call to serve, Feed My Starving Children, Haiti, health care, hunger, mission work, sorghum making, Uncategorized

Why Haiti? Part III

Len Demert founder

Schools4Haiti Founder, Len Demert

Day 2 of the mission trip with Schools4Haiti:

One of the very first things that was apparent upon arriving in Port au Prince (my first exposure to Haitian people) is how boorish or verbally aggressive they are.  It is classic id run amok–no filter.  If they think it, they tend to say it. “Hey pretty lady!” they call out to some of the ladies in our group.  Wow, put a sock in it, Ace! I think to myself. Yet somehow, they are also polite and quick to smile.  Their default expression is one forged out of lifelong hardship, however.

Haitian elder

She’s younger than you think…

Unless you are from Haiti or used to driving in Haiti, it’s best to hire a driver who can double as an interpreter–especially if you are not fluent in Creole.  One truck was not enough for our team and our luggage.  The trip organizer, Penny Demert-Neal of Schools4Haiti left our company to get another truck rented from Avis.  The standing joke of how many people can you fit on a Haitian truck (one more) did not hold for our team. We needed two trucks. Driving in PAP streets is harrowing, crowded, choked with traffic, and very minimal traffic laws are observed.  Our host would later tell us stories of drivers who have hit others in the street who were then pulled from the vehicle and stoned by villagers–judge, jury, and executioners all rolled into one frenzied group.

haitian streets

driving in Haitian streets

We began our northward ascent toward Mirebalais and the New Life International compound and our hosts, Brian and Jamie Rauschenberger. Soon we were climbing Mt. Cabrit (goat) and were seeing what appeared to be wild goats, donkeys, and horses.  Our driver soon corrected me on this issue and said that although each animal appeared to be wild, every Haitian knew exactly who this horse belonged to or that goat, even that stray chicken scampering about. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the countryside that followed the despair, crowds, and litter so rampant in PAP. Cacti of varying types speckled the mountainside, while animals scurried about. On the way up Mt. Cabrit, those of us in the back of the truck got caught in our first monsoon, taking care to hold the blue tarp over us and at least limit the impact of the big drops of rain that were pelting us.

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Our New Life Int’l hosts, the Rauschenburgers

After arriving at New Life International at meeting our hosts, we grabbed our bags and checked out our new dorm rooms.  Each of us men had a single bed, three in our room.  One of the docs roomed with his sister, a high school French teacher.  The rest of the ladies in our group shared a larger dorm room with two single beds and two bunk beds.  The dorms, recently completed, looked more like bunkers than dorms as the interior was unpainted cement that was not yet finished sweating–and would not be painted until time passed and the sweating had run its course.

inside NLI dorm

inside dorm room at New Life Int’l

Our host, Brian, explained that the air conditioning was freshly installed but the daylight hours had slipped away before the electrical connections could be completed.  Therefore, our first night we would have no AC but each subsequent night we would.  This was a huge bonus, as the nighttime air brought open windows, mosquitoes, and security risk.  Outside were two armed guards who kept patrol while we slept.  New Life International in Mirebalais sat on 40 acres of the prettiest jungle in Haiti.  Enormous cane stalks bordered the lane and the property and made me recall the memories of my grandfather Ever who grew cane and pressed sorghum for 47 years until he died in 1983.

Wanting to appease the curiosity of my foodie wife Sara (of thesisterslice.com), I took care to carefully catalog the different foods that we ate while in Haiti.  Brian’s wife Jamie served us spaghetti with fish, rice & beans, an iceberg salad, and ranch chicken drumsticks with lime-aid to wash it all down with.  Brian assured us that the lime-aid was made with purified water from his own system.

Haitian water purifying system at Pastor Paul’s orphanage

** Watch for Why Haiti, part IV soon! Please remember to like and follow the blog.

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call to serve, Feed My Starving Children, Haiti, health care, higher education, hunger, mission work, Uncategorized

Why Haiti? Part II

I decided I would keep a journal before heading to Haiti.  I wanted to look back on my experiences, Haitian cuisine, the orphans, and my team. Haiti would be the 19th country in my passport, except mine had expired and was in need of renewal.  The postmaster in the Mount Horeb, WI post office discouraged me from expediting the renewal, certain that the new one would return within 5 weeks.  She was right.  I paid my $116.50 in total passport costs and merely waited.  A scrub top for the photo–perfect.  I looked the part of a medical missionary.

Eriks passport photo001

my passport pic, wearing a scrub top

Our flight was leaving O’Hare about 0730 with a connection in Fort Lauterdale, FL, so nearly all of the team wanted to meet at a Quality Inn there, dine, and organize the materials we were taking along. Day 1 of this excursion happened to be July 2nd, my 8th wedding anniversary with Sara.  I came home after a 12-hour night shift in the emergency department, napped 3 hours, and headed to the farm.  My wife is an excellent planner and had most of my clothes and accessories gathered already. I made a point of not taking anything that I could live without, worried about the risk of it getting stolen or ruined in some fashion.  By 3 pm we were leaving my brother’s farm and we arrived at the Quality Inn O’Hare by 1730.

