the Wounded Warrior Project and attracted about 11,000 contestants and spectators on Saturday alone. The big news was Minnesota Wild's coach Mike Yeo was supposed to be there. I don't know if he made it but my whole family did, including daughter Alex from Los Angeles. She flew out for another try after last year's disastrous Snow Valley Tough Mudder. It had dipped to 29 degrees and a number of people including Alex dropped out due to hypothermia.
It was last July, when daughter Chandra was an entrant in the Devil's Head Wisconsin Tough Mudder. My wife and I were the support team. There was one particular obstacle called Everest, a half pipe, that eluded her. It required a fast dash up the pipe, scaling the curve, then - if you're lucky or an orangutan - grabbing the lip and pulling yourself up. More often, it took those on top to assist. After 14 tries, she couldn't get close enough for a helpful grab, relented and climbed up the side brace rather than up the pipe. Dejected, she joined Alex in setting Twin Cities TM as their goal to complete each obstacle.
Chandra encouraged us to make it a family event. Being a cheapskate, I couldn't pass up the veteran's discount so I was in. She got shirts printed with our team's name "For a relaxing time, make it Santori Time" an often misquoted line from Bill Murray's movie "Lost in Translation." She made CDs with adrenalin-pumping music and dog tags - I'm guessing in case our bodies needed to be identified.
Her boyfriend, Michael Westforth, came in from Montana. My son, Michael (I know, we're getting confused too) was working the grounds as a supervisor but his newly-announced fiance, Jacinta, joined my wife and grandson to be our support team, slogging energy drinks, bars and gels.
We were in the first group of 600 out and after two miles of the 12-mile course it was going fairly well. My team advised me not to jog and I took their advice. A group of spectators said "Hey look, they're walking." At which my ever-protective daughter Danielle turned around and, with gun-slinger eyes, shot back "Yeah, well I don't see you joining us!" They retreated apologetically. Gotta love her.
It was about mile four when my inner voice started to whisper the doubts but I didn't let on. The leg was starting to hurt and each team member took turns being my brace on the descents. They never actually said it but I'm pretty sure they thought I lost my marbles. A perceptive father knows these things.
This event clearly was made for younger people, more athletic with seeming unlimted energy. Every one of my team members were joking, laughing and even Danielle was bounding on tree stumps like a kangaroo. They were taking the challenges like ninjas. I was taking it like a retired sumo wrestler.
By now, I was determined to at least get through most of the course. I had to skip a couple of the obstacles, especially the 12-foot Berlin Walls. And there were some I should have skipped like the Electric Eel, a nasty bit of sadism that involves belly crawling in a muddy swamp through dangling electric wires occasionally shooting 10,000 volts. When it hits, it forces your body to contract driving your face into the mud. Danielle's husband Mark and I walked away with mud beards. Alex was shocked four times coupled with smoke and loud pops. She was not amused.
There were 22 obstacles included diving in iced slime tanks (Arctic Enema), toting logs for half mile (Hold Your Wood), tube crawls, balance beams, monkey bars and mud mounds that were nearly impossible to scale without help.
It was that awareness that formed a smile in my heart. Here was my family, my team, not only helping me and each other but taking time to help others over the obstacles. When they weren't walking slowing and patiently with the old guy, they were grabbing wrists, thrusting their shoulders, shoving up bodies of complete strangers over obstacles to help. They were talking up another team, the Mudd Uglies, for how much they helped others. My team - muddied, wet, shivering in the cold - didn't admire those who were faster or stronger; they looked up to those who sacrificed. I had to finish now; not for me but for them.
Toward the end of the course, we finally reached Everest, the half-pipe. Everyone of them made it up and Chandra was the last of the team. She tried twice, each time missing within inches of outstretched hands. She returned for a third try and dug in her heels. I was rehearsing on how I would deal with her disappointment. I then looked back at the pipe to see that Michael was stretched unnaturally far from the lip. Mark had grabbed his ankles. If he fell, he'd be sliding down the pipe and picking splinters out of his face. The crowd started to notice and shouted to Chandra "Come on, you can do it." "Go, go, go!!" Chandra sprinted to the pipe, launched from the bottom and their fingers clasped together. He grabbed her other wrist and started slowly pulling up but losing strength. "Stand on my head!" he shouted. She yelled "I'm not going to stand on your head!" Voices in the crowd yelled "Help her! Help her!" and others on top moved over and helped pull her on top of the lip. Loud roars of "Yeah!!" and applause followed.
A father's pride grew three sizes that day.
At the finish, rather than individually dashing across the finish line, daughter Alex - who was also celebrating her birthday -- had us link arms and together we walked into the end zone to receive our orange headbands, a cup of beer and some energy bars. Each member of that team could have finished the course in three hours. But, because they stuck by my side, it took us six hours. It didn't seem to matter to them how long it took; they genuinely wanted to do this together.
Today, I sit here with my hot cup of tea, my leg propped up on pillows and feeling proud of these big-hearted people who I call my family and soon to be family.
Oh, yeah. The next day Michael, using the Jumbotron at the Cubs-Sox game, proposed to Chandra. She accepted.
Did I bury the lead again?
UPDATE: Found out May 30 that, in fact, I will need a knee replacement. Bone on bone, doctor says. I'll have a matching set.

