recovery at nearly two months after surgery

My inner ear / skull base surgery was February 27, which means it’s been almost two months now! I wrote an update about a month ago, so here’s the latest news.

I went back to driving a car and haven’t had any problems with it.

A couple weeks ago I first I noticed that when I walk on concrete now, I hear the sound of my shoes hitting the sidewalk more than the sound of the impact going up my legs and skeleton and into my inner ear through my skull. This is a very nice feeling that I’m sure everyone reading this takes for granted, but it’s something that hasn’t been the case for me in about three or four years.

The sound of my voice in my left ear is actually quieter now than in my right ear. It hasn’t been that way for about six years, since before my very first surgery. That was my biggest complaint and the primary reason for wanting to have surgery. I’ve noticed that it has gotten quieter in the left ear even in just the past month.

I do have increased ringing that sounds like a high pitched whine in my left ear. I’ve always had that in both ears, and then the right ear got worse after it was operated on. Now the left ear is worse since getting operated on. But I don’t know if it’s really worse than before surgery, or if it’s just that the other noises are quieter so I notice this more.

The incision scar still feels weird, and the area around it is still a little sensitive, but nothing I’m concerned about.

I rode my bike a couple times and had no problems

I’ve been careful not to strain when bending over, but have noticed that sometimes when I bend at the waist my head doesn’t feel good. So I try not to do that.

I’m continuing to take one 500 mg extended release Diamox before bed each night. It seems like I’ve had headaches more often than usual lately, but about the same number before and after surgery; it’s just more than I’m used to from a year ago. I usually blame this on dehydration and then try to drink more water.

Todd’s Criteria for President

You may have heard that I’m not running for President of the United States in the 2016 election. I ran in 2012 with Jeff Stampes. We didn’t win, as you probably noticed. But we gave it our best shot, because we felt like the candidates the two major political parties gave us were both assmunches. Regardless, they both got way more votes than we did, proving that, apparently…

America Wants an Assmunch in the White House

Well, it’s spring of 2015 and people are talking about who’s going to run in the primaries. So I might as well lay out the simple requirements for my vote. If any political party can produce a candidate that meets these criteria, I will vote for him or her. And if we’re lucky enough to have multiple candidates who meet these criteria, I’ll consider their further qualifications. If we have nobody who fits the bill, I probably won’t even vote; I’m sick of voting for the “lesser of two evils” and think America deserves better than that.

Todd’s Criteria for President

  1. Candidate is not a pinhead or hypocrite or sleazeball
  2. Candidate can unite instead of divide

Wow, it’s really only two things? Yeah, should be easy, right?

Let me point to the Wiktionary definitions, in case any of Criterion #1 isn’t clear.

pinhead: An ignorantnaïvefoolish, or stupid person.

hypocrite: Someone who practices hypocrisy, who pretends to hold beliefs, or whose actions are not consistent with their claimed beliefs.

sleazeball: A morally reprehensibledisreputable, or sleazy person; a cad.

Also, like in a job interview, just saying you can unite instead of divide isn’t enough. You must be able to cite specific examples from your previous work. We will be checking references!

Secrets of the Serpent Moon — my DCC RPG adventure

I’ve been running a regular Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG game for the past several months. But a different group where I’m a player recently asked if I would occasionally be a “judge” for that game, too. I was flattered and said yes.

DCC has a strong zine community, and one of those zines is called “Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad“. There have only been three issues so far. I’m waiting for the third in the mail, but the first two are hilarious and inspirational. The zine, from what I understand, is mostly just stuff from this one particular campaign that these guys somewhere in the midwest (???) play. In issue #2, there was an article called “Secrets of the Serpent Moon.” It’s not a fully-fleshed adventure, but is more of an “adventure kit” — a template and some various ideas that you can put together to build your own adventure.

Well, one group of PCs in the gaming group I was asked to help judge had just finished play testing a funnel that one of the other two judges had written. And that funnel adventure had a heavy serpent-man theme. So what better thing to chain onto the end than an adventure about serpent-men on the moon? I got to work writing my own adventure based on the adventure kit from the magazine.

One feeling I’ve been getting from the other DCC game I run is that when I create custom-made adventures, I spend too much time writing down every little detail into a nice word processing document. I think I’ve been trying too hard to imitate the really good 3rd party adventures on the market for DCC RPG. But more detail isn’t really making the game better.

