Total Eclipse 2017

After many weeks of planning, the eclipse finally arrived yesterday. We considered going as far as Grand Island,NE or Knoxville,TN to see it with hotel rooms reserved in three locations for easy access to all points in between along the path of totality. Though as time passed, we shyed away from the possibility of going to Carbondale, Illinois.  While it was the closest to Chicago, we realized that it would likely be very crowded due to all the chatter we heard from those around us and on media.  So I scouted out locations out in the country away from cities so that we would have the potential to sidestep any stray clouds that might appear.  I looked on Google Maps to find places that had parking lots where we might set up camp.  Most of the places were church parking lots since I figured they’d likely be empty on a Monday save for some locals or church patrons.

As the forecast progressed, it became apparent that points in Kentucky or Tennessee would be the best bet.  The morning of the eclipse, we were originally planning on going as far as a town north of Nashville, but the forecast cleared up closer to Illinois and we settled on a location west of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  I had found a small church named the Sinking Fork Baptist Church during the week before and it looked like a good spot.  The morning of the eclipse, I was in touch with my friend, Colleen, who was also down there with her family and they went there first to scope it out.  Turned out to be the perfect location.  It was in the low 90’s and very hot and humid.  The church had opened their air-conditioned recreation center with tables for people to sit and offered free snacks and refreshments.  They only asked for a thank you note and a donation of your choosing.

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As the moon moved slowly in front of the sun, we occasionally looked up and took some photos (see above), but largely went about other tasks as needed.  We had solar glasses, but I also outfitted all of our binoculars and my telescope with solar filters.  We also bought solar filters for our SLR cameras.  We used them all to get a closer look.  At about ten minutes to totality, we started to notice the light diminishing very slowly. Also the oppressive heat had disappeared.  Those tendencies increased exponentially as totality approached until a marked drop in light when totality arrived.

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It lasted two and half minutes and after all that planning and thinking of what I’d do during that time, it went all too fast.  First, I soaked in the experience. It was quite surreal.  This glowing ring high in the sky.  The surrounding area darkened creating silhouettes against the sunset-like skies on the horizon.  I took a 30 second video of those skies, and of course took many many photos of the aura (see above).  But there were a couple things that I wish I had done.  Look at the aura through both the telescope and the binoculars.  After looking at the photos, I see that there were a few solar flares visible during totality (see below).  But maybe I can do that in seven years.

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After totality ended, everyone started getting ready to leave and return home.  We left their parking lot at 2:15PM.  There was already traffic heading into Hopkinsville, but we headed in the other direction.  There was no cellular service, likely due to the huge increase of people in the area.  So we had no access to see where to avoid traffic.  We went old school, using paper maps and following the signs, but we quickly found ourselves at a standstill on a back road that was not on our maps (the sign said to go that way). After about thirty minutes of inching along, we turned back and eventually got Google Maps to work.  It suggested that if we go through Illinois instead of Indiana, we’d save 45 minutes.  Since I had to be somewhere at 8AM the next morning, I figured every 45 minutes counted even if I-57 in Illinois might get a bit more traffic.  We fatefully headed back to Illinois while watching the ETA in Chicago on Google Maps creep higher each minute.  At times it seemed our estimated remaining travel time stayed the same even after an hour passed on the road.  We did our best to search out alternative routes and side stepped a number of traffic jams that were 90 minutes to go 10 miles.  There was also a torrential rain after midnight with lightning striking to either side of us.  What should have taken 7 hours, took 14 hours in the end and we arrived at 4:30AM this morning.  The drive back was an adventure, but it was definitely worth it for experiencing an amazing natural phenomenon.

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Searching

So now it has been nearly five weeks that I have been without employment.  It has been an interesting time.  Sometimes when you are employed and times are tough, you dream of a time when you are not employed and you have that time that you’ve always wanted to concentrate on all those hobbies, pet projects, exercising, losing weight, or spring cleaning projects that you always wish you had more time to spend on.  Maybe it’s different for me since I don’t have the luxury of just taking a gap month/months/year and need to pay the bills, but my time has toggled between the job search, making sure the kids get to and from their summer camps, and taking care of our puppy.  Yes, I have taken some time for my processing my photographs, going through some boxes of items, and organizing a bit, but not to the level of my ‘day dreams’.

