Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's A Nice Day For A White Christmas

There comes a time in nearly every performer’s career, when, as a result of a whiskey-induced dare, a contractual obligation or a mad grab for cash, he/she/they grace the music world with a Christmas album. Over the years performers from every genre and musical style have either given thier take on standards such as White Christmas or Silver Bells or submitted their own contributions to the Holiday canon.

Not surprisingly, the quality of the music varies from timeless classics, (Bing Crosby, Vince Giraldi, Johnny Mathis) to novelties (The Chipmunks, Toolbox Christmas) to the downright unlistenable (Jackie Wilson, Kenny G). Even some amateurs have darkened the studio doorstep to lay down on wax their own version of Christmas cheer.

However, there are some artists who simply have no business writing, singing or even being associated with Christmas. Ozzy Ozbourne, Bob Dylan and Alice Cooper come to mind. Up until a few days ago I would have put Billy Idol in that category as well.

That was until I opened the Sunday ad for a locally based major electronics retailer, who by the who are a bunch of money-grubbing, profit-over-customer-focused bastards. But that’s another story. As FrankenKristin and I were looking over the ad, marveling at all the TVs and computers we can’t afford, we saw this picture staring back at us.

After cleaning up the coffee that had just been spit across the living room, we vowed to pick up a copy if only for the picture. Could it be that Billy Idol, the pin-up boy of Punk Rock himself, had gone all Perry Como on us? Surely this was a lark. Or better yet, a punk record disguised to send the Geritol set headlong into Depends territory.

After reading the Billy Idol website, as well as the liner notes, I was blown away by his utter sincerity. It seems that Billy Idol, Mr Flesh for Fantasy, fancies himself a regular Father Christmas.

What about the music, you say? Well, surprisingly, it’s not all that bad. The production is a little cheesy and some of the instrumentation sounds like it was done on a $79 Casio keyboard, but Billy does a pretty good job of not screwing around too much with tradition. The guy can carry a tune, which helps, and thankfully he knows how far so he avoids ruining a simple melody the way Mariah Carey might. He seems comfortable with most of the arrangements his gravely baritone voice is as strong as ever. In fact Rod Stewart should take notes because Billy’s voice sounds like what Rod can only wish for these days.

In addition to classics like “White Christmas”, “Frosty The Snowman” and “Silver Bells”, Billy has penned a few of his own including “Christmas Love” and the aptly named “Happy Holiday” (sure to piss off Bill O’Reilly). Both songs sound great and feature just a hint of that Billy Idol attitude. My only complaint is that the CD doesn’t come with more pictures. The sight of Billy Idol lounging in a high back easy chair next to the fireplace, donning a smoking jacket and slippers would be priceless.

Thanks Billy, and Happy Holiday to you too.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Sunday Trumpet

Sorry. I'm a few days late in getting this up but it has been damn cold in my house for the last week. The inside temp as hovered between 52° - 59° most of the week. On Saturday we managed to get it up to a balmy 62°. Fortunately we have been having a minor heat wave with daytime highs in the 30°s. Monday my dad got the furnace going again and now the kids are complaining that 68° is too hot. Go figure.

Nonetheless it is time for the Sunday Trumpet, our weekly contribution from the Spradic Gasbag Roundtable. This week Atilla The Mom takes a stab in the fog at The Ghost Wisperererer. Read her review to find out just what is wrong with mainstream American TV and just what is right about Jennifer Love Hewitt's breasts.


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Friday, December 08, 2006

I'm Your Christmasman

Inspired by Dorky Dad, I started wondering what it might sound like if Curtis Mayfield had written the theme song to that animated classic, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". I think it might go something like this:

Christmasman (Sing to the tune of Pusherman)

I'm your Mama
I'm your Daddy
I'm that Kringle
In the alley
I'm your doctor
When in need
Want some toys?
Here have these
You know me
I'm your friend
Your main boy
Thick and thin

I'm your Christmasman (2x)

Ain't I clean
Toy machine
Super cool
I ain’t mean
Dealin' good
For The Man
Here I stand
Secret stash
Heavy bread
Baddest elves
In the land

I'm your Christmasman (3x)

Silent life of good deeds
A man of odd circumstance
a victim of winter demands
I need no money for style
But I'll let you trip for a while
I’m secure from the past
How long can a good thing last?
Woo-hoo, no...

Got to be givin, y'all
Gotta get givin, now
Christmasman, he be givin y'all

Heavy mind
Heavy sign
Makin' joy
All the time
My reindeer
And just me
For all kiddies
To see
Winter Prince
Is my thing
Makin' toys’
How I swing

I'm your Christmasman (2x)

Full bags, please
Take no fee
Make your world
What you want it to be
Got a woman I love desperately
Cant’ give her nuttin’ better than me
Been told I shoul’nt be nuthin' else
Just a giver in spite of myself
I know I can break it
This life just don't change it
Lord, Lord, yeah

Got to be givin’ now
Gotta be givin’ y'all
Got to be givin’ now

I'm your Mama
I'm your Daddy
I'm that Kringle
In the alley
I'm your doctor
When in need
Want some toys?
Here take these
You know me
I'm your friend
Your main boy
Thick and thin

I'm your Christmasman (4x)
Lord, Lord

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Weather Inside Is Frightful

Temperatures in MN recently have hovered below freezing for over a week. Highs have been in the mid 20s Farenheit with lows in the single digits. In short, winter is here.

To combat the escalating cost of natural gas, we keep our thermostat set at 68°F during the day and 64°F at night. When I get up in the morning I turn up the heat so that the house is warm by the time the kids wake up. On the days FrankenKristin works we leave the temperature down in order to save a little money. After all the dog has a thick coat so she can handle to cooler temps for a few hours.

However, when I woke up Monday morning I was surprised to see the temperature in our house was 62°F. I turned the thermostat up to 68°F but by the time I left for work an hour later the temp had not gone up at all. In fact it had gone down to 60°F. This made me nervous.

So before I left I went down stairs to take a look at the furnace. Given my ignorance of most things mechanical I stared at it for a while, turned it on and off a few times and then gave it a good WHACK! For whatever reason, the furnace kicked in, so I asked FrankenKristin to keep an eye on the temp and let me know if it gets any colder.

It didn’t last too long because by the time I got home from work the inside temp was down to 58°F. Luckily we were having a short warm streak so the outside temp had actually risen to 30°F. Nonetheless it was still pretty cold.

The last time this happened the problem was due to a bad igniter, so in a rush I headed off to the hardware store. When I returned I installed the igniter, said a prayer to St. Lawrence and switched on the furnace. The igniter glowed nicely but the gas never kicked in. I ran through the morning ritual again but to no avail. Even the WHACK didn't help. Meanwhile the temp inside (and outside) continued to get colder.

The guy who installed the furnace is a good friend of my parents, and we have recently been talking with him about upgrading anyway, so I gave him a call to see if he had any ideas. Of course he wasn’t home so I left a message and hoped he might return my call in the morning. At bedtime we dressed the kids in long pajamas and piled them up with blankets. FrankenKristin and I did our best to warm up our bed too but that only lasts so long.

When I woke up the next day the inside temp had dropped to 53°F. As left for work I called my brother-in-law. One of his high school friends is an HVAC guy and coincidentally, used to work the guy I had left a message for the night before. He said he couldn't look at it because he was in South Dakota and wouldn’t be home until Friday. He did agree to make a few calls and see if he could find someone who might be able to help. Two hours later he left a message saying that none of his guys had gotten back to him so he was going to have his dad take a look at the furnace. He said his dad is a plumber but he assured me that he knows some things about heating as well.

Since both FrankenKristin and I were at work I had my dad go over to the house to let this guy in. When he called a few hours later he said that he’d poked around a bit and determined that there was probably some corrosion in the gas valve. How did he know this, you ask? Apparently he tapped on the valve, near where the piston is located, and that triggered the heat to come on. He said that the their is a small piston inside and it has probably gotten stuck due to a build-up of gunk. He made it clear that this was a temporary fix and that he couldn’t guarantee how long it would continue to work.

We discussed the cost of replacing the gas valve as well as the sensor inside the furnace that regulates the temp and decided that, since the furnace is nearly 20 years old, it would probably be in our best interest to look at getting a new furnace sooner rather than later.

Guess what I'm getting for Christmas?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Our Fine Four Fendered Friend

I watched this movie with the kids over the weekend and now I can't get the damn theme song out of my head. It didn't help to have my kids singing it over and over and over on a two-and-a-half hour car ride.


Monday, November 20, 2006

The Day They Cut My Wife's Head Open

This is the latest chapter in the FrankenKristin's tale. If you would like to read previous installments please visit:

Chapter 1: That's Fronkensteen!!
Chapter 1.5: Point of Clarification
Chapter 2: You Know I'm A Rather Brilliant Surgeon
Chapter 3: You Have Got To Be Kidding Me!
Chapter 4: Opinions Are Like...

Kristin was scheduled for surgery to correct her Chiari Malformation on Wednesday, September 28th, 2005. The symptoms necessitating surgery were brought on by two car accidents earlier in the year. We flew to NY on Monday and went straight to the clinic for pre-surgical testing. The surgery was to take place at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) in Manhasset, NY which is where The Chiari Institute began, and where they perform all of their procedures. Because the hospital is in the middle of a Long Island suburb there aren’t a lot of hotels nearby. The few nearby require a 20 minute cab ride or a 40 minute bus ride.

Fortunately NSUH hosts The Variety House, an old brick house providing temporary shelter for out-of-town visitors on an as-needed basis. It wasn’t the fanciest of places but it was across the street and was free. As we made arrangements we were told that they had a room for us on the dates we were to arrive but we should know that if an “emergency case” were to arrive we might get bumped. Luckily we weren’t.

On Tuesday we visited my cousin and her new baby, which was a miserable experience for Kristin. The train and subway ride to her apartment in New Jersey took about an hour and was incredibly painful. As much as Kristin loves holding babies doing so was nearly impossible. However, she’s not one to pass up the chance to hold a baby so she made the best of it.

We returned to the Variety House that evening and began the long, sleepless night before surgery. Everything we had done for the last 8 months had led to this day. We were confident that we were making the right decision but that didn’t stop her from feeling nervous. After all, it’s not everyday that you have your head cut open. Unlike Kristin, I did manage to sleep a little bit.

During our prep the hospital staff was made it very clear that we needed to be in the admissions room NO LATER THAN 5:30am for check-in. If we were late we could lose our appointment. So, even though the hospital is across the street we got out of bed at 5:00am and headed off. To make matters worse the cafeteria wasn’t open so I COULDN’T GET ANY COFFEE!!

We were one of the first in the admitting room and were promptly told that we would be called when it was our turn. So we waited, and waited, and waited, while nearly everyone else in the waiting room was led of to the respective procedures. We sat for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, around 7:30 we were told that there was a problem with the schedule and that they might not be able to do the procedure due to an emergency surgery taking place in Dr. Milhorat’s operating room. Referring to him as "The Big Kahuna", the nurses commented to themselves that it must be a big deal as Dr. Milhorat is the Chief of Neurosurgery and practically owns the place.

Kristin and I asked how long it might take and were informed that it may be a short while or possibly several hours before they knew what would hapen. Since Kristin was going to use the time to sleep the nurse suggested I step out and grab some coffee and a paper as the cafeteria was now open. She assured us that it would be fine and that I could take my time.

When I returned with coffee and paper in hand the admissions staff said that not more than 5 minutes after I left they came to get her. She said they offered to wait but Kristin assured them I didn’t need to see her off, I would be fine. She had come this far and waited long enough, she had no interest in waiting any longer. So while I was buying my coffee she mounted the gurney and headed off to the OR. She also asked them to tell me not to stick around as it would be at least 5-7 hours before they were done and that I may as well do something with my day. The coffee and adrenaline had me too hopped up to sleep so rather than return to the Variety House I made my way to the train station and decided I’d do a little siteseeing.

If you have never been to Flushing Meadows Corona Park I highly recommend it. In 1940 it was the site of the World’s Fair and is adjacent to Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, and Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the U.S. Open. Also located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is the Queens Museum of Art. The QMA houses one of the largest collection of Tiffany Glass and also features a full scale panorama of New York City including all five boroughs. If you're ever in the neighborhood I suggest you visit.

As for the surgery, here is what happened according to the post-op report:

Posterior fossa decompression under color Doppler ultrasonography guidance consisting of a suboccipital craniotomy, C1 and partial C2 laminectomy, dural opening, microlysis of arachnoidal adhesions, bipolar shrinkage of the cerebral tonsils, expansile duraplasty implying autogeneous pericranium, and remodeling of the posterior cranial fossa with a titanium mesh/acrylic cranioplasty.

In regular terms that means they cut out a piece of her skull, and removed portions of the C1 and C2 vertebra. Using color Doppler ultrasonography to monitor cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), they burned away a portion of her cerebral tonsils until the CSF flow was restored to normal. They finished by using a section of her pericranium and a titanium plate to cover the hole in her head and create a little more room. You can watch video of a similar procedure here.

I met with Dr. Milhorat after the surgery and he stated that Kristin had “quite a Chiari”. He said that her tonsils were herniated 10cm on one side and 12cm on the other. Because of this, as well as the lack of additional space in the back of her head, her CSF flow was completely blocked. They restored the flow to normal and were confident that she would make a proper recovery. They were unable to find any sign of permanent nerve or spinal cord damage. What he could not account for were those symptoms that would be consistent with whiplash resulting from the two car accidents. He cautioned us that as she recovers from the surgery (which could take up to a year) we would still want to seek evaluation and treatment for whiplash as well.

When they had finished patching her up she was ushered into the recovery room and I was invited to see her. She looked like crap and I was told that once the anesthesia wore off she would feel like crap as well. I was also told that she wouldn't be moved to a regular room until the next day since there weren’t any available at the time. Her aunt Kathy (the nurse) was flying in that night and would be spending the next several days caring for her so that I could return home to be with the kids. Because I couldn’t stay at the hospital and there was only one room available at the Variety House, it was either share a bed with her aunt or get a hotel room. I chose the hotel, much to Kathy's relief. I did offer to sleep with one foot on the floor but she wouldn't compromise.

Kristin spent most of Thursday in a dilauded-induced haze. The hopsital staff indicated that there wasn't much for us to do until she was more awake so I offered to take Kathy into the city and show her around. It had been several years since she had been to NYC so I took her to Ground Zero and Little Italy. We met my cousin and her husband who drove us back to hospital and I spent the night sleeping in a chair next in her room. The next day I flew home leaving her in the competent care of Nurse Kathy and the staff at NSUH.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Sunday Trumpet

With this week's review, Heather proves that breaking up isn't so hard to do afterall. Check out her review of The Breakup.


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Thursday, November 16, 2006

My New Toy

It's a Yamaha 12-string acoustic. I traded it for an old 6-string electric I haven't played in 10 years. That still keeps the total at four guitars, one mandolin and one banjo.

I haven't quite figured out how to play the banjo yet.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Happy Texas Is A Sad Place To Be

**NOTE** My IPS was giving me trouble yesterday so I wasn't able to post this on time. Please excuse the delay.

Thank you,

The Management

In the movies there are a several well-worn script formulas. One of the most common is the caught-in-a-situation-forced-to-be-something-you’re-not template. Over the years there have been some wonderful examples:

Some Like it Hot - Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau try pass themselves off as female musicians to hilarious effect.

The Music Man - The movie version featured Robert Preston as a slick traveling salesman attempting to convince an entire town that their biggest social ill is six-pocket pool and the remedy is a community marching band. Preposterous, I know, but it worked.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Steve Martin and Michael Caine play con men each trying to out con the other only be take by their mark.

School of Rock – Jack Black masqarades as a teacher attempting to convince a group of incorrigible little grade school students (and himself) that they have what it takes to be rock stars.

Unfortunately Happy Texas is not one of them.

The plot summary on IMDB describes the movie this way:

Two escaped convicts (Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn) arrive in the town of Happy, Texas, where they are mistaken for a gay couple who is to host the town's Little Miss Fresh Squeezed beauty pageant. Enjoying the celebrity and using their skill as con-men, the two adopt their persona to take on the task.

OK. But what the summary does NOT tell you is that there is no way on God’s green earth that anyone, not even the small town rubes of Happy, Texas, would believe that Steve Zahn could pass as a gay man. Even if he does go by David rather than Dave. Not since the '70s would a gay man be caught dead with facial hair like that unless he was auditioning for a Village People revivial or Freddy Mercury impersenator. I'm all for suspended disbelief, but this going a bit too far.

