Category Archives: Tales of Jack

Making Faces

jcadam77.jpg

Me and My Brother in 1977

One day when I was a child I was sitting in the backseat of my Dad’s car. My little brother sat next to me. He was making faces. I said, “Dad! Adam’s making faces at me.” My Dad took a look in the rearview mirror and saw that my brother was really going at it contorting his face as much as possible. When my Dad turned around and my brother knew my Dad was watching he instantly went straight-faced as if he had been doing nothing the entire time.

My Dad told me this story over the weekend to point out that though we are grown adults, my brother loves nothing more than to antagonize me if he can and that this is how I should view my brother’s endorsement of Donald Trump to be President of the United States. “He was over here yesterday.” My Dad said, “He was laughing about it.”

I have no doubt that he was laughing about it and I also have no doubt that at least part of his endorsing Donald Trump is just to push my buttons. My brother has never been heavily into politics. It would surprise me if he’s even voted more than a couple of times in his life. It is not his thing. He is a professional tow truck driver. He has forgotten more about towing cars than I will ever know.

My response to my Dad was this, “The problem is that it’s not funny. His endorsement of Trump looks exactly the same as if he were entirely serious about it.”

When it comes to publicly endorsing a man who has raped his wife and excused it by saying it was legal at the time, who has people in his employ who physically assault reporters, who suggests that maybe we should require Muslims in America to be labelled, who advocates violence to those who disagree with him, and who believes you should treat women ‘like shit’, there is nothing funny about it. There are jokes to be made at the expense of Donald Trump. That’s easy. But saying that you endorse Donald Trump and then later saying you were just joking is like grabbing a stranger’s boob and saying you were just joking. It’s only a joke you because it doesn’t victimize you. What it comes down to is my brother is the one demographic Trump is okay with: He’s a white heterosexual American male with his own business. So am I. I just happen to care about other people.

Now it could be that my Dad is entirely correct and that my brother is doing it just to bother me. That could be true. And it does bother me. So in that regard, mission accomplished. But it’s only from the privileged position of not being someone Trump wants to deport, assault, rape, or otherwise treat like shit that someone is likely to make such an assertion.

I do not know if my brother ‘really’ endorses Trump or not. I know that he too lives in Washington State and that if he bothers to vote and vote for Trump it’s likely not going to matter because the majority of Washington State hasn’t voted for a Republican President since 1984. To avoid dealing with these sort of antics from my brother, I have blocked him on social media. I also deleted one of my two Facebook profiles, but that’s another story.

– Jack Cameron

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Chest Pains And A Hospital Visit

Pile of electrode stickers

This is a pile of monitor stickers I peeled off of my body after getting discharged from the hospital.

My grandfather dropped dead of a massive heart attack in his early 60s. I think I was 11 when that happened. I learned from an early age that my father’s side of the family had a bit of a history when it came to heart problems. So this past Tuesday when my chest started hurting, I paid attention. Not a a lot, mind you. I didn’t go to the hospital when it started. I finished out my shift at work and caught the bus home.

That night I called my mom, who has for the majority of my life worked as a nurse at Tacoma General Hospital. She advised me to take an aspirin every six hours and try to take it easy for the next week. She also said to go get seen if I had any other symptoms.

But Wednesday morning, I woke up and felt like I usually do after a very long and strenuous day. And it was the morning. And I had slept well. So it wasn’t sleep deprivation. I told my wife. She said we should go to the Auburn Urgent Care (the nearest Urgent Care to our house.)

We got there and they immediately hooked me up to an EKG and up an oxygen tube up my nose. They said they were calling the ambulance to take me to Auburn Regional. My wife used to work at Auburn Regional. She had told me more than enough stories about the place to keep me away. Not to mention the fact that if there was truly anything wrong with me, my mom would kill me if I wasn’t in her hospital.

