Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Thoughts 2013

Every Memorial Day, I always think a lot about my Dad, Ashmead Courtenay Carson, who was a Bomber pilot in WWII, a fantastic artist, and a smart, kind, & gentle man who loved choral music. I also think about the day in context of humanity and those from all ages and across the planet who have given and are giving their time & lives for the pursuit of peace. This picture collage is made from my Innsbruck trip in 2010 when I visited the Italian Tyrol town of Rovereto. The Campana della pace is made from the cannons of WWI, WWII, and other wars. There are flags from EVERY country in the world and a continuing flame burning in remembrance to the fallen. It took me many hours to hike there: up two peaks and through a dense forest (without signage except that first sign), but it was one of the most "worth it" experiences of my whole trip.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Day & and Half.....

Well......ONE DAY AND A HALF to go before VSG surgery!

Yikes! I'm super excited for all the lifestyle and healthy living changes ahead, but also have a case of pre-surgery jitters. I suppose that is understandable considering general anesthesia is involved. It was awesome to be able to communicate with the doctor about antibiotics (explain my bad reaction to Cipro after the Haiti trip last summer) and anesthesia. Made me feel more confident overall.

Everyone's been extremely supportive and I truly appreciate that. I also appreciate the kind words about my posts and the prayers. I received several notes after my FB post and I am greatly moved by them. We are all in this life together!

I've lost 14 lbs on my liquid diet  so far.....which makes me think....."hmmm. do I REALLY have to go through with actual surgery?......or can I simply do a longer liquid diet etc.?"

I know the answer and it is "yes" I need to go ahead with surgery. It's a longer lasting change than a fad diet and I would know because I have tried most of them and the weight came back a few lbs. Tired of yo-yos with the same pounds. So, all hail to the new that I will have. I hope it's not too picky and that it will tolerate most foods and I hope my capacity will not be impossible to deal with.

Here is my itinerary for the trip to Endobariatric in Piedras Negras, Mexico:

- Flights to San Antonio, shuttle to La Quinta hotel where Rosy, the driver will pick us up.
- Two-hour drive to Eagle Pass, TX where we'll send one night
- Tuesday: morning pickup, cross border, meet Dr. Alvarez, do tests, have SURGERY
- Be in recovery (we're hoping, LOL) and then will probably be walking and sleeping
- Wednesday: at the hospital, leak test, may graduate to ice chips, REST
- Thursday: discharge, Rosy drives us back to Eagle Pass, spend night
- Friday: Flights back to New Orleans and alternate between resting and walking
- Saturday: REST / WALK / sip on water
- Sunday: I am hoping to be back at the church on Sunday, but we shall see......

Wish me luck! :-)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Post # 2 NASA Social ISS event at Johnson Space Center in Houston!

My previous ISS post reviewed the day's events with a few details on the visit to the ISS Training Facility mockup. This one will cover our visit to Building 30 (M & S)


After the tour with Astro Rick Masstracchio, our group moved to Building 30 which houses the historic Apollo Mission Control Room and the current MISSION CONTROL. I must add here that I have always wanted to visit this building! Why do I keep all-capping MISSION CONTROL?  BECAUSE EXTREME COOLNESS - that's why :-)

As our shuttle pulled up to the building, excitement was evident because we all got off of our phones, our attention now drawn to getting off the bus and to the building as fast as possible!
Once inside, we saw the lobby elevators leading up to the main room.

Our guides talked to us about the building itself and how Christopher C. Kraft, for whom the place is named, was a NASA engineer who helped establish the location dedicated to monitoring America's space flight. Its callsign is HOUSTON.

The Mission Control Center Houston was first used in 1965 for the Gemini IV mission, the 10th manned American spaceflight.

Soon, we walked around a hallway to an area where there were steps leading up into the viewer's room overlooking Mission Control! Here we met Royce Renfrew, flight director.
"A flight director leads and orchestrates planning and integration activities with flight controllers, payload customers, station partners and others. All of the recently selected flight directors have previously served as flight controllers in Mission Control and will begin training as International Space Station flight directors."

Here is a NASA Factsheet on Mission Control: 

My panorama of this most awesome of rooms!

Mr. Renfrew directed us to our seats in the viewing area overlooking the action and introduced an engineering class from Indiana University that was also visiting. He talked to us about the functions of Mission Control as well as what & who we were seeing through the window in front of us.
On the left two screens, there are live feeds from different sections of the ISS showing astronauts working on the station. It's a bit hard to see in this picture, but there is someone currently working center / rear. It's amazing that so much work gets done without accidents - you can see how crowded the "hallways" are!

This next image shows the current position of the ISS above the Earth in real time. Directors can see how much comm time they have and can predict exact flyovers. I get ISS updates via Twitter that tell me if the station will fly over my area that night and exactly when and where to look up. There area tons of ways to looks this info up, but here is one you can try:

The next image shows unix/linux feed (not sure which, sorry!) of comm data and cmd prompts of what is happening around the ISS in real time.

