Good News, Bad News — Nothing New

Posted on my social media yesterday afternoon:
Good news/bad news from my excursion to the spinal specialist in the Springs: nothing indicating surgery (Good!), nothing they can do at this point (bad) — that is, nothing new.
Basically, nothing has changed. still struggling and dealing w ongoing (albeit reduced) pain. I start PT next Monday along w continued rest & reduced activity/capability. I am generally more mobile around the first floor of our house but steps outside (to car) are iffy/risky; still get wobbly on the right leg without warning sometimes…still a long, hard road ahead for now.
but we did stop for Bunkhouse Burgers on the way back for my first non-medical outing since the 3rd of July!
Since that posting, I’ve gotten a lot of support on that post from friends near and far. More than a few can share their own stories of painful recovery journeys, some reporting interventions that helped (helps) them. More than a few have offered specific suggestions. That’s not only heartening on its own (and, yes, I will explore some of the suggestions if appropriate), but when I consider that so many friends are in need as well,  and some far  worse off, it definitely boosts my spirits. I wish us all support in our struggles and what relief we may each find.
In the weeks leading up to yesterday’s spinal specialist consultation, I had been hoping for a simple, quick fix, anticipating possible surgery. But the quick fix is that there is no quick fix.
Instead, I’m inching forward, slowly (the only speed I can go these days!) on a long road to possible recovery.
I do feel like I am progressing, And sometimes, just ruling out causes and treatments provides helpful guidance.
For now, it’s PT & pain pills…and patience.
Stay tuned for further updates…
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Sliding into September

At long last — September is here!

I’ve always loved September. It’s the best month of the year. I mean, first off, it’s my birthday month. It’s also the start of the traditional school year, so it brings a sense of renewal. And importantly, it signals the end (or the “beginning of the end”) of summer.

This year, I’ve been anticipating its arrival with heightened interest due to my ongoing health crisis. It’s been just about 2 months since the sudden onset of incapacitating pain shooting down from my right hip through my thigh & knee, resulting in severe weakness. That was back on July 3, when we first started this newest of health adventures at the local ER.

The ER folks were helpful & informative, but could only refer us to our own PCP (primary care physician) to get a referral for a consult with spinal specialist. Thus began the trail of seeking and securing referrals, not always an easy task in our so-called “healthcare system” (more on that later in anther blog post).

When we did manage to get an appointment at the spinal center (up in Colorado Springs), it was for September 14 — 7 weeks away at the time. That started the waiting, which as Tom Petty tells us, “is the hardest part.”

Meanwhile, it’s a bit of a holding pattern with bi-weekly appointments at our PCP’s office. I’ve been in there 5 or 6 times so far with an assigned Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) monitoring my condition and pain medication regime. Eventually that led to a referral with a local pain management group that can offer additional pain relief possibilities. Now, I’ve got a handful of appointments with those folks moving forward.

We kicked September off yesterday with a follow-up to the initial referral to the pain management clinic. After a telemedicine patient education appointment next week, I’ll be ready to start physical therapy on the 19th. Hopefully, by then, we’ll also have the benefit of the insights from the spinal specialist as we seek a good path forward.

Any treatment path forward remains to be determined. My prognosis is still uncertain. I am still mostly incapacitated in terms of mobility. And still hopeful I can get most of my prior functionality restored.

And still excited about September!


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Adjusting to Semi-Suspended Animation

Update on my back troubles…

6 weeks ago, everything changed suddenly when I found myself stricken with severe sciatic pain shooting down from my hip to my thigh. Since then, I’ve been mostly incapacitated. My mobility remains seriously compromised while we await the next step in this medical journey, an initial consultation with a specialist at a spinal center, September 14.

Sometimes, it feels more like slow-moving medieval quest.

Meanwhile, my life slides along in a state of semi-suspended animation. Mostly, my day-to-day life consists of symptom management. Mostly, that means ongoing monitoring of my pain relief regimen.

And that means settling more fully into my homemade “hospital suite.”