We told them we wanted to go to Tacoma General. The doc refused. I said, “Fine. I’ll sign myself out AMA and my wife will drive me to Tacoma General.” The doctor really didn’t like this and tried to scare me by saying, “You may be having a heart attack right now.” But to me that was all the more reason to get to a hospital I trust.

Twenty minutes later we were in the Emergency Department of Tacoma General. The Auburn Urgent Care had at least called ahead to let them know we were coming. I asked if I could use the rest room as soon as I got there. The admitting nurse handed me a cup and told me where the rest room was. TG had entirely rebuilt the Emergency Department since the last time I’d been there. It’s incredible. It really feels like a 21st century hospital. In the rest room I couldn’t help but notice that among the tiles, they had an aquatic theme going. If you counted a starfish as a seashell, then there were three seashells in the in the wall, which I found funny thanks to my love for Demolition Man.

Almost immediately they hooked me up to an EKG, putting stickers and electrodes all over my chest. The large male nurse tried to find a vein for an IV in my right arm and failed, then my left arm and failed, then finally found in in my right arm. (I learned later from my mom that I should have asked for ‘IV Therapy’, a team at the hospital that just does IVs.)

They asked a lot of questions. Did my chest hurt right now? No. Was I more tired than normal? Yes. What did the pain in my chest feel like? Like a rock had been placed on it. Did I have a family history of heart problems? Yes. How much do I drink? How much do I smoke? Do I do any illegal drugs? Did I have any spiritual needs during my stay? This last one surprised me. As an atheist I had no needs and I almost felt like saying, “I believe in medicine and science that’s why I came here rather than some place that would try to heal me with crystals.”

A little later a guy came in and did a chest X-Ray. The chest tray they put behind my back was more than a little cold. A doctor came in maybe an hour later. He had me recount my story of what had brought me there. He said, “We might be able to do a Cardio CT. We only have staff for the day shift and you fit the parameters for it. It’s not a test we often get to do.”

He went on to explain that the test requires that they inject me with something that will slow my heart rate down to under 60 beats per minute. Then they put me in a machine that creates a 3D image of my heart.

I thought that the medication would make me really relaxed. Instead the medication made me just barely conscious. I was half asleep watching my vitals as my heart rate got lower and lower. 65…63..Then I’d move and it’d go up to 68 and then back down. Eventually it was at a steady 55 and occasionally going lower. They wheeled me into another room and had me get on the table. Once I was on the table and in the imaging tube, they injected some contrast dye in me. It made my head and my crotch suddenly feel like someone had placed hot wet rags on them. At the same time, they told me that I needed to hold my breath for 30 seconds, while surrounded by this tube, having had no food for the past 12 hours and on drugs that were slowing my heart down and making my head hot. We did this twice.

The next few hours were spent barely awake. Eventually the doctor came in. I wanted more than anything for the doctor to say, “You have the heart of a twenty-year-old. There is no reason for you to be here.” Instead he said, “We think we may have found some calcifications in your heart. The image is a bit blurry because you apparently moved during the CT. Even a tiny movement can do that. We need to run a stress test on you to be sure, but we can’t do that until tomorrow due to the drugs currently in your system. We’re admitting you to the hospital for the night and we’ll go from there.”
If you’ve lived a life like mine, there’s a part of you that thinks sooner or later all the shit you do and have done is going to catch up with you. There are rules and I’ve spent a fair amount of my life breaking them. I’ve never really been into exercising or dieting. I’ve eaten Baconators and Ultimate Breakfast Sandwiches like they were vitamins. I’ve eaten entire pizzas all by myself just because I wanted to. There have been times when I smoked cigarettes and drank a lot. When you live like that and have a brain in your head, some part of you knows that sooner or later you’ll be in a hospital bed and a doctor is going to tell you, “We’ve found something.”

I told my wife to call my parents. I told her to contact my employer and let them know I wouldn’t be at work tomorrow. I thought about my wife, my son, my children, my writing, my entire life. I wondered how bad this might get. I’m a paranoid guy so it wasn’t long before I was thinking of a world without me.

