Saturday, May 28, 2011

Expectation - The Dawn Ritual

It was a solicitor who knocked on our door yesterday that got me to thinking. She wanted a donation for a charity to clean up a huge area of the ocean where currents have brought together tons of trash stretching for miles, floating on the surface. Plastic bags and bottles, fishing lines and hooks and fishing nets for as far as the eyes can see. As far as I'm concerned, cleaning up the mess should not depend on charity. It should depend on taxes and nations should be responsible and pay the bill and to come together and send fleets of ships to clean it up. I have reason to say that...

There was always a day at sea that occurred occasionally that I considered perfect. And, had I thought about it, I might have been able to keep a record to figure out if those days came at scheduled intervals, just in time to sooth the soul. Maybe they did. But, I didn't notice. I did, however, notice that those were special days.

On those days I awoke early, like I always did, around four-thirty, showered and dressed by four-forty-five, and made my way to the galley for coffee. On those days I could walk down the passageway without bracing for the side-to-side rolling motion. I could hardly feel the ship moving at all. It felt like walking on solid, unmoving ground. There was a slight vibration from the ship's engines. Sometimes I could feel the power of the propeller pushing against the water without the slightest hesitation or interruption or shudder, unlike other days. Just a solid, continuous, harmonious push. On those days I felt a small serge of anticipation about what I would see from the main deck. I anticipated a perfect day.

Sometimes by the time I started my walk to the mess hall, I could hear others rising for the day. They, like I, knew from an inner feeling and the absence of swaying motion that the day was special. Someone would yell out, "rise and shine!" or "What are you doing? Sleeping your life away?" The few early risers gave no quarter to those night-owls who stayed up late and wanted to sleep in for just one more hour. The reply was usually, "shut the fuck up!" I heard the curse word and would think, "not today. That word is inappropriate today."

I would arrive at the galley as the coffee was in its last few perks, the color in the sight-glass perfectly dark brown to suggest better-than-usual cup coffee. It was always good coffee, but on those days it was great coffee. The cooks were already up and preparing for breakfast. The mess hall floor was littered with empty cardboard boxes just unpacked for the morning meal. Chute would be placing food on the serving counter or stirring the shit-on-the-shingle, a creamy gravy with either chipped beef or sausage, one of my favorites, or stacking the cartons of eggs beside the grill. The grill was getting hot. Someone stacked the bread next to the toaster. I picked up a few slices as I passed by. Someone else was gathering up the cardboard boxes, folding and bundling them up for trash storage for disposal at the next port. We didn't toss them overboard.

As soon as I entered the galley I'd hear Chute yell out to another cook or some guy on mess duty, "Check the milk dispenser. Set it to thirty-six degrees. I don't want to hear Clark bitch about warm milk!" He said that every morning after we became friends, and we may have became friends because of warm milk. I can't drink warm milk. In fact, I won't drink milk unless it nearly freezes my throat as it goes down and there was a time when I told Chute every chance I got that he didn't know shit about keeping milk cold. I'm sure he got tired of hearing it. "We keep it at forty degrees," he'd say. "Shit," I'd say, "that's warm." He finally turned the thermostat down and the entire crew started drinking more milk.

Those days were the reason I used a small thermos instead of using an even smaller galley cup. I didn't want to run out of coffee. I didn't want to miss the morning by having to return to refill my cup every fifteen minutes. I filled the thermos and made my way to the main deck and to a spot about one-quarter of the way down the rail from the bow, port or starboard, whichever was facing East, if at all possible. Robby, a Gunner's Mate friend, may already be there or he may be a few minutes behind me. He knew the spot too. It could have been that I learned the spot from him or perhaps he learned it from me, but we both knew where to stand. It was quieter at that spot than anyplace else. It was a point we studied and thought about. We leaned against the rail and waited, drinking our coffee and saying nothing.

Usually it was totally dark when we got there. There was just a slight shimmer, a bright thin line, on the perfect eastern horizon that told us that the Sun was coming. There was not a single sign of phosphorous light from an ocean wave, except sometimes something shot out of the water alongside the ship and quickly dove back in, causing a phosphorescent splash. Dolphins, we knew, were tracking beside us, out-pacing the ship, playing a game with us, but we couldn't see them yet. They were perfectly camouflaged in the dark, black water. Our engines were cruising nearly noiselessly. We could hear the splash of the Dolphins. We could, on some days, hear a flutter of wings, a different kind of wings than those of feather, and we saw the white phosphorous spot where something else popped out of the water. We couldn't see where it dove back into the water. These were flying fish, we knew, that rose out of the water and flew a hundred yards ahead of us, but we couldn't see them either. At least not yet. Even our ship cutting through the water caused so little disturbance in the water as to make a sound, nor could we see any sign of phosphorescent disturbance at the waterline. In spite riding on a machine that should have been making a noise, it was eerily quiet. We almost heard the Sun rising and the ocean waiting. Usually, as we drank our coffee and waited, we wondered at the power of nature that could muffle all sound as it waited for the day.

Finally the Sun would make its appearance, the dawn began to make things visible. We could see the Dolphins playing, rising to the surface, jumping and diving, and seemingly pausing to look at us standing against the rail. The flying fish breached the surface and flew farther than they did on other days. Sometimes we saw pods of killer whales farther away jumping and diving like the Dolphins. Perhaps they were following the Dolphins. Perhaps the Dolphins were close to us because the killer whales would not come closer. We sometimes saw whales breach the water and they too seemed to look at us. Once we saw a water spout and Robby and I were surprised at that sight. "How could that happen?" one of us asked, I don't recall which, on a day when there were no clouds in the sky and no apparent wind blowing and not the slightest wave on the ocean? As far as I know, it takes the same weather disturbance to create a water spout as it does a tornado, yet they appeared on the calmest day at sea. Perhaps sometimes for reasons that are beyond my understanding water can behave like dust in a dust-devil and rise and swirl around in gusts of invisible and isolated pockets of wind. Some people prefer sunrises that reflect on clouds in radiant reds, but there is no denying the beauty of a blazing sunrise in a cloudless sky over the calmest sea. In fact, the sense of power one gets from the ocean on its quietest day is greater than when it is most turbulent.

On those days the ocean was so smooth that we couldn't see even a hint of a swell. The questions in our minds was always the same, "How can the ocean be so large and this smooth? This glassy? Not a single ripple on the surface?" The Sun's reflection off the water was just as bright and blazing as the Sun itself and we couldn't look directly at either the Sun or the reflection. We watched the Dolphins or flying fish instead. Soon, a few gulls would come to fly a few feet away, intentionally picking the spot where we stood, nearly flying in formation and keeping post with us. We broke off pieces of the bread we brought from the galley and tossed them into the air and they, with perfect precision, like a jet fighter peeling off for a dive, dove and caught the pieces in mid-air. One of us usually ask, "What are these seagulls doing way out here?" or "Where do you think they sleep?" We were frequently several thousand miles from land, yet those gulls would be there. The simpleness of our questions masked a deeper feeling of awe.

Chute, on a break, would join us at around five, also carrying a cup of coffee and a few slices of bread for the gulls. He said the same thing every time on those days, "what a nice day! This is what I wait for." It was better than nice. It was perfect. Then, the three of us would toss bread to the gulls and watch the Dolphins in silence for thirty more minutes before going below to the galley for breakfast. For unexplainable reasons, we were hungrier and the eggs tasted better and the bacon crisper and Chute was a better cook than usual on those days. Robby wondered out loud if he could find some reason, an excuse, to work outside. Maybe a gun needed painting or lubricating or perhaps brass needed shining; things that Robby didn't usually do at his rank. Chute and I, who worked below decks, would find more excuses to go outside today. In fact, I noticed that on those days, there seemed to be more of the crew outside than on other days and, if you were observant, you could catch them gazing out over the ocean in a kind of daze or dream.

