Friday, August 29, 2008

Up And To Arms

A few updates on my fractured right arm after this morning's visit with the doctor:

* Those nasty surgical staples from the incisions are gone, baby, gone -- removed today. I still have a lot of healing to do on the wounds, but things are definitely better.

* New x-rays reveal bone is filling in. This time I took a closer look at one of the break sites and cringed when I saw how badly part of my upper arm splintered. I still haven't looked at my original x-ray.

* My doctor says he wants to keep me in a cast for two more weeks and then get me into something removable. "You're kidding me," I said. He wasn't. I was expecting to be wrapped up through through the end of September.

* Physical therapy will probably start in another two weeks. I still have partial numbness in my thumb and the top of my hand, and I still can't curl my thumb. "Give it time," my doctor advises. I will.

* Pain? None. Medications? Zero, unless you count multivitamins and Citracal. God is Great!

I thank everybody who has been praying for me. It is working. Please know that I am praying for all of you too, dearest friends and relatives, that God may watch over and protect you as He has been doing for me.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Scotsman Always Gets Up

Sorrow and redemption on the dance floor after the Big Bad Break.
Photos by M. Cynecki

Light rain from a dark sky sprinkles upon my face as the medical technicians wheel me outside the ballroom on a stretcher and into a waiting ambulance.

"Huzzah!" I cried to my friends before I left them.

"Huzzah!" they replied in unison, perhaps a few in tears.

Now it's as if the sky is crying, distressed at the unfairness of a slip and fall that ravaged my right arm in the middle of a joyous Highland Fling. Morphine deadens the pain from the damaged limb, but I can feel my heart breaking.

Water flows from my eyes as I ride through the streets of Flagstaff in the back of the medical transport, still wearing my kilt, puffy shirt, sash and diced hose. The party is over for me much too soon, and now I lay trapped in a nightmare I cannot end. All I want to do is dance again.

The sadness festers through the surgery and two days in the hospital. My parents arrive, and visitors offer their words and kindness. I grow tired and angry of my gown and the tubes and the needles and the oxygen hoses. I long to sleep. I long to turn back time. If I had only worn those other shoes or danced less fervently.

"I will dance again!" I tell myself and my friends. "I will not wait until next August! I will put on the kilt and finish what I started!" I will dance with every lady I can.

I pray to God for help. Please, O Lord, get me through this. Ease my sadness and suffering.

I will not carry the baggage around for 15 or 20 years, like memories of my rotten 8th Birthday Party, where I slipped at a skating rink and broke my arm before the presents and the cake.

Future balls with my history-loving friends will come, I remind myself. Wear your kilt to this one or that one, a friend tells me. It won't come soon enough to keep my broken heart from festering.

A week passes. The arm is mending but the heart needs help.

A new opportunity emerges as I sift through several websites Saturday morning. Round The House is playing tonight’s Contra dance at the usual place in Tucson. It’s a Celtic band. I know the steps. I know the crowd, sort of, and they won’t mind if I come in the full Highland regalia. The idea excites me. I have to do it.

The words of the Highland Ball's host ping through my head: "A Scotsman always gets up."

Anticipation builds throughout the day and ramps up as I change into my plaids. On go the checked stockings and kilt with sporran. Another puffy shirt and my Stewart Royal tartans follow -- and non-skid shoes.

We're off to the ball! I get there at 7:15, 45 minutes before start time, long enough for me to explain myself. The lady at the door looks me over with a surprised grin.

“I know I’m a little early, and I know I’m a little overdressed,” I say to her as the Happy Highlander, eager to get back on the floor. I explain why I’m here, pointing out the cast on my right arm and what led to it. I explain the story again to the caller.

I hope to go through a few refresher moves beforehand with some other newcomers. There aren’t any. Everyone shuffles in a few minutes before 8:00, bypassing the refresher course at 7:30, leaving me to go through a few moves with the caller, who’s convinced I know the figures. She cautions me I may want to simplify some moves, given my healing arm and the directive to “give weight” when turning your partner in some situations.

