My Weird Voice Saga

“Hey Andy, what’s up with your voice?”

Once I had a big voice. In my younger days, I sang bass in various choirs, acted a bit, and did some public speaking when necessary. I had to project my voice to the back of the room, and it worked. It’s a Box family trait. My dad, his brother and sister, and their parents all had strong voices. Perhaps I wasn’t always in tune, but you could hear me!

Things changed in January 2021. My voice became softer, hoarse and raspy, sounding like I had seasonal allergies most of the time. No specific start date or event comes to mind. I just started noticing a change. When my father-in-law and brother-in-law mentioned one night at a noisy Chili’s that I sounded sick, it became time to start looking for answers. My biggest fear was a tumor that was compressing a vocal nerve.

Spring 2021 – What’s Wrong?

I started with a local ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. I’ll leave the office nameless because I’m not thrilled with how things went. After numbing me up, the doctor stuck a camera up my nose and down my throat to look at my vocal cords in action while I breathed, sniffed, and made various sounds. This is called laryngoscopy. A bit awkward, but not too bad. He didn’t notice anything terribly unusual about my cords at first, but he did see some irritation in my throat that he attributed to long-term acid reflux (GERD). I’ve had it for years and take meds for it. He and his PA put me on big prescription antacids and then a REALLY LAME, NO FUN low-acid diet (no caffeine, no alcohol, no soda, no spicy foods, low fat, no chocolate, etc.). Several weeks of that diet reduced the irritation in my throat. It did nothing to fix my voice but plenty to reduce the joy of living!

Ruling out GERD as the cause, we then tried CT scans of my neck and chest to check for tumors. Clean. Definitely good news, but we still didn’t have an answer.

After another peek at my larynx, the doctor diagnosed me with a malfunctioning right vocal cord, technically called vocal cord paresis. Vocal cord paralysis means the cord doesn’t move at all. Vocal cord paresis means the cord moves some, but not properly. Both conditions are caused by a nerve problem. Sometimes the body can repair the nerve damage over time, but it’s often permanent.

How the Voice Works

Above your windpipe lie two bands of tissue called vocal cords or vocal folds. When you’re not speaking, they form a V shape and lie open to allow air to pass through. When you speak, the bands come together and vibrate as air passes over them to produce various types of sound.

There are two nerves that control the voice. The superior laryngeal nerve (SLN) is shorter and raises the pitch, with a branch for each vocal cord. If that nerve gets damaged, your voice becomes more monotone and fatigues easily. The recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) runs down the neck into the upper chest and then doubles back up (hence “recurrent”). It controls the movement of the vocal cords and splits into a right and left branch, one for each cord. Since I could still vary my pitch and sing to some degree, we knew I had an RLN problem.

Damage to either branch of the RLN can produce a hoarse/soft voice like I have. Damage to both branches or damage above the split can cause problems with both cords. In some cases, both cords can become fully paralyzed, making it very difficult to breathe and demanding immediate medical intervention. Sometimes this nerve damage is caused by an infection or accidental injury during neck surgery, but in my case we didn’t know the cause. Medical people call these situations “idiopathic”. The right branch of my RLN just quit working properly.

Here is a video of a patient with a paralyzed vocal cord. Note that one cord moves back and forth while the other remains in place.

Summer 2021 – Daily Life

By this point, my voice wasn’t really getting any better or worse. It was just weak and inconsistent. It varied from day to day, throughout the day, and even from moment to moment. Speaking a lot tended to wear my voice out, so I lost some volume on days when I trained a new dispatcher or attended a social event, especially one that was loud and forced me to raise my voice to be heard. On the phone, I sounded almost normal thanks to the microphone near my mouth. But my voice didn’t carry well across a room and was hard to hear in noisy environments. At Six Flags, I had to get Jenny to order lunch for me because the people behind the counter couldn’t hear me. At a sporting event, or with someone who’s hard of hearing, I often needed to talk straight into their ear. That was fine for my wife but a little awkward for general interaction, especially during a global pandemic.

Except for a stint in management, I’d served as an on-the-job desk trainer in my dispatch office since late 2008. After all the drama with my voice, I finally stepped down as a trainer in September 2021. I talked a lot when I trained, and it wasn’t good for my voice or fair to my trainees to continue in that role.

Since I’m naturally an introvert and generally not talkative, losing some of my voice made me even less eager to speak and isolated me from others. Imagine how you would feel if no one could hear what you said. It felt like having a disability, and in a sense, it was.

