Monday, November 02, 2015

and now for something completely different

Headed down to Laguna Seca yesterday to hang out with a friend who does Porsche Cup car racing. He brought his cup car and installed the passenger seat (there is usually a cooling system for the driver in its place instead), so a few of us were able to ride along with him during his sessions. It was just a standard track day for our buddy, so he was driving for fun, not for glory (which is why passengers were allowed). It was also a very rare "unlimited sound" day at Laguna (it's normally limited  to 92dB), so there was an amazing variety of cars making an amazing variety of noises.

The weather cooperated beautifully, so we were able to enjoy a top-down drive in my car on the way down (man, I miss driving). Hung out with the awesome folks of BR Racing, who do the race support for our is fascinating to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that is needed to keep race cars racing. We didn't even get to see the whole of it, since it wasn't a race day; it's usually hustling and hectic, with constant tweaking and fixing and downloading and telemetry and analysis and driver briefings and a thousand other things (luckily, we have a standing invitation to hang out, so I'll get to see the organized chaos when the series starts up again).

Yesterday was a casual day, though. Two track day groups through Trackmasters, two CFRA (Checkered Flag Racing Association) race groups, making a total of four car groups trading off 20-minute sessions, with each group getting five sessions throughout the day. And holy cow, twenty minutes in a race car goes by really, really fast.

It was a long day: we started our day around 4am and didn't get back home until after 7pm. But it was an incredibly fun day shared with some very cool people; there were lovely sights, sounds, and smells; and it got both me and Will seriously thinking (again) about getting ourselves a dedicated track car. It's one thing to drive your fast street car around a track...but it's a totally different world when you get yourself a car that is *born* to zoom from turn to turn.

A few pictures from the day:

Map of the track from the Driver's Briefing

Our buddy's Cup Car, Number 11 (aka "Kelly")

Our buddy, going through pre-race checks.

This is what happens when you lock up the tires.
An expensive (and sometimes dangerous) mistake.

Down the main straight. This is fun part, where we hit 130+ mph.

Me, our buddy, and Car 11, getting ready to head out for our session.

Me, our buddy, and Car 11, getting ready to head out for our session.
Will, our buddy, and Car 11, just before their session.

Will, our buddy, and Car 11, just before their session.

One of the ways to transport the cars (it's lifted up and
stored on an upper platform, while tools, equipment,
parts, and another car are stored below).

Another way to transport the cars (that lift goes up higher
and a second car is pulled in underneath).

And a very short, laughably quiet video of Kelly doing her thing down the main straight.  It's an unlimited sound day, so the sound is especially pathetic compared to actually being there, but you can get a glimpse of a few of the different cars that were enjoying the lack of sound restrictions.

(And it really doesn't look like they are going 100+ mph, does it? I love that main straight, so much fun, second only to the Corkscrew.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

why I've been offline for so long

That post I made back on April 25th of my car and the Targa top mechanism doing its thing? The very next day, everything went to shit...and I had no idea just how much of an effect the following week would have on the months after.


A summary of that first fateful week:

April 23rd - May 1st: Will is in the Bahamas for GPF 10 (yeah, a work trip to the Bahamas, I know). I'm taking care of the house and the dog while he's gone.

April 26th: I get a migraine. No big deal, it happens every three months or so.

April 27th: Wow, this migraine is lasting a while. Cue ice and ibuprofen and cautious rubbing of temples and muscles.

April 28th: Seriously? A three day migraine?!? This is crazy. My eye really hurts too, maybe it's actually a sinus infection.

April 29th-April 30th: These two days were a blur. Pain, nausea, no sleep, can't keep any medication down.

May 1st: Have to tell Will I can't pick him up at the airport. He ubers home, finds me miserable, in massive pain, and puking. Just before midnight, I ask him to take me to the ER.

May 2nd, 2am: "You have shingles."

