Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Forgotten Anniversary

With all that has been going on, I neglected to mention that Saturday, August 27th, was the first anniversary of the DJWriter blog. It's been an interesting year. I'd say more, but I still have to finish writing my book.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Champ Till The End

On a running e-mail list this week, we were discussing what we had done with our medals from races. One runner said that a former girlfriend put her medal around her teddy bear's neck. Then he wrote, "But, Dave, I'm guessing you don't have a lot of teddy bears in your bedroom."

I replied, "Not a lot, only one. I call our dog 'Teddy,' but his full name as given by my wife is 'Teddy Bear' because 'he's like a big, soft, cuddly teddy bear.'"

On Thursday night when I saw Teddy lying on the floor in the bedroom, I put my 1999 Chicago Marathon finisher's medal around his neck and took a few pictures. This is the last photo I ever took of that handsome guy:

Teddy Bear Johnsen 1991(?)-2005

Teddy's condition steadily worsened since the last update. He could barely stand, and he was losing his appetite. I consulted with one of his vets last night. He said that to reduce the clotting in Teddy's legs they would have to cut back on his prednisone. Of course, doing that would send his red blood cell count down. We would end up back where we started a month ago. We could hospitalize him and give him an IV that might reduce the clotting, but his chances would be 50% at best, and other clots could form later (potentially in more critical areas). He assured me that we could let him go with a clear conscience, knowing that we did all we could to help him.

Last night I fed him hamburger for dinner, followed by pizza topping a few hours later. He ate some of each but didn't finish. I petted him until my wife came home from work, and then I went to bed. This morning I found my wife in the living room with Teddy; she hadn't slept all night. We took him to the vet this morning ostensibly for his weekly blood test, but we knew he probably wasn't coming home. Another vet reassured us, and we decided it was time. We held and petted him as she searched for a vein. Once she injected the drug, he died almost instantly.

Even though we know we did the right thing, it still hurts even more than we expected. I have a lot of thoughts, but that's all I can write for now. Thanks for seven of the best years of our lives. We'll always love you, big guy.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Another Teddy Update

For those following the saga of our dog Teddy's struggle with auto-immune disease, it has now been one month since he went into the hospital. Thanks to several transfusions back then and lots of pills since, he is somewhat stable, but he probably won't get any better. His red blood cell count seems likely to remain in the 20s at best, barely adequate and not far above where it was when he went into the hospital. He's still hanging in there, but he doesn't have much time left. One of his hind legs filled with fluid a couple of weeks ago. Today it looks like the other is filling, too, and he is walking with more difficulty.

There's never a "good" time for this, but I wish it wasn't happening while I'm trying to finish my manuscript (due one week from today). At least with my new laptop I've been able to spend more time downstairs with him. But every time I walk out the door to do a bike ride for my book, I fear that Teddy won't be alive when I get home.

We still have no idea what caused the illness. It just came on so suddenly. Sure he is older, but he went from wanting to walk to the park and back to barely making it to the end of the block practically overnight. Now he just does his business at the bottom of the stairs and waits for us to carry him back up. On the bright side, he doesn't seem to be in pain, and he still enjoys eating (he has been getting canned dog food and hamburgers). Yet we know every day is a gift at this point, and we are savoring every moment we have left with him on this earth. We have reached the point where we have done all we can do. If his condition worsens, we'll have to say goodbye.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Riding The Wrong Way Can Be Fatal

It seems like every day lately there has been bad news at cyclingnews.com, but how often does this happen?

A cyclist lost his life in a head-on collision with another cyclist on Sunday, August 14 in Plano, Texas. Michael Mahoney, 52, was riding counter-clockwise on a circuit route near an industrial part of southeast Plano when the accident occurred. He collided with Jordan Muller, 37, who was training clockwise on the parcours used for races on Tuesday nights.

Although both cyclists were wearing helmets, Michael Mahoney's head trauma was too severe and he passed away in the Medical Center of Plano soon after the accident. Jordan Muller was treated in the emergency room and released.

With most races taking place clockwise, race organizer Randy Eller said that most people training on the course were riding in that same direction. Nevertheless, the streets being public, cyclists can ride any direction they choose. While the police did not know at what speed the two cyclists were going when they crashed, the accident apparently happened on a straight stretch of the road.
One critical detail is missing--where in the roadway did this happen? They were on public roads. It wasn't even race night, so the fact that races go clockwise is irrelevant (the article concedes this point). Obviously somebody was in the wrong place (i.e., riding on his left side of the road), or they both were (i.e., riding down the middle). Maybe one guy was riding on the wrong side the whole time. Maybe the other rider had been cutting a corner before the straight. It's sad regardless, and it probably never would have happened if both cyclists had kept right as the law prescribes.

