Thursday, August 22, 2019

Men's Health Issue - Especially for Veterans

My digital marketing and Marine Corp veteran friend, Jeremy, shared an article that discusses the connection between a host of health issues in male vets that are likely caused by hormone imbalances. The chief among these causes was low testosterone (Low-T). According to the article, Low-T could be caused by the overload of stress that many veterans experience while serving. That stress can come in many forms and doesn't necessarily come from direct combat situations.

This is one of those things that men may be hesitant to talk about, even with their doctors. I'm sharing my story in hopes of helping those of you who may be suffering the effects of Low-T.

About 5 years ago, I started having symptoms that led me to believe I might be suffering from Low-T. I did a lot of reading and felt strong enough to check with my doctor during my annual physical. She dismissed the ideas and attributed my symptoms to simple aging. I took her advice and carried on. To be fair, this was an excellent doctor and I certainly benefited tremendously during the time she was my primary care physician.

As time went on, I started to have some very serious issue, among them:

  • Bouts of severe depression
  • Sleeplessness - at one point I was unable to sleep more than an hour at a time
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to concentrate
Other, less severe, symptoms were lack of energy, weight gain and others. 

My wife, who certainly noticed what was going with me, changed doctors. The person she started seeing was a provider of BioTe, a bioidentical testosterone therapy. She picked up some brochures that had excellent information. As I read the possible symptoms of Low-T, I found myself checking off most of the items on the list. That was enough to get me to make an appointment.

After some tests, the doctor confirmed that I would benefit from hormone therapy. The procedure is rather simple: An area on the upper part of your backside is numbed, a small incision made and the hormone pellets are inserted. The area is a bit sore and you have to take it a little easy for 7 days, but it's worth it.

A week after I was first "pelleted," I could feel the difference. I was sleeping better, I wasn't experiencing mood swings and the depression evaporated. I really felt like myself again. 

There are some things to consider before undergoing this type of therapy. The most important is to have regular PSA checks, especially if prostate cancer runs in your family. Of course, you'll want to consult with a physician to see if this type of thing is right for you.

As a 14-year veteran of the Army, I served under some incredibly stressful situations. Even though I never experienced direct combat during Desert Storm, I was certainly involved in things that caused a great deal of stress. Still, I never considered that my Low-T issues were possibly service-connected until I read the story Jeremy shared. I'm telling my story, hoping that vets will get themselves checked out if they are having symptoms.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

I Remember Clarke

I served with a lot of people who could be described as "characters" during my time in the Army. One of those who really stands out in my memories was Clarke.

Robert Clarke and I were stationed at the Defense Language Institute, Ft. Bliss, Texas and then later in Augsburg, Germany. He was a one-of-a-kind person who was full of life and lived on his own terms. Here are some things I remember about him:

  • He was quite the rebel. I remember once he shaved off his eyebrows just to see what kind of reaction he'd get from the leadership in our unit. It was rather creepy, which I think was what he was going for. He also once dyed his hair red; not the bright red people use these days, but a very natural-looking red. I started calling him "Red" after that, which often befuddled people he met after the red hair grew out
  • Another rebellious thing he did: When we were at DLI and doing one of the semi-annual physical fitness tests. Part of the test was a 2-mile run. In the middle of the run, Clarke stopped to pull a cigarette and lighter out of his sock, light up and then continued the run. A bunch of the school leadership yelled at him to put the cigarette out because smoking wasn't allowed during the test. Even though he stopped to argue with some of them, he still finished the run and passed
  • Everyone called him "Clarke," even his mother. That was something some people who met him didn't quite believe. It was true, though. His mom once visited him in Germany when we were there and I never her refer to him as anything other than "Clarke"
  • When we were at Ft. Bliss and we lived in the barracks, his roommate was Mark. He and Mark would often bicker about things, sometimes even to the point where they'd start punching it out. It seemed they were more like arguing siblings than anything else; but, knowing Clarke I can well imagine he liked to push Mark's buttons to get him going
  • When we were in Germany, he bought a crotch rocket motorcycle. He once tried to see how fast he could get to Garmisch and back. I don't remember exactly how long it took him, but I remember thinking, "Holy crap that's fast - I'm surprised he didn't kill himself doing that"
  • I don't think he kept it much of a secret, but I did know him to indulge in marijuana from time to time. I sometimes wondered how he managed to elude getting caught in the numerous, random drug tests that were conducted
  • He sometimes described his time before the Army as being a professional student. He had attended Texas A&M for several years, but I don't remember if he said he'd ever graduated
  • Related to that, I spent one New Years Day watching the Cotton Bowl featuring A&M playing Notre Dame with him and his mom along with some others. I was forgiven for rooting for ND only because I went to high school with their starting quarterback
  • I hadn't seen Clarke since our Army time. Once, when I was living in Central Texas, he sent me an email (or mentioned on Facebook) that he was going to be visiting a nearby town. We made arrangements to meet up for dinner, but he never showed. I think that I would have been offended if it were someone else, but with Clarke I figured that it was the way he was. I know that may seem odd, but if you ever met him, I think you'd feel the same way
I'm sure as I think about things I'm sure I'll remember more. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

