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The Shingle Man’s Guide to Pain

“How are you tonight?” The Nursing Assistant tried to calm me as he rolled my squeaking gurney down to the angiogram area. Pedestrian traffic dodged us as we barreled through the busy halls.

“Worried.” I said. Worried I wouldn’t make it through the night. I’d been belted in the ribs with a baseball bat and set on fire. Felt like it, anyway. Imagine my confusion – roused awake in the middle of the night with no recollection of being beaten or burned alive, feeling like Iron Man when Obadiah Stane snatches his electromagnetic pulse generator, leaving him dying on the concrete floor of his luxuriant workshop-garage.

Obviously not me

Ascending Aortic Aneurysm – obviously not mine

Someone had my heart in a vice, squeezing the life out of me while drizzling my back with lighter fluid and striking a match to it. A heart attack can be like that, so they say. But these signs and symptoms don’t always indicate a heart attack.

“Maybe it’s a heart attack,” part of me thought before I ever got to the ER. I had my doubts. “Nah. It’ll pass,” another part of me thought.

I don’t like doctors because they tell me to slow down, and I guess I don’t like to slow down. Pain? I don’t feel pain like most people feel pain, so I ultimately can’t rank pain on a 1 to 10 scale. For me, pain is pressure, so I shouldn’t have ignored it when those bolts hit me. Did I go to the hospital immediately? Of course not.

“Hospitals are for weaklings,” I told myself. “I’ll wait it out like a man.” (I’m smart like that.) When the nausea hit, I couldn’t get comfortable – sitting, standing, laying down, walking around – nothing worked. “Enough with the macho act,” I thought. “If I’m gonna die, it’s not gonna be because I tried to outmaneuver a heart attack. Talk about an embarrassing obituary.” Stumbling to the garage, I eased into my little Fiat 500 and buzzed over to the ER.


One of my many BP readings

“Have you ever had high blood pressure?” The young blonde nurse – taking my temperature and looking at my file – asked me. NOTE: They don’t let you actually see your readings. You have to crane your neck to get the details. And they maintain a decent poker face in the ER.

“No. Why.” I wasn’t really asking her why.
“Because,” she glanced at her colleague. Her plain blue scrubs wrinkled when she pointed at my reading without looking me in the eye. “You’ve got high blood pressure.”

What she didn’t tell me was that I had stroke-level out-of-control high blood pressure (183/134). Now, I’ve always had borderline HBP, but never out-of-control HBP, and certainly not life-threatening HBP. Never has any doctor advised that I go on hypertension meds.

Their goals for me as a newly admitted patient?
(a) Lower the BP and prevent a stroke,
(b) Rule out a heart issue.

What did they find after the angiogram? An Ascending Aortic Aneurysm – a bulge that weakens the aorta – not large enough to warrant immediate surgical action, and a condition that typically produces no symptoms.

“Aneurysms can be genetic,” one doctor would later explain, “and they can also be caused by extreme overexertion.” Out-of-control HBP can weaken an aneurysm and cause it to fray or burst. Death comes in minutes (think John Ritter or Robert Palmer). As a frequent weightlifter, I’d overexerted plenty in the past. Just not the recent past.

What did this mean to me? I would be making new friends in the forms of a thoracic cardio surgeon and a gastroenterologist, not to mention a new primary care doctor (our being new to the area). Of course I didn’t need surgery, but I did need to be monitored. My new team of experts would have questions, and so would I. “If the aneurysm and HBP don’t produce symptoms,” I asked while still in the hospital, “why do continue to I feel like this?”

“Your existing acid reflux can cause those symptoms,” the doctor said as he left through the sliding glass door of my tiny hospital room. Didn’t make sense to me – I know what acid reflux feels like because I’ve experienced it for the better part of 30 years.

“I don’t want this diagnosis to be life-limiting in any way,” the cardio surgeon later told me, explaining that we “caught the disease” – his word – “early.” Tugging at his sleeve to indicate the type of material of which a stent is constructed, he said “we shouldn’t replace one disease with another” (i.e., a mesh stent). “It’s like painting brick,” he said. “You’d be going from zero maintenance to a situation where you’ve got to repaint. Any questions?”
“So, limitations,” I asked, “if it’s not life-limiting, I can lift weights?”
“No. No weights. I’ve got a buddy who’s heavy into power lifting and he’s in horrible shape, what with his blood pressure and his aneurysm. But you can’t tell him anything, so….”
“You can run. Just slow it down.”

