well, that was different

I have a thing about raw meat.  Blood does not bother me in the slightest, but I go out of my way to not touch raw meat – I use forks to hold things I am cutting, I am very careful about unwrapping the whole thing, and I am obsessive about washing my hands afterwards, regardless of whether or not I actually touched it.  Honestly, this is probably one of the primary reasons I do not hunt*. 

On a completely related note (I promise), Better Half and I elected to totally slack-out this past Thanksgiving, and got one of those all-in-one-meal-deals from Kroger, wherein they provide the turkey, the side dishes, and so forth, and we provide… well, the utensils.  Frankly, it was awesome.  I mean, the quality of the side dishes obviously did not measure up to what we could make for ourselves, but, by the same token, “preparation” consisted of shoving what could be in the oven for a few hours, and microwaving the rest, and “clean-up” consisted of putting a few plates in the dishwasher and throwing away the trays the food came in. 

Yeah.  I could get used to that. 

Anywise, one of the primary reasons we went with a preprepared Thanksgiving meal is because we wanted to try a fried turkey, but had absolutely no interest in actually frying one ourselves.  Kroger provided exactly that, so what the hey? 

I want to stress that the turkey came from Kroger pre-cooked, and we followed the instructions for preheating – X amount of time in its foil, Y amount of time outside of the foil, and so forth.  We accounted for its weight, and even left it in the oven a little long as we got everything else ready.  In other words, we were not actually concerned over the meat being cooked. 

Well, at the end of it, this is what the dark meat from the leg – arguably the most-definitely cooked portion of the bird – looked on my plate: 

20141127_193539

That red stuff at the back was the cranberry salad, but I did not get any on the piece of “dark” meat there at the center. 

Yeah, given my difficulties with raw meat, finishing my dinner was… a challenge.  After we wrapped up Thanksgiving proper, we shoved the turkey back into the oven, uncovered, and roasted it for another hour or three.  After that, the meat reached more the consistency we were expecting, though the pinkish coloration stuck around. 

So, yeah, fried turkey is tasty, but be prepared for an… unusual… coloration and consistency, unless you reheat the crap out of it.  Though I have no idea if a freshly-fried turkey would have the same result. 

(* – Another off those reasons being, as my father once phrased it, “It’s called ‘fishing’, not ‘catching’.”  And a third reason is that I am not convinced that my accuracy is good enough.  I think I am ok with killing prey**, but it would upset me to no end to mortally – or even not – wound an animal, only to be unable to finish the job because it got away.) 

(** – Though, me being me, I would only kill something if I (1) planned on eating it or (b) was exterminating vermin (coyotes, prairie dogs, etc.).) 

bottoms up

IMG_20141207_111655773

For being such an… interesting… drug, methotrexate pills are rather… unimpressive. 

Anywise, I have managed to kick my rather persistent cold to the curb (that was a fun way to spend Thanksgiving), so we figured it was time to attack my immune system a new and different way.  Because that sounds like fun. 

Hopefully this stuff helps with the psoriatic arthritis.  Or hopefully it does not suck too bad.  With my recent history, though, I would not be surprised if I were 0 for 2. 

i really wanted to title this post something else

… But I figured I probably should not.  We will get to that. 

Anywise, regular readers should be familiar with the multi-year, still-ongoing saga of my gimpy pinkie finger, but here is the quick recap for people who do not hang on my every word. 

Back in December of 2011, I managed to slice open the first interphalangeal joint of my right pinkie finger on the pull-top lid of a can of soup.  This resulted in about a dime-sized flap of skin attached on one side, and I cleaned it out as thoroughly as I could at the time, went to see a doctor as soon as I could and he pretty much said, “Yup, that’s what we would have done,” and I went back about my life. 

About six months later, the joint started swelling, and its range of motion/strength really started diminishing rapidly.  It got to the point where we had it MRI’d in November of 2012, and the tentative diagnosis at the time was a ruptured pulley.  Unfortunately, months of physical therapy did not seem to provide any improvement on the situation, so we decided to see a few more doctors and get a few more opinions… which, of course, wildly varied and often contradicted

After discussing the options with one of the doctors, we decided to go ahead and do an exploratory surgery where the doctor could lay eyes on the pulleys and other mechanisms directly, take biopsies for full cultures, and drain off some of the fluid that was obviously clogging up the joint.  However, despite basically flaying my finger open and growing God-knows what in a lab somewhere, the doctor could not find anything mechanically or pathologically wrong with my finger, aside from “swollen”.  His final verdict was, and I am more-or-less directly quoting, “You are just going to have to live with it.” 

