Thursday, September 3, 2015

An Emotion Filled Day

I can't think of a more emotion filled day than the one I just experienced. I woke up out of a deep sleep at 3:45 and checked to see if there were any texts from Keith regarding Mom. There were none. I couldn't fall back asleep so I got out of bed and went downstairs.

I received a text from Keith an hour later: "Mom passed at 5:10". I've been expecting such a notification. Sitting there in the quiet of the den illuminated only by my laptop, all of my thoughts turned to her with wonder for what she must be experiencing in that moment. I was sad about her passing but only briefly. I was more relieved and happy for her.

She decided a few years ago that she wanted to donate her body to medical science. She arranged for the University of Minnesota to receive her remains and they'll be in possession of them for the next 18 months while medical students learn from her by dissecting and studying her body. It's such a selfless thing to do and I'm so proud of her for doing this. At the end of 18 months her body will be cremated and her ashes will be returned to us.

See the video below of my mom and all of us in some younger times.

I had to be at Mayo Clinic in Rochester this morning for a follow-up hearing test. I followed Rachel in the fog to Cheap Charlies for breakfast and then she accompanied me to Mayo Clinic before heading off for a job interview as a certified nursing assistant at a long term care facility. I need to add: Later in the day she was offered and accepted a salaried position from the University of Minnesota working as an Admissions Representative. She signed a one year contract with them and is very excited about the position. It's a nice place for her to work from while she continues to apply to Physician Assistant schools, waiting for an offer. We're very happy for her.

I knew I had regained some small amount of hearing but I couldn't be sure if it was useable at all or would it maybe just be distorted and possibly interfere with my good ear. I was a little anxious about this appointment. I recalled in an earlier post here how I had been willing my ear to hear the beeps from the imaginary hearing tests I'd conducted in my mind.

Now it was happening.

The technician explained for me how the test would proceed before placing the headphones over my ears.

First the right ear. I heard the tones and clicked the clicker as they faded out of range.


My left ear sprang to life with the sound of a tone. CLICK! Again. CLICK! I was hearing them just as I had before although likely not all of them. But this was so much better than not hearing them at all. I was excited because they appeared very clear without any distortion whatsoever.

Then came the test for hearing comprehension. A word was spoken into my ear and I had to repeat it. "Airplane" "workbench" "houseboat" etc. I scored 100% in both ears. I had to work harder at interpreting the left ear because it wasn't as loud but I got them all. It was such a strong emotion for me to know that I was hearing again from an ear that I'd pretty much written off as deaf or dead less than a week earlier.

After the hearing test I met with Dr Carlson to discuss the results and talk about an additional injection of steroids just as I'd had the previous week. He looked at the audiogram from the 24th of August, just 10 days earlier and said: "I don't typically tell this to my patients but when I see a test result like this I often think to myself that there's little if anything we can do for this person". He followed up by saying "You're a lucky man".

Let me show you what he's referring to. Here's the audiogram from 10 days ago. Check out the graph in the bottom left. The numbers along the left side are decibels. The plots along the bottom of the graph are of the decibels needed for me to hear at a given frequency (annotated across the top). My test from 10 days ago shows that I'm in 'severe hearing loss' range based on the chart in the bottom right in this image. And here's today's audiogram. The red plot is my right ear and the blue is my left. You can see the marked improvement that has me so excited. My hearing loss has been upgraded form severe/profound to mild. That's just so amazing to me and I am so thankful for this progress and for all of your prayers and encouragement during this difficult time for me and my family. I really don't have adequate words for how I feel.

I received another injection of steroids today that will hopefully continue to work to improve my hearing even more. The doctor cautioned that these values can go down as well as up. Still, I'm hopeful.

And that brings me to the final emotional event of my day. I officially retired! Actually, it wasn't as emotional for me as I anticipated it would be and I was glad for that. I arrived at work around 2:30 and checked in with Tracee and the office staff to let them know I was there and ready to sign myself into a life of Saturdays but that I needed to quickly make the rounds of the facility to say some goodbyes. And so I did.

A brief stop at my mail-slot to see that my name had already been stripped from its placeholder. A photo of the hallway for old time's sake and a totally unplanned photo of Megan. "KAY-GEEEE!" I'll miss that, Megan!

