Saturday, February 2, 2013

Perfect time for a sabbatical to start... at last

Well, it's been a challenging start.

On the mend finally from the flu and pneumonia...

Five days before leaving for the EduCon conference in Philadelphia I was chomping down some food and felt a sharp pain in the back of my mouth. Eating or drinking anything hot and cold was immediately not an option. Applying any pressure to the tooth also proved unwise. Shortly thereafter, about 15 minutes or so, the ache in the tooth turned into a headache. 

A quick trip to the mirror revealed a filling in one of my molars was loose. Visibly so. Very handy tooth for chewing, molars. Most inconvenient too since I was gearing up for some heavy traveling.

It was a deep filling, the patch from some hefty sugar eating as a young child aka Calvin and Hobbes - 'Frosted Coated Sugar Bombs' style. I guess the filling just decided it'd had enough.

After a quick call and explanation to my dentist, I was penciled in short order to patch it up. 

Dentist offices have always been surreal places to me. Don't get me wrong, I like my dentist a lot. He's a personable chap with excellent skill. When I'm at any dentist office though, I always have flashbacks to the Bill Cosby, Himself comedy routine. You know, the shots of Novocain that go on and on, the dentist asks you questions while working on you and you answer in phrases with no consonants (and they understand you), and walk in the chair with your butt. I... find myself anticipating something painful when I'm in the dentist chair. It rarely happens... but a jolt does go through your nervous system under the drill on occasion. Laying down while someone looks in your mouth, picks at your teeth with microscopes on their eyes, all under a bright light. Surreal.

Turns out, as the dentist investigated this loose filling, he started saying things like 'hmmm,' and 'oh my, that's not good at all' as he probed around with picky things and mirrors. "The tooth is split," the dentist said. "Nearly all the way through." It's never ideal to hear such things while you're in the dentists chair. He then started to investigate further saying "looks like the filling had been seeping for a bit, meaning that the filling had likely broken some time ago and infection has started to set in. Inflamed nerves and such. That's why you're having discomfort. It's good we caught this now." By all accounts that all sounds a bit disgusting... "seeping" and "infection," and "inflamed." All descriptors of something more complicated than a quick patch job so I can hit the road. Excellent.

Now, admitting what you can do and what you can't is key, especially in the medical profession. My dentist was quite clear "this molar has a much better chance of being saved if an Endodontist I work with did a... root canal."

When you hear your dentist say 'root canal,' it echoes in your brain. I've never had one. Grim things start flashing through your mind because root canals are one of those things of legend and lore if you've never had one or, as I've discovered, even if you have. 

Talk to folks about 'getting a root canal,' and most wince. It's like playing a sort of 'tooth roulette' best I can figure. It's one of 'those' things. People's stories who've had them range from something like 'being curled up around the toilet in debilitating pain and losing limbs' to 'routine, no problem at all.' One person I told I needed one has had two himself. "The first one" he said, "was a breeze. The second was not pretty. Man, it took three appointments over a couple weeks and then I finally just had it pulled." I listened to the latter part and... you know, I could feel my eyes go wide. Another woman I told said, 'ah, no big deal. It was like having a filling.'

Having fillings is not difficult. It's just... not fun.

Having a root canal fail in multiple appointments and then having the tooth pulled, as in extraction... that echoed in my head a bit longer.

I didn't want to simply have the tooth pulled. I like chewing. 

So, no choice. So be it. Tooth roulette. Engage.

My dentist patched the tooth temporarily and told me they'd schedule root canal with this recommended Endodontist asap. The dentist gave me a prescription for Vicodin if needed as I left. Vicodin? Teaching the next day... on vicodin? Not a good idea.

The discomfort had subsided... until the Novocain wore off later that night. Lots of Advil got me about two hours of sleep.