This incident draws attention to my biggest problem with wrong-way cyclists. When you encounter one on the street (all too common in Chicago), on which side do you pass? I keep right, but a wrong-way rider is just as likely to keep to his left and hit me. The Chicago Police Department is planning to start fining cyclists who break traffic laws (finally!), so I hope they crack down hard on these people in particular.

UPDATE 08/18/2005 - According to VeloNews, which has a more detailed report, the riders were both in the middle of the road (hat tip to Team Mack racer Chris Strout, who reads more cycling web sites than I do). And of course, I did not mention the many ways a cyclist riding the wrong way can be killed by a motorist, but that goes beyond the scope of this blog entry.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Odd Drug Requirement

We had to get our dog Teddy a very-low-dosage aspirin to help prevent blood clots. How low? St. Joseph Children's Aspirin has 81 mg per pill, but Teddy needs just 7 mg per day. Only one pharmacy in Chicago (the whole darn city of three million people!) can create these tiny doses, which they pack into capsules with lots of filler.

Now here is the odd thing--this pharmacy had to speak with our veterinarian for approval in order to make these capsules for us. I mean, we're talking about taking the world's most common over-the-counter medication and diluting it to a miniscule strength (practically homeopathic by human standards). For that, we pay a premium ($17 a bottle). Why on earth would they need to get permission to make this stuff? It's not like they would be preventing abuse or misuse since I could buy a much stronger dose without a prescription. I told my wife I was going to take them myself: "I could take two regular aspirin tablets every four hours, but I'd rather take one of these capsules every ten minutes instead!"

It's probably some sort of general law or policy of either the pharmacy or the FDA, but in this case it struck me as red tape, just a waste of time (in fact, they were unable to reach Teddy's vet for a while, so we had to wait an extra day to get the capsules).

Actually, there is one funny thing about Teddy's swollen leg. He has always had skinny, bony legs that looked too small to support his body. Now his swollen leg looks like the size his legs should be.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Smearing the Cabbie

According to an article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune, a key component of former city employee Michael L. Jackson's defense will be to portray his alleged victim as a violent person. Here's what happened: Jackson got into an argument with cabdriver Haroon Paryani about an $8 fare. One thing led to another, and in the end Jackson got into Paryani's cab and ran him over multiple times. There were several witnesses, and to me it is an open-and-shut case. Word on the street is that Jackson may have been under the influence of something and that he waited a couple of days to turn himself in so that it would be out of his system. That would at least offer some explanation for his unconscionable behavior.

The dirt on Paryani involves two altercations, one in 1989 and the other in 2001. I wouldn't be surprised if most cabbies had some sort of history due to the nature of their work. After all, this is a job that involves picking up drunks and driving in bad neighborhoods (ironically, Paryani was avoiding such areas after a fellow cab driver was killed a few years ago--Paryani was murdered in Lakeview, one of the priciest neighborhoods in the city). On top of that, a lot of customers look down on them and insult them or treat them rudely (there is probably a racist element to this since many cab drivers are immigrants). Although the city sets the rates and the driver can't control traffic, customers blame the cabbie for high fares or being late regardless. It's a job I would never want to do, and I thank them for doing it. Many of the spoiled, pretentious yuppies in this city are less grateful. I'm not saying there aren't a few bad cabbies out there, but getting two beefs in a couple of decades in such a job doesn't strike me as a history of violence or aggression.

But that isn't the point. Quite frankly, it wouldn't matter if Paryani did have a history. It doesn't even matter who actually started the altercation that night, or what it was about. All that matters is how it ended: Jackson got into the driver's seat of Paryani's cab and ran him over. Repeatedly. Whatever happened before that moment is largely irrelevant. Jackson surely had other, better options than the one he chose. He was outside the car, and he chose to get back in and use it as a weapon. He could have walked away. He should have walked away. He didn't, and he deserves to pay for the life he took.

There are a couple of notable quotes in the article. Jackson's attorney, Thomas Breen, said,"My desire isn't to trash anybody. It's to get to the facts that occurred that night." If he is using Paryani's past to argue his case, that has nothing to do with the "facts" of what happened that night.

But this one is more thought-provoking:
Andrea Lyon, a DePaul University law professor and president of the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said mentioning a person's prior acts of aggression is permissible in court. "If [Breen] investigated the case and has found some incident that this particular person has been violent, then it would not be an unreasonable investigative tactic to see if someone would come forward and tell you about it," she said.
While the article says "a person's prior acts," it would be more accurate to say "a victim's prior acts." The history of the accused (not to say that Jackson had one, although he has since been charged with assaulting a nurse) cannot be used in court except in sentencing. It's an odd double-standard that puts the victim at a disadvantage, a situation that has been exploited to help some bad guys get away. For example, how many times has a woman's promiscuity been used in a rape case? That specific situation has led to "rape shield laws" to protect rape victims, although lawyers still find ways around them. There is no such protection for victims of other crimes, including murder. Consequently, Paryani's survivors get to watch his name get dragged through the mud in the process of trying his killer.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Censorship That I Support

Months ago I wrote a blog entry unequivocally opposed to censorship. Well, perhaps I was wrong. Last night (actually in the wee hours of this morning), I found a case where censorship is not only justified, but preferred.