Robby, Chute and I were not always on the same ship together, but I believe we always attended the dawn ritual together. They, like me, wouldn't have missed those for the world. They were enchanting and addictive.

If I thought that I could see a sunrise like that, an ocean that calm and toss bread to gulls and watch dolphins play on a day during a five-day cruise to Mexico, I would book the cruise today. Earth can put on unimaginable displays of power, beauty and mystery and sometimes we should simply stand in silent reverence. Maybe the rest of the time we should do what it expects of us - take care of it.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Prescription - I should have asked

I don't know why this stuff only happens to me. Why me, Lord? I've asked that question at one time or another my entire life. But, there you go, it happened again, this time by means of an unsightly growth, a nice word for a wart, in a most inconvenient place. If it had been in any other out-of-sight place, I wouldn't have bothered with it at all. But, it wasn't and that is my lot in life. I'm different. Things happen to me that are just barely slightly different than the same thing happening to other people. If another person had acquired an unsightly growth similar to mine, it would have been in a place just slightly off of center, perhaps only an eighth of an inch, so as not to be an irritant or noticeable at all.

Take splinters, for example. Other people get splinters just like I do, but I firmly believe that their splinters are different than mine. Mine always happen in the most inconvenient places. If I get a splinter in my thumb, I get it at the very exact spot that I continue to irritate until I take the time to dig it out, and even when I gather up the tools, the tweezers and magnifying glass to dig it out, I need help holding the glass, the tweezers and my thumb, all at the same time, at the right angle to perform the operation. And you would be surprised at how those people who happen to be available to help suddenly become so uncoordinated that they can't hold a magnifying glass at the angle needed! These things don't happen to other people. I'm convinced of that.

I went to the doctor several years ago to have the unsightly growth, okay - wart, removed. I was referred to a dermatologist who said, "Oh no! We can't remove that! That will bleed!" First off, I have to ask who in hell "we" are? Maybe he had a mouse in his pocket. It was only him and I in the room. In hindsight, I now believe that he was an overly excitable kind of person who couldn't stand the sight of blood, but I didn't insist on it being removed at the time. Also in hindsight, I have to ask myself why a person who can't stand the sight of blood became a dermatologist? But, you see? That's my lot. Out of all of the dermatologist in the world, I get the only one who faints at the sight of blood! That's what I'm talking about. If any other person had been there, they would have walked out of the hospital that day minus one unsightly growth! Whatever. So, after several years of sitting on it, I finally irritated the spot enough to inflame the area to the point of slight bleeding, and to bother the hell out of me, that I once again made an appointment to have it removed. This time, I was going to insist that I be treated just like all other patients. I was not going to be discriminated against!

I went to the appointment in somewhat of a grumpy mood, already prepared in my mind to be obstinate. My doctor said, "oh yeah. That's inflamed. Let me call a dermatologist." Five minutes later a very good looking dermatologist entered the room with her very good looking medical assistant. What? I thought. This too can only happen to me. Not only do I have to remove my drawers for a doctor, I have to remove them for a crowd! Two of which are good looking women! "Bend over," my doctor said, "they've seen behinds before."

"Oh yeah," the good looking dermatologist said, "I'll biopsy that." Notice that she didn't say "remove" it? That's just one more example of discrimination as far as I'm concerned, using a language or terminology that is vague or not understood by normal people. Just what did she mean by "biopsy?" So, I dressed and made my way to her clinic and then to an exam room where I once again removed my pants. According to her assistant, who came in to prepare me, a biopsy would remove "just a small slice" of the growth. "No," I told her, "I want the whole thing removed." "Well," she said, "we'll have to wait to see what the doctor says." Well, that statement, and all of my past discriminatory experience, sort of welled up inside of me to the point that I decided that I was going to be downright rude about the whole thing if I needed to be. At that point, I didn't give a damn what the doctor would say and I was going to say so.