A quick run through the control room and Area 5 to shake hands and wish much success to those who remain. Also, a photo of our area's retired controllers list and the order in which they left. Okay, I am absolutely going to miss this place. I just will, but it's time to go!

Back to the administration wing and some time chatting with Shirley before processing me out. Tracee grabbed a photo of us then I had them switch places. Tracee was actually going to be the one processing me out but with all that's been happening with Mom she took the day off but came in to watch me leave. That was really nice of her.

I shook hands with Kelly, our facility manager and chatted a little then it was time to walk out on the best career I could've ever hoped to have had.

I emailed Kelly a submission for our facility's publication, ZMP Contrails.  I'll leave you with it:

I can still vividly recall sitting in the auditorium at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center that March morning in 1982. There were maybe 500 of us, all excited, nervous and with eyes wide open taking it all in as we filled out the many forms and listened to the academy director tell us of the slim chance any of us had of actually becoming a successful Air Traffic Controller. He had our full attention. I was more worried about simply making the grade then; how could I have known the blessing this life of quick-turnarounds and midshifts would eventually become to me?

It’s been such a rewarding career and although I’m looking forward to life as a retired controller I can honestly say that I will most definitely miss this place, the people and the art of making sense from chaos on the radar scope in the ultimate of video games.

Today marks the end of 37 years and 5 months of government service for me and I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being a part of this journey with me and for adding to the color and flavor of this place, of this career that I literally thank God for each and every day.

Best wishes to you all!


Kevin Gilmore (kg)


Home Movie 3 from kevin gilmore on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Catching Up

Many of us spent a fair amount of time at Mom/Grandma/Great Grandma's bedside the past few days, certain that she would be gone from us sooner rather than later. She is one tough Finn!

She's comfortable for the most part but it seems once each hour we need to alert the staff that she's in pain and needs morphine. She will open her eyes and get the most desperate look on her face, maybe reach out with her arms as her whole body goes rigid with pain from her broken pelvis. The staff is quick to respond but it's often 10-15 minutes of agony for her until the medicine is administered and begins to work. That was my main concern as I left her tonight; that the nursing staff will be there hourly to check on her and give her the drug. I hate to think of her lying there any longer than necessary in that sort of pain.

I just phoned Keith who is still by her side with Tracee where they've both been all day. He said her breathing is down to around 4 shallow breaths per minute and he doesn't think she can last much longer. I hope he's right.

Tammy and I had plans to attend the Minnesota State Fair today but we had to cancel them. It was to be our one and only day this summer where we'd be together with no cares to concern us. Rachel was going to tend to her grandmother for us all day and night while we enjoyed ourselves but we decided to forgo our plans due to a concern about the noise at the fair and how it would be detrimental to the fragile hearing in my left ear. It's probably just as well because this way I was able to spend most of the day with Mom. I don't think we'd have enjoyed our time at the fair all that much with our thoughts continually going back to her. It was the right thing to do.

Catching up.

We had Vineland Tree Care service back out at our home last week to trim four of our trees. Three of them are Ash trees and I was hesitant to put any amount of money into maintaining them with the Emerald Ash Borer lurking out there in the not too distant future threatening to devour them all but I opted to have them trimmed anyway. I hope to get at least another several healthy years from them.

When the bug finally does make its presence known I don't think I'll try and save my trees. I'm planning to have them taken down and replaced with Evergreens or some variety of slower growing Maples.

I've been heating our garage during the winter months for the past 6 seasons since we had it insulated and sheetrocked. I don't let it get much above 40ºf (4.5ºc) inside the garage in the winter but even at that temperature the heater runs a considerable amount when the outside temp plummets. Our garage doors were standard 'builder's grade' stock with no reputation for retaining heat until we had them replaced last week by the fine folks at Action Overhead Garage Door with a much more insulated and robust door that I'm confident will help to show a marked reduction in our heating bills. They're nothing fancy, just your typical style door that most everyone else uses but they work well with our home's look. The guy installing them said they're the best doors they sell. Perhaps he was just trying to curb any buyer's remorse I may have been feeling.