Slow down? One of the main reasons I used to run is that it’s fun to run fast. Slow running is shit. But it’s not life-limiting? Who does he think he’s kidding?

The confusing bit: HBP and Ascending Aortic Aneurysms typically do NOT cause chest and back pain. Actually, they typically have NO symptoms. You don’t feel it, and by the time an aneurysm tears or dissects, the mortality rate is 90% IF you’re already in the hospital when it occurs.

WebMD makes it clear: “Without immediate treatment, death occurs.” Beautiful. My blood pressure stayed highly elevated at the ER and later that night in my hospital room because the aneurysm did NOT tear. If it had torn, my BP would have plummeted.

When I left the hospital, my BP had returned to normal (thank you, Lopressor). Then came the rash – the day after my discharge I went to my new primary care doc. Now I had a rash on my back, which I attributed to my new cocktail of meds: “Side-effects include rash.” Seemed logical.

At the end of our short session I told her about the side-effects of the meds and said, “Here, I’ll show you.” As I lifted my shirt, she took a quick gander and asked me if I’d ever had chicken pox.

“Yup. Third grade.”
“Mystery solved –  you’ve got Shingles,” she said, like that old AOL guy telling us we’ve got mail.
“What the actual hell is shingles?” I thought. I mean, I’d seen the commercials, but I tend to mute 95% of TV commercials.
She saw my confusion. “That rash is a band, and it’s not from the meds. It’s from chicken pox,” she said. “We’ve got a mirror in the bathroom – go take a look while I write your prescription and get you on your way.”

So, good news and bad news: I’ve got a mountain of new meds to keep me from blowing a gasket and get rid of the chicken pox virus, and not a dang one of them is mind-altering. What’s wrong with this picture?

Independence in Scotland? Know This!

As Scotland angles for independence from Westminster and The English Crown, I’ve just returned from the Highlands and Islands. Debate flourishes ahead of the September 18th vote. Scots say they want “a better deal” after their divorce from England. Well, I decided I would keep politics at arm’s length (er, mostly) and just enjoy Scotland for the week.



I buckled in for my 747 flight, direct to Glasgow – five time zones ahead – knowing I’d be knackered and cream-crackered my first day in-country. An elderly man next to me smelled of old baloney. In the row ahead, a guy in a striped Nautica shirt sat drinking red wine and eating a Pay Day bar from his carry-on. But enough about my delightful plane ride – here are a few need-to-knows about your own personal independence in Scotland:

Scotch Whisky: Know that “whiskey” is spelled without the “e” in Scotland. Know that Scots use “whisky” and “scotch” interchangeably, so pay no attention to the odd know-it-all who claims Scots never say “scotch.” That’s pure rubbish. Now, all manner of scotch lovers co-exist peacefully within our whisky community. We revel in our variety of shapes and sizes, and we enjoy smoky or peaty or toasty or musty notes without denigrating the opinions of fellow tasters. It behooves the scotchist to understand the personalities of whisky-producing regions. You may find the occasional scotch snob who looks down his noSCOTCH KILT GLASS BEHIND BACKse at a blended scotch drinker, but that’s because he doesn’t yet realize his single-malt scotch has been cured in more than one barrel, effectively making it a blended scotch. Give him time – he’ll mature.

Isle of Skye: Know that Skye is one of the most beautiful islands on Earth, especially as the Sun breaks in the morning.



Coffee: Know that Scots enjoy their java. While a good cuppa can tingle the toes as readily as a wee dram, a decent filter-coffee is hard to find anywhere in the world. City coffee is a competitive business, so a better cup is easier to locate in metro areas than in the Scottish countryside. Know that Scots drink skim milk in their white coffee, so if you prefer



half & half – Scots call it “single cream” – in your Americano, request it apologetically from your barista. Be prepared to see him cock his head like a Highland “Koo” staring at a new gate, but you may be pleased to find single cream available. Edinburgh’s Maison Bleue still brews Scotland’s best coffee. Ask the owner (our friend Lyes Kechida) about his coffee-house days as punk rock burgeoned in London, and you’ll be in for more than a treat.