Apart from my puppy duties and transportation of my offspring, what have my job search duties been like?  Actually, now that I look at the previous post, it gave a good overview of what it involves.  Each morning, I check the lists of posts/emails of potential job postings.  At first this took a good amount of time since the positions that I’m looking for have fairly universal names and job descriptions.  It took and sometimes still takes a fair amount of time to drill down deeper to see if this is in an industry that applies to my background.  Something like Project Manager applies to a vast variety of different domains and some places require you to click through three times before you find out what they are really looking for.  Another aspect of these job postings is that often they are from companies that I haven’t heard of yet.  So a fair amount of research is necessary to investigate who they are, what they do, and where are they located.  Even then I may not be completely sure if my interpretation of their job and company description fit with my abilities and interests.

Another task is to look at the job postings on targeted companies/organizations (six dozen of them).  This also takes time and research since the posting on these pages span a wide variety of positions.  For instance in 80 listings, there may not be anything that applies, but there are other positions like building engineer, research assistant, administrative assistant, facilities manager, civil engineer (transportation), or executive director of marketing.  While these websites have made great strides since my search four years ago, some of their search functions are lacking.  Plus similar to the descriptions, many places have vague ‘departments’ for the types of jobs that could be of interest to me.  While I am very thankful that things have greatly progressed from the days of looking up jobs in the newspaper and literally printing out cover letters and resumes and blindly sending them snail mail to some hiring manager at firms that had not posted positions, it still takes a great amount of time.

Once a job posting is determined to be both desirable and a decent fit, the process of applying begins.  Over the past weeks, I’ve created a fairly good collection of both resumes and cover letters tailored to various positions, but there are still about half of the potential positions that require an in depth review of the posting, research into the company, and a rebuild of the cover letter, the resume, or both.  Also, while an application on LinkedIn takes all of 30 seconds once your cover letter and resume are complete, some websites require you to jump through hoops that can take easily an hour.  These usually require you to restate every thing that is already on your resume along with exact dates of employment (to the day, not the month), addresses of companies, contact information of previous employers, and contact information of references.  This has been a bit surreal since two of my four former employers do not exist anymore and only one of the four still goes by their current name.  The last time I had to be that detailed about my employment history was for security clearance when I applied for  Canadian permanent residence.

While all of this is definitely worth the effort, my mention of it is just to present how much time it takes and how little free time there is to tackle all those past times you dream you’d complete if you didn’t have to work. I think there may be a chance that once I’ve exhausted all my potential leads and the leads only trickle in that I may have time for these past times.  I hope at that point I’ll start getting responses and I will start the next step of preparing for interviews.  The past times can wait as they always have.

As a side note, this has been moderately stressful.  But it still doesn’t hold a candle to the stress during the four months between when I moved myself and our stuff to Chicago while my wife was stuck in Montreal for four months waiting for her green card to clear.  So there’s that.  Plus it’s summertime, even if I can only enjoy it in moderation.

Introspection and Reevaluation

So five weeks ago, my boss called me into his office.  With a long face, he informed me that they would be eliminating my position by the end of the month.  My position was a new role when I started four years ago and we worked over the years to determine exactly what the role should be and how it could be most effective.  It was very effective in many areas, but there was quite a bit of trial and error.  It was a great learning experience and I’ve learned a great deal about another aspect of the building industry.  Ultimately, it did not work out.  They were very gracious and gave me time to pass along everything that I had established and get a running start at finding something else.

It was the first time that I’ve ever been let go from somewhere and I think for almost everyone who this happens to, your ego takes a hit.  You wonder if you can still do it and whether you want to do it.  The thoughts and feelings over the past weeks is interesting to look at in retrospect.  You start off feeling defeated and steadily you inch back to believing in yourself and your abilities.  I’m very fortunate to be let go while the job market is still strong (knock on wood).

Once I regrouped, I realized that this is happening exactly halfway through my working life.  So what do I really want to do over the next twenty years.  I’ve been lucky to have touched quite a variety of different aspects of the construction industry.  That experience allows me to consider quite a wide variety of positions.  At first I considered anything and everything, and actually I’ll keep considering everything until I find something.  But it was very daunting to look at everything and think hard about whether that could be what I could do and would like to do.  Plus in order to apply for each of them required tailoring my resume and cover letter to the position posted.  This has been quite the contrast to when we moved back to Chicago from Montreal four years ago.  Back then I was looking at only one type of job and there were primarily about a half dozen places that I seriously preferred.

It has also been a process to refine and tweak my job search activities.  Since I can be a bit obsessively organized, I have a procedure and file structure to consider each job posting relative to other postings.  It helps to determine which have the best potential given a selection of criteria such as if it is enjoyable, is it easy to get to, and does it line up with my long term goals.  I’ve also started prepping for interviews by thinking through answers to some of the obvious questions.  That process has helped to think deeper about what I really want to do during this second half of my career.  I’ve also been talking to friends in the industry and their advice has also helped me hone my aspirations and search activities.  It has been an interesting process of brainstorming, boiling things down, and tweaking things a little every so often.

