Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Hope Lost

Yesterday I had an appointment with a new Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor.  I'd been to one before, a couple times, in fact.  Once was the first time I investigated my lack of smell and taste, and the other was to dig a bit further into some of the symptoms that seemed to be reflux-related.  After finally getting on allergy shots and getting the CT scan done of my sinuses, the allergist recommended I see another ENT.  He would be able to read my CT scan and really dig into what might be happening.  I knew the appointment probably wouldn't go well, but I honestly didn't expect it to go the way it did.

The beginning was fine.  I went over my history, he looked in my nose, and finally explained my CT scan in depth.  But then he had me do a smell test.  It turned out to be 40 scratch-and-sniff questions--a series of four booklets with 10 questions each.  I had to use a pencil to scratch a rectangle, smell it, then choose one of four scents.  Even if I didn't know, I had to answer.  Do you have any idea how demoralizing it is to have to guess on 40 questions in a row?  To have to sniff something multiple times, hoping for just the slightest moment of clarity, only to smell nothing?  By the middle of the second book I was practically in tears.  Why?  I don't know.  After more than seven years of knowing I wasn't smelling, it just felt very "official" to know that I couldn't smell anything.  Ironically, I guessed right on 13 questions, but it was still abundantly clear that something is very wrong.

After that, the doctor told me that based on what he sees in my CT scan, he would not expect the level of smell loss that he's seeing.  In addition, if it was, the prednisone I had taken previously should have been sufficient to reduce the swelling to the point that I should have recovered some smell, and since that didn't happen, most likely this is not related to any sinus inflammation.  Most likely it was a virus that came in and damaged the nerves, and it's most likely permanent.

I asked if there was anything else I could try.  He talked about olfactory training, which is a new thing involving essential oils that I had heard about not long ago.  He doesn't really buy into the theory--and I guess I don't either.  He talked about a guy in Washington, D.C., one that I correctly guessed is affiliated with the Smell and Taste Clinic that I've come across in my many Google exploits since this started.  He figures the guy is a quack, as he doesn't understand why--if he really did have some amazing method to fix these problems--he hasn't shared that with the world.  Again, I sort of figured as much, but it just checked another long-shot off the list.  I asked about things I had read about chiropractic treatments and acupuncture, but he referred back to the diagram he'd showed me of where the olfactory bulb is that holds the nerves that make smell possible, and didn't see how either of those treatments could impact that area.

So, I guess that's that, then.

Even though nothing had really changed when I walked out of that office, it took everything I had not to break down right then and there.  Thanking the doctor, paying my co-pay at the desk, walking to my car, driving to a work errand I had to do on my way back, and even walking into the office to my desk and running into a co-worker...every moment was a struggle to not start sobbing.  It felt pretty stupid given that my condition was no better or worse, but then I realized why.  That appointment stole the last glimmers of hope I had to fix this problem.  I never realized how impactful even a tiny bit of hope can be.  The feeling of it being gone was horrible.  It was so deflating.  Still is, though I'm slowly recovering to normal operating levels, I guess, just because I have to.

I'm not quite sure where to go from here.  I mean, I guess there will always be prayer and the hope that someday God will just have me miraculously wake up and be able to smell, but any practical option I had was pretty much shot down right then and there.  Mentally, I'm not sure I can ever really stop trying.  I guess now when I try something, I'll have a much lower expectation of it working.  Nothing is supposed to work, so I can try it, but I need to keep my expectations in check....like, really in check.  I can keep Googling in the event something new crops up.  I can still try a chiropractor or acupuncture, as there are other things both of those things might address anyway, but I guess I have to figure out at what point feeling like I have to do something will outweigh the financial wastefulness.  I read a first-hand account by a patient of that "quack" in D.C., and there was a drug that specifically seemed to help him.  I have no idea if I will ever find a doctor that would prescribe it, but I guess it's something to keep in mind.  With every failure things might get just a little more depressing, though, so I have to take that into consideration, too.

It was not a good day.  Today was better.  The reality of this is never really going to be okay, but it could be worse.  The extra destruction of my sliver of hope was a tough blow to take on top of it.  But I'm alive and otherwise mostly healthy.  I have two kids, a husband, a home, a job, and a great family that supports me.  Things aren't perfect and this diminishes the daily joys a bit, but I'm still very blessed.  I still have to hope that someday a miracle will happen, but I just can't count on it anymore.  I guess I just have to embrace the fact that stinky people don't bother me and my kids can't gross me out.  Always a bright side, right?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Middle - Part 2

After Fort McHenry, we headed back into the city.  We needed to find a place to eat an early dinner so we'd be able to get into the National Aquarium when half-price entry started at 5pm.  We'd only had some cold pizza in the van for lunch when we arrived at Fort McHenry, and I'm sure we snacked a bit in transit, but we knew that when we got down to the Inner Harbor, we'd have our choice of gluten-free-friendly places.  We could eat early, go to the aquarium, and maybe snack later if needed.

