My 2022 Year In Review

Dear Readers

It has been quite some time since my last post, but as the New Year’s Eve year in review has become sort of a tradition, I figured that I would do one for this year as well. The latter part of 2021 was filled with hospitalizations and surgeries for me and I went into 2022 hoping that it would be, at least somewhat, of a better year. But…you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

I returned to work for the spring semester in January with more than a little trepidation as the whole world was getting Omicroned at that time. All of the faculty were crammed into small, unventilated classrooms to listen to information that could have been put in an email. Of course, people were coughing and sneezing all over the place. And…big surprise…the next week, when classes started, a very large number of faculty were out with Covid, though the college denies that it was, or ever has been, transmitted on campus. I was not one of the “chosen ones” that time and managed to avoid it.

However, the Saturday after my first week of classes (and her second week of classes), my wife tested positive. She was sick for about a week, but had lingering symptoms that lasted for six months. It wasn’t until June that she finally felt her energy levels returning to normal. We took precautions while she was sick and I evaded it again, but it makes one wonder how long one’s luck will hold out.

The rest of the semester went by fairly well. Right before Spring Break, we had our first annual Saint Patrick’s Day Party on campus. We were actually planning this in Jan and Feb of 2020 to hold that March, not knowing at that time that the whole world would shut down during the second week of March. So with what amounted to two extra years to plan it, we had quite a bash with food, music, games, and me as the Master of Ceremonies/DJ.

I also found out during the spring semester that in the Fall of 2022, I would be teaching a Criminal Justice class for the first time. I do have a second Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, and professional experience in that area, but I had not taught it before. It would be an online class and I knew it was going to be challenging to set up since we were in the process of switching over to a brand new learning management system after having used Blackboard for over ten years. I figured I could use the summer to learn the new system and set up this class, plus my online history classes. My load in the fall was three in person and three online.

I was excited when the baseball lockout ended and spring training started, though with the way the Red Sox played this season, I wonder if they were aware the lockout was over. When the semester ended, I was totally exhausted to the point of near incapacitation. Truthfully, I never recovered from the three surgeries I had in rapid succession, with two on back to back days, in the Fall of 2021. My summer schedule was relatively light. I taught two history classes (online) during the Summer 1 session and had the rest of the summer off.

My wife traveled to Florida right at the end of June and stayed through the 4th of July, so I was left to my own devices. While she was away, my Mashka had a birthday and we celebrated with red velvet cupcakes and I went to the midnight vigil liturgy for the Holy Royal Martyrs. I was the only person there under the age of 70, I think. Usually when she goes out of town, I have a marathon of all the Hornblower movies, and this time was no exception. It filled me with the urge to go around yelling “Damn your impudence, sir!”

Towards the end of the summer, I learned that Molly’s Song won the First In Category prize of the Goethe Awards for historical fiction. It came as a surprise because I honestly had forgotten that the book was entered into the competition. Still, I got a nice ribbon and some stickers. Unfortunately, I was unable to go to the awards banquet due to it being impossible for me to travel due to my health and Covid. But I’m not much on those kind of events anyway, so just winning the award was nice enough for me.

Speaking of health, over the summer I found myself getting short of breath when engaged in the most mundane of daily tasks. I already knew I had fibrosis in both of my lungs owing to my injuries, but this was more pronounced than what I normally deal with. After a few doctor appointments and a pulmonary function test, I was diagnosed with emphysema. It is at an advanced state for someone my age. While it is true that I did smoke for 20 years, that alone would not cause it to be this severe this young. The doctors think it is due to a combination of three factors; me having smoked for 20 years, all of the toxic shit I breathed in as a firefighter/arson investigator, and, following a genetic type test, some kind of gene thing, I can’t remember what, that made me more prone to get it in the first place, and also for it to be more severe.

Considering that one of my grandfather’s died from this same disease, it was bad news, but also not entirely unexpected. That’s not to say that I was specifically expecting this exact disease, but as much as I hate to say it, I’m at the point that every day I wake up expecting something else to be wrong or go wrong with my health. When every day is a struggle, it is hard to remain positive when you know that your body is doing its best to kill you. I already had a reduced life expectancy and now, this has shortened even more.

If I’m lucky, I’ll make it ten years. Maybe fifteen if I am really lucky. I’m okay with that. I’ll keep working for as long as I possibly can, mainly because it gives me an excuse to get out of the house and be around people rather than sitting at home being miserable. And misery is right. The emphysema means that my skeletal muscles are having to work harder for me to be able to breathe which means that it puts tremendous strain on my spine and ribs, which aggravates the spinal issues. I thought I knew what pain was before, but it is far worse now.

The fall semester started with little fanfare. To be honest, for the first time, I wasn’t really looking forward to being back. I am writing the first part of this post on Sunday, Oct. 2nd. I will revisit it on December 31st to finish it up. By writing the first bit today, I am better able to remember what to write about from the previous nine months. I have the sneaking suspicion that another shoe is about to drop on me health wise. I can’t put my finger on it yet, it is just a general feeling. I’ve made it through the first six weeks of the semester without anything sending me to the hospital, but I don’t know how long my luck will hold. I guess when I revisit this in December, I’ll be able to say if my feeling was legitimate or not.

I am writing this next bit at the end of November. My hunch was somewhat correct. At the end of October, I went in for my annual physical. Usually I do it in August, but I couldn’t get to it before the semester started and then I got busy, so November it was. Everything was going okay until they did an EKG. Now, I think it important to note here that despite my lungs not working, my brain not functioning normally, my spine being held together with screws and duct tape, and my intestinal issues, my heart has always been the one organ in my body that worked flawlessly. Well, that is no longer the case. I’m not sure exactly what the issue was, but I was scheduled for a stress test in the middle of the month. Naturally, the day before the test, the doctor called to cancel it…after I had already cancelled my class for the day and taken off work. They’ve rescheduled it for the day after final exams in mid-December, so for now, we wait.

Thanksgiving was a low key affair. My wife and I stayed home. I spent the week watching college basketball mixed in with a little football while my wife lusted after all the players on the German National Team since the World Cup also started that week. She is an obsessive Germany fan while I don’t care who wins, so long as it isn’t England. I just cheer for whoever they are playing. That’s kind of an Irish thing, I guess.

The semester ended with a whimper and not a bang. This was the first time sine I started teaching full time in January of 2018 that I wasn’t beset with dozens of student emails begging, demanding, cajoling, etc, for a great other than the one earned. I had nary an email the week of finals. That was kind of a welcome surprise.

Right before Christmas, we got a visit from a severe cold front. On Friday, Dec. 23rd, the wind chill outside at 0800 was 0 degrees. That’s pretty cold for SE Texas. It was similar to the severe cold spell we had in February of 2021, but this one didn’t last as long. And thankfully, the only pipe that burst was an outside line. We never do anything for Christmas anyway, so my wife flew to Florida on Christmas Day to visit family. Her flight was delayed by four hours, but eventually she got there. She was gone for four days and I stayed home and entertained myself with a combination of the PlayStation and various and sundry Roku Stick options.

I am finishing this on New Year’s Eve and, as has been my tradition since I retired from the FD, I am spending the weekend watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy Channel. I’ve seen every episode multiple times, but I still enjoy watching the annual marathon. Tonight I’ll sit on my porch (it is very warm today) and enjoy a fine maduro cigar. Yes, I know I have emphysema, but I can’t catch it twice and one cigar a year is far preferable to the two decades where I smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day.

I don’t know what the new year will hold for me or anyone else, for that matter. I no longer make long term plans. I just take each day as it comes, for better or worse. And I’ve never really been one for New Year resolutions anyway. Regardless of what the new year may hold for me, I hope that it brings you health and happiness.

Kind Regards,

Lee Hutch

Something Covidy This Way Comes

Me and Pioneer Dan (who was Pioneer Danny Boy for the day) at the Saint Patrick’s Day Party on campus last week.

Dear Readers,

It has been a long time since I have made a post. I think my last one was my annual New Years Eve post. Now, Spring Break is here, although based on the low of 35 degrees last night, you wouldn’t have guessed it. As I two weekends and the week in between with no work responsibilities, I thought I would take pen in and hand and let you know what is going on.

The year definitely started on a sour note for us. In January, after two weeks back at school, my wife contracted COVID. Like me, she was fully vaccinated and boosted. And, in fact, she got her booster a month after I did, so, in theory, she should have been more protected than I was. We know that she was exposed on a Thursday night after attending a very crowded event at her school (one that she had to attend. It was not optional). Though she was wearing a mask, hardly anyone else was. On Friday, she felt fine. Saturday morning, she woke up with severe allergy type symptoms and, thankfully, we had some COVID tests at home. Hers came back positive immediately while mine was negative.

We immediately put on N-95 masks and wore them around the clock, including sleeping, for the next seven days. We would go outside to eat our meals and to drink anything, as we could take off our masks and sit across from one another on the porch. Thankfully, the weather stayed nice that week. She tested positive the weekend before my second week of classes. Though the college said I could still come to school (in a mask), I opted to take some sick days and stay home that week. Partly this was because I was certain that I was going to catch it. And I did not want to expose my coworkers and students. Our house is small, as you know, and only has one bathroom, so we assumed there was literally no way that I would remain unscathed. Given my health conditions, which includes damaged lungs, my doctors have told me since Day One of the pandemic that if I got the virus, the odds are very, very high that I would not have a good outcome.

