Where I’ve Been

I haven’t been writing much, for reasons which will become obvious. Last year, I tore a tendon and ligament in my right elbow, and went through a whole set of trouble trying to do something about it. Early this summer, Dr. Ibrahim gave me some unpleasant news about this: my two courses of prolotherapy and one of PRP had fixed the tendon and UCL well, but the pain was continuing, and the culprit was that I was continuing to injure the arm due to usage patterns. He warned me that if I didn’t take care of this, I would end up permanently disabled, which was a remarkably ice-water-to-the-face sort of wake-up call. Obviously, drumming (impact) and riding a bike (vibration/impact) were out, and guitar is only doable in small amounts as directed by a PT (my current allotment is 10 minutes at a time, once per day)

He wanted me to get an ergonomic assessment of my home and work environment, and improve those to avoid the repetitive strain problems, and sent me to PT to try to improve it. After fooling around with Georgetown (who have a hard time understanding what “closed chain” means – the stuff they had me do was thera-band open-chain, and could have been making me worse), I got a better referral, and happily Dr Gnip knows what he’s doing.

But the upshot of the assessments were that a whole lot needed to change, and to an extent I’ve not wanted to talk about the impact because the means making it real. But the furniture is ordered (due on Wednesday), and so it is.

I converted half of my baker’s rack of music equipment to a makeshift standing desk immediately after getting the wake-up call, but now I’ve got a real standing desk coming, and that’s going to displace the music gear for real.

I’m sad about this: the last three years of medical problems have really gotten in the way of playing music, and now it feels like that’s going to get even harder and less likely. Obviously all of the rational reasons to use this space for the desk are correct, but it still feels like closing a door. I’d rather have an option which didn’t involve having to make that decision, but I don’t.

Perhaps this will lead to some greater and better or more use of that room downstairs – as a library, playroom, or something entirely different. For now, though, I need to recognize the loss of how things have been – no matter what, it’s going to be different, and I’ll have to accept that.

Iron Mom

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Our friend Jacob Warrenfeltz, who also drew the cover for To the Rescue!, agreed to do the coolest thing ever: make a maternity shirt with a foetal “Eddie” from Iron Maiden. Sarah is wearing the shirt in the picture above, taken in a hotel lobby – we ended up having the shirt shipped here in advance of arriving, so we were nervous about whether it would make it)

We’re in Austin to see Iron Maiden with special guest Megadeth (because nothing says “repentance” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur like awesome heavy metal). Actually, if they do “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, that’s all about repentance, but that’s another story…

Safe Words

Some of the recent things going on in life recently (IVF/ART/fertility, funerals & loss) are pretty raw, so I’m going to wait for a bit for them to settle before going into to many details.

In the meantime, there are some less-weighty things of some note, which I’ll mention in FIFO order.

The Franchise’s show at the Treehouse Lounge was good, but not as well attended as we had hoped. We got a few decent recordings- once we pick which ones will go public I’ll share them here and elsewhere. I was particularly happy with “Footsteps”, which came out just right.

On Star Wars Day, I hosted a civilization game (this time with planked and baked salmon instead of cholent).

This was an interesting game: the player who was slotted to play Africa skipped, and so we had a hole, but then Toby joined there about four turns in. It was a very crowded board, with all of the experienced players in the North-central board. We didn’t get very far: we ended at havdalah, and one new player was very slow- that player tended to view the determinations of where to move tokens with the deliberation that one wishes our actual government would use in making decisions (oooh, I went there…)

The funniest moment was of course the small band of Italian farmers who kept trying to fight their way out of Egypt, during which time Egypt experienced a flood, famine, pestilence, and eventually Iconoclasm & Heresy. Of course it did.. The Egyptians had even expressed fear that the Italians would join with the Babylonians or Africans against them! I was waiting for the next calamity to be “death of the firstborn.” Amusingly, those Italian farmers survived until the end of the game, regardless of what Merneptah’s inscription said… (tl;dr – one of the many, many too-early obituaries of the Jewish people, from ~1200 BCE)

We didn’t get very far, but our finish did have something notable: Shoshana’s first victory! Yay, Shoshana!

