Let’s be honest, there’s barely a need for this blog to exist on the web anymore. So why am I still updating the look and feel?
Trust me, I barely put any time into this. My old theme was old, outdated, never updated, and breaking. So a new one needed to be added in order to keep the thing from completely falling apart.
I wouldn’t have even said a thing if I didn’t care to at least have a record of when version 11 was put into place.
Man, I miss the old days where I could code up an entirely original design and spend days upon days fighting with the code to make it work the way I saw it in my head. As much as I appreciate the convenience WordPress has provided us designer/developers, it’s just become too easy. So now everything’s become boiled down, simplified, and worst of all, unoriginal. I suppose it’s like what the microwave oven (and subsequently, TV Dinners) did for cooking in general. Why bother creating your own meal from scratch when you can just look at a row of boxes in the freezer and decide which one you’re in the mood for eating right now? For lazy people like myself, there is no choice.
I posted a fairly vague update the other day on Facebook/Twitter about some bad tests. It’s not like me to be vague; I prefer to be an open book with nothing to hide. But some things I hold back on because I don’t want OTHER people to feel like they know too much. (TMI = gross, get away from me) So I guess consider this a TMI warning for what lies ahead. But I’m sharing it because I’m excited and scared. And I don’t really want to go through it alone.
I have long suspected (approx. 6 or 7 years) there was something going on inside me that wasn’t right. Primarily it was the rapid weight gain that I was powerless to stop which tipped me off. It made sense that I had some sort of thyroid issue. But on a couple of occasions, while in the ER getting blood work done, they said my levels looked OK. Then at some point, as my health declined further and more things were going wrong, I started thinking deeper. Then it hit me: Testosterone. I looked at the many symptoms of low testosterone and it all made sense.
The next time I saw my doctor, I inquired about getting my T levels checked. He wrote me out a script and I later called the hospital to find out how much it would cost. I was uninsured at the time and it would be $200. I was broke, too (as I still am), so I opted to not have the test done.
Meanwhile, my physical and mental health continued to decline. I’ve changed a few medications but I still am often too tired to make it into work. And frankly, my depression has left me in a place where I simply do not have the will power to work on helping myself by eating better or quitting smoking or much of anything, really. I’m aware enough to know I need to change things, but dissociated enough to not do anything about it.
Fast forward to about a month ago (I’ve been insured for about 2 years now) when I started taking some new medications. The doc ordered some blood tests per standard procedure, to make sure the new stuff wasn’t killing me or anything. And I remembered that testosterone test I never got done so I asked him to order that one, too. And I finally had it done this week.
Sure enough… I’m low on testosterone. Very low. 163 ng/dL to be exact. Now, it’s difficult to say what “normal” levels are, because it depends on many biological factors, not the least of which is age. And depending on what lab you ask, they range from 270-1070. But from my minimal research, it appears the average is 600-700. Anything below 250 is “super low.” One source I found said that infant males at 5 months old could potentially have a higher level than me. And almost all sources show men above 90 score at least 300-400.
Taking the good with the bad…
When my doctor informed me of this low level, he suggested I consult with my cardiologist to make sure it would be safe to go on testosterone therapy. I had to Google why. Turns out, last year some studies came out which pointed to a correlation in T-therapy & increased risk of heart attack. Add in the variable of someone with pre-existing heart disease and the risk increases more. And men under the age of 65… the risk becomes even greater. Ugh?! The FDA put out a statement saying they have found no convincing evidence of this in their studies, however. And I can’t even find a source that tells WHY there’s a correlation. Meaning: what is the reason testosterone therapy increased the risk for heart attack. Nowhere I could find laid that out. So, I am left to wonder if there’s any particular signs I should look for, or anything I should do in order to minimize this risk… if there even is something I could do.
A New Hope
Tonight, I got my little bottle of gel and begin therapy. I’m trying to simultaneously not be scared about these so-called elevated risks of heart attack AND not be too optimistic about seeing tons of benefits from this. But I am expecting benefits. Like I said, it all made sense. I knew in my gut there was something wrong. This fit. I’ve been vindicated. This is the answer I’ve been looking for. This will help me finally get ME back. I’m expecting to lose weight from a boost in metabolism. I’m expecting muscle-mass to increase, allowing me to walk more than a half-block at a time. I’m expecting the foggy-headedness to burn away, for the depression to lift some, for my confidence to rise some. I’m expecting the hair on my legs and arms to come back. And yes, I’m expecting my libido to come back, too. All these things left me years ago and I’ve just been sitting in a dark room ever since, wondering where they went. Now, I am hopeful. Hesitant but hopeful.
And if I do have a heart attack, then I wanted to get this out there so everyone knows. It was worth the risk.
My local Fox affiliate, WTXF FOX29 in Philadelphia, has the worst social media team ever. The other day, they posted this:
“We know it’s a Doggy Dog World…” Yes. They literally said that. But whatever. Stupid mistake, right?
