Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Medical Update

It’s been over a month since I last posted in my blog. While a week of that was due to my prior PC getting totally messed up during a Windows update, a lot was due to a few medical issues. These seem to be increasingly happening as my body ages, but the past few weeks it felt like I was falling apart in several places at once. So, I thought it would be good to recap what’s happening and where things are going.

In the past I’ve done this starting at the top of my head and moving downward, but I think I’ll change that up and move in the opposite direction this time. So, without further ado, here’s what’s going on.

 

Feet and Legs – In early December, I had a two-step skin graft put on the bottom of my foot. Everything seemed to be going well and by mid-month my weekly checkups were reduced to once a month. But then, on Christmas Day, I was not feeling well and my symptoms were similar to the times that I had sepsis in the past. Recognizing that, Donna said that we would not wait until the symptoms got worse, but that she would take me into the hospital immediately. The ER was thankfully quite empty, so I was taken to a room and admitted fairly quickly – for a 3-day stay. (Not the way I would have chosen to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s.)

On removing my socks and shoes, it was obvious that my right foot was the source of the infection. There were two large blood blisters next to the graft area as well as cellulitis on the top of that foot and some red streaks starting up my ankle. They drained the two blisters and put me on antibiotics.

Donna called my podiatrist and scheduled an appointment for me to see him the day after I got released. It was obvious that both the blisters were “communicating” with the area under the graft, so he cut away both the graft as well as all the tissue over the blistered area. So, back to square one.

Since then, I’ve had a couple of diagnostic tests. The first was an MRI of my right foot because he was concerned that the cause might be an underlying infection in the bone. That was negative (whew!), so instead of considering bone removal, we’re going to go the graft route again. The other was a doppler check of the blood flow in both legs and feet. As I write this, that was this morning. Good news again, my blood flow is perfectly normal (which is often not the case with diabetic patients like myself). So, everything is set up for another round of skin grafts tomorrow.

 

Colon – I had my first colonoscopy back in early 2017 (at age 68 – I should have had it several years earlier, but it was not something that occurred to me). They found, and removed, nine polyps – none of them cancerous. Because there so many, I had another colonoscopy a year later in 2018. That found one additional very small one, also non-cancerous, which they removed. Colon cancer is VERY slow-growing, so they put me on their follow-up list for five years out. Thus, I got a letter last week asking me to set up an appointment. This should be the last one as the risk/reward of having a colonoscopy after age 75 does not warrant further testing since the average lifespan does not warrant it. So, another test in the next few months – not a big deal.

 

Pancreas – After some cycling up/down for a few months due to the stress of all the other medical issues, I’m now getting my sugar levels under control again for the past few weeks. In addition, I have lost four pounds so far this year and am encouraged to get off the weight that I’ve been stuck at for the past several years. I’ve actually managed to get my BMI under 30 for the first time in a few decades – Yay! Hitting such milestones is definitely encouraging me to continue and see if I can drop it further.

 

Heart – During my hospital stay, I had a few hours where I was feeling a tightness across my upper chest and pain if I tried to breathe too deeply. They alleviated the pain with a shot of morphine, but said that I should have another stress test in the near future. Because of the problems with my foot and not being able to do any extended walking on a treadmill, this would have to be a “nuclear” stress test like the last one I had in mid-2021. So, I contacted my cardiologist and got that scheduled for earlier this week. When I did this in 2021, they stressed me too hard, and I passed out (see here). This time everything went well. So, no issues here.

 

Mouth/Teeth – Over the years, I’ve had most of my teeth replaced with implants and titanium coated with enamel. My upper teeth are in two connected sections, but my lower ones are either single or pairs of teeth. I still have my original lower front teeth. But because the uppers are connected, they are quite strong and when chewing they are placing a lot of pressure on my lowers. This is particularly impacting my front teeth which are beginning to loosen and the jawbone starting to erode. So it’s finally time to do something with them as well.

