Geeky Bob

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Always Check Your Foxhole

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I'd share an amusing story from my first days in the Army. One of the infamous Murphy's Laws of Combat states, "When you have secured an area, don't forget to tell the enemy." While the following anecdote isn't exactly what is meant by that statement, my situation always reminds me of that saying.

From April through June of 1986, I attended Basic Training in Fort Leonard Wood (FLW), Missouri. (Or, as we trainees liked to call it, "Fort Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery.") At the time, Basic Training was eight weeks long, during which trainees were taught all of the basic essentials for becoming a soldier; combat skills, physical fitness, navigation, communications, first aid, and - of course - basic marksmanship.

The standard-issue rifle at the time was the M-16A1, and soldiers were taught to fire from several positions: prone, sitting, and standing supported in a foxhole. However, foxholes on the FLW ranges were not actual foxholes; they were culvert pipes buried vertically in the ground, with wood pallets in the bottom on which shorter soldiers could stand to gain a little more height, and each foxhole was fitted with a wood cover to keep the rain out at night. (At least in theory; I still spent a lot of time in the mud at the bottom of a foxhole...)

All of that being said, on one particular occasion, our company had an unexpected lesson in checking out your environment before settling in. One of the ranges had 40 foxholes arranged in a single firing line, and I was assigned to lane #1. We were the first trainees on the range, so the first order of action was for everyone to uncover their foxhole for that day's marksmanship training.

When the Range Safety NCO in the tower gave the appropriate command over the range loudspeaker, everyone pulled the cover off their foxhole, and then everyone but me jumped in. However, I actually looked down before jumping in; that was a very good thing for me to do, because I saw the tail end of a black snake slither under the wood pallet at the bottom of my foxhole. I spent part of my childhood living near the Florida swamps, so I knew of several black snakes with which no one should be taking any chances, so I simply stood up and raised my hand for assistance.

The Range Safety NCO saw me from his lofty perch in the tower, and he bellowed over the loudspeaker, "Lane 1: what is your problem???"

As loudly as I could, I shouted back, "Snake, Drill Sergeant!"

And then I watched as the soldiers in firing lanes 2 through 40 looked beneath them in panicked unison to see if they had snakes in their foxholes; it was suddenly and abundantly obvious that I had been the only trainee who had bothered to check his foxhole before jumping in. (Note: No one else had an uninvited visitor; I was the only 'lucky' one.)

One of the drill sergeants quickly made his way down the firing line to my foxhole, whereupon he grabbed my M-16, jumped into the foxhole, and proceeded to beat the snake to death with the butt of my rifle. Once the snake - which turned out to be a lethally-venomous Water Moccasin - was good and dead, the drill sergeant climbed out of the foxhole, returned my M-16 to me, and headed back down the firing line to check on the other trainees.

With my area secured and my miniscule misadventure at an end, I finally climbed down into my foxhole, and I proceeded to blast lots of little holes in the downrange targets.

Posted: Nov 11 2017, 13:34 by bob | Comments (0)
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Why is a Disease Called Essential Tremor?

Today I found out that I have a disease called "Essential Tremor," and what I want to know is: who the heck names a disease with "Essential" as part of the title? There is nothing about this disease that seems essential. A much better name would be something like "extremely-annoying shaky limb disease." Nevertheless, I have a deeply-disturbing feeling that nothing will ever the same.

Actually, I've known for months that something was wrong, but I didn't have a definitive answer as to what that was until now, so my wife and I chose to keep quiet about it. Knowing for certain helps, though; not just because I have a name to assign to the symptoms that I have been experiencing, but also to know that I don't have something far worse like Parkinson's Disease, which is fatal. (Note: The Essential Tremor page on the Mayo Clinic website has a great breakdown of the symptom differences between these two diseases.)

I first started experiencing symptoms well over a year ago when I noticed that one of my legs would start to shake. Sometimes my right leg would shake while driving - just enough to be annoying, although occasionally enough for me to ask my wife to drive. At other times one of my legs would shake while standing, and occasionally one of my feet would shake while supporting my balance as I was seated on a stool in our breakfast nook or when performing at church. However, over time my fingers started to shake, too. Sometimes my finger muscles would fire on their own and pull inward into my palm; on one such occasion the thumb on my right hand would pull inward every 30 seconds for almost a week. I soon discovered that if I shook my hands, they would continue to shake on their own, and tasks like pouring liquid from a bottle might result in uncontrolled shaking. In a few episodes, I would be performing a repetitive action such as typing on a computer keyboard or tapping my foot, but when I would mentally signal whichever limb to stop moving, the action continued on its own, and all I could do was watch in amazement as my extremities seemed to have a life of their own. As anyone can imagine, between typing on a computer for a living and playing various musical instruments as a hobby, I am typically extremely aware of exactly what my fingers are doing, and you cannot imagine how terrifying it was to watch my fingers simply quit responding correctly while playing classical guitar or some other delicate task. Needless to say, as my symptoms increased in both frequency and severity, my emotions quickly moved from amusement to confusion to concern and then alarm, and my wife progressed through many of those emotions as well as she witnessed my rapid decline during the first half of this year.

I started a diary of my symptoms earlier this year, and I had hundreds of episodes documented by August when I was finally able to see a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders. That being said, my neurologist quickly dispelled any fears of Parkinson's Disease and he prescribed medication for Essential Tremor, to which I have been responding rather well. There are some side effects, though, and a common effect is drowsiness. This led to a brief work-related experiment recently, where I was off my medications for a week or two due to long hours and a heavy work schedule; I couldn't afford the luxury of being tired, so I simply stopped taking my medication. As expected, my symptoms quickly returned. However, when I restarted the medication my symptoms abated, so I feel pretty confident about my current course of treatment. That being said, stress exacerbates my condition, so I've had to have a talk with my boss about changing what I do; we'll see how that goes in the months ahead. (Microsoft isn't known for being a stress-free environment.)

So what does all this mean? For now, it means that when I behave myself and I stay on my medication, I am usually symptom-free. I have good days, and I have bad days - but thankfully the good days far outweigh the bad, and even when I have a bad day, it's nowhere near as bad as when I wasn't on medication. Occasionally I'll be playing something intricate on the guitar and it simply falls apart; sadly, I'm learning to live with that as a part of my new reality. However, I try to be an optimist, so I told my wife that I have an unexpected benefit from all of this: whenever I play something incorrectly on the guitar now, I can blame it on a tremor, and no one will ever know if I'm telling the truth or if I just suck at the guitar. ;-)

Posted: Nov 10 2017, 08:49 by Bob | Comments (0)
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