So I’ve now been at it for five weeks, but only full time for the last two weeks.  It has been odd to be home all the time, working almost all available hours concentrating on the search.  The time at home has allowed me to spend more time with the kids taking them to and from their summer activities.  Plus I get to walk the dog more often.  But most of those leisure activities that you’d normally do during time off at home will have to wait until I’m assured that I have a position lined up.  Even then, I’ll likely be preparing for that position.  The process has been unnerving throughout. Especially at the beginning since I didn’t really know what I might end up doing, but even now that I’ve refined what I’m searching for, since regardless of which of those roles I ultimately take, it will be different than what I’ve been doing.  They should all be exciting challenges since I will be learning something new or doing something differently than how I had done them in the past.  For the time being, the job search is still full steam ahead.

Recovered – Month 5, March 22, 2017

My intention was to regularly post about the recovery from the fall off my bicycle, but other things took priority and I’m finally getting around to it.  I thought it is still worth noting what I remember of it.  It has now been almost five months since the fall.  Here is what I remember of the end of last year.

At Thanksgiving (four weeks after the fall), my taste buds were still the same, but any aches and pains were subsiding. By then I was only occasionally taking ibuprofen, but most things still tasted bad.  Range of motion was fine, but I still felt what I described as a clicking sound making certain movements. My thought is that it was loose bone rubbing against each other, but my doctor later suggested that it’s just a tendon or muscle moving over something slightly protruding (bone?).  He suggested that I need to work on stretching my back muscles.

By Christmas (nine weeks after the fall), I was pretty much back to normal. No pain meds and my sense of taste was almost completely back.  This also meant that I was back to eating well and managed to gain back any weight that I had lost.  It was the holiday season and I traditionally have not done well weight-wise during that time.  One unintended test of the back was when my daughter was out boogie boarding on the waves.  Not even thinking about it, I went out and joined her. That mean repeatedly throwing my torso onto the board to catch the waves.  Despite all that jarring, my back showed no signs of problems. Though my triceps ached from repeatedly pushing myself up off the sand.

Since then, the clicking feeling has steadily subsided and I’ve returned to doing things normally.  I even rode the bike a couple times to work without any trauma.  Though you can bet that I was sure to slow down on ramps and turns.  I have had a bit of ache return to my back, but that has been more due to physiological changes that I’ll elaborate on soon.

Recovery Update – Day 17, Nov 13, 2016

First I’ll start with an update on the current status. In regards to the pain killers, while I continue to take the baseline of 2400mg of ibuprofen, I have cut down on taking Norco to an average of 5mg per day.  If I take a Norco, it is usually before going to bed, but sometimes I take one in the morning if thing is a constant pain or strong ache.  In general, I don’t have the ache on a continual basis and often I feel normal. There are still occasions when I’ll make a certain movement and get a bit of pain, but no where near as severe as before. Sleeping is slowly getting better in part because I’ve been trying the potentially painful positions like on my left side or on my stomach.  There is still some pain, but it is lessening.

In regards to taste and diet, it seems that there has been little change. Most foods are disagreeable. Certain foods like a salad I had at a restaurant last week tasted downright awful. I’ve been trying some of my favorite places to test them out. Naf Naf has very stong flavors that I’ve enjoyed, but it had a fairly awful taste. Same goes for pizza which had been my pig-out food.  Hamburgers were not bad, but definitely not as great as before.  Same goes for granola cereal. I’ve found that nuts and popcorn taste almost identical to how they did before.  So I’ve been eating a lot of popcorn. It is still to be seen if this change in taste is temporary due to the medication I’m taking or if it is permanent due to hitting my head in the wipeout. The doctor has suggested the former since it seems my sense of smell hasn’t changed.  The upside of this is that I continue to lose weight.  I’m now down 11 pounds.  Considering that I had hopec to lose at least 23 pounds and hopefully 43 pounds by the spring to get down to a healthy weight, I really don’t have a problem with this.

In regards to activity, I’m basically waiting until the pain is gone and I’m off the medications.  I had just finished the marathon a couple weeks before the wipe out and I’d like to keep up that level of health.  Actually, I’d like to build on it since I wasn’t at the level I was hoping for when I ran the marathon.