August 2021 – New Doctor and Voice Therapy

The first ENT doctor was out of ideas by now, and I was also ready to move on. We agreed that I would switch to the UT Southwestern Voice Center, which has MDs and speech therapists who specialize in the voice. They often work with singers, speakers, and actors who need vocal help. My new doc, Lesley Childs, sang professionally for a while, and she’s extremely nice and has a positive attitude. Looking back, I wish I had gone straight to her. Voice disorders are uncommon, so it would have saved me some time to go straight to a voice specialist like Dr. Childs.

She did the same laryngoscopy procedure as the first ENT specialist, but more thoroughly. She noticed, especially when I laughed, that my right vocal cord didn’t move in sync with the left. She described the right cord as sluggish or flaccid. I should have told her that wasn’t a very nice word to use to describe a middle-aged man!

As expected, she wanted to start with conservative treatment before jumping to surgery. In some cases, the damaged nerve heals on its own within a few months, so many doctors hesitate to jump straight to surgery right away. So I attended several voice therapy sessions with one of their speech pathologists, a really nice guy named Jacob.

Voice therapy was interesting. We tried various exercises to give my voice more resonance, which would increase its power and volume. One technique was called straw therapy, which involved blowing into a normal straw for a bit prior to speaking. Like magic (actually through temporarily pressurizing the chamber below my vocal cords), it almost restored my old voice! But the effect lasted less than a minute before wearing off. It was fun to try but wasn’t a long-term fix. We tried other techniques as well – various humming sounds on different vowels and consonants, moving up and down in pitch, using my diaphragm more. All good techniques, but nothing changed the basic fact that my right vocal cord simply didn’t work properly.

Fall 2021 – First Injection – Juvederm

By October, my voice problem had been going on for about 9 months, and the odds were slim that the cord would ever function properly again. It was time for plan B – compensating for the loss.

My doctor recommended Juvederm injections into the vocal cord (injection laryngoplasty, in medical-speak). Juvederm (a brand of hyaluronic acid) is more commonly used to reduce wrinkles and plump lips, but it can also plump up a damaged vocal cord. The goal was to position the injured cord closer to the good cord so they could meet properly and allow more normal speaking volume. Juvederm is temporary in this situation, lasting maybe 4-6 months. She told me that afterward, my throat might be sore and my voice strained and tight for a few days, but once the swelling goes down, I should have a stronger voice.

If we were happy with the results, the next step would be a more complex operation next year to add a permanent implant behind my injured cord to push it toward the middle (medialization laryngoplasty). That way I won’t have to keep returning for injections every few months.

Voice Sample Nov 2 Before First Injection:

We did this in her office on November 2 with LOTS of numbing meds. It was a really quick procedure involving a fiber-optic camera up my nose plus a special needle down my throat for the injection. Once she started, it took maybe 5 minutes.

Immediately afterward, I discovered that I couldn’t really talk with my normal voice. Hmm. The only voice I could produce was a goofy falsetto that sounded like a combination of Mickey Mouse and Mr. Hankey from South Park. It cracked me up, so I made a video.

Nov 2, Just After Injection:

November 2021 – Recovery and Panic

I tried working one shift nine days post-surgery and sounded absolutely awful – still very hoarse, and the lower part of my voice simply wasn’t there. I sounded like a guy who was trying to sound female AND who’d been smoking for 50 years. Think Marge Simpson.

I started getting nervous. As a flight dispatcher, part of my job involves talking to pilots, operations agents, air traffic controllers, crew schedulers, and other coworkers within our operations center. Among other duties, I try to convince my pilots that I’ve given them a flight plan that they can trust, a plan that’s safe, legal, smart, and highly likely to have a good outcome. The route is solid. The fuel load is sufficient. If they call to discuss the plan, I use my voice to convince them I know my stuff and am confident in what I’ve given them. If I sound like I have the flu and ought to be in bed, it doesn’t give them a good impression.

I started wondering whether something had gone wrong, whether my voice was truly and permanently fried, whether I’d made a horrible mistake by getting this injection. Would I ever dispatch again? Did I need to start looking for a new job? Could my department find something for me that wouldn’t requiring talking to crews on live flights? As the primary income for a family of four, this was NOT a good feeling.

Voice Sample Nov 15 – 13 Days After First Injection:

Starting to panic, I went back to see the doctor two weeks post-surgery and got another scope done. She said my injected vocal cord was still REALLY swollen for some reason, which was why my voice hadn’t gone back to normal. She assured me that it would stabilize in time. I did my best to trust her expertise. By three weeks post-surgery, I was starting to sound closer to normal, although still not great. It was probably close to four weeks before I really sounded better than my pre-injection voice.

