Song 43 – Maybe It’ll Go Away

I hope I don’t ruin this song by telling you that it’s about my hernia. I’m not sure how many rock songs are about hernias, but there can’t be many, and this might be a first. The story behind this song has two different sides – “before and after”. Let’s start with the “before”.

My general attitude towards health problems is to hope they will just go away. I know that sounds naive, but colds never last more than a few weeks; minor aches usually take care of themselves. Most burns, blisters, cuts and bruises, while painful, just need a bandaid and some patience. Thus, when I first felt hernia pain, my instinct was to think “maybe it’ll go away.” It didn’t.

It was a long time before I asked a doctor for help. Years. When I finally asked, I was relieved and hopeful that now, with professionals doing all that they could, the pain would finally go away. And it did, for a few months. When it came back, fiercer and meaner than before, I went through another, shorter “let’s wait and see – maybe it’ll go away” phase.

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Robert pulled double duty on this song – playing conga drums and a traditional drum kit.

When I asked for help the second time, the first test result came back negative – suggesting that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. This was depressing and confusing. Was everything in my head? Should I have waited longer and healed on my own?

Ultimately, you know how the story ends. I had surgery a second time and, fingers crossed, I’ve been cured.robert_on_drums_20160720.jpg

So that was the dark “before” part of the story. Now we’ve come to to fun part.

When I returned home to recover from the second surgery, I was flooded with love and support from so many friends and loved ones. People brought me food to eat, games to play and books to read. And I can’t remember how many times someone moved something heavy for me. It was touching and humbling to have so many people care for me in so many ways.

That spirit of helping me out was carried over to the recording of this song. Robert, Brian and Al (from Warrior Sound) went way above and beyond the call of duty to make this song a reality. Without them, well, let’s not even try to imagine what this would sound like without them. So, from rehearsals, to recording, to mixing – at each step – I was given an amazing amount of help to make this happen.

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Since the kittens are not in the video, I’ve included a picture that I took right before my trip to Iceland. They grow larger and larger (and more lovable) each day! In fact, the black one, Poe, is sleeping in my lap, right now,as I type. The grey one is sleeping at my feet.

Even though this is a song about an unusual subject, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it with my friends. If you’d like to sing or play along, here’s the song sheet.

Song 42 – Another Day

This song is for my neighbor, and every bit of it is true. But there’s a lot that leads up to it, so let me tell that part here.

Just over 3 years ago I moved into a beautiful new house built by Paul Snow. One very pleasant, and unexpected bonus was my new neighbor; a retired professor. Although I feared he would be annoyed at me for the noise and bother from the construction, we hit it off immediately. Even though he was over twice my age, he was quick to smile and joke and we spent afternoons sipping wine on the front porch telling each other stories and discovering how much we had in common.

My neighbor turned out to be a living history book about all of my heroes. He told me about hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give a speech in St. Louis. He told me about going to a classical music master class with Igor Stravinsky. And he told me about chance run ins with nobel prize winners.

So it was a big shock when, one evening, a police officer knocked on my door and asked if I had seen my neighbor recently. Someone reported that he was missing. After worrying for a week, we found him being treated for cancer. This came as another big shock. The good news is that the treatment has been very successful. He’s back home and just as friendly and funny as ever before.

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Here’s the latest instrument to join the family. It the awkwardly named “Baritone Tenor”. It plays a relatively subtle role in this months song – it adds body and fullness and sits between the higher guitar line and the bass. You can hear what it does most clearly at the onset of the last chorus.

I hope everyone had a great month. Mine had it’s ups and downs. It started with surgery, but it is ending with me feeling very optimistic about my recovery. Today I walked for 40 minutes without any noticeable pain. If you’d like to sing or play along with this one, here’s the song sheet.