But, I needn't have worried. The doctor said, after I asked her specifically what she meant, that the whole thing, the entire growth, was the biopsy. She was slicing it off at the skin level. And she did. I guess I was mollified by that fact that things, something, was finally going my way, the way I imagined that other people experienced; a happy ending. I really didn't notice or question the prescription she wrote out. "It's for a rash," she said, "around the area of the wound." "Okay," I said, a docile sheep following instructions from the most trusted profession in the world. Who do we trust the most? A doctor, of course.

It really didn't dawn on me what I felt about rashes. Frankly, I don't give them much thought. If I do anything at all, I'll get some over-the-counter cream or ointment and try to take care of it myself, such as Hydrocortisone 0.05% for dry skin. I've used that stuff frequently in the winter. So, I'll take care of it much like I take care of other ailments; if it gets to the point where it seems serious, I'll go to the doctor. Otherwise, I'll handle it. But, I trust doctors, so I accepted the prescription for Desonide Ointment 0.05% without question. I should have been alerted to a problem when this particular ointment required me to get advice from a pharmacist. How many ointments require a pharmacist's advice? "Don't put it on your eyelids," she said, "or your mouth or nose. It's intended to be used on other areas of your face." "Well," I said, "this is intended for the opposite end," in a smart-ass, joking sort of way. I should have noticed the shocked look on her face, but I didn't. Her look should have been a clue that I didn't need this particular ointment. My self-medicating history with minor ailments such as rashes should have come to mind, but it didn't. "Oh," she said, and she didn't say anything else, seemingly cutting her normal advice short.

So, I paid my share, $15 as I recall, and walked away with the tube of ointment. I put it on the counter when I got home and it's lain there since, unopened and unused. What really got me, though, was that I noticed on the receipt that I had only $232 balance left, after this prescription, on my Medicare Part D plan. What!? That lead me to ask myself just how much did this stuff cost, anyway? Well, if I paid 20%, then the whole thing cost $75. That's outrageous! That shock lead me to researching it further. The next thing I noticed was where it was made. We in the U. S. make a big deal, in fact it is illegal thanks to the Republican Congress and the Bush Administration, about getting cheap drugs from Canadian pharmacies. So, where is it made? Brampton, Ontario, Canada! And, it is distributed by the same company from Hawthorne, NY. I found a Canadian pharmacy that charges $8.79 for it! Well, sensing a conspiracy of some magnitude, and further evidence of the outright discrimination directed entirely at me, I set out to find what it is used for, and an even a bigger shock! It's used for DANDRUFF! DRY SKIN! The exact same thing that I use Hydrocortisone 0.05% at one-twentieth the cost. For crying out loud! By that time I had figured out that I had been scammed. I needed this stuff like I needed another hole in the head! Nevertheless, I had accepted it in total faith. I immediately went into a depression of that "I never learn" kind.

You know? I already use a dandruff shampoo, and it works pretty good. I don't have a single flake of dandruff on my shoulders. In fact, my barber, who I'm beginning to think knows more than my doctor, has told me that my shampoo is pretty strong and that I shouldn't use it more than once every two days. That statement meant to me that something that strong should be as good as Desonide Ointment 0.05%. And, so two weeks have passed and I've concluded that, had I been a touch more quick witted, I would have deduced relatively quickly that all you need to treat an inconvenient area of dandruff rash after a growth is removed is Selsun Blue shampoo. And, applying shampoo is a hell of a lot easier than the contortions needed to apply an ointment in that particular location, especially when trying to judge left from right through a mirror from a bent-over position that makes everything upside down. In fact, my contortionist days are long past. I can no longer turn myself into a pretzel. I'm taking the ointment back. I have other more important prescriptions to charge against my Medicare Part D plan.