Sadly, this movie makes absolutely no effort to depict its actors as anything other than caricatures. Whether its Jo the small town bank manager, who turns out to be a woman, or the frumpy school teacher who is really a sex-crazed vixen, or the bumbling cast of local yokels, it's clear that character development was not in thr formula. Not even William H. Macy (as the “secretive” town sheriff) can save this shallow, sophomoric piece of crap. While the script gives them very little to work with, most of these actors display the range of a Daisy air rifle. And is Jeremy Northam trying to channel Alec Baldwin or does he always sound like that?

Although the writers probably think they’re clever, there is very little in this movie that actually passes for comedy. Naming your main character Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. is the sort of creative writing I would expect from a third grade comic book, not a feature film. And in this post Jon Benet world, calling the pageant "Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed" is down right creepy.

Half way through the movie Steve Zahn takes his frustration out on his partner this way,

"If you ever leave me with a kid again I'll make sure you never have one. You have no idea what those screaming booger eaters are like. They expect you to... know stuff!"

As an audience, we do too. Like HOW TO BE FUNNY!!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An Open Letter To Michele Bachmann

Dear Ms. Bachmann-

Congratulations on your victory. If one thing is for certain, it’s that you have figured out how to run a winning political campaign. Yesterday, you were successful in defeating, Patty Wetterling. I can only hope that she is able to recover from the hateful things that were said about her on your behalf - and continue her excellent work in the field of child safety.

I should be upfront and tell you that I would not be considered one of your biggest fans. In fact, I have found myself in opposition to nearly everything you have stood for publicly. Except for one thing, we both believe in God. Which brings me to my concern.

I, along with many others, had a chance to view your remarks at the Living Word Christian Center last month. I took note when you exclaimed that God called you to run for the United States Congress. This of course is in not uncommon, history is filled with stories of good and decent people listening to and answering the call to serve God and creation. I was a bit taken aback though when you stated that, “God has focused like a laser beam, in his reasoning, on (your) race.”

With all that God has going on right now, I was surprised to hear that He had chosen to accompany you on the campaign trail. Especially given the large number of powerful people who have already lent their support your way including Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, President Bush and Laura Bush. But He is omnipotent and all knowing so perhaps He could tell you needed a little extra push.

That is why I was so surprised last night when I listened to your victory speech on the radio. You’re opening comment about approving this message was clever and showed a sense of irony that usually seems lost on you. You went on to thank a number of people including your husband, children, campaign staff, volunteers and donors. I couldn’t help noticing that, absent from that list, was God Himself.

Please tell me this was an oversight. I would hate to think that, after all God had done for you, after all He must have given up in order to focus like a laser beam on your race, that you would be so callous as to toss Him aside now that your mission had been accomplished. I can understand why you might not have invited Him to you victory party. After all, He’s God, you wouldn’t want Him stealing the spotlight. But would it have hurt you to at least offer a word or two of acknowledgement. It just seems disrespectful given that you practically wore Him around your neck like a shawl during the campaign. Fortunately for you, God is forgiving (at least the God I believe in is), but I wouldn’t blame Him if He didn’t speak to you for a while.

Either way, you might want to think about looking Him up in the next few days. I’m pretty sure He’ll listen.

One more thing, when you get to Congress, please don’t waste your entire two years trying to mess with the Constitution, it’s a pretty sacred document. And keep your guard up, I heard they let gays and Muslims in now.



Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Sunday Trumpet

Finally! Someone else is willing to stand up and proclaim that the Wizard has no clothes. This week Miss Keeks takes on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Although I did like her review of the book better than her review of the movie.


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Friday, November 03, 2006

Oh Brother! Where Art Thou Cojones?

Last night I saw an amazing live show. It was at a local club once made famous but a skinny little guy in purple tights. The band was Split Lip Rayfield.

I first saw them when the opened up for The Drive-By Truckers a few years ago. At that time I had no idea what to expect but with a name like that it was worth a try. Since then I’ve seen them several times and I am continually blown away.

SLR hails from Lawrence, KS and sounds like a cross between Metallica and The Del McCoury Band. With four part harmonies at breakneck tempo, their music is firmly rooted in the bluegrass tradition but their influences are clearly more punk-rock in nature. With song titles such as Redneck Tailgate Dream, C’mon Get Your Gun, 3.2 Flu and How Many Biscuits Can You Eat? they have figured out how to tap the age-old themes of country music and bring them into the 21st century.

The line-up consists of:

- Kirk Rundstrom (guitar) - with the armload of tattoos and creepy Deliverance stare he looks like he’d just as soon smash the guitar over your head than play it. But play it he can.

- Eric Mardis (banjo) - This guy won’t be getting a day-job playing the banjo at Shakey’s Pizza any time soon. He does things with the banjo that Roy Clark wishes he could do.

- Wayne Gottstine (mandolin) - This guy surely must have had a motor and ball joint surgically implanted in his wrist. He can move his hand so fast that it is literally a blur.

- Jeff Eaton (one-string gas tank bass) – With a body made from the gas tank of a '65 Ford and one string of weed whip line, this guy is an entire rhythm section onto himself.

Together these guys whip up more energy than any band I’ve seen in a long time. While their CDs are good they pale in comparison to the live shows.

Unfortunately their days are numbered. Earlier this year guitarist Kirk Rundstrom was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Although he identifies music as the thing that makes him the happiest he has decided to retire from performing to concentrate in his health. The band is taking one last run before hanging up SLR for good.

Don’t miss your chance to see these guys before they are gone.

And donate some money to the Kirk Rundstrom Cancer Fund too.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fill It To The Rim With Brim

In addition to my job with the school district I work part time as a server for a catering company. It is a fairly high end company focusing on weddings, corporate events and private parties. We also specialize in Kosher food. I am the guy in the white shirt and bowtie pouring your wine and clearing your plates.

Over the weekend we worked a fairly small wedding (only about 200 guests) at the Wiseman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota Campus. The meal consisted of a buffet of chicken stroganoff, beef tenderloin, boiled potatoes, roasted vegetables and three different salads. For dessert we offered a choice of pumpkin pie or apple cake. For some reason I was stuck with the table full of college friends. You know, the people who don’t know anyone other than themselves and spend most of the time drinking and amusing each other.

I sat at that table many times.

After dessert, as I was pouring coffee, I approached my table full of revelers, many of whom had made more than their share of visits to the open bar. I asked one young guy (he couldn’t have been more than 22) if he wanted coffee.

“Just half-a-cup”, he replied.

“Only half-a-cup, don’t you like my coffee?” I asked, proud of my obscure pop culture reference.

Apparently it was a bit more obscure than I thought. This guy looked at me for nearly 30 seconds, with the blankest of stares before responding, “I..uh…it’s just that’t want that much…” He may have actually thought I was offended.

Am I the only one who remembers Brim coffee?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Sunday Trumpet

Due to certain circumstances, today's regularly scheduled Gasbag Review will not appear. Instead Omninaif has agreed to fill in with his take on Most Haunted. A truly "scary" show. Check it out.


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Thursday, October 26, 2006

How About That!!

It seems that my screed on Michele Bachmann caught the eye of Tim O'Brien, Letters Editor for the Enemy Paper. He referenced it in a commentary written a couple of days ago.

Blogger's video pulls back the curtain on Bachmann

The thousands, even millions, of dollars spent on television advertising trying to create a public persona for a candidate is no match for a blogger with a video camera. Michele Bachmann found that out this week.

The Republican candidate for the Sixth District U.S. House seat had done a remarkable -- one might even say deceptive -- job presenting herself as a moderate tax-cutter to voters until her appearance on Sunday at Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park. While the media have focused on the complaint filed with the IRS by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which claimed that, for endorsing Bachmann, the church's tax-exempt status should be revoked, bloggers focused more on the content of Bachmann's "sermon"...

Sven of Sven's Personal Memos had some questions about Bachmann's powwows with the almighty. "Did God tell you to hate gay people? ... Did God tell you to legislate against a minimum wage? Did God tell you to claim [that] education is your #1 issue and yet center your efforts on destroying public schools? ... Did God tell you we should consider nuking Iran? If God had told you not to run would you have listened?"...