Final scores:
Shoshana, Asia, 1689
Michael, Crete, 1651
Ron, Babylon, 1511
David, Thrace, 1398
Erin, Illyria, 1250
Alan, Italy, 1239
Rich, Egypt, 974
Toby, Africa, 924

Whee!

Then, after Sarah returned, we headed up to New Jersey for our RMA consult (more on that later), but decided to make a weekend of it. I finally encountered the vaunted Gotham wines, and I had expected to be underwhelmed. Um, NO. I haven’t seen a selection of kosher wine that good in one place, especially with a helpful guy who was suggesting the oodles of stuff for me to try (and what not to try, even more important).

Two which were remarkable so far were a 2007 Chateau Fourcas Dupre Bordeaux and a 2011 Recanati Reserve Petit Syrah / Zinfandel blend. Both were really outstanding, and quite worth it.

I did get to see the Jewish Center, which had two things I liked a great deal: the formal (top hat + vest) attire of the rabbi & gabbaim, and also an absolutely stunning sanctuary where the mehitza isn’t oppressive. Beautiful! I could have done with less talking, but I think that’s probably true almost everywhere.

Our weekend got cut short when we heard the news about the funeral, and logistics took over.

Since then, my mom visited during Shavuot (a lovely visit) and we’re just starting to begin to slow down the whirlwind. Or maybe we’ll have it spin up.

One ligament to bind them

Last Thanksgiving, I spent hours making a tasty onion recipe and then when I handled a turkey at arm’s length, I felt a “pop” and my neck and elbow started to hurt like crazy. I treated this on my own for a bit, and then eventually saw my regular physiatrist, who diagnosed me with tennis elbow, gave me an OT routine and a brace, and told me to otherwise rest (making me completely nuts).

Rest was making me nuts because it was no biking, no exercise, and worst of all, no drumming! Augh!

So after roughly four months of that, a cortisone shot, and some custom bracing, I still wasn’t getting better. I also was getting really frustrated because the treatments and descriptions of tennis elbow all referred to wrist-based flexion problems, and yet I was also having pain when I did things with my wrists In a neutral position (like tie my shoes, lift a glass, or pull my pants up).

So the OT gave me a referral to a different physiatrist who did sports medicine – Dr. Victor Ibrahim, who is the doctor for DC United, and of course his is a non-insurance practice.

But when we went in – I had asked Sarah to come with me as a second pair of eyes – I noticed a difference: I described my history and asked “what treatment should I be doing?”

His response was “well, when you have a treatment which isn’t working, either you need to change the treatment or you have the wrong diagnosis. Let’s confirm your diagnosis.”

And so we went to the ultrasound machine, the first imaging used in the $5000 of treatment I’d had for this elbow, and he said almost immediately “I see the issue- your tendon is inflamed, but the one below that – the one which controls pinching motions of the fingers- it’s torn through” and of course no amount of OT will rehab a torn tendon – it will generally make it worse! He kept looking, and also saw that the ligament at back of my elbow (the UCL) was also torn through- he showed this by pulling my arm while under ultrasound- you could see inflammatory goop shoot out (ew), and even visually you could see a radical difference between my right (bad) and left (good) arms- my right arm basically looked like it came out of joint. Dr. Ibrahim said that this sort of damage probably built up over a while, so it wasn’t like this was something which I had done in the last four months while attempting to rest.

So this is a spectacular misdiagnosis, and is exactly the type of thing which could have been prevented (along with spending thousands of dollars of my own money, and thousands of dollars of UHC’s money) if the diagnosing physician had used imaging. Now, I know that there is a push to do exactly the opposite in the name of cost reduction, and that’s one of the reasons why I thought it was so important to document precisely what happened here: lack of information at the outset led to an incorrect diagnosis, led to lots of expensive, ineffective incorrect treatment (and lots of patient suffering).