I Remember Mike

My friend, Mike Gainey, would have had another birthday today. Would have, except that he passed away a few years ago. To mark the occasion, I'm taking time to remember some of the things that made him a great person and a great friend.

I first met Mike shortly after arriving at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) located on the Presidio of Monterey in California. We were both there for a year-long program studying the Czech language. We were in the same class, but were in different classrooms most of the time.

Mike's roommate was in my classroom, and due to that connection we soon became fast friends. We often hung out together as we toured around the Monterey area during our year there. Even though we never were in actual combat together, we were Brothers In Arms in every sense of the word.

Mike had a great, though sometimes raunchy, sense of humor. His deadpan way of commenting on things, especially the sometimes silly parts of Army life, would catch people off guard. He was always good for a laugh, however.

Being good Catholic boys, we'd often head out to the Carmelite Convent that was located on Highway 1 just outside Carmel, CA, for Sunday mass. Afterwards, we'd usually end up at the Casa Maria restaurant located on the water near Cannery Row for their Champagne and Sangria brunch.

After graduating DLI, Mike and I attended two other Army schools before ending up at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. We spent a lot of time "playing Army" in the New Mexico desert just north of there. There were some great times, and there were some pretty bad times that we went through together.

When we weren't playing Army, Friday nights would often find us at Mike's apartment watching "Justin Wilson's Cajun Cooking" then "Firing Line" on PBS. Yeah, we were nerd - but in our defense, both of those shows could be very funny.

I don't remember where I went, but at one point towards the end of my first tour at Fort Bliss, I went somewhere several weeks. When I returned, I went to visit Mike to catch up. During that visit, I found that he'd been hit with a series tragic events:

  • He'd been diagnosed with Wilson's Disease. While very treatable, management required being on a special diet
  • The need to be on a special diet made Mike undeployable. This meant he was facing a medical discharge from the Army
  • He and his wife were going to divorce
Despite these heavy blows, and in such a short time, he managed to maintain his sense of humor. He also managed to land on his feet. After his discharge, he went to school to learn specialized medical imaging. He went on to be very successful in that field right up until he passed away.

Mike ended up in Las Vegas when he graduated into his second career. When I visited town, I would try to meet up with him. It was hit or miss at times, but we did manage to meet up for breakfast or dinner several times.

The last time I tried to meet up with him, the response to my text message was rather odd. The person on the other end thought I was a lady trying to "hook up" with someone. I didn't think much of it, other than Mike might have changes his phone number for some reason. It was several months later that I found out he'd passed just a few weeks prior to my trip.

Mike's brother filled me in on the details afterwards. He was laid to rest in South Dakota, not far from where he grew up. 

Sunday, November 09, 2014

My Memories of The Berlin Wall Coming Down

I was stationed in Augsburg, Germany in the late 1980s. The Cold War was winding down - in hindsight. It didn't seem like it at the time, but the world was getting ready to change in a big way.