Soon we were having dinner at Bella Sera in the Hotel.  I ordered the seafood ravioli and remember that I wanted to lick the plate–it was so incredibly good!  Those who know me well know that I am a foodie, married to a foodie: Sara, 1/3rd of thesisterslice.com Topping off my dinner was tiramisu and a Castle Rock pinot noir.

tiramisu

tiramisu!

I knew it was not likely I would eat this well in a third world nation for the next 10 days. I don’t believe we had any teetotalers among the group, which made organizing and re-packing all the medical supplies that much more fun. By 2230 we were in bed, brother Adam and I in our room, and I awoke at 0200–mind a flurry of activity, so I decided to go use the hotel’s business computer to log some work on my doctorate.

airport security

airport security

I was asleep maybe another hour when the alarm went off and we were up. We were on the shuttle headed for the airport by 0430–strong work on the part of the QI staff and drivers.  It was no easy task to get all of the team and our 12 bags into the shuttle. It was an easy traverse through security and then to an Americanized breakfast of McDonald’s hot cakes and a venti Mocha latte.  I couldn’t imagine there would be a McDonald’s on every street like in the U.S.; but then again, I was surprised to find one in Zermatt, Switzerland and Foix, France too. A couple of hours later we were dining in the Ft. Lauterdale airport before catching our 90 minute flight to Port au Prince.  A nice, hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs in my belly helped get me psyched up for culinary conditions unknown once we landed in Haiti.  How do you get psyched up for intractable diarrhea in a 3rd world nation?

mcdonalds zermatt

McDonalds, in the shadow of the Matterhorn!

We knew when we were flying over the Bahamas, a series of islands surrounded by some of the brightest aqua-blue colored water I have ever seen.  Minutes later we were touching down in PAP and I thought “We’re not in Wisconsin any more, Toto.”  We were greeted by throngs, oceans of Haitians everywhere.

crowds of haitians

Haitian crowds like the one at the PAP airport

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circus, entertainment, parenting, Uncategorized

Circus Tiger Mauls Clowns!

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10:05:34–gate is closed in right of photo

Call it the headline that almost was.  My oldest son, a second grader at a small Wisconsin school got to visit the Zor Shrine Circus at the Coliseum. Due to limited space on the bus that was going, his 4k brother, who had earned a ticket through exemplary behavior in his class, could also go but could not ride on the bus.  I had asked my uncle Sam if he wanted to go along, and before I knew it the endeavor turned into something even bigger.

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10:07:34–notice the door is ajar on the right…

I had childhood memories of going to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Omaha, NE.  I was small, maybe 5 or 6 years old. It was by far the neatest thing that ever happened to me as a child. I wanted to share a similar experience with my boys, so I made a point of going along.  Little did I know, I would be selected from an audience of thousands and brought to the main ring to act out two skits with this clown:

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Reddy the Clown engaged the audience with a whistle; up close, I heard a thick accent

Reddy grew exasperated when the woman he also chose from the crowd wasn’t acting out the skit to his liking and made a big production of putting me in her place.

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My boys all ready think I am a Rock Star–this made them certain of it!

He wanted her to play slow-motion tennis with big sound effects.

I was amazed to see photos of this as I handed the camera to my 7 year-old son and he just kept shooting.  The circus assistants wore all black so they tended to disappear into the dark auditorium while the act was brightly illuminated with spotlights. I noticed the door was ajar with 3 Bengal tigers and 2 Siberian tigers when one of the assistants raced over to secure it.  Funny thing, ignorance: on the one hand we had an arena full of happy, happy, fun, fun, smile, smile, laugh; on the other hand, we had an unsecured gate with 5 tigers mere feet away from being loose among the crowd! Being an ER nurse, it is my job to notice things.  I noticed the inconsistencies when people lie to me every single day. I am used to this; so used to this I just brush it off as part of the human condition. An unlocked gate on the tiger arena is a whoop–a HUGE whoop! Snapping photos like paparazzi, the time stamps would reveal the gate closed at 10:05:34 and ajar by 10:07:34–which means it merely came open on its own and was never secure in the first place!

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10:09:21–gate still ajar in right of photo, moments later this was secured by staff. Never mind the 5 tigers mere feet away!

I am not sure how many of the thousands at the circus noticed this teensy-weensy gaffe in security.  Good thing all five tigers considered the ringmaster with the long whip the alpha male in the group.  You can see in the photo above how well-fed the tigers appear to be; the Siberian on the end is too fat to be sassy. The time stamps on my photos reveal a 4 minute span during which that gate is ajar before staff noticed the mistake and ran over to secure it–4 minutes that could have made headlines if the tigers were more alert, less well fed, or less obedient.

Was a good time had by all?  You bet!

