St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Medicare and President Obama in the Decline of the RRR

Last December, I turned 65 years old.  My family doctor said “It is time you have a complete physical.  Medicare lets you have one for free as you begin coverage.”  So, although I was feeling reasonably well except for my bad knee, I agreed to go through some tests based on a few minor problems I had noticed including an irregular heartbeat and some tiredness – both I attributed to being old and out of shape.

A month later I was on a cpap machine for my bad sleeping – leading to more energy each day.  I had found that my irregular heartbeat was due to PAC’s or APC’s (premature atrial contractions) making my beats inefficient, but not really treatable or life threating, and on my way to a new knee in March. 

The new knee has turned out great and I was prepared for a very active and ambitious summer, buying the makings for a long pasture fenceline, planning to repair my Cletrac crawler, and redo part of the cabin roof, planting two large gardens and lining up dozens of jobs for Margo.  

Then, two weeks ago while mowing Mom’s lawn I started having double vision.  A few doctor’s visits later led to a diagnosis of myasthenia gravis, an auto immune disease—where the body determines that part of your own body is the enemy and builds anti-bodies to attack it.  In this case, attacking the interface between nerves and muscles decreasing needed chemicals and killing off muscle receptors and making my double vision, now with the addition of a weakening of the chewing and face muscles on the way to more damage if left alone.  

Today, I found from blood tests done last week at Mayo that it is likely the thymus gland run amuck.  The thymus gland produces part of your body’s protection from disease, mostly while you are still in the womb, gradually withering away and being unneeded as you get older.  Anyway, sometimes the thymus gland gets a tumor (starts growing) and producing attack chemicals that go after your own body.  It appears that is what mine is doing.

I had a CT scan today to see if the thymus is abnormal looking and tomorrow see a neurologist to discuss it.   That visit was rather hard to come by.

When you search on Mayo Clinic and myasthenia you get an advertising link on Google bragging how Mayo is rated #1 in neurology by U.S.  Something and Reports magazine.  Sounds like the place to go to get seen.
“The soonest you can see a neurologist is June 22 (more than 3 weeks off).  Having read up on OMG (ocular myasthenia gravis—the eye version) and finding out that it has progressed beyond the eye and making eating a bother, and being told by the Eye guy that I should start treatment immediately or I might have a respiratory failure if things progressed, I was pretty motivated to see the neurologist right away. 

“Waiting 3 weeks to see the neurologist is not acceptable,” I told the pleasant desk attendant.  “I need to see one this week!” I said firmly.   

She called again and finally setup a morning appointment tomorrow with the “Chief Resident.”  That means the doctor has finished medical school and is likely in her third and last year of on-the-job training, ready to be released on the public next year to be on her own. A foot in the door and probably a prescription for prednisone to beat down the thymus while the attempt to get in more fully proceeds.  

By the way, the eye department has it's own emergeny room onsite--you can drop in and they see you later in the day depending on your seriousness.  Otherwise you have to go through the emergency room--waiting until you have something life-threatening.  

In the mean time, I went online to look at my lab tests from the blood draw(Mayo puts them online where I can log in and view them and the doctor's notes).  The tests showed that I definitely have MG and likely have a thymoma, a tumor of the thymus gland that is screwing up my blood chemistry.  They also said that these tumors are normally not cancer, and often removing them (using the modern method with small openings and a camera inside instead of cracking your chest) gets rid of the MG symptoms eventually. 

So, having gone into age 65 thinking I was in pretty darn good shape, I have found way too many problems!  I blame Medicare and President Obama for it all.  I see my conservative friends blaming him for everything else, so I guess I might as well pile on too—makes about as much sense ;-)

Tune in again and find out the next stage in the “Decline of the River Road Rambler.”

Memorial Day at Wolf Creek 2012SS

Steve Warndahl lays wreath on Civil War Veteran John Iverson's grave

The crowd of nearly 150 was spread out across the cemetery

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Double your fun

Haven't been doing much blogging since last week when I suddenly got an attack of double vision.  I was mowing Mom's lawn and started seeing one image above the other making it impossible to drive the mower without closing one eye.

Vertical double vision example -- gets very interesting
as you look lower on the model
With one eye closed, you lose your 3-dimensional vision and with all the apple trees and other trees in the yard, I was running in to branches, trunks and all sorts of stuff before I finally gave up and went home.

I called the nurse hotline at Mayo Clinic (I worked there most of my life and my medical insurance is through them and Medicare).  They asked some questions, the primary one being how old you are and then said "Get right now to an emergency room--you might be having a stroke, brain bleed or something else major."  