The timing isn’t great because of all the other stuff going on, but next month they will remove the four front incisors (teeth numbered 23-26 for those who keep track of that kind of thing) and put some bone in the empty sockets. After that all heals, I’ll have a couple of implants there and a solid bridge put in that joins teeth 22-27 – anchored by my two canines which are still ok. That new strong bridge should be able to resist the pressure. At least I get to wait until next month for the next step on this.

 

Brain – In the middle of all the above, I had the PET scan of my brain. This is the last screening step for qualification for the Alzheimer’s drug study that I have enrolled in. Once they have evaluated the level of amyloid plaque in my brain, I will either be qualified for one of the two arms of the study, or I will be told that I am not qualified. So, right now I’m waiting for them to make that evaluation and call me to schedule my next trip to UPenn. If I’m qualified, then I will sign the forms acknowledging the level of risk and agreeing to the next four years of IV infusions of the study drug.

In talking to the study coordinator, I have learned that a number of people started the qualification steps, but then they later backed out. I have no intention of doing so. Is it without risk? No. But I’m willing to accept the risk if it will help to advance the development of drugs that can be used to treat this terrible disease. So, stay tuned.

 

Summary – It’s certainly been an interesting last few weeks! Nothing like starting off 2023 with multiple medical tests/appointments every week. So, while it’s been a bit stressful having to deal with so many things going on at once, none of the individual areas are ones which are overwhelming by themselves. God is good! With him at my side and with the support of all my family and friends, I have weathered the storm (so to speak). To those reading this, thanks for praying with me.

 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Christmas 2022

I guess winter must finally be here! Yesterday we had a combination of sleet, snow, and rain that lasted all day. And in the middle of it all, a medical emergency that required me to have to drive in it (more on that below). But we rejoice in having completed another year and seeing all that God had planned for us. Now we look forward to the start of 2023 in just a few weeks.

FAMILY

In January, Chris and family came up from Florida to help us move into the house across the street that we are now sharing with Kim and the boys. In preparation we’d gotten the basement level prepped so that we could move their bunkbeds down there. Pam organized the painting of one of the upstairs rooms so that we could move our platform bed set into it. I handled the taking things apart and putting back together, but Chris, Aryon, and Tiernan did all the “heavy lifting” of moving it. It’s been interesting – getting used to living in just two rooms instead of a whole house. We are very slowly tackling the elimination of all our accumulations in the old house, but various medical issues (more below on that too) have limited the amount of work that we’ve gotten accomplished.

Besides our typical week together at Pinebrook, we expanded the practice of having Kim’s boys getting to spend a month in Florida with Chris and family. Two years ago it was just Ethan, last year Ethan and Isaiah, and this year adding Caleb to the mix. Donna and I went down at the end of April for Aryon’s court of honor as he received his Eagle Scout badge. We took Caleb with us, then at the end of the week, left him there for the rest of the month of May. In July, following our week at Pinebrook, Ethan went back to FL with Chris and family, then in mid-August we did a swap – with Ethan coming home and Isaiah going there until mid-September. This schedule meant that Caleb had to finish the prior school year remotely from FL and Isaiah had to start this year from there – but we made it all work. For 2023 – we’ll have to see what works, especially since Aryon will be going off to college in the fall and Tiernan has applied to be an exchange student for a year. All the grandkids are growing up far too fast!

One thing that living together in one house has helped with is Donna and I helping with the schooling of Kim’s four boys. This year they are in grades 7, 5, 5, and 3. Ethan has a computer setup in his room downstairs but spends most of the day in Kim’s room where she is working from home and she can help him if/when he needs it. He’s pretty independent and is now taking Spanish as well as the typical Bible/Literacy/History/Math/Science. Isaiah and Caleb have workstations in the living room but bring their laptops into my “den” for me to check their work and for the submission of any assignments. Asher has a workstation in the kitchen/dining room and Donna works with him there. School hours are about 2.5 hours in the morning and another 1.5-2 in the afternoon each day. So we’re all kept pretty busy. Last year they all finished with overall averages of 97-99 and this year they’re maintaining their grades in the same range. But they each have their areas of strength and weakness as well as occasional attitude problems (“I have to write THREE paragraphs!?”). So Donna and I have our challenges.