Monday, April 30, 2012

40 years ago: My stint in 'Nam

Forty years ago this spring, I was a newly trained radioman heading to my assigned ship, the USS Preble, DLG-15, a guided missile frigate heading for deployment to Vietnam. I happened across these records taken from the logs of the Preble. (Italics are my comments). Unfortunately by doing this chronologically, the lead is buried -- the Preble was the last U.S. naval ship to be hit by enemy fire in the Vietnam War.
During the spring of 1972, The USS Preble participated in local exercises and continued training for her next WESTPAC (Western Pacific) deployment. On 31 July, Preble departed Pearl Harbor, enroute WESTPAC. Preble stopped at Midway Island on 3 August for fuel, 10 August at Guam for fuel (and some Olympia beer! I swear we must have had some deal with Olympia because it was all over the place.) and finally arriving at Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines on 13 August. Preble departed Subic Bay on 18 August for duties in the Tonkin Gulf.
On the night of 22 August, Preble sailed into the combat zone, off Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam, and took station near the gun line. (This is where it all became real. Tracer shells, flares and thick acrid smoke in the dead of night made the arrival a scene from Dante's Inferno.). She was assigned picket ship duty in the Gulf of Tonkin, performing the functions of both North and Mid SAR (Search and Rescue) commander, concurrently, the first and only warship to carry out such a simultaneous assignment during the entire course of the war.
On 28 August, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., Chief of Naval Operations, and Vice Admiral J.L. Holloway III, Commander of Seventh Fleet visited Preble (To this day, I still don't know why they came. But thanks to Zumwalt, we were able to sport beards and had beer dispensers in the barracks. He was not-so-affectionately called the "hippie admiral" by the old salts.)
On 30 August, Preble was assigned duties as South AAW (AntiAircraft Warfare)/SAR controlling "ALPHA" air-strikes and air activity in the Hon La Anchorage. On 12 September, Preble's combat information center picked up a distress beeper from a downed A-7 Corsair off the USS Saratoga (CVA-60). Preble vectored USS Wiltsie (DD-716), the closest rescue ship, to the exact spot for a successful recovery. Four days later, on 16 September, Preble picked up the beeper from an Air Force F-4 Phantom downed in the Gulf, near Dong Hoi. Within 25 minutes of the aircraft hitting the water, Preble had pinpointed the downed pilots, launched her motor whaleboat, and safely recovered both air crewmen. (The following day, the pilots did a low pass fly-by that scared the hell out of everyone - to say thanks).
On 19 September, Preble was relieved and proceeded to Subic Bay, R.P arriving on 21 September. On 23 September Martial Law was declared in the Republic of the Philippines. (We were still allowed off base in Subic Bay and saw some pretty raw action against the Filipino residents perpetrated by their own troops. It felt like we were in two war zones.)
n 1 October, Preble departed Subic Bay, R. P., arriving on Yankee Station in the South China Sea on 3 October, to become plane guard for the USS Saratoga (CVA-60). (Actually our orders were to place ourselves between the aircraft carriers and any attacker. A common fear at that time was North Vietnamese Komar gunboats would emerge from the rivers with Styx missiles and attack the aircraft carriers. I don't know of any case where that actually happened.) On 15 October, Preble was detached from Saratoga and returned to the Gulf off Dong Hoi to resume South SAR/AAW picket duties. At times the monotony of the 'box patrol' was broken, when Preble was called on to maintain small arms proficiency by intercepting the tide of full rice bags which enemy supply vessels often loosed toward the shore. "Operation Pocket Money", the mining of North Vietnam's ports and rivers, had made it too hazardous for the communist freighters to get their cargo ashore otherwise. (This was a time for some comic tension relief with the absurdity of using .50 caliber machine guns to sink rice bags).
On 2 November, armed reconnaissance aircraft under Preble's control spotted an enemy convoy of some 150 trucks. The ship requested additional aircraft and directed them to the target area. After the smoke cleared, the final bombs damage assessment stood at 80 percent. Soon thereafter, combat operations against North Vietnam were curtailed, as the Paris Peace Talks progressed. Preble departed the Gulf of Tonkin for port visits to Hong Kong and Kaohsiung (Taiwan), before proceeding to Subic Bay for reprovisioning and repairs.
