Opting for a surgeryWed, 4th Apr '18, 11:30 pm::
I've been recovering from my ACDF surgery gradually and feeling better by the week. I am glad I went under the knife even though I was quite apprehensive initially. What helped me come to terms with my decision was a conversation with a neurosurgeon who told me the three reasons people usually opt for surgeries:
1) Get the surgery if you are in severe pain or extremely debilitated and cannot tolerate the physical trauma.
2) Get the surgery if you cannot afford to miss your home/work/academic obligations.
3) Get the surgery if your quality-of-life has deteriorated to the point where you can't imagine living like this forever.
In my case, honestly all the three reasons applied. It hasn't even been three weeks since the operations and reason #2 is already resolved for me. I am still in a lot of pain and cannot be physically active like I was prior to January but that is just a matter of time. Hopefully in a few months, I will be back to normal as if nothing happened, well, except having a few pieces of metal embedded in my neck.
My surgery went well and I am resting in the hospital right now. Hopefully I will be discharged later today. I am experiencing some pain but my left hand already feels amazingly better!
I am scheduled for a cervical disk fusion surgery tomorrow morning. My parents arrived yesterday from India to help take care of Naveen while I recover. Going to bed now so I can wake up early and get to the hospital with Juliet.
When it comes to language and word usage, I am what is often called, a descriptivist instead of a prescriptivist. Words and their meanings evolve over time and arguing that a word or phrase should mean today exactly what it meant years or centuries ago is futile. When it comes to grammar though, I am more of a prescriptivist, though not strictly. The point of writing is to communicate your thoughts and ideas clearly to the reader. As long as the words or phrases used by a writer convey the indented meaning clearly to the reader, there is no point in being pedantic about the etymological origin. However, using non-standard grammar, especially in written form, could confuse the reader so it is best to use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Let me explain with examples. It used to be that the word 'literally' meant 'in the strictest sense or manner'. However, overuse of the word in the past decade has now rendered it to mean 'figuratively'. Nobody literally dies when they run into a celebrity and then post about it on social media. They mean 'figuratively'. I am ok with this, prescriptivists aren't. The word 'computer' used to refer to women who performed mathematical operations manually on paper; now it means the device you are reading this text on.
But why should we care about this? Because there are many more words whose meanings are changing before our eyes and people are fighting all over the world to keep or revert these changes. Political and social disagreements very often boil down to arguing over the intended meaning of words. New words and phrases pop up every day and people get used to them. What was called yellow journalism in the 19th century is now called 'fake news' and 'click-bait'. The word 'organic' has been around for centuries but only recently has it been used to refer to foods cultivated without the use of chemical additives or artificial pesticides.
There is disagreement in word usage in almost every hot-button political issue. The disagreement about the word 'marriage' is pretty commonplace. Should 'marriage' mean a socially and/or legally recognized union between a man and a woman or should it mean between any two adults, regardless of gender? Some argue that 'marriage' should only refer to the union between a man and a woman and if two men or two women want the same union, it should be called 'civil union' instead, since the traditional definition of marriage didn't include same-gendered couples. If a 'civil union' works in the exact same way as 'marriage' and offers the same rights and legal claims, then why not just use or refine the word 'marriage'? The word 'dinner' used to mean lunch and was eaten around 1pm but now we're perfectly ok with making dinner and movie plans that start at 8pm.
Another phrase in the news now is 'assault rifles'. In the strictest terms, an 'assault rifle' must be "capable of selective fire, have an intermediate-power cartridge, have ammunition that is supplied from a detachable box magazine, and have an effective range of at least 300 meters." The AR-15 gun used in the recent Parkland school shooting as well as the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Orlando Nightclub, Sandy Hook, and Sutherland Springs Texas church, is technically not an assault rifle. So passing laws that specifically prohibit the sale or ban the possession of 'assault rifles' would not affect this specific gun or its variants. In this instance, people are trying to generalize the meaning of 'assault rifles' to include guns like AR-15. Generalization has happened many times in many disciplines and industries. Brand names become generic terms (e.g. Chapstick, Jacuzzi, Jet Ski), trademarks become verbs (Google this, Xerox that), and technical definitions get commercialized (e.g. real-time, cloud).
In the end, people will redefine, expand, and refine the meaning of words like they always have as long as others can understand them. Long ago, 'nice' used to mean silly, 'awful' meant awesome, and 'meat' meant any solid food including vegetables and fruits. If the definition and usage of these core words can change, then the redefinition of words like 'woke', 'salty', 'thirsty', 'lit', and 'basic' is just natural progression. Some of these will stick and become part of the vernacular, some will return to their original meaning, and some will continue to change.