So back to Dr Ibrahim. He gave me some options, which he listed from most invasive to least invasive:

  • I could have a Tommy John surgery, guaranteeing that I wouldn’t have a 95 mile-per-hour fastball ever again (because that is a worry- I’m certain I can get at least a 9.5 mile/hour fastball within a radian of my target…)
  • I could have a stem cell transplant, where they perform liposuction, spin off the fat, do some magic and turn it into stem cells which regenerate the tendon and ligament. Science!
  • PRP – he recommended against this because spinning my own plasma and injecting it into the joints could further spread babesia and Lyme, which meant that he got a gold star for caution in my book
  • prolotherapy – this is an injection of dextrose into the ligament and/or tendon which can trigger an inflammation and cause healing. Mechanism of action is unknown, but hey, it is with aspirin too, so not such a shock.

Sarah has had both prolo and PRP, and they’ve done wonders as stabilizing her pelvis is concerned, but she described them as excruciating.

Dr Ibrahim offered me these choices, but recommended prolo- and amazingly, when I accepted that option, was willing to do it right then (!) and doesn’t even charge for it (!!) [his argument is that the cost of dextrose and a syringe is next to nothing, so should be included in the office visit]. So I had a few shots, and they hurt about as bad as you would expect a gigantic needle being shoved into a torn tendon to hurt- which is to say, OW. I’d put it about a 5 on my pain scale, but that’s only because the testicular torsion blows everything else out of the water as a 9 (I presume 10 would be my head spinning around Exorcist-style).

So after painful things it takes me a few minutes to recover, so I was lying down, and Sarah was talking to Dr I about the pain in her arms, and her Lyme disease. He said, “let me take a look at those” (!!!) and proceeded to ultrasound her arms (the first imaging ever done on her arms, which have caused her disabling pain for 7+ years) where he then said “I see a whole lot of scar tissue- this looks like the type of stuff that can be caused by infectious disease- this looks excruciating”. At this, Sarah started crying, because this was the first real validation she had ever gotten that there was an actual physical, measurable, objective source for the pain she has been in for most of a decade. The real kicker was when he said:

there is something we can do to remove the scar tissue and make you feel better.

Holy $h!7! Really?

The treatment is called a debridement, and basically it’s an injection of some goop which dissolves scar tissue and allows the body to function normally.

Woah.

So we scheduled a follow-up- a joint appointment where Sarah would get a debridement and I would get another prolo if necessary (expected). That was last week.

I had my second course of prolo- it turned out that my UCL only needed one (yay!) and my tendon seems to be doing pretty well. Sarah, on the other hand got under the ultrasound, and her sinovium lit up like a Christmas tree – Dr I said that this was likely active Lyme. He said that the risk of doing the debridement when the infection was live like that was really high, and could leave her bedridden, which would be intolerable, so he had to delay her treatment. Mega-bummer.

But it does impress me all the more, that here you have someone who was all ready to perform a weird procedure on someone, and then didn’t, because he didn’t feel like it would be in the best interest of the patient. Yay Hippocrates!

Gimme Some of the Good Stuff

First and foremost, The Franchise is coming back to the DC night life, with our comeback gig scheduled for May 2 @ 8PM at the newly-opening Treehouse Lounge over at 1006 Florida Ave NE. W00t!