And that, Dear Readers, is the amazing thing. I was testing every other day while my wife was sick and never tested positive and never had symptoms. We were in close contact around the clock for nine days. On the one hand, there are those that say that my vaccines protected me, but remember, my wife was vaccinated too. So I can only attribute it to us wearing masks religiously during the week. And, of course, the protection of my guardian angel Maria Nikolaevna. On Sunday, nine days after her positive test, I tested negative again and went back to work the next day.

My wife recovered after a week, but even now, three months later, she still deals with a lot of fatigue and she gets winded easily. Vaccinated or not, you do not want this virus. It isn’t as “mild” now as they say on the news. Or, maybe it is, if your definition of mild is anything short of being on a ventilator.  

And speaking of recovering, I still haven’t fully recovered from the three surgeries I had in the fall. I have basically no energy and find myself having to push hard to get through each day. That said, I have rapidly put weight back on afterwards, so there’s that. In 2012, before I got hurt, I weighed 200 pounds (I am 6’4). Between November of 2017 and May of 2018, I lost 70 pounds due to recurring bowel obstructions and surgeries. When I got out of the hospital after that second surgery, I weighed 130 pounds and looked positively skeletal. I am happy to report that I have now hit the 200 mark again. Though I carry it in my stomach instead of my chest and arms like I used too…but that’s age for you. And the spinal injury that keeps me from being able to work out.

The prospect of a longer than usual winter hung over us from December through March as the baseball lockout stretched to 99 days, the second longest work stoppage in league history. My wife and I are both big baseball fans, though of different teams. She is a Cubs fan and I am a Red Sox fan. Still, with a delayed start to the season and the possibility of no season at all, it looked like 2022 would be a bad year indeed. Thankfully, the lockout eventually ended and the regular season will start one week later than originally planned.

And that brings me to where I am now. I started this post several days ago and I am finishing it today, on March 17th. It is Saint Patrick’s Day. There is a pizza in the oven. March Madness on television. And the Red Sox on the radio (Spring Training game, but it is still baseball). For now, at least, life is good.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.


A Long(er) December: My 2021 Year In Review

Dear Readers,

I have taken pen in hand to write my annual year in review post. 2020 was a tough year for me personally, for reasons unrelated to the Rona, and I thought that surely 2021 would be better. Welp….that was not to be.

January of 2021 began with a note of optimism as the government was starting to distribute vaccines. As someone in a high risk category, I was fortunate to be able to get my first shot (Moderna) towards the end of January. Three times over the course of the spring, I went to the ER with severe abdominal pain which I thought was a recurring bowel obstruction. On all three occasions, I was told I had no obstruction and sent home. It would not be until October that I found out the cause, but only after I went to a different hospital. I also learned that the issue was plainly visible on the CT scans that had been taken in the spring, but the other hospital missed it not once, but THREE TIMES. I guess they call it practicing medicine for a reason.

The spring semester was online, or at least my classes were. Thankfully, by that point, most of the students were accustomed to online classes and so the semester went along with less problems than I had in the fall. Then came the Great Freeze of 2021.

Generally, in Southeast Texas, February is our coldest month, but by that I mean cold for us, not cold compared to other places. That changed in 2021. We had a massive freeze that caused temperatures to plunge in the teens with wind chills in the single digits for several days. This caused widespread power outages across the state which meant that many people had to endure those temperatures with no heat. We were lucky in the sense that our power never went out. We did have a pipe burst under the sink and were without water for four days, but the damage was minimal and being without water was more of an inconvenience than anything else. Others had it far worse

Just a few days after the freeze lifted, I had my second Rona shot. I got it just after 1pm. I felt fine. When I got home, I wasn’t feeling sick at all and didn’t throughout the rest of the day. This got me thinking that people saying that had gotten sick for a bit after their second shot were either exaggerating or that I was some kind of Super Immune Man. WRONG! I still felt fine when I went to bed that night. At 0115, I got up to go to the bathroom. I felt fine walking the ten feet to the bathroom, but on the walk back to the bed, it hit me all at once. Fever and insane chills that just wouldn’t stop. I shivered in bed for six hours or so and my fever hit 104. Finally, I forced myself to get up at 0730 and took some Tylenol. This immediately knocked my fever down to 100.7. I stayed in bed most of the day, but made sure to get up for twenty minutes or so every hour just to keep moving. In the early afternoon, my temperature started to inch upward again, reaching 101.7, so I took some more Tylenol which knocked in back down to 100.3, but it hovered around that for the remainder of the day. I went to bed that night still kind of achy and with a slight fever. The next morning, I woke up drenched in sweat, fever free, and feeling fine, if a little fatigued. All told, it wasn’t too bad. True, that was the sickest I’ve felt since I had scarlet fever as a child, but it only lasted about twenty-four hours with only six of those being really bad hours, so it seemed like a small price to pay to get some immunity from the Rona, though at the time, we really didn’t seem to know exactly how much immunity we would get.