Around 2 AM we noticed that our dog Teddy's left hind leg was swollen. Since he contracted auto-immune disease a few weeks ago, we have been keeping a close eye on him. We called the animal hospital where he was treated, and they said we should bring him in just to be safe. That was how we found ourselves watching the Animal Planet cable channel in the hospital lounge at 4 AM. It was one of those shows with animal police who rescue abandoned kittens, abused dogs, etc. It was set in Miami, which the producers reminded us by showing brief glimpses of tanned, bikini-clad women between program segments (not that I'm complaining).

One of the dogs, named Kilo (since the police never found his owner, I assume they gave him that name), had a badly broken leg. He was a medium-sized, mixed breed that didn't look like either of our dogs but somehow reminded me of both. A neighbor said someone had run him over on purpose, but that was never verified. The animal police took Kilo to a vet who fixed his leg with a Rube Goldbergian brace. An older man adopted Kilo as he began his convalescence. When Kilo came in for a check-up, his leg looked better, but the vet noticed something disturbing--he was showing signs of neurological damage. In his time living on the street without proper care, he had contracted distemper. He had only a one-in-ten chance of recovering.

The vet came out to talk to us about Teddy's condition. She thought it was probably a blood clot, which is more common in dogs with auto-immune disease. She was uncertain whether he might have some sort of protein deficiency; the tests she ran showed low counts, but she didn't trust the machine because it sometimes gives bad readings. She recommended that we have it tested at our regular vet when we do his next blood test (by the way, Teddy's last red blood cell count was 31, a significant improvement). If the protein is a problem, it will require a few days of hospitalization. It sounds like something that may not be worth putting him through. We are concerned about where to draw the line between helping him get better versus merely keeping him alive for our own sake.

As she was talking to us, the TV program returned to Kilo for his next vet visit. This time he was in bad shape. He was shaking and clearly in pain. The vet told the owner, who had already grown quite attached to the little guy, that Kilo would have to be put down. As our vet talked about how to treat Teddy's blood clot, assuming it's just a clot, I watched the old guy give Kilo one last pat on the head goodbye and walk out of the room. Fade to black.

So that's one time when I would prefer censorship--the veterinary hospital should censor Animal Planet so people who are worried about their own pets only see the happy endings on TV. We don't need to see the alternative; it's already too real in our minds.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Dick's Ripoff Reward

When Dick's Sporting Goods came to Chicago, I was glad because I never liked SportMart much--their stores were often dirty and disorganized. I know Dick's replaced Galyan's, but I never shopped there because, well, the name didn't sound right. Petty, I know.

Anyway, I went to Dick's this spring to buy a stand for the heavy bag (for boxing) that we've had in the family for years (mostly sitting unused in my parents' garage and later in my basement) and some other things. The store offered a program called "Dick's ScoreCard," and just the Beavis-and-Butthead double entendre of the name was enough for me (almost as good as when Dick's Supermarkets in southwestern Wisconsin offered a card program called the "Dick's Insider Savings Club," which they since renamed to the simpler and less embarrassing "Dick's Savings Club"). Besides, the ScoreCard earned a reward certificate immediately based on the size of my purchase. A no-lose situation, right? In May, my "Reward Certificate" came in the mail. It was good for $10 off my next purchase at Dick's. But wait, look at the thick paragraph of fine print on the certificate, particularly:

Excludes all Callaway, Odyssey, Titleist, Cobra, and select release TaylorMade Products, Levi's, Under Armour, Nike Dri-FIT, Therma-FIT, Sphere and Pro Compression, Merrell footwear, Nike Free, Shox, Impax, Air Zoom Generation, Jordan and LE shoes, Oakley, Maui Jim, Smith, Ray-Ban, Suunto, Arcteryx, The North Face and Columbia merchandise.
Sheesh, it would have been easier to list the qualifying merchandise! To top it off, the certificate was only good for two months. For someone with rare sporting goods needs (except cycling gear, but I try to buy that from local bike shops), the time limit alone irritated me. But after reading the list of exclusions and looking through a recent advertising flyer in the Sunday newspaper, I knew I'd never use the darn thing anyway.

What a bunch of Dick's (apostrophe optional).

P.S. I dug up a photo of a billboard promoting the aforementioned Insider card (probably on US 18 east of Prairie du Chien). The scan is dated October 1997, but the photo was taken a few months earlier: