Thursday, February 16, 2012

Losing an Organ (Part 2)

Fortunately, I noticed the signs early enough the appendix hadn't ruptured. The surgeons were also optimistic they could perform the appendectomy laparoscopically. Those two factors significantly shorten the recovery time post-surgery. I'm sure many of you have had surgery before; however, this was my first time so I was constantly making observations about the way things are performed. First and foremost, I'm still incredibly amazed by the fact we live in a world were I can have an organ stop working, I pay a total stranger to remove it, and then have total strangers provide me with 24/7 care for as long as I need it.

My wife is a nurse at the University of Kentucky hospital so it's only natural that I had the surgery performed there. I came away incredibly impressed at the overall quality of the hospital, the entire staff, and the efficiency of the whole process. Of course, there's always a waiting game when it comes to surgery, but the entire day still seems like a blur to me. I went into the ER around 11am and was take straight back to a room. By 8pm that evening, I was being prepared for surgery. Being "prepared" for surgery includes a number of unpleasant details I will spare you. If you're not sure what I'm referring to then hopefully you'll never have to find out.

The effects of anesthesia are different for each person. Some report large blocks of time they're unable to remember. Others slur their words and speak with no emotional filter at all. I remember every moment leading up to the surgery and I remember the moment I started to come to. As they wheeled me into the operating room, they began to place the heart monitors on my chest. They placed a mask on my face and boom, I was gone. Totally oblivious to the world and everything around me. No count to 10. No look at the ceiling for 5 seconds. Just completely gone.

For doctors and nurses who work with this sort of technology every day, this doesn't seem like a big deal. I try to talk to my wife about this sort of thing, but she looks at me like I'm crazy. For someone on the outside though, the entire medial field is truly a phenomenon. As I sat in the hospital bed, my thoughts drifted to the inevitable bill sure to arrive in the mail a few weeks upon my return home. I looked around the room and started to think about just how much it cost to provide me care. I thought about the nurses and technicians, the equipment, and even the hospital bed itself. All were of outstanding quality. Then I thought about the service provided by the surgeon and her team. What would I be willing to pay for all of it? Anything. That's right...anything. When you really get to the heart of the matter, everyone at that hospital has a hand in saving my life.

We often take these sorts of things for granted because surgeries and hospitals are so common in our 2012 world. But isn't it true these people saved my life? In another time and place, my life would have ended at the age of 25. The appendix would have ruptured and almost certainly taken my life. But in today's world, I'll be going back to work next week. So combined with insurance and my own personal funds, I'll pay off my debt to the University of Kentucky over the next several weeks. But is a debt like this ever truly repaid? I never even got a chance to thank the surgeon who performed the appendectomy, she was quickly off to perform another procedure, likely saving another life. My hospital bed is now empty and the nurses prepare to care for the next patient in need. I can't possibly take the time to thank them all...but I hope they all know just how appreciative I am.

I didn't say anything too off the wall as the drugs wore off. One nurse said I just kept saying "thank you." I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Losing an Organ (Part 1)

As of Friday, February 10, 2012, I had never broken a bone, never had surgery, and never lost an organ. By Saturday, February 11, two of those claims suddenly became untrue. As of today, I no longer have an appendix and have had my first (hopefully last) surgery. I'm sure many of you out there have had operations before, perhaps even an appendectomy. However, based on all the observations I've made the past few days, I felt compelled to blog about my overall experience. I quickly realized I would not be able to fit all my thoughts into one blog post. So here is the 1st part of what is sure to be 2 or 3 more posts regarding my recent appendectomy.

I suppose this appendix gone bad actually started several weeks ago. Those of you who know me personally know that I've weighed roughly the exact same weight since high school. I graduated from high school roughly 8 years ago and have fluctuated maybe 5 pounds during those 8 years, always settling back around what I weighed back in 2004. Throughout the month of January and into the month of February, I began to notice the dreaded tightness in the waist. Pants that fit mere weeks ago were now just a bit too smug for me. I chalked it up to too much feasting over the holidays, a sedentary workplace, and my love for sweets. I cut back and started to exercise more. This seemed to be helping, yet I still noticed a pudginess in my stomach that wasn't there before. I exercised more and thought nothing of it. Simply the reality of getting older...or so I thought.

Last Thursday evening, I ate a salad for dinner and felt particularly bloated afterward. I didn't eat anything for the rest of the evening and hoped the sensation would go away. I took a few antacid tablets anticipating they would settle my stomach. I woke up Friday morning and felt strong cramps around my "bladder area." The beginning of a kidney stone? Bladder infection? I had no clue. I called into work and let them know I wasn't feeling well and planned on working half a day. I slept a few more hours and went into work around 11. Throughout the day the cramps got worse. Friday evening, they were unbearable. The worst part? I began to notice a sharper pain in my lower right abdomen. That's when it hit me...appendicitis.

I tried my best to sleep through the night, hoping the pain would cease, praying my diagnosis was inaccurate. By 11am Saturday morning, I knew I had to see a doctor. Rather than go to a standard walk-in clinic, I went straight to the ER. Prior to going in, I spoke with one of my in-laws who's an ER doctor. His quick phone diagnosis? Classic signs of appendicitis. At this point, I felt pretty certain both of us were right; so much so that I packed up my iPad, phone charger, and a book before I set out for the ER.

After a series of pokes and prods, blood tests and CT scans, a doctor came back into my room with the results. "Looks like you were both right. You have appendicitis and you're appendix is probably coming out today."

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Pottermore, As Good As A New Book?