Our FL grands have been involved in some sort of youth activity for several years – Aryon in Boy Scouts, Tiernan in Trail Life, and Ilyanna in American Heritage Girls. This fall our PA grands all began attending Trail Life as well. The closest troop is 30 minutes away and it’s quite small, but they all enjoy it. Matthew’s current job at a Home Depot warehouse has him working Sat/Sun/Mon/Wed (5am to 3pm), so he’s been taking them to the twice-a-month Thursday night meetings. But they also go camping one Saturday a month, so I take them on Fri evening and pick them up on Sun morning and take them to church.

MEDICAL/HEALTH

Getting older is not without its challenges. Donna was having more and more issues with her one leg, and after extensive checking and x-rays she had a hip replacement in March. When we finally got to see the x-rays ourselves, it was pretty obvious why she was having problems. The healing process was fairly quick, and she now has full use of that leg again. Makes us wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.

Her operation and time for healing meant that I had to delay a surgical procedure on my foot until May. I was just not making progress on the healing of the open wound on the bottom of my right foot, so the podiatrist had recommended a sesamoidectomy (new word for me – look that one up!) Long healing process for that meant many, many, many hours of sitting in my recliner (a present from our kids), two rounds of skin grafts (the first one failed), and finally getting the hole to seal up just a few weeks ago. I still have to take it easy while the deep healing takes place, but it’s nice to not have to rebandage my foot every few days like I have been for the past year.

Our latest adventure was just yesterday. We had planned on moving one of our cats (age about 14) from one house to the next. She objected and when Donna was putting her into a cat carrier for the move she got bitten rather badly on her right thumb. So, in the middle of the snow/sleet, I had to drive her to an express care location for checkup, cleanup, tetanus shot, and antibiotic prescription. Now we’ll have to pitch in to do some of her work for a few days until it gets healed up as well as watch to ensure that it heals properly without infection. Always a new challenge!

I’ve been accepted into a drug-based study for a new Alzheimer’s drug (lecanemab – you may have seen news articles about it). I’ve passed most of the screening, including verification that I have no symptoms yet. Now just awaiting a PET scan in early January as the final hurdle to see if I’m eligible. If accepted it will mean four years of monthly/bi-weekly infusions. But if this will help others in the future I’m willing to do so. Stay tuned!

GENEALOGY

I’ve continued to keep busy with various aspects of genealogical research. Earlier this year I checked out the genealogy of all the teachers I had while growing up. Just remembering all the names was a challenge, but then tracing them back to see who might be a distant cousin of mine was equally challenging. But the biggest excitement was my acquisition of a family coat-of-arms and related genealogy charts for Evelyn Pierrepont, Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull, that had been prepared and colored back in 1764 – over 250 years ago. I’ve had it archivally framed and it will be the centerpiece for the 100th family reunion of the New England Pierpont family that will take place this coming June.

WRITING

Just to show that you can “teach an old dog new tricks,” this year I found myself writing a series of fictional books about Fred Forchelli. I had submitted an entry into a “bad writing” contest earlier this year (where one writes the opening sentence to a fictional book). I didn’t win, but then one of my cousins said that he wanted to know the rest of the story. So I took him up on the challenge and that turned into not one, but three books about Fred and the cases he has as a private investigator. Each of the books is 40-45 pages and they are available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle format.

It's been fun doing this, as I do it strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style – writing one chapter at a time and not having any idea where the next chapter will take things. Each book has taken just a week to a week-and-a-half to write. I’ll never get rich – but few do in the self-publishing world – but the enjoyment I get from it makes it worthwhile.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

One never knows where the “road of life” may take you. There are too many twists and bends that we can’t see beyond. Homeschooling of four grandsons was not something that Donna and I had ever predicted at this stage in our lives. It’s certainly not the typical retirement that one experiences. Mentally, we’re both doing well, but the number of physical challenges and difficulties are certainly more each year.