I choose to accept these changes because they tell the story of our time.
Deriving wisdomFri, 23rd Feb '18, 10:35 pm::
Researcher Carolyn Aldwin, co-author of a recent study of 50 senior citizens published in the Journals of Gerontology concluded that "Difficult times are a way people define themselves." In short, the study confirms that we derive wisdom from how we relate to life events and how much we question our beliefs and our values for growth. Importantly, though, the type and quality of the social contact that we experience during hard times also play a role in determining whether we stagnate or become wiser.
Let's just say that for some time now, Juliet and I have been unexpectedly defining ourselves and unwittingly deriving wisdom. Leaving aside a long list of stressors that has stirred our life over the past year, from my wrist surgery and hurricane evacuation to Naveen's rustication from preschool, this last week has shaken things up a bit more than usual. I was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc impinging the nerves going to my left shoulder and arm causing intense pain, burning sensation, numbing, and electric-shock like symptoms constantly for the past month. I've spent the past few days setting up appointments for second opinion, painfully filling out medical forms, and learning as much as I can about my condition before I pick a method of treatment. However, based on everything I've learned so far, people with my specific conditions generally undergo neurosurgery soon after diagnosis.
Since I haven't had any accidents or impact injuries, the cause for the disc herniation remains uncertain. The primary suspect is my years and years of severe dry cough which causes intense pain in my neck and head for months on end. A few months ago my pulmonologist suggested that I try taking Sucralfate every time I start to experience dry cough to see if it helps. Fortunately for me, even though sucralfate is not a cough medicine, it is helping tremendously in suppressing bouts of coughing. Unfortunately for me, the damage to my cervical discs is already done. The good news is that if I get a neurosurgical disc implant properly, it will alleviate my pain and give me back my mobility, strength, and energy. The scary part is of course undergoing neurosurgery at age 37.
Usually when not-so-happy things happen to me, I keep the exhausting details to myself and only share the highlights with close friends and family. But I've started to open up a bit more about this because I'm finding out that almost everyone has or knows someone who has spine or neck problems and each person deals with it differently. The more common I find my condition to be, the less alone I feel going into it. Even though I'd rather learn more about neural networks than neurosurgery, if you know anything about C6-7 herniated discs, I am all ears and ready to take notes!
SerenityThu, 16th Nov '17, 12:20 am::
I woke up this morning to find Naveen had opened multiple bags of dried fruits, chips, and candy and was arranging them on his little plastic table. I asked him why he was emptying entire bags on to the table instead of just eating a few pieces from a bag and he said because he wanted to put them on the table. He knows I won't buy his circular reasoning but he still leads with it. After a few minutes of prodding, he reasoned that once all the food was on his table, it was his and he could eat as much or as little of it as he wants. I assured him that he could do the same even if it was in the bags and he seemed to accept that at face value. I will find out tomorrow if he believed me or not.
I've noticed he is doing more and more things to assert some form of control over his surroundings. Whether it is the arrangement of pillows before bedtime or which books he wants us to read in which order, he is constantly trying to govern his world. Initially I thought it was just random choices or him being fussy but now I can definitely spot a pattern in his requests. He wants a big pillow on the edge to prevent him from falling off the bed and he wants picture stories first and books with songs later on because the latter make him sleepy.
It was during one of his bedtime routines a few nights ago that I realized how important it was for him to feel like he was in control. The more he was in charge the more he behaved well and took responsibility for his actions. Frankly, that's pretty much all we want as adults too. Being in control of your own life and fate is one of the key ingredients to happiness.
My dry cough is back once again and disrupting my home and work life as always. Involuntary coughing is literally the opposite of control and barely an hour goes by without me hacking my lungs out at full volume. Obviously I am going to get the proper treatment but it is a painful, protracted process. Add to this some expensive medical issues, unexpected travel, and arbitrary work hours and you arrive at my complete lack of jurisdiction over my own life.
Just like my son, I grew up learning how to take charge of my life, from asserting control over my routines to fighting for command in school and work environments. And now I find myself at an unexpected juncture - reciting the Serenity Prayer to myself 5x a day because accepting that there are things I cannot control is surprisingly more difficult for me than chanting the try-try-till-you-succeed mantra that has fueled me all my life.
- "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
I don't know how long things will be tough and seemingly out of control but it helps to have a loving family and tons of cuddly pets. I may not be able to direct this season of life but I can sure teach Naveen the words to The Lion Sleeps Tonight and for the moment, that's good enough.