From the time I stepped off the bus on my first day of Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, it was ingrained in us that the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies were the "Opposing Forces." They didn't use the word "enemy" very often, but there was no doubt that our entire training was set up for the next potential conflict: war in Europe between the countries of NATO and those of the Warsaw Pact.

The events of November 9, 1989 didn't happen all at once, though.

For several weekends before that fateful day, Germans from the east started crossing over the border for day trips into the west. The BBC, German newspapers, the "Stars and Stripes" and Armed Forces Radio (AFN) had reports of West German officials handing out West German Marks to each person coming over to help them with their shopping experiences; the East German Mark being pretty much worthless in the West. Families who hadn't seen each other in years, who were previously only allowed to get together after jumping through many hoops, were reunited. There were tears of joy and wonderment as those from the East came over to find out that those stores full of good were real and not just set up for propaganda by those in the "decadent" West.

Some enterprising East Germans brought over their Trabant cars. Those "Trabis" were terrible cars having a 2-cycle engine that ran on an gasoline and oil mix, wood floorboards that tended to rot and they were ugly. But, they were rare in the West in those days, so they were collectable. Because they were collectable, they commanded a pretty high price. $500-$1000 worth of West German currency was a princely sum in the East. At least, that was the case for the first few weeks. After a time, everyone who wanted one had one.

Then came, Thursday, November 9, 1989. My colleagues and I were working a rotating shift schedule in those days so that Thursday was one of our days off. We spent the day doing whatever 20-something men would do in a beautiful Bavarian city. That night found us at my friend John's apartment to hang out for the evening. I think we were going to stay up late and watch a hockey game on AFN Television.

There we were, sitting around watching TV when the regularly scheduled programming was interrupted for a special news announcement. The news staff from AFN started showing the scene in Berlin: Thousands of people crowding around the wall that divided Berlin for decades. In the span of a few short hours, the world changed in a big way as large chunks of the wall were taken down and removed. The words of Ronald Reagan from a few years before, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" came true. Only, it wasn't the head of the Soviet Union who tore it down; it was the divided people of Germany who decided they'd had enough and felt it was time for a change.

As we watched, AFN switched their feed to one of the German networks. My limited understanding of German was good enough to get the gist of what the announcer was saying. He didn't really say much, though, because he was choked up about what he was watching. At one point, he started sobbing and turned off the sound for a few minutes while he composed himself.

I don't remember who said it - may have been me - one of us commented, "Well, there go our jobs." The events of the day signaled the end of the Cold War, which was the end of our "Cold War" way of life and our "Cold War" jobs. In the long run, though, it was a good thing. I can't think of too many people I worked with in those days who aren't doing pretty well 25 years later.

Over the next several months, one Warsaw Pact country after another threw out the communist governments that had ruled over them since the end of WWII. There was a lot of turmoil in some of those countries, such as in the Balkan states. In others, things transitioned much more smoothly, such as with the "Velvet Divorce" of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Many of those countries now belong to NATO. Three years later, I was very privileged to have been among the first members of the U.S. Army who went to the Czech Republic to help them in their transition into NATO membership.

One of the people I worked with in those days in Augsburg shared his memories of his experience traveling to East Berlin: "You Are Now Leaving the American Sector" by Martin Kufus.

Another perspective of the fall of the Berlin Wall from a civilian point of view was shared by Danny Sullivan on his Daggle blog: My Fall Of The Berlin Wall Story.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Regarding The Detroit Lions: I Stand Corrected

I've admitted publicly that I thought The Detroit Lions were pretty much a joke team. Although they've enjoyed a tremendously loyal fan base in Detroit, they really were never more than a mediocre team, even at their best. Not long ago, they set a record for having the absolute worst season record in the National Football League.

Even reading great Lions blogs such as Ty's "The Lions In Winter" with it's great stats and commentary did little to dissuade me that any success in recent seasons was more than just a fluke.

That is, until this season.

The Lions started out going undefeated in all four preseason games. That wasn't too remarkable, they've had similar success past preseason efforts. They then went on to go 5-0 over the first games of the season, ending the season yesterday at an impressive 10-6 - and a playoff berth for the first time since 1999.