Throughout the spring, I worked with my publisher on preparing Molly’s Song for publication which included cover design and editing proofs. As memory serves me, it was available for pre-orders starting in May and the publication date was set for July 29th. Once all of that was set, I began to process of getting the audiobook produced. I had something like thirty-five auditions from very talented actresses. They were all good, excellent even, but one clearly stood out. Thankfully, Sasha was able to have the book ready by the print/eBook release date, so they all came out at once. She did an amazing job with it too, so if you haven’t given it a listen, I highly recommend it!

For a while there in the late spring and early summer, I kind of stopped thinking about Rona. I was vaccinated (as was my wife, though she got her first shot a month after I got my second) and cases were very low in our area. Then Delta came along. However, during the lull, I felt safe enough to go ahead and address and medical issue that I’d been suffering from since before the Rona. I originally had an appointment about it the week everything shut down in March of 2020 and that appointment got cancelled. As I suspected, when I saw the doctor, he told me that I would need surgery. The soonest I could have it down was the middle of September, so we got it scheduled knowing that it would put a kink in my fall semester.

Anastasia and her bff Autie

In the spring, my oldest cat George Armstrong “Autie” Custer died. He was fourteen years old and he had been with me since I found him in a box on the side of the road when he was four weeks old. At that time, he fit in the palm of my hand. Over the years, he got a little more…portly. He was a good boy and we miss him.

Autie was Anastasia’s best friend. When I adopted her back in 2015, they took to one another immediately. Autie would follow her around and always wanted to be right next to her. When he died, Anastasia got very depressed. She would go around the house at night looking for him. After a couple of months, our local animal shelter put out an urgent request for people to adopt cats/kittens as they had over 100 in the shelter. My wife and I decided to go since Anastasia likes kittens and we thought adopting one and giving it to her might make her happy.

When we walked into the cat room, there were two Russian Blue sisters, six months old, in a cage together. One of them kept reaching through the bars to try and grab my wife’s hair. That’s what drew our attention to them. They’d been picked up on the street a couple of weeks earlier. There were two boys with them, all part of the same litter, but the boys had been adopted quickly since they were polydactyl. One of the girls was very friendly but the other just cowered in the back of the cage. We decided that we didn’t want to split them up because if we took the friendly one, odds are, no one would adopt the shy one, so we took them both.

Olga (L) and Aksinia (R)

Appearances can be deceiving. The friendly one, named Aksinia after Aksinia Astakhova, the female character in my favorite novel, Quiet Flows the Don, has turned out to be a little more aloof. She’s friendly enough when she wants to be, but she prefers to lounge on top of the cat tower or bookshelf and watch the goings on. The “shy” one, named Olga after Olga Nikolaevna, has turned out to be a holy terror. She is utterly fearless and the other cats are a little intimidated by her, despite her small size. Olga loves to crawl all over her Uncle Dickens and bite his ears and bop him on the head. He’s fourteen and very docile, so he just lets her do it. She is the Daddy’s girl of the two and every evening when I get in bed, she joins me and sits on my chest. At night, Anastasia sleeps on one side of me an Olga on the other. It’s been a long time since I’ve had kittens, and these two are a handful for sure.

My long awaited second novel, Molly’s Song came out on July 29th. It is available as a paperback, eBook, and audiobook. I completed the first draft on Thanksgiving Day, 2019. The following year and a half was taken up with the editing and publishing process. Releasing a book during a pandemic is a bit of a let down. I poured everything I had mentally and physically into writing this book, but given the state of the world, the release passed with little fanfare. There were no book signings, no author talks, and honestly, precious few readers. The book has gotten mostly good reviews, and some bad ones. That’s fine. I understand that my subject matter and writing style are not everyone’s cup of tea. Given the disappointing sales and my overall physical decline, it is difficult for me to justify putting that much of myself into writing a sequel that maybe a dozen people will read. In a way, I feel like I’ve failed my character, though I am still very proud of the book.

This is not the photo that inspired the book, that one is on the cover, but this is a photo of the same unnamed woman.

August saw my return to in person instruction. It jut happened to coincide with the Delta Strain hitting our area. I live in a state where the governor prohibited governmental entities (like state colleges) from requiring masks. At first, my college insisted on holding all of our professional development activities in person too, but then relented and said they would be virtual. However, on the Friday before the week started. Then, they changed their tune and said that though they would be virtual, we still had to be in our offices to attend. I asked for an exception owing to the fact that I have a documented medical condition that puts me at high risk, vaccinated or not. I was told it was mandatory and there were absolutely no exceptions. I went in person like I was ordered to do, only to find out half our faculty weren’t on campus, so I guess it was only mandatory for certain people.

Returning to teaching in person for the first time in 18 months was a little awkward at first. My students were great, but I had a hard time finding my footing again. But eventually, just like riding a bicycle, it came back to me. Two weeks in and it felt like I had been teaching in person all along with no gaps. But then, the surgery date arrived. I had built this into my schedule and was going to use my recorded videos from the Rona Semesters to allow my students to watch the same lecture that they would get in class. Initially, the plan was to be out for two weeks. But….Mother Nature had other plans.

