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2013 in Reflection…

2013/12/25

…and what lies ahead.

To say that 2013 was a difficult year would be a gross understatement. It started with 60 hour work weeks to meet deadlines, a surprise bout of pneumonia, and a new boss. The deadlines were met, and other than a consequent respiratory infection the pneumonia worked its way out faster than previously (yay for learning lessons!). The new boss was kind of scary in the beginning, but it quickly became obvious that we were both on the same wavelength and had similar goals for the company, as a whole. While I miss working closely with my old bosses (we still interact on a regular basis, partially due to a slow transition away from my *previous* duties), I really enjoy working with my new boss, and it’s nice to feel like I’m not the only one seeing the issues in the same light.

The spring was filled with all kinds of activities, including the Denver St. Patty’s Day Parade, Starfest, running the May the Fourth event at Wings Over the Rockies, preparing for the R2-KT Auction in its first year at Denver Comic Con, and breaking my knee. Learning to delegate has been a difficult lesson for me to learn, but I think in 2013 I managed to make some serious strides in that arena. Thanks to Jeff and Bill, the St. Patty’s Day Parade was one of the best ones I’ve had in years, and this year was also my nephew Dominic’s first time joining his older cousins in the parade (he is planning to never miss it again). Starfest was fun, but mostly because of the people I see there, and it was a great time to get to know the fiancé of an old friend (and I can’t begin to describe how great it feels to see him so happy now). May the Fourth is getting bigger and better every year, and this year was not only no exception, it was made that much more amazing because we also got to be part of a Wish Kid’s journey. I will count that day as one of the best of my entire life, and I am so grateful to be able to work with organizations like Make-A-Wish Colorado, and to have the opportunity to meet such amazing people as Aidan and April.

The most difficult part of the May the Fourth event happened two weeks before it, when I fell on some ice and hurt my *good* knee and my shoulder. The shoulder was just a little bruised and the muscles strained, but the knee wasn’t getting any better. Just before the event, I was scheduled to go in for an MRI to check it out. The original X-Rays hadn’t shown anything, but the orthopedist wanted to get a better look. What was originally thought to only be a strain and swelling from trauma turned out to be a “non-displaced compression fracture of the tibial plateau.” Basically, about a third of the base of my knee looked like a really old china cup; crackled. Yes, I quite literally broke my knee. As long as I was careful, it was unlikely I would need surgery to correct it, but my age and condition (plus having to rely on the unreliable other knee) meant that it was going to be a VERY long recovery. Longer than we imagined, actually. That was at the end of April, and it was not until the middle of December that I got the all clear on my follow-up X-Rays. It also meant that I spent May the Fourth and Denver Comic Con during my nine weeks on crutches, and Dragon*Con was no easy feat either. It will probably be tender and prone to swelling for another year, but it has reached a good point in the healing process, and other than some potential issues with increased arthritis, it should be fine going forward.

That leaves us with the R2-KT Auction, and rolls us into the summer with Denver Comic Con. Once again, lending to the learning curve, I have begun to create a team for the auction, instead of doing it all myself. A big part of that team is the same guy who started helping me with May the Fourth this year, Gary X. He was my legs during May the Fourth, and helped us really give our Wish Kid a day to remember. Gary has been helping me with the X-Wing Project for a while now, and as he has seen the work that we do, his enthusiasm has grown exponentially. I also got a great deal of support from everyone’s favorite Siths, Jeff and Kim. They’ve both been huge supporters of the auction since I agreed to carry it on after the originator (Lynelle) was forced by circumstances to give it up. This year they really kicked in to help and it showed. This year also saw us with a new auctioneer, who came in at the eleventh hour when our previously arranged folks bailed on us, and I should probably thank them, because Scott was absolutely fantastic. You just can’t buy the enthusiasm he showed during the auction, and having someone who actually prepped for the big day was a new experience for all of us. He really added to the bottom line of the event, and I am thrilled that he’s agreed to come on-board for organizing this thing earlier on, and for continuing to be our auctioneer. Back again for game-day fun were Jonathan and Becca, who were our fabulous Vannas, helping to show off the items and working with the Make-A-Wish staff in the back. Geoffrey was our last minute addition, helping me to manage the front end of the items going up for bid, and rigging a fantastic video method for showing the smaller items on the fly. With all of this amazing talent, and a few more tricks yet to be pulled from our sleeves, I see the 2014 auction destroying our $4K record for 2013, and that’s not even counting the anticipated Darth Hair Locks of Love Challenge totals.

I also have to mention that moving the auction to Denver Comic Con was one the best decisions we ever made. The folks at DCC were enthused about the prospect, gave us a decent room (which we still managed to fill up), and lots of time to prepare, plus con passes for all the Make-A-Wish staff. When I let them know at the end of the con what we managed to raise, they were more excited than I was, and that’s saying a lot. We’ve been told we’re getting a bigger room this year, and with some of the plans we already have in motion, we’re expecting a serious turnout for our little endeavor. Given the mission of Denver Comic Con, I truly feel like our little auction has found a fitting home, and all of our worry about moving was quickly wiped away as we saw the room begin to fill up last summer.