Back in June 2011, Warner Bros. whipped the Harry Potter fandom into a frenzy when they started teasing a new project from Potter author J.K. Rowling. Speculation ranged from a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) to a Harry Potter social network. Popular HP fansites such as Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron were involved so any service in direct competition to a fansite seemed unlikely. All Rowling's camp would reveal is that it was NOT an 8th book; however, they claimed it to be equally as exciting as a new book release. 

This statement further fanned the flames and ignited longstanding potterphiles into euphoric excitement. Rather than being wrapped up in the excitement, I awaited the announcement with cautious optimism. Pottermore was sure to be interesting and unique; however, I certainly didn't expect it to approach anything close to another HP book.

Pottermore began a staggered launch in mid-August with users gaining access to the site by participating in the "Magical Quill Challenge." Me being a huge HP fan, I completed the Magical Quill Challenge and got into the second wave. To my surprise, I was sorted into Ravenclaw. I always thought myself a Gryffindor, but I can't complain with Ravenclaw. The sorting itself left a little to be desired, but more on that later.

For those unfamiliar with Pottermore, the official website states as follows: "Pottermore is an exciting new website from J.K. Rowling that can be enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books. You can explore the series like never before and discover exclusive new writing from the author. It is FREE to join and use, and is designed to be safe for people of all ages." 

Pottermore also promises to be the exclusive outlet to obtain the Harry Potter books in ebook format. 

The main draw for the site and dedicated Potter fans is the original content from J.K. Rowling herself. Currently, only Sorcerer's Stone (SS) is available on the website. This isn't a word for word copy of SS; rather, it is an interactive companion to be read alongside the hard copy. There are pictures, collectables to find, and secrets to unlock. The most treasured secrets (though easily unlocked) are select tidbits from Rowling regarding a character's backstory, a particular writing choice on her part, etc... For a huge Potter fan like myself, this information is gold. 

Additionally, users can compete for house points, brew potions, learn spells, and even duel against fellow witches and wizards.

Unfortunately, Pottermore seems to have hit a snag. The website was expected to launch to all users in October 2011, yet it still remains closed to the general public as of February 1, 2012. My hunch is that the beta testing didn't go as smooth as WB hoped. I have to hand it to them for conducting extensive testing and offering multiple opportunities for beta users to share feedback. 

There were a few points I decided to share with WB. Perhaps it's simply a sign of my age and maturity, but I have found Pottermore to be rather underwhelming for the adult Potter fan. 

Let's start with the original content from J.K. Rowling. Even though I absolutely love the content itself, I find it a little disconcerting that Rowling seems to have opted against the idea of releasing a hard copy encyclopedia and is instead publishing the information solely through the Pottermore website. For years Potter fans have longed for an encyclopedia containing all the backstory that has been shrouded in mystery for more than a decade. As an adult, I would strongly prefer to have this information readily available in one place. Currently, the only way to obtain the information is to click through the interactive story of SS. Even if Rowling and Scholastic only released it in ebook format with a basic font and spacing, I would prefer that over the current method.

Secondly, there should be at least some sort of incentive for obtaining house points. At the moment, the house points only serve as bragging rights to the other houses. I don't expect a signed copy from J.K. Rowling, but Pottermore should definitely consider offering small trinkets for users who reach certain levels or complete specific tasks. A bookmark, HP poster, or even a free ebook are just a few ideas. In a world of jobs, school, cell phones, Facebook, gaming, literature...Pottermore has to offer at least a small reason for users to spend valuable seconds of their time brewing virtual potions on a website. 

Additionally, the sorting ceremony needs tweaking as well. Pottermore has clearly implemented a mathematical formula to keep the houses even. There are currently just under 686,000 users on Pottermore with each of the 4 houses containing between 170,000-172,000 members. Although not confirmed by WB, this appears to indicate someone could score "mostly Ravenclaw" and "somewhat Slytherin," but if Slytherin needs a boost in number, the user would be sorted into Slytherin even though they are truly more of a Ravenclaw. While I understand why they chose to keep the houses even, I'm a little confused as to why they wouldn't simply allow a "true" sorting and then weight the points depending on a house's total numbers. For the most part, the questions themselves are fantastic. They were written by Rowling herself and it shows. 

Unfortunately, there are a small number of questions that seem completely unrelated to a specific house. I encountered two of these questions during my sorting: Heads or tails? and Moon or stars? Both questions offer only two possible "answers" and I see no way how they could be related to one of the 4 Hogwarts Houses. To make matters worse...the sorting is final. Users cannot be re-sorted once the Sorting Hat makes a decision. I suppose users could register a new user name under a different email address, but that seems more trouble than it's worth and near impossible at the present time (due to the closed beta).

Finally, Pottermore needs a mobile application. If WB wants this to truly succeed, users need to have Pottermore access anytime and anywhere. If you don't have flash (which is essentially any Apple device), then you'll only have limited access to Pottermore. WB needs to offer a feature-rich application containing all the same tools and functions of the website.

It may sound like I'm being overly harsh, but I should definitely point out how grateful I am to WB and J.K. Rowling for caring about the fans enough to put together such a project. Harry Potter would have been relevant for generations to come even without Pottermore, yet this is just nod to the fans and a catalyst to carry HP to future generations. The website itself features a great design and has been carefully crafted in a way that accommodates almost anyone. The potential, support, and resources are there for something much greater than what is currently available. In no way do I expect to spend hours a day on Pottermore; however, I would love to see significant changes giving a working adult reason to visit the site once or twice per week. I will continue to keep an eye on for any announcements regarding the official launch.

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