The weekend prior to the surgery, we found out we were squarely in the middle of the Cone of Doom for Hurricane Nicholas. Landfall was predicted to be overnight Monday night into Tuesday morning, and my surgery was scheduled for Tuesday morning in Galveston. I had not heard of the surgery being cancelled, so Monday afternoon I had to drive down to League City to get my pre-op COVID test, which was negative. On the way back, the outer bands started to come onshore and so I had to drive through quite the monsoon. Thirty minutes after I got home, the surgeon called and said that they were cancelling all morning surgeries and that we would put it off until the following Tuesday. This turned out to be a good thing, because Monday night around 10:30pm, a large tree fell on our house during the storm. It punched some holes in our roof and we had water damage to the sheetrock in the kitchen and living room. The insurance covered it this time, which was a good thing, but we only finished up getting repairs done the week before Christmas.

Since the hospital required a negative COVID test 24 hours prior to surgery, I had to return to League City to get another test the next Monday, which was also negative. On Tuesday morning, we got up at 0400 and drove an hour down to Galveston so that I could be there in time for my 5:30am check in. Normally for this surgery, they would have kept me overnight, but because of COVID, I was discharged the same day. The drive home was pure torture. And worse yet, the following day, we had to drive 30 minutes down to the surgeon’s office so that he could check all the incisions. The recovery was a lot rougher than I expected, but I made it through. Because of the hurricane pushing the surgery back for a week, when I returned to school, I had been out three weeks instead of the planned two.

Me in pre-op, waiting for them to operate on my bladder.

I won’t belabor what happened next here as I have already written at length about it in a precious post. Basically, I ended up in the hospital for a week and had to have my gallbladder removed, thus missing another two weeks of the semester. By the time the semester finished up, I’d been out for 5 of the 16 weeks. Thankfully, I was able to work it out in such a way that my students still got the instruction that they needed, with the assistance of some of my colleagues. But the semester really did seem like one gigantic cluster….fudge.

Spent a week in this bed after having two surgeries in two days, one to remove a stone lodged in my bile duct and the other to remove my gallbladder

At the end of October, I got my Covid booster dose. Given how the second shot went, I was prepared for a similar reaction. As it turned out, this one was pretty mild. About 12 or 14 hours after the shot, I had a very mild fever (100.4) that hung around for the rest of the following day, but it wasn’t bad enough to interfere with my normal daily activities. I was home by myself (apart from the cats) over Thanksgiving and we spent the time eating DoorDash meals and watching football. It was a low key, but relaxing week.

The semester ended right as it was looking like the whole world was about to get Omicroned (is that a verb?). It seems insane to me that going into year three of the Great Rona Pandemic, we are setting daily case count records and hospitals are filling back up again. Vaccinated or not, I’m still in the high risk category due to my lungs and in another couple of weeks, will be back in overcrowded classrooms with dozens of people not wearing masks. I still don’t know how I made it through the fall semester, not to mention a week in the hospital in the middle of the Delta wave, without getting Rona. But with Omicron, I fear my luck may finally run out. Only time will tell.

After four years of trying, I finally got my picture taken with our mascot, Pioneer Dan!

I am finishing this post on New Year’s Eve. As has been my tradition since I retired from the FD and no longer have to work holidays, I am ringing in the New Year with the Twilight Zone marathon on the ScyFy Channel. Tonight, there will be no parties or wild celebrations for me. I’ll sit on my porch and enjoy a fine maduro cigar. That’s about it. And on New Year’s Day, we will be getting a cold front that will drop our temperature from the low 80s to the upper 30s in the space of ten hours. My arthritis can already feel it approaching.

For the new year, Dear Readers, remember, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Anastasia and Anastasia

Another (Unplanned) Surgery

Dear Readers,

When we last left off, I was well on my way to recovery from my bladder surgery. I returned to work on Monday, Oct. 4th and was feeling great. On Tuesday evening, I started getting some sharp abdominal pains. This isn’t really unusual for me, since I’ve had two surgeries for bowel obstructions. Usually, when I get these pains, I wait it out for a while and they pass. On Wednesday morning, I was still hurting when I got up, but was feeling a little better. I ventured forth to teach my classes, but the pain got worse as the morning wore on. That afternoon, I had an appointment with the surgeon who operated on my bladder. He took one look at me and sent me down to the ER since his office is attached to the hospital.

They ran some tests and told me that I had gallstones. I was in the hospital overnight and they released me on Thursday afternoon. The reason they did not want to operate right away was that, due to all the previous abdominal surgeries, it would not be a straightforward gallbladder removal and would come with a high risk of complications. We decided it was best to just wait and see if the problem returned.