Would I go again?  Sure.  But I will have my eye on that tiger cage from the start!

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How does the ringmaster NOT look like dinner?

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Birthday, parenting, relationships, Uncategorized

A Birthday Tribute to My Bride

Sara in Snowville NH

My favorite picture of Sara, B & B in Snowville N.H. 2008

It is Sara’s birthday today, my beloved wife.  Before I ever laid eyes on Sara, we had talked on the phone about 4 times.  She was in Moline, IL and I was spending a long weekend in Des Moines, where I worked in the intensive care unit at Mercy Capitol Hospital–the former osteopathic hospital and red-headed stepchild of Mercy Main.  Sara and I had been set up by her sister, Amy, who was pinch-hitting for her big sister in the game of life.  After a mere 40 minutes of talking with me outside of the State Farm office in Maquoketa, IA, Amy was certain I was the life-mate for her sis–“I just met the father of your children.  Don’t eff this up!” came the edict.

DSM half marathon

Budding romance at 1 month, DSM marathon 2004

Before either of us knew it, Sara had quit a hateful job working for Cruella DeVille at a poisonous hospital in the Quad Cities and had become my personal groupie.  This was no easy task and has just grown more complex, more difficult, and more physically taxing since those early days.  I met Sara at the Border’s bookstore in Davenport on Tuesday, September 21st at 5:30 pm.  I was engrossed in the first pages of Ann Coulter’s Treason when a soft voice said “Erik?” A tall drink of water with brown hair and soulful brown eyes looked down at me as I sat there.  I had not imagined or dreamed about what Sara would look like–I was, however, in the mood for someone to be kind to me.  If she couldn’t muster that, our time together would be brief.

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Newton IA with Baby Noah 2006

I was still reeling from the break up of my marriage to a woman who appeared to think of marriage like a complicated date–an exit strategy always in hand the moment things got hard.  Perhaps I even told Sara that I just wanted someone to be kind to me, and I wanted that more than anything else another human being could offer me. I had very fresh scars from my marriage, ones that if Sara was to win me over she would unfortunately have to tend…and nurture.  She got this.

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Sara’s labor, our blessings

I remember our first argument.  I was perturbed with her and probably wanted my way.  I don’t even remember what the argument was over–I just remember the punch line.  I said “I sure hope you ski!”  As if this activity could save us, I might be willing to tolerate not getting my way if Sara could ski and would ski with me wherever I wished to go.  At that time, I had a matronly friend at the hospital who urged me to go on a vacation “just for yourself.”  I looked into skiing in South America, but the reviews on goski.com were horrible and echoed that the conditions were au natural and the accommodations poorly developed.  I had just recently met Sara and wasn’t crazy about going by myself.  Tuesday nights lessons at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, IL for six weeks with her future husband as instructor gave Sara the skills she needed to ski in Spain and Andorra.  KLM lost our luggage flying into Toulouse, France so we had to come up with a plan B that now excluded skiing in France.  We rented a BMW 525 xi and were left to tour the foothills of the Pyrenees for the day until our luggage caught up with us.  Poor us.  A couple of days later, a blizzard blew into the Pyrenees after the lifts had delivered us to Beret, Spain. Suddenly they closed the lifts for safety and we had no choice but to ski the 7 kilometers back to our resort in Baquiera. That evening we asked Spanish Sally, our hostess at the hotel, where there was a nice restaurant in the area.  She seemed to understand and replied “Ohh…romantica?!”

Sara and Erik skiing MT

My Snow Bunny!

Sara and I married about nine months after meeting, in July 2005.  Each of us was old hat at the marriage thing, and knew what we wanted and had to have.  Our wedding was held on my brother’s farm, in a barn built in 1902 by my great great grandfather Andrew.  The temperature that day was about 78 F with a gentle breeze blowing, the sun filtering through the slats in the barn walls, and some of our city friends asking if we had piped in the sound of birds chirping outside during the ceremony.  We had a patriotic theme wedding, Famous Dave’s catered in (a huge hit with our guests), and we honeymooned in Cozumel a short time later.

our wedding invite

Our Wedding Invitation

Sara is once (Noah), twice (Jonah), and three times (Eli) a lady to me, giving me 3 strapping sons who will one day dwarf their “regular” dad. There is not a cooler woman on the planet to me.  I can be an ogre, a real grizzly bear to live with…yet Sara endures.  Sara looks on with disdain while our boys look at me like I am a rock star and often regard her as chopped liver, unaware or unconvinced of just how the magic really happens in the Hanson household. Yet Sara endures…being well, Sara.

Our reality

Halloween 2013–how it really is!