What’s up the cat videos? (or, What happened to SoundCloud?) When I started recording a song each month, 3 and a half years ago, I never thought I’d record more than a few songs, tops. At the time, SoundCloud was an easy way to share my music. It had some nice features (you could download the MP3, for example) but it also had a limit on the number of songs I could upload. Back when I started, I was pretty certain I’d never get close to 40 songs, but as time went by, I proved myself wrong (I’m up to song 42 and I’ve got at least 6 more floating around in the back of my head waiting to be recorded). So, having run out of SoundCloud space, I had to put my music somewhere else. YouTube will host as many song as I write, for the rest of my life, so that’s what I eventually settled on. The reason I use cat videos (for now) is that I usually spend all my spare time on the song, but I’d still like to have a little something for you to look at while it plays.

Song 41 – Say Your Goodbyes

This song is about pain. Specifically, the pain of rejection, which is just about the worst kind that I can imagine. I used this song to put my own physical pain in perspective.

Early in May, it became clear that the hernia surgery I had in February was a failure. Up until the recurrence, I had been feeling great. I had been pain free for 3 months. My jogging was stronger than it had been in years. The possibilities of what I could do, physically, seemed limitless, and I no longer feared getting out of bed each morning. I daydreamed about hiking to the tops of mountains and running races. But then, right after telling my friends I had recovered, I felt an intense ripping and stabbing sensation that brought everything to an end.

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The ultrasound machine they used on me was so fancy it had a knob to control the space/time continuum.

To be honest, the pain was so intense and so different from what I felt before that it took days before I realized something was very wrong. I kept hoping it would go away on its own – that it could take care of itself somehow. But it just got worse; an ultrasound and physical exam confirmed the need for additional surgery.

This was a relief. My worst fear was of an inability to diagnose what was wrong. This happened early, when a CT-scan said there was nothing abnormal. But the final diagnoses made me optimistic for the first time in weeks. I knew there was something that could be done and that I might feel better sometime soon. In the meantime, I tried to keep things in perspective, and that’s what this month’s song did for me. It’s a sad one for sure, but it helped me through a hard time.

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Both Red and Poe enjoy the window seats around the house.

I’m looking forward to June. I’ll start recovering and I hope I’ll feel better. I hope you have a great June, too. If you’d like to sing or play along with this one, here’s the song sheet.

Song 40 – Deal With It

Ever have an exasperating day? One where the only release is to bang on drums (real or air*) as loud as you can until you’re completely exhausted? Well, that’s what this song is for.

A few months ago a friend had a terrible day. He’d gotten in trouble at work for, of all things, being friendly. Not too friendly, not creepy – just nice. That was enough to rub a co-worker the wrong way. My pop used to say, “some people eat nails for breakfast”, and I think that explains the situation.

Well, you can guess what happened next – within a few days I demoed this song for the band, a few weeks later we played it at Mystery brewing and now we’ve finally recorded it.

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Photo by Carol Bales.

In this case, we went to our studio of choice, Warrior Sound, and knocked everything out in a very fun afternoon. As always, Al dialed in our sound super quickly and captured the energy that comes with a new song. The goal was to move fast and let our emotions carry the day, and I think that’s what we got.

I hope everyone has a great month. However, if you have a bad day, at least you’ve got a new song to sing and play along with (here’s the song sheet).

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Also, you may have noticed the new kittens in the video, Red and Poe! The’ve been non-stop entertainment and cuteness.

* Personally, I prefer my set of vintage air drums. I got them super cheap at a pawn shop a few years back.

Song 39 – Rachel’s Song

This one’s for my sister. She has always been the big reader in the family. For every book I read, I’d make a safe bet she reads a hundred. A long time ago she got into Flannery O’Connor and drew me into that strangely-familiar and strangely-strange depiction of the American south. Since then, I’ve read all of her books three or four times each. What brings me back are the characters. Each one seems so familiar, as if I’m reading about a not-so-distant relative.

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The ukulele enjoys reading books when he’s not making music.