So I decided to swing the other way. I wanted to run a game that was 100% true old-school, with no electronic technology whatsoever. No smart phone, no iPad (despite the fact I love Purple Sorcerer’s Crawler’s Companion app), no laptop, no pretty module created on a desktop publishing system. I wanted to write an adventure that would all be presented from a stack of 3×5 note cards, printed (or hand-drawn) maps, the zine, and regular old dice. “Party like it’s 1974″ is one of the slogans of Dungeon Crawl Classics.

My Judge Kit

The rest of this blog post is about how I did it. Other people will take the “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” template and go a totally different direction, of course.

The Plot

The article from the zine talks about how to put together a basic plot for what the PCs need to accomplish on the moon. They start as recently-thawed-out mammals that the reptile-men captured some time in the past (57 years ago, in my case, I decided — some of you sci-fi fans will know the significance of “57 years“). There’s a problem at the serpent-men’s moonbase, you see, and only the PCs can solve it.

I broke my story up into four sections, a Prologue and three Chapters. The Prologue section was just meant to update the characters in a couple ways. You see, the serpent-men have been experimenting on the party, and they’ve all had modifications that take them far from the norm. For instance, some have extra limbs, or a parasitic twin, or a new locomotive system instead of legs. Then with the Prologue out of the way, there are three Chapters. I’m thinking each chapter will be roughly one game session. But as I write this, we’ve only finished Chapter 1. The key points of each chapter went onto a 3×5 card.

Maps

Then I needed a master map. The zine article provides tables to randomly Moon Base Mapgenerate the different areas of the serpent-man base. I decided it needed to be bigger and more structured, so I broke the base up into different “sectors”. Some of the sectors have the randomly-generated rooms from the zine, and others have other stuff. Rather than making some kind of detailed map, I just took one 3×5 card and drew a very basic flow chart on it, to show which sectors connect to which other sectors. The PCs would start in Sector F, where they were thawed from the cryotubes (“F” stands for “frozen”), and continue through the base to Sector X. Sector X is where the threat/challenge/danger is (“X” for “unknown, of course, and it sounds cool). The zine article has a table to randomly generate how each sector is connected to the next, so I rolled and wrote those in on my 3×5 map: “matter trans.” and “living door” and “monorail” and “space whale”.

In my case, I decided that Sector X is where a base expansion project was undertaken, but the serpent-men doing the excavation ran into some unknown creatures that killed them all. Let’s call those creatures “Selenites” for the sake of argument (and because they’re actually the same Selenites as in the H.G. Wells story). So Sector X leads to the Selenite caverns, which is a sprawling complex of caves containing moon calves, Selenites, a stoner wizard stranded on the moon, and a few other things.

Example Dungeon Geomorph

So for the caverns, I printed out the pages from the PDF of “Dungeon Crawl Classics #9: Dungeon Geomorphs” that a bought a few months back. Then I chose the geomorphs that looked most like what I wanted, cut them up, and arranged them how I liked. I used a black Sharpie to color over the caves that I didn’t want, since the caverns would continue literally forever otherwise.

After I got the entire cavern complex set up, with improper exits removed, I numbered each printed geomorph on the back with its grid number. I called them A1 through D5. Here’s what the whole thing looked like when assembled:

Caverns of the Selenites

Other Cards

Lastly, I wrote up 3×5 cards for a few other things relevant to the game, like these:

  • Several cards explaining what’s in each of the areas of the cavern complex
  • Descriptions of NPCs the party meets along the way
  • Wandering monsters
  • Key points of ether ships the group may encounter or use
  • Details on treasure items
  • House rules

And that’s pretty much it. That’s how I turned the “adventure kit” for “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” into a runnable adventure with all low tech pen-and-paper components.

My main inspirations:

  • “Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad” zine
  • Paranoia, the role-playing game
  • “Jason of Star Command” on Amazon Instant Video
  • “Land of the Lost” reruns
  • “Aliens” by James Cameron
  • “Message from Space” the Japanese Star Wars ripoff from the 70’s
  • “The First Men in the Moon” by H.G. Wells

film sound gear for sale

UPDATE: The entire set of sound gear is now sold.


 

I bought a bunch of film sound gear back in 2006, and have used it very sporadically since then. But I realized I haven’t used most of it at all in the past year, so I’d like to sell it. I honestly don’t know what all this is really worth in 2015 prices. I can’t find most of these things on Ebay, since it’s fairly specialized gear. It’s all very well cared for, and I’m glad to prove it by taking extensive photos or having you come take a look in person. I’m annoyingly gentle and professional with my gear, and never smoke. It’s all in my apartment on Capitol Hill in Denver at the moment if you want to check it out.