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fashion, hunting, stilettos, Uncategorized

Stilettos & Whitetails

My sons are as fun-loving and goofy as I am. Mama had one of her stilettos lying around, probably dragged out by Monster Baby, providing a nice visual prop. So, tonight the subject of stiletto heels came up while talking with my 7 year-old son about walking on a new vinyl floor and the damage a stiletto could cause…and how it would cause it. I told him the story of how my college physics professor loved to illustrate the physics of stiletto heels.  Ed Kindermann was a jolly old soul; in fact, I would have believed him if he said he was Santa Claus when he wasn’t teaching college physics.  He looked like Saint Nick!  Kindermann walks with Jesus now, but I swear that man could have taught physics to a chimpanzee–he was a brilliant and gifted instructor.

learning chimp

A chimp learning physics

The story, as Kindermann told it, went like this:  My then-wife and I had some raucous young neighbors in an upstairs apartment who thought they were something pretty special in the 1970s. They were hip, had lots of friends, and tended to be show-offs.  We got word they were going to have a party after having some renovation done to their new pad, including brand new vinyl being placed in the kitchen.  The way the apartment was laid out, the entry opened to the kitchen so guests would have to walk right across the new vinyl to get into the living room. My wife had aged along with me, no longer the size 6 she was when we had met so many years before. I thought the upstairs neighbors were haughty but they really got under my wife’s skin. I don’t know why, but this secretly tickled me.  We soon got an invitation to attend the open house party they were going to throw, and my wife spared no expense, including a snazzy new pair of red stilettos.

sharp stiletto

The Stiletto Effect

The night of the big open house party came and my wife and I trudged up the stairs to be awestruck by the beauty that would surely envelope us in the neighbor’s newly renovated place.  I knocked on the door and the couple cordially greeted us, my wife and the misses upstairs trying hard to out-nice each other. My missus took six steps into the apartment only to have the neighbors wife suddenly shriek!  My wife’s stilettos had punched about a half-dozen little squares with rounded edges right through the vinyl of our haughty neighbors brand new floor!  We apologized profusely as we beat a hasty retreat, promising to pay for the damage.  I gulped at the impact this faux pas would have on our limited budget. Once we returned home, I took care to stifle my laughter as it was angering my wife who was obviously armed with quite a weapon. I secretly, quietly began to scratch down the physics of what had just occurred, rounding down my wife’s weight to an even 200 lbs. Yep, to this day it still amazes me!

http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2003/JackGreen.shtml

Stilettos can be used as lethal weapons…it is more common than you think.  The following two hyperlinks are examples of how deadly stilettos can be in the right hands:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/02/stiletto-murder-thelma-carter_n_915850.html

http://abcnews.go.com/US/university-houston-professor-stabbed-death-stiletto-heel/story?id=19364890

This is more on stilettos, including the sword, knives, and daggers that stiletto heels are named after:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stiletto

The following video describes is by The Science Babe and describes the physics behind stilettos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIIo0SlagD8

My oldest son’s question to me, with a wry smile on his face was “hey dad–do you think you could hunt white-tailed deer with a stiletto?” I chuckled at the creativity of his question and pondered.  “Yes, I think it could be done.  It would not be the most humane way or effective way to harvest a deer, but it could be done.” My mind lapsed back to the times in my hunting career when I was close enough to touch deer, wearing the right camouflage. I imagined myself, hunkered in the snow-covered brush while dressed in all white camo, holding an 8″ stiletto with my fingertips curled just inside the toe portion, ready to strike with my deadly fashionable footwear.

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health care, hip resurfacing, orthopedic surgery, surgery, Uncategorized

Humbled by Mortality

Today…I bought a cane.  A cane!  I am 46 years old. I am only 46!  I have inherited some bad genes.  Genes for coronary artery disease (CAD), genes for diabetes (which I have dodged so far), and genes for osteoarthritis (OA).  About one year ago I stopped taking the statins, those wretched, wretched drugs that are supposed to be wonder drugs that will bring naughty lipid profiles up to toe the line.  I predict Hupy & Abraham 1-800-BAD-DRUG commercials in the near future, featuring statins. I had started aching–my legs, arms, even the spinal erector muscles ached.  An endocrinologist in Monroe, WI named Dr. Bekx tweaked my regimen with CoEnzyme Q10, Niaspan, the water-soluble Crestor that had been touted as “the best of the best of the best” in that class of drugs.  Dr. Bekx is a brilliant man, and even among physicians he stands out.  Tweak as he may, the myalgias (muscle aches) persisted to the point I could not stand taking even the tiniest dose.  I began to list them as an intolerance.

pill bottles

Mr. Polypharmacy!

By July I thought the statins should be long gone from my system and the pain should therefore also be gone…but it wasn’t.  My primary doc set a referral to a rheumatologist, Dr. Wilson.  A reputation of being difficult to work with preceded her, but I found her to be delightfully candid with a fast, dry wit.  Upon exam, she brought each of my legs up to my chest and I nearly came off the table in pain!  After reviewing the family history and getting an anterior-posterior x-ray of my hip joints, she told me I had osteoarthritis in both hips.  Mine was so bad that I had bone on bone, grinding, in each hip.  Worse, I had bone spurs that had been laid down as part of the body’s response after it received a chemical signal that something was bad in each hip.