Shiny. 

Fast forward to the NRAAM this past April, where I managed to jam my left ring toe (is there a better name for it?) in a door.  Within a few days, it was exhibiting the same symptoms as my pinkie, and, predictably, it refused to let go of its swelling; in fact, it gets to the point where simply wearing shoes hurts, and walking for more than a mile is pretty much right out thanks to the pain.  On good days, it does not look too bad… on bad days, you have to wonder if it is not having a massive allergic reaction the way it swells up.  Alright, this is no longer a one-off thing; this is starting to look rather systemic. 

So we go see a general practitioner, who refers us to a rheumatologist, who says, “Well, it could be this, and it could be this, and it could be this… do you have any other symptoms?”  It turns out that some small rashes I have had on my head for a while might be relevant, and the rheumatologist sends me over to a dermatologist, who slices off part of one of the rashes and, a few days later, proclaims “psoriasis”. 

It turns out that “psoriatic arthritis” is a thing, and the most likely explanation for all of my various symptoms. 

Yay!  We know what the answer (probably) is!  That means we can fix it, right?  ….Right?  Well… not so much.  Just like psoriasis, there is no “cure”, strictly speaking; you can convince both to go into remission, but they will never really be fixed.  In reality, the medical community does not know a great deal about psoriasis, up to and including its root causes, so “treatments” are strictly palliative in nature. 

The first order of treatments is Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, and we tried that for about a month – the swelling was diminished and the pain was controlled, but it was not worth the stomach upset and the symptoms returned rapidly after I came off the horse pills. 

methotrexate2So, it is time to move on to the second level of treatments – I get to start chemotherapy*.  Now, before people start viscerally reacting to that word, let us clarify a few points.  First, “chemotherapy” strictly means, “the treatment of disease by the use of chemical substances, especially the treatment of cancer by cytotoxic and other drugs,” it is just that the latter half of the definition is implemented a lot more often than not these days.  Second, my doctor is recommending methotrexate, which, amusingly, meets both aspects of the definition depending on doses.  At high levels, it is quite handy at beating back a number of various cancers, but at lower levels (like 1/10th the dose, if not even less, taken much less frequently), it is a treatment for a variety of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and, of course, psoriatic arthritis.

At the smaller doses, methotrexate functions as a Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drug, and is strictly an immunosuppressive – basically it controls the body’s desire to produce more skin cells (the symptomatic rashes of psoriasis are due to out-of-control skin growth, basically) while simultaneously diminishing the inflammatory response at the joints.  Honestly, I do not really understand the “how” of this – it involves T-cells and purine metabolism and methyltransferase activity and other things I barely comprehend – but somewhere around 50 years of use indicates it does work, at least for most people treated with it.  Plus, it reduces the inflammation in such a way to prevent future damage to the joints by way of continual erosion, which, considering I developed this at the ripe old age of 29, seems like a good thing to me. 

It is important to note that this is not a radiological drug, so no “glow in the dark” jokes, please.  Still, my parents were mildly amused at their son starting chemotherapy so soon after my father wrapped up his.  Situational humor… what are you going to do? 

Compared to what some people are going through, I guess I should not complain too much, but this was not exactly the answer we were expecting.  Still, we have an answer, and a path forward, so I guess there is that. 

And on a related note, if you ever need any rheumatology work done in the Greater Raleigh-Durham area, we strongly recommend looking up Dr. Tony Ning at Triangle Orthopaedic Associates

(* – This is what I really wanted to title this post, but I figured the explanation was really necessary, for honesty’s sake.) 

(Note:  I am not a doctor and I am not your doctor.  A lot of what I am saying may be wrong; take this all with a grain of salt.) 

something i did not know

As I briefly, previously alluded, I will be starting new employment in the near future.  The job is a contract-with-intent-to-hire position, which is not exactly what I was looking for, but, at this point, a paycheck is a paycheck, and it gets my foot into both an industry and a job title I think I would be interested in, so go me. 