Aside from the ridiculously expensive parking close to the Inner Harbor, things actually turned out pretty well considering we didn't do much planning ahead.  Our parking ramp was within reasonable walking distance, and we ran into a Chick-Fil-A pretty quickly.  We also later figured out Chipotle was nearby, as was a Five Guys...and we didn't know yet that we'd have Chick-Fil-A the next day, so this seemed like a prime opportunity.  And it was delicious as usual!  Again, I can't wait until ours is done, because their customer service is so good and it is a little healthier than Jacob's standard fast food options. 

It was a very cold, windy day, but when we finished eating and walked outside, you couldn't help but want to explore.  There was a lot to see!
Coast Guard ship

Large Barnes & Noble next to a Hard Rock Cafe and other restaurants, all in an old power plant

Ice rink

USS Constellation, a Civil War-era ship

Looking across an inlet at the aquarium...note the cool dragon paddle boats in the foreground.

If you looked closely at the picture above, you'll see this ship and the one below.

A submarine!

Looking back toward the USS Constellation as the sun sets

Part of the September 11th Memorial outside the World Trade Center
We were planning on taking advantage of the half price Friday night promotion at the aquarium.  When we got to there to buy tickets, we found out that the first available time slot was 5:45.  Ugh.  That was my bad.  I didn't dig into it far enough to realize I could have bought them online ahead.  I probably would have been too nervous to do that, though, as I was concerned that something about the day wouldn't go as planned.  I just assumed we had to wait until 5pm to buy them.  Darn.  The good news was that the aquarium was actually open later than I thought...not that we wanted a late night because we had an hour drive ahead of us and what we thought was going to be an early morning.  But at least we knew we'd still have plenty of time to explore.

So, with 45 minutes to kill, we kept walking and headed for the Barnes & Noble to keep warm.
Cool foot bridge, and to the right you can see the pedestrian bridge from one wing of the aquarium to the other.

Another side of the aquarium

A view from the foot bridge
The Barnes & Noble was very large, on a couple stories, and the coolest part is that the smokestacks went all the way up through, from the floor (where they had cave-like tunnels cut in them, creating little nooks) all the way up and out.
Looking up one of the smokestacks
We killed time looking at books, and I had to snap a picture (pardon the reflection) when I saw the sunset out the window.

Finally it was time to head back over to the aquarium.  It had already been a long day, and the last time we did an aquarium at the end of a long day, during our trip to Toronto, it was a disaster, but I was hopeful we'd make it through.

There was a cool waterfall just inside that I didn't have a chance to take a picture of (too much rushing, too many people), but after that, our first stop was this giant set of jaws!

The centerpiece of the main building was this giant tank that covered much of the bottom floor of main exhibit space, and it was visible from all the way up.  There were lots of fish to watch, but we enjoyed the small sharks, the giant sting ray, and a sea turtle, which was SO much bigger than I ever expected it to be.
The sting ray had to be close to four feet across.  Huge!

This video will give you a better idea of the size and the activity in the tank.  You can see the sting ray, too. 

We were fascinated by the giant sea turtle and checked the tank for him constantly when we'd go up another level and still be able to look down.
Notice he only has one front fin.  Hard to judge his size from this shot, though.

I tried to zoom out in this video so you could get an idea of his size.  I never imagined sea turtles were this big.  I can barely guess, but I had to assume if I laid down next to him, I wouldn't have him by much.

I kept trying to capture this giant whale skeleton that was suspended above everything, but the lighting made it tough.  This is the best I could get.

The boys really enjoyed this game where you moved your magnifying glass over the screen and were given things to find in the "sand". 

There was a touch tank for stingrays and horseshoe crabs nearby, and Jacob just grazed one.  Then we got to touch a tank full of jellyfish.  Jacob and I both did it!  It felt odd, basically like jelly!  The bummer about aquariums is that they don't photograph particularly well, so there was a bunch that we saw that isn't really worth sharing here.  But these two came out well...