Mr. Renfrew explained to us that sometimes, it will be in red for something urgent - such as a failed fire testing event that had happened the night before! You can see where it says smoke detector failure. Scary!

The little "GO" in green is for comm (communications) time left and that it is clear. Mr. Renfrew mentioned that they try to preserve five hours of sleep time for the astronauts and that it should be uninterrupted if at all possible.

The screen on the farthest right is another live feed of astronauts working. Here, you can see someone in his sock feet working and as we were listening, he must have turned upside down two or three times, concentrating on something he had in his hands, but not paying much attention to his rotation - funny!
It was so interesting to see people working at their computer stations, ready to communicate with the astronauts if needed. The current flight director is below. Each desk area was somewhat personalized and some had flags showing the country of the technician. Each of the 15 to 20 flight controllers who sits at a console has the help of other engineers and flight controllers monitoring and analyzing data in nearby staff support rooms.

I cannot imagine being here, or in any control room for that matter, or viewing seats when an event such as the MSL Curiosity landing last August. I know that my own excitement and hope, yet stress and uncertainty at the "Seven Minutes of Terror" was enough - I cannot fathom what I would experience if I had spent more than ten years of my life on the project - the apprehension would have been insane!
The only question we asked at the end of the presentation was "Do we have to leave now?" :-)

Our next room to visit was the historic Apollo Mission Control Room!
This famous room was the flight control room for Apollo 11, the first manned Moon mission.


The first step on the Moon was July 20, 9:56:15 p.m. (EST), 1969.
"HOUSTON, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed" 

These were the first words transmitted to Earth from the surface of the Moon!
Now, this room is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and in the U.S. Register of National Historic Places. The room was used until 1992 and then converted back to its Apollo style configuration for history.

Mr.Renfrew was a great guide - here he is talking to the #spacetweeps:

Here is the plaque commemorating the Moon landing:

Here is a good article by Lee Hutchinson on the Apollo Mission Control and what it was like to "Go Boldly":

Decked with flags and plaques commemorating missions and people, the room also still has the red phone that had a direct line to the President! Here I am explaining that NASA needs MORE funding, NOT LESS and next to that - now I am the flight director, HAHA! 

It is interesting to ponder both sides of the spaceflight coin - those that are in flight and those on the ground who are additionally responsible for the lives of those in mission. There is such a delicate balance of factors that ensure safety of person and mission and such a spirit of selflessness from those undertaking spaceflight for the benefit of humanity.

Here is a plaque in honor of Apollo I command pilot 'Gus' Grissom, pilot Roger Chaffee, and senior pilot Edward White who perished in a fire that swept through their command module during a pre-flight test.

"If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program.
The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
-Gus Grissom

My next NASA Social ISS post will be about the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility.

Springy Goodness!

I'm feeling awesome today! First, it's a lovely spring day here in NOLA and I'm feeling caught up on my grading stuff (so far). I'm super happy that I found some interesting material on the life of St. Peter to look at as a result of my first spiritual advising meeting. Seems ole Pete and I may have a few things in common :-) I want to find a nice blanket of clover in City Park and just go read. Unfortunately, I can't do that until at least May 23/24l, but I WILL go do that!

It's also been exactly a week since I began the two-week required pre-op liquid diet and I am down ten pounds! I'm happy that my liver will hopefully be in mint condition for the procedure. Part of me says "Hmmm, if you're suddenly losing so well, then why go through with the procedure at all? Why not just stick to this liquid thing for an extended period of time and then all will be well and you won't have to be without a normal stomach." Then, the other part of my psyche reminds me that "I've tried this before, perhaps not so severely....but.....
been there, done that......and then it all came back on plus more over time".

My recent annual check-up was ridiculously good.....BP 118/65, blood sugar perfect and all that jazz. I just have the feeling that it will catch up with me at some point because I am so far past the point of caring about dieting. Two years ago I had officially given up after six months trying the Aspen Clinic program, my "last resort". When I say gave up......I mean GAVE UP and from that point onward, I stopped caring, measuring, reading labels, exercising more than a day or two each week, and started enjoying eating more. That's a slippery slope I tell you!
I digress.....The recent check-up was another excuse to ask myself "Why I am I doing this again?"

I'd say I have a minor case of the pre-surgery jitters - even on this day full of springy goodness :-)

I will say that I do feel really supported by friends, church staff friends, family, and colleagues. That's a nice feeling :-)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

My Choice for VSG Surgery: ENDOBARIATRIC

An Easy Decision

I am going to have my VSG surgery at the Endobariatric clinic with Dr. Guillermo Alvarez in Piedras Negras, Mexico. It was an easy decision to make after months of research and literally years of insurance issues etc. and I am fully confident that this is the right place for me. The more I see, the more I feel this way.

The very first reaction of many of my friends and colleagues, however, includes:

1. Facial contortion with raised eyebrows
2. A gasp
3. The questions: Is it safe? Are you sure about this? Have you looked into this place?