Where my ignorance came into play, and, honestly, bit me in my arse, was in terms of the negotiations.  I was under the impression that contract positions were like full-time positions, where I name a salary number, that is treated as a starting point, and we go from there.  This was woefully incorrect. 

The negotiations for my salary started, and ended, when the recruiter looking to fill the contract asked me what I wanted to be paid.  He then put together a “package” that he submitted to my prospective employer, and they accepted it after I passed their interviews. 

But the catch is the package is what they accepted, and it was locked in as soon as the recruiter passed it on to them. 

Would my prospective employer have accepted the package if I asked for more money?  I certainly hope so, considering I will be asking them for more money when they bring me onboard as a full-time, regular employee.  Could I have potentially priced myself out of employment?  Absolutely.  Which is one of the reasons I hate the modern form of salary negotiations where the employee has to throw out a number first (and, yes, I have tried a variety of ways to dodge that question, but it invariably comes down to me naming a number).  But that “price myself out” problem is why my number started out as low as it did. 

Anywise, learn from my misunderstanding – when it comes to contract-based employment negotiations, always give your recruiter/contact a number you will be happy with.  I am happy with the number I gave mine, but I certainly could be happier… 

did not get a t-shirt to prove it

So this video is making its rounds around my network of acquaintances: 

For those concerned about the health and well-being of the ship in question, it is being driven into a chop yard where it will eventually be reduced to razor blades, so the point is somewhat moot. 

I made a crack on the Book of Faces that I would be lying if I said I never attempted something like that at the Surface Warfare Officers School while I was there, and I suppose that is a comment worthy of a little explanation. 

Surface Warfare Officers School (or SWOS) is where up-and-coming junior officers in the Surface community of the United States Navy go to receive what education they cannot or have not received on their ships to eventually test for and earn their Surface Warfare Officer qualification, without which you will pretty much be booted from the community and, by extension, the Navy as a whole.  What used to be a six-month school immediately upon graduation of college, the Academy, or Officer Candidate School is now a one-month program generally attended about 18 months into your career; having heard… stories… of the six-month version, I can understand why this change was made. 

MayportHarborAt the time of my attendance, I was stationed in Mayport, FL onboard an FFG, or Guided Missile Frigate (a now-meaningless appellation, on account of the FFGs having their one-armed-bandit missile launchers removed some years ago).  Having pulled a ship into Pascagoula, MS, Ingleside, TX, Norfolk, VA, Pensacola, FL, San Diego, CA, Everett, WA, Pearl Harbor, HI, Guam, and Bahrain, I can say that Mayport is one of the easiest, if not the easiest, naval bases to pull into, as you can see to the right.  Basically you line up on the Saint Johns River channel, hang a left into the harbor… and then stop and wait for the tugs to push you up against one of the harbor walls.  No bridges, no wrecks, no oil derricks, and only the occasional traffic. 

That said, I also contend that FFGs are one of the easiest ships in the Navy’s fleet to park.  They are gas-turbine powered, which means their one, solitary screw always turns one direction – clockwise, when viewed from astern (speed and direction were controlled by variable pitch propeller blades).  Due to the oddities of hydrodynamics, this causes the stern of the frigate to “walk” to the starboard (right) side; when at flank (maximum) speeds, this “walk” could be as much as 4-5 degrees off from our intended direction of travel.  This can be a pain in the nether regions at times, but can also prove to be quite useful. 

On the other end of the ship, almost directly beneath the bridge, the FFGs mount a pair of retractable auxiliary propulsion units (APUs).  These electric, 350 HP motors can be dropped from the hull and pointed 360 degrees, and, when used by themselves alone, can sometimes push the ship up to 5 knots (a knot is roughly 1.15 miles per hour). 

So long as you are parking starboard-side-in, as we almost invariably requested, the bridge crew could use the combination of the stern walk, your rudder, and the APUs to simply drive the ship sideways and call it a day, even without the assistance of tugs.  My ship technically never parked without tugs on station, but we did, on occasion, practice parking without their actual assistance. 