I’d like to sell it all as one lot, to save hassle. Also, a lot of it is meant to go together; for instance, there’s no point in owning a a backup shock mount for a K-Tek boom pole if you don’t have the pole it fits. So I’m looking for someone to just make an offer on the whole set. I think there may be a few things that go with this stuff that I forgot to list, too. Like I see I listed the ENG cable, but I’ve also got an ENG cable extension that adds like another 75′ to it.

The two main items are the K-Tek graphite internally-wired boom pole and the Sound Devices MixPre. If you know location sound, you already know these two companies are widely considered the best in the business at what they do.

Here is the list of equipment I want to sell.

Item Purchased New Price
K-Tek KTK102CCR K-102CCR 5-Section Graphite Fiber Boom Pole 04/27/06 $564.95
K-Tek KTKSM Microphone Shock Mount 04/27/06 $119.95
50 ft. Cable ENG 09/26/06 $112.00
Sound Devices SOMIXPRE Mixpre 05/01/06 $665.95
POMX24MINI PortaBrace MX-24MINI Audio Mixer Case 05/01/06 $99.95
K-HE 750 Hodges Effect Brass Weight 10/26/06 $59.95
K-Tek KTKSM Microphone Shock Mount 10/26/06 $119.95

All that adds up to a smidge over $1700 new. Given the condition and longevity of this stuff, it’s probably worth about half of that used.

the nicest compliment

In case you didn’t already know this about me, I administer a web forum called SCDSsupport.org, which is the world’s largest online group for sufferers of SCDS. Because of this, I get a lot of emails from people about the disease — some who have it, some who want to join the (private) forum to talk about it with others, and so on.

Most days it’s just tech support, helping people reset their passwords, deleting duplicate posts when someone hits the Send button 20 times, etc. And like all tech support it’s usually very thankless.

But one SCDS patient who was in particularly bad shape physically and emotionally found me a few months ago and I’ve been giving him advice through the process of choosing a doctor, getting surgery, etc. I’m not going to mention his name, but I do want to share the nicest “thank you” note I think I’ve ever received. You get a real sense of how desperate this person was. I have a day job where I’m pretty certain after 25 years I’m never going to get a standing ovation, but at least I can get one in other parts of my life.

Here’s the email:

Thank you so much Todd.

Without your help I wouldn’t have known what to do. You kept me from losing my mind. I was on the verge of breaking down & locking down & giving up. I’m glad I was able to find Dr. _____ from your referral. I to did not want to lose my balance because I have another 30 years to work before I can retire. If I make it that long. Lol, this was the only thing I wanted to try. I don’t care to much for round window reinforcement but there has got to be a good reason why it’s done in combination with resurfacing. Other than that I’m very happy. I still have some healing to do so I hope some more hearing comes back & I get less crackle & pop from the ear. I believe it’s the packing gel dissolving. I barely hear the pulse in my head on left side. No more drinking my self to sleep day after day.

God bless you Todd and thank you so much. You changed my life I am very humbled and grateful.

more post-surgery healing progress

I won’t bore you with all the little details, but it’s now March 15 and my post-surgery experience has been pretty good. My head is healing up well. I wish I could say every symptom suddenly went away, but that’s not how these things work. However, some symptoms have partially gone away or gotten better. It’ll take 1 to 6 months to know for sure what my “new normal” will be.

I was supposed to go back to work today, and feel up to it. But due to some delays in the paperwork, my doctor’s approval for me to return to work is stuck somewhere in the system. So I have time to goof off one more day, write blog articles, etc.

Here’s a photo I took this morning of the side of my head. You can compare it to the other photos I took to see how things are progressing. The wound area is looking better, and my hair is growing back to partially obscure it.

March 15, 2015

 

left ear surgery 3-15-2015

 

 

Here’s a head shot from March 5 in our hotel in Covington, LA:

March 5, 2015

recovering from surgery

Today is Monday, March 2. My surgery on Friday went pretty well, from what I can tell. Friday I spent in a room in the ICU, and then they transferred me to a post-surgery hospital room for Saturday night. Sunday, they discharged me and Beth brought me back to our hotel in Covington. This morning, we took the post-surgical dressings off, and now I have the first of a few days at the hotel resting and healing.

Dr. Gianoli told me that once he got into my head, things weren’t quite like he originally thought. There was not a portion of the brain punching through the skull and impinging on my malleus bone. Instead, my malleus was so high up that was touching the brain. Minor difference, I guess, but relevant. It wasn’t the brain that was “off sides”; it was the middle ear.