Voice Sample Dec 27 – 8 Weeks After First Injection:

It’s hard to tell from an iPhone recording, but my voice had more power and range at this point. People could hear me better in person. December and January were good months. I finally felt that the injection truly had done my voice some good and was worth the time, money, and drama. I didn’t feel disabled anymore. Friends would happily tell me, “Your voice sounds good!” But by the end of January, my voice began to slowly degrade as the Juvederm was absorbed by my body. It took a while for others to notice, but I could tell a difference.

March 2022 – Deciding the Next Step

In March, I saw Dr. Childs for a four-month checkup, expecting to schedule my implant surgery. She thought I still sounded pretty good, better than I thought I sounded. She scoped me again and saw that my right vocal cord still had a decent amount of filler left. She also noticed that I didn’t have a large gap between my good cord and my bad one. As a result, she didn’t recommend adding the implant yet. Instead, if I wanted any further intervention, she wanted to do another injection in May. But this time, instead of Juvederm, she wanted to knock me out, pull some fat from my belly (lipo!), and inject the processed fat into my cord. This approach would last a lot longer, possibly a year or more, and should be tolerated better by my body since it’s my own tissue instead of a foreign substance. After thinking about it for a while, I scheduled the surgery for May 19.

May 2022 – Second Injection (Fat)

We did the surgery my May 19 as scheduled at Clements Hospital in Dallas under general anesthesia. This process was much more involved (and more expensive!) due to the anesthesia and lipo, but still outpatient. Everything went well. I got a two-inch incision in my belly that stayed sore for a few days. My throat was a touch sore for about a day. However, this time my voice started out even worse than before. I could not speak above a whisper for a few days, not even in my goofy falsetto. After a few days, I could force out a bit of sound, but it strained my voice and sounded terrible. Now I’m waiting for my voice to stabilize so I can return to work.

Dr. Childs took some nice before-and-after pictures of my vocal cords during the surgery.

  • Top Left: Pre-surgery resting state. Bad cord on right. Bit of leftover Juvederm from last surgery.
  • Top Right: Pre-surgery while making sound, so cords are together. Bit of a gap between them, hence the soft voice.
  • Bottom Left: Post-surgery while making sound. Less gap. Should produce more sound once I heal.
  • Bottom Right: Pumped-up cord on right. It will shrink a bit as swelling goes down and a bit of the fat is absorbed, but it should remain bigger than the left cord for a while. That’s what we want!

To those of you who have supported, tolerated, understood, and encouraged me on this journey, I offer my deepest thanks. This is a weird problem to have, and your support has helped me greatly.

Coronacation 2020

My older son Brenden says I need to blog more, so…

As you probably know, COVID-19 has decimated the airline industry, among all the other havoc it’s wrought. Compared to last year, the TSA is screening about 95 percent fewer passengers each day, sometimes under 100,000 people nationwide. Southwest is hemorrhaging cash. Instead of our normal 4000-ish daily flights, we’re operating around 1000 and have parked a couple hundred aircraft. Even with the drastically reduced scheduled, our flights are still mostly empty. Currently the dispatch department is paying everyone their full salary but only staffing about half the desks to aid in social distancing.

Needless to say, this isn’t sustainable.

Fortunately, the changes at work have limited the spread. We’ve only had one confirmed case in our office, and it happened in March. However, it’s still strange and sad to see our headquarters look like a ghost town as the non-operational employees work from home and only half the operational ones are there. I dispatched an Oakland to Honolulu flight last week that had two passengers. That works out to two flight attendants for each passenger.

To preserve cash during this jaw-dropping downturn in travel, Southwest is offering its employees the chance to stay home for a month at a time with full benefits and a fraction of their salary. They’re calling it Emergency Time Off (ETO). After doing the math and discussing it with Jenny, I volunteered for May. As of April 26, I am on coronacationâ„¢ for six weeks. I return to work June 8.

Yes, this is going to sting, but we’ll be okay. I’m grateful to still have a job. Over 26 million people have lost theirs over the last few weeks.

Southwest in Crisis Mode

I started at Southwest in June 2001, fresh out of college as a rookie technical writer in the IT department. A few months later, another event shocked the industry and evaporated demand for air travel: September 11. All commercial flights were grounded for two days. Nobody knew whether people would want to fly again after that. Millions of people canceled their flight reservations. At any other airline, I would have been laid off immediately. But Southwest doesn’t believe in layoffs. Our leaders let me and every other employee keep our jobs, even though they knew the risk. By taking care of their people, they won my loyalty for life. And over time, people starting flying again.

This year, Southwest is facing the biggest challenge in our history. My coronacation is a little way for me to give back to the company that saved my career and has been so good to my family over the last 18+ years.