Welcome to my world. I’ve got all the comforts of home — easily within reach: “work” table (with chair), and “bedroom”  (floor pad with a moveable pile of pillows). This scene comprises 80% of my current daily life.

I’ve also been dealing with several related issues, such as constipation (both from  the injury and the medications) as well as trying to juggle episodes of napping with restlessness to catch enough sleep

Of greatest concern currently is my blood pressure. Though I’ve never experienced any prior health issues due to elevated  blood pressure problems, I’m currently getting blood pressure readings that might delay any surgery. That is, they probably would refuse to preform surgery on me at this point until we can get that blood pressure down. Working on by upping my blood pressure pills but we might need additional interventions.

Meanwhile, my most recent visit to my local practitioner yielded a referral to a local pain management clinic next week. Maybe they can provide some additional relief of the ongoing pain before that spinal specialist appointment in 4 weeks.

Another half-step on the long road to eventual recovery. Wish me luck!


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Flat on my Back —for Weeks to Come

Excerpted from an email sent to a friend, updating him on my health situation:
“About 2 weeks ago (July 3) I suddenly had stabbing, shooting pain in my back, down my leg, recognizable as sciatica pain — which I’ve never experienced but Sara knows from decades of dealing w it.

4 hours laters we headed to the ER, as I could not safely walk alone and the only comfortable position was flat on my back on a hard floor. 5 hours & an x-ray later we had  a diagnosis and path forward: spondylolysis, involving a protruding disk and “multilevel degenerative change,” and a recommendation to see a spinal specialist.

Since then, it’s mostly been delays in the disconnected pieces of our healthcare “system.” I needed to see my primary care physician to get a referral. But the spinal clinic won’t accept a referral without an MRI, which took another week to schedule and complete. At least that appointment was here in Cañon City. Spinal clinic is up in Colorado Springs, about an hour away. And although the MRI was done 1 week ago today, the clinic still has not received the MRI images they need. The good news: Sara was able to schedule our consultation. The bad news: that isn’t until Sept. 14.

That’s 2 months from now. So much for quick relief.

Meanwhile, I remain mostly incapacitated, not leaving the house except for med appointments, not even leaving the room I’ve set up for life on the floor often. Sara is taking excellent care of me. We’ve both been through extended rehab stretches, requiring extreme mutual support. I worry I’m stressing Sara out and she worries that I worry about her. Also, she worries more about me than I do, really. Pain management is mostly effective in tamping down the pain level, not knocking it out entirely Nights are the worst so for now, so I’m pretty sleep-deprived & ding-y.

We’ll survive this. Not fun and a long, uncertain road ahead, likely involving some sort of surgery. I’ll update you along the way. For now, we’re practicing coping. Gonna need a big dose of that in next few months.”

For now, I seek comfort where I can. Music always helps. Edward Abbiati, whom I first met 16 years ago when he booked my cousin, Will T. Massey, for a few dates in Italy. Since that time, Edward has taken his passion for music even further,  performing and recording his original songs with forming his band, Lowlands, and solo.

Several years back, Edward faced a life-threatening health crisis that inspired his album, “Beat the Night.” now I listen to those songs with fresh appreciation. This song was the first I heard and it hit home from the very first listen. When I feel myself slipping into shades of depression, I listen to — and sing along with — this tune.

“I Got Hurt” by Edward Abbiati, from “Beat the night”

I got hurt.
But I got heart.
And I got soul.
I’m gonna climb
Right out of this hole.
I got hurt.
But I got heart.
It ain’t no crime
To want a little more time.

A winter sun
Is better than none.
Hold on when it all comes undone.
We’ve all that date
Just can’t escape.
All I’m trying to do
Is to get there late.

I got hurt.
But I got heart.
And I got soul.
I’m gonna climb
Right out of this hole.
I got hurt.
But I got heart.
It ain’t no crime
To want a little more time.

My skin is all cut up
And my voice is cracking up.
But there’s a new tune
Going around my brain
Lying awake at night,
Trying to keep the demons at bay
Praying for new life
And a brand-new day.