We’ll be doing a half-and-half set – about half old favorites, and half stuff from our forthcoming album Movers and Shakers. (Aside: remember when “groups of songs you buy on iTunes” were called “albums”? I liked that name…). We’re still finalizing the set list now…

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Our Sedarim were good, although our first one went from 9 people to 5 people abruptly (all due to illness, boo!), and so we ended up with brisket and chicken soup coming out of our ears. Now, it’s good brisket and chicken soup, so that’s not a bad thing, but it was too bad that we didn’t get to see Sarah’s sister, our nephew, and a pair of dear friends. C’est la vie

We did have a few treats – the awesome cookies made by Rella – clearly, she wants to see more of me! Also, we had some fabulous wine: a 2011 hagafen pinot noir was my personal favorite, although a 2009 Chateau le Bourdieu Bordeaux Medoc and a 2011 Tishbi Cabernet Sauvignon were close contenders. A disappointment was the Yogev Cab / Petit Verdot blend, but it suffered from being cups 3/4 – it’s extremely tannic, and so is an extremely bad fit for drinking quickly without complimenting really, really heavy beef (and those cups were *after* the meal).

A surprise hit this year was Sarah’s marmouna from Foods of Israel Today (excellent book – everything in it is good) – she made it with serrano peppers, and it was hot in a way that very little Jewish cuisine is, and it was fantastic.

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After all of the sturm und drang, we didn’t end up making any quinoa so far this year. Go figure. I’ll have to make some for the last days, or I’ll feel silly.

Optimistic Thoughts

Three unusual things that made me smile happened today. First, and best, Sarah told me that for the second time she was listening to Grooveshark and our song “Superhero” came on. W00t! Happily, we didn’t get the awkward Spinal Tap “in the ‘where are they now’ file” DJ line, and that is definitely our most radio-friendly song. I’m still really happy with how that one turned out (including the improv in the middle, and how much Noah improved my initial concept for the song).

We got a perfect basic track of a better arrangement of “Best Day” last week, leaving Patrick’s “March of the Octopus” as the only basic track left; then it’s the twelve million hours of overdubs, corrections, and mixing, baby! Easy-peasy.

Second, Coyote shows that the number of breweries in the US is at a 125-year high. In the words of a great American character, “To alcohol! The cause of… and solution to… all of life’s problems.”

And then there’s this bit of WTF from 1952, which will henceforth be my example of how far society has come with regard to issues of gender equality, patriarchy, and the like. I give to you Mystery in Space!

It’s worth remembering that many current assumptions weren’t always so.

Why do fast days go so slowly?

I was up late last night: The Franchise is back to recording, and we got an okay basic track for Don’s newest song “Best Day of Your Life,” although I don’t think that will be the final one we use. After that, Sarah was talking to an old friend whose mother is in hospice, so that was very emotional. So the upshot of this is that this morning I overslept, and it was only after I awoke that I remembered that it was Ta’anit Esther (the fast of Esther).

Normally, I prepare for fasting: I wake up early and have breakfast, with the all-important coffee and medication, and the day before I hydrate a bit extra (rather than drinking beer & rye with the band, which tend to dry one out). So my immediate reaction was “uh oh, I screwed up.”

Now, minor fasts (of which this is one) are just that: minor. If someone is sick, they don’t have to fast, and the bar is pretty low. But inherently, the lack of planning was my fault, not just some random thing, and I figured I’d give it a go.

Happily, I made it. This I see as a testament to my continued recovery from Lyme et al – it wasn’t so long ago that I wasn’t allowed to fast on major fast days. So this is a good reminder to be thankful for the blessings in life: I should not let perfect be the enemy of the good.

Back in the Saddle Again

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So with being in remission (yay!) comes several things: beginning the process of weaning off of my painkillers (I expect to be at zero schedule 2 narcotics in 28 days), dropping the other meds one at a time (bye bye atovaquone!), and general improvement in my overall well-being.

But the big improvements are twofold:

First, The Franchise is practicing again, and resuming work on our fourth album, tentatively titled “Movers and Shakers”. Boy I’ve missed this. There is something wonderful about getting to hit something and call it music, but I sure do feel the rust: my lead guitar skills have deteriorated quite a bit, so I’ll need to do a lot of work to bring that back.