Life Before and After COVID-19

So…now what?

My pre-rona life was a lot more hectic. I worked a lot of overtime trying to chip away at the mortgage, save up for travel, pay down one car or save up for the next one, fund house projects, and save for the boys’ college. When I wasn’t at work, I drove the boys to and from the pool, watched their meets, stayed in shape by running and cycling, helped out around the house, and tried to get enough sleep. It was a nice life but very busy. When I had a day off that didn’t involve a meet or a family event, I felt a little guilty and disappointed that I wasn’t working overtime to get ahead. I’m supposed to be productive, dangit!

Enter COVID-19.

Only half of the scheduled dispatchers actually come in to work so we can have an empty desk in between each of us. Open shifts are covered not by overtime, but by the on-call people, so overtime is all but gone until this passes. I only worked 8 shifts in April. I was on-call for several other shifts but only got activated once.

The virus has impacted each person in their own way. It forced me to slow down, to breathe, to relax, to reevaluate my life and how I spend my time and what my priorities are.

Despite the stay-at-home order and various nagging questions, this has actually been nice. Our kids have a weekday routine – breakfast, workout, school, lunch, clean something, free time / family time, dinner. The boys no longer have swim/dive practice in the evening, so we can relax and hang out instead of driving back and forth to the pool three times each evening. I run or ride three times a week but don’t have to squeeze them after work or on a rare day off. I sleep more and am less irritable as a result. Jenny and I go on walks and talk and catch Pokemon. We taught the boys how to play spades and got smoked by them in Super Smash Bros. I introduced them to a couple of my favorite movies. We might do a Lord of the Rings movie marathon like Jenny and I did before the boys came along. I cleaned out and reorganized the garage and linen closet, knocked out the huge pile of filing I’d put off for far too long, and diagnosed and replaced a bad circuit breaker that was turning off our fridge. I’ve FaceTimed with my mom and my 93-year-old grandfather. I finished a fascinating book called A Woman of No Importance, which is about an American woman with one leg that served as an amazingly effective spy in France during World War II. My next goal is to finally finish reading the novel version of Les Miserables (too many words, Victor Hugo!!!), the basis of my favorite musical. I also hope to dust off my guitar and see if my fingers still work.

The other day I ate lunch alone on the porch – no electronics reminding me that society is collapsing, no one to talk to, just me and a gorgeous spring day. The sun was out. A healthy breeze rustled the trees, shimmering in various shades of green and full of life. A pair of beautiful red-shouldered hawks swooped in and perched on our fence. That brief half-hour of quiet reminded me that life is indeed going on, even with the deadly virus, and that I get to choose what to focus on.

This feels a bit like retirement, except that my kids are still young and my body still works. So although it won’t be much fun financially, I am grateful for the opportunity to help Southwest and to spend so much time relaxing and enjoying life with my family as we try to stay healthy and sane.

On the bright side, it’s easier to save money when you aren’t supposed to do anything. We had booked and largely paid for a summer camp for the boys and a trip to San Francisco for us in early June. COVID-19 has canceled both of them, which (sadly) freed up some funds. Their swim and dive clubs are on hiatus, which saves cash. We’re deferring expenses, canceling extra mortgage payments, eating out much less, reducing our contributions to the boys’ college funds, and burning some of our savings that we can use to get through May.

I’m also well aware that we’re in an extraordinarily privileged position just to have the option to help my employer survive by taking a month off.

The boys are taking it pretty well. Jonathan, our social butterfly, really misses people. Jenny and I are trying to accommodate him by spending time with him each day – cards, chess, video games, bike rides, trampoline time, art projects. Brenden, our introvert, doesn’t feel as lonely but laments that he hasn’t been inside another building besides our house in over a month. Both miss being in the pool. In a pleasant surprise, they’re spending more time playing with each other. Sometimes it’s Minecraft or Super Smash Bros. Sometimes they just hang out on the trampoline, talking and batting a ball around. They’re having little trouble with online learning except for occasionally overlooking an assignment, which Jenny and I try to catch.

Jenny is a little stir-crazy. She’s reading a lot (thank you, Kindle Unlimited!), working on some art, and trying to keep the boys on track. She hits the grocery store every 7-10 days, trying to make each visit count. She and her family send each other short video updates via the Marco Polo app to stay in touch. Since her hospital has banned in-person classes, she and her partner are converting most of her classes to online format via Zoom. Her first one was the full-day childbirth class earlier this month, and it actually worked fairly well.

So in a nutshell, we’re doing okay.