We all need someone
To be with us at night
As we close out eyes
And say our good-byes
We all need somebody
To shine a little light
As we search for a new day
And a different way

I got hurt.
But I got heart.
And I got soul.
I’m gonna climb
Right outta this hole.
We got hurt.
But we got heart.
And we got soul
We got soul
We got soul
We got soul
We got soul.


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Songs of Will T. Massey — “Wayward Lady, U.S.A.”

Will T. Massey playing guitar quietlyThis was the title track from Will’s 2008 CD, Wayward Lady, released during our extended war in Iraq.

Friends warned Will that writing political songs risks losing large chunks of your audience. While slightly worried, Will decided his commitment to peace outweighed that concern, and he needed to share his feelings about the war.

He compiled a great collection of songs, mostly his own, but he also recorded a couple of tunes written by others, a rare move for him.

This remains one of my favorites from that collection.

You spend your nights in town,
Rambling all around,
You have places in half of the world.
You wink at the other parts
With a greedy little heart
Trying to be everybody’s girl.

You’re a wicked woman, but I love you.
You’ve got to stop your crooked ways.
You’re a wicked woman but I love you —
My wayward lady, U.S.A.

Your ma and your pa
Were a couple of outlaws,
But they found a new start in your eyes.
You ought to help me do my thing,
Let my guitar ring,
And stop turning your promise into lies.

You’re a wicked woman, but I love you.
You’ve got to stop your crooked ways.
You’re a wicked woman but I love you —
My wayward lady, U.S.A.

You laugh at the reasons for war
You love the soldier boys
You take my money and leave me poor
Buying them their evil soldier toys.

You’re a socialite, after big money,
Doing anything to make it flow.
I wish that you would stay home more, honey,
And help the homemade businesses grow.

You’re beautiful and strong
But your mind’s been taken wrong,
You lived your life lucky to be free.
You’re paranoid and wild
Like a war-torn child
Confused, and coming after me.

You’re a wicked woman, but I love you.
You’ve got to stop your crooked ways.
You’re a wicked woman but I love you —
My wayward lady, U.S.A.

Repeat chorus

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Full Stop — July, 2022 Version

Last year, my brother died at the end of June. My blogging came to a hard stop.

This year, it’s me. That is, the reason for the full stop this July, is my sudden but severe incapacitation from severe back pain. This came on quickly last Sunday morning after I had been awake awhile and went to let the dog outside. I had been fine up and down the stairs a couple of times already, so while I felt my lower right back aching slightly, I was fine — until I wasn’t.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, searing pain shot through my lower back, starting in the muscles above my right hip, shooting down into my thigh with such force, my leg nearly buckled. I spent several hours that morning trying to get comfortable. Some measures provided momentary relief, but nothing lasted more than a few minutes.

By the afternoon, we headed out to seek help. The local urgent care center was closed, shunting us (and everyone else) over to the ER, meaning they were overwhelmed. Remember, this was last Sunday, the day before the 4th of July. We spent 5 hours in the ER. By now, I had discovered the only position that worked to reduce the immense pain was lying flat on my back on a hard floor. That’s how I spent most of my time in the ER.

Spondylolysis imageSpondylolysisthat’s what they call this.

I call it torture. The term describes a tiny crack or stress fracture in the boney arch over the spinal cord. Apparently, I received an injury to a lumbar vertebrae some years back that somehow got re-injured. The x-ray showed calcification around the area and that likely exacerbated the situation.

While it’s great to get a diagnosis, of course, that mostly becomes helpful when it leads to treatment options. ER staff diagnose and provide emergency interventions, but my next step is consulting with s spine specialist. We tried to expedite that this week, but the specialty clinic needs an MRI first. After jumping through a few hoops (great fun when you’re in  near constant pain), we’ve got one of those set up for Tuesday.

I’ll update y’all later as to further treatment, but for now, these blog posts may be sporadic.