But then this morning, my trusty TimeHop App reminded me of last summer, when the things that came out of FOX29’s Facebook Page drove a graphic designer like me up a friggin wall on almost a daily basis. And after talking with a co-worker, I decided I must put this all down in one place. Please indulge me by witnessing what happened throughout the summer.
Please note: This is a cellphone photo of a computer screen, WITH POINTER CURSOR STILL VISIBLE. The bottom caption asks us to “Click LIKE if you love Buddy [from Cake Boss]”. The top caption, below the fucked up pixelated border, says “Meet the Cake Boss on Sunday! Click the link above to see time & place”. The background of this caption box is filled with some strange, translucent white texture. It’s either an MS Paint spray paint effect or they are cloning a white area over and over again to fill the box. They use this technique a lot and I don’t know what it is or how it’s possible to be that awful.
Then there was the abduction story:
Worst use of Adobe Photoshop or best use of Microsoft Potato? I can’t decide. Click on it. Take a closer look. I dare you.
Here they want to know if we judge people with tattoos negatively. I’ll tell you what, if they had a tattoo that looked like this, I would. Who actually thought this could pass for a realistic-looking tattoo?! Who is doing all this? A summer intern is the most logical answer, I know, but have they no supervision? This is supposed to be a reputable news organization we’re talking about, here. Which reminds me…
I don’t know what’s worse; the poor Photoshopping job, the outright religious overtones, or the shameful use of a tragedy to increase your engagement rate. It’s too much. I can’t…
You see, fair laymen, engagement rate is a metric which Facebook marketers track. The number of times each post was clicked, liked, shared, or commented on counts towards a particular goal they’re hoping to reach. In fact, it’s “reach” that is the most important thing. Each one of those interactions increases the reach of that post. Meh. It’s a marketing thing. But that’s just it. It’s a MARKETING thing. This is a news organization. And yeah, you could argue that they have a product to sell. They want your eyes on their broadcast so they can sell advertising. And while that’s all true, this kind of activity does nothing but reduce your credibility as a news organization down to zilch. I cannot properly articulate why this is wrong to a degree that I would not lose any arguments in favor of this behavior, but dammit it’s wrong and I hope someone out there can help me properly convey why.
In the meantime, last summer, all they wanted was high engagement metrics, apparently…
If only hugging my mom was this easy.
Seriously, what they fuck are they using to fill in the white backgrounds for these caption boxes?
Feel free to peruse their posts from last summer. You will find more. To be fair, there hasn’t been much use of these MS Paint creations on their page for quite some time, now. So… that’s a good thing, I guess.
Thanks for indulging with me. Be sure to comment or share if you liked this blog post!
What I’m sitting down here to write is intended to be an epilogue to a post I made about four years ago called “Near Death Experience“. It’s been four years and I never quite wrote that “Part 2” to the story, so I figured an epilogue was more appropriate. So if you haven’t read about “the event” before, maybe you should start there. I just had to re-read it for the first time and it was still difficult making it all the way through. I had to pause a couple times, even.
So let’s see… where to begin…
Not long after I had that experience and posted the blog entry, on June 24th, 2010, I lost my job — and soon after, my health benefits. I went two years without a full-time job; doing freelance web work and a few short-term contracts to supplement my state (and later federal) unemployment compensation benefits. The week prior to the exhaustion of all my UC benefits, I scored a contract with Penn Medicine. It was originally planned to be a few months long but here we are, exactly 2 years later, and I’m still there. And I love it there. But being a contractor, I am still not entitled to health benefits. That is, until the agency I’m contracted through began offering them at the beginning of this year. So, after suffering from the “Near Death Experience”, I was left without health benefits for over 3 years. Let’s start with what’s happened during those 3 years.
First of all, there was this chronic pericarditis. This is when fluid builds up around the heart. It’s not too uncommon to happen after trauma to the heart. Why it kept happening is anybody’s guess. Aside from whatever damage that does to the cardiopulmonary system, it caused me crippling pain in my left shoulder during these flare-ups. Sent me to the ER a few times (Out of pocket, of course). Treatment is simply a lot of ibuprofen.
At this point, the flare-ups are rare. So instead, the last 2 years have been mainly dealing with congestive heart failure. This shows itself by causing extreme fatigue to the point where getting dressed in the morning leaves me breathless and too weak to stand. My smoking, sodium intake, and obesity are the three main contributing factors to this. Treatment is a diuretic to make me urinate a lot so as not to retain any excess fluid. Speaking of obesity… It’s getting worse and I’ve got too many things to work on before I can work on that. So let’s talk about what those other things are.
Anxiety. Severe anxiety. PTSD? Depends on who you ask. After “the event” I was left with an irrational fear of lightning. Thunder, too, I suppose, but really ANY sudden loud noises scare me now. But lightning cripples me. If you read the first part of the story, you’ll hopefully understand why. For a long time, I was even afraid of plugging things into electrical sockets. I was convinced that I was more prone to being electrocuted than others; that my ICD would act as a lightning rod. But after a while I began to realize it wasn’t necessarily the fear of getting hit by lightning, but rather the fear of having my adrenaline released. Once any amount of adrenaline is released, it all seems to come out, racing my heart and sending me into a panic attack (because I still think the defibrillator will zap me). So I’m scared of being scared.