“You might want to substitute an arm swing,” she coaches.

Contra’s spin-happy, centrifugal style is still a challenge for me, having come from the tradition of graceful bows and courtly movements with a light touch, always showing gentility to the ladies and treating every one of them as a queen.

The crowd of eager dancers pays little mind to my kilt and tartan and colorful socks. One of them is excited to see me in one of my historical outfits.

“We need to put some swords down for you!” he jokes.

I very well might have to dance a solo, given the mathematical hurdles. Normally, I don’t have to worry about finding unaccompanied ladies. But it seems I’m the only one here tonight without a partner. Two teenage girls are here, but they’re alternating between reading in the other room and dancing.

Ladies in need of a partner go fast. They don’t look about, standing wistfully on the floor. The men scoop them up, and without bowing for crying out loud!

Not me. It’s time to turn to the seated few. I approach a lady and ask in my Scottish brogue, “Are ye in need of a partnah’?”

It works, and we are soon circling left and right in figures, chaining the ladies back and forth, swinging our neighbors and partners and performing all the moves up and down a long set of dancers. Figures flow into and out of another and the caller’s words fade into the music of Round The House. My eyes connect with every lady as we spin through swings.

Occasionally I get lost or stuck after progressing to the end of the line. “I think I did that wrong,” I mumble, often before a lady reaches out to swing me again and catch me up to the next figures. The sweat flows after only after one dance. I hold my breath as ladies take my healing arm.

If people are oblivious to the kilt, fewer notice the hard casing on my right hand, half-covered by an 18th Century work shirt.

“Oh, you’re in a cast,” a lady notices sheepishly after wondering why I can’t grip her on a swing as tightly as the rest. Another kindly indulges my desire to balance with one hand rather than two, trying to keep unnecessary force off my right fingers.

That includes clapping, too. “Huzzah! Huzzah!” I shout after each dance, unable to bring both my palms together.

Many ask what happen to my arm, and I explain how I’m making up for what happened a week earlier.

“You look good in a kilt!” a lady compliments.

It's not the same as dancing with We Make History. It can never equal the fellowship I enjoy with my most cherished friends who share my enthusiasm for the dance. However, others watch out for me. A few ladies have seen me here before, and they inquire how I’m holding up. Quite well, thank you. I need some more water.

I only sit out three or four dances, either because I’m without a partner, or because I need my breath. Yet standing still is not an option, and while the rest of the room whirls and circles, I jig off to the side, lightly, arms at my side rather than over my head.

When a final waltz plays, the lady who greeted me at the door joins me as her partner. As usual, the lady is a much better waltzer than I am, and I look down at my feet to maneuver into the proper steps.

“Don’t worry about your feet,” she encourages. We waltz on.

I try a progression step with her. I know it, mostly. She doesn’t. We revert back to the two step, eyes to eyes.

The music slows to a close and I sink into a deep bow, my left hand still joined to her right. I silently cherish the warmth of the moment for several seconds, knees and head both giving honor to my partner. I slowly rise and thank her.

Round The House plays one more waltz: an Irish lullaby. This time, the lady and I dance solo, but beside each other. I glide into another improvised minuet, a freestyle, freeform ballet of stepping and twirling around the floor with hands outstretched in a graceful position. She proceeds beside me in her own inventive figures. I keep thinking we might end up back in each other’s hands, but we don’t. It’s all right.

When the last note expires, I breathe deeply with an enormous sense of thanksgiving, feeling my sweat-soaked shirt again, my head tilted towards Heaven and my eyes closed. Thank You, O Lord, for helping me find another opportunity for joy in a kilt.

“You heal that,” the caller tells me after the dance.

“I will. But my heart needed healing too, tonight.”

“I’m so glad I could be a part of it,” she replies, hugging me.

I fall into bed exhausted but happy. The painful memories shall fade. Happier thoughts shall take their place. Any day I can dance in a kilt is a good one.