Having been married for over 50 years, we are now among the “seniors” at church. And there are tasks that we feel more comfortable leaving to others. Thankfully, our growing grandchildren can now take on more responsibilities. And the older ones have passed Donna in height and are gaining on me (if shoe size is an indication, I’m going to be facing challengers in that arena before too long). We love all our kids and grandkids and enjoy as many hugs as they are willing to give us (they just have to take it easy sometimes as especially grandma’s bones are not as strong as they used to be).

But most importantly, God and Christ are still the center and focus of our lives. (Someone remarked to Kim the other day that it’s nice to see all her boys actually excited to go to church and meet with their friends.) So, as long as we keep our eyes on HIM and try as best we can to follow the path he sets before us, we can’t go wrong.

This is the Christmas season, and Christ is the “reason for the season”. We pray that all of you are similarly blessed as we are.

Alan and Donna

[Grandchildren]

 


[Pierrepont Coat of Arms]

 


[Fred Forchelli book on Amazon (one of three)]

 


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Continuing Sagas

Three sagas to report on this week. The first is the continuing problem of the open sore on the bottom of my foot – now 4+ years. Last week I had a skin graft put on the remaining hole – which was 9mm x 7mm. That meant that I had to stay off my foot as much as possible while it healed. My recliner (which my children bought for me at Christmas) is getting a lot of use. I went back to the doctor yesterday. We’ve made some good progress and the hole is down to 5mm x 3mm! They put on a second graft – this time of “live” cells instead of the non-live product they used last week. He’s hopeful that when I see him again next week that the hole will be gone. Then we can put together a plan for keeping it that way. I’ll still have to wear special shoes and avoid too much use, but if we can get the hole to be sealed up that will be great! So, I’m staying off my foot as much as possible this week as well. It’s a little frustrating as my foot is all wrapped and I’m wearing a surgical shoe to prevent damage.

 


The second saga is my continuing involvement in Alzheimer’s studies. I was just notified yesterday that I’ve passed all the screening criteria so far and have now been approved for the next testing phase – a PET scan of my brain to determine the level of amyloid plaque I have. That is scheduled for early January. So far they have determined that I do have the APOe4 gene which makes me susceptible and the results of all the mental/physical acuity test have confirmed that I have no mental impairment. So this PET scan is the last hurdle before I become qualified for the study.

The final saga is my decision to turn my Fred Forchelli story into a three-book series. In the first book, “The Case of the Piece of Paper,” I had made the title page as follows:

Fred Forchelli

World-renowned

Well-known

Investigator and Lawyer

 

The Case of the Piece of Paper

 

I’m not sure why I did this, but when someone asked about it, I realized that it made for a perfect opportunity to turn this book into a three-part series. In the second part – currently being written – the “Well-known” is not crossed out. The subtitle of book two is “The Case of the D.A.’s Dilemma.” I hope to have it done in the next week or so and then it will join the first book on Amazon. The third book will follow shortly thereafter and the “World-renowned” will not be crossed out. I’m not yet sure of the subtitle, but I have some preliminary thoughts as to where it will take place and the opening chapter.

 

So, as I sit here in enforced offloading of my foot, I’m trying to use my creative “juices” to my advantage through this writing project. Three ongoing sagas at once! Who said that life is boring?

 

 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Medical Studies Update – October 2022

C-Diff Study

I was contacted to consider participation in this study while in the hospital in January 2018. This was looking at the efficacy of a new drug to prevent the occurrence of C-diff. You can read more about it at https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/study/NCT03090191. Over the next several months I had three doses of either the vaccine or a placebo. My participation ended in 2020, but no results had been posted at that time.

Earlier this year, Pfizer reported the results of the study (see here). While the study did not meet its primary endpoint of eliminating C-diff (there were 17 cases of C-diff among those receiving the drug and 25 cases among those receiving the placebo), there were some promising results. These included:

·         None of those who received the drug required hospitalization compared to 11 of those who received the placebo.