I didn’t pray. Sure, I’m an atheist and atheist don’t pray but I wasn’t always an atheist and I don’t think anyone would fault me if I did. I trusted in the doctors. I trusted in technology. I trusted in science because even if there were a God, I don’t think he’d be holding any miracles for me.

I updated my Facebook like crazy. This helped pass the time between test results and alert just about everyone I knew as to what was going on. I checked and smiled at the kind comments. In my more paranoid moments I thought how nice it was that if I dropped dead, I would apparently be missed. At least on Facebook.

Around eight they got me into a room on in the Cardiac Ward. I was the youngest person there. The room on the seventh floor had an incredible view.

First food after 12 hours.

They finally brought me food. They warned me ahead of time that the food was ‘heart healthy’. It appeared to be some shredded turkey with potatoes and gravy. I was hungry enough that I didn’t care what it was. As the night wore on, my wife offered to stay the night, but I told her to go home and try to sleep. I knew she probably wouldn’t sleep, but I felt bad enough that I was stuck there. No reason to stick her there as well. She said she’d go home later.

A little after ten my mom showed up. She was working the night shift in an hour but came in to check on me before that. She told me she’d come by in the morning as well. A nurse came in and explained that I’d have the stress test ‘sometime between 8am and 5pm’ the next day. She also said that she’d be checking my vitals every four hours. So I should expect her at midnight and four in the morning. Shortly after that my wife went home.

I watched the Daily Show and fell asleep. The cardiologist came in at some point but I wasn’t really awake and only remember her coming in and nothing of our conversation. I woke up again about three in the morning. Something had startled me awake. I wasn’t sure where I was or why I was there. For a few moments I sort of freaked out. Then the nurse came in and my recent memories came back to me. She checked my vitals and left.

In the morning I woke up to my mom coming in along with a different nurse. It was around seven. I didn’t recognize the nurse. She introduced herself and told me she was there to inject something radioactive in me to prepare for my stress test this morning. This surprised me because I was told the night before it could be any time between 8 am and 5 pm. Maybe I was the only one on the list. Or maybe my mom pulled some strings. Whatever the case, I knew that my wife planned on calling at 8am to find out when I’d be going for the test. So I immediately told my mom to contact my wife and get her here.

Twenty minutes later I was put in a wheelchair and taken to another room with another big machine. I did not feel well. I couldn’t eat anything after midnight for this test so again I was hungry. I got onto the table and watched the screen above me. It had these two squares with static in them that the technician assured me was my heart. She said this would take twenty minutes and that I should just breathe normally. At least I didn’t have to play dead. The machine moved all around me slowly and twenty minutes later I was done and taken upstairs.

They placed more electrodes on my chest and hooked all of these wires from me into a computer. I felt like Iron Man without the armor. She explained that they were going to have me jog on a treadmill and try to get my heart rate up to 160 beats per minute. She took one of the wires off and put it back on. Something was wrong. She tried messing with the wires some more while trying to keep my hospital gown on until I finally just took it off to make things easier for her. Luckily I was still wearing sweat pants though they did not fit and felt like they might fall down at any moment.
I suggested she reboot her computer. Nine times out of ten this fixes all computer problems. She tried that but still nothing. She brought in another guy who tried to make it work. Finally they replaced all the wires with a new set of wires. Still nothing. They made a call in to tech support and told me they’d have to try the machine downstairs in the Emergency Department.

In the Emergency Department they had the same set up and another treadmill. The guy from upstairs took off one of the electrodes and used an abrasive fabric to scrub my skin where the electrode had been. He then put a new electrode on. This worked. It turned out the problem wasn’t the machine. It was that my skin simply wasn’t conducting the way they needed it to. He did this same process with the other electrodes and we were in business.

A new doctor came in. He told me that they would have me walk on the treadmill and progressively make it steeper and faster and that once my heart got up to 160 beats per minute for over a minute, they’d inject me with some more radioactive stuff and make me go just a bit faster for 15 seconds after that.