A bit more information:

So yeah. Shingles. Affecting my face and head, which is not as common; specifically my trigeminal nerve, spreading onto the maxillary (upper jaw) and ophthalmic (eye) nerve clusters. Lovely leprous lesions on the top right quadrant of my head, eye swollen shut and useless, pain like I truly hadn't experienced before. Seriously, no lie, it was the worst pain I've *ever* had...and I once had my big toenail ripped out from the root in a bizarre accident, so that's saying something. To give you an idea of the area covered, here's an illustration I found online somewhere of the trigeminal nerve (and it doesn't show the gazillions of offshoot nerves branching off the major clusters):

One interesting thing: In spite of the five days of hell before, the "going to the ER" timing was actually good; it was the absolute earliest I could have gone and had it diagnosed quickly as shingles, because the lesions didn't truly pop until the 3rd. This is what the ER doctor saw:

May 2nd, 2015 - 12:14am

That's it. Just a swollen, watery eye and some skin redness, which (silly me) I thought was from the ice packs and rubbing. The doctor heard my tale of woe, took one look at me, called it as shingles and said the lesions would come soon. And they did. This is barely a day later:

May 3rd, 2015 - 4:10am

I'll spare you the weeping, oozing (and later, crusty) grossness of the progression. This picture shows the affected area quite was quite literally a line down the middle of my face from scalp to nose tip, then back from nose tip to earlobe, and all the way around to the back of my head and up my scalp to the center of my head.

May 3rd, 2015 - 12:14pm

It got much worse from there. Not a glamorous time in the Lawton household.

The treatment:

Immediate prescriptions for Valacyclovir (to fight the virus itself), Gabapentin (nerve pain suppressant), and industrial strength Ibuprofen (which did nothing but make me throw up even more); my GP later added Prednisone (a steroid) and Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminopen) as well. The pain didn't stop, even with all of the meds, but the lesions did go away in about ten days, which greatly impressed my doctors.

Unfortunately, the fun was just beginning.

My eye fun:

The nasty pain and swelling of my eye and the resulting loss of vision called for a trip to the ophthalmologist, who had frickin' awesome news (that's sarcasm): the shingles virus (Herpes Zoster, the grown-up version of Varicella Zoster, our dear friend chicken pox) had made its way into my eye itself, between my cornea and my lens. We added steroid drops to the drug regimen and monitored everything carefully, which meant bi-weekly trips to the ophthalmologist for the first few weeks. My eye was *not* happy:

May 15th, 2015 - 5:09pm

(That pic was taken two weeks after the lesions first appeared; they had cleared up beautifully, but the eye troubles were just beginning. As you can see, my eye is swollen quite a bit; I am struggling to open it for the picture. My right eyebrow is lifted because of the eyelid and the eye itself were swollen so much that they pushed the eyebrow out and up.)

Those were some scary weeks for me. I was terrified of losing my vision. I couldn't see out of my right eye, and my left eye was suffering from sympathetic watering and had trouble staying open as well. I couldn't read, browse the internet, watch telly or movies, play video games; even if I weren't on the cocktail of drugs, driving was completely out of the question because of my vision. Email and messages had to be neglected, because I couldn't see to take care of them. I had to be led around by the arm; Will very sweetly guided to my multiple appointments. I hoped that things would work out okay, but had to plan a bit in case they didn't.

It took about a month for the double dose of steroids to reduce the swelling, but eventually it did go down and my vision slowly returned (though my eyelid still drooped a bit from muscle damage caused by the inflammation). I continued weekly visits to the ophthalmologist, and one of those visits brought the news that I now had corneal lesions, caused by the body attacking the site of the virus. The virus itself was gone, but the body was kind of going into overdrive and slamming the corneal area with antibodies, which were causing lesions on my cornea (cue the "but of course" resigned reaction and the rekindling of the fear of losing my sight). Another month of diligently continuing the steroid drops reduced them to near nothingness, but to this day I still have to use the drops to prevent a rebound, and I am seeing the ophthalmologist every three to four weeks to keep monitoring the cornea.