Some sort of spiny sea creature and a tiny fish

Saltwater fish are so colorful!
We had a blast watching some birds in a different exhibit.  There was one bird that flipped through the water like crazy that totally cracked us up.  This puffin was almost as silly...

We saw turtles that kept trying to stack themselves (and not for THAT reason, although we saw some of that, too)...

And this cool but creepy snake...

While we were in the rainforest section, Jacob was up on a deck platform looking at something, when a good-sized bird sort of cornered him!  It only took him about 10 seconds to find a way to get around it, but we couldn't help but laugh!

There was a huge multi-level shark tank that had a series of ramps to walk down, and when we got to the bottom we were under the main tank that we saw originally.  We even got to see the sea turtle from below!  By this point we were all starting to tire out, but we still had a couple more things to check out!

We walked pretty quickly through "Australia" and then headed over to the other building, across the pedestrian bridge we saw earlier.  First stop there was the dolphins.  The shows seemed to be done for the day, but the dolphins were still swimming.  It's hard to get a good picture of them, but this was the best I got...
Maybe this will work better?

Then we moved into my favorite spot--the jellyfish!  This gorgeous jellyfish sculpture was hanging from the ceiling...

There were all sorts of jellyfish!  My favorite!

So pretty, from the dots on the top to the little blue bits on the bottom of the one on the bottom left

And in case you need a (short) moment of zen, here you go...

These were so delicate!

This tank was amazing...I've never seen brown ones!  The blue ones were cool, too!

Here's a another look...

This one was pretty impressive...

As was this one...

I just liked how this shot turned out...

These reminded me of the ones they had in Toronto that changed color with the lighting.  
And with that, we were done.  With sore feet and tired boys, we walked back to the car and started the hour-long journey to our next hotel.  It was another very dark trip, particularly once we got past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  This tournament was really in the middle of nowhere and our hotel was even worse!  It was funny going through there later in the trip during the day and seeing how many things we didn't even know were there!  Both boys napped before we got there, and we had a bit of an earlier night than the previous one since Carter actually went to sleep quickly.
All in all, it was a great day.  The boys had their moments but they were relatively well behaved compared to most "vacation" days we've had in the past couple years.  We got a lot accomplished with minimal complaints, and everything went according to plan.  I'd say the day was a success, and it made the very long trip totally worth it!
Getting back to reality was a bit rough after two very cold days of lacrosse and the long drive home, but we made it through the week and suddenly we're less than a week away from Thanksgiving!  Three-day week, here we come!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Middle - Part 1

So, when I left off on the Baltimore part of the trip in my last post, we had to leave the hotel in Harrisburg rather early, around 7:30 or 7:45.  Our goal was to make the 10am tour at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play.  It's normally less than a 90 minute drive, but with it being rush hour and us not being particularly clear on parking or how long it might take to get tickets, we wanted to leave some wiggle room.  In the end, the trip was very smooth, nearly no rush hour traffic!  We arrived by 9:30, parked in a lot near the stadium, and braved the bitter cold to walk over to where we needed to get tickets.  It was probably in the 40s that day, but there was a stiff breeze that made outside time less than enjoyable.

As we started our walk, this was the far end of the warehouse that is in right field at the park, the one that famously held the numbers that counted up Cal Ripken, Jr.'s consecutive game streak.

Eventually we found our way to the ticket counter, and then we had to wait out on Eutaw St., which is a pedestrian street that runs between the stadium and the warehouse that's open to the public except when there's a game. 

From there, you could access a restaurant and the team store, and see the back of the scoreboard.

Eventually our tour started, and our guide was a nice older man that seemed to be living the dream by working for the team in some sort of ticketing/fan experience role.  He gave us a ton of history of the ballpark (and its predecessor), then started walking us through the park.  We saw this gorgeous patio with statues of the Orioles' greats, which is also open to the public most of the time.

Cal Ripken, Jr.

We got to see the field from the back end, just above the bullpens.
Interesting fun fact: The green wall on the far left of the picture is a nod to Fenway Park's Green Monster, and the ivy on the wall to the right of that is a tribute to Wrigley Field's outfield wall.

The white above the seats behind home plate is actually the weatherproofed press box.

We visited the club level, saw the cool themed lounges that line the inside halls there, and visited a luxury suite.  From there you could see the wonderfully restored train station at the far end of the warehouse.

We also visited the production facilities (ahhh, brought back memories) and the press box, which was actually a bit more rudimentary than I expected given how amazing the rest of the facility was.  But you can't beat the press box view:

Then, we got the even more exciting chance to go down to the field and hang out in the home dugout!  It was such a cool feeling to be down there.
View from the front rail of the dugout

The boys on the warning track...and yes, it was cold.