But what I really like about our new doors is the Liftmaster opener with some quite cool technology that lets me know via an app on my Droid if the garage door is open or closed and also allows me to activate it from anywhere. Imagine the peace of mind I could've had if only I'd had this sweet app when Rachel was in high school and sometimes forgetting to close the garage door at night? I had to laugh because I was out with friends recently and someone was talking about leaving their garage door open. What a perfect segue. I showed them the app on my phone which noted that my garage door had been closed for 47 minutes! They were impressed!

I couldn't have scripted that any better!

Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Something When Just A Few Days Ago There Was Nothing

I can't recall a longer two weeks in my life. It's somewhat surreal at times. I began to lose my hearing in my left ear two weeks ago this afternoon but it seems like so much more time has passed than that. I've been writing in my blog more now than I typically do because it's therapeutic in helping me sort through my thoughts. For whatever reason, writing this stuff down works for me. Plus, I have some extra time on my hands now with my career in the rearview mirror.

Up until a few days ago I was having moments, awake moments where for a few seconds I would imagine that all of this was just a bad dream and that there was nothing wrong with my hearing. There was a sinking in my heart when I would snap out of it in less than 5 seconds and realize that this was no dream. Or I would think of things I could've done or should've done that may have so easily changed this outcome for me but that's such a cruel game to play with one's mind. I can't go back so why bother even if it's only just to imagine. Still, I go there.

But then there's this other thing I do to try and help my ear to hear. I passed my FAA physical with no problems whatsoever 3 days before my hearing failed. Part of the physical is a hearing test given in a soundproof booth. Headphones are placed over your ears and you're to listen for a series of faint tones and click a clicker when you hear them. I can still hear the beeps from that exam in my imagination when I close my eyes and think of it. I try and imagine my left ear hearing the tones again as I concentrate. It's almost as if I'm willing the synapses in my brain to try and continue to make those connections they used to make. I know. Crazy. But it's how I'm coping.

I was invited out to a friend's home in Wisconsin for a get-together Saturday night. Rick lives out in the country just north of Prescott. My Garmin was encouraging me to take the freeway but I opted for a little slower route on roads I bike on. It had been a busy day and I needed this quiet time before arriving at the party.

Turning on to County Rd F with Jason Isbell filling the cab in my mono, spiritless new-normal I could sense some distortion coming through my left ear. I stuck my finger in my ear to see if the distortion stopped and it did. My finger found some moisture from the shower and I could hear it as it suctioned against my eardrum. I wondered, is there actually something getting through yet? It was encouraging if only that it meant my ear wasn't completely dead.

The party was a nice time as many people from work were there. I missed them. I struggled to hear in some of the noisier situations, mostly inside. It was difficult and made me really miss being able to hear as I could so clearly just a very short time ago. Outdoors I was fine for the most part.

I left the party around 11:00 under an awesome orange moon. I pulled over a couple of times to try and photograph it while taking advantage of being far removed from city lights. I kept thinking about the distortion I had heard on the drive there and what it meant. Maybe it's nothing.

I was out mowing yesterday with a new set of safety ear muffs I purchased to help protect my right ear. Still wondering about the small amount of sound or crackling I was occasionally hearing in my bad ear I took out my mp3 player and snugged up an earbud into my left ear and placed my ear muffs over it so I could block out any ambient noise. I pressed 'play' but heard only some very faint sounds. I turned the volume up and I could definitely make out the song. I ran inside to tell Tammy. I handed her the player and asked her to shuffle through some songs to see if I could tell her what they were. I could but it had to be loud. My ear was still working! There is still something there and this fight is not over!

I was out on a ride this morning and I could actually hear the wind buffeting against the eardrum of my left ear. It's all so promising to me and I have a difficult time not getting too excited about this but it's something when just a few days ago there was nothing. Maybe we can build off of this. Maybe this is as good as it gets. I don't know.

I've got a call in to my doctor's office at Mayo Clinic to see if I can be seen in the next couple days to have another Dexamethasone injection into my inner ear. My doctor is out of town so any response is lagging and I'm more anxious by the hour.

I thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers. Please don't stop.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saying Our Goodbyes

Keith called this morning to tell me that Mom's condition had deteriorated sharply in the last couple of days. I hadn't been to see her since Wednesday but was planning to go this afternoon. I dropped everything and hurried over to be with her. The phone really isn't much of an option with her anymore unless someone is there to handle it for her and that's not likely. I stopped calling her several weeks ago opting to just drive to visit her instead.

When I arrived in her room she was sleeping but I gently woke her to let her know I was there. Her eyes lit up like they always do whenever any of us comes into her presence. She can no longer speak. She tries so hard but she's unable to. Sometimes a whisper escapes but I could never make out what she was trying to tell me.

But she can hear.

I had some quiet time with her for a couple hours before anyone else arrived. I told her how much I loved her and thanked her for all she'd done for me in my life and I told her how beautiful she looked. I think I detected a small smile when I said that. I told her that Tammy sends her love but that she couldn't be there. I just sat next to her and stroked her arm and held her hand and sat quietly in her presence watching her breath, sometimes labored breaths. She mostly sleeps.

She's receiving regular doses of morphine now to help with pain she's experiencing from a fall a few nights ago. She has very little strength. The nursing staff is so attentive to her as they have always been. They were stopping by every 90 minutes to turn her and check her condition. One of the helpers quietly wheeled in a cart of snacks and coffee for visitors and placed it along the far wall.

Her sister Eva called while I was there and I was able to put the phone to her ear so she could listen. She drifted off to sleep after less than a minute but I'm almost certain she knew who was on the other end.

My brother Tim stopped by to see her and I was so pleased he did. I gave him some time with her and found a quiet place to phone Tammy to give her an update. Before I left, Jackie, Jerry, Erin, Clayton and Anja drove in from Maple Grove to say their goodbyes and be with her. Others in the family would arrive throughout the afternoon and evening to see her, maybe one last time.

We're pretty much at that point now.

She hasn't eaten in close to 3 days and she's not receiving any fluids to speak of. I tried several times to give her a sip through a straw but she only pursed her lips not wanting any.

I was so pleased to see the attention she received today and I honestly feel that she's at peace and realizes that it's okay to go. We were all abundantly clear in our love for her and I know she knows that.

It's okay to let go, Mom.

You are very loved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Waiting on Medicine and a Miracle

Tammy had asked me a few days ago if I'd be interested in going in for prayer with Pastor Pat Moe at Hosanna. I told her that I felt God could hear my prayers just fine from where I was at but I knew when I said that that I really didn't mean it.

I was out walking the pups yesterday morning and feeling sad about my loss of hearing. I texted Tammy, "I'd like to go for prayer if we can". I knew she had a busy day with Elaine planned but I hurried home and we made our way over to the church.

Pat is a beautiful woman who embodies everything that Jesus is asking us to be to one another. She's the primary reason for the outreach to the poor that emanates from Hosanna. She's a very humble woman who gives selflessly, always. We walked back to the prayer room and Pat anointed my ear with oil and began to pray over me as we all held hands. It was a moving experience and one that left me sobbing. It was a combination of a lot of things over this past year that brought me to my knees but mostly it was just me surrendering to God and allowing his will to be done. Pat prayed that the power of medicine and miracles would come together to provide my healing. It was a very moving experience that Tammy and I were so thankful for.

I came home and needed to go out walking to collect my thoughts. There were so many things going through my head. I found myself down along Crystal Lake and recalled a photo I'd taken on a bench there and uploaded to Facebook a couple summers ago. I titled it something about a "practice retirement day". And now it was real. I was no longer practicing. I was no longer captive to a work schedule that had me continually watching the clock even on my days off as I tried to accomplish all I needed to before my next work-week began. Couple that overwhelming sense of freedom with the profound sadness I was feeling about my hearing loss and I again broke down in tears. That's not like me but this hasn't been easy and with everything else I've been dealing with in the past year I think it all had just become too much for me in that moment.

I know there are much worse things to be afflicted with but until you've lost something as important to you as your hearing or even half of it you can't begin to appreciate what that really means. You can try but you'll never be able to fully grasp it. My world seems less colorful now. It's a profound loss that I wish I could minimize but I'm unable to. And it's not just the loss of hearing; there's the constant ring of tinnitus that hasn't let up for me since this whole thing began. I was telling Tammy it's like having a conversation with her while the TV is on in the background with the volume more than loud enough to be annoying.