Preble returned to her South SAR station on 27 November. During mid-December, from the 18th on, Preble's forward air controllers participated in directing concentrated nighttime B-52 raids against Hanoi and Haiphong: part of "Operation Linebacker II."
As Christmas approached, Preble completed her third gunline period, and was enroute Japan for holiday R&R, when a change of orders directed her to take position on the gunline, off the Cua Viet River and the Demilitarized Zone. Preble arrived on station 25 December (Yes, Christmas Day. There were no decorations.), and got her first fire mission. On 27 December, she encountered her first enemy shore-battery counterfire receiving 7 rounds. (From this point on, all radiomen had to wear flak jackets in the radio shack which had a thin outer shell that was pierced). Fragments from 122mm shells littered the weatherdecks after each fire mission, attesting to the numerous near misses that the ship received. Equipped with FLIR (forward-looking infrared) detection, the ship's gunfire interdicted a truck convoy traveling down the coast on the night of 28 December, and destroyed several vehicles, setting off numerous secondary explosions and fires. On 29 December, after having fired 532 rounds of 5-inch/54-caliber ammunition in four days on the gunline, Preble was relieved and departed the Gulf for Sasebo, Japan.
Preble arrived in Sasebo, Japan on 1 January.Transiting the Taiwan Straits, enroute the South China Sea, on 12 January, Preble diverted to assist in coordinating the rescue and recovery of two air crewmen from an F-4 Phantom II downed in nearby waters. From 14 through 23 January, Preble took up picket station between Hon Gio Island and the Dong Hoi coast. Relieved by USS Worden (DLG-18) on the 23rd, the ship returned to the DMZ and gunline duty in support of a South Vietnamese offensive. On 24 January, having laid down gunfire to disrupt an enemy truck convoy and suppress an attacking tank column, the ship took hits from 130-mm shore batteries. An antenna atop the aft mast was destroyed and a shell burst off the port side amidships ripped holes in the superstructure. The Commodore's Cabin was severely damaged, and the port lookout received some minor wounds. (Fragments also pierced the torpedo tubes topside. A few inches more and it would have gotten even more interesting.) (The ship did not know it at the time, but this was the last hit on an U.S. Navy warship by North Vietnamese shore batteries in the Vietnam War.)
Over the next four days, Preble fired 431 rounds supporting the advance of a South Vietnamese battalion. In return, some 169 rounds of North Vietnamese counter-battery fire harassed the ship. At 0800, on 28 January 1973, the ship's 1MC announced that the Vietnam War was over. Preble remained on the gunline until 1 February, when she was relieved to begin her eastward transit to Hong Kong and Subic Bay, and thence to Pearl Harbor.
At Pearl Harbor, the ship (prepared) for a fall deployment to the Indian Ocean area. On 24 September, Preble departed Pearl Harbor for a six-month deployment. After calling at Midway Island and Guam, she reached Subic Bay on 14 October. On 19 October, after fueling and reprovisioning, Preble commenced her westward sail. During two months of special operations, as part of the first Attack Carrier Task Group excursion into the Arabian Sea, she crossed the South China Sea, transited the Straits of Malacca, entered the Bay of Bengal, and proceeded onward to visit the Gulf of Oman and the Gulf of Aden. (Special ops means this was a top secret mission being directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Yom Kippur War but that's another story I'll save for a different time. I'm researching more about it now.) Finally, retracing her route, Preble returned to Subic Bay on 17 December.
Preble received the following awards: Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation and Combat Action Ribbon. (We also earned three campaign stars.)
With three weeks of upkeep and R&R behind her, Preble departed Subic Bay on 14 January. She began to wrap up her deployment, with port calls at Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Manila and Singapore, interweaving two more stops in Subic Bay before returning home via Guam and Midway Island. On 22 March, Preble was again berthed at Pier Bravo in Pearl Harbor. (And I went home.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to pay back schools? Depends on how you ask