Now we’ve reached the summer, and Denver Comic Con. In 2012, Denver Comic Con began, and I volunteered for a few shifts at the con, and spent the rest of my time on the Star Wars Wall, except when a desperate staff member snagged me to help relieve a few artists on Sunday who hadn’t been able to leave their tables to see the con at all. It was a fantastic experience, and I was thrilled to help an organization whose mission is to bring literacy and expression to children in need through the medium of graphic novels and comics. Apparently, I did a little too well with my assignments, because I managed to make it onto the crew in 2013, instead of just a volunteer, and I ended up helping to wrangle volunteers with some of the staff this year. Given the fact that I was still on crutches when the con rolled in, this was actually ideal for me, because I sat behind a desk 95% of the time, and directed the floaters, as well as helped with the info desk and the volunteer registration, leaving the other staff members in that area the freedom to move around, as needed. In the process, I got to know some absolutely amazing people, and we formed a battle trench bond by surviving the weekend together as a team, unified in the quest to inform the public and manage the chaos around us with every resource we had. In short, while tense at times, it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And for the record… If you haven’t experienced Denver Comic Con yet, DO IT! It’s an amazing environment, and I haven’t met an artist/guest/vendor yet who wasn’t thrilled to be there. Oh yeah, and I’m now a staff coordinator for the con, still wrangling volunteers. Yes, I know, I’ll never really learn, will I? 😉

The next six months of the year are mostly a blur. On June 28th, my father walked into the emergency room at Rose Hospital, and in less than an hour he was placed on a ventilator as his airway completely collapsed and he began to degrade, systematically, throughout the day. We spent the next three weeks in the ICU at Rose, most of which Dad was in a drug-induced coma, and underwent three different procedures to establish an airway. He remembers nothing from this time. Still partially on the ventilator, and no real answers given to us about how he got into this condition, Dad was transferred to a care facility to start rehab. He was there for three and a half days before a doctor was called to deal with his tracheostomy, which was still bleeding more than it should, and after doing his best to repair the situation he found, the ENT surgeon admitted Dad to Porter Hospital’s ICU, which is where things took a turn for the worst.

As they were setting him up in the ICU, Dad coded, twice. First he went into cardiac arrest and they managed to revive him, but before he could be stabilized, one of his lungs collapsed. They were forced to give him a surgical airway device, just to keep him capable of breathing with the ventilator. This required 24 hour monitoring, because it is only to be used in short term surgical conditions, not as a means to establish a long term airway. This was a Friday evening, and we were given very little to hope during the 36 hours to follow. A specialist was being flown in from the Mayo Clinic, where he split his time with National Jewish, and we wouldn’t know anything definitive until he arrived on Sunday. It was a very dark weekend for our family, and probably the hardest thing I have ever seen my mother deal with in my lifetime.

Sunday morning we awoke to the hospital calling Mom, because they were ready to wheel Dad into the operating room. This was, to say the least, a shock. Apparently the doctor came back early, devised a plan, and booked the OR to get it done, problem was, they hadn’t gotten our permission. To say that Mom was in a panic is a serious understatement, but I wasn’t in a panic, I was pissed. And when we got to the hospital (without giving consent over the phone – Oh Hell No!), I let them know they were not going to railroad my mother into making an uninformed decision. They brought the surgeon back up to the ICU, and I made them lay it all out on the line. On Friday they were telling us the best case scenario was Dad living in a nursing home for the rest of his days, and I couldn’t see turning my father into a academic exercise if all they were offering him was more time in hell. I know my father too well for that, and I owed him that much, at least. The specialist explained that they weren’t going with the other doctor’s plan, that they were going to use a very different device to re-establish his airway, and a different trach to boot. That if he survived the surgery, there was a good chance his airway would heal with the support of the device, and he would only have to use the trach for a period of time, and with continued weight-loss and monitoring, there was a good chance he could recover completely. And if it didn’t heal the way they hoped, that with the weight-loss, he would be in a better position to have the reconstruction surgery it would require. His current condition and weight made it impossible for them to even attempt the reconstruction, but these devices and his commitment to the weight-loss were the best option for treating him. For the first time in four weeks, Dad was actually coherent during this bedside discussion. The surgical device had accomplished what failed to happen at the previous hospital (a true re-establishment of a working airway), and it gave Dad the wherewithal to participate in the decision to have the surgery, which really helped my mother to cope with signing off on the procedure. The only wild card at that point was whether or not Dad could survive the surgery. Given the outcome of the last one, we were definitely holding our breaths until the word came back to the waiting room.