But even things such as trying to walk fast or jog to catch the bus/train before it pulls away can send my heart into a tizzy. Even taking a staircase up too much at once can do it. Even times when I see the train still sitting there when I thought I’d missed it and realizing I still have a chance to catch it will raise my heart rate to over 150 bpm. It happened way too often. And at 150 bpm, my pacemaker stops pacing — and that is when it feels like it’s out of control — and that is when the panic attack sets in, making it even worse. So during one of the most recent un-financially-covered trips to the ER over the last 3 years, I asked that the threshold be set to 160 bpm and I’ve noticed a difference. The adrenaline has a harder time getting me to 160.
Treatment is: to remain calm at all times. (Seriously.)
The ICD is still solely working as a pacemaker. The defibrillator lead has remained turned off. If I wasn’t worried about damaging my heart muscle more by ripping the leads out completely, I’d have them take it out of me.
The debt I’ve accumulated has been reduced thanks to the generosity of Abington Hospital, putting me on a financial hardship program after the fact. But I’m still a little over $10,000 solely in medical debt because of these last 3 years of being uncovered.
So aside from debt, where does this leave me at today?
I’ve tried a few different anti-anxiety medications. I’ve been on 20mg of Celexa (SSRI) now for most of that time. I think it’s helped me not feel like I’m going to die at any minute all day long. I have two different benzodiazepines to take as-needed, which thankfully is not much these days. Usually only during thunderstorms. I still look at a normal set of stairs like one would look at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s staircase when faced with climbing it. It takes me about 4 minutes to climb 30 steps so as not to get my heart rate above 90. Ah, yes, I have been insistent on wearing a watch which tells me my heart rate. Some people tell me it’s bad, but I NEED to know how high it is when I’m feeling bad. If I can see it’s relatively low, I can determine whether it’s really my heart or if it’s panic. And if it’s panic, I have an easier time controlling it. I actually barely ever look at it now, though. But I’d be scared to not have it there to check when I need it.
I’m generally feeling the way I’d think a 70 year old man might feel. My activities are about as limited as his would be. And I think to myself… I’m 34. Time is slipping away. My LIFE is slipping away. These years are the ones I should be using to be active and having as much fun as I can because there aren’t too many more years where that’s going to be possible (at least not in the typical non-athletic adult male’s life). So I had to ask my cardiologist if it’s reasonable to even consider a heart transplant at this point. Because I feel the one I have now is never going to let me lead a life I want to live. His response was not that it was obscene to think about it, but it’s just that in order to get on the waiting list, I’ve gotta pretty much be on my deathbed. Which, is understandable. But sad, nonetheless. It was worth asking. Kinda feel like I should get a second opinion. Not because I think I’ll get a different response to that specific question, but really the whole thing just doesn’t feel right to me. Or there are other underlying issues which haven’t yet been discovered. I’d put money on the latter.
One of the top priorities is getting back into therapy. I need to get over this anxiety, number one. And number two, I need to get out of this depression. Really, it’s dysthymia. So I’m not expecting any significant change, but I know I’m capable of feeling better than this, emotionally. I’m not sure when that will happen, though. The money I’m making is enough to pay my necessary bills, spread a little out amongst the debt collectors, and pay off the monthly interest charges on my credit cards, leaving very little room for anything extraneous, especially weekly mental health appointments. Besides, I may have health coverage now, but I still don’t get any paid time off. So any time I see a doctor instead of being at work, I’m losing more from my paycheck.
All in all, it’s plain to see I’m a mess. I do try to hide it, but I’m pretty sure it’s evident to anyone who spends a few minutes talking to me.
And for the record, I still cringe every time someone mentions Eastern State Penitentiary.
My mom hates this photo.
I think it captures my indignation pretty damn well!
So, I finally went back and sort of converted the old blogs; the first year I ever blogged, into a semi-normal blog format and it’s now archived and searchable within WordPress. I had to do it a lazy way, though. The whole month is one single post. You can now find them in the Blog Archives in the left sidebar (July 2000-July 2001). Speaking of lazy, here’s a fun excerpt from a trip I took in January 2001 to San Francisco where I talked about how lazy the place was. So weird to think those things weren’t in place over here yet at the time. But now they’re commonplace.
“At the grocery store, when you give your money to the check-out guy, the change spits out a machine next to your bags! And also, when we went to The Olive Garden tonight, instead of taking your name, they give you these round discs that vibrate and light up when your table is ready. Lazy, lazy, lazy…”
So, is there any point to having this blog anymore? No. It’s here just for me to look back upon, although I don’t suggest you do the same.
I decided it was finally time to try and make this homepage a little more… a lot more focused on the Twitter feed and much less emphasis on the blog, which is almost never used. So, cozbaldwin.com version 10 is launched. I’ve made a couple other improvements around the site, particularly in the SEE and LISTEN pages. That’s all.