Two area lawmakers launched surveys recently about the repayment of school funding that was delayed to help an immediate problem with the state budget.
If you look closely, you can see the results depend largely on how the question was asked ...and who did the asking.
GOP Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen's results? "A 62-percent majority says our first priority should be to repay shifted K-12 education funds.
Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) indicate the best way to begin repaying delayed K-12 education funding is to reduce spending in order to grow the surplus."
DFL Sen. Kathy Sheran's results? Of the respondents to her survey, 51% said "The state should use a phased-in approach that would pay back the shift over the course of four or five years." While 33% said "Follow state law and pay back the shift as soon as the state has enough funds in reserve, which could take 5-10 years." And 5% said "Never pay the shift back. It’s the price schools had to pay to fix the 2011 budget deficit."

Seriously, who doesn't need an ID?

Started out my Monday morning with a call from my occasional conscience tweaker, Mr. D, a rural businessman.
"Jimmy, can you tell me something? What groups actually need IDs?"
His dander was up on the constitutional amendment coming up for a November vote that require a government-issued ID be presented to cast a ballot in elections. My dander was up, too, because I don't like being called Jimmy.
I thought for a moment. "You mean actually have to live without them? I'm not sure."
"Well, you need an ID to cash a check, to collect Social Security, to buy a house..." He went on about military service, getting food stamps, boarding a plane, buying a drink, driving a car, getting a loan.
He surmised that it would be someone who is below the age of 62, homeless, self-employed, used cash and didn't drive a car. "And so the requirement would hardly affect a lot of people."
"What about the Amish," I asked?
"Well, that's another group I suppose."
"And what about those who live off the land, you know, shunning all the conveniences of modern life?"
"Yeah, there are those self-sustainers who probably ride a horse into town."
But even so, his argument went, are we really inconveniencing a large number of people to get an ID - and a free one at that - to vote.
"Look at the problems now. You have students who, if they wanted to, can vote twice - once where they're going to school and again at their hometown or even from another state because no one is checking. Or nursing home residents who are there temporarily." And, he went on, "I just never liked the idea that anyone could walk in and have a buddy vouch for him" as being a resident of the precinct.
Well, actually he can vouch for up to 15 people and if it's a residential home, one person can vouch for an unlimited number of residents staying there.
"You're making my case for me," he said.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," I offered. "I'll post this column and see if there are any other groups of people who would be left out if IDs were required and didn't already have them."
And there we have it. So, any suggestions?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Free Press adopts digital subscription

MANKATO — After months of work, The Free Press website will undergo an important change. By the end of the month, we will offer digital subscriptions to mankatofree that will allow you to view an unlimited number of our website’s articles, blogs, photos and more.
Without the digital subscription, you still will be able to access 10 pages each month. After that, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.
With some dedicated experimentation and resources, we have found over the last year that we have three distinct audiences: the online reader, the e-edition (or PDF) reader and the print edition reader who values hard copy and home delivery.
We have been upgrading our website to such a point where it now has become a stand-alone product with features such as our CoverItLive reporting of sports and news events, more photos, extended police logs and court documents, breaking news, video reports, blogs, polls, Mankato Magazine, Minnesota Valley Business magazine and other interactive features.
We have developed methods by which we could present the news in ways the print edition could not. We are now at the point where we can offer all the extended features at a fair price to cover the expense of gathering and presenting the news in its various forms.
Subscribers to The Free Press can get full access to our website for $1 per month, and for nonsubscribers the price is $4.99 per month.
We value our print subscribers as members of the Free Press Media Group and they will enjoy a greatly discounted rate for unlimited access to And some features will continue to have unlimited access, including our obituaries, classifieds, weddings, engagements and celebrations.
The is unquestionably the region’s No. 1 local news website, drawing more viewers than any other local media company. Last year, we had 17.2 million page views and nearly 2 million unique users with stories that generated enough interest to go “viral” or get shared by thousands more readers. Nearly 70 percent of those who came to were returning visitors.
We are committed to changing and innovating to provide you with the local news you need, when you want it and the way you want it.