Questions That Make Me Squirm

Although this time isn’t all bad by any means, some dark and uncomfortable questions bubble up throughout the day. Questions like:

  • The big one that few want to consider: what if we never find a way to become immune? What if there is no protective immunity after one gets the disease? Despite our hopes and assumptions, so far there’s little evidence of it in people who have recovered. What if herd immunity isn’t possible? What if we never develop a vaccine? Some viruses still don’t have a vaccine despite years of effort, including norovirus, RSV, MERS, the Epstein-Barr virus, and HIV. Flu has one, but since the virus mutates so much, we have to keep getting flu vaccines annually, and each year’s formula never works 100 percent effectively.
  • How and when will the economy recover from this? How many jobs will never return, particularly in small business, brick-and-mortar retail, restaurants, bars, clubs, live sporting events, concerts, and other sectors that bring together large groups of people?
  • Will people ever want to fly again at the same level they did before? What would make them feel safe enough and confident enough to get back on an airplane? Will Southwest need to shrink permanently? If so, how many of my friends, including people I’ve trained, will lose their jobs? That will be the last resort, but Southwest can’t go on like this forever. For many of us, dispatching for Southwest is our dream job, and I want every one of our new folks to stay if possible.
  • Will it ever be safe to hug my grandparents again?

Reasons to Hope

Despite these worries about things I can’t control, all is not lost. People have come together to fight this disease like I’ve never seen. Healthy people are choosing to stay home, keeping their distance, and wearing masks to protect others. Essential employees put their lives at risk every day to treat the sick, keep the lights on, fly vital supplies and workers to the people that need them, and keep food in everyone’s bellies. We’re learning about who we are, what’s important, and where we are vulnerable. And a lot of really smart people are working hard to end this crisis with the least possible damage. We are a strong species. We learn, adapt, and persevere. And we’re not giving up.

Stay safe, everyone. And wash your hands.

Knee Update

Since early February, I have run a grand total of one mile. It’s been so long since a real run that I’ve mostly stopped thinking of myself as a runner, which feels a bit weird. However, I still feel a tiny stab inside when I see someone out for a jog. I should be out there, too.

As you might remember, my orthopedist checked out my knee in early March and found no problems. His prescription was rest. It didn’t work. Maybe I didn’t rest it enough, but even two weeks of no leg activity at all didn’t change how it felt. So I went back for an MRI earlier this month.

The MRI wasn’t bad at all except for the price tag. I just had to lie still on the machine’s moveable table for 30-40 minutes while it made all sorts of loud noises as it captured the images. The technician let me listen to Jack FM on a nice pair of headphones and stay warm under a blanket.

The orthopedist also prescribed a fancy knee brace from The Brace Center in Bedford. Judging from the array of autographed Dallas Cowboys pictures in their office, I’m guessing many pro athletes find their braces here when they get injured, so that seemed like a good sign to me. I tried on a few and took home a hinged one called The Gripper. Despite a bit of chafing at first on the back of my knee, it seems to be helping. Knee-intensive activities such as cycling and elliptical are noticeable more comfortable. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s nice to find something that makes a difference.

I finally met with the orthopedist Thursday to get the results. Structurally, my knee is nearly perfect. I have the “knee cartilage of a baby.” So the good news is that I’m not having knee surgery, and the doc gave me the green light to do any form of exercise I want. Although certain activities I enjoy might cause some discomfort, they won’t cause any damage to my knee, so the question is how much discomfort I’m willing to tolerate and how I can manage it.

The bad news is that after all the visits and imagining and money, I still don’t really know what’s wrong, so there’s no clear solution. I’ll keep wearing the brace when I ride the elliptical or my bike. He suggested trying to strengthen my quads to help keep my kneecap in place. I might meet with a PT later about therapeutic taping for my knee. But that’s all I have.

Will I return to running? Maybe. I might try a short run soon with my brace and see how it feels. I’d like to get back into 5Ks or 10Ks if possible. But I’ll be OK if I don’t. Riding makes me happy. Despite my initial reluctance, the elliptical machine isn’t too bad, either. And I also enjoy lifting weights now. From lifting 2-3 times per week for a couple of months, I’ve grown noticeably stronger and a bit more defined. So I’m mostly done feeling sorry for myself. Bodies change over time, and our interests and activities change with them.

Recent Happenings

We’ve been busy at the Box house. Here are some of the recent highlights.