Well…it did. The next day. Friday evening I went back to the ER. More tests indicated that I now had a stone lodged in my common bile duct and was developing pancreatitis. I was admitted again, of course, and they told me to prepare for a major surgery on Monday or Tuesday. I ended up having two operations; a small one and a big one. On Monday morning, they went in and removed the stones lodged in my bile duct. Tuesday, they took out my gallbladder.

Before they took me into surgery, they said that there was a 90% chance that they would not be able to complete the surgery laparoscopically and would have to open me up…a big deal when you’ve been cut open as much as I have…and I’d be looking at a 4-6 week recovery and at least a week in the hospital post-op. I told them to do whatever they had to do. When I woke up, I was surprised and happy to find that they had been able to stick with the scopes! They had to make a few more ports than they do for a normal gallbladder removal, but they didn’t have to convert to an open procedure.

I even got to go home the next day! I’m not in a lot of pain, it’s more just surgical soreness now. My energy is practically zero having gone under general anesthesia twice in under twenty-four hours (not to mention the bladder surgery three weeks earlier), but it is slowly coming back to me. I’m taking next week off to continue to recover, of course, but barring any complications, I hope to be back to work the next week. I hate to say that though, because I feel like I’m probably jinxing myself by doing so. It seems like medical complications are just a fact of life for me. Added to this is the worry that I got exposed to COVID while in the hospital. I mean, I don’t know that I did, and I wore a double mask at all times, even when in my room alone, and even while sleeping, but you never know. They tested me three times while I was there and all came back negative, so if I do get sick in the next couple of days, I’ll know it came from the hospital. Honestly, right now that is my biggest fear.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Post-Op Update

Dear Readers,

I am coming up on a week and a half post-op. It has been a rough road so far. I, truthfully, was not expecting such a painful recovery. And I’m used to pain since I live with it every day as it is. Still, I can feel an improvement over where I was at this time last week, so I’m getting there. I’m not at 100%, of course, more like 70%. I’m still planning on going back to work on Monday, though that is subject to change.

The biggest problem is that the pain tends to set in more at night, which makes sleep difficult. Since the day of the surgery, I’ve averaged only about four hours of sleep a night. I have been able to be up walking around though, and I’m up to walking about 1.5 miles a day, though not all at once. This morning, I went for my first post-op drive. Not far, of course, just down to the beach to drink my morning coffee like I used to do every day when I was working from home.

This week, I watched the excellent four part Ken Burns documentary on Muhammad Ali. I was three years old when he fought his last bout, so I never got to see him fight live, or rather, I have no memory of having done so. I have, however, seen many of his fights by way of the YouTube. I thought the documentary did a great job talking about Ali the man, Ali the fighter, and Ali the activist. It really does place him in the context of the Civil Rights era as a whole. He’s still, in my opinion, the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time and definitely in the top five pound for pound boxers of all time.

I’ve managed to listen to quite a few audiobooks during my convalescence as well. Some fiction. Some non. The topics range from baseball to boxing to World War Two to Prohibition. I actually thought I would probably spend more time playing Red Dead Redemption or Assassin’s Creed on the PlayStation, but I haven’t much felt up to that. It requires to much focus when you are in a lot of pain.

Speaking of baseball, the season is winding down. The Red Sox had a weekend series at Fenway against the Yankees. They only needed to win one of the games to put themselves in excellent position for the first Wild Card spot. Being the Red Sox, of course, they got swept. They had a day off, then took on the hapless Orioles and blew a lead and lost that one too. Still, they won last night, so they are still in the hunt. But any more such late inning bullpen meltdowns or cold bats will ensure they do not advance to the playoffs. Let’s be honest thought, it ain’t like they would go far in the playoffs anyway.

Well, friends, that is about all I can manage for now. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.


Molly’s Song Dream Cast

Dear Readers,

I had my surgery on Tuesday the 21st. It has been a painful recovery thus far, but I’m getting through it. I’m walking as much as I can without overdoing it, of course. And using lots of ice packs. I won’t be running any marathons for a while, but then again, I wasn’t running any to begin with. I’m hoping to be relatively back to normal in another couple of weeks, if everything goes well.

I haven’t really given a writing update in a while, so I thought I would fill you in on what I’ve got going on. I’m juggling several different projects. The first, and probably the most important, is the sequel to Molly’s Song, tentatively titled Molly’s War. Second, I am working on scripts for a TV/streaming series based on Molly’s Song. That’s actually been a fun exercise trying to adapt the story for the screen. I already have the treatment and look book done, so if you know anyone with HBO/Netflix/Amazon/STARZ/BBC/ITV, etc, send them my way! Finally, I am working on a submission for a writing contest that will award a five book contract to the winner. This is the first time I have ever really worked on multiple projects at once. It isn’t nearly as hard as I feared it would be.