Dancers form up lines again, shaken but prayerful, desiring to honor the wishes of the injured Highlander led off the floor in a stretcher to the cries and responses of “Huzzah! Huzzah!”

The band plays a reel, an enthusiastic reel. Inhibitions against joy dissolve away as the dancers merrily spin themselves around and around, up and down each set.

“You know, this is a Christopher dance,” a lady observes.

“Huzzah!” another dancer cries.

“Huzzah!” others respond.

Across the hills, the Highlander longs to be with them again. In his prayers and dreams, he is.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Introducing A New Member Of The Cast

My first follow-up with the doctor since I broke my arm has brought good news and a new cast.

Before: Filling out paperwork at UPH with my left (non-writing) hand. Underneath that sling lies a massive splint of plaster, cotton, gauze... and my healing right hand. But not for long.

New x-rays reveal the healing continues (Praise God!), and in the cast room, technicians cut away the wrapped behemoth, leaving me to face the staples left in two sides of my arm after the plates went in. Truth be told, things didn't look as bad as I feared, but my skin's got some more healing to do. The staples should come out next week. For now, it's time to move up to a new cast.

After the gauze and the main layer goes on, my technician cuts notches to allow me to bend my elbows. He says he has "angel hands." Each touch feels like a hug.

"What color would you like?"

"Blue," I say. Patriot Blue. Blue like that of Heaven and God's Favor. Sky blue like the trim of my 1st Virginia uniform.

"Do I have to wear a sling?" I query.

"No," my technician answers. "In fact, we recommend you don't so you can move that arm."

I have conquered the sling. Huzzah! Huzzah!

God Is Great!

Thanks to Dan for the photos!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Ultimate Surgeon

Some of you are expecting a story from last Saturday's Highland Ball. However, I do not have a story for you, at least not one of the sort you're used to reading.

While I was dancing a spirited Highland Jig or Highland Fling, I slipped in my buckled shoes, fell onto the floor, and shattered my right arm. After four hours of surgery, two steel plates, and two days in recovery at Flagstaff Medical Center, I'm back home in Tucson, learning to type with one hand. I can wiggle all my right fingers and thumb, and I have feeling in all of them. And miracle of miracles, I'm pain-free in my right arm. This is not due to heavy medication or sedation.

One of the best surgeons in Northern Arizona wired my limb back together, and I strongly suspect he learned a few new things on the job. He told me he'd never seen anything like what the x-rays showed him. I haven't seen those x-rays, and I don't want to see them. But for the recovery I am now making and the healing I am experiencing, that credit goes to God, the Ultimate Surgeon.

Dozens of people have been praying for me since the accident. They prayed as I was led off the dance floor in a stretcher. They prayed after the dance and the next day after that. And they continue to pray. I am grateful to all my friends beyond words, as those prayers are being answered in remarkable ways. Only one explanation will suffice for my pain-free recovering status so quickly after the accident: God's Healing Touch and Love. Romans 8:28 (NASV) tells us: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." That power of massed prayer certainly worked together for good.

Let me leave you with another communal moment of good. When Flagstaff's EMT's were carrying me out of the ballroom in the stretcher, as they were pumping my arm full of morphine, I gathered the God-given strength within me to shout words of jubilation for which I have become well-known:

"HUZZAH!" I shouted with all my might.

"HUZZAH!" returned my friends and family of We Make History on the dance floor in unison.

"HUZZAH!" I shouted again.

"HUZZAH!" they returned with equal enthusiasm.

I begged the dancing continue, and it did, after a pause. Joy emerged from shock and sadness, happiness from sorrow. Now my joy emerges too from the pain of the injury and the sadness over missing out on part of one of my favorite dances of the year. I shall dance again in full Scottish attire, and I won't wait a year to do it. For God has Blessed me with so many gifts, and to Him I owe my happiness and healing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not Cute Communist Enough For Prime Time

That beautiful little Chinese girl who sang "Ode To The Motherland" during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies wasn't singing at all. She was mouthing it. Apparently the original young singer wasn't pretty enough for the ChiComs, according to AFP:
[Music Designer Chen Qigang] said the final decision to stage the event with Lin lip-synching to another girl's voice was taken after a senior member of China's ruling Communist Party politburo attended a rehearsal.