Color me impressed.

I'm not quite ready to jump back on the fan bandwagon just yet, but you can bet I'll be watching the Lions very closely as they progress through the post season.

Oh - and I extend my apologies to the Ford Family and the current staff of the Lions for my past comments. I'm very grateful to be proven wrong.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How To Spot A Bavarian

When I was stationed in Augsburg, Germany, my friends and I would often spend our off days in Munich. It was only a 40- or 60-minute train ride away and there was a lot to see and do in and around the city. One of our favorite places to stop for a meal and some beer was the world-famous Hofbräuhaus.

One Spring afternoon, my friend, Tom, and I found ourselves at the Hofbräuhaus for lunch. It was early in the day, so the place was relatively empty. We ate by ourselves at one of the large tables in the back of the large room.

As we were enjoying our meal, a man came and sat with us. He introduced himself and told us he was an air traffic controller at one of the nearby Luftwaffe bases. He spoke English a lot better than we spoke German, and we found ourselves conversing in a mish-mash of the two languages.

As a topic of conversation, he mentioned he could readily tell if people were Bavarian or not. The trick, he said, was to "Prost" when someone at the table got their beer. This meant to hold up our beer mugs and shout "Prost" or "Cheers" to the other person. If they responded in kind and "clacked" their mugs against ours, that was a sure sign they were Bavarian.

After he told us this, a couple sat at our table. They looked a little out of place, glancing about like they were somewhat nervous in an unfamiliar environment. When their beer was delivered by the server, our new friend raised his mug and shouted "Prost." Tom and I followed his lead in kind. The couple stared at us like we were from Mars.

He asked the couple where they were from. It turned out they were visiting from Frankfurt. They were certainly not Bavarian.

A little while after that couple drank their beer and left, another couple with their teenage son took sat at our table. When they got their beer, we "Prosted" them. They looked a little taken aback, lifted their mugs and said "Cheers." They weren't Bavarians, but they got the idea. They were tourists visiting from Australia.

The next group was a bunch of young-ish looking people - perhaps college age. When we "Prosted" them, they got up and moved to another table. "They are not Bavarian," our new friend told us in a confident tone. He was probably right.

We sat around and talked for quite a while before the next group sat down. It was an older gentleman with a middle aged man and woman and a couple older kids; again, maybe college age. When they got their beer, the turned to us and shouted "Prost!" We three looked at each other and smiled. Yes, here were finally some Bavarian folk spending some time at the Hofbräuhaus. Our German friend queried the man where he was from, and the man replied that they were from a nearby town and had come to Munich to shop.

Our cultural lesson for the day was learned. We now knew how to tell if someone was Bavarian.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Epic Moving Failure Story

I'm acquainted with Dan and Alison Zarrella though my association with the PubCon web marketing conference and have been following their comments on Twitter about their recent cross-country move. Today, Alison made a couple mentions of things which were damaged by the moving company they hired to tote their stuff. I tweeted back that I could certainly sympathize with her plight, given one moving experience I had which was one gigantic mess. As I tweeted certain parts of the story, I realized it certainly warranted more than just a few less-than-140-character comments. Alison agreed, so here it is in all it's insane glory.

I was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1992. I'd just finished up a tour in the Middle East as part of Desert Storm with the 3rd Armored Cavalry and came down on orders for Germany. This was my first move as a married man, and also the first time my wife and son had been part of a military family move overseas. We were quite looking forward to the experience.

We lived on the bottom floor of the middle building
here on Parseval Strasse.
My orders stated there was no family housing available in Darmstadt, the city where I was ordered to go. Because of that, I went first, leaving my wife and son to wait until I could get an apartment. Of course, bureaucracies being what they are, I found on my arrival there was plenty of housing. I got a very nice apartment in a building leased by the government in the nearby town of Griesheim. It was a great location, off away from all the "Army" stuff, yet very conveniently located.

Of course, my wife and I wanted to get everyone together as quickly as possible, so then came the mad dash to get the house packed up and shipped over to Germany so my wife and son could fly over and join me.