I have gotten used to that response -- they check your age and then are sure you are having a heart attack, stroke or other life threatening event.    Margo was away at Pine Island for her own medical check, and I didn't feel like driving all the way to Mayo with one eye shut, so figured to sleep on it.

In the morning everything was fine, however a few hours later, the double vision was back and a real nuisance to do anything much without keeping one eye shut.  I made a do-it-yourself eye patch with some black construction paper and taped it to my left eyeglass lens.   By now, my left eyelid was drooping down too.

I had a knee 10 week checkup scheduled for the coming Tuesday, so called Mayo and setup an eye appointment for the same day too.  The eye continued to bother with double vision most of the day after an hour or two in the morning.

"Your new knee looks excellent!: said my surgeon after checking it and the fresh x-rays.  "Just keep working on getting it to bend all the way straight and more back--not much more to go."

Then I trotted off to the ophthalmology department and gazed through a series of eye tests, looking this way and that, trying to concentrate my focus on the necklace hanging far into the technician's blouse as she blinked red, green and brilliant white lights into each eye.

Then to the eye doctor who ran some more tests and ended up saying "I think you have myasthenia gravis mainly in the left eye--occular MG."   During the several days between the start of the double vision and the visit, I had, like a good patient, Googled my symptoms and went through the likely candidates including Grave's Disease, Bell's Palsy (something I have already had twice some years back), strokes, clots, and Myasthenia Gravis (hereafter MG), deciding that another bout of Bell's Palsy was most likely, but being somewhat doubtful as only the eye bothered and before one half of my face went numby droopy and was unwilling to take on it's half of a smile or frown.

"Let's see," I commented, "MG is an autoimmune disease where your own body created antibodies that go and attack the nerve-muscle interface?"   I remembered that was probably the worst of the choices other than a stroke.  No cure; likely progressive and treatments of prednisone or other wretched drugs to beat down your own immune system into failure.  Mom took it for years for polymyalgia rheumatica (where your immune system attacks your own joints) and most likely got diabetes and osteoporsis from it and who knows what else--but then she is 90 and still living on her own...

"Yes, that's right.  However, we need to do a blood test to find out if you have those antibodies present so that comes next.  Have the blood test done now"  It was now 4:30 pm into a day that had started with a knee x-ray at 8:30 am.  "Come back next week and we will see if you have MG.  The test takes a few days to complete."

I asked a few more questions. left a tube of blood and then left Mayo for a week to get used to an eye-patch and crappy vision.   Even with one eye or the other patched, my vision is somewhat fuzzy and it is hard to read, write, drive, and do things.

My brother Ev, has amblyopia,  only one eye works at a time, so has gone his whole life without knowing what 3-D vision is.  He gets by quite well.  My friend Ed, in Cushing, got double vision from a cancer tumor two years ago and has gotten used to one-eye vision too.  Although I am hopeful something will fix mine, I guess I could get used to it too--however it will be a real limitation in enjoying life I can tell right now.

Many folks believe God created everything including us just as we are now--no evolution at all,  and call it "Intelligent Design" for how everything was made.   As I deteriorate due to the stupidity in design  of my own body; it failing right out from under me, and worse, attacking me as if I were my own enemy,  if I weren't such religious person I might think that "Intelligent Design" was exactly the opposite of how we are made.  Thank God for scientists, doctors, researchers, and those who try to correct the errors.

Monday, May 14, 2012


#&$%### Wood Ticks are bugging me all the time!  Even when I don't have a real one crawling on me, I get the feeling that one is creeping up my leg, scurrying on my back or neck, always crawling upwards and inwards towards my core.  

I pulled one out of my beard this morning that had a big chunk of me in his jaws.  These are the big regular ticks, not the small deer ticks.  I pick them off and use my thumbnail to crush them against my pointer finger tip.  Years of pounding the computer keys have given me finger tips that are hard as steel, so if I want, I can cut a tick in half and watch each part straggle off looking to rejoin (actually, cutting them in half is a quick humane death).  

15 years ago or so, I took the Lyme's disease vaccine parts one and two.  By the third year when I showed up for the last shot, it had been discontinued for humans and reserved for pets only.  I think the two shots must have given me some immunity, as I have never gotten Lymes and it is likely I have an average of 5 ticks each day for May and June, and one stuck in every other day.   Most of my neighbors who are outdoors folks have gone through the antibiotics treatment at least once.  Doctors up here just give the antibiotics if you come in and complain you have had a tick bite and are feeling ticklishness.