Is there a work related connection to this? It's nothing I would pursue but I think there may be. I would advise others still in the trenches donning a headset each day to consider a headset that doesn't use an earpiece, just the foam ear covers. I spoke with a friend in my area of specialty who has total hearing loss in his left ear as well, the same ear he used to wear his earpiece in. He told me of another controller (supervisor now) who also experienced hearing loss in the same ear in which he wore his earpiece. And I received a PM last night from a controller who retired a few years ago who experienced 40% hearing loss in the ear he used for his earpiece. I think that's strong evidence for a correlation considering how we're a facility of less than 300 controllers yet the odds say that this condition afflicts on the order of 2-20 in 100,000. It's a hard number to be more precise about because many people never seek treatment because the disorder clears up on its own.

I'd rather my blog was about something other than my health issues but I know of no better way to chronicle this stuff as it pertains to my life than to lay it out here. Perhaps others will be helped along the way. It's somewhat therapeutic as well but I'm very much looking forward to writing about my boring life and hope to be able to do that real soon.

It's been over 48 hours since the steroid injection into my middle ear and there's been no change. I just put in a call to Dr Beatty's office out of desperation, not wanting to have to look back on this and be upset with myself for not doing all I could've done. The window of opportunity for doing whatever can be done before it's too late is quickly closing.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A 2nd Opinion and a Request for Prayers

I called into work Monday night to let my supervisor (Steve Hanson) know that I'd be coming in and submitting my retirement papers the next day. I don't think I'd been in contact with anyone from work up until this time so this was a bit of a blindside to him as it was to me as well. He asked about whether I'd sought out a 2nd opinion and I told him I hadn't. He strongly urged me to check out Mayo Clinic in Rochester and he was right. I needed to pull out all of the stops. The doctor from the morning was content to see if a regimen of prednisone would suffice and leave it at that. He mentioned a steroid injection beyond the eardrum and into the middle ear that has been beneficial for some but not at all effective for others and detrimental to at least one person. What could be more detrimental than what I was already facing I thought especially with what seemed like poor odds if I chose to stay the course.

Bryan, my older brother was encouraging me to seek out someone higher up on the food-chain of ENT doctors who would be able to take this to the next level. I consulted a neurologist friend, Eugene, on the east coast and he was all in favor of that. With all of the push in this direction Tammy took the lead and began looking for someone at Mayo Clinic who had the qualifications Eugene advised us to look for. And she found him in the name of Dr Charles W. Beatty.

We called his office early on Tuesday and were able to secure an appointment with him the following morning at 8:30. Otherwise he was booked solid into October. There must've been a cancellation or was it a God-thing or both?

We knew this was going to be difficult on Elaine having to get up too early and traveling in the car the 75 miles to Mayo but she did so well with all of it. We couldn't leave her unattended in the waiting area while we were in with the doctor so we wheeled her in with us. She sat there as sweet as could be, quietly watching.

While we waited for the doctor I read through the medical reports I'd run around to get the previous day in order to have them for Dr Beatty. I was disheartened to read the notes from the ENT we'd seen on Monday: "The patient has a profound left sensorineural hearing loss. He is on day 3 of 50 mg of prednisone. I will have him continue this for a total of 8 days and then we'll taper off the prednisone. I would like to see him in 2-3 weeks to reevalutate his hearing. There is no evidence of bleeding or clot in his hearing organ however this is a possibility and given his history of coagulopathy, his complete recovery will unfortunately be unlikely."

I pretty much had accepted that as a given but to read it was something else. I'd honestly be happy with 50% recovery.

Dr Beatty came into the room and I felt very comfortable in his presence. He described what I'd been through and what I was going through in such detail and accuracy and I knew he knew exactly what we were up against. But he didn't, because they don't really understand Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss or SSHL. They have some theories as to what's happening but nothing conclusive. Treating with steroids is one of the few options that yields results with prednisone being the main go-to drug. The other option is an intratympanic dexamethasone injection, meaning an injection of strong steroids beyond the eardrum and into the inner ear. This was Dr Beatty's recommendation and I had no reservations about it whatsoever.