Anyhow, he built up a little dome over the malleus to give the bones room to do their job and for the brain to rest on. And while he was in there, he also did some extra patching of the original left side superior canal repair from November 2013.

Current symptoms: The sound of my voice is very loud in the left ear, and there is loud ringing there, and I can hear my pulse pretty loud. These are all expected, though, and are normal for the first days or weeks after this surgery. So I’m not at all concerned. I guess I’m used to the idea that we won’t really know for weeks or months later whether the surgery was a full success.

Here’s a little selfie gallery of photos over the past few days.

image
in the ICU, enjoying my oxygen and apple sauce
image
still in the ICU, but no more oxygen, and I got a PJ’s latte which was delicious
image
in my surgery unit room, no longer hooked to EKG, oxygen, or the automatic blood pressure machine
image
back at the hotel, in street clothes
image
under the Princess Leia bandage, surgeon’s autograph near earlobe
image
my MHC beanie covers up the staples in my head well enough so I don’t scare small children

Once more into the breach (in my skull)

Next week I’m scheduled for another major head surgery. I’ve been through this twice before, and I think the third one is going to be similar. My neurotologist says I have what’s called an encephalocele. That means that part of my brain is oozing out of the brain cavity. In my case, it’s drooping down through a hole into my middle ear, and impinging on the malleus bone, just like in the drawing below. The hole isn’t supposed to be there, but in my case, for whatever reason, the bone that supports the brain is very thin. That’s why I had superior semicircular canal dehiscence (SCD) on both sides.

Encephalocele Schematic

The encephalocele would explain the symptoms I’ve had for the past 14 months since the SCD repair on the left side in November 2013. Since then, the sound of my own voice in my ear has been achingly loud. I’ve been able to hear my pulse almost non-stop. I can hear my eyeballs move left and right, can hear my eyelid muscles close my eyes, and can hear every little internal noise my body makes — stomach acid moving around, knees popping, fluids moving through my skull, etc.

I had an encephalocele before, on the right side. My surgeon noticed it when he was operating on me to repair the SCD on that side. And so he carefully pulled my brain up out of the hole it was falling into, and repaired the hole with bone cement. Unfortunately, he also changed his surgical procedure for SCDS, and the new approach didn’t allow him to notice and fix the encephalocele. So now he’s going back in to fix that.

Dr. Gianoli

Surgery will be in Covington, Louisiana. That’s not the first place that comes to mind when you think of cities with a reputation for advanced medicine, but that’s where Dr. Gianoli lives and practices. So people visit him from all over the world for these type of surgeries. From what I can tell, he has more experience doing these operations than any other surgeon on Earth right now, so I’m in good hands.

It’s a major surgery, so recovery will be a little intense at first, but it should be easier than the first two operations I had. I’ll most likely spend two nights in the hospital (one in ICU and one in a regular room), and then a few more days of bed rest in a hotel. A week after surgery we’ll fly back to Denver, where I’ll spend at least one more week resting and recovering at home. I hope to only need to take off about two and a half weeks of work. But I won’t push it, since healing properly is a higher priority than work. For the previous two surgeries, I took off a month each.

There’s a web forum called SCDSsupport.org where I’ll be journaling my progress in more detail, for the benefit of other patients who are faced with the same issues. But for those of you who are interested in the gory medical details, here’s a good web page I found that explains what’s going on, along with some pictures.

Surgery is planned for Friday February 27, 2015. I’d love to hear from you during my recovery over the following two weeks.

Oh, and if you want to read about my skull’s whole hole history, here are all the blog articles I’ve written about my ears over the years.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Todd in Alien Mask
Todd in Alien Mask

I got a bunch of nice gifts for Christmas 2014, including some strange surprises like a rubber green alien mask. But I want to talk about one gift that is so much cooler than expected. It’s the Amazon Fire TV Stick. I read about it a month or two ago, and thought it would be a fun little toy to have and not too expensive. But Beth thought it was a frivolous purchase we didn’t really need, so I just put it on my Amazon wishlist and didn’t order one for myself. Fortunately, my parents gave me one as a gift.