·         The median episode length of those who received the drug was 1 day vs 4 days for those who received the placebo.

·         The mean episode length of those who received the drug was 3 days vs 16 days for those who received the placebo.

Pfizer is currently evaluating what are the next steps to take.

Just a few weeks ago I received a phone call informing me that I had only received the placebo and not the drug being studied. This reveal was so that I did not need to be concerned about having to reveal my participation in this drug study for any future medical studies or hospitalizations. I’m happy to have participated and hope that the information received from this study will assist in the reduction of the impact of C-diff in the future.

[Injection]

 


 

Alzheimer’s non-drug studies

As I noted last year (see here), I am enrolled in three separate studies – known as ABC (Aging Brain Cohort), APT (Alzheimer’s Prevention Trials), and MTL (Medial-Temporal Lobe). The first two have no end date, the last is a 4-year study. I had my annual ABC and MTL visit last week.

Nothing of interest to report. However, I did find out that if I am accepted into the AHEAD study (see below), that my eligibility for the ABC study will end. I suspect that will be true for the APT and MTL studies as well. For now, I’ll continue on and see where things go with the AHEAD study.

 

Alzheimer’s drug study

Two weeks ago I had the memory testing for the AHEAD study that I had mentioned earlier (see here). Talk about comprehensive testing! It was essentially composed of the full ABC test (except tablet-based instead of paper-based), AND the full MTL test, AND the complete “Cogstate” test from the APT study. You name the type of Alzheimer’s test, I had it all on the same day. In addition, the day included a full suite of physical and neurological tests (blood pressure, ECG, visual and hearing acuity, “touch your nose, touch my finger”, walk to the end of the hall and back (looking for any gait issues or difference in left/right ability). Again, all the different ways that they try to detect if you have any symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Since they are looking for individuals who have no symptoms but who have a genetic predisposition and who have some level of amyloid plaque (my PET scan is next), this all makes sense. But it is pretty intense.

The AHEAD study is only looking for 1400 people at a number of test sites worldwide (compared to the C-diff study which has over 17,000 people). I asked how many were enrolled so far at UPenn. The answer was TWO – one in each arm of the study. There are a half-dozen at various phases of screening (which is where I am as well). But it’s evidently not that easy to find people who have no cognitive issues but who are disposed to Alzheimer’s (from their genetics and the presence of amyloid plaques).

Something else I learned for the first time. If I’m accepted into this study, then I will have to stop my practice of donating blood every eight weeks – because of the regular infusions that I’ll be having for four years. That’s a little bit of a bummer since I’ve been doing so regularly for several years now. The person who coordinates the blood drive at church will be disappointed, so I’ll wait until I’m actually accepted into the study before telling her (assuming that I keep passing the screening criteria).

So, are there weekly/bi-weekly infusions in my future? Time will tell…..

[infusion]



Saturday, October 22, 2022

Kevin and the Marble

Kevin was bored. It was late summer, but school wouldn’t start for another two weeks. He and his dad had moved to this house last month but the only other boys in the neighborhood that he’d met did not have similar interests to him. The Smith twins down the block to the right were both athletically minded and were at baseball practice or games nearly every day. Because Kevin had grown up in the city that was not something he’d gotten used to.

In the other direction he’d met three kids around his age. Marcia seemed like a nice girl, but she had some sort of muscle disability and was confined to a wheelchair, so board games were her primary outlet. Tim would have been fun to play with, but he was totally consumed with video games and Kevin’s dad had a firm stance on how much of that Kevin was allowed. And the only other kid that Kevin had met, William, was three years younger and didn’t share any interests with Kevin. While it would probably be better when school started, for now there was not much to do.