He even spelled my name right.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Sunday Trumpet

This week Jod{i} at Looking Through The Cracked Window savages one of her own with her review of Wolf Creek. Gives new meaning to a horrific movie.

Think you have what it takes to blow The Sunday Trumpet? Join the Sporadic Gasbag Roundtable today!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Opinions Are Like...

Girl: Sounds like a subdural hematoma to me.
Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: Oh, it does, does it? Well, it's not your job to diagnose.
Girl: But I thought...
Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: You thought, you thought. Just go. Three years of nursery school and you think you know it all. Well, you're still wet behind the ears. It's not a subdural hematoma. It's *epidural*. Ha.

This is Chapter Four in the tale of FrankenKristin’s brain. Below is a brief summary of the saga so far. If you would like to read the each installment please visit:

Chapter 1: That's Fronkensteen!!
Chapter 1.5: Point Of Clarification
Chapter 2: You Know I'm A Rather Brilliant Surgeon
Chapter 3: You Have Got To Be Kidding Me!

Let’s recap.

In January 2005, my wife was involved in a car accident leaving her with severe whiplash and a newly diagnosed Arnold Chiari Malformation, which up to this point we did not know it existed. As symptoms worsened she began to focus on the ACM as the primary source of the problem. Since she was unable to find any direction from her chiropractor, nurse practitioner or physical therapist she turned to the internet and found a support group dedicated to assisting people afflicted with this disorder. They directed her to a reputable local neurosurgeon who conducted the most basic of evaluations and determined the ACM asymptomatic.

Finding no one else in Minnesota who specialized in this area, we went The Chiari Institute (TCI) for a definitive second opinion. After determining the ACM to be the cause of her problems and identifying surgery as the only treatment she scheduled an appointment and began to wait the 3 months until her date. During this time we were involved in another car accident which significantly worsened her symptoms and made the need for surgery even more pressing.

With the pain nearly unbearable and the surgery still several weeks off we began the still continuing battle with the insurance companies. At this point the auto insurance company representing the driver in the first accident denied responsibility and his position was supported by a third-party arbitrator.

The driver in the second accident was uninsured so we were unable to go after him for much more than a cost of a doughnut. And since he was not in custody we didn’t know whether we would ever see him again. Furthermore we were quite certain she would exhaust her no-fault benefits through our own carrier and thus began to cut back on acupuncture and massage in order to save up for what we anticipated would be a $100Kplus medical bill. Since TCI was not covered by our health care provider she began the process to request in-network benefits for non-network services.

This is where we pick-up the story.


As I mentioned, the driver in the first accident had denied responsibility and his position was supported by a third party arbitrator. Because of this we had pretty much given up hope getting a settlement. So we had to rely on our own auto insurance company until we were able to come to some sort of arrangement with our health care provider.

Since Minnesota is a no-fault state we were entitled to $20,000 in medical expenses, to be used for whatever we felt was necessary. After the second accident our auto insurance company closed the first claim and opened a new one focusing on the facts of the new case. What we found out later was that although she had not exhausted the original $20,000, all of her treatment from this point on was attributed to the second accident and was deducted from a new pot of money.

This is when the insurance company started to panic.

Because fault in the first accident had been attributed to Kristin and the second was caused by an uninsured driver, there was nowhere for them to go in order to recover their costs. And since it was clear that, due to the pending surgery we would certainly max out our limit, they hoped to avoid the possibility that they might have to continue to pay for her care.

So a few weeks after the second accident, our auto insurance informed us that they had stopped all payment and were demanding that Kristin undergo an Independent Medical Exam. Apparently they were questioning whether the symptoms were really brought on by the car accidents and if so how much should apportioned to each accident.

Don’t let the name fool you, an Independent Medical Exam is anything but independent. In fact, the only choice she had in the matter was what to wear. We were given a date, told when and where to show up and instructed not to contact them for anything other than directions.

The doctor, also a neurosurgeon, began by documenting the facts regarding the accidents and then reviewed her medical history. Later he conducted a neurological exam and while he tried to be accommodating, forced her to do things that caused her significant pain. He asked about our visit to New York and inquired as to whether we were serious about surgery. He of course took a conservative approach and cautioned us against making any hasty decisions.

While he was a nice guy he most certainly did not have our interest in mind. Nor was he truly attempting to form an independent opinion. In fact he made every effort to suggest that Kristin’s Chiari-related symptoms pre-dated the accident and attributed the remainder to the first accident thereby resolving the insurance company of anything other than what was owed us under our no-fault benefits.

But not before he suggested that we get a 3rd opinion. Although he tried to present the suggestion in a diplomatic fashion it was clear that he was simply trying to avoid having to contradict the opinion of Dr. Bolognese, one of the foremost experts in the field of Chiari Malformation. If they could find someone who would say that the situation was not accident related, they might not have to cover anything.

The ironic twist is that the official request for a 3rd opinion was mailed to our house the day after Kristin’s surgery. We were in NY at the time so we didn’t get the letter until I came home a week later. After returning home and speaking with a claims representative, we informed them that we would NOT be seeking a 3rd opinion as Kristin had already undergone surgery. Our claim rep. put Kristin on hold and went to discuss the situation with her supervisor. After asking whether the surgery had been successful, she stated that they would cover up to the limit of no fault benefits, and that then our case would be closed. Although it was only a small protion of total bill it was the first piece of good news we had received so far.

At this point we had gone as far as we could with the car insurance company and now set our sights on obtaining network coverage for The Chiari Institute. This was a whole different battle.

* Dialogue courtesy of The Man With Two Brains.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I Pity The Fool

I know, I know, every community has their political crackpots. One of the most notorious in our area is Minneapolis City Council Member Phyllis Kahn. She is known for suggesting that the right to vote be granted to 12-year olds and that the MN State Legislature pay the salary of MN Twins pitcher Brad Radke. A nutball to be sure. But no politician anywhere in the country, not even Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave comes close to the lunacy that is 6th district Republican candidate Michele Bachmann.

For those who aren't up on MN politics Michele Bachmann currently holds a seat in the MN State Senate, in a very conservative and very "Christian" portion of the Twin Cities metro area. Her support is based largely on people who identify themselves as values voters. Unfortunately for her, the wheels seem to be coming off the "values voters" train.

The most recent incident took place over the weekend at a local evangelical church where she was introduced from the pulpit by Reverend Mac Hammond and offered the opportunity to disguise a campaign speech as a sermon, even though the practice is a violation of the law. But that didn't stop her from stumping for votes anyway. And she did so in true Michele Bachmann style, by catering to her audience's lowest common denominator. Rather than discuss the issues of the day she simply spoke the code language of Evangelical Christians in an effort to lull them in to supporting her otherwise vacuous campaign. Here is a sample of her speech:

God called me to run for the Unite States Congress...And I thought...who in their right mind would spend two years to run for a job that lasts two years? You'd have to be absolutely a fool to do that. You are now looking at a fool for Christ.

So God speaks to Michele Bachmann, fine. And perhaps she does indeed see her candidacy as a calling, that's fine too. But I have to wonder if she ever stopped to ask why God chose her and what he told her she should do with her time in office. Based on her record in the Minnesota State Legislature I have few questions of my own:

* Did God tell you to hate gay people? Even your own family member?

* Did God tell you that you should spy on your political adversaries? And then lie about your intentions?

* Did God tell you demonize the entire judicial system by labeling jurists with whom you disagree, "activist judges".

* Did God tell you to legislate against a minimum wage?

* Did God tell you to claim the education is your #1 issue and yet center your efforts on destroying public schools?

* Did God tell you that some cultures are superior to others or did you make that one up on your own?

* Did God tell you we should consider nuking Iran?

* If God had told you not to run would you have listened?

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Republicans or Evangelical Christians. In fact some of my best family members fall into one or both of those categories. Just don't confuse your religious convictions for a political mandate. Keep in mind that every major world conflict throughout history had its basis in religion. In fact ever since Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century, the church in all its forms, has used its power in decidedly un-Christian ways. In the words of Pastor Greg Boyd, of Woodland Hills Church, and author of The Myth of a Christian Nation, "When we pick up the sword we put down the cross."

Perhaps if more of us Christians carried crosses instead of swords we might actually begin to live the word of God. Rather than exercising power over we should instead focus on power under. Serving with love not might.