We managed to get Dad home before the Labor Day weekend, and I was informed by my mother, and my father, that I was NOT going to skip my annual trip to Atlanta. Most of it was paid for, and there were no refunds, and Dad was doing much better. So, I went to Dragon*Con, and I had a wonderful time. My friend Mike went for the full weekend this year, and so did his vet school buddy Chris, so we got to hang out for dinner most nights, which was awesome. I got to experience a dream come true when I met Lindsay Wagner and Lee Majors, posing for a picture holding my Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man dolls, and later getting them to sign them for me. The picture is currently hanging in my cube at work, until I can get a proper shadow box for it and the dolls. I also got to see the people behind one of my favorite shows, Fraggle Rock, while dressed as Mokey Fraggle. Yes, I really am that much of a geek. And, as usual, I got to see LOTS of friends, enjoy the sights and sounds of the show, and generally bask in the warm glow of like-minded friends and compatriots in the geek universe. Plus, I got to top it all off by spending a fun day with my good friend Cheryl and her husband Hollis, eating ourselves silly at this awesome diner, and then riding around a “wild” animal park in a van that was firing on one cylinder, and it was beating up against a broken drum, and hadn’t seen a muffler in this century. It was exactly what I needed after almost two months of 36 hours days, and non-stop worry.

When I got back to Denver, it was headlong into more rush deadlines and 50-60 hour weeks. It was hard, because I was also trying to be home as much as I could to help with Dad. So, I managed to do some telecommuting here and there, and then split my time to make frequent trips to the house during the day. It made for a lot of long days, but at least they were shorter than the 36 hours days of the summer. And then things started getting worse. Dad was having a lot of trouble sleeping, he had a few panic attacks, and that was the easy part. His memory has been and is deeply impacted by all of the drugs and things he’s been through, but it started taking a really bad turn towards the end of September. Add to that the hallucinations which seemed to appear out of nowhere, including the day he called 911 to report that there were people watching him from the roof of the house next door, the backyard behind us, and the 7 foot man in drag at the front window. I had come home a little early that day to make sure Dad got dinner, because Mom had to work late that day. I had to calm him down when I got home and it took me a while to figure out what he was talking about. The man in the yard behind ours was actually a patio umbrella folded up, and there was a box and some branches on the neighbor’s roof. I had him calmed down and went back out to my car to get something when a DPD car pulled up across the street. That was when I realized he had called the police. Because he has the trach, all they got was a call from someone they could hear breathing, but nothing else intelligible. They sent a car to do a wellness check. I met the officer at the curb and explained the situation to him. I told him I had seen no one in the neighborhood when I got home just a few minutes before, and that I had already explained what was going on out back, but he was still really agitated. I asked the officer to talk to my Dad, but that I thought it was more related to his condition than any real threat. The officer talked to Dad, got the description of the person who was supposedly watching him from the front window, and told Dad he would take a look around to make sure the neighborhood was clear. I thanked the officer on the way out, and he told me he would alert the 911 service that there was a person unable to speak at this address.

We asked the doctor about the medications, and if there was something that could be causing these hallucinations, and got no response. Dad honestly felt like he was losing his mind. It wasn’t long after that he had to be readmitted to the hospital. He wasn’t getting enough air, because the trach wasn’t getting far enough down to keep his airway open. Between sleep and oxygen deprivation, he was kind of losing his mind, and his hallucinations at the hospital reached an all-time high, with the parade of animals he brought with him into the ICU (no kidding, he described them all to the nurse). They gave him something to calm him down, and after replacing the trach with something else and putting him back on the ventilator, he finally got some sleep. He pretty much slept for the next 20 hours, and when he woke up, he was much more in his right mind again. Several procedures, rooms, weeks and rehab later…he was back home again. He’s been back home for nine weeks without a return trip to the hospital (we did have one other ER trip after he came home). It’s tough, especially on Mom, and I’ve been doing my best to make things as easy as possible for her, because she bears the brunt of taking care of Dad, but it’s still hard.

That brings us smack dab into the holiday mayhem. I have fourteen nieces and nephews, eight of which have birthdays from October to February, my parents anniversary is the kickoff to the season of celebrations on September 23rd, followed by two kids’ birthdays, Halloween, sister’s birthday, another kid’s birthday (with Thanksgiving falling around the last two), two brothers’ birthdays, Christmas, New Years, and then followed quickly by five more birthdays. I’m pretty sure this is why I agree to do the strangest things by springtime; I’m just plain out of my gourd too much to realize what I’m doing. But really, I come from a big family, and if the worst that happens is that I have to celebrate more than the average person, there can’t be anything really bad in that. However, it does make scheduling anything with me from October to February quite the feat. I think it’s my friends who suffer the most, but thankfully they enjoy the antics of my family almost as much as I do, and I love them all the more for it.

So, here I sit, on the evening of Christmas, reflecting on the past year, and thinking about all the things that are coming up in 2014 (and trying to decipher router/networking protocols to finish upgrading the wi-fi in the house). There are major changes at work on the horizon, events to plan, an auction to manage, a wedding to attend, X-Wing repairs to arrange, databases to build, genealogy to research, working towards a new knee, trying to get myself and the family on a healthier course, countless birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate, and everything else that comes up along the way for me to handle. And I will handle it the way my mother and my great grandmother have taught me through their examples: one thing and one day at a time, to the best of my ability, and with the strength of my family and friends to support me through whatever comes my way.

Blessings be to you and yours during this marvelous season of hope, of joy, and of remembrance.

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