I got on the treadmill. It was flat and it was a good walking pace. It didn’t seem bad at all. They told me to make my strides longer and get closer to the front of the treadmill. I did as asked. They sped it up and made it steeper. This continued until I was doing just under a job. After a few minutes my heart rate was hovering around 160. They injected the radioactive stuff and asked me if I was up for going much faster for 15 seconds. I wasn’t. I was exhausted. I wanted to eat. But I also knew that if they didn’t get what they wanted out of this test, they’d have to do another one and I didn’t want to do this again. So I said, “Yes.” I ran for 15 seconds after which he asked if I could do 15 more. I said okay. After that they slowed it down. I dropped into my wheelchair ready to pass out.

“Does your chest hurt?” Someone asked.
“No.” I said, somewhat surprised, “But I’m having trouble breathing.” A few minutes later, I was better, but still pouring sweat. They brought me back upstairs to the big machine and I did another twenty minute imaging session. When they got me back to my room I was as worn out as I’ve ever been.

My wife was there and so was food. It was eleven in the morning. Before I could touch the food my wife told the nurse, “This has been sitting here since 8am. Can we get him something warm?” The nurse took it away and instantly replaced it with a warm one.

I talked with my wife. She told me that my dad had called and talked to my mom. I figured I heard her wrong. My parents don’t speak to each other. They haven’t in at least 15 years. I asked her again. She said my dad had called my hospital room. My wife had answered and mentioned my mom was in the room. My dad asked her to put my mom on the phone. This shocked my wife as much as it would shock me. She put my mom on the phone and they talked for about fifteen minutes about my condition.
More than anything else, this made me afraid as to what my condition was. Yes, it made perfect sense that if your son is in a hospital that your ex-wife works in you should talk to her to find out what’s really going on. But my family hasn’t always been known for doing the sensible thing.

I told my wife I was going to rest. She said she’d run some errands and come back later in the afternoon. About an hour later a doctor came in and said that he’d looked at my test results and decided that the calcification they thought they saw on the CT was nowhere to be found on the stress test. He was going to talk with the cardiologist to get his opinion and then they’d likely release me from the hospital.

Now at this point, there was a part of me that said, “Well there you go. Your chest hurt. You were tired. You were stressed. You overreacted and went to the hospital. They tested you and it turns out you’re just FINE. No big deal. Let’s go get a double Baconator and call it a day.” This is the part of me I’ve listened to most of my life. He’s a fun guy. But I wasn’t listening to that.

Instead, I was listening to a part of me that said, “You got lucky, pal. And just because you didn’t have a heart attack doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re 37 and just maybe there are things in your life you need to change so you don’t end up here again anytime soon. Get better. Get all these drugs they’ve put in you out of your system. Start feeling like you again and then let’s take stock of everything in your life and find what’s working and what’s not. You have another chance and not everyone gets one of those. And even if none of that is true, there’s no reason not to act as if it is. The worst that can happen is you improve your life.”

I have a follow up appointment with my regular doctor next week followed by an appointment with my cardiologist. I don’t know what parts of my life I plan on changing. Some things I know will stay the same. Others like what I eat and how much I exercise are definitely going to change. I promised my Facebook friends I’d write a detailed account of everything that happened. I don’t think they expected a 3,000 word story, but I’m a writer and whenever something major happens I feel like I need to write about it. I don’t know who besides me would be interested in reading all of this. But I figured I’d post it all the same.

The result was that just about all of my friends on Facebook read it. Many encouraged me to post this on my regular website and so I have. A few days after my stay in the hospital last week I got a Thank You card.

My first follow up appointment is tomorrow afternoon. I’ll be posting more about my health and what changes I make in coming weeks. Right now I feel almost back to 100%, but my doctors and everyone else say that I did the exact right thing by getting checked out.