As for Reverend Hammond, it seems he is in a bit of hot water himself. During the service he announced that he, "Can't publicly endorse as a church and would not for any candidate. But I can tell you personally that I'm going to vote for Michele Bachmann." Except that he can't. You see the good Reverend lives in the 3rd district and therefore can't vote for Michelle Bachmann or her rival, child safety advocate, Patty Wetterling. Why would he lie from the pulpit unless it was to endorse a candidate? The weekend's antics have also run afoul of IRS for violating their tax exempt status.

Is that how we give Glory to God?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Sunday Trumpet

Well we're at it again. And this year a whole new crop of Gasbags have planted their arses at the Round Table and their lips on the Trumpet. This week Marymurtz attempts a new staging of the Andrew Llyd Webber classic, Phantom of the Opera.

Perhaps she would prefer this adaptation. At least with Paul Williams you know what you're getting.


Think you have what it takes to blow The Sunday Trumpet? Join the Sporadic Gasbag Roundtable.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Got Game

Last night I did it for the first time in 8 months.

I started out a little nervous because it had been so long. Frankly, I wasn't sure how I would perform.

I think about doing it a lot. Lately I just haven’t been that lucky. Don't get me wrong, I’ve done it occasionally by myself but it's just not the same when you’re alone. I just hoped when that when the time came I would remember what to do.

I'm not careless, so of course I wore protection. When I was younger I tended to be a bit brash, thinking mostly of myself. With experience I began to feel more confident in my technique. Although it’s a very physical activity, to perform well requires gentle hands as well as equal parts practiced finesse and blind passion.

I’ve certainly done it many times before but still, I was anxious. Will I remember what to do with my stick? What if I can’t shoot anymore? I hope I don’t say anything stupid?

As I started, my heart began to race and I could feel my face getting flush. Soon my body was glistening with sweat, every muscle tensed. The longer I kept going the heavier my breathing became. I could feel the rush of excitement building with every movement. I would not stop until I scored.

When I finally finished, my whole body went limp and I collapsed in a combination of exhaustion and relief.

Basking in the afterglow, I wondered why I waited so long and I promised myself to do it again as soon as possible.

Man, I love this game.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

B as in B*ll, S as in Sh*t

I need to get this off my chest too.

Former Rep. Mark Foley is a sick man. However, exactly what sickens him is apparently up for debate. It seems that the former congressman believes the best way to address his potentially criminal sexual behavior is to enter drug and alcohol treatment.

This is what we call b*llsh*t! Don't try to hide you obviously inappropriate sexual behavior behind the veil of a more socially acceptable drug and alcohol problem. WE ARE NOT THAT STUPID!

Thanks to local columnist Ruben Rosario for setting the record straight. His article today should be required reading.


Apparently it is not enough to blame this scandal alcohol. The talking heads and politcal apologists have amassed quite an impressive list of diversionary targets. So far they have blamed the scandal on:

- Alcohol
- Bill Clinton
- Democrats in Congress
- The Catholic Church
- The Media
- George Soros
- The entire congressional page program
- And the victim himself

Perhaps the party of presonal responsibility should consider practicing what they preach.

You Bring The Guns, I'll Bring The Roses

I'm going to get back to FrankenKristin's Tale soon but first I have to get this off my chest.


The spoiled brat is at it again.

Apparently not pleased with his status in the "Where Are They Now?" file, arrogant bastard Axl Rose recently launched a Guns and Roses tour of North American, including a stop here in the Twin Cities. Whether the show actually takes place is another matter. Mr. Rose is notorious for showing up late to performances, sometimes as much as 3-4 hours late, and canceling dates in the middle of a tour.

He also claims that the band is finally going release Chinese Democracy, the long awaited (and now mocked) follow up to Appetite for Destruction. Given that he has been putting off the release of this album for at least 5 years I won't be holding by breath.

It also seems a bit disingenuous to call themselves Guns and Roses since he is the only remaining member of the original band. Or at least the only one who contributed anything. Even Johnny Rotten had the decency to hang up the Sex Pistols name after Sid Vicous died.

Besides, history does not look kindly on bands and artists waiting this long to release a "follow-up" to a commercially successful album. Can anyone say Third Stage by Boston or Bat Out Of Hell II by Meatloaf? Both of these albums were as highly anticipated as they were disappointing. In fact they were so bad as to almost make In The Dark by the Greatful Dead listenable.


Axl, your fifteen minutes was up years ago. Do us all a favor and go away.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lights In The Loafers

Sometimes you just have to find out how things work.

When I was a kid, my friend and I used to steal alarm clocks and smash them just to see what was inside. We had no intention of ever learning how to make or repair alarm clocks and we made no effort to put them back together. The simple act of destruction was enough.

Due to my lack of mechanical aptitude, and the fear of eventually getting caught stealing stuff, I gave up the alarm clock habit but never lost the fascination for discovery. I still hold a certain reverence for inventors and artists even though I am woefully lacking in anything that might even remotely equate to creativity.

Follow directions? Sure. Make something out of nothing? Don’t count on it.

But the curiosity still haunts me.

So it was recently that my uncle and I began talking about my son’s light-up Spiderman shoes. As he streaked by, oblivious to the blinking red blur that was his feet, we wondered aloud as to how the shoes worked. Since my uncle was leaving town the next day, I was assigned the task of finding out. I began to feel a childlike rush as the thought of dissection in the name of discovery once again filled my head. This time, I was determined not only to destroy but also understand.

Unlike alarm clocks, shoes don’t respond well to being smashed by a rock so I was forced to rely on a more skillful method of gaining entry. Thanks to my experience in the kitchen I have become pretty handy with a knife. So with a few careful incisions, I was able to fillet the first shoe like a walleye and separate the sole from the upper.

My inner child marveled at the waffle-like sole, its grooves filled with wires each terminating in a small Light Emitting Diode (LED). At the heel was the power source, a small box of encapsulated resin containing a standard watch battery. Inside the box, a small vibrating wire completed the circuit allowing the shoe to light up with each step.

Light up shoes were first introduced in 1992 by L.A. Gear. As the novelty for adults wore off, shoemakers turned to kids. These days nearly half of all children’s sneakers have some sort of light emitting from one place or another.

Early designs used mercury tilt switches. They were reliable, but the mercury resulted in a sneaker that was considered hazardous waste by the US Environmental Protection Agency. After discovering the disadvantages of the mercury tilt switch, designers substituted a plastic tab depressed by the weight of the wearer. They were environmentally safe, but not reliable. Plastic fatigue would set in and the light would stay on until the batteries discharged. Sealing the battery and switch in resin prevented this from happening but rendered the solder points as the weak link in the system. Once broken, those points are impossible to fix without tearing the shoes apart. Unfortunately putting the shoes back together is just as difficult.

As of late, the market for adult light up shoes is thin. Gone are the days of grown men and women blinking up and down neighborhood basketball courts and cops following the Rudolph-like trail of escaping crooks. But thanks to the internet all hope is not lost.With a little ingenuity, simple step-by-step instructions and a few basic tools, it is once again possible to be the coolest person in the office. The experts at Talky Tina Press now offer everything you need to pimp your wingtips.

It gives new meaning to “light in the loafers”.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

When Mountains Crumble To The Sea...

Twelve years ago today Sven and FrankenKristin were married. We asked her cousin Debbie to draw the invitations.

On that day, then President Clinton was scheduled to be in town for a campaign visit, so we invited him to the ceremony. Not surprisingly, he did not show up but we did receive a very nice card with computer generated signatures of the President and First Lady.

I also wrote a song the occasion. To this day it is the only time I was ever truly nervous playing and singing.

Gitsul was the best man.

After the ceremony we went downtown and had pictures take on Cafesjian's Carousel.

Being young, nontraditional idealists we chose to write our own vows.

I Sven, take you FrankenKristin, to be my partner in marriage. I promise to accept and cherish who you are now, who you will be as we grow and change, and never take our time together for granted. I will love, honor and respect you all the days of my life.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

Except I might comb my hair.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Caption Contest

Recently we caught the dog in one her more indiscreet moments.

Feel free to leave a caption in the comment section.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Know I'll Often Stop And Think About Them

There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

Lyrics courtesy of The Beatles.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Book What?