Beth was right in that it’s something of a frivolous purchase. It doesn’t do anything that I don’t already have a way of doing. The main thing I wanted was just a way to easily stream movies from Amazon Prime Instant Video (a service where you can watch some movies or TV shows for “free” if you have Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service) or Netflix. I was able to watch Netflix movies from our TiVo HD, but if I wanted to watch stuff from Amazon I had to plug my laptop into our TV, change the settings around, and play the video on my laptop. It was possible, but it made watching any TV show or movie into a 10 minute affair just to set things up, and another 10 minutes to take it all back down later. For a 50 minute TV show, that’s a pain.

Anyhow, the Fire TV Stick arrived earlier this week and I spent some time after work setting it up on Monday night. It does way more than I originally realized, and brings a bunch of entertainment and news into our living room that we didn’t have. The Stick is just a tiny gizmo that plugs into a power supply and into the HDMI input on the TV. It’s very similar to a thing called Google Chromecast that came out a year or so ago. But Amazon’s seems to do more. Here are all the things I’ve set it up to do:

  • Watch Amazon Prime TV and movies – This is free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Listen to all the music I ever bought from Amazon, through the TV
  • Listen to Amazon’s free music collection, sort of like Spotify – Also free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Watch any streamed movie or TV show from Netflix streaming – a Netflix subscription costs money of course
  • Watch any YouTube video, especially my video playlists of travel oriented videos
  • Listen to my favorite local radio stations – These are streamed online and played on the TV using a Fire “app” called tunein. I had no idea I could get radio on this thing, including KUVO (Denver’s jazz station, which normally has a weak signal), Radio 1190 (the CU college station that I can’t even pick up in Denver), KGNU, NPR, CPR, and NOAA weather radio.
  • Listen to streamed music from the Spotify service – I have Spotify premium already, which is required to make this work.
  • Listen to police and fire scanner radios – Here’s another thing I had no idea was possible. I occasionally listen to the police scanner during regional emergencies like when we had tornado warnings in our neighborhood last summer.
  • Watch videos from PBS’ free online video archive – This includes things like Ken Burns series, etc.

I’ve seen a few other things that this thing will do that I haven’t tried yet:

  • Stream music from my huge iTunes library on my laptop’s external hard drive
  • Play games, both free and not
  • View my library of photos, either from my Mac or by uploading them (for free) into Amazon’s cloud

I’m tempted to just ditch the old TiVo HD, but there are still a few things I use it for that aren’t replaced by the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

  • Record and time shift Broncos games. I don’t see any way to play live TV on this, much less record it so I can skip through commercials.
  • Record other over-the-air TV programs, like “Nova”, travel shows, “Soul Train”, “Land of the Lost”, and “The Joy of Painting”. If there was just a service that would take over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them online — the same way that’s done with FM and AM radio and police scanners — that would be ideal. But the one company that tried this got taken to court and lost, and later filed Chapter 11.

So for the time being, I’m using the Stick as a replacement for a laptop for watching movies and as a replacement for a radio. It’s so much more convenient than how I was doing things. But I’m not ready to get rid of the TiVo and over-the-air antenna yet.

Thanksgiving 2014 Menu

For Thanksgiving this year, Beth and I are volunteering at the Turkey Trot, which is a big race in Washington Park (Denver) to raise money for the Mile High United Way. I volunteered two or three times about 10 or 15 years ago, but not recently. After that, we’re gonna make a semi-traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home. And then possibly go see a movie.

For a moment I thought of doing the 100 Mile Thanksgiving Challenge again. I did that years ago and won a prize for my menu. All the ingredients were grown or raised within 100 miles of home, except for some things like salt. But it’s tough to round up all the ingredients to pull that off. So here’s what I have planned this year:

  • roast turkey: I ordered a small non-GMO free-range turkey from Mary’s, and plan to roast it in a pretty traditional manner. Not smoked, not brined.
  • wild rice and sausage stuffing: Beth loves her mother’s stuffing recipe, but it’s not really compatible with how we’re trying to eat these days. So I chose this recipe, which is lower carb and has more interesting ingredients: wild rice, sausage, and fennel stuffing
  • cranberry sauce: Beth wants to look at Whole Foods and see if they have anything made fresh and local. I’m guessing they won’t, so we’ll probably just get this from a can.
  • green salad: This is pretty standard fare, and I don’t have plans to do anything unusual or special here. I’ve really grown fond of Annie’s Goddess Dressing lately.
  • maybe gravy: Beth really likes gravy, and even though we’re not having mashed potatoes she may make some to put on the turkey.
  • chocolate mousse: We’ll buy this or something similar from a local bakery. I’m just not into making desserts.

What we’re not having: mashed potatoes, bread, bread-based stuffing, pumpkin pie, the American green bean casserole thing