Kevin’s mom had passed away about a year ago. She had been ill for several years so while it was good that she was no longer suffering, that didn’t mean that Kevin did not miss her. Kevin’s dad had stayed with his job in the city so that Kevin could finish the school year there, but at the beginning of the summer he had changed jobs and the two of them had moved here where they could live in a house with a yard instead of in the high-rise apartment building that they’d had in the city. Kevin liked this new house and the large park across the street. But being able to go there and run around and enjoy the fresh air was getting old. Kevin really wanted to have friends.

Not being into athletic games and with his dad’s restrictions on the amount of video games he could play was not a problem in the city. There were a number of boys in Kevin’s building who had begun a marbles club. They could play either in the dusty empty lot next door, or, if they were not too loud, in the recreation room of the building during the day when the adults were at work. The rec room had worn low-pile carpets instead of hard linoleum floors, so the marbles did not go sailing off when they were hit. Kevin had a small bag of marbles, and his friend Jimmy would loan him a shooter when they played. Kevin’s dad seemed to recognize this attraction and had bought him another bag of new marbles as a reward for helping get everything packed for their move. But they were all small marbles and Kevin didn’t have a shooter – his dad did not seem to realize that significance.

[Marble pictures]




Thus it was that on this sunny Saturday Kevin found himself wandering around the park for the fourth time this week. His dad was home but, having begun a new job, was working a few extra hours this morning getting familiar with all that his job entailed. Kevin was over on the far side of the park near the creek that ran through it when a glint of something shiny in the weeds caught his eye. Focusing on where he saw that glint, he knelt down and pushed the weeds to the side.

There it was – a marble! And not just any marble, but one unlike any that Kevin had seen before. Most standard glass marbles have a colored swirl running through them to make them look like a cat’s eye. The swirl can be one of several colors – red, orange, yellow, green, and blue being the most common. And there are some more expensive marbles that have two or three colors running through them. But this marble that Kevin had plucked from among the weeds had FIVE colors. The primary swirls were orange, green, and blue, but the edges of the swirls were enhanced with red and yellow – almost like the swirl edges were on fire! This was NOT a standard marble – someone had spent a lot of time putting all those colors in and it was likely a pretty expensive marble.

But more significant to Kevin – this was not the average size marble either. It was a large marble – a shooter! And a shooter that put to shame all the ones that his friends back in the city had in their collections. And one that certainly was several rungs above the old worn shooter that Jimmy loaned him. Kevin was ecstatic!

 

Running home, Kevin burst into the den where his dad was poring over a pile of papers from his employer. Holding up the marble so that it caught the light streaming in the window, Kevin exclaimed, “Dad, look at this marble I found in the park! It’s a shooter! And it has five colors!” His dad began to reply, “That’s a really nice marble, Kevin. But I think you should know …” But Kevin didn’t hear this last part. He was already running out of the room as he shouted, “I’m going to go downstairs and practice marbles in the family room.”

Kevin first went to his bedroom to get his two sacks of marbles – both the small bag with the worn ones and the new bag that his dad had gotten him. He then bounded down the stairs to the family room. Like the community rec room back in the city, the family room had some low-pile carpet on the floor that made it acceptable for playing marbles. Kevin moved aside the items in the middle of the room, marked a rough circle using his older marbles, put the newer marbles in the center and then knelt down with his newly-found shooter.

Holding the shooter in the crook of his first finger and using his thumb to launch it, he first tried a few low-speed shots just to get the feel of it. It didn’t take long until he had gotten back his form and could reliably hit one of the smaller marbles and knock it out of the ring. Now it was time to try some combination shots and see if he could knock out several smaller marbles at once. Aiming at a cluster of three marbles in the center of the ring, Kevin let loose his shooter with as much force as he could muster. His aim was true and the shooter hit the cluster with a loud C-R-A-C-K!

 

It seemed like time had stopped. While two of the three marbles in the cluster had gone sailing out of the ring, sitting in their place were the shattered pieces of Kevin’s prized shooter! There were three larger chunks, a few razor-edged shards, and the glints of a number of smaller pieces that were now dotting the rug. The five colors from inside the shooter were now reduced to just some dull colors among the multiple pieces of glass. Kevin felt like his heart was also shattered like the shooter and he stood there in shock.