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So this past week I met with my regular doctor and had a follow up with the trauma doctors that followed me in the hospital after the wipe out. Now when I was in the hospital, they explained that they would not do surgery to realign the ribs and possibly pin them together because it was too invasive.  They explained that there is a network of muscles around the ribs that will hold them in place and there is a risk of complications and more pain if those muscles were compromised. I understood this as the muscles would realign the ribs and the rib cage would look like it had before, but would have weaker spots where the breaks occurred. But after talking to them this week, I now understand that all the bones will remain in place and the sharp ends will calcify and any bones still near the others will join together.  It took some time for me to accept this.  I now realize that my rib cage is permanently compromised on the back left side. It was an uneasy feeling to realize that I’m not ‘whole’ and as solid as before. I’ll have to think twice about activities that involve hard falling like skiing.  Regardless, it made me realize that I was very lucky that none of those rib pieces caused more damage like a collapsed lung or internal bleeding.

Recovery Update – Day 9, Nov 5,2016

Just over a week after the fall, it feels that I’ve made quite a bit of progress. While on the pain medication, I feel almost normal.

As far as pain medication, I still keep trying to see if the narcotics are necessary. My base medication is the maximum allowed ibuprofen. With that there is a fairly constant ache in my back along with other occasional pains like my sprained thumb and my stomach. When I do take the narcotics (acetaminafin with hydrodone), I’m able to take only one tablet instead of two to feel almost normal.

Over the past week I’ve had time to think more about what happened during the fall. I’m now fairly sure that as I went down, I leaned into the ground with my torso in order to prevent damage to my limbs. I remember doing this other times when then forces were not as great and my torso could take the blow.

One thing I’ve come to realize over the past week is that I don’t seem to feel hungry despite not eating for a while. Plus it seems that food tastes differently. It seems like one of my tastes sensors is not working and food tends to taste slightly acrid after chewing it a bit. So when I think of eating a favorite food, that memory of the acrid taste kills the desire to eat anything. It is possible that this is due to the medication, but I do wonder if it is due to bumping my head on the ground. It happened to a friend once when she bumped her head from a fall and 25 years later she still has limited taste. I’ve already lost six pounds. I welcome the weight loss, but wonder what life could be like without the enjoyment of food.

Waking up, or more specifically getting out of bed, has gotten easier. I don’t get the sharp pains that I had a couple days ago. They are now just aches when I get vertical. I also have better range of motion with my left arm. It hurts less to reach into my pant pockets or the back of my head. Without thinking about it, I’ve returned to the time when I didn’t watch my movements to prevent back pain. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt, sometimes it does. But I can definitely feel that the area is much more solid and less sensitive to bad moves.

One item of note is that I haven’t had any alcohol since the fall. The reason is because I’m taking all the medication, but I wouldn’t mind continuing that once I’m off the meds.

Four days after the fall, I became quite concerned that I had not had a bowel movement. I bought some laxatives and helped things along manually. It took two days for thing to return to free flowing.

The Bike Fall

This past week I had a fall off my bicycle that lead to my first ride in an ambulance, my first broken bone(s), and a stay in the hospital.

For most of my working life, I’ve been lucky to live close enough to work to commute by bike.  There were some years when the kids were young that it was not an option, but while I’m not an avid cyclist, I’ve enjoyed that cycling to work gets in some exercise instead of just sitting on public transportation.  Since we moved back to Chicago, I signed up for the Divvy rental bike service and I’ve tried to ride to work as often as possible. I’ve ridden enough that each ride only cost 50 cents due to the $75 yearly dues. I’ve avoided cycling in the rain and when it gets below 37 degrees to avoid ice.  I had ridden when there was light snow on the ground, but once fell on black ice and resolved to only ride when it is warm enough that no ice was present.

Divvy bikes are heavy and the three gears don’t allow you to go very fast.  One advantage of the slower ride is that on busy streets, you have a longer reaction time for open car doors or pedestrians jumping out from between parked cars.  During my first year riding the Divvy bikes, I rode along the main streets of the city where the space for bikes can get a bit cramped.  The ride was about five and a half miles each way and I was a bit concerned about the encounters with cars and pedestrians.  Over a year ago, I decided to take a longer 8 mile route. The route includes taking secondary streets to get to the lake then taking the lakefront path down the the path along the river.  It takes longer, but it was nice to ride along the lake and the beaches.  Since the bikes don’t go very fast, there is one spot after crossing the river that has a long ramp down where I build up speed.  My goal was to generate enough speed to pass over a hill further down the path without peddling.  That means pushing the limits on safe speed turning a corner at the bottom of the ramp. Earlier this week I thought to myself that it might not be a good idea to keep pushing this.