Flannery O’Connor’s most famous character is Hazel Motes from her book Wise Blood. Hazel, who often went by “Haze”, was a mixture of extreme personality traits and easily spotted by his fierce hats. Here’s a quote that describes Haze’s hats and shows a little bit of who he was:

 

… [Haze] went to a dry-goods store to buy a new hat. He wanted one that was completely opposite to the old one. This time he was sold a white panama with a red and green and yellow band around it. The man said they were really the thing and particularly if he was going to Florida.

“I ain’t going to Florida,” he said. “This hat is opposite from the one I used to have is all.”

He went outside and took the red and green and yellow band off it and thumped out the crease in the top and turned down the brim. When he put it on, it looked just as fierce as the other one he had.

Hats aside, he was a drifter; looking for something with a uncommon intensity, even if he didn’t know what it was. The kind of man that throws himself, body and soul, into each new half-baked plan he comes up with, each one crazier than the last. Add to that an overwhelming innocence that rendered him child-like. He acted like he knew everything, but inside he was confused and overwhelmed by it all.


 

As for the song, it came to me at The Scientific Retreat at the Beach, 2015. We had the afternoon off from science and I’d just had a delicious superburger at El’s Drive-In. Satisfied with my meal, I had this idea: what if Hazel Motes was real and I knew him? I doubt I would know him well – I don’t think anyone would make that claim. Instead, he’d be one of those people I ran into from time to time, or heard a story about. Crazy Haze, what’s he gotten himself into to this time? What new scheme had he come up with?

Back at the hotel I pulled a chair onto a tiny balcony overlooking a parking lot, grabbed my ukulele and started to strum. The verses came easy, but the chorus didn’t show up until I put the ukulele down and walked on the beach for an hour. Like a rogue wave, it hit full force and I sang it all the way back to my room.

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Did I mention I’m getting a cat next week? Expect a lot of cat themed songs in the near future! Maybe something like “Hey cat, get off my keyboard…”

Folks, it’s one thing to write a song, and another thing to have it arranged by such talented musicians. I feel blessed to have Miriam Chicurel-Bayard, Mara Shea and Robert Cantrell helping me out with this one. They brought their own ideas to the studio and all I had to do was blend them together. And speaking of studios, the drums sound is perfect because we recorded at Warrior Sound. As always, Al skillfully captured the magic. I hope you like it – if so, please share it with your friends. And if you’d like to sing or play along with it, here’s the song sheet.

Oh, and if you missed the show at Mystery Brewing, here’s a video of the premiere of this song:

Song 38 – Now or Never

February was an interesting month – I had surgery for a hernia. Pretty much every person I talked to and every website I visited said I should plan on taking at least one week off from work to recover. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but part of me was pretty excited about having an excuse to stay at home for five days – I imagined myself sitting on the couch playing music all day, every day, for a week. The night before the surgery I moved all of my instruments downstairs so that I could get to them easily once I was recovering.

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The ukulele didn’t feel like playing much music for a week. Instead, it just rested on the couch.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. Sure, I stayed home all week, but playing music was one of the last things I wanted to do. Instead, I just laid around and tried not to move too much. When I did feel like doing something, playing music gave me an extremely painful coughing fit. In hindsight, I should have seen this coming. Everyone and every website said I would take a week off from work – none of them said I would spend that week jamming out.

The good news is that I recovered quickly and today I went jogging without much pain. It was a beautiful day and I got to go out and enjoy it – something my hernia used to get in the way of. It makes me wish I’d done this years ago, but, like the week I spent laying on the couch not playing music, sometimes you never know until you try it.

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However, once the ukulele felt a little better, it could spend nice days outside without worry!

As for this month’s song, back in December I decided 2016 would feature a lot of “story” songs. Songs where I try to tell someone else’s tale. This one was inspired by a trip to a rural North Carolina town. There wasn’t much there, which was charming, but also a little suffocating for the younger people. Some were intent on making their dreams happen in that town, but some didn’t really know what they wanted other than more options. They wanted more ways to define who they were and what they would dedicate their lives to. I wrote this song for those seekers.