As I’m working on the script, I have been indulging in a common fantasy among others; mentally casting the show. Keep in mind, more often than not, writers get zero say in this sort of thing anyway, but it is fun nonetheless. I figured I would share my musings with you here. To start with, every show needs a readily identifiable theme song, am I right? Something that really stands out and blends in with the program, like the Skye Boat Song does for Outlander or I Don’t Want To Wait does for Dawson’s Creek. You get the idea. Although Runaway Train by Soul Asylum helped inspire my novel, it is too modern to be the show’s theme, so I say it can run over the closing credits. Instead, I think this one would be perfect. Ar Éirinn Ní Neosfainn Cé Hí by Dervish. You can listen to it here.

So with further delay, here is my dream casting list. (Note this is not all the characters, just the major and major-minor characters).

Molly O’Sullivan:       Ann Skelly

Lord Sanderson           Tobias Menzies

Patrick McMahon       Barry Keoghan

Frank Lynch                Liam Ainsworthy

Miss Cecilia                Diane Lane

Madame Delacroix      Sasha Higgins

Dr. Howard                 Ryan Gosling

Daphne                        Dakota Fanning

Liza Randolph            Maisie Williams

Katie                           Abigail Breslin

Timothy Warlow         Nicholas Hoult

So there you have it. Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves and each other.


Hurricane Nicholas

Dear Readers,

Remember how in April of 2020 we had storm damage to the house that resulted in something like 30K of repair/renovation work and the insurance denied the claim? Well….

On Monday, I went to have my pre-op Covid test, which I passed. I had only been home for an hour when my surgeon called to tell me all surgeries for the next day were canceled due to Hurricane Nicholas’ expected arrival Monday night. I was half expecting that, so we rescheduled for first thing in the morning on Tuesday the 21st.

The rain and winds started up that evening, but it wasn’t too bad. I got in bed at 10:15pm and around 10:30, I heard a low rumble and the house jolted for a second. At first, I thought one of the refineries had blown up because that’s what it sounded/felt like. My wife went outside and discovered that the massive tree in the abandoned house next door’s backyard had fallen on us.

Thankfully, my 1930s home is built solid. It’s like the Mike Tyson of houses. There was no structural damage, but the branches punched some holes in the roof. Given that the wind was gusting over 60mph with heavy rainfall, we took some water damage inside.

We were able to get the tree cut off the house Tuesday evening and a tarp over the holes in the roof, but we were without power from Monday night through this morning. When the tree fell, I shut the power off at the breaker (my firefighter instincts are still there), and we waited to turn it on until my electrician could check it out this morning.

We are probably looking at 10-15K in repairs this time around, but thankfully since it was a tree falling during a hurricane, the insurance is going to have a harder time denying the claim. It sucks, but that’s the trade off when live on the Gulf Coast. I’m a few blocks from the Bay, with great scenery and a beach within walking distance of the house, but all that comes with the risk of hurricanes.

The important thing is that we are okay, the cats are okay, and the house is still standing. And surgery next week is as good as this week.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Back to Work

Dear Readers,

I completed my first week of Rona College. We are not allowed to require masks, just recommend them, but the overall mask rate in my classes is around 80%. I make sure to wear mine to set an example. But we are already hearing about cases among our students, which brings me to my next topic. I am scheduled for surgery on Sept. 14th. They called me on Friday, Sept. 3rd, and confirmed the operation and went over the pre-op instructions with me. I must get a COVID test on Sept. 13, the day before surgery. My fear is that I was either exposed last week or will be this week, thus testing positive on the 13th, whether symptomatic or not, and then having to delay the surgery again. I should’ve had it originally in May of 2020, yet here we are. Given how campuses are basically COVID factories right now, it’s just a matter of time before we all get it anyway.

I will say this though, it feels good to be back. It is funny how quickly I resumed the daily rhythm of teaching in person, office hours, and meetings after spending 18 months at home. Being back in front of the classroom feels good too. I was worried that I had forgotten how to do it and that I’d be like the Old Lady Rose character on Titanic walking in like, “It’s been 84 years,” but it all came back to me. When I’m there doing my job, the thought of risk never enters my mind. It is when I make my hour long drive home that I wonder if that will end up being the day I got exposed. Truthfully, I worry more for our students, some of whom live at home with vulnerable family members, then I do about myself. I came to terms with my own mortality years ago.

It is a similar mindset to what I had during my career in the fire department. Sure, it is a dangerous job, but if you dwell on the dangers, you can’t do the job. So, you take what precautions you can and put the rest out of your mind and go to work. There’s one big difference though. I took an oath for one job, and it is not the one I have now.

This will be the last Sunday without the NFL, which is nice. We are doing a family/friends fantasy football league this year (in addition to the baseball one that we have done for several years). Draft Day was yesterday. Patrick Mahomes is my wife’s favorite player, her being a Chiefs fan and all, but I had the number one pick in the Draft. I took him and have been yelled at ever since. High school and college football have started too. High school football is a very big deal down here in Texas, as I’m sure you’ve heard.