The next morning I received a call from the Endodontist. My dentist is very efficient. Turns out, the only available appointment was the Monday morning immediately following the weekend conference in Philly. So much for staying in the city to talk to people, explore a bit, and do some writing and thinking.  Time does fly when you're having fun ; )

I know, it could all have been worse... but it was inconvenient. A common side effect of the the EduCon conference is cerebral overload. Looking toward the show while sporting a whopping headache was just... unfortunate. I'd been looking forward to Educon all year.

After a couple of quick days shoring up with family, life, school stuff, and nagging headache in tow, I set off to Philadelphia to the EduCon conference. 

About then things just got weird.

After about two hours of driving I heard a sharp 'CLINK,' and both wipers lifted off the windshield.

Both wipers. While I drove at 70mph.

Fortunately temperatures were super cold with no moisture in the air so I didn't really need them that much. Just dumb luck I guess. I was headed to a big city... I'd get them fixed in Philly. 

As I explored this now free floating wiper assembly at a rest stop in I-87... it was cold and very windy. Scheming potential fixes if need be, I hopped in the car and drove for another half hour and noticed... it was getting colder... in the car. I turned up the heat. And it kept getting colder. Unrelated to the wiper assembly seeking freedom from regular duty, the heater in the car had decided it would go on strike as well. Mutiny! I've since discovered the two failures are unrelated. Go figure. I decided at this point not to buy a lottery ticket on the trip.

Driving to Philly in frigid temps with no heat, toothache and headache, and the thought of no wipers... well, let's just say I've had more fun. Fortunately the temps remained cold and I didn't need to use the wipers that much all the way to Philly, a fact I'm still amazed at actually. The stops I took to warm up my legs proved a perfect time to pour windshield fluid on and hold the wipers down by hand. It's was comical actually... especially if you were watching me do this from another car ; ) 

Rather... ch, ch, chilled, I arrived at long last in Philly, had dinner, took a very long hot shower, and just went to bed.

Phone calls the next morning to get the car fixed were not fruitful. Every shop was booked that I called or closed. The trials of a weekend conference if you have car trouble I guess. 

No heat, no wipers, and I didn't want to cancel the Monday am root canal in fear of a long rescheduling delay. I figured out I could tinker a temp fix to press the wiper blade assembly down on the windshield if need be. I checked the weather and it looked to remain very cold when I would head North again. Could be done. As for no heat, I could dress warm and drink hot 'tea and coffee' I thought. Ok, couldn't do that with the tooth. Vegas Nerve control... Wim Hoff style then! May fate favor the foolish. Adapt.

As usual, the conference flew by. I'll admit, I was distracted with the nagging discomfort, and sleeping at night was at best sporadic. It was great to catch up with old friends and I met many new ones. I've got resources to read and ponder over the next few months. I've also got plenty of ideas brewing for return trips to Philly for school visits as part of this sabbatical.

Conference complete, I packed up, dressed to the nines in cold weather gear, and headed off for the root canal.

I'll confess, I had more than one good laugh about all these things twisting together on the way home.

I'm happy to report that the dread root canal wasn't bad at all. Well, so far at least. And so you know if you've never had one, it's not like getting a filling. It's different. Weird gear like a rubber dam with a sci-fi alien mouth that clamps over your tooth and prevents 'stuff' from going down your throat... needles, probes to remove (core out) the roots, multiple x-rays... and such. It was all painless save an occasional jolt that was remedied by yet more Novocain. Inflamed nerves are tricky, so I've learned. Yes, I could have toughed it out, taking the pain... but I've learned to say I'm uncomfortable in a dentist chair or an operating room at this point in my life. I don't see taking pain in such situations as proving or building my character... I just see it as unnecessary with today's technology. I'll save my energy and concentration for something else.

Root canal complete, the headache and toothache are now faded memories. Of course, to test if the root canal was successful, they apply another temp filling. Chewing very deliberately on one side, I'm in queue at my regular dentists office seeking any cancelation to grab a permanent filling before hit the road again North and overseas thereafter.