Some of the changes that have already happened include that I’m not even smoking the occasional cigarette now (I’d have one every now then before.) and I’m down to no more than three cans of Coke a day. Today I only drank one can of Coke. It’s the first time I’ve done that in a year. I’m taking stock of other activities and behaviors in my life and I’m sure I’ll be making changes where appropriate.

Thank you to everyone who wished me well, sent me nice comments, made phones calls, and otherwise helped me this past week. It’s been a rough one. One other thing I’ve realized is that I want to write more. So expect more posts on this site and over on my TacomaStories.com site.

Thanks for reading.

– Jack Cameron

Car Wreck #24

As I mention in Ruin Your Life, I’ve been in twenty-four car accidents. The last one was in December of 2006. This is what I wrote about it at the time:

 

Yesterday I got into my twenty-fourth car accident. I should point out I was only driving in five of those accidents so statistically you want me in the driver’s seat and not the passenger seat. Anyway, I was driving my 1994 Nissan Altima home and an 80s Subaru SUV was turning right in front of me. I put on the brakes a bit expecting him to turn but he didn’t. For some reason he stopped. I hit the brakes harder but it was too late and I hit him at a whole five miles an hour. We got out to inspect the damage and found his bumper was a tiny bit dented. My car on the other hand had the entire right side of the front of the car smashed in as if God punched it.

It just so happened that the accident happened right in front of a cop. He took a look at the damage and when he saw my car he said, “HOLY SH*T!” He couldn’t believe such a small incident could create so much destruction. Green radiator fluid was dripping on the pavement. My car was screwed.

Having experienced at wide variety of accidents from little fender benders to high speed accidents where people died, I think I can talk with some authority on car accidents. Despite what the automobile industry would like you to think, new cars with crumple zones, automatic seatbelts, and airbags are not the way to go if you’re going to get into an accident. What you want is big heavy American steel. You want a car built before the Reagan administration. You want a car built like a tank. If I’d had been in my 1978 Monte Carlo yesterday there would have been little if any damage to our vehicles.

Sure, they do all these crash tests to see which car is the safest, but look at the tests. They run the car into walls or cars with big flat surfaces on them. This is so each impact hits the bumper first before anything else. But the world isn’t flat. It’s jagged and unpredictable. The SUV I hit yesterday had a bumper that was higher than mine so it smashed in the front end as if it were paper. Speaking of paper, have you noticed how thin the material on most new vehicles is? You can pick up a fender with one hand. Try doing that with an old Ford Bronco.

I’m done with newer cars. My next car is going to be a Ford Galaxie 500. I’m tired of these new cars made of glass. My friend with his ’66 Impala had it right; the bigger the car, the closer to God.

NOTE: My next car wasn’t a Ford Galaxie (though I still want one). Instead it’s a 1989 Buick about twice the size of my old Altima.

-Jack

 

Stupid-Proof

Yesterday a seventeen year old was hit by an Amtrak train about a mile from where I work. On the news people said that she was talking on her cell phone at the time and that the train blew its whistle and people tried to get her attention but that she was too wrapped up in her phone call to notice. They also said that perhaps there should be fencing to stop people from crossing the tracks.

 

Nevermind that thousands of people cross train tracks every day without getting hit by trains or that tax dollars could probably be spent better just about anywhere else. No, instead of doing things like paying teachers more money in order to properly educate people, why not instead spend that money stupid-proofing the world? Trains aren’t like lightning or earthquakes which can happen anywhere at any time. Trains are on tracks, they’re huge, and they’re loud. It’s also fairly common knowledge that trains don’t stop on a dime. And any four-year-old knows what train tracks look like. So it’s visually huge, audibly loud, and there are tracks showing exactly where a train will go when and if at train arrives. If the sight of a train, train tracks, and a whistle blowing does not stop you from staying on train tracks, what makes these people think that a fence will stop any given moron?