OA hip

Arthritic hip; both of mine are bone-on-bone

Next was a referral to the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Wolff.  From Madison, WI, he has a stellar reputation and a great surgical history.  Better, he was well-liked.  I cared little about that part because I would rather have a sound, gifted surgeon than one who simply made me feel good about some gaffe that occurred intraoperatively.  Surgery was originally scheduled for early December, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the notion of a total hip replacement on each side–not at age 46!  Sure, just lop off the proximal end of each femur and shove some hardware down in the center of the remaining leg bone!  No way, not for me, not at 46.

total hip hardware

The more common “total hip” replacement

A salty mare of a charge nurse that we love and work with in the emergency department suggested I look into the program at Sauk Memorial Hospital.  So I did, and I realized they offered hip resurfacing–new titanium alloy surfaces covering the head of the femur and the corresponding cup that is attached to the hip bone in the acetabulum.  Touted as the ideal surgery option for a male in his 40s or 50s with OA who plans to return to a vigorous lifestyle of running and skiing, this sounded like my perfect solution.  I would not likely run marathons again, but I do plan to ski with my sons.  By choosing this option, I get to keep my bones but I just get new surfaces so my bones are no longer grinding together–the titanium parts are!  Now that sounded like a capital idea!  When I met and spoke with Dr. Arnold Rosenthal, I liked him immediately.  He confided that he had the hip resurfacing done years ago himself and has loved the outcome.  Suddenly the man had street cred with me…like a mom-to-be taking suggestions from her doc who had already had a baby herself.

hip resurfacing hardware

This is hip resurfacing hardware; generally titanium alloy

Having never been cut on and placed under a general anesthetic, I am scared witless about this surgery.  I have decided to have both hips resurfaced and the closest the surgeon will do them is 6 weeks apart.  So, six weeks it is.  I will be on FMLA from work for 12 weeks.  Since osteoarthritis is a degenerative process, my hips will never be better than they are today–they will only get worse.  I cannot continue to gobble up the tramadol, naproxen, acetaminophen, and motrin as I have been for months or my kidneys will begin to fail.  My physician even added hydrocodone recently to help manage the pain all the other times that I am not at work.  Ibuprofen causes my ANA or anti-nuclear antibodies to spike and then I begin to feel pretty cruddy, so I reserve that stuff for breakthrough pain while at work. I cannot imagine a day where I don’t have to take something to manage pain, but that is the ideal I strive for by committing to these two surgeries.  Living with chronic pain is pure hell.

chronic hip pain

Living with chronic pain

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call to serve, Haiti, mission work, Uncategorized

Why Haiti?

Mercy Capitol

Mercy Capitol, Des Moines IA

Standing in the ER at Mercy Capitol in Des Moines, IA in late August, 2005, I watched the coverage on TV as Katrina moved down upon New Orleans.  Mostly, I stood there amazed at the tales of how many people remained, certain they would be rescued.  Suppinated palms, waiting for a handout.  They had DAYS, days in advance warning of the category 5 hurricane what would devastate their city, that city which rested below sea level.  Um, how could anyone there expect to remain dry?  This is not a rhetorical question.  How far could I walk in days, knowing that hell was soon to be unleashed upon my sub-sea-level home?  With just my thumb and a strong will, I am pretty sure I could be standing upon Pikes Peak with a warning that fair.

Katrina

Hurrican Katrina, August 2005

A national call to help those devastated by the storm rang out, and our intensive care unit wanted to send a representative, along with a team of other nurses and doctors to lend a hand.  I wanted to go.  I talked with my wife about going, but our supervisor for the ICU chose Bob to go instead.  Crud.  I would have to travel vicariously and eagerly soak up details from my friend Bob when he returned.  This call sparked something inside me–a call to serve.

disaster response team

Disaster Response Team

Fast forward eight years and my family is living in Wisconsin, attending a new church.  An announcement is made in church that a program called Schools4Haiti will be organizing a medical mission to rural Haiti to visit and treat orphans.  There was no question–I knew I was going.  Sara must have known this, seen it in my eyes, known my heart.  Why Haiti?  I felt called to serve there.  She simply said “you should go.”  I texted my brother the ER doc, right there in church.  Medical mission to Haiti in July–want to go?  “Yes.  What dates?” came his very quick reply.  It was settled then.  I got the itinerary from the others to coordinate flight information and bought my ticket.  I was pretty sure I wanted to arrive in Port au Prince with the group and leave with the group.

Most of the group met up at a hotel near O’Hare and took stock in the medical supplies we were taking with.  Our arrival in the late afternoon was strategic–customs would be tired and weary and more likely to wave the group through, rather than rifle through our bags and confiscate supplies that were intended to do good for the orphans.  That plan worked.

mission organizing

organizing our mission supplies

Before I ever visited the Big Apple, someone offered a piece of sage advice: “just get used to streams and streams of people, everywhere you go, no matter what time of day it is.”  A similar suggestion was made of landing in Port au Prince.  Flying over Haiti I surmised that there was short, scrubby jungle everywhere and the entire nation appeared to be void of rural life.  I would later come to understand that I was just not able to see the huts below the canopy of the trees.  Ten million walked within Haiti’s boundaries–about 35 people per square acre, and that seemed like a conservative estimate.