Ok, lots of backstory; on to the probably-underwhelming actual story.  While JOs are at SWOS, we spend a lot of time on the ship-handling simulators at the school.  Newport does not have any functional ships homeported in it, so the instructor officers plop you down in front of three computer screens and put a headset on you, and you have to treat your computer like your helmsmen and tell it what you want it to do.  Unfortunately, the voice-recognition software and I never got along terribly well, and I had never conned a steam or multi-screw ship, so the experience was both educational and frustrating for me. 

We finished up one day’s training a good half an hour before the allotted time, and, as with so many things in the military, we were told that we would have to hang out in our training cubby until the end of class regardless, so was there anything we wanted to practice while we were there?  I clarified whether they actually wanted us to practice, or whether we could just mess around with the system and see what we could do, and was told the floor was open. 

So, I had my instructor load up an FFG headed into Mayport harbor.  And I parked it at flank speed.  You have to understand that once a ship goes into “sea and anchor stations”, meaning it is approaching a port, it is rare to order up a speed above 10ish knots (barring current/tidal oddities); speed is not your friend when you are trying to keep to narrow channels, avoid traffic, and so forth.  However, by the time I passed the Pelican Roost RV Park notated on the picture above, my little simulated FFG was doing about 30 knots.  I had to actually apply a little negative pitch to the screw to get the ship below 15 knots so I could drop the APUs (we were told, and the simulation echoed this, that dropping them above 15kts could result in catastrophic damage to them or the ship), but once they were down (around about the tug basin on the map above – the little inlet directly south of the northern tip of the harbor) and locked, I just twisted the ship 90 degrees off from its direction of motion, and balanced the APUs, screw, and rudder to walk (well, jog) us up against the western harbor wall.  By the time we got there, we were making a little under 3 knots – sideways – which was well within the simulation’s tolerances for docking (and well within reality’s tolerances, assuming you have the big docking fenders handy, though most COs prefer <2 knots).  

I gave the orders to tie up, which ended the simulation, and turned around…  to find not only the classmate I was paired with and my instructor, but almost all of the other instructors piled up behind me, watching over my shoulder.  Apparently no one had ever attempted to park in Mayport at flank before. 

I understand this little parking exercise of mine was the reason I got second place for “Overall Shiphandling at SWOS” for that class cycle; I never clarified whether it helped me get there or cost me first place, though. 

Unlike the folks in the video, though, my (simulated) ship was reusable after I parked it. 

it is official

I guess since I announced this on Facebook I might as well here too:  we will be moving to Raleigh, NC before the end of the year. 

Better Half already has a job (which is why we are moving), but does anyone know of any companies in the area that could use a Georgia Tech Industrial and Systems Engineer who spent four years driving ships for the Navy and currently manages the hardware and front end of a multi-thousand-door physical access control system?  Drop me a note at “linoge (at) wallsofthecity (dot) net” and I can sling you a resume. 

Now we just have to make the repairs to the house we had been planning on, get the yard back to a presentable state, list the house, pack up our belongings, find a new house there, move, and countless other things…  Oh, and I am considering transforming the Bullitt into something more… useful (more on that later), which only adds to the complexity.  Good times. 

the difference a day makes

The original pictures of my pinkie finger after its first unwrapping are still available here, and still carry the “squeamish” warning.  These pictures are not nearly so bad, however, so I figure there is probably no harm in sharing. 

This is what I saw after I got home from work yesterday after having my sutures out first thing in the morning; the finger spent all day chilling in a bandage: 

2013-05-13 19.47.58

2013-05-13 19.48.07

And this is this evening, after spending all day in a bandage plus a thick smearing of Neosporin: 

2013-05-14 23.20.25

2013-05-14 23.21.58

Dead skin is already sloughing off from around the incision, as you can see from the pink, new skin directly below the intersection point.  That was a bit concerning when I noticed it in the shower last night – “Crap, is that reopening!?” – but everything seems in order. 

Range of motion and strength both still suck, but, realistically, neither are any worse than it was before the surgery, so I guess you can figure the swelling I was experiencing was no better or worse than having three inch-long cuts made in it. 

Huh. 

(And since I know it will come up, none of the cultures or tests except the day-of-surgery ones have come back, and those simply stated “no bacteria seen”.  No idea if they have managed to grow anything yet.)