  • I was off work all last week, and I was determined to be productive rather than good off the whole time. It worked. I polished the car, decluttered our bedroom, gathered clothes for Goodwill, mowed the yard, replaced two normal switches with fancy fan controls, dropped one of the fans and destroyed a fan blade, and completed my annual cockpit time.
  • I also de-babyfied the house, getting rid of Jonathan’s old crib and mattress, the high chair, the booster seat, several toys, and all our baby gates. The bottom floor of the house looks strangely different without all the gates, much more open. I dig it.
  • Last Saturday was Jenny’s birthday. My main present to her was watching the boys so she could go be alone and play for a while. She spent Friday shopping in Canton (I’ll take babysitting over Canton any day!), spent the night at a hotel in Farmers Branch, read a ton, got her nails done, and took a nap. The boys and I ate donuts, played, and went to the gym. Then the four of us went out to PF Chang’s for dinner Saturday night.
  • Another thing I love about my wife? She doesn’t whine on every birthday about how she’s getting older. Instead, she’s just thankful for another year.
  • We spent Easter with Jenny’s family. First, we went to their church for an egg hunt and worship. Their church is very small, which was odd for me, but has good people. The pastor is an old friend of Jenny’s, about my age, and one of the funniest pastors I’ve ever heard. After church, we enjoyed a tasty lunch at her parents’ house and celebrated Jenny’s birthday.
  • That afternoon, Jenny’s dad and I picked up a patio table and chairs from Lowe’s for our backyard. I’ll cover them in a later post with pictures after we get the patio umbrella set up.
  • I passed my annual competency check at work, so I get to keep my job. The big change this year is that designated check dispatchers are giving the checks rather than managers. My examiner started a few years after me but is really sharp and did a fine job. I didn’t apply to become a check dispatcher. It would have felt awkward to be in a position of authority over my peers. I already do that to a lesser degree when I’m training someone, and it’s something I tolerate rather than enjoy.
  • After spending over a week on normal person schedule, it was really hard to switch back to midnight schedule earlier this week when I had to return to work. My body just didn’t want to stay asleep during the day. It’s getting better now, though.
  • I’ve started lifting weights three times a week. Now that I’m getting into that habit, I’m enjoying it more and getting stronger. Our gym also has a core class that I hit once or twice a week to work my abs, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Plus I’m hitting the weight machines and even tried a barbell class. Don’t expect me to transform into Arnold, though. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.
  • Next month, we’re planning to take the boys down to South Padre to play on the beach for a couple days. Jenny will be taking a class this summer, and we wanted to go play somewhere between semesters. We might try some dolphin and/or sea turtle activities while we’re there as well. Southwest now has a nonstop from Dallas to Harlingen that looks wide open, so we’re all over it.

Blog Soup March 10, 2013

Most of you are probably not happy about losing an hour of sleep last night, which is understandable. But it meant I spent seven hours at work and got paid for eight, so Spring Forward day is usually a good day for me. Perspective!

Here’s some soup to help you wake up:

  • Daylight Saving Time (apparently the S that we all add to saving is incorrect – who knew?) seems to be more popular than standard (winter) time. So why don’t we just stay in DST year-round? Or switch to Greenwich Mean Time (Zulu time) so the entire world can use the same clock?
  • I saw an orthopedist about my still-sore knee. The good news: he said everything looked fine structurally, so I don’t need surgery or anything dramatic. The bad news: there’s no quick fix, either. My knee is sore from overuse, and I need to continue my break from running until it quits hurting and then resume very slowly. It could take a month or two. Yep, I think my half marathon days are over. I might just wait until this fall before I start running again. In the meantime, I’m cycling and lifting weights.
  • I need to do some research on the best way to get stronger with weights, because I’m not sure whether I’m doing it right.
  • I tried a weight-loss experiment last month, initially to slim down for the half marathon. My goal was to drop five pounds – five fewer pounds to carry for 13.1 miles. I cut out most sodas, reduced my OJ intake, cut back on dessert, reduced my portion sizes a bit, and rode my bike a lot since I couldn’t run. It worked. However, the feeling of being on a “diet” sucked for a while. Once I realized I wouldn’t be running Cowtown, I relaxed a bit but not entirely, so now I’m just maintaining. That’s five fewer pounds I have to push on my bike. It’s much easier and cheaper than buying a new bike that would weigh five pounds less, which would probably run at least $3000-4000, maybe more.
  • North Texas Food Bank collects and distributes food to hungry people in North Texas via many different organizations. On their website, they say they can provide three meals for $1. If I take my family out for dinner, we usually spend at least $25. So for the cost of a single meal for my family of four, North Texas Food Bank could feed 75 people. Makes you think.
  • Starting next month, I will get to work some of our new flights to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico. These new flights will add a bit of complexity, but it’s exciting to expand my skillset and experience a bit. Sometime next year, we hope to start our own international flights once our new reservation system is in place. We’ll gradually absorb all AirTran’s international operations, which currently include Nassau, Bermuda, Montego Bay, Aruba, Punta Cana, Cancun, Mexico City, and Cabo Los Cabos. Start saving those Rapid Rewards points!
  • Mario Kart Wii is awesome. Brenden, Jenny, and I like to race each other. It’s cool to have a four-year-old racing buddy. Jonathan gets frustrated and quits after about twenty seconds, meaning the rest of us are guaranteed not to come in last.
  • My office has been in an odd predicament for years now. Hardly anyone wants to be in management, for two reasons. 1) Just working the desk is a great gig and doesn’t require the headaches of management. 2) For anyone who works much overtime (like me), management generally means taking a pay cut due to some weird compensation rules. So it’s been difficult to fill management positions. Rumor has it that the compensation problem is finally being fixed. I still don’t want the job, but I hope that this change will finally entice enough people, and the right people, to step into those roles.
  • Our shared fence on either side of the house badly needs to be replaced. One of the involved neighbors approached us a few months ago with a plan to replace it using some of his employees, but it still hasn’t happened yet. Part of me hopes one of the spring storms will finally destroy these poor fences so the project will finally regain its momentum. I suppose I could help…
  • Jenny and I have toyed with the idea of studying Spanish for work via a study-at-home course. It would help her as a nurse in Texas and me as a dispatcher working flights in the Caribbean and Latin America. The best program for our goals seems to be Fluenz, but it’s expensive, so we haven’t bought it yet. Why did I take Latin in high school again??