AS IF to imply that I haven't researched this or that somehow they have insights into the clinic they've never heard of. It's interesting how some are open-minded about it and how others absolutely feel they know more than I do. Now, I totally do understand that they mean well, but seriously.... I even asked one person who was acting as if I were crazy, if he had ever been to Mexico or if he knew what kinds of medical instruments the clinic used. "No" on both accounts. I am grateful that folks worry about my safety, but I will be fine! It's a FANTASTIC clinic with a world-reknowned doctor at the helm.

We've all experienced naysayers throughout our lives at one point or another. I have two things to say about that:

1. The last thing we need when making giant decisions and lifestyle changes is people undermining the validity of our choices. Be more supportive and less critical instead! They often do not realize the shoes we wear or how difficult our paths may be. It happened when I went for my MM, my DMA, and when I made the decision to take a job in Milledgeville, GA and happened a LOT from TONS of people when I decided to move to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Moving here has actually proved to be one of the absolute best decisions of my life. Some folks went as fars as to say that New Orleans was a worthless city and that I'd be throwing my career away if I moved here. BREAKING: They were wrong.

2. “When someone tells me "no," it doesn't mean I can't do it, it simply means I can't do it with them.”  - Karen E. Quinones Miller

A couple of years ago when googling VSG and other types of bariatric surgery, I found tons of helpful blogs, YouTube videos, and forums. One such forum was the VSG SleeveTalk site. It didn't take long to see Dr. Alvarez's name popping up along with mentions of surgery in Mexico and whole discussions of medical tourism. I visited hs website and was immediately impressed. In addition to that, it was the tons of positive testimonials (written and in video) from real people who had undergone VSG surgery with Endobariatric.

One of my reasons for choosing Endobariatric is that VSG surgery is not covered by my insurance company. I did research into this for several months and talked about it to state level and national level company employees about how to file a petition or how to file an appeal.
I did not want to do either. I was one of the first people to apply for the office of group benefits Head's Up program with Pennington Biomedical Research Center and OGB Partnership Benefitting Louisiana (which is an awesome start for state-level study of bariatric surgery and its effects). This program consists of a lottery and they will do 400+ surgeries over a period of several years. So far, I have not been chosen for the bariatric lottery and frankly, I am tired of waiting.

I took nutrition classes at a bariatric clinic and then paid $350 out of pocket to have a consultation with the surgeon directly. He basically gave me eight minutes of his time and was nice, but very busy, shuffling papers and the like. I noticed he gave me little eye contact. I FREAKED OUT and decided that I was NOT going to try and raise or borrow the 17-18,000 $ needed for this clinic. Instead, I'd save for a trip to Mexico!

This past year, I chopped my paycheck by about $1,000 per month and had to move to reduce my rent etc. Worth. It. Now, I have the $8700 for the whole surgery package which includes two nights in hotels and transportation (two hours each way), and the care and concern of a staff that has already proven several times to be excellent and on top of things.

My doc here in NOLA will do any follow-up and she has had several patients go through bariatric surgery. One of them also went to Mexico.

Y A Y !  I'm excited Y'all :-)

I Almost Ate My Desk

I wanted to eat my desk.

Ravenous was exactly what I was yesterday. Being the first day of my two-week pre-op liquid diet, I did sort of expect this to happen. Talk about a reality call that surgery day is getting CLOSE! Tons of things going through my head: Excitement at FINALLY reaching this point, fear of the unknown and known lifestyle changes, relief, nervousness, etc.

It's not like I haven't done a liquid diet before. This time though, it comes after a year and a half of having given up on dieting - period. I have put forth many years of willpower in dieting and

When I go through a normal day, I hardly feel real hunger - even if I have eaten very little, but this was ridiculous and my inability to stop thinking about it was not helping. Also not helping was the fact that the one protein shake I drank....or tried to....was within four days of expiration. That was just plain sad as I know those boxes of shake bottles and cans sit on shelves for several years before expiration. To think that had been in my fridge for a year and a, just wow. 

Today is day # 2 and MUCH BETTER already. I attribute that to last night's Kmart run for protein shake powder, vitamin gummies, Crystal Light, and a new scale. I even found Omega-3 gummies and they do not taste fishy. When I got home, I made popsicles out of the Crystal Light and drank a real shake. I also turned my focus to reading my liquid options and found that my doctor allows broths and that some folks made soup and simply didn't eat the noodles. So, I had some soup as well and went to bed feeling full.

I FINALLY bought those little colorful popsicle thingies.

I admit, I had actually wanted them years ago, but YOWZA am I glad to have them now!

I tried Crystal Light, but I have a strong feeling that fruit juice is going to win this one for the taste and the texture.

Having communicated with my surgeon's office this morning about vitamins and more, I have  also been told I can add non-fat soups and have skim milk in my coffee so YAY! They even sent me some great recipes to try out for vegetable soup!

I plan to do a video blog in a few days. Yesterday, I also took some before and after pictures

Surgery in 14 days - wish me luck! :-)