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Picture Postcards from the Past

Summer brings vacations and vacations mean photos. These days, we all share those instantly on social media and we can vicariously travel along with friends. Vacations used to mean postcards from family friends visiting distant places. Not to downplay instant social media sharing, but it’s just not the same as a good old-fashioned postcard.

Among the trash & treasures of my accidental archives inherited from various ancestors, I recently unearthed  a number of picture postcards, dating back to the 30s and 40s. While the collection includes regular picture postcards, I find my favorites are the painted prints rather than photographs, so I decided to share of some those here.

Firstly, a few from my old home state of Texas:

Judge RoyBean — “The Law West of the Pecos” — holding court in Langtry, Texas

A couple showing a twisty road & railroad from the Great Smoky Mountains

The real treasures, though, are the full fold-out folio collections from a specific town or region, featuring up to 18 separate images. Some can be quite stunning. Here’s a couple fo the best I’ve found in my collection, showing both the outer cover and a handful of the contents.


3 of 18 separate pictures from Tucson

Southern California

2 of 18 images — slightly larger than Tucson pictures

I don’t know about you, but this summer does not hold a vacation for us. That makes looking at these old postcards even better.

Hey, if you’re out and traveling about, drop me a postcard!

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Granddad Reflects on His Days as an Educator

G.M.C. "Cade" Massey

G.M.C. “Cade” Massey

My grandfather, G.M.C. Massey, started his career as a schoolteacher in the days of the one-room schoolhouse in rural East Texas at the start of the 20th Century. He retired from teaching after nearly 20 years and started a second career in postal service.

Some of his memoirs detailed specific schools, situations, incidents, and even  a few specific students. Here, he reflects more generally on his years in education, first as a teacher, then as superintendent for various rural Texas communities. 

When I was in a one-teacher school I had several classes, as we always had seven grades and sometimes eight. We had no such thing as a graded school in the country schools. For a long time after we started to grade the schools we had nothing but the readers, then the Histories to grade by as far as they went. When the system was better perfected, and as time passed, I taught in the high school and had fewer grades and fewer classes. At times with the Superintendents job in school I really was relieved of some class work for I was expected to visit the other schools that were in the city. I taught several schools where I had only one or two assistants and only one where I had other schools of the city as well as other races under my supervision.

In 1905-1906 and 1906-1907 I taught at the home school in Yantis. We had only six months of the free school for the community depended on the farmer. Therefore we could not start the free school till the people got their cotton pretty well all picked out. We decided that the free school should start about the middle of October. That gave me time to have six to eight weeks of pay school.

It was not very well attended the first year. I taught that partially by myself and there were two girls that stood out in that I had gone to school with their parents. They got a good start before the free school started and it showed up in they did so well that everybody wanted to get their children in the Private school the next year to get the advantage of the start that I gave them in the private school.

In 1915 I received permission from the trustees of the Yantis school to teach a Summer Normal in the school facilities. These same two girls attended.

I look back on my acceptance in a school community as a social leader. In most communities I was expected to take the lead in nearly all civil affairs. I was expected to make talks at most of the public gatherings.


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One Year Without My Brother, Scott

Today marks one year since my brother, Scott Whitebird, died.

Of course, he was gone before his body died. He was gone from us as soon as his head hit the tile floor after falling backwards from the first steps of the stairs. His wife, Dianne, got to his side mere seconds after hearing the crash and found him unconscious on the floor, bleeding from his ear. They got him to the ER within minutes — but he never regained consciousness.

I do remember feeling like I could still sense him as a presence for a day or two — and then that sensation of his consciousness faded away.

obituary photo of Scott Whitebird

Scott Whitebird, 1951-2021

I’ve been thinking I would blog about him today but now I find myself stymied. I thought about putting his recorded singing voice on some blank video to share some high school-era recording clips, but I have not managed to do that. I almost feel as fragile as I turned out to be on his birthday last year, when I was basically angry and useless all day.