I was recently tagged by Sophia for a Book Meme.

For starters, I had to look up the word meme. Apparently a meme is a unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.

Huh? Is that supposed to be fustian way of saying a list?

Not exactly. According to Wikipedia, the word meme was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins and stems from his gene-centric theory of evolution which suggests that memes represent units of cultural information much the same way genes represent units of hereditary information. Examples include tunes, catch-phrases, clothes fashions and other traditional customs and practices. When memes gather in groups they form meme-complexes.

Fair enough. I’m not entirely sure my entry in this game of book tag will contribute much of anything to the cultural landscape but I’ll play along. Either way, I think I’ll stick with the word list.


Here is a list of answers to various questions regarding books.

1. One book that changed your life: How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, by Lenny Bruce.
- Reading this book as a teenager opened a whole new world of possibilities for driving my mom nuts.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Suess
- Make that more than 100 times. My kids loved my attempt to replicate the underwater voice.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
- This one may come in handy.

4. One book that made you laugh: The History of White People in America, by Martin Mull
- There are obviously scores of books that would fit into this category but this is one I particularly like because it is so absurd.

5. One book that made you cry: I’ll Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch
- It also made my mom cry when I gave it to her for Mother’s Day (in an ongoing attempt to make up for the above mentioned nuts driving) and the way we say good night to the kids each evening.

6. One book that you wish had been written: As I Was Saying: How to Finish a Sentence Without Your Wife Interrupting You.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: The Disapparation of James, by Anne Ursu
- This is the worst book I have ever read. The characters we poorly developed, the plot went nowhere and the ending was abrupt and unfinished. A perfect candidate for The Sunday Trumpet but I can’t imagine forcing my way through it again. Bleh!

8. One book you’re currently reading: Population 485, by Michael Perry
- We are reading this for our community book club. There is a lot of puke.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Qur’an
- I’d like to know what all the fuss is about.

10. Whom to tag next. Let’s see…how about Gitsul, SaraTee, Meg, Gina, and OneEar.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sven's Personal Birthday

Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to Sven,
Happy Birthday to me!

Other famous events on September 3rd include:

* 1783: The American 'War of Independence' comes to an end, when Britain signs a treaty in Paris.

* 1813: Uncle Sam's image was first used on this day.

* 1939: Britain, France, New Zealand and Australia declare war on Germany, starting World War II.

* 1964: The National Wilderness Preservation System was created designating nearly 10 million acres of federally protected wilderness in national parks including the Boundry Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.

* 1976: The US spacecraft Viking 2 successfully lands on Mars.

* 1978: At the Vatican in Rome, John Paul I is installed as Pope - but dies just 25 days later on September 28th.

Other September 3rd birthdays include:

* 1869: Fritz Pregl, chemist

* 1905: Arthur Koestler, author

* 1907: Loren Eiseley, anthoropolgist

* 1910: Kitty Carlisle, singer

* 1913: Alan Ladd, actor

* 1935: Eileen Brennen, actor

* 1955: Steve Jones, guitarist with the Sex Pistols

* 1961: Jean Lindberg, my sister

* 1965: Charlie Sheen, actor

Hey Gitsul, thanks for the mug.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You Have Got To Be Kidding Me!

"I busted a mirror and got Seven years bad luck but my lawyer thinks he can get it down to Five."

Steven Wright

The is the fourth installment in the tale of FrankenKristin's brain.

If you would like to catch up, read:
Ch. 1 - That's Fronkensteen!!
Ch.1.5 - Point of Clarification
Ch. 2 - You Know, I'm A Rather Brilliant Surgeon.

It is now the end of June 2005 and we are back from New York and our visit to The Chiari Institute. It has been almost six months since Kristin had her car accident and she has yet to have a pain free day. While she has found some relief from the low back pain, the symptoms in her head, neck and shoulders continue to get worse. She has trouble lifting anything heavier than a half gallon of milk, is experiencing almost non-stop numbness and tingling in her hands, has constant pressure in the back of head and regularly feels as though she has a knife stuck in her back.

Where she used to climb dozens of flights of stairs at work rather than take the elevator, she is now unable to climb even one flight with out stopping to catch her breath. Not only that but she found it increasingly difficult to ride in a car or lie on her back. She had taken to wearing a collar during the day in order to provide support to her head and bought a special pillow that follows the contour of her head and neck. Helpful, but certainly no remedy.

As for medical intervention, she has tried chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, pain killers, pain killers, muscle relaxers, yoga, and myofascial massage therapy. Following the local neurosurgeon’s advice she even discontinued all treatment for a few weeks, but not surprisingly, things continued to get worse. Over the last six months she had an average of three medical appointments per week. She had six MRIs, a CT scan and three sets of X-rays. She had been poked, prodded, manually manipulated, and attempted all manner of stretching, healing, and strengthening exercises. About the only things she hadn’t tried were shamanism and faith healing.

At the Chiari Institute, we finally found what we hoped was an answer, and a solution. They acknowledged that, while some of what she is experience is typical of a car accident, her symptoms are clearly exacerbated by the Chiari and may not be resolved if that is not addressed. Unfortunately we had to fly halfway across the country in order to find someone competent enough to figure that out and it looked like we would be making several more trips.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, “My goodness, that’s terrible,” or “Oh my, how could it get any worse,” or even, “Stop you’re bitching, it’s not that bad! People get in car accidents everyday, at least you’re not dead”. You wouldn’t be alone; we said those things as well.

Then came July 23rd, 2005. The day started out like any other, routine events throughout the day kept us busy and that evening we had plans to attend a wedding reception for a friend and then stop off at a going away party for a couple of friends who were leaving to spend two years teaching in Tanzania. All in all, we were having a great night, eating, laughing, visiting with friends and singing Karaoke. After the going away party, we said our goodbyes, got in the car and headed for home. Just two blocks from the party, we were stopped at an intersection in NordEast Minneapolis waiting for the light to turn from red to green.

That’s when it hit us. A late model blue Eagle Talon, to be exact. Right square in the back of our car.

The force of the impact pushed our car into the middle of the intersection. Thank God there wasn’t any opposing traffic or I would likely not be writing this. The other car was traveling at least 45-50 per hour, much faster that the posted 30mph speed limit. Based on the lack of skid marks it was clear he made not attempt to stop.

Not only that, but it turns out he didn’t own the car, did not have a license and was drunk. We found out several weeks later that his BAC was .16, almost twice the legal limit in MN. Sadly he had two passengers in his vehicle as well, none of them were wearing safety belts.

Because the crash was only two blocks from where we had just been several of our friends heard the crash and came running to help. At the time I was more startled than anything else. Kristin however, was a mess. The impact caused her head and neck pain to go from bad to excruciating. She immediately experienced stabbing pain in her ears, blurred vision and could hardly move. When the medical responders arrived I informed them of her situation and they insisted she be transported to the Emergency Room for evaluation.

They moved her from the car onto a backboard and put her in the ambulance. Even though she repeated over and over and over that she could not lie on her back because it was too painful they refused to allow her any assistance until she arrive at the hospital. To make matters worse she was transported in the same vehicle as the driver of the other car. And they refused to let me accompany her. I had not yet determined whether my car was still drivable and yet they insisted I find my own transportation to the hospital.

Four hours and a shot of morphine later (for her, not me), we were sent home after being told that the X-Rays revealed no fractures. They did not address the Chiari.

As a result of the second accident her symptoms had gotten so bad that she spent hours in bed or on the couch because she couldn’t move without pain. The drugs didn't help. Before this incident she still had reservations about surgery, primarily due to the cost. After informing The Chiari Institute of the latest developments, and with what she was experiencing now, there was no question we would be going to New York. Even if I had to sell plasma or turn tricks to pay for it.

In fact, September 28th couldn't come soon enough.

Monday, August 21, 2006

You Know I'm a Rather Brilliant Surgeon

Freddy: You know, I'm a rather brilliant surgeon. Perhaps I can help you with that hump.

Igor: What hump?

This is Chapter 2 of the continuing saga of FrankenKristin’s brain. If you wish, you may read Chapter 1 and Chapter 1.5.

Arnold Chiari Malformation (ACM) is an uncommon, congenital anomaly in which the lower part of the cerebellum protrudes down into the spinal canal. This causes tissue compression, which hinders the normal flow of the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). It was first identified by Austrian pathologist Hans Chiari in 1891.