I am sitting on the porch writing this as the sun sinks down, the wind is gone, it is 80 degrees and a few mosquitoes are bothering me while a single humming bird buzzes the feeder and I alternately type, scratch, feel for a tick, often yanking up my shirt or dropping my pants to find an imaginary crawler.  Luckily, Chuck, my only neighbor on the lake is out of site and Margo is still in Pine Island recovering from her botox to the vocal cords shot (she goes silent for a few days, and doesn't think she can live with me without being able to raise her voice occasionally).  Worst is the slowly recovering nerves from the knee replacement tingle as they come to life and make me sure a tick is crawling when it is just the leg itself.  

Oh well, the mosquitoes will soon be worse.   

And--I saw my first two fireflies last night.  They were in the woods, high in the trees rather than on the ground.  Such a bright greenish light blinking makes me think summer is already here!  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

An Ode to Spring

A skunk cabbage in the springs along the St Croix River north of St. Croix Falls.  The plant gets its name from the smell that comes from crushing the leaves.  Cows, horses, and wild animals leave it alone.  No one uses the crisp bright green leaves in their salads!

Much of the St. Croix river has springs running year round down the banks, especially from the Hwy 70 bridge south and again just north of the dam at St Croix Falls.

These springs keep the temperature warmer in the winter and the plants that grow in them have a micro-climate that is much more moderate than a few feet away.

Right now, skunk cabbage and marsh marigolds are most prominent, in these wetlands that naturalists call seepage swamps.  We have our own personal one on the small knoll next to the lake below the cabin where the spring seeps out of an area about 100x100 feet and collects into a tiny creek running into the lake.

Our spring doesn't have any skunk cabbage.  I am sure it would grow, but am satisfied with the flowers!  All year round, animals come to the shallow pool that forms where the bulk of the spring comes out of the ground.  Deer and turkeys are the most common..

Water cress grows in the spring, and Mom used to have us gather it often for salads.  However, with the animals and beaver, one year she got giardia, and that was the end of cress salads.

In winter, the spring forms a very small open area in the lake where the oxygen rich water attracts fish and makes fishing just back of it good.

We drink pure spring water at the cabin.  Our water comes from a sand point driven into the ground about 6 feet deep adjacent to the spring.  Our water, naturally cold and full of healthful minerals is why we are so cheerfully lively every day!

In the old days, people tried to locate their homes near a spring where they could have an abundant supply of fresh water to drink.  Grandpa and Grandma lived along the St. Croix near Nevers Dam and had a "spring house" sunk into a hillside spring where the milk cans were cooled, butter, cream and other food was refrigerated and of course, a dipper was handy for a fresh cold drink for us boys.

Living on a lake is quite wonderful.  Having your own spring is like the frosting on the cake!

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I am working on the fenceline between me and my neighbor.  He has cattle in his pasture, so both of us are required to fix our fence.  I spent a few hours cutting out brush and dead trees, and other junk that has grown up since the last time --45 years ago or so when we put the fence in.  

Along with the brush, the deep shade has jack-in-the pulpits, bloodroots (finished blooming but big leaves), blue and yellow violets, nodding trillium, spring beauties, and some others I can't remember the name.

The cabin yard is brilliant yellow with dandelions that open in the morning and are covered with butterflies and bees, then close in the afternoon.  I can't stand to mow them when they are so pretty, so wait until they are closed.  If you keep mowing them, they keep having new yellow heads--they are trying to go to seed, and will persist until they have made it.  The most tangled looking lawn is when you mow them after they have gone to seed, and the big spindly stems don't get cut off, but just bend this way and that, and then stand back up showing off that they missed the blades.

We have a lot of red admiral butterflies, some sulfurs and whites, many of the yellow ones that look like a monarch , and a few monarchs.  I noticed some milkweed, the plant monarchs depend on, are up a few inches.

The tent caterpillars are very thick this year.  They seem to have taken over the wild cherry trees and have eaten all the leaves off of some of them.  I watched a nest in the early morning as it warmed up and they came out and headed out along the branches for leaves.   There are big ones and little ones all together.  Although they look like they kill the tree, they are finished with their eating quite soon and the tree, usually a black cherry,  comes back fine after they move to moth stage.  You can read all about them at Tent Catepillars

I noticed a wonderful fragrance in the woods.  I looked around and the thorn apples are just beginning to bloom.  They are late to leaf out, late to bloom, and early to fruit and lose their leaves.  I think they must be adapted to live another 1000 miles north.  Tent caterpillars seem to leave them alone.  They have very small red apples in the fall, smaller than a marble.  The deer, birds and even bears like the berries.  I have two in my cabin driveway.  They never grow very tall--mabye 30 feet or so, and are a nice ornamental tree. You have to trim off the lower branches as they have inch long sharp thorns that can really do damage if you get poked while lawn mowing under them.