Castles & Cathedrals: Know that Scotland is rich with abandoned and fully restored castles and cathedrals. Visit Historic Scotland and Scotland’s National Trust. There you will find points of interest, and you can determine if a membership or pass would suit your needs. Short-term passes are well-worth the price, especially if you’re squeezing in many venues during your Scotland trip. My adventure took me from fabulous St. Mungo’s Cathedral in Glasgow to updated Stirling and popular Doune, to roofless Beauly Priory and spooky Knock Castle.



Food: Know that smoked salmon is Scotland’s national dish, but the flaky Scottish haddock is also tasty. As you might expect, fresh fish abounds almost anywhere in the country.

Currency: Know that the Great British Pound is fairly strong against foreign currencies. You don’t want to be stuck without cash, so be sure to purchase GBP at your home bank branch at least a week before you start your trip. Know that it will probably take a few days to get the GBP, so be patient. The exchange rates at the airport are too high, and you’re not likely to locate a favorable rate when you arrive in Scotland. Also, if you’re accustomed to US or Canadian Dollars, you can double the GBP number (while shopping for souvenirs) to get an idea of the price in your home currency. I say “double it” so that you’ll quickly get over the idea that GBP1,38 a litre for gas is cheap – that’s about USD9.00 a gallon. Touristy areas tend to be more expensive in all events, so let the buyer beware.

Duty-Free: Know that airport duty-free shops will bookend your trip. Duty-free “deals” are the biggest hoax perpetrated on the travel community since P.T. Barnum’s Cardiff Giant. I don’t believe I’ve overstated this.

SCOTLAND - KEEP CALM AND ESCAPE TOSo, look, you can sit here and read blog posts about Scotland, or you can go and see and do. So just follow the instructions on this sticky note I’ve tacked up for you: “Keep calm and escape to Scotland.”


John Wilkes Booth’s Signed Confession!

© 2013 Mick Circeo

25th April, 1865 – from Prison

I’ve had Dreams of killing my father. Of cutting his head off and stuffing it in a Box and throwing it over a high Cliff. The White Cliffs of Dover perhaps. Or burying it deep in the Ground. Fantasies, that is all they are. Harmless Thoughts. Of course I would not deign to actJohn Wilkes Booth upon these Ruminations. Sic semper tyrannis – yes I did say that —  there have been Reports that I did not, but I inscribe it here and now, so that all doubt shall be remov’d; “Thus always to Tyrants.” I shouted it that night at a quarter past ten, almost laughed it, the very Moment before I placed the Barrel of my Shooter behind the Ear of the Tyrant and struck a Blow for every thinking Man in the Nonce.

Killing a Man, striking him down, must occur for the right Reasons, of course. It would have to be for the right Reasons. So what is it, that would or should or could be considered Just Cause to kill a Man? Mayhaps he threatens the Welfare of a Nation, the Common Weal, as it were. What if his Actions were so bold and so lecherous as to change the future Course of a great Country for the worse? Endanger its Citizenry. Destroy the Marketplace and our ability to function at the Top of the Bill on the World’s Stage. What if one Man – or a small handful of Men – put a Country at such risk?

Are we to stand idly by and watch the destruction of a Land that we, that I, have grown to love more than any living Man? I should think not. For I should be adjudged by History to be worse a Man than such Men, if they properly be called Men, were I to bear witness to these Acts of Waste now occurring, and yet do nothing. And that is why I killed the TyrantAbraham Lincoln.

Had Grant been in the Box with the Tyrant that Night, pursuant to the original Plan, I should have done him in as well. I will admit that it required a full hour’s worth of Whiskey to put Booth Classicme up to the Task. Of that I am not ashamed in the least.

I know that I am but youthful, but then I look at George Armstrong Custer and what he has now achieved in his Youth. As a practical Matter, we are both the same in age. People often say we look like Brothers, were I not already to have a Brother who could readily be called my Twin. That’s not accidental for Custer, so I am told. It is by Design. They say that he wants to look like me, with the Mustache and the Hair, believing that it will bring him good Fortune with the fairer Sex. Perhaps that is true, as I have seen him in the company of many a young Maiden. Without these newfound accoutrements of coiffeur and sartorial splendor, however, Custer is quite plain a Fellow indeed.