See, the pain is still there though it surfaces less frequently. I still find myself angry at him for not being here. I’m still striving for acceptance. But it’s still hard to accept living in a world without my brother. While I still feel his presence every day, I fully feel his absence as well. It doesn’t make sense. How could it? How can I explain the unexplainable?

See, my brother was always there for every day of my life, no matter where he was. Living a world without him there still feels strange and foreign to me.

Besides, what’s to say? My brother is dead. I still can’t believe it. I miss calling him just to talk.

I finally did read the manuscript of his novel, The Red Hand. His unfinished novel, The Red Hand, that is. He was tantalizingly close to completing this book of his. I know he had been enjoying writing it after carrying some of it in his head for years. His characters come to life and pop off the page. The elements that echo his own life — the death of a young girl and the dissolution of the parents’ marriage — do manage to take on a life of their own. He eerily evoked the feeling of pre-WWII intrigue involving labor strikes, American Nazis, anarchists, saboteurs, and the military’s secret machinations, climaxing with the one-year anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.

And I was left hanging, wondering what happens to them all. Dianne has a friend who is an editor by trade read it to see if it might be something that someone else could finish — but it’s not. There was still a lot of polish to add to even the completed portions and the ending just trickling off after the story has advanced so far through action feels like a mixture of “choose your own adventure” and a disappointment.

I’ve decided to think of it as Scott’s victory lap. He taught for 30 years during which time he did not write. When he finally retired, he started writing again, returning to his early love. He took a dedicated approach to it, setting aside his daily writing time and guarding it jealously. He even once annoyed Dianne by saying he could not help her at a particular time because it was his writing time. She understood but was also understandably annoyed. I had to time my phone calls to avoid infringing on his writing hours, and I learned to catch him just before he got going.

Well, Larry McMurtry wrote of the somewhat hollow feeling of seeing his first book in print. He had imagined the moment and felt certain he would practically burst with pride upon seeing his own words in black-and-white print in a real book. He didn’t. In both his memoir dedicated to his writing, Literary Life, and through his fictional alter ego, Danny Deck in “All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers,” he decides instead that his true love and enjoyment comes from the writing itself  — in an apparent reversal of Dorothy Parker’s often quoted phrase, “I hate writing; I love having written.” I know Scott enjoyed writing The Red Hand, probably as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Anyway, Scott will be on my mind today. Then again, even when he isn’t — he is. He will always be a part of my heart.

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Songs of Will T. Massey — “I Can See Heaven from Here”

One of the many songs Will performed often for several years, starting in 2010, but never got around to recording or releasing.

I’ve posted several videos of Will playing this song, both with an acoustic trio and with a full band. I decided to embed my earliest version here, played at a slightly slower pace. I enjoy how the plaintive sounds of fiddle and pedal steel add to the haunting quality of the tune itself.

They say something’s wrong with my brain.
I see dead people coming across the plains.
Some of them are evil
And some of them are good.
They huddle ‘round my campfire
As I add more wood.

I can see Heaven from here.
I know the end is always near,
You are an omen I hold dear —
I can see Heaven from here.

An angel comes around them,
A mesquite tree,
Says, “One of you boys hung here —
Come along with me.”
You’re just like that angel
And I’m just like that tree.
You call my ghosts away
And bring the rain to me.

I can see Heaven from here
Falling in love like a tear,
To your lips upon my ear
I can see Heaven from here.

Lord, I’d love a full lifetime.
I am halfway gone —
Maybe may we see distant years,
And what about beyond?
The dust has settled, sleeping,
The stars have filled the sky,
Your eyes reflect the embers —
We’ll never say goodbye.

I can see Heaven from here.
And when the rest of it appears,
I’ll find you in frontier —
I can see Heaven from here

I can see Heaven from here.
And the cloak of the world, darkless, sheer,
A healing destiny is clear —
I can see Heaven from here.

Will T. Massey, live at Flipnotics June 12, 2010
Mark GumB Williams (bass), Kim Deschamps (pedal steel), Richard Bowden (fiddle)



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