My wife had never undertaken quite such as task as dealing with "professional" movers. On the appointed day, a legion of packers swarmed the house to wrap, box up, crate and haul off everything we owned. When they were done, there was nothing left except three suitcases full of clothes.

Items shipped in those days were divided into two categories:

  1. Hold Baggage, which consisted of things needed right after moving into a new place. This would include things like kitchenware, bedding, seasonal clothing, small appliances and stuff like that. These items were sent via air freight.
  2. Household Goods, which included furniture and other large items and things which wouldn't be needed right away. These items were crated, sent via ship and then trucked to their final destination. 
When I moved into our apartment, I got some loaner furniture from the Army and set up our home. The hold baggage arrived soon after it was shipped and things started looking more like "our place." The move was going quite smoothly up to this point, but we were soon to hit some major bumps in the road.

Namely, our hold baggage was a long time in coming. What was customarily a wait of several weeks turned into several months. Every time I called the Transportation Office to find out what was going on, I was told they couldn't find my stuff. I finally ended up contacting my Mother-in-Law who worked in the Family Travel Office at Fort Bliss to see if she could contact the right people and find our stuff.

Household Goods Crate #1
She managed to locate one of the two crates into which our things had been packed. It was sitting in a warehouse in Bremerhaven, Germany. That crate was delivered to us within a week of her tracking it down. This had our brand new kitchen table - or at least the top part of it. The legs and the hardware to put it together was missing - presumably in the other, as yet unfound, crate. 

In one box we found our television set. It was a very nice Zenith 18-inch diagonal color model. At least that's what it was before it made the trip from El Paso to Germany in a box packed with a rake and a cinder block. Yes, you read that right: the T.V. was packed in a 5-foot long box with a rake and a cinder block ... oh, and a warehouse club-sized canister of powdered drink mix. Needless to say, it wasn't in working order when it arrived. (The lady at the claims office demanded I get an estimate for repairing the TV before she would process my claim. I ended up having to take the thing to her, pieces in a box, before she would believe it was unrepairable.) Most of our dishes and glassware was broken, too. They were merely stacked in a box with no paper wrapping, padding or anything else in the way of protection.

I'm happy to report, though, that the rake was completely undamaged and the cinder block only received a few minor scratches in transit.

Believe it or not: all the stuff in our junk drawer, including the envelope we kept coupons in, was neatly wrapped in bubble wrap. All of our markers, pens and miscellaneous stuff from that drawer made the move unscathed.

Our mattresses and bed frames arrived, but no headboards. The boy's toys made it, mostly in good condition. There were other odds and ends, including my guitar which was broken even though it was in a case and packed inside another box.

Oh, and half my CD collection was also in this crate. I had them in two of those faux wood three-drawer units alphabetized by artist name. A-M made arrived, but N-Z were missing. Half my VHS movie collection was also unaccounted for. We held out hope they were in the other crate.

Household Goods Crate #2
The other crate was a long time in coming. We'd just about given up on it when I got a call at work one day with the news it had been found. It turns out this crate was on a ship which had been loaded up with supplies for the troops who were operating in Somalia at the time. The situation there caused the ship to be parked in the harbor off Mogadishu for six months. When the ship was finally released, it went on to Germany to drop off my, and presumably others', crates.

When the shipment finally arrived it was quite a welcome sight. Well, at least most of it. The packers in El Paso had been so efficient, they packed up the wastebasket from the kitchen - along with the trash inside of it. You can't imagine the small that issued forth from the box when it was unsealed. This was also carefully wrapped in bubble wrap.

The legs to the kitchen table were in the crate, but the hardware was still missing. Unfortunately, the nuts and bolts designed to hold it together were some custom made ones and irreplaceable (believe me, I tried to find some).  

Also missing were the CDs and VCR tapes along with several other high-value items. These were presumably stolen by the packers back in Texas as I later found that company lost their government contract because so many complaints were lodged against them.

In the end, I ended up with a huge mess and a check for $4500 to cover the damages. 

The Good News
When we moved back to the States, we had no damage and no loss. Even the antique china cabinet we got in Germany arrived unscathed.