It was then that he became aware that his father had come into the room. He wrapped his arms around Kevin’s shoulders and gently held him. Kevin turned into his dad’s embrace as he haltingly sobbed, “It … it broke. I’ve only had it for … for an hour, and … and, it’s broken!” Kevin’s dad held him even closer.

“That’s what I tried to tell you earlier, Kevin,” his dad said. “Because of the time it takes to make these fancy marbles, the cooling process of the glass takes longer and sometimes makes them more brittle. I lost my favorite shooter when I was about your age because of the same problem.”

“You used to play marbles, too, Dad?” asked Kevin. “I never knew that.”

“Yes,” said his dad. “I’ve seen you get interested in them the last few years, but I’ve been so involved in taking care of your mom that I never got around to sharing that with you. I think it’s about time to rectify that situation. Let’s get out the vacuum and clean up this broken glass before it gets imbedded in the carpet. Then I have a few places that I’ve noticed on my drive to work the last few weeks that I’d like to show you.”

Kevin’s dad was true to his word. After they’d done the vacuuming and collected the marbles from under the sofa and around the room, they spent the rest of the day together. Their first stop was at a fast-food place for lunch - one that had been Kevin’s favorite back in the city. Then they went to a large toy store. But instead of Kevin’s dad picking anything out, he let Kevin choose a couple of marble shooters – so he’d have a spare if needed. And he even let Kevin pick out a new video game. His dad had veto authority over the one that Kevin chose as there were still limits on the level of violence or other unacceptable behavior in the video, but that was fine with Kevin.

Finally, they stopped at a YMCA in the same part of town where they lived. It was close enough that Kevin’s dad said that he would be allowed to ride his bicycle there on Saturdays as long as he paid attention to the traffic and rode safely. There were a number of group activities that Kevin could participate in. They didn’t have a marbles club, but the person at the front desk said that if Kevin could get at least three other people interested, that he could start a club and they could use one of the rooms for their club meetings. Kevin felt that he was up to that challenge.

 

When they got home later that afternoon, Kevin turned admiringly to his dad. “Thanks, dad,” he said. “I didn’t think you understood, but I’ve underestimated you. Thanks for being my dad!”

Kevin’s dad smiled back. “And I appreciate you for the attitude you’ve displayed through all of this. Now, do you think you’d be willing to play a game of marbles with me? I’m pretty rusty, but if you’re patient, I might be able to become a worthy opponent.”

 

VW Engine

As I recall, it was the fall of 1960. In those days all the auto manufacturers released their new models at the same time. Although I was only 12, I was really into cars and could tell you the make, model, and year of every car we passed on the road. (FYI – my grandson Isaiah can do the same thing now.) On that weekend each year my father and I would travel around to many of the dealers in the area so see all the new cars coming out.

This particular year the local VW dealership decided to do something special in order to get people like my father to stay longer – and thus increase the chances of people buying a VW instead of something else. So, they arranged for a demonstration. They not only advertised it in the paper but mailed invitations to the VW owners in the region – of which we were one as my father had bought his first VW the previous year.

My father and I thus were at the VW dealer – first just looking at the new cars in the showroom, then, when the sales manager announced that the demo was going to start, going out into the shop area of the building. They had totally cleaned the shop, so there were no vehicles there and the floors had been newly painted. At the appointed time, one of the garage doors was opened and a new VW Beetle driven in – the purpose being that we could see that this was a running vehicle. Parking it in the middle of the small crowd who had gathered, the shop manager announced what would be happening. Two of their lead mechanics moved to the back of the car and opened the door of the engine compartment. They also brought over a tool box – in which they naturally had all the tools they needed and all organized appropriately.