Although ACM is congenital, many people are asymptomatic. In many adults with ACM symptoms are often brought on by trauma such as whiplash and can have wide-ranging severity with only subtle neurological signs, or cause complete incapacitation due to extreme headache and cervical pain, vertigo, ataxia, visual disturbances and diminished sensation. Studies are also beginning to indicate an overlap between ACM symptoms and those attributed to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The difference between them being the presence of tonsillar herniation and interruption of CSF flow. Unfortunately there is no cure for ACM, and the only treatment is surgery. The most common procedure is Posterior Fossa Decompression whereby a small area of the bone at the base of the skull is removed to enlarge the posterior fossa. In some cases, the cerebellar tonsils are shrunk using an electrocautery to restore normal CSF flow.

The question many people (including family, friends and our medical insurance company) asked was why we needed to go all the way New York for evaluation. After all, there are plenty of other neurosurgeons in MN, plus the world renowned Mayo Clinic is just down the road. We asked ourselves the same question.

Our decision to go to The Chiari Institute was based on the fact that we couldn’t afford to waste our time and money going from one neurosurgeon to another (local or otherwise) with only marginal experience in this area. We wanted to know for sure whether or not the ACM was the source of the problem, due to Kristin's desire to avoid surgery unless it was truly necessary. We were clearly looking for the best possible treatment options and we wanted to avoid the possibility of a less experienced doctor recommending a treatment protocol that would not address the problem.

Our research also showed that The Chiari Institute is the world's first comprehensive, multidisciplinary center for the management of patients suffering from Chiari Malformation. The surgeons at the Institute specialize in Chiari and have more experience with this condition than any other surgeons in the country. Beucause there is no standardized surgical method for ACM, most surgeons tend to develop a method that works for them and use it consistently for all their Chiari surgeries, regardless of the presenting physiology. The doctors at TCI have developed a technique using Intraoperative Color Doppler Ultrasonography, a method used in the past to monitor blood flow during aneurysm surgeries. The technology was adapted to measure the flow of cerebral spinal fluid during decompression surgeries thus allowing the surgeon to tailor each surgery according to patient-specific variables.

The procedures used by TCI reduces the additional costs that are often associated with complications, corrections, and/or multiple surgeries. In fact over half of the surgeries performed at TCI are revisions of failed surgeries performed elsewhere. Dozens of which were initially performed at some of the most prominent medical institutions in the United States.

So off we went. Neither of us had been to New York, and since I was finished with school for the year, we decided to make a vacation out of it. We spent a weekend in Manhattan with my cousin and her husband, who’ve lived in NY for years, acting as our tour guides. We visited the Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, St. Partick’s Cathedral, and St. Paul's Chapel. We took in a Yankees game, had dinner at a fancy restaurant, pizza at the oldest pizza parlor in the US, and cannoli at a NY institution. In addition to riding the subway all over town we walked about 8 miles that the weekend.

On Monday we made our way to Great Neck and The Chiari Institute. Although we brought along an armload of films and test results Kristin still spent the better part of a morning undergoing additional X-Rays, CT Scans and a cineMRI designed not only to depict the inside of her head but to also measure the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

The next day we found ourselves in the lobby at TCI waiting, and waiting, for our evaluation. While they pride themselves on quality of care, by giving each patient as much time as they need, the wait time can often be excruciating. We finally met with Dr. Mora who completed a patient history, and a detailed neurological exam. Although he was thorough, and helpful, he was simply setting the stage for Dr. Bolognese, one of two surgeons at TCI. Dr. Bolognese, along with Dr. Milhorat, perform nearly 300 surgeries a year. In the afternoon Dr. B. is available for consultation and evaluation. Being one of the foremost experts in Chiari, we eagerly awaited Dr. B’s opinion, hoping he would give us a definitive answer.

When the door to our exam room finally opened, he strode in freshly scrubbed, chart in hand. Without even introducing himself, he slammed the chart on the table and in a thick Italian accent declared, “There is no way in hell your symptoms are not caused by this Chiari.” Over the next hour he dissected the test results, explained the reason for the symptoms, and outlined the prognosis. When we asked how the surgeon we saw in MN could have looked at the very same films and determined that the Chiari was asymptomatic he responded, “When you’re an expert in one thing, it means you suck at everything else. She probably sees one or two Chiaris per month, I do 4 surgeries a week.”

Ultimately, he determined that although Kristin’s symptoms were significant, she was not an emergency case. While she was a candidate for surgery, her need was not immediate and thus he left the decision up to her. However, he did say that if she decided against surgery, her current state would be her new baseline and that over time she would most likely get progressively worse. While the prospect of surgery was scary, it was a relief to know that there might actually be hope for improvement.

So we came home with what we believed was the definitive answer we were looking for. Unfortunately our auto and medical insurance companies were not as easily convinced. Not only did we have a major decision to make regarding the surgery but we were also facing an uphill battle in our attempt to get coverage. Nonetheless, Kristin called a few days later and scheduled her procedure for September, the soonest available date, and we began to plead our case with both insurance companies.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Point of Clarification

As I continue with the story of my wife’s brain I want to address something that has come up a few times in the comments section of the previous post regarding the accident, our attorney, and the arbitration hearing.

On the night of the accident, police responded to the call, and assisted in directing traffic in order for Kristin to turn her car around because the impact had caused her to spin 180 degrees. Once she cleared the intersection, the officer indicted that an accident report wasn’t necessary because no one needed immediate medical care and both parties agreed to exchange insurance information. Unfortunately this left her without an objective report and no documented witnesses. As a result, when it came time to report the facts to the adjustors it became her word against his.

For reasons still unknown to us, his company denied all responsibility for the accident so the case was sent to an third party arbitrator to determine the level of fault. This is common practice in Minnesota when the two parties disagree. At the same time we had contacted an attorney, as a safeguard, in the event we needed one, but at the time we had no plans to move forward with litigation. The attorney indicated that we should wait for the results of the arbitration between the insurance companies before moving ahead with any legal action. Again, common practice.

When the arbitrator came back with an 80-20 judgement in his favor, our insurance company was bound by that decision, and therefore was unwilling to pay for anything beyond what is provided by our no fault coverage ($20,000). They also refused to refund our $500 deductible on the car repairs. Since the decision was so lopsided against us, and we were facing a fairly uncertain medical future, the attorney stated that it would be nearly impossible to make any claim against the other driver or his insurance company. He advised us against proceeding with legal action, which at the time was a wise decision.

I think it will become clear as we move forward with the story, that our attorney is perhaps one of the few reliable people in our corner and has since reopened the case. For the last few days Kristin and I have been reviewing a memorandum written by him detailing the facts of our case and outlining our claim against the other driver, his insurance company and ours. In fact he has indicated several times that he is willing to file suit if need be. And no, Nikki, we are not paying him a dime unless we receive a settlement.

So the lessons thus far are:

*Always call the police and be sure they file an accident report. It is essential that the facts are documented at the time of the accident, because, as I think is the case with the other driver, memories change over time. Also, be sure you have witnesses.

* Never admit any responsibility, even if it is your fault, when talking to the other party or their insurance company. Kristin and I have disagreed on this and had many “discussions” about it at the time. She is a decent, reasoned and rational person, who tries to see things from the most objective perspective. And unfortunately that is simply not the way the insurance game works. I believe, in her attempted to find the truest understanding of the facts she may have given away something that led the other insurance company, and subsequently the arbitrator, to rule against us.

Finally, I want to say thanks for the kindness and support you have shown, through your comments and simply by reading these posts. I welcome the questions as well. I am finding that the more I tell this tale the more there is to tell and I inadvertently leave out essential pieces. So please ask away.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

That's Fronkonsteen!!

IGOR: What now, boss? A little something to eat and then join the chase?

FREDDY: No! The only hope now is to get (her) back here. If I can just find a way to relieve the pressure on (her) cerebellum...

IGOR: That sound good, boss.

FREDDY:... and equalize the imbalance in (her) cerebrospinal fluid...

IGOR: I like your style, master. How do we get (her) here?

FREDDY: There's only one way.