I hope everyone had a wonderful February and will have a great March. My February might not have been the most comfortable month, but I’m glad I had the surgery and am looking forward to my new life without hernia pain! If you’d like to play or sing along with my tune, here’s the song sheet.

Open Inguinal Hernia Repair: My story of recovery

UPDATE: The hernia came back three months after the surgery. This is called a recurrent hernia and it is rare (maybe 1 or 2% of the time this happens). I have had additional surgery for this. It was laparoscopic (as opposed to the first one, which was “open”), so I can tell you the pros and cons of both methods and can also compare the recoveries. I’ll do this in a separate post, since I think this post remains valid for most people.

I recently had surgery for an inguinal hernia, and in hope of helping people who may need this to be done, I have written a diary of what I experienced. If you’re not planning on having hernia repair, feel free to skip this and go directly to the music!

Before the surgery, I searched for as much information about it as I could. I knew it was going to hurt, but how much pain would I feel and how quickly it would go away? Would it be bearable? I was scared of the unknown. Reading about it and learning more was comforting.

When I searched, I found a few “diaries” that people had written about their own experiences. These diaries helped me get a sense of what to expect because they were honest about the pain. It is in this vein that I am now describing my experiences.


Okay, before we talk about the surgery and the recovery, let’s talk about me. If you’ve visited this blog before you already know that I’m a musician and a scientist – neither of which has much bearing on how I might deal with hernia surgery – so let me give you a few other details.

  1. I am 41 years old.
  2. I am relatively “in shape” as they say. I bike three miles to work and back on weekdays. I also jog 20 to 25 miles a week. On days that I don’t jog, I do sit-ups for about five minutes.
  3. I eat relatively healthy foods.
  4. I am optimistic. Generally speaking, I think things will work out for the best.

Those details should help you translate my story into one that can help you understand what will happen to you.


One last thing before we get to the diary… Here is a list of things I am very glad I stocked up on before the surgery:

  1. Gatorade: I was dehydrated and taking medications that needed to be swallowed with lots of fluids. If you like Gatorade, I would recommend you stockpile it as well, however, water is just as good.
  2. Canned soup: Real cooking was out of the question for the first few days and canned soup was soft and easy to digest. I got a four-pack of the most basic Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. This was great for treating the initial sore throat caused by the breathing tube used during surgery.
  3. Cough medicine: Coughing after this surgery was both very painful and very stressful. It put a lot of pressure on the wound. I was lucky and already had a supply of medications (Mucinex and NyQuil). I didn’t expect to need them, but two days after surgery I developed an evil cough. It was strange in that it was isolated from any other cold, flu or fever symptoms; aside from the surgery, I felt healthy and could breathe fine. However, this cough meant business. Even though my breathing was regular, I had crud in my lungs that needed to come out.
  4. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen: Both of these helped relieve pain and swelling, and my surgeon said I could take them at the exact same time since they operate on different pathways. For the first week I took 600 mg of ibuprofen and 500 mg of acetaminophen four times a day (after meals and at bed time).
  5. Laxatives: I had milk of magnesia, in liquid form, and docusate sodium, in pill form. The drugs and the anesthetics caused constipation and the muscles that usually take care of these things were out of order for the first week during recovery.

Now, without further ado….

Day 0: I was at UNC and everything was super smooth except for the very first step: checking in.

I was supposed to go the main hospital, but the front door was locked. So, after a cab driver yelled the directions from his car, I found a side entrance that worked. From there I had to figure out where the admissions waiting room was. This would have been obvious if I had entered from the front door, but seeing as I came in through the side, I had to look around for it. From there they gave me a map to another waiting room, but that was vague and included mis-located landmarks.

The surgical team itself, however, was great. Everything went as planned. I checked into the hospital at 6am and checked out at 11:30am. I was back home by 1pm. Awesome.