 

This of course is just an example of how we seem to continue to stupid-proof the world. Warnings on coffee cups that the coffee is hot, commercials with disclaimers telling us not to attempt whatever we see on television, hour-long TV dramas that have flashbacks to things we saw at the beginning of the hour are but just a few examples off the top of my head. It’s this stupid-proofing that’s allowing the world to fill up with so many stupid people. It used to be that if you were too stupid, you’d get killed, but now, a stupid person does something stupid and gets killed, and they want to fix it so it won’t kill more stupid people. I think it makes a lot more sense to just let the stupid take themselves out on their own.

 

Now I’m not proposing that stupid people need to die. That’s a little extreme even for me. What I’m saying is that if you do something stupid (such as get hit by a train), you should not expect any protection from the outside world. Like they say; if you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough.

 

Also I’d like to point out before someone says I’m not respecting the dead or that they were almost hit by a train and they aren’t stupid or whatever else, let me confess that I too have almost been hit by a train.

 

When I was sixteen, some friends of mine and I decided to go down to the Nelson Bennett Tunnel. This tunnel is in Ruston, which is essentially North Tacoma. The Nelson Bennett Tunnel is a little more than a mile long and curved. This means that once you get a little ways inside it you cannot see either end of the tunnel. We had heard that in the time it takes to walk through it, only one train goes through. Luckily we were teenagers and thought to ourselves, “One train? Fuck that. We can handle one train.”

 

So we went into the tunnel and shortly afterward a train came through. First we heard it. Then we felt the ground rumble. Then we saw the damn thing. We all crouched against the wall as the train approached. Then something happened. It took a minute to figure out what it was. For a moment I thought we had been hit by the train and this was death. I eventually realized it was a sound. It was the train whistle and the sound had nowhere to go in the tunnel so it was so loud it felt like a physical force. A few moments after that, I thought the train had past and I moved to get up, but my friend Gabe stopped me and put his flashlight on the tracks. There were all these flatcars going by that I didn’t even see. He saved my life.

 

Now having told you that, I want to say that if I were to have been killed that day, it would have been because I was doing something stupid. Do I think they should have put up fences to stop us from going there? Well it doesn’t matter because now they have. Right now to get to the Nelson Bennett Tunnel you have to go over or around at least one fence. And you know what? People STILL go to the tunnel. Why? Because you can’t stop stupid. And since you can’t stop stupid, there’s no point in trying to stupid proof the world. It’s a waste of time and money. People are going to continue to do stupid things no matter what you do. And even if you succeed in stopping someone from doing something stupid, you’ve most likely only saved them long enough to do something else stupid.

 

Yes, I’ve done many stupid things in my life and I will do many more stupid things I’m sure. And yes, it’d be nice if I don’t die while doing something stupid, but if I do, let’s hope that everyone puts the blame on me and not anywhere else.

-Jack

How About We Call It The ‘Fairly Constant Flame’?

Today the Eternal Flame was extinguished in Paris and put on a bus to avoid protestors for the upcoming Olympics in China. While you can read all about this on news sites all around the world, the one thing you won’t read about is how the Eternal Flame of the Olympic Torch was almost extinguished in the City of Destiny back in 1996.

It was a sunny afternoon in Tacoma. I was driving down North 21st Street in my White Volkswagen Bus. Above me, I saw and heard a helicopter. I tried to get a look at it as it sounded a lot like it was going to land on me. It was a news helicopter. It was maybe a hundred feet in there. And it appeared to be following me down 21st Street. I had no idea what the hell was going on. 

As I looked up at the helicopter, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Suddenly I realized there was something in front of my van. I slammed on the brakes just in time to watch a man carrying the Olympic Torch run by on Pine Street. That’s right. I almost ran over the Olympic Torch runner and extinguished the Eternal Flame. In front of a news helicopter.

That clip would have been played over and over for years. I would have ended up being the guy who killed the Olympic Torch Runner and that’d be that. Nothing else I did would matter. I could write a best seller that’s turned into a multi-million dollar blockbuster and if I ended up on Letterman, he’d say, “So you killed the Olympic Torch Runner, right?”

-Jack