"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Friday, October 17, 2008

I can see clearly now

We've been back from our Colorado vacation for a week now, and what's the first thing that any average, normal, red-blooded American typically says when returning from a 2,500 mile road trip? They say "I think I'll ask someone to cut a slit in my eyeball, insert a probe to liquefy a portion of it with sonic waves, and then suck it out with a straw," of course.


You mean everyone doesn't say this? It's just me? Hmmmmm, OK. I always knew I was a bit, er, different. In any case, I had cataract surgery on Monday and all has gone well so far. I confess that I was a bit nervous when the procedure (called "phacoemulsification") was first explained to me, but it's been performed on millions of people and was quick and totally painless. In fact, it took them longer to set up for it than the actual operation itself. This perception was no doubt also due in part to the wonderful drugs I was given; I recall looking up from the table as a guy appeared over me saying "Hi there! I'm your anesthesiologist!" in what seemed like a curiously way too chipper tone of voice, and the next thing I knew, it was all over and I was being handed a cookie and a carton of orange juice.

The difference in my eyesight has been dramatic. I've gone without glasses all week for the first time in perhaps 40 years, and although there's still another cataract in my left eye that will need to be removed eventually (one of the many negative side effects of the prednisone I take for my IPF), it's not nearly as bad as the one I had done this week, and my doc thinks I should wait perhaps another year or so. It will take some getting used to, as my vision is now asymmetrical: the "new" eye sees 20-20 at distance but not as sharp close-up, while the "old" eye does just the opposite. However, the doc tells me my brain will learn to compensate for this by shifting most of the work of seeing to whichever eye is better focused on the particular task at hand as required.

No glasses ... what a concept!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Top of the world

I wasn't sure I could do it, but here I am standing at the top of Lobo Overlook, about a thousand feet above the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. (Note the screen grab at right from the van's GPS-enabled onboard road atlas software, elevation 11,800 ft.) In comparison to the snow and sleet on the pass during the trip over, the weather has turned beautiful so we decided another drive up the mountain was in order since we got gypped out of the nice views we had hoped for originally. This time, we were not disappointed (click pic for a much larger view):

We were lucky to reach this spot; the dirt road leading up to it from the top of Wolf Creek is impassible after the first heavy snowfall each year, and was already a bit dicey in places, having already taken a good hit from the storm we slogged through a week earlier. But I was thrilled to take in the indescribable view from the top, one I thought a few years ago I might never see again. And, as an extra bonus, we were treated by a visit from several Gray Jays, also called "camp robbers" due to their extremely bold, almost tame behavior around humans; they will take food offered to them right from your hand:

The birds have developed these habits (which are completely abnormal to most wild creatures) because they live at extreme high altitudes where food sources are scarce. Thus, they are very aggressive and will take food anywhere they can find it, including handouts from passing tourists. On one of our Colorado trips several years ago, I was stunned to first encounter a flock of camp robbers on a lunch stop on Slumgullion Pass as they swooped down out of the trees to alight on my head, shoulders, and outstretched arms and hands. I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever experienced, and was absolutely delighted to have it happen again. Nature can be pretty damn incredible, I must say. :-)

Back in Pagosa Springs, before heading back to Texas we had to stop by the spot that was almost our home many years ago. The in-laws owned a 40-acre parcel of land a ways out of town, and had set aside this portion of it for us to build on when the "time was right" and we could afford it:

Unfortunately however, the time never was "right"; back then, there was no possible way we could have afforded to quit our jobs in Houston and move to Pagosa, let alone shoulder the cost of constructing a home there. (There were other concerns as well, including the lack of practical access to water and utilities, which may be one reason why no one has built anything on the site to this day.) But while we never drew up anything formal, I had visions (and even rough floor plans) of our perfect "log cabin", complete with wrap-around decking and a 2nd-floor recording studio loft. The best part of all was that this would be the view from our front window:

Now that's inspiration! Alas, it's a dream that will remain unfulfilled, as the in-laws had to sell the land to pay medical bills as they got older and their health started failing. But I could still look at that spot today and see our house in my mind. It's beautiful, folks. You should come up sometime.

On a more upbeat note, Mrs. Toast's brother still lives in Pagosa and we had a fine time visiting him. Although the view from his deck doesn't quite rival the view from our fantasy home, it's still not too shabby:

Finally, in case you can't get enough Colorado scenery, here's a slide show of some other photos from our trip. That's it from the Rockies, see you back in Texas!


Monday, October 06, 2008

Drivin' along in my automobile

It's been an interesting week so far, so come along on a virtual road trip as we slog through flat, boring Kansas and finally arrive in the Mile High City.

I'll have more to write later about my visit with the doctors there, but for now let me just tell you that things at the hospital went very well, and we also enjoyed some fine food and drink while in town. Thanks, SupaCoo ... and Pete says hi. :-)

One thing I've always thought about Denver is that while it's a fine city (as cities in general go), other than the occasional glimpse of an outline of mountains through the haze in the distance it doesn't really feel a whole lot like Colorado to me. But once we headed south, that changed quickly and the scenery became fantastic.

And just in case we had any doubt where we were:

I wasn't sure how my compromised lungs would react to the altitude, but I was able to handle ten thousand feet with a smile (sort of).

The weather, which had been gorgeous so far, took a turn for the worse as we got further south approaching the San Juans, and I could tell by the clouds on the mountain that we might be in for a bit of nastiness going over Wolf Creek Pass.

Sure enough, the clouds turned into sprinkles, then a steady rain by Del Norte. By the time we got about halfway up the mountain, it had turned into slushy sleet, and we crawled over the top of the pass in a full-blown blizzard under nearly whiteout conditions. Fortunately, I had not forgotten my winter-driving skills learned long ago in Massachusetts, and kept up a slow, steady pace, following the ruts of the vehicle in front of me in low gear and staying off the brake. (The fact that our van is front-wheel drive helped a lot.) I'm sorry we don't have any photos of this portion of the trip to share with you, as I was kind of focused on trying not to drive off the side of the road, and Mrs. Toast had a white-knuckle grip on the chicken bar for most of the way. It was an adventure, for sure.

But fortunately we made it down off Wolf Creek and into Pagosa Springs alive, and yesterday morning got this gorgeous photo of the snow-capped mountain peak.

We'll be here for a couple of more days before heading back to Texas. I'm definitely noticing the 7,200' altitude here, and getting out of breath much more easily just by walking short distances. My O2 saturation is dropping considerably lower, too -- down to 77-80% at times, whereas it hardly ever dips below 90% back home. I just need to take it slow and easy, though, and I should be OK. It's worth it; this is most definitely a Rocky Mountain High!