IGOR: I'll bet it's a doozy. *

I have mentioned several times that my wife, FrankenKristin had brain surgery last year to correct an Chiari Malformation (ACM). Fortunately the surgery went well and she is on the way to recovery. However, the last year and a half has been challenging to say the least. We have learned a lot about the health care system as well as the legal system and although most of the medical intervention she will need have been completed we will likely be fighting with our insurance company over coverage for quite some time. Since this is obviously a long story, I plan to break it up into to several installments. Hopefully I can provide a little insight and possibly share a few of the things we have learned along the way.

It all began on January 13, 2005. It was a below zero Thursday evening and Kristin was driving home from work when she was rear ended while attempting to complete a left turn. Although the police were called an accident report was not filed so my wife was left to exchange information with the other driver and work through the insurance companies. We were assured by our agent that since she was rear ended, there should be no question about liability and we would have our damages covered.

Experiencing the pain and stiffness in her neck and back that usually results from a car accident she began chiropractic treatment as well as acupuncture. While the pain in her lower back improved, increasingly she began to experience pressure in the back of her head and a sharp pain between her shoulders. Because the chiropractor was unable to generate any improvement, he ordered an MRI of her head and neck to determine the nature of the injuries. It was at that time that the radiologist first identified the existence of a ACM.

At the time Kristin did not have a regular physician so we were unable to consult with a doctor. Unfortunately the chiropractor didn't have any experience with ACM either, but he did decide not to do manual manipulations of her neck anymore. We also discussed the issue with our kids' Nurse Practitioner. However she has only seen ACM in children and did not seem to think it was of much significance, her patient's symptoms were easily managed.

Meanwhile the symptoms worsened. She began to suffer constant pressure in the back of her head, a sharp stabbing pain between her shoulder blades, vertigo and headaches. Because she was unable to learn much from those around us she did turned to the internet. After a quick Google search she found an organization called the World Arnold Chiari Malformation Association (WACMA), an organization offering advice and support to those affected by Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia.

Now for the definition. Arnold Chiari Malformation is an uncommon, congenital anomaly in which the lower part of the cerebellum (the tonsils) protrudes down into the spinal canal. This causes tissue compression in the hindbrain, which hinders the normal flow of the cerebral spinal fluid between the brain and spinal canal. Many people with CM are asymptomatic. In adults, symptoms similar to those Kristin was experiencing are often brought on by a traumatic event such as a blow to the head or whiplash consistent with a car accident. This seemed clearly to be Kristin's case.

Through postings on a support group site Kristin received the name of a local neurosurgeon who was not a specialist in ACM, but had a good amount of experience and had successfully treated others locally. Kristin obtained a referral to see this neurosurgeon for an assessment to determine whether or not the Chiari Malformation was contributing to the worsening of symptoms.

A few weeks later we saw this neurosurgeon who, after looking at Kristin's MRI results for about 2 minutes, declared that there was no evidence of cerebellar crowding. After asking whether we had a pending lawsuit, she told us that Kristin should stop all treatment and simply wait for things to get better as she believed the injuries were simply muscular. When Kristin asked what to do if the symptoms did not improve she said, "If that's what you think will happen, that's what will happen." As you can imagine Kristin left feeling insulted and not at all informed about ACM, but hopeful that the Doctor was correct and that she would see improvement in a few weeks.

Following the local neurosurgeon's direction Kristin discontinued all treatment and waited for symptoms to improve. Not surprisingly they didn't. In fact, things got worse. By now the pressure in the back of her head was so great that she could no longer sleep on her back as her hands went numb within minutes, and found it difficult to walk up stairs, ride in a car, or hold our kids. It became clear that a second opinion was needed. Since there were no specialists locally, we searched for the next available option. What we found was that there are only a handful of people in the country who specialize in treating ACM.

After considerable research it seemed clear that the best option was to visit the doctors at The Chiari Institute (TCI) in New York , one of, if not the only facility specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of ACM/related conditions. We hoped that this would give us a definitive answer. We were also cognizent of the risk of being seen (and misdiagnosed) by a rotating cast of doctors only moderately experienced in ACM. Since it was clear that there was no cure for ACM and that surgery was the only treatment option (other than pain management) we wanted to avoid the possibility that someone might recommend surgery unless we were absolutely certain the ACM was causing her symptoms. Seeing no other alternative we sent her MRI films to TCI and waited for their direction. Upon reviewing the films TCI contacted us the next day and strongly suggested we visit them for a more extensive evaluation.

At the same time we found out that the other driver's insurance company had seized upon something Kristin said in her interview as proof that it was her fault and was therefore denying any responsibility. The case had been forwarded to a third-party arbitrator who was to make a binding determination. Unfortunately for us, the decision came down 80-20 in his favor and we were told the accident was almost solely our responsibility. Thus we could not make a claim against his insurance for any damages and would not recover the $500 deductible we paid to have our car repaired. This came as a serious blow because it was beginning to look as though this was going to cost a lot of money. Unfortunately the attorney we consulted also recommended that we drop the case. Thus we were forced to turn to our medical insurance.

Realizing that we might be faced with an emormous medical bill, we agreed that we couldn't put a price on Kristin's health, and made arrangements to fly out to New York in hopes that we might finally get some help.


Part Two:
Our first trip to New York, a (hopeful) visit with the doctors at TCI and a run-in with a drunk. PLUS, more fun with insurance companies.

* Dialogue courtesy of Young Frankenstein.

Friday, July 28, 2006

News From Lake Wherehaveyagone

It is unlikely that you have been asking yourself, "What has Sven been up to lately?" Well, FrankenKrsitin asks once in awhile but is usually more along the lines of, "What the hell did you do all day?" Whether your interested or not, these are a few of the things that have kept Sven away from the computer lately.

- Like many Minnesotans we have spent quite a few weekends at the Lake. My grandmother has a lakehome in Northern WI so we try to get up there as much as we can. We've gone fishing, tubing, and won first prize in the 4th of July boat parade.

- We spent a weekend in Duluth visiting our friends Jordan and Connie and their new baby Sabina. We tried to ditch the kids for a few quiet hours by burying them in the sand at Park point Beach but they managed to escape. Bugger!

- We have spend a great deal of time at the soccer field watching, playing and coaching. That all comes to an end next week with the big Year End Jamboree. Between the two of them they have seven games in seven days. Talk about soccer overload.

- As I mentioned last week, my aunt Maxine died. She was my Mother's sister and was renowned for her Nostradamus like predictions, most of which came true. Except for the one about me being elected Mayor of South St. Paul. Too many skeletons.

- We are still engaged in an ongoing battle with Medica of over the bill for FrankenKristin's brain surgery. Apparently Bill McGuire's $161 million golden parachute as well as the $30 million in stock options offered to executive Lois Quam make it impossible for the company to afford to provide us with in-network coverage for her surgery. Never mind that there aren't any in-network doctors who specialize in treating Chiari Malformation. More on that next week.

- The drunk that rear ended us last summer finally appeared in court. A year and a day after the accident. He pled guilty.

- We have been helping my sister get things ready for her golf tournament. I'm in charge of the entertainment.

As long as I'm at the computer I can't resist commenting on a few recent items in the local news.

- On Sunday a cousin of mine made the front page of the newspaper in a report on his highly partisan political blog. I haven't had contact with him in years but I do see his father occasionally as he does our taxes each year. The reason I started blogging was because I had to create a user indenity in order to comment on one of the particularly nutty things he had to say so least I can do is give him his props. Frankly, I'm not sure how much his blog actually contributes to the marketplace of ideas as it seems to operate from more of a "gotcha!" mentality, but I know tons of people read it and he made the front page of the paper which is more than I can say for myself. Good luck to ya Michael, and say "Hi" to your dad for me.

- Yesterday it was reported that the father of Minnesota's junior Senator, Norm Coleman, was arrested for engaging in lewd conduct in the parking lot of Red's Savoy Pizza in St. Paul. Now I'm no fan of Senator Coleman and frankly I can't think of another Senator other than Rick Santorum who isn't more deserving of a few jabs, but good grief, leave his dad out of it. If it were the Senator that would be one thing, but hid dad is 81 years old and suffers from poor health, if he can still get it on with a 38 year old woman, more power to him. Besides, I've been to The Savoy and there ain't much too the parking lot, if they were teenagers we'd call 'em thrill seekers.

Next week I begin the tale of FrankenKristin's brain.