I Once Was Blind…

I got LASIK on my right eye Friday morning, and my results are fantastic! Some people are curious about the LASIK process, so here’s my story.

As I shared in a previous post, I’ve been dogged by recurring pink eye in my right eye for the last year. My left eye is 20/15, but my right eye is badly nearsighted, so I’d worn a single contact on the right side for about 20 years. It bothered me on occasion – minor irritation and dryness, getting lost in my eye, even falling out a few times – but the recurring pink eye finally persuaded me to get this thing fixed for good.

Why Dr. Tylock?

I called Gary Tylock’s office about 10 days ago to set up a LASIK appointment. Lots of surgeons do LASIK, including my previous ophthalmologist and various doctors who advertise on the radio. I chose Dr. Tylock for a few reasons:

  • He’s extremely experienced, having done over 80,000 procedures and been in practice for over 20 years. He has won numerous awards and taught eye surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
  • He uses the latest LASIK technology (unlike my previous ophthalmologist), helped develop the LASIK technology and procedures, and was among the first surgeons in the world to perform IntraLASIK, which uses a laser to create the corneal flap rather than a metal blade.
  • He offers a 20/20 money-back guarantee. I don’t know whether anyone else in the area matches that offer.
  • At least two of my coworkers recommended him. One of them already had very dry eyes before the surgery, and Tylock’s staff refused to approve him for LASIK until they could get his eyes moisturized sufficiently with various drops and gels. That process took a few weeks until he was finally ready. Apparently, LASIK doesn’t work well if one’s eyes are already too dry. I was impressed that they were unwilling to take large amounts of money from him when the outcome was questionable. That told me that Tylock values his patients’ sight more than their money.
  • His office is near my parents and grandparents, which came in handy on surgery day.

Pre-Op Exam

I called on a Friday and set an appointment for the following Wednesday. It was nice to get in so quickly. At the pre-op appointment, every single person I talked to was very nice and helpful. Tylock’s staff performed a variety of tests to ensure my eye was a good candidate for LASIK. The tests included a traditional vision test with dilation and a battery of “One or two? Three or four?” exercises, eye pressure check, and a computerized eye mapping that would show Dr. Tylock exactly how to set up the laser so that it would reshape my cornea perfectly. Everything looked good, so we scheduled surgery for Friday morning – two days later. If only all medical appointments could be so easy to schedule! As with most plans, my medical insurance didn’t cover LASIK, so I had to pay out of pocket. Before I came in, they said the cost for both eyes was anywhere from $2900-3600. My cost was $1500 since I only had one eye. Being a freak pays off sometimes!


On Friday morning, Jenny dropped me off at the office and took the boys to hang out at my mom’s house with my niece and nephew. I would receive mild sedation and somewhat disrupted vision, so they require all LASIK patients to have someone drive them home.

One reason I’d hesitated for years regarding LASIK was fear. I enjoy watching surgery videos due to my interest in medicine and the body, but eye surgery always made me squeamish. However, since LASIK had become such a common procedure with almost universally good results, and it only affected the outer layers of the eye, and I still had a good eye left if something went wrong, I decided the result was worth the small risk involved. That morning, I felt much more excited than nervous, contently watching the Olympic women’s gold medal tennis match in the waiting room.