The pain medications from surgery took awhile to wear off. I felt good for most of the day. There was a little pain where my hernia had been – but it was minimal compared to actual hernia pain. I was sitting up, moving around the house, drinking, eating and could watch movies on TV. That said, I was also very cautious because my body was doped up and couldn’t tell me what really hurt; I didn’t push it.

I was also super thirsty with a touch of a sore throat. Presumably the breathing tube dried everything out. I drank a lot of liquids that day and had a double helping of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. The soup worked wonders on the sore throat.

At around 6pm (six hours after returning home) I started to feel sharp pains on the left side of my abdomen, near the area around where the operation took place, but they were not centered on that location. The whole left side of my torso ached.

The surgeon also gave me a prescription for Percocet. I took two of these before trying to sleep. This drug was supposed to be a very strong pain killer and make me drowsy – which seemed ideal at bedtime. Unfortunately, the Percocet had no effect on me other than to make me feel groggy. It did not reduce the pain and I did not sleep. I looked on-line and this appears to be relatively common. For some people Percocet is amazing – so if you have it, try it to find out – I’m just not one of those people.

The good news was that the pain wasn’t unbearable. Even though I didn’t sleep, I was able to rest on my side, rather than lay on my back all night long. Because of this, I did not attempt to take Percocet again after the first night.


Day 1:  Today I moved around pretty slowly. But I moved. I went up and down stairs a few times without any problems. I walked to the end of the street and back and that seemed fine. I was constipated (even after taking laxatives), and that was irritating, but it wasn’t terrible. I took a shower, watched a movie, baked some bread, played the guitar and tried to figure out some of the insurance payments. Over all, things were OK.

The pain was interesting. Much of the left side of my abdomen was very sensitive. Even though the scar was quite low, I felt pain all the way up to my rib cage. Sometimes it was very acute and sharp – this could be very, very intense – other times it was dull and throbbing in a way comparable to mild hernia pain. It went back and forth between these two states – with most of the time being dull and throbbing. Transitions from laying to sitting or to standing and back were rough. I took these slowly. However, once I was up, or down, things calmed down and I wasn’t too uncomfortable.

In the morning I took a full dose of milk of magnesia without any results. Around dinner time I took docusate sodium and that didn’t have much of an effect either. Right before bed I took another full dose of milk of magnesia.

Another thing that happened on this day was my appetite tapered. The day before I was starving and ate quite a bit. This day I had difficulty finishing meals.


Day 2: I slept a lot better than I did the first night. I also defecated, so I no longer worried that was is going to be a problem for me.

The pain seemed more acute . It was sharp and intense. However, it only happened when I transitioned from sitting to standing, or standing to sitting.

My head seemed much clearer than it had felt the day before (and the day before that). I wasn’t as easily distracted as I had been.

My appetite was still off. I felt hungry and full at the same time. I guess “bloated” is the usual adjective for this, but it wasn’t quite that. My head said “eat” and my stomach said “don’t eat”. This might be due to the milk of magnesia and stool softener I took the day before. I’m not sure.

I went for a 30 minute walk. It was slow, and at times I had to stop because of a “gripping” type of pain that would come on strong but then fade relatively quickly. I made it to the nearest coffee shop and got a hot chocolate. This was delicious.

I’ve also developed a cough and this was very painful. I felt a strong burning sensation at the site of the incision every time I coughed. I saw on-line that women recovering from C-sections often pushed a pillow against their abdomens to help offset the pressure created by coughing. I tried this, but could never get the timing right.


Day 3: My appetite returned. The dull-throb pain was replaced with a very acute stabbing pain. It was very intense, but short lived. Coughing was still an issue. I went for an hour long walk and took a two hour long nap when it was over. Walking was much better this day than before. Yesterday, the whole left side of my abdomen would seize up and I’d have to stand for a bit until the sensation passed. Today there was none of that. Just the occasional sharp pain at the site of the incision.

I took Nyquil to go to sleep. I was coughing in bed and that made sleeping impossible without the drugs.


Day 4: The short, searing and stabbing pain that occurred when I transitioned to and from sitting, laying or standing was as bad as ever. In some ways it seemed worse simply because it didn’t seem to be letting up. Everything else had improved, but these were just as bad as before. It became harder and harder to tolerate this pain and say, “I expected this to be bad”, because sooner or later I couldn’t help but think, “I expected this to be better than yesterday”.

I googled the “searing” and “burning” pain that I was feeling and saw that it was a symptom of infection. However, I reasoned that if I had an infection, I would feel those sensations all of the time, not just when I sat down or stood up. Furthermore, I didn’t have any other symptoms of infection.

I was hungry, but easily filled – I ate less food than usual.

Walking was definitely better. I walked another two miles and it was much better than day before.

Coughing was still a problem, but seemed to be getting slightly better as the day went on.


Day 5: This was a breakthrough day for me. The short, stabbing pains finally started to let up. This was encouraging to no end. I was improving on all fronts. I took another two mile walk without any major pains. I attended a play in the evening and most of the friends that I met there had forgotten that I’d even had surgery.


Day 6: Everything continued improve. I moved about with very little hindrance. I still had pain – especially after standing up or sitting down – but it was so minor that, externally, I doubt that I showed that I was experiencing them. The incision also appeared to be healing very well. I was confident that I could go back to work without fear that I would be excessively tired or in pain.


Day 7-14:  Every day I continued to improve. I walked at least 30 minutes each day, and by by day 12 was walking over an hour without any significant pain. I still felt some mild discomfort, but so mild I could ignore it.

By day 14, the incision had pretty much healed and the glue that they used to seal it had peeled off. That area was still relatively sensitive to pressure, but coughing no longer hurt very much and no longer stressed me out (before, each time I coughed, I thought I was going to upset the mesh that was now part of me). The swelling had also gone down a lot. My lower abdomen was almost flat, although it was still a little raised where my hernia was, indicating that the swelling wasn’t 100% gone.


Day 15: Today I had my follow up appointment and was told I was healing well. I was also told I could start lifting heavier objects (up to 20 pounds), but I had to be smart about it and not lift by bending over. The bummer is that I was told I should hold off on jogging for another week, and hold off on biking for even longer (perhaps up to 6 weeks after the surgery). The doctor emphasized that the mesh takes 6 weeks to be fully incorporated into the muscles and that time is the only thing that makes that happen.


Week 3: I started jogging again, alternating five minutes of running with two minutes of walking for three miles. After 10 minutes of running, I felt a sharp pain in the area around the surgery like the pain I felt when I started to walk again. It went away while I walked. Later, the pain returned, but I was able to run through it. And that was the last I felt of it, and I’ve gone for three more jogs (the last of which was for 30 consecutive minutes).


Week 4: Although the scar is still quite bruised, it is only mildly tender. I can go for hours without thinking about it. I walk, run and do most everything without any thought of it. However, that said, I still can’t lift heavy objects, and singing and standing can become uncomfortable – but even these things are improving.


Week 6: The doctor said that after 6 weeks I would no longer have any restrictions on lifting, biking or anything else. In theory, the mesh is as strongly attached to me as it will ever be. There is no longer a significant risk that the internal (and permanent) stitches can be damaged.

To test this theory, I have done pretty much everything – lifted heavy objects (my luggage when traveling), biked to work (up rather steep hills), done hard running workouts etc. Everything felt fine and there is no longer any pain whatsoever. When biking, my left side (where the surgery was performed) feels a little more rigid than my right, but this is not a painful in any way. Presumably this is because the “ridge of healing” is still present (although it, too, seems to be reducing – albeit slowly).

As far as I can tell, the symptoms (or lack there of) suggest that the surgery was a complete success. When people ask, I tell them that I am 100% healed.