In the dugout

Soon it was time to end the tour and head back toward the warehouse.  I liked this view of the scoreboard, warehouse, patio area, and the foul pole, which is an original from the old Memorial Stadium.
Funny note--see those little flagpoles on the patio?  They're all cushioned, just in case someone's running to catch a home run and doesn't look where they're going!

Back on Eutaw St., our guide pointed out little plaques for every home run ball that's been hit out there.  Interestingly, only one has ever been able to hit the warehouse--mostly because of wind currents--and it was only during the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby, courtesy of Ken Griffey, Jr.  We wandered around looking for favorite teams or players, like this one from Jacob's current team of choice, the now-defunct Montreal Expos.

Before we visited the team store, we went to another stadium area that's open to the public.  There was a statue of Babe Ruth, who was born in Baltimore, not far from the stadium, in fact.

Nearby were statues of all of the retired numbers, and both kids got their pictures next to significant ones...
For his age, of course!

Not his age...but his lacrosse number!
We visited the store and were quite disappointed to find out that the only stuffed mascot (as is usually our first choice, for whatever reason) was $35!  No thanks.  Carter desperately tried to find a souvenir...

And at the last minute he settled on one of those popper toys where the ball (in this case a little foam baseball) goes in the mouth (in this case, of the mascot) and you squeeze the belly to make it pop out.  It's pretty funny and it made him very happy to find something.

We walked back to our car to head to activity #2.  Along the way we saw a double-amputee marathoner passing through, as well as a cool war memorial.  Just across the parking lot was another stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.  It actually looked even better when we passed by at night, when the upper seats were lit purple!

Our next stop was Fort McHenry, which was just a short way outside of downtown.  After our trip to Old Fort Niagara, we were eager to see another historical fort.  Fort McHenry, of course, is known as the home of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Francis Scott Key, spyglass in hand that he used to see the flag, and a version of the flag with 15 stars and stripes
The main building had a movie about how the Star-Spangled Banner came to be, and some artifacts, like this cannon.

Eventually we followed a tour group outside, but it was freezing and the kids' patience only went so far, so we alternated between doing our own thing and hopping back on the tour at times.  This was the view just outside the fort as we listened to the guide.
The flag was much smaller than usual that day because of the wind, but that was the position of the flag when Francis Scott Key saw it and wrote the anthem.
The view from the fort of the Patapsco River was beautiful.  And because this is all ultimately connected to the ocean, there were some really impressive ships in the water.

I could not get over the size of this freighter.  I don't think this picture does it justice, but it was so tall!

Before heading into the fort, we checked out the cannons.  This one was huge, over 8,500 pounds according to the impression around the opening on the end.  Although this fort was most famous for the War of 1812, this was a Civil War era cannon (again, per the impression) and the fort was used through WWII.

Ready to be sheltered from the wind, we walked to the front of the fort itself...

Just inside, there was a tiny stairway with a very low ceiling.  It led into a "bombproof" shelter.  It was basically a large bricked-in room with only small air holes going the long way through the brick to the outside.  Funny little spot, and the boys got a kick out of Carter being the perfect size for the stairs!

Inside the fort, it was much more modest than what we saw at Fort Niagara.  Just a few buildings, most of which looked like this--two story wooden buildings with porches.

We stopped into any open door as we walked, which mostly led to different historical accounts--artifacts, articles about the history of the fort, or even one set up like barracks, full of bunk beds and a fireplace. 
Looking back toward the entrance at the famous flag
I recognized one building from its shape after seeing something similar at Fort Niagara, the spot where they kept the ammunition.  This one was considerably smaller, though, and not as cool and creepy!  But this one did have the interesting history of being hit by a bomb that didn't explode.  It collapsed the roof but never set the ammunition on fire, which would have destroyed the entire fort.

One building had this statue and an interactive screen map, and I guess Jacob was helping him plan!  The detail on the statue was cool, right down to his epaulets, which were coiled wire to look like fringe.

We saw the flag-keepers quarters and another ammunition storage space, and then we decided it was time to walk back to the main building, let the boys look around the shop (of course) and head out.  Jacob got one inexpensive cannon to add to his army guys at home, and that was it for the fort!  It may not have been as impressive as Fort Niagara, though it may be more lively in better weather, but we were happy we went. 

This post seems to be long enough for now, but the day was only half over!  Stay tuned for part 2 of our fabulous day in Baltimore!