How did this happen?

We see them everywhere downtown. This is Rochester, home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic. It’s common for us to see a person in a wheel chair, often sporting a tied scarf to keep a head warm. The hair was probably lost due to a difficult treatment for some medical condition. I always feel bad when I see a wheel chair pushed by a parent. The parent of a child. A young child, often not even double-digit years old. A child facing life and death. Far too soon. That kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, but in Rochester it’s not that uncommon.

It never occurred to me that another situation would hit me even harder than a sick child in a wheel chair.

It wasn’t that many years ago that we buried my Dad and Judy’s mother. They were old. Eighties. Life had been good to them, but it was over. We hated to see them go, but that’s the way of life.

I didn’t see the next one coming.

Those of you who know me know that I spend an inordinate amount of my life wandering the halls at the Mayo Clinic, too. I’ve been lucky that my challenges responded to proper treatment. My life is good. I do what I want, when I want, and the bumps from minor medical mishaps enhance, not detract from, my life.

Until that day I was in for a routine blood test. Continue reading

What to do when you grow up?

There’s that question parents and uncles ask kids. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We all ask it. Kids don’t have a clue. Parents aren’t much better at giving advice. The job choices I had won’t exist for my grand children. Today’s process of getting a job bears little resemblance to what I went through. What I’m trying to say here is that parents have no idea what a kid should do. In the end, I’m not sure anyone has very good advice. My mother thought I could be a good TV repair man. Judy’s grandmother thought I did something with telephones. What would I be when I grew up?

920911I rewrote this post several times. All I wanted to do was describe how I chose two jobs that were important to me. Describing those two choices was difficult, more than I thought it would be. It’s hard to find similarities between the two jobs. More importantly, neither job was anywhere near what I thought was a possibility, but both were exactly what I wanted to do. One relates to my many experiences with the medical establishment, but let’s start with my early time at IBM.

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Susan and Mr Otterson

Ken, Susan, and Lucy

Ken, Susan, and Lucy

Some stories should be told, but aren’t. They’re too painful. Lucy lost the most important person in her life, her daughter, to what then was an incurable disease. Today Wilm’s tumor is highly treatable. Not so in 1950. Lucy didn’t like to share the memories of her little girl traveling to Rochester’s Mayo Clinic where the doctors told them to go home and make peace with God. I surprised her when I took a job in that same town after graduating college. We now live just blocks from the hospital where Susan was unsuccessfully treated. Lucy came to grips with her daughter living in Rochester. Lucy even spent the last ten years of her life here. She never got used to telling the story about Susan. We know very little of that little girl’s life. Can you sense the reticence in Lucy’s telling of this story? She talks around the edges, but we never get to hear what really happened. Never.

Lucy writes:

Susan + Friend Mr Otterson – She blamed him for everything she did wrong. What a relief it was to be back home. We bought a few new things like curtains – end tables and a brand new bedroom set – a crib and then began making diapers. No “disposables” then, flannel gowns. Oh such excitement. Susan Lynn was born on the 11th of June. She had tight curls on her head – big brown eyes and we all loved her so much. She was so good – as my mother said once “That child is too beautiful and is loved by every one.” Guess she was right. Continue reading

Crohn’s diagnosis

Camping near Flin Flon

Camping near Flin Flon

There had been signs for years. My buddies always thought I was hungry, as my stomach growled so often and so loudly. On camping trips the guys in the next tent would comment on the noises coming from my tent. Then there was that mysterious illness that kept me out of school for a couple of weeks when I was about thirteen. The small town doc in Jamestown, North Dakota in the early sixties wasn’t able to give us a good diagnosis.

My first ten years at my new job in Rochester were medically normal. Then minor trouble, diarrhea the morning after an evening meal of popcorn. That was a problem, as I was playing a lot of league racquetball in those days, which often meant missing the regular dinner. A huge bowl of popcorn was a perfect substitute for a balanced diet. It was just the morning after that was an issue.

Other foods began causing trouble, too. Then one night we had ribs for dinner. Wonderful, greasy ribs. They were great! Until the next morning. Oh, my, maybe it wasn’t the popcorn, it was all the butter I put on the popcorn? It must have been a big deal, because this thirty-something man went to the doctor to talk about a pooping problem.

He sent me to several humbling tests and eliminated a lot of easily treated problems. He finally got to the point where he suspected Crohn’s disease. I had no idea. Confirmation of the diagnosis would come from a barium follow through X-ray. This is where I discovered the serendipitous benefit of living in Rochester, Minnesota with the Mayo Clinic.

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