Saturday, June 04, 2016


Place: Hardee's
Lunch: 1/4 lb Grilled Ham & Cheese Thickburger, water

It isn't the incredible Bacon Velveeta Patty Meltdown of last year, but I'll take it.

It all started a month ago when my left foot and ankle exploded into a swollen festering oozing monster of a mess.  Weird, right?  So my boss, who lives nearby, got a text from me Monday morning that said something like "Hey would you mind dropping me off at the emergency room on your way to work?"

And with that, the adventure began.

The first guy who looked at it, a guy who clearly specialized in glaring at people judgmentally, said "That looks angry."  Over the next couple of hours, a series of doctors, nurses, and technicians came in and gave their own drive-by opinions.  X-rays were taken.  Vitals and blood sugar was checked.  Judgmental Guy: "Your blood sugar is 676."

Me: "Is that high?"

Judgmental Guy: "A little."

Me: "What's normal?"

Judgmental Guy: "130."

Me: "Oh."

The ultimate diagnosis was Cellulitis Necrotizing Fasciitis.  They declared they were admitting me.  My boss, who had set up shop in the Emergency lobby and was working remotely (much to the confusion of the admin staff, who were whispering amongst each other trying to figure out who she was), stayed until I was settled in a room.  (Her comment to others later: "As if he seriously thought I was really just going to drop him off and leave him there.")

Hospitals are private for-profit businesses usually hiding under the umbrella of religious organizations for tax purposes.  They are slightly less fun than the Jesca Hoop song would lead you to believe, even if this was a new facility with roomy rooms with a view and big TV's with Netflix access, all of which was pointless due to the horrible audio, which was fed through the nurse call box.  You may as well be listening over a wireline phone.  But they were super proud of it.  Nearly everyone who spoke to me pointed out the Netflix.

Hospitals are horrible places that are NOT designed to make you well.  The staff goes out of their way to make sure you can't get any rest.  People, usually teenage to twenty-something year-olds, show up in your room at all hours of the day and night to do idiotic things like take your vitals.  One pair of girls woke me up in the middle of the night to ask me if I used a CPAP machine at home.  Another showed up to WEIGH me at 3:30am  (She got a fully nude fifty year-old shouting man in her face for her trouble, and I basically declared war on the entire nursing staff after that.)  You otherwise spend your time waiting for things to happen, watching TV, or glossing over the basically three-page room service menu, hoping you somehow missed an option.

I spent the first five days being fed antibiotics through an IV.  A series of doctors would come through and give their drive-by opinion of how things were going.  They would all ask the same questions over and over again, because apparently nobody keeps notes.

"How did you get this (infection)?"

"How is the pain level?"

"How long have you been diabetic?"

"Have you checked out the Netflix?"

They and the nurses would all give their opinion on if they thought my foot looked better or not as the week progressed.  I personally couldn't share an opinion because I couldn't see the thing.  As soon as they started the IV's and messing with my blood sugars, my vision went so blurry that I couldn't read my phone screen, much less the Netflix menu.  That and I was very dizzy and easily fatigued when standing.  (I complained about these things to everyone, but nