Thursday, April 21, 2011

Roll Out The Barrels

I received the plaque below from my fellow aviators in the 1st Platoon of the 175th Assault Helicopter Company in February 1972. It was a tradition to issue plaques to all departing members of the unit that were tongue in cheek in nature with inscribed narratives relating some of the humorous and dumb events that transpired during our tours.  The plaques were always awarded in the Officers Club in a semi-official ceremony that resembled a roast more than anything else. It also gave us a good excuse to drink too much and brag about how we were the best pilots Vietnam. Our motto was OUTLAWS RULE THE DELTA!  Included in the list of my heroic accomplishments as an Outlaw pilot was one of the last lines on the inscription which read,  "THE ONLY "P" TO USE A BARREL TO PRE-FLIGHT THE 42."
The "P" stands for "Peter-Pilot," a title assigned to all newly assigned pilots in the platoon. When I was a "P" one of my assignments on each aircraft pre-flight inspection was to check out the tail rotor gear assembly on the UH-1D helicopter (known as the "Huey"). The tail rotor gear shaft assembly was situated at the end of a drive shaft and was configured at a 42 degree angle from the horizontal shaft. In our lingo, that was simply, "the 42."

The 42 was situated about 8 feet or so above the ground and could best be inspected by standing on the "stinger" which was a metal rod extending out underneath the aircraft tail, designed to prevent the tail rotor from striking the ground if the ship approached the ground with too severe a "tail-down" attitude. When you have short legs like I do, standing on the stinger is not a problem. Getting up onto the stinger is another story. My solution was to grab the nearest empty 55 gallon drum, drums in plentiful supply around the revetments where our Hueys were parked, roll it over and under the stinger, climb up and stand on the drum and use it as a stepping stone to then stand on the stinger and perform the inspection.  I thought it was a brilliant solution. My platoon members thought it was humorous. I kind of agreed and got a kick out of their mentioning it on the plaque but in general I just thought it was an expedient solution to perform a task and that was that.

That may be true. Then again, maybe not. I never knew what was originally inside those empty 55 gallon drums.  Never gave it a second thought. Until the other day when I had my annual physical at the VA.  The VA physician was informed about my MDS diagnosis and had done extensive blood tests with results similar to the recent results my hematologist/oncologist had obtained. Knowing I was a Vietnam vet, the physician asked me if I had signed up for the Agent Orange Registry. It's possible my MDS was caused by agent orange. And here's an interesting note: agent orange got it's name from the fact that it was stored and transported in 55 gallon drums with an orange stripe painted on them. I don't remember seeing orange stripes on the drums I used for my 42 inspections but that was 40 years ago! You never know. I'm set up to go back to the VA next month for an exam for the Agent Orange Registry. It will not determine if agent orange caused my MDS. But it might help define my qualification for disability benefits.  We'll see what happens. In the meantime rest assured if I have reason to climb up on any 55 gallon drums I will make sure I know what was inside them before they became empty.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

MDS Numbers Update

Had my hematology/oncology appointment Thursday with blood work to see how my MDS is doing. White blood cell count up a little bit, red blood cell count down a little bit but even though both are lower than "normal" range they aren't moving much.  That's a good thing. Platelet counts dropped a bunch on this test but no clue why.  The doctor questioned me thoroughly on any signs of bruising or bleeding easily. Kind of hard to define "easily" so showed her a scraped knee and a recent scar on the back of my hand that I'd gotten from a dog's nails. Neither impressed her as anything to worry about and I wasn't overly concerned about them either. So the platelet count was low (65.0 vs normal range 140 - 400) but I still have no symptoms associated with MDS or anything else for that matter. My wife told the doctor that I nap a lot and that's true. Usually in front of the TV either in the afternoon or, more often, at night. But that's nothing new so, again, we're not looking at my occasional snoozes as being a sign of anything worse than just being a boring old guy who can nap at the drop of a hat.

So the game plan continues to be watch and wait for awhile. I go back in two months to check the numbers again.  And in the meantime, no restrictions beyond common sense (not always my strongest suit, but what the heck) and that means a green light for some upcoming travel and excursion plans.

Friday, April 15, 2011


YOU HAD ME AT WOOF by Julie Klam was my inspiration for the title of this posting. So sue me if you think I've plagiarised the concept. I thought it was cute and when I saw the book's cover at Borders I couldn't resist buying it. I looked at the face, glanced up at the title and I was hooked.
Can't look at this cover without cracking up!
I haven't read it yet so can't vouch for it but from the few paragraphs I browsed over it promises to be a good one. I'm hoping it'll rank right up there with Marley and The Art Of Racing In The Rain. But, as they say, you can't judge a book by it's cover. But you know what? They can say that all they want..I do it anyway. I have to! When you're a reading junkie like I am you have to judge books by their covers or you'd ending up buying every book you saw on the shelf!

I talked about my local Borders store closing last February. It's getting down to crunch time now with only a few days left before the doors close for good. I had mentioned then of my guilt for taking advantage of Borders' 50% discounts when offered  in email advertisements. I confessed, they did indeed have me at 50%. Now that they're clearing out the store (including the shelves!) the discounts are mounting toward irresistible levels...see for yourself:

I bought three other books besides WOOF at 70% and 80% off last weekend. Today I drove by while out doing some errands and my steering wheel, like a divining rod, forced the Sorento into the Borders parking lot and I bought three more. Dumb, I know, but it's tough to pass up bargains like this. For dopes like me anyway. So if anyone reading this post has a Borders store closing in their neighborhood, better get there fast.  Everything must go! If you happen to see me in the vicinity feel free to cut me off, block my Sorento from entering the parking lot, and throw me a hip check at the entrance.  Help me to help myself...I can't afford any more bargains.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sixty Six Plus Sixteen

Today marks a milestone for me as it is the sixteenth day after my sixty sixth birthday. The number has been on my mind for quite awhile, not so much as a goal but as a day of significance to me personally. I knew that if I woke up this morning, this sixteenth day after my sixty sixth birthday,  it would mean that I had outlived the duration of my father's life. He died on the fifteenth day following his sixty sixth birthday. It's been fairly easy for me to do the calculations of the formulas above because 1) I remember my father's birthday was March 11th, and 2) my father died on my birthday, March 26th, forty years ago.

The King ancestors I have descended from don't have too great a record in longevity, not the men, anyway. My father's father died when he was 59. His father died at 60 years of age. His father died when he was just 49 years old! And, finally, when we go back one more generation, my 3rd great grandfather somehow managed to survive to 107 years old!  Maybe he used up more than his share of the old age genes?  Here's hoping a few snuck through and are lodged somewhere within the epidermal layer of my internal timer. Only time will tell.

My father died of a heart attack. It was his third one in the last ten years or so of his life and the final one was severe. He hung on for weeks after suffering the attack, hospitalized in a town in Florida just a few miles from the small town where he was born and raised until he was about 15.  The doctors told us his heart was very weak and he would be "severely impaired" for quite some time if he survived. I sure couldn't correlate that diagnosis with his appearance and demeanor.  When I saw him he was tired and resting in his hospital bed but seemed alert, cheerful, and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. He spent his 66th birthday in that hospital and as I've noted, fifteen days later he died. He wasn't very active physically in his job as a clergyman. I recall seeing him participate in a limited way in sports, more as a social endeavor than for physical conditioning. He would join me and my friends to shoot hoops on the basketball backboard mounted on our garage, but it meant he had to undo his tie and roll up the sleeves of his starched white dress shirt. And at church outings he would play baseball but, again, just in a limited way to share the socialization part of it all rather than to display any prowess. He loved the Red Sox and found business purposes requiring his presence in Boston from time to time, which wisely he combined with visits to Fenway Park. An althlete, he was not, but he was an intellectual superstar when it came to reading, researching, studying, and all the things related to supporting his ministerial duties. But physical exertion in the years I knew him, the 1950's and 1960's, wasn't part of many men's lives unless you count bowling and drinking beer. He did neither. So it's not surprising his heart didn't get the exercise it needed and gave out on him at 66 years of age.

I don't know the causes of death for any of our King ancestors. I have pictures of my grandfather and he looks pretty trim and fit. My father wasn't fat but he might have been mildly overweight. To my teenage eyes I classified him as fat.  In pictures I can see now that he wasn't fat at all.  Just inactive. I'm the one shaped like a pear with some serious love handles mushrooming around my waist. But I do stay active with stretching, weights, calisthenics, and walking. Occasionally I'll jog and have done a few 5k runs employing both walking and jogging. But my ankles and my back are quick to report back to me that walking is the preferred method of exercise.  And I try to listen to my body.  So far, my MDS hasn't contributed any symptoms to alert me of a problem. So at this point, myelodysplasia is just a theoretical infliction, making itself known through blood cell measurements but not affecting my day to day activities.  So far so good on that front.

I could have put these thoughts on my genealogy blog but I think it rightly belongs to my blahs...just spewing out nonsense about things on my mind. And lately, mortality is on my mind.  Not in a depressing or morose manner, just out there to be considered from time to time. Yup. Sixty Six big ones. And so far, still living. Think I'll try to stay on this path for awhile longer. I'm not putting a number on it. No goals. Just a lot more time.  I've got a few more things I want to hang around for.