Haitian crowd

Haitian crowd

I would soon discover that everyone is a salesman in Haiti, a service to offer or goods to barter with. Trash everywhere.  Graffiti. Earthquake damage.  The city reeked with a diffuse, acrid smell of smoke no matter where we went.  How many people can you fit in the back of a Haitian truck? One more.  On the way to our accommodations outside of Mirebalais, we were soaked in a monsoon rain while jam-packed in the bed of a pickup, dusk upon us.  I remember thinking “I am from small-town Wisconsin and I am riding in the back of a pickup in rural Haiti, caught in a monsoon and soaked to the bone as night is falling.  How did I get here?!” I chuckled at my circumstance while doing my part to hold down the corner of the blue tarp that wanted to dance in the wind.

Haiti pickup

mission pickup in Haiti

We arrived after dark, crossing a raging stream to pull into the New Life International compound.  Prior to leaving I imagined staying in some tiny hut, co-mingling with nature, squatting to answer nature’s call, no regular meals or running water, and returning half-dead with malaria and intractable diarrhea.  Instead, there was a male dorm and a female dorm, running water, air-conditioning at night so the mosquitoes could not reach us, armed guards to watch over us, a hot breakfast and supper, with packed lunches sent along with us while seeing the orphans during the day.  Okay.  Not bad.  This might not involve the suffering I thought we would have to endure.  We would be living like Americans and not so much like most of Haiti. Except for the tarantulas–those were the size of small plates.  We weren’t sure how they sneaked into our rooms on occasion. I became the designated tarantula-ridder.

tarantula

Haitian tarantula

(more on Haiti and mission work to come)…

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divorce, fatherhood, parenting, Uncategorized

Grandpa? Nope, Late Fatherhood

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Handsome baby Noah

I became a father when I was 39.  That’s old.  Simple math shows that I will be 57 when my oldest son graduates high school.  “Hey, grandpa–so nice you could be here to watch your grandson on his graduation day!”  Why so old, you ask?  I took a six-year detour with The Practice Wife–thankful that no children resulted from that union.  I remember being 12 and thinking that there was no way I would be ready to be a daddy at 25 and that I had better wait.  At that age, I was not entirely sure of the mechanism used to accomplish fatherhood anyhow; but I gave myself plenty of time to figure it out.  I thought I was wiser at 25 than I had ever been, but I still had some wisdom to acquire and maturity to grow.  Yep, 30 would be a better age to create mini-Eriks.  Shortly after that mark I met the first Mrs. Hanson.

ski lodge

I might have guessed how that would turn out when she stood giggling at our altar in a Ski Lodge in Frisco, CO–giggling because the fireplace was making popping sounds that sounded like someone breaking wind.  The emotional maturity of a first grader.  I would think most women would gush over a two-week honeymoon skiing in Europe, traveling by Eurail to six different countries, skiing over the mountain from Switzerland into Italy under the shadow of the Matterhorn. Or the standing-room-only Christmas Eve service in Zermatt, spoken in a German dialect with locals dressed to the nines and big snowflakes falling. Or ringing in the new year in Salzburg, Austria–birthplace of Mozart–at the Festung while serial cannon fire echoed across the nation from one Austrian border to the next.

Festung

But no!  She grew tired of me and I grew tired of her by the end of that two weeks.  I couldn’t wait to be home to have some alone time.  Surprise, surprise when this marriage didn’t work out.  It didn’t help that we decided to try med school living in different cities 2 1/2 hours apart.  I lost my ‘coolness’ factor when I got the boot from med school–suddenly the first Mrs. Hanson was not going to be married to a doctor after all.  She would have to change that. To make matters worse, we opted to gut an entire house and live in it during the repair.  This is also a great way to stress a marriage.

gutted home

home under renovation

When I met Sara, we talked about our future with little ones running about, refrigerator magnets in place, how we would (as older parents) likely spoil them rotten.  I am glad we made some time to travel, see France, Andorra, Spain, visit Cozumel twice, and make a run of the B & Bs in New England.  Having children in school dramatically slows a parent’s pace to travel and see new places. These days we get to Washington Island in Door Co., WI each summer and to visit family in Iowa.  My wife’s family visits on holidays and mine never visits, except Uncle Sam.

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Uncle Sam (suspenders)

Our oldest son Noah is smart, handsome, and likeable.  He seems to make friends easily and always puts his best foot forward…when he is not at home.  When he is at home he lets his hair down and picks fights with his next younger brother, mixes like oil and water with his mama, and seldom misses a chance to show how lazy he can be–God’s challenge to me as a father. When his teachers have commented on how helpful and polite he is at school, we stop to verify that they are talking about our son.  A friend of ours pointed out that it is good that Noah can “let his hair down at home–and be who he really is.”  My fear is that he will require more of our help once he is of age than I can provide, due to my advancing years.