My face fun:

The lesions healed beautifully; the only trace of them were some scars on my scalp, a pockmark on my forehead, and a few minor spots of redness at my temple and above my eye. That's the good news.

The bad news is that I was one of those even more rare cases that gets a complication called "postherpetic neuralgia" (PHN for short). PHN is basically nerve damage caused by the virus; in my case, it caused surface numbness (mostly around my eye, up to my temple, and back into my scalp) and pain. A whole fuckload of pain. There were two main types: persistent blanketing pain and random spikes. The persistent pain over that entire quadrant of my head was constant...think of how your skin feels when you get a sunburn, that weird tightness and the continual awareness of the damaged area. It's kind of like that, always *there*, always hurting.

The pain spikes were (and are) a right bitch. Look back at that picture of my face, the one taken from above and I'm looking down. Everywhere there is redness or a lesion (including my scalp) is where I can get pain spikes. Sudden, sharp, take your breath away pain. On bad nights, I would end up crying and throwing up from the rapid-fire pain and the unpredictability of the pattern in which it would hit. My skin was extremely sensitive: wind, touch, my hair, even temperature differentials caused horrible pain. And weirdly, the pain itself would take different forms. Sometimes it was a stabbing pain, like someone jabbed an icepick into my skull. Sometimes it felt like burning, sometimes like sudden freezing ice, sometimes it was like fire ants were burrowing into my skin. Think of all the information that your nerves communicate to you every nanosecond, then imagine that information getting turned into mangled signals that the brain confuses and jumbles and can only interpret as "that really hurts". It would be fascinating if it weren't happening to me.

The aftermath:

It's been six months since I first thought I had a migraine. Six months since the shingles virus "activated", to use the jargon, and I'm still struggling with the pain. After a lot of dosage tweaking, the Gabapentin has helped a bit with the persistent pain; at the least, it has dialed it down in intensity. Unfortunately, the pain spikes continue. The frequency has lessened, but they are still bad, still random. There are a few things that I have learned trigger bad episodes: the sun really causes trouble, the wind, pressure on the trigeminal nerve or some of the more affected areas (like my temple, parts of my scalp, or my forehead). I've also found out that too much activity can cause the pain spikes to worsen; the pattern has become essentially "one good day out and about acting like a normal human being means two to three days of pain and exhaustion and possibly being bed-ridden".

It's getting old. The constant pain. The exhaustion. The inability to lead a normal life, and the punishment when I try. The Gabapentin has frustrating side effects: short-term memory loss, blurry vision (especially scary when battling corneal lesions), body chemistry changes. The Percocet doesn't do much at all for the pain; I barely feel it take effect, but I still take it on bad nights in the hopes that it will at least let me get a bit of sleep. But as an opioid, it comes with its own issues, so I use it sparingly. Generally, PHN last months, and in some rare cases, it is permanent. In my lower moments, I think of the possibility that this could be a forever thing, and I go to some pretty dark places. The more this goes on, the more tired I grow. I had hoped that I could acclimate to the pain, slowly reset my bar for what "pain" is, but it hasn't happened (or if it has, it's not enough). The mental/emotional parts of me are taking a beating.

Showering *hurts*. Lying on my right side is only possible with careful positioning of pillows (which never stay in place). Because of the meds and the pain, I can't drive often; my lovely new car sat for months waiting patiently for me to take it back out. I can't socialize much; during the first few months, I missed the weddings of some dear friends because I was bed-ridden with the pain. I can't be in the sun, and I can't wear hats to block the sun because the pressure causes pain. Will worked hard and got his private pilot's license recently, and I can't go flying with him often because the headset puts too much pressure on the affected areas, the sun hurts, the wind hurts, the noise hurts. Basically, I can't really *live*.

Fuck PHN, fuck persistent pain.