CusterHistory will acquit me, even if the Courts do not, for I acted bravely, struck boldly, and retreated south to gather my Troops. My Army. My Southern Supporters who are with me in this Fight and the continued Rebellion. This Fight to preserve That which has made our Country great. The preservation of the Races. That which has allowed and enabled us to achieve the Reaches and Riches that no Nation has been able to attain in such a brief Lifespan.

Truly I have been ordained by God to lead the Children of the Revolution back from the Precipice of Defeat by the thinly veiled Freedom imposed by one Abraham Lincoln. May he never rest in peace. Figurative imprisonment by literal Emancipation, hence bringing low both Races – this is what the Tyrant has foisted upon our beloved Homeland.

And I shall not let That be done, nor could I have done so by inaction. What happens when such a Tyrant stands up in Society and proclaims himself God over the Races? He is struck down, and with permanency. 

I did not hesitate. Would that my Colleagues had possessed the Courage and the Determination and the Bravado to have carried through with the selfsame Success I enjoyed that blessed Night. Alas they did not, and have paid the high Price for their Failures. But as I sit here in my Jail Cell, behind these cold Stone Walls and Iron Bars, awaiting the News of the men who decide my Fate, I say now that I do not regret a single Moment of it. When Tyrants act treasonously, they fall. And Lincoln fell. I remain proud to say that it was by my Hand.

If the Jury convict me, future President Davis has promised to pardon me and restore me to my true and apt Place in Government. No more will I be a Player on a Stage illuminated by Footlights, but I shall be acting in real Life, impacting real Persons. Yet I trust I shall be exonerated, no longer subject to endure the Shouts and Taunts of “Kill the Murderer!” And then the South will rise again, as Davis has promised. When I accept my Appointment as Secretary of War in the Davis Administration, I shall exact my Revenge upon Grant in further fulfillment my foreordained Destiny. That will be mine and mine alone.

I should think that it is a Relief for our Nation, and not a Burden, to have a true Leader occupy the White House. One pure of Mind and Spirit. Not a Warmonger or a political Animal. I must but rest now, though my Battle Wounds roust my Sleep’s Peace.

J. Wilkes Booth

Paris is Always a Good Idea


The Tower shining under the night clouds.

“Paris [and Edinburgh are] always a good idea.” That’s a misquote. Audrey Hepburn really said “Paris is always a good idea.” And I don’t disagree. Not at all. We were going to see both cities.

My wife Jen is an avid reader of novels set in Scotland, so much so that we planned our recent vacation there. As luck would have it, our air travel included a bonus overnight stop in Paris (the one in France), so we took full advantage. Okay, half.

Now, Jen loves to walk in the rain. Slowly. Always has. Me too. It’s not just something we say – we relish that nice ambulatory soak.

Notre Dame was majestic. And closed. Sad face.

If you know me, you may know that I like maps, and I like planning. This being Jen’s first time in the City of Light(s), I asked myself what I could show her during a single night? I realized that this probably wasn’t about my “showing her” anything, really. Yes I’ve been to Paris quite a lot – but I’m hardly an expert tour guide, and the last time I was there was during the first Clinton Administration. We needed to hit the hot spots, and we didn’t have much time. What a luxury to be forced to choose which sights to see with the person you love more than anyone else.

Eek! Gargoyles at Notre Dame — I’m a-skeert!

After dropping our bags at the DeGaulle Airport Sheraton, we freshened up and hit the night bus to the train station as our excitement mounted. I don’t care how many times you’ve been to Paris – “Paris is always a good idea.”

Our plan included a round robin to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs-Élysées. Could we do all of this and get back to the hotel, wake up, and catch our morning flight to Edinburgh? I won’t keep you in suspense – we managed to get it all done in a bit of a breeze.

Yes, a bonus night in Paris is just that. But, as we exited the Metro at our first stop and ascended to the street, a light rain began to fall. “Paris is always a good idea” — thanks, Audrey Hepburn.

Traffic around the Arch of Triumph can be predictably unpredictable.