When my turn came, I went to another waiting room and received some instructions regarding what to expect and how to care for my eye post-op. A tech administered some eye drops and offered us all a sedative, which I gladly accepted for two reasons: 1) to help me not freak out on the table, and 2) to help me sleep afterward as they recommended. Then they had me lie down in a comfortable recliner outside the operation room and gave me disposable booties for my shoes and a hairnet. (really? um, have you seen my head?)

Finally, I entered the OR. A flood of various types of drops – numbing, antibiotic, irrigation, and who knows what else. The room was cold, so the assistant covered me with a blanket. At this point I finally got to meet Dr. Tylock, who was very nice, comforting, and confident that the procedure would go well. Once my eye was ready, I lay down on the laser table, and they moved the first laser over my eye.

Two different lasers are involved in IntraLASIK. The first creates a flap in the cornea. Thinking about what was about to happen, I was a bit nervous. My biggest fear was that I would panic while one of the lasers was firing and permanently jack up my eye. Supposedly, the laser can detect any movement and adjust or shut down if needed, but…you know. They positioned the machine over my eye and told me to expect some pressure and temporary loss of sight in the eye. My job was to focus on the center of some greenish rings. They inserted some eyelid retractors, which were much less uncomfortable than I’d expected, and got to work.

I tried my hardest not to move my eye, which was a bit of a challenge once my vision went dark since I no longer had anything to focus on. The pressure was firm but not painful, and the whole flap creation only took 10-15 seconds, I think. I saw some different lights and weird stuff. No big deal, really. Then the bed slowly moved me across the room a bit and under the second laser, which does the actual reshaping of the cornea.

My assignment now was to focus on a fuzzy green light inside the device. I saw more flashing lights and weird stuff while the laser did its work. I remember Dr. Tylock telling an assistant that it would fire for 14 seconds. Suddenly, I noticed that the fuzzy green light was now a green pinpoint. It had worked! After that came the strangest part when Dr. Tylock used an instrument to fold my corneal flap back down and slide it back into its proper location. The numbing drops kept it from hurting, but it was still a bizarre sight to see. The flap quickly adheres into place without stitches. Dr. Tylock said it went beautifully. They sat me up, checked out my eye with one of the standard eye exam devices, and then sent me to recovery. Although I was dying to test out my new eye, instead I followed my instructions and sat in a recliner with my eyes closed to let the flap set.

Post-Op, Day 1

I was supposed to go home and straight to bed, but instead I had lunch with my family first. My vision was hazy all that day, almost like peering through a fog that drifted in and out, but through the haze the image was sharp. This wasn’t hocus-pocus or a marketing gimmick. LASIK really did work, and work very well. I had a blast reading things across the room that were previously a blurry mess without my contact. Minus the haze, my right eye seemed comparable to my left. I later learned that the haze resulted from slight swelling in the cornea caused by the surgery. I was prescribed anti-inflammatory steroid drops to combat the swelling and moisturizing drops to keep the eye wet. While it healed, the flap was also sensitive to impact and rubbing, so I wore safety goggles during the day near the boys and a different pair while I slept. I slept all afternoon, watched some Olympics, and then slept several hours that night. Sometimes I felt minor discomfort in the eye, but some drops usually returned it nearly to normal.

Post-Op, Day 2

Day 2 was pretty similar to Day 1, only with a bit less haze. I pounded the drops as directed. At my post-op appointment, the optometrist said my eye looked great. I could read 4 of the 6 letters on the 20/15 line and probably would’ve had the other 2 if not for the haze. We went to a baseball game that night, and I kept amazing myself by reading the advertising signs across the field with my formerly bum eye.

Post-Op, Day 3-4

The haze is mostly gone. My eyes are nearly identical in focusing ability. I know it’s technically not a miracle because LASIK is a medical procedure made possible by medical technology, skill, physics, and other human factors, but it really feels like a miracle. I once was practically blind in my right eye without my contact, but now I could see almost perfectly. It’s amazing.

The main problem I have is dryness, so I’m still using lots of eye drops. The dryness is especially bad when I wake up. This is a common problem that should improve over time.

One quirk may be specific to my situation. When I test my eyes separately, each one seems to focus at a slightly different depth. So when I switch from one to the other, the image starts out mostly sharp but takes a moment for the image to reach full sharpness. I believe my left eye was always dominant, and my eyes are adjusting to the new reality. It’s a good problem to have.

That’s all I have for now. I am very pleased and wish I could’ve done it a long time ago. That seems to be a common sentiment among LASIK patients, and now I know why.