Some bright spots:

Will has been absolutely incredible through all of this...he's picked up the slack when I've let things fall, been there to prop up my Gabapentined memory, given me a hand to squeeze when the pain gets bad, and has just been an amazing rock for me to lean on. When I was puking for days because of the pain, he made sure I had water, crackers, a cold cloth, a bucket by the bed, and a clear path to the bathroom at all times. When I couldn't lie down because it hurt so much, he got me a seven foot teddy bear to sleep upright against. He gives me a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent to, a hand to hold. His patience has been incredible, much greater than mine; he overlooks my bitchy moments, doesn't berate me for giving in to the pain, gives me reasons to work through it. He's been amazing.

I have close friends that have been there for me, always ready with a joke or a smile or a delivery of Panda Express to distract me and brighten my day. One of my dearest friends has been going through their own shit, dealing with cancer and surgery and all that entails, yet they still reach out to me and ask how I'm doing. We share stories about the pain and the drugs and the side effects and the tiredness and depression and has helped immensely to be able to compare notes and talk candidly with someone who knows firsthand what it's like to try to live with pain.

I've been able to help a few acquaintances by sharing information and anecdotes and my experiences; one has a mother dealing with neuralgia (not from shingles, but similar effects), another has nerve damage and was excited to talk to someone who understood how stupid it all is. I've connected with former co-workers who had similar experiences, forming an informal sort of support group. I've had a bit of life put into perspective by all this; some things become bigger, other smaller. Like many who go through life-changing experiences, I have learned who is there for me and who isn't (and have let the "isn't" folks fade away). People I least expected stepped up in ways that caught me wonderfully by surprise. I'm fortunate to be in a place in life where I can focus almost exclusively on dealing with this, which has been an incredible help.

I am lucky to have these bits of brightness in my life.

To wrap it up:

It's hard to admit how much this is getting to me. The bright spots I talk about above are awesome, but it still gets rough in the dark hours of the morning. I love that people care; I hate that I don't have any progress to share when they ask. I look fine, until you notice the slightly drooping right eye and the facial tics caused by the pain spikes. People see me out at an event or a gathering and are excited that I am "back to normal"; they don't see the days of backlash from being "normal" for that day.

Persistent pain is a bitch. It saps your strength, makes it hard to breathe, makes you a grumpy motherfucker. You feel like a complete whiner and weakling and asshole if you let it get to you. It's hard to explain what you are going through, especially when there is no visible sign of the malady. You feel like you should be handling it better. You get pissed: at your body, at the virus, at chicken pox, at the useless medications, at everything and nothing and especially yourself. You feel helpless. You feel angry. You feel useless.

In short: It sucks.


Bonus pics:

Pepper, keeping me company.

My Nerd, with sympathetic eye patch.

Awesome flowers from an awesome friend.

See? I wasn't really is
a seven-foot tall teddy bear.

Monday, July 27, 2015

a quiet place

I was talking with a friend a bit ago about refuges...those places that you go when you need a bit of peace, recharging, solace, isolation. It made me think of one I had a long time ago, back in a different life, a place that still sticks with me today. It was a weird little add-on room at the back of a small 800sqft rental; a sort of sunroom, but definitely hand-made [and sooo not to code]: bare wood 2x4s framing it, big sheets of clear plastic nailed to the wood for walls, a rough roof, and a gravel floor. I added a rug, a futon, a small lamp, and a CD player, and it became an awesome little hideaway. Since it was in the back of the house, it never got direct sun; most of the day was just filtered light and dappled shade. Lots of time spent back there curled up on the futon with a book, music playing softly, sipping tea or hot cocoa, maybe with a scented candle lit [probably vanilla, knowing me].

To this day, I haven't been able to replicate that little was an odd little oasis carved out of an even odder space. The best ones tend to come about organically, a happenstance of location and configuration. And that little room was as awesome as it was unexpected...not bad for a janky little add-on to a small little house in a tiny community along the coast.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I love German engineering

The car I mentioned in my previous post [I'm still getting used to the sound of a flat me, it sounds much more awesome when you stomp on it]:

confessing to the ether

Been in a funky state of is a mix of good things, bad things, and awkward things, and I think my brain is tired from keeping it all sorted out.