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Jr. GQ, Noah

Our second oldest son Jonah was speaking in complete sentences when he was 18 months old.  In the words of Shrek “you have the right to remain silent; what you lack is the ability.”  He talks with the sweetest lisp and I know one day that will just be done talking that way.  He has deep chocolatey brown eyes like his mama and is a very sweet and thoughtful boy.  He also knows exactly how to best antagonize his older brother Noah.

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Berry Pickin’ Jojo

Our youngest son, Eli, a.k.a. “Monster Baby” was originally nicknamed this because of his off-the-chart growth.

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Eli!

Not that any of the boys is a shrinking violet–all have been off the chart.  Eli is not yet two years old and is 52 pounds.  His size makes him a monster.  Lately, however…his behavior does too!  He is pure imp these days, having found his terrible two’s early.  He is a game player and one of my favorite pictures of him is when he was helping me put away clean clothes and he put my boxer briefs on his head with his face sticking out one of the leg holes.

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Monster Baby, playing with my boxers on his head!

Trust me, there are times when Sara and I look at each other and second guess our choice to be parents.  We could have had another home in the south of France, but no…we chose parenthood instead!

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I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

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Black Magic, Uncategorized, Witchcraft

Son-of-a-Witch! Black Magic and Past-Life Regression

altar

An altar like mom used, one black and one white candle

When I was 8 years old, I must have expressed an interest in what my mother was doing in the bedroom at her dresser.  Often, when we returned home from school, the house would reek of incense and candle smoke.  Mom was a witch and I don’t mean she was merely difficult to get along with.  She was a self-proclaimed black magic witch.  She used this fact to intimidate those she was angry with. Mom was known to be a screaming dish-thrower, so if at any moment she seemed civil and not emotionally labile, we would not question it for fear her mood might change on a dime.

black magic witch

Black Magic Witch

Mom welcomed me into her bedroom and sat me down in front of her dresser, aka her altar.  The lights were off in the room but lit candles glowed on each side of the altar while incense burned.  I sat there, too afraid to move without mom’s direction.  She guided me through the ritual, things I was supposed to say at specified times, and she narrated the entire event.  Then I was to close my eyes while quietly chanting a phrase from her black magic book and share with mom what it was I saw.  I remember feeling flushed, quite warm, and saying “I see an Indian…on horseback…drawing back on his bow…riding along side of thundering buffalo in a cloud of dust.”

indian brave on horseback

my past life!

“That’s it!” Mom shrieked.  I startled from my trance-like state and turned to her.  “You were an Indian brave in your past life!”  I got excited, but only because mom was so excited.  I didn’t know what any of it meant.  Some would say mom had no business subjecting an 8 year-old to an altar and past-life regression.  Some would say mom had no business being a mom.  Life wasn’t boring, that was certain.

past life regression

past-life regression

For all I know, my mind may have held some memory of a campy Western I had recently seen and mom just seized the moment to fill in the blanks.  Around that same time, there was a neighbor boy with anger issues who had painted a target on my pacifist older brother Hans. Hans was more like Ghandi than Mike Tyson, so others had to stand up for him.

I tried, but this move just transferred the target to me.  Mom, seeing this bully chase us through the apartment complex one day, came screaming out of the Sun Valley apartments one day to meet this bully as Hans and I tore in behind her.  “You little F*&%$@#!  You leave my boys alone or I will put a curse on your punk a*# such that you will fail ALL of your classes in school!”  Bully’s mother had come out from across the complex to catch the end of mom’s f-bomb laden tirade, mom and her exchanged words, mom restated her specific threat and both women retreated into their apartments with their sons.  About two months after this incident there was a knock at our door…

Samuel L Jackson

Omaha P.D. Officer, 1975

Two Omaha police officers had ridden in on their motorcycles to investigate a report of one woman putting a black magic spell on the other woman’s son so he would fail all of his classes–and she had his all F’s report card to prove it!  These two very large cops looked like Ponch and Jon of CHiPs, except Ponch was African-American, resembling a wild-eyed Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction with a ‘Fro that didn’t seem to end.  Smirking and snickering, they each tried to play the tough cop, alternating with serious tones at times, indicating they were there to investigate these “very serious allegations.”  Of course, Mom assumed her sickeningly sweet, flirtatious, innocent self and denied every word of the complaint.  The cops soon went on their way, still snickering.

Sly witch

Sly witch

Mom closed the door with a smug little smirk on her face.  We never saw that bully or his mother again! And yes, my mother made that happen!

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Do-It-Yourself, health care, higher education, hunger, Uncategorized, Weight Loss

No Weigh! 6 Simple Ways to Trim Bad Habits & Your Waistline!