I didn't really get much of the fence line trimmed out.  I killed the engine on the Ford 2n and found the battery was dead.  I walked back and brought the Cub Cadet and jumped it, then drove the Cub back (1/2 mile) and walked back again.  While I was there I dug some of the wild flowers that are in the fenceline where I will probably take the Cletrac dozer and push it clean to make fencing easy.  Of course, that assumes  I put the gas tank back on and can get it running after 5 years resting in the shed.  At least it doesn't have any flat tires!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More Morels -- Best Year in 50 for me!

Went out this evening (Tuesday) and found a dozen nice Morels

Nine Inches long for the biggest morel

About 50 years ago when the huge elm trees first got Dutch Elm disease and began
dying in the cow pasture, one year we found many grocery bags of morels.  Last year I found  only 2!
This is the best year since the first elm die off.  Many of my small elms died last summer
and I am finding most of them under those, a few under one that died two years ago. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Writing and Fracking the Weekend Away

Had a very busy weekend!  Friday and Saturday was the Wisconsin Writers Conference at Siren.  Got to listen  to a lot of other writers reading their material Friday night and four excellent speakers Saturday.  I filmed/recorded the whole conference and will see how it turns out as I edit it on the computer.

 Friday Evening Writer's Roundtable 9 pm

Sunday brunch at Mom's and then Sunday afternoon at the Frac Sand mining conference at St. Croix Falls.  Learned a lot, including that on Earth Day, the Grantsburg mine had a breach in the berm and flooded down through the creek across Hwy 70 and dumped silt into the St. Croix River.  Some striking pictures of the creek running brown from the leak.  Wonder why the local newspapers didn't cover it?   Regulatory responsibility is the WI DNR and Burnett County.  Running a mine 100 feet from the Wild and Scenic St Croix River boundary seems like asking for problems.  Interstate Energy Partners LLC claims ownership.  You can read about them at their website Interstate Energy Partners  where they have their slogan "White Sand for Black Gold."  You can see  Grantsburg mine details .

I recorded the audio for the presentation so I can sit back and digest it.  If I heard it right, the desirable sand layer is 80 feet deep in Polk County, so we may not have mines here--as there are many places along the St Croix and Mississippi valley in WI, MN, IA and IL that have surface deposits.

I brought this up at the Sterling Town Annual meeting last month.  Sterling is one of the few townships lying along the St. Croix River that is not zoned, and thus would have nothing to say if some mining operation decided to start in the township.  The town board seemed more interested in the potential to make money off of this than any interest in controlling it--Sterling town owns 4000 acres of land itself.  I wonder if sometimes local govt officials have their heads buried too deeply in the sand ;).  I get nervous when I think of 50 twenty-five ton semi truck loads of sand rolling by my neighborhood -- what I estimate is the goal for the Grantsburg mine -- 300,000 tons of sand mined per year based on their own online statement.  A basic non-metallic mining ordinance can be adopted by a Town (and the WI Supreme Court upheld this in Feb) like the one for Barron County Prairie Lake Township -- at this link
Example Ordinance to Control Frac Sand Mining

I made another visit to the mine after the meeting Sunday evening and saw the new berm meant to prevent another spill.  Wonder if it is working, as traffic on the scanner had the Burnett County DNR plane sent to take photos Saturday of something in that area (they took photos of the first spill that we saw at the meeting today).  Couldn't see any signs of a breach from the gate -- didn't dare go inside, but the new berm is not very impressive--rain seems to have bothered it.

Rain soaked berm at the mine with seeming breaches forming.  In the April 22 spill, some of the silt was delayed by a beaver dam--maybe introducing more beavers to the area would help.

I suppose, if the mining interests have their way, the St Croix will be side tracked into a huge pipeline to help move sand slurry directly to the oil fields of ND.

Surely we midwesterners deserve an extraction tax like the oil rich states get that keeps them from having state income taxes or like in Alaska pays them a yearly bribe to put up with the bother.  MN has a taconite mining fund; I imagine we could certainly add a few bucks per ton for extracted sand that sells for $100 - $200 per ton (numbers I heard mentioned). The Grantsburg mine at $1 per ton and their claim of 300,000 tons to be mined per year would add $300,000 to the budget of one of the poorest counties in the state--and it would be paid by the companies like Exxon or BP.

If you think you are hearing an opinion expressed here--there is;  it is fear of what large scale, unregulated mining could do to the St. Croix Valley.

New History Book out

Stories of the St. Croix River Road II
  Includes chapters: Wolf Creek School, Life and Times of Doc Squirt, Melvin Davidsavor a Modest Hero, The Nick Family, Civil War soldier Peter Wahlin Johnson, The Holmes Family and a tour of the Old River Road.  The profit, as for all my books, goes to the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical society
Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Morel Hunting on the back 40

Had a fun hour looking for Morels this afternoon