I gave a quick wink to Tammy about getting a photo of the procedure for my blog. She rolled her eyes and smiled then asked the doctor if he was okay with that, and he was.

He told us that for this treatment to be effective it needs to be done preferably within the first 10 days of the onset of the hearing loss. This was day 8 3/4 for me so we were still in optimal range. There was some pain as he applied a numbing agent to a small area on my eardrum but that was all. The injection itself wasn't noticeable. I had to remain still in the position I was in for 30 minutes after the shot was administered to allow the steroid to soak the region. I couldn't swallow, yawn, pop my ears or speak during that time because any of those activities would allow the medication to slip away through my eustachian tube and be lost.

Dr Beatty said to give it 2 to 3 days to see if there's any improvement. If there's none by that time there really isn't anything else that can be done.

We left there a few hours after we arrived, guardedly optimistic for at least some improvement. It's been about 36 hours since the injection and I'm noticing no difference at all yet.

Please pray for me. Thank you.

Intratympanic Dexamethasone Injection for Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss from kevin gilmore on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Swan Song

There's an old saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I may have mentioned that here before but it's worth repeating. I'm a goal setter and I believe I always will be despite God's plans for me. It's gotten me this far.

There's a chance I'll get my hearing back but the odds aren't in my favor. I saw an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor yesterday morning and his assistant did some extensive testing on my hearing. When the woman finished the test she looked at me and told me about a new device that can be helpful with spacial orientation related to sound for people with hearing loss. I thought to myself, does this mean I can forget any dreams about getting my hearing back? You can't fix this?

I was led back to a room to discuss the findings with the doctor and Tammy. He told us that 1/3 of people with my condition will get their hearing back, 1/3 will see a partial return and the other 1/3 will see no improvement. He said my Factor V Leiden condition tilts the odds even further away from my favor. Still, I'm hopeful and praying for healing.

I went out on my fatty late this afternoon aided by 60 mg of prednisone coursing through my veins (meant for my ear but doubling nicely for my knees) to work through some thoughts. I headed for the trails at Murphy. It was the right thing to do. I worked hard and elevated my heart rate beyond 160 and found a rhythm and ease that comes with a weight lifting off of you. I'm usually the one being passed by others but not tonight. I passed 5 riders; much younger riders. I still have that.

The Jason Isbell song I'm listening to now doesn't sound the same. It's flat in my right ear and infringed upon by the nonstop ringing in my left ear.

A controller can actually get a waiver to work with this condition but this has been a difficult year for me health-wise beginning with something that I'm not comfortable mentioning here just yet (very physically draining) then the recovery from my bike crash followed by my clotting issues resulting in a 4 night stay at Fairview Southdale and now this. Enough!

And so this is how it ends for me.

I didn't make it to my goal of retiring at the end of the year but 33 years and 5 months in the trenches working shift work in addition to 4 years of Navy life is a lot to be satisfied about and I am. I've had such a rewarding career. I would wake up each morning and literally thank God for the blessing this career has been. I've never, ever lost sight of that.

I will absolutely miss the work of sitting in a sector and working traffic. Oh I know...I loved my breaks, too (but work with me on this you guys). You know what I'm saying. It's a very rewarding job we have. It was seldom work I took home and any job satisfaction was instantaneous. You could see it on the screen in front of you and you knew if what you were doing was something to feel good about. Again, I will miss that. I will forever miss that!

I'm heading into work as soon as I hit "publish" on this and I'm going to sit down with Tracee and begin the process of filling out retirement papers. I'm not a spokesperson for the 'old guard' but I have to say that I'm leaving you, the flying public, in very capable hands. The younger controllers who have been recently certified and those who are working their way through the program are going to do every bit as well or better than my generation of controllers did at guiding you on your way. Be sure of that.

My future plans aren't big, I'll catch up on some sleep and play around with this new normal I'm stepping into while listening for that still small voice that guides me but a voice I too often drown out with the hurried life I've lived for so long.

Thank you to all who have been a part of my journey and my career. You mean more to me than you know.