The car was in the shop already being repaired. Wiper assembly, heater, and a drivers-side window that wouldn't roll down (from a month earlier... I was waiting for the next trip to the shop to do it). I just got done telling my son "it's an old car, and previous to this thumping it's really given us no trouble at all over about 7 years." 

And just then... the phone rang and I learned the car also needed a new muffler. The whole muffler.

Thus far, between the tooth appointments and the car, it's over three grand well spent.

While all this unfolded, I've canceled three visits for the sabbatical, two North and one in Boston.

So, I decided to take a break for a day and celebrate no pain or headache, and my car repairs and do something completely unintellectual and without cost... like watch a couple movies. 

I went hunting in the basement for some cables to hook up the DVD player... and discovered a new crack in the foundation of our house. It was easy to find really because of the water I stepped in that had been seeping over the floor in that section.

Happily embracing another spontaneous project, we cleaned up the water, set up fans to dry things out, positioned towels as water barriers, monitored how frequently they had to be changed, and the phone call was made for basement foundation (injection molding) repair... likely another $600-$1000.

At any time, whether you can afford it or not I guess, you hate to see three or four thousand dollars evaporate... even if it's necessary. It's not the money per se, it's that the events bunched up and also led to three canceled sabbatical appointments

Of course, it all could have been worse. There was no significant tragedy of any type. It's all minor stuff. I'm safe. My health woes were easily repairable. The discomfort was endured. The car... is just a car. The bout with flu and pneumonia in late December - early January was actually a lot more challenging. I guess the anticipation of starting 'the sabbatical of a lifetime,' and having all this unfold was just... disappointing.

There have been things to shore up for school as well. Separating from the flow for a semester brings up it's own challenges, especially if you teach a couple year-long courses. Shoring up grades and narrative comments, helping folks smith exciting ideas brewing for possible curriculum and course shifts in the coming school year, and questions that surface on 'the way things usually work and why' all surfaced. It's tough to anticipate what people may need or the philosophies that might come in question when your leaving for a semester. Project-based classes and all the philosophical mess, assessing inquiry and learning rather than product is like putting together a puzzle while the picture changes. It's not a set curriculum per se. That's it's strength I think. I didn't handle it all as thoroughly as I'd hoped. I think, at long last though, it's all finally shored up.

I've been dedicating time to some philosophical and organizational shifts for VITA-Learn under my new role of President over the last couple months. I'm very grateful for the confidence folks showed in me in the nomination. The organization is moving through some philosophical shifts and it's gotten big enough to add a contracted Executive Director position. I have some experience with such transitions and have done my part to help that shift along. The structural shift will free up the board and officers to focus more on the future rather than the growing tasks of running the operations of the organization... and it's the only reason I accepted the nod as President. The folks who've done all that work to date, mostly on a volunteer basis for all these years have done a great service to provide professional development opportunities for Vermont teachers. Over the last few weeks we've been orchestrating some small shifts in how we approach our two major conferences. I've been trying to help get this in motion for the annual board retreat in mid-February. It's been difficult to juggle this in with all that's been going in, but some great new ideas and collaborations are opening up, and I think we're making some great progress.

Amidst this odd tangle of vines I managed to send my first article off to Edutopia about the EduCon conference. It was a very fun challenge (albeit with a pounding headache) to frame up the whole experience for folks who may be new to it and / or for those seasoned veterans. Hopefully it came off well. I think it's scheduled to be posted in a week or so.

I have a strange feeling at this point I guess, one I didn't anticipate. It's been a very weird 45 days. I feel a lot at this moment like I do after school ends in June. Drained. But also strangely unsettled.

Perhaps I've just been too busy. It's something I'll have to evaluate carefully over the coming months.

Perfect time for a sabbatical I guess.

I'm looking forward to taking this weekend off, watching a couple movies, watching my son's basketball game, carefully eating some good food, resting up, having a permanent filling early next week... and moving forward.

Lots of thinking to do about the future so I've learned.

Lots.

Engage.

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