Then I saw her faceFri, 27th Oct '17, 10:45 pm::
Exactly ten years ago on this day I first laid my eyes on the woman who would become my wife. I wrote about that day long ago when I was but a young man. Today was the first time in years that I re-read that entry and it feels like I wrote it yesterday. So much has happened in the past decade since this beautiful woman walked into my life and all I can think of is how much more life Juliet and I still have to experience together. As we raise our son Naveen, we hope that someday he can have a couple of siblings to play with. We want to go to Galapagos to see the giant tortoises and see wild lemurs in Madagascar. We hope to have a real homestead someday where we'll raise a dozen dwarf goats with the help of our kids. And maybe one summer I will drive around the country with the whole family in a big RV.
Looking back, almost all of our wishes and dreams have already come true. She graduated at the top of her MS class, I became a work-from-home software consultant, we bought a nice house in a good neighborhood, climbed up a glacier in Alaska, found a great school for Naveen, and most of all, have supported each other through our toughest days. Now that I think about it, the only pending item on my wish-list is getting a high-pressure rain-shower in master bath. Pretty sure I'll check it off some time in the next ten years.
It was quite a coincidence that I even remembered today was the exact day. We were watching the new season of Stranger Things and during a scene shot in a cabin I turned to her to bring up our past trip to the Smoky Mountains. Maybe it was the lighting or how her hair just slightly covered her face but my mind suddenly flashed back to the very moment I first saw her a decade ago. If someone had told me that day that exactly ten years later I would be watching a scary show with her after we put our son to bed, I would have laughed at how ridiculous that sounded while secretly hoping for all of it to come true.
And then I saw her face. All of it had indeed come true.
Safe, sound, and offlineTue, 12th Sep '17, 1:15 pm::
We are ok, our friends are ok, and our house is ok, just some minor yard/fence damage. My biggest fears did not pan out but Irma got really close and did a significant amount of damage in surrounding areas. We heard that a number of huge oak trees fell in our neighborhood but thankfully away from the houses. Most of our county is without electricity and Internet. We are waiting to drive back to Florida once we get power and clean water. Until then we have friends watching our house. I'm fairly certain I will write more once we return.
Safe but not soundSat, 9th Sep '17, 3:05 am::
We left our house at 1am Thursday and drove 16 hours non-stop through back-country roads to a rental log-cabin in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. We are safe and have enough gas and supplies to last us weeks. Naveen was great during the drive and we all have been spending some much needed family-time together.
We're trying our best to act normal but I can't stop thinking about all of our friends back home. Almost everyone we know stayed back. And now there is Irma, a Category 5 Hurricane, headed straight for the west-coast of Florida. This feels unreal. A week ago Juliet took Naveen to Disney while I finished up some work and now the entire state of Florida is under a Hurricane warning, unsure of what is going to remain standing next week. This feels unreal. Four days ago Miami was supposed to be the epicenter of devastation and now it's going to be my county across the state. This feels unreal.
I am not worried for us. I am worried for literally everyone we know. It is one thing to hear about an acquaintance who got into an accident. It is entirely something else to watch weather announcements get morbid by the hour, as everyone who told me "Oh it's nothing" slowly admit "Maybe I should evacuate" to now saying "I am scared and don't know what to do."
People are telling me to be positive and hope for the best but all I see is a time bomb counting down. Unless Irma drastically changes direction or loses strength, catastrophe is imminent. I've been hoping I'm wrong for a week now but the storm continues to reinforce my worst fears. All my life I've hated being wrong but right now I am wishing harder than ever that I am wrong. It's only September but all I want for Christmas is running water, electricity, and functional roadways for all of Florida.
I'm safe but I'm pretty far from ok.
EvacuatingWed, 6th Sep '17, 11:35 pm::
We are leaving in a few minutes, driving up straight to a cabin in North Carolina. We have someone taking care of the house and some pets that cannot travel safely on such a long drive. Right now there are three active hurricanes around Florida: Irma and Jose in the Atlantic and Katia in the Gulf of Mexico. While Tampa Bay is not directly in Irma's path, we live very close to the Gulf and our house and yard is barely 6-8 feet above sea level. If Irma somehow ends up on the west coast of Florida, staying would be catastrophic.
All we can hope is that Irma misses Florida and does not do much damage elsewhere. Here's hoping we are just being unnecessarily cautious and get an unplanned 7-day vacation in a log cabin instead of well, literally anything else.