Right now, I’m working on a submission package for a writing competition; the winner to receive a five-book contract to write a series. It frustrates me to no end that despite spending 18 months at home, I got nothing of any value accomplished. I could have written my third novel during this time, but I didn’t. Though Molly’s Song came out in July, I have no idea when my next one will be out because I haven’t written it yet. Since I work best the busier I am, I’m hoping that being back to work in person might actually make me more productive. We’ll see.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other. L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: The 47th and Final Entry

Dear Readers,

This will be the last entry in my Journal of a Pandemic Year series. When I started the series, I said that I would keep it going until we reached the point that I returned to in person instruction. Well, after eighteen months, the day has arrived. Tomorrow, Monday, August 30th, I will walk into a classroom for the first time since March 6, 2020. Is it a good idea that we are doing this with Delta raging out of control and mask use purely voluntary? I doubt it. In fact, other colleges around us have moved online for the first month, but not mine. It is as if we think we can just wish the pandemic away. You may not be interested in the Rona, but the Rona is interested in you.

I hasten to assure you that this will not be the last post ever on my website, just the last in the series. My plan is to continue to make 2-3 posts a month on various different things, basically, whatever suits my fancy at the time, which is what I did prior to the pandemic year entries. Keep in mind though, that I am still scheduled for surgery on Sept. 14th and so I will probably be out of pocket for a few weeks after that.

I was actually back on campus this past week for meetings that could have been emails. This is the norm for us even in non-pandemic times. A matter of fact, college faculty all over spend a lot of times in meetings that could be emails. Still, it was nice to see people in person whom I haven’t seen since the beginning of this year and a half long nightmare. And speaking of nightmares, here I am on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina watching yet another major hurricane pummel the state I love. The good news is that Alex Wilson is on The Weather Channel right now, and I have a major crush on her.

I don’t know what this semester will hold. Hopefully, we will emerge on the other side unscathed. It’s going to be hard on the students. Those who had never attended college online before had to learn to adjust to that, and now they will have to adjust again. For me, walking into a classroom makes me feel like the old lady in the Titanic movie. ”It’s been 84 years.” That’s about how long it feels like I’ve been out. I’m not nervous, more like resigned to whatever may come.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Forty-Six

Dear Readers,

It has been a little over a week since the official release of Molly’s Song. Having lived with this story in the two years since I wrote the first words, obviously there was some excitement with the day that the story was finally out there for the world to see. It has been replaced with a sense of emptiness. So much of my life was wrapped up in the book that now that it is published, it is like I don’t know what to do with myself. Obviously, there is a sequel in the works, but that is just enough to take the edge off the restlessness I feel. I wonder if other authors feel the same way or if I’m just not right in the head. I mean, I know I ain’t right, but I meant in this specific instance.

My wife starts back to school tomorrow (Monday). Last year was bad. This year will be worse, as no one will have to wear masks and the county where her school is has the lowest vaccination percentage in the whole state. I’ll be back to being crammed into overcrowded classrooms with unmasked adults in a few more weeks. Honestly, I’ve just accepted the fact that I’m going to get sick and there’s nothing I can do about it. That makes it easier to deal with. People think all this is over because they want it to be over. We all want it to be over, but it won’t be unless people take precautions. Instead, we are all going to suffer from their poor decisions and from government officials and school administrators who put politics over the lives of educators and students.

I’m scheduled for a surgery on Sept. 14, but that may not happen since the rapid rise in case counts are causing some hospitals in the area to cancel non-emergent surgeries. I’ve already put this surgery off for 18 months. I don’t want to wait any longer, but I might very well have to wait. The jury is still out on that, or rather, the Rona is still out on that. We’ll see what happens.

I’m turning 43 on Saturday the 14th. My body is 43 in age years but 90 in mileage years. My spine is barely held together. My knees don’t work. My shoulders don’t work and I can’t raise either arm above my head. My intestines don’t work, and I get bowel obstructions. There are days with crippling migraines. I can’t walk very far without stopping to rest. My lungs are heavily scarred. There are days when I can’t get out of the car without help. I’m in pain every second of every day. I no longer remember what it was like to live without horrendous pain. I know we all have our crosses to bear, but there are times when I wonder why mine had to be so heavy. I’m serving a life sentence, held prisoner by my own body.

I truly don’t like talking about my physical condition because no one wants to hear it. I go through great lengths to hide it from people because I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me and I don’t want to be treated like I’m any different than anyone else. I’m a fighter, and this is my own personal war to wage. I’m not going to draft anyone else to fight it for or with me.

I didn’t mean for this post to be so negative, but it is what it is. Sometimes, you just have enough and want to set out your feelings in writing, which I have done here.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.