Good things: My car finally came in after nearly seven months of waiting [Porsche Targa 4S, with the Carrera Powerkit upgrade, of course]. Will and I are still pretty much retired, still loving spending time with each other, still appreciating life and what it took to get here. The landscaping is settling in nicely [yay for drought tolerant planting], animals [dog, cat, and snakes] are doing well. Been doing cool things with some very cool people [drives with good friends! lunches and dinners with like-minded people! indoor skydiving! car enthusiast gatherings! cheering on friends at motorcycle races! track days!].

Bad things: One of my closest friends continues to deal with the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis...I'm lucky to have them in my life, and it's so damned frustrating to see a good person have to go through this crap, and I feel helpless. In my own life, I keep running into the repercussions of my twice-broken and many-times-sprained ankle...some days it just locks up and won't cooperate, other days it radiates annoying sonar pings of pain from the sight of the most recent bone damage, and sometimes the muscles/tendons are just weak enough to keep me from being very graceful [cue zombie lurching]. A nasty bout of food poisoning that took both of us out for a couple of days, though poor Will got hit much, much harder by it.

Awkward things: This 3-4 month period is always odd for me [at least from 2009 and on]. A few close friends have fallen off the radar as their lives evolved...a natural progression of life, but it still aches. I've been missing my parents a lot lately...Mom would love the car and the back patio, Dad would love the house and the animals in the area, both would love Will and what we've built together. A thousand random things that still cause those pangs of nostalgia and loss, and for some reason they've been compounding lately.

Another awkward thing: A friend of ours is going through a divorce. Never pretty, rarely easy, and this one has some familiar circumstances: they'd been together for a decade or more, the other strikes up a close friendship with someone at work, ends the marriage, says it was a long time coming and they just need to be alone, then a suspiciously short time later is in a relationship with the work person. My friend is dealing with a lot of the same stuff I did, but with added complications: a child and life in the era of social media. I still remember that awful night when I found some pictures online that I wish I hadn't, confirmed suspicions I didn't want confirmed, and learned that someone else was using the same pet name for him that I multiply that by Facebook and the resulting web of friends and acquaintances and it gets really, really painful for my friend. The weird Venn diagram of "people who knew about the affair" and "people who didn't" and "people who enabled it and covered for them" and "people who aren't okay with it" and "friends caught in the middle" gets even worse when social media is involved. They are amazingly resilient and will come through this an even more brilliantly independent and self-aware person, but damn, it sucks to see them going through it. And it sucks to see the same stories repeating over and over and over...

So yeah. Good stuff with some weird stuff thrown in, which then makes you feel guilty for being down when there is so much good stuff in your life. Luckily I've got myself surrounded by folks who understand that you can be down even when things are good...that makes it easier to feel it, acknowledge it, and then move forward. I can honestly say that this period in my life is one of the best for the people I have around me...good, strong friends who have traits and abilities that I admire and I aim for in myself. So now, in large part because of lessons learned from my past, I can appreciate what I have in the present, even when I'm feeling out of sorts. It's not so much a "quit your whining" situation as it is a "whine as much as it takes to get it out, then enjoy what's out there".

[And sometimes "enjoying what's out there" can be as simple as a mid-afternoon nap on a grey and drizzly day. :^) ]

Monday, March 23, 2015's true.

So Darwin just started growling and barking at nothing...we tell him to hush, send him to bed.

A little bit later: sharp boom, then a shock that rolled from one side of the house to the other.

Good dog. We're sorry.

[Earthquake hit a little bit ago. Small one, currently estimated to be only M2.94, but it was centered only a mile or two from us...neat.]