Hansons are big people.  Not so much in height as in girth.  Grandma was always heavy, grandpa was built like a utility truck.  Dad was morbidly obese and mom was plump.  What a nice word, plump.  “Fat” sounds so judgmental.  Plump sounds cozy, like when I was a small boy and just wanted to snuggle into grandma’s soft, round, plump belly and fall asleep. Growing into men, grandma was concerned that we would go out in the world and settle for skinny Minnies who we “couldn’t find under the sheets.”  Instead, she suggested we find good eaters for our mates. God forbid, I once brought a girlfriend around who had the nerve to pick around at the dinner in front of her.  After grandma saw this, that woman had to go!

reubenesque

For many years I was a runner.  I ran because I liked it…and maybe because I knew where my genes would take me if I let them.  I ran my last marathon on my 38th birthday in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Just prior to the Med City Marathon I had met Sara, a 6′ 2″ German gal who I had decided would be a great partner to raise three boys with.  Although grandma would be pleased that I knew how to locate my mate, the trouble was that Sara is a mighty fine cook.  I stopped running and starting eating.  Before I knew what happened, I was packing 282 lbs. onto a 5’9″ frame and feeling pretty lousy about it.  As it turns out, I made a miserable fat guy.  I got winded walking up two flights of stairs.  I would feel sciatica shoot down my leg from my back.  I sweated on relatively cool days. I had to wear BIPAP when I slept so I did not stop breathing for long periods of time.

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Hamming it up at the Med City Marathon, my 38th birthday

To make matters worse, in July of 2013 I saw a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with osteoarthritis in both hips.  I began to pay attention to the hip x-rays put on the PACS screen at work in the emergency department.  There were 91 year old women with healthier hip joints than I had.  I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who popped up the AP film of my hips and said “Your hips are shot!  At 46–what in the hell did you do to your hips?”  I ran for many years, I have been in health care all my adult life, and I love to ski–all had taken a toll on my hip joints.  “Big guys like you aren’t suppose to run!” the ortho guy exclaimed.  “Save that for those wispy-chested Nigerians who are built for distance running.”

marathoner

marathoner

Now that I was grinding bone on bone in each hip, my choices to lose weight were suddenly quite limited.  Cutting out my tongue seemed too extreme so I took a long look at the habits I had formed to get me to 282 pounds.  I hate the word ‘diet’–implicit in that word is an ebb and flow I am not comfortable with.  Or maybe, that’s what the word has come to include in our society.  Inevitably the wane of dieting is followed by the wax of gaining all the weight back the moment behavior resorts back to what is was before. Options limited, I had to achieve weight loss in the most basic way possible:  fewer calories in, compared to calories burned throughout the day.  No longer could I just go out and increase my running to burn off weight gain.

debility

debility

1.  I stopped eating out of boredom.  If I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t eat.  I’m not sure when I started eating due to boredom, but I had somewhere along the line.

eating when bored

1) don’t eat when bored

2. I started cutting down on my portion size and asking my wife to do the same when she served my plate.  Although I grew up with a scarcity of food and leftovers were something we never had, it became okay to push my plate away when I had enough.  I had to reassure my wife there was nothing wrong with supper, it was just that I had enough.

push food away

2) No need to belong to the Clean Plate Club!

3. I stopped using social gatherings like birthdays, holidays, big games, deer hunting season, and other celebrations as an excuse to pig out.  Instead, I would try a single bite-size of something I really liked just for a taste, then quit.  This takes tremendous will power.

buffet line

3) No pigging out at social functions!

4.  I stopped eating a big meal right before bed.  I have been a night shift worker for 28 years so my bed time is variable, depending upon my work schedule.  No matter when I was going to bed, 10 p.m. or 10 a.m., I would have a simple sandwich or apple–just so my stomach didn’t growl while trying to fall asleep.

healthy snacks

4) Healthy snacks only before bed, if you must

5. I began to curb my intake of red wine.  I love a nice chianti or sangiovese on my night off, but at 7 kcals per gram, the weight gain from alcohol adds up fast.  Drinking my calories was no different than eating a big meal right before laying down.

chianti

5) In moderation only!

6. I started drinking a lot more water–the recommended eight 8 oz. glasses per day. In doing so, I replaced my usual diet Coke with water–the caffeine being an appetite stimulant and in its absence, I was not as hungry any more.

water bottles

6) Drink more water, less soda!

I had also moved from the float pool as an RN to the emergency room.  ER nurses run their butts off, as a rule.  By contrast, when I was in the float pool I often enjoyed a banker’s lunch.  In the ER, I was lucky to have two minutes to wolf down a PB & J.  This is a very unhealthy eating practice, but at least I was burning calories in my new role.  Say what you will, but a year and a half after moving to the ER, I am down from 282 lbs. to 232 lbs–A fifty pounds weight loss by using ONLY these 6 easy steps!

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Happy losing!

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