Second, I got my bike from the basement of the Alamo (it’s a Trek Allant hybrid), and have embraced the full urban-dork cyclist phenomenon (panniers, oodles of neon, flashy lights, etc), and finally I can start really living my ideology about driving a lot less. Whoo hoo!

I have already learned one lesson about the big scary world: I parked in a stairwell at a doctor’s office (and got yelled at) but had someone try to swipe my front wheel (the fender was half off, and the air had been let out of both tires). The $30 anti-theft pins already paid for themselves! Another lesson is that the top of a single cart at Trader Joe’s fills up both panniers, and is REALLY heavy.

But it’s good to be back.

When Eddie said he didn’t love his teddy, you knew he was a no good kid

Alice Cooper does indeed put on a wicked-good show. I was surprised that he had 3 lead guitars in his band: most of the songs don’t sound like they need that amount of sonic depth. I was even more surprised when he was guillotined on stage (!) before the finale (a mash-up of “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall, pt 2”), where he was dressed as Satan’s drum major (but with as many sequins as Elvis in the jumpsuit stage). Great warm up.

Of course, the real treat is Iron Maiden themselves. I don’t want to have as much energy as they do when I’m their age; I want to have half as much energy is they do now.

Wow.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many songs I recognized (being a n00b fan and all)- one I particularly liked was “afraid to shoot strangers” from Fear of the Dark. There were many, many animatronic Eddies- one danced around the with the band during “the Trooper,” and the one holding his beating heart (from Seventh Son) also had fire shooting out of his head during the finale.

As Beavis & Butthead said, “if Iron Maiden ever played ‘unplugged’, they wouldn’t unplug the explosion machine.” Yes, oodles of pyro, fireworks, etc.

Up the Irons.

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The streets are paved with pyrite

David Lowery wrote a fascinating article about the music business, and it got me thinking.

I met Mr. Lowery right when Cracker was new (right after Camper van Beethoven broke up) – they played a little show in the University of Utah student union building. That was the first time I was start-to-finish responsible for running sound (such as it was – it was a mostly acoustic show, with vocal and acoustic guitar reinforcement). I’m still mystified that “Low” became the big radio hit rather than “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”, but hey, you can’t understand them all.

I was pretty happy with how nice he was to me – I was the 18-year-old student promoter who thought I was all worldly, and he humored me and was both professional and charming.

Now, on to the essay – I think he’s on to something: that while the de jure royalties and margins nowadays look better for artists, de facto they are not, and the reason is that we no longer have labels making bets on bands (where the bands fundamentally keep the bet if it’s a loser).

However, I’m not sure that a single variable is the way to view this. Start by imagining sales as a curve, where some bands are ultra-mega-sellers, some are in the middle, going all the way to the band who sold 11 copies to friends whom they dragooned into buying it (no, I don’t resemble that at all). Then it becomes clear that (as he says) the folks in the middle (the “unrecouped”) benefited tremendously from the old system, and pretty much get the shaft in the new one. The ultra-mega-stars? They’re making boatloads of cash either way, and their attorneys can fight it out. However, there are some winners in the new system: the long tail bands (like mine) – these are bands who aren’t doing this for their primary living, and yet can make some music that (a small number of) people like. The new system lowered the barrier to entry to the point that you don’t have to be able to convince a label to fund you – you can save up and record your own album.

This is a pretty nice thing – I’ve encountered some bands who came nowhere near a label, and yet made music which is on my top rated list (ADHD, Hudson River School, Welbilt (cheating slightly – Virgin records did fund a demo of theirs, but then passed on it), and of course my hero Jonathan Coulton) – each of these are bands I never would have heard of had it not been the random drift, and they’ve all had the option of making some money from me. Other little bands like Dayglow and Grandma’s Mini I discovered (and fell in love with) due to playing shows with them.

I do think Lowery is right on the money in one sense, though – the folks advocating for “free stuff” and thinking that creators shouldn’t get paid for stuff they create are behaving in a jerky manner.