Monday, September 08, 2014

coastal cruising

An awesome day yesterday. We had a relaxing morning just chilling together, then we geared up and took the new bike out. We headed south down 17 to Santa Cruz, up Highway 1 along the coast, lunch break in Half Moon Bay at one of my favorite places, then back along 92 to 35/Skyline to 9 [the classic route]. Ended up putting about 120 miles on the bike, and it was a blast...while it's definitely the biggest sub-four-wheeled vehicle we own, it is surprisingly maneuverable and brilliantly made for cruising, with serious power to vroom and pass and hit the twisties [which is quite interesting on a huge bike like that]. Though for folks who've seen the CHP do amazing things on their R 1600 motorcycles [the less-commuter, more-business version of ours], that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise... :^)

We've even managed to fit Will's car and all five bikes into the garage in a way that requires minimal shuffling to get something out when we want to, at least until January, when everything is thrown into chaos again and the game of Tetris to fit things in becomes more challenging. Crossing fingers the second garage gets finished in good time...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

additions to the stable

Been a busy few weeks for the two-wheeled part of the Lawton stable...traded in one for another and added two new rides.

The trade-in just happened today: we traded in the Ducati Diavel Strada for a BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive edition [basically a package edition with bells and whistles included]. It's a beastly big thing, but is awesome for two-up riding [as we found out today, and will confirm tomorrow :^) ].

The new rides are "300cc Italian bikes"...aka Vespa scooters. Breaking my ankle again caused some permanent soft tissue damage in my left ankle, so I'm kind of screwed when it comes to shifting or trusting my ankle to support me and a bike at stops [it gives out randomly, sadly]. That left me with the option of retrofitting a paddle shifter to an existing bike, going with a CVT/automatic [like the Honda CTX700], or getting a scooter. I'd ruled out scooters entirely; I need to be able to hit highway speeds, which pushed me towards the 500-600cc range [BMW, Bergstrom, etc.]...and those were too wide for me to flatfoot comfortably with my bad ankle.

Then a friend told us that Vespa had a 300cc sport edition with an 80mph top speed, so we checked it out...and ended up with two of them, one for me, one for Will [who had been looking for a smaller-engined bike to go with his others, something that he could ride all the way to the edge and just go nuts with].

Vespa GTS 300 Super Sport SE
[vroom vroom]
Things are getting a bit cramped in the garage right now, so "Project: Second Garage" is in the works, with "Project: Remove Cabinets in Current Garage to Make Room Until Then" ["Project: Make Room" for short] scheduled to happen some time in the next few weeks. We've got one more trade-in/trade-up coming [which is why the new garage is needed, so everything that should be sheltered can be], but that won't be happening until January-ish...we don't think the new garage space will be ready in time, but absolute worst case, a couple of the motorcycles can take a place of honor in the game room in the house until it is. :^)

Now I just need the weather to cool down a bit so I can get out there and get some miles on the scooter...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

our first commissioned painting

Back in June, Will and I headed to Vegas to have dinner with Scott and Ken of The Crystal Method and some of their close friends and family, before we all headed over for their show at Drai's, celebrating their 25th year of doing what they do. It was an awesome time, with Ken's mother, father, wife, and brother joining the group at dinner, along with their manager and some close friends and collaborators.

During the various conversations of the night, we found out that Ken's brother Frank was an artist who had done some paintings for the band and their album inserts in the past. We kept in touch with Frank after the event, and I talked with him about helping us commemorate that awesome evening...ideas were traded back and forth, inspiration struck, and then it was time to wait and see the finished product.

It arrived today:

Original oil painting, 24"x48", Artist: Frank J. Jordan, 2014

Around the table you'll see me and Will at the front right and left, Ken and Scott [next to me], Ken's wife Janine, their manager Richard, Ken and Frank's mother and father, their management rep, some of their close friends and collaborators, and the artist himself playing the waiter.

Serious thanks to Frank J. Jordan for the patience, talent, and time he put into this...I can't think of a cooler way to commemorate an amazing night.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

that wasn't the cat shaking the bed

Fairly good size quake [6.0] about half an hour ago...time to watch the Facebook feeds blowing up. :^)

[Will's going to be bummed that he slept through it. <grin> ]