So this past Thursday morning I rode my Divvy to work wearing my best suit since I had to conduct an interview at work.  It had rained the night before, so the pavement was damp in most places and there were places where the autumn leaves had fallen.  As I approached the ramp, I thought to myself that it might not be a good idea to push it today since I didn’t want to ruin my good suit if I fell.  But I pushed it anyway. Soon after I took that sharp turn, the wheels slid out to my right.  Judging by my injuries, I must have landed with full force on the back left side of my torso.  I felt my glasses fly off and heard them skip along the pavement.  I thought for sure that they were trashed. It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, so I got on all fours and tried to catch my breath.  People gathered around and asked if I was OK and if I needed an ambulance.  It was extremely difficult to talk since I could barely breath, but I asked them to hold off with the ambulance while I try to catch my breath. I also asked them to retrieve my things especially my glasses which were unscathed.

After what seemed to be a couple minutes, I took their advice to walk twenty feet over to a park bench.  Even while sitting I was still having difficulty breathing and I still had strong pains in my torso.  The people who stopped made suggestions of calling an ambulance, catching a cab, or walking to the emergency room a few blocks away. A couple men offered to stay and help so I told the others that I would be fine and they could go.  One of the two men returned my Divvy bike to the docking station.  As I was sitting there still having trouble breathing, I evaluated the situation and realized that it would be incredibly difficult to walk even to the nearest place to catch a cab.  Since ambulances could travel through the park to the bike path, I realized that this was my best option.  I asked one of the men to call one for me.

First a fire department paramedic truck arrived and did a preliminary evaluation.  They also brought me inside a nearby snack shop with a collapsible wheelchair to keep warm. Once the ambulance arrived, they also conducted an evaluation. I was a bit surprised when they asked for me to climb into the back, but I made it despite all the sharp pains.  I was still having difficulty breathing so I was looking forward to getting to the emergency room in hopes they could help with that and the pain.

The eight hours in the ER progressed from high attention by the practitioners to less attention.  They once again ran through my vital information and did a series of evaluations/consultations included a rather painful x-ray.  After a while, my breathing returned to a reasonable level, but it was still difficult to talk.  I notified family and work about the situation.  The practitioners and I kept asking each other questions.  My questions were to determine where we are in the evaluation and what are the following steps.  They told me that I had broken six ribs in my back on the left side, but the pain in my right hand was just a sprain since nothing came up on the x-rays. I had a few other scrapes, but there was nothing else internally like a collapsed lung or internal bleeding. They did give me morphine for the pain, but after the first three doses, they stopped coming by to give more when I asked.  At the end of my stay in the ER, all of the morphine had worn off, so I returned to the initial level of pain. They told me that a room upstairs would be ready soon and in order to free up the room they placed me in the hall. It seemed that they forgot about me while in the hall since it took three hours before I was taken up there and I overheard someone saying that I had already been sent up.

Once in the room, they transferred me from the gurney to the hospital bed by sliding me over.  This was probably the most painful part of the time there.  The slide didn’t hurt, but one of the practitioners wanted to pull the sheet out from under me as quickly as possible despite my plea to take it slow.  But once that was over, things settled down over the next 48 hours into a rhythm of different pain medications, meals, vitals readings, resting, and keeping people apprised of what was going on.  Over time they transitioned me from a morphine button that I controlled to oral pain medications at intervals. This was part of the transition to discharge and the return home. All the practitioners (doctors, nurses, personal care technicians, and dining attendants) were attentive and answered all my questions. Time was also spent determining the best movement to limit pain and that is still ongoing. The physical therapists also helped with that for the movements that I would need once getting home such as getting out of bed and climbing stairs. Pain levels and mobility seemed to increase or decrease from time to time. For instance, the afternoon after the fall I felt great and thought that I’d be very mobile by Monday. But that night, I woke up with heavy pain and it took a while for pain killers to correct that later in the morning.  Despite usually low levels of pain while in bed, I didn’t sleep more than four hours a night.  So I tended to doze off at times during the day.

Yesterday, I returned home after two nights at the hospital. It has been fairly easy to return, but I still need to determine a sleeping position that does not leave me sore in the morning.  I’ve also been working to see if there are any of the pain medications that I can wean off.  Overall, I have a good range of motion with my arms and legs as long as I don’t extend too far.  Currently the biggest obstacle is finding the best sleeping position. My wife and the kids help me whenever they can, but during the day I’ve felt fine enough to do most things myself.

Now the questions are how quickly I can return to normal life.  The plan is to take off one more day and see how well I feel that day. If it is like today, I could go back on Tuesday even if it is a half day.  If today is any indication, I could be back into a normal routine as soon as this week, but we’ll have to see how things progress.