Upon a signal, they began quickly moving to disassemble the engine. First, they removed all the electrical components (spark plug wires, distributor, battery, etc.), then took off all the other easily reached items (v-belt, pulleys, carburetor, etc.) While doing this, one of them put some pans underneath and drained the fluids from the transmission and engine. One got underneath and removed the muffler. Then the two of them disconnected the engine from the transmission and lifted the flat-4 engine out of the compartment.

Setting the engine on a drop cloth, they then proceeded to disassemble it – taking off the heads, removing the cover over the crank shaft, disconnecting all the pistons, removing the valves, etc. Meanwhile the shop manager was keeping up a running commentary about what they were doing so that those of us standing around the car in a large circle understood the various steps. They only thing they did not disassemble was taking the rings off the pistons.

I should also note that since the flat-4 VW engine is air cooled, there is no radiator and no coolant to drain. This eliminates several components that you find on other engines.

Now we had spread out in front of us, and neatly arranged, a disassembled engine and the Beetle sitting there without an engine in it. They gave us a few minutes to walk around and see all the components. Then, working just as quickly, the two mechanics began to put the engine back together – following all the steps they had just completed in reverse.

Adding back the fluids that they had drained – or more accurately, adding new fluids to replace the ones they had drained, they then put a small amount of gasoline in the carburetor, one of them got in the driver’s seat, and they started up the engine, opened the garage door and drove back outside.

Total time for the complete disassembly and reassembly – less than one hour! It was quite an impressive demo. Of course, the purpose of doing this was to not only show potential VW buyers not only how easy it was to work on these cars, but to showcase the skills of their mechanics and thus make everyone want to use the dealer’s services in the future.

As a 12-year-old, and the youngest member of the audience, I know that I was impressed. My father had just bought his first VW the year before and it was the first of a few that he bought there. And in 1973, after I had married and while I was living in CT for a few years before my wife and I moved to PA, I also bought a vehicle from that same dealership – in my case a VW Dasher station wagon, which I bought sight unseen as the Dasher was a brand-new line and they didn’t even have any in stock yet. So, I guess their “demonstration”, at least in my case, paid off.

These days, with all the computer-controlled parts of the engine and all the emissions components, it is far more complicated to work on vehicle engines. Doing the work yourself is all but impossible and they even color-code those things that the vehicle owner is allowed to touch (adding oil, adding coolant, changing/charging a battery) and everything else is off-limits. But in 1960, the air-cooled VW engine was a thing of great simplicity and enabled the demo that I had the pleasure of witnessing.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Fred Forchelli - Credits

Credits

I began a week ago with only a single long sentence that I had submitted to a “bad writing” contest. Posting it on my Facebook account, my cousin Tom challenged me to finish the story. Drawing on my creative juices, I wrote one chapter at a time – strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style – not knowing how the story would turn out and, as I finished each chapter, only having a vague idea of the title of the next chapter. I was writing about one chapter (2-4 pages) a day, waiting for a new round of creative juices before beginning each chapter.

Despite my asking each day for any ideas or comments, it was not until around chapter 7 that someone responded. That anonymous comment made it clear that the navigation from one chapter to the next was not obvious. I went back and added prior/next links in each chapter – the only change I have made to any previously written and published chapter.

At that point I had still not given names to any of the characters except to the main character – Frederick Flintstone Forchelli – who had been named in that first single sentence, and to Jennifer, the person in the Office Services company who Fred relies upon for some administrative activities. But my daughter, Kim, commented that if the “hero” is Fred Flintstone, then the “bad guy” needs to be Barney Rubble. I then also added his wife Elizabeth (Betty) as well as George Jenson (a barely concealed reference to the Flintstones spinoff – George Jetson). I'll let the reader decide what happens to Fred’s new assistant, Wilma!

Thus invigorated, I wrote the last four chapters of the book in just 36 hours. It all fell together surprisingly quickly.

So, my thanks on this to:

·         My cousin Tom who got me started

·         The anonymous poster who was confused about how to navigate

·         My daughter Kim who gave me ideas for names – which I needed to make progress

It’s been a wild week! I hope all of you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. This has been a new experience and a fun one.

 

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