"He told us there was a problem that we needed to fix it, so we did," he said, without disclosing further details of the order.
And how much you want to bet they ordered red for the color of Lin Miaoke's dress? Did she also get coaching from Milli Vanilli? I hope Miaoke's too young to understand how she became a human propaganda poster.

People who use children as political tools chap my hide, as they say here in the west. On one hand, we have a dazzling, colorful, beautiful ceremony which also happens to be a very carefully-engineered publicity piece designed to divert our bewildered eyes away from China's various human-rights abuses and that little incident in the Square nearly two decades ago.

Film critic Roger Ebert noted on his blog:
The closest sight I have seen to Friday night's spectacle, and I mean this objectively, not with disrespect, is the sight of all those Germans marching wave upon wave before Hitler in "Triumph of the Will."
"Triumph of the Will" portrayed the Nazis in a sympathetic light. The Beijing opening ceremonies tries to make us think maybe Communism isn't all that bad... and that's not good.

As for the girl who really sang, the London Telegraph reports:
Yang Peiyi is said to have reacted well to the disappointment. "I am proud to have been chosen to sing at all," she is reported to have said.
Perhaps the ChiComs chose those words for her, too.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Reel To Reel: WALL-E

An inconvenient truth for kids -- and adults.

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Voices of: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, Macintalk
Rated: G
Red Flags: NONE! (unless you're one of those wingnuts who can't stand any form of ecological message in your films)

Pixar has a track record that leaves Hollywood moguls slobbering. Not one of its films has failed to crack the $100 million mark. They also do well in the critic-sphere. The studio once helmed by Steve Jobs has yet to produce a flop. Other computer-animation factories have sprouted, including PDI, DreamWorks Animation, and Disney's digital unit.

But Pixar has the one thing they've never captured: a universal appeal to both kids and adults. WALL-E takes what could've been a standard kid flick and gives it emotional depth and dimension. It may be the best love story ever conceived for robots, and I'm not counting 1981's pathetic Heartbeeps.

The story begins on a garbage-buried run-down Earth, deserted and dead of mass consumption enabled by superstore behemoth Buy 'N Large (poke, poke, Wal-Mart). Humans have long jetted off into space, leaving all the trash behind for droids to collect and stack into neat junkyard cubes. As the environment decomposed, and dust storms ravaged the planet, the junk-collecting robots ceased operation, save for the title character. We're not really sure if he knows he's the only functioning droid left on earth, but we do know he likes to collect cigarette lighters, kitchen utensils and bobbleheads. He's also an obsessive fan of the musical Hello, Dolly!, playing "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" over and over in his built-in digital music device as he cleans up other people's messes. A VHS tape of the Barbara Streisand movie version runs every night in his pad. I guess all the DVD's rotted away in landfills.

One day, a probe lands in the middle of this trash-heap Earth, deploying an egg-shaped droid named EVA. She's got that shapely body inspired by Apple and a blaster inspired by Han Solo. EVA immediately catches the eye of WALL-E's lovesick processor and he's set on interfacing in some old-fashioned way. EVA has a different mission: to find signs of life.

And that's WALL-E's overall charge to us, as we see humans of the future strung out on virtual reality and consumerism and bloated from sedentary lifestyles. They interact through computer screens, blind to natural beauty and the power of touch. No need for exercise when you've got a hoverchair and robots catering to your every desire aboard a galactic cruise ship with a virtual sun that also gives you the time and temperature. Aren't computers cool?

The movie draws from or channels a smorgasbord of sci-fi flicks, including Short Circuit, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Silent Running, Minority Report, and E.T..

WALL-E is a film you see with the kids and then talk about in the car ride home. You can talk about the cute robots, or you can talk about what happens when people spend too much time in front of the PlayStation or trash the environment. And adults, you can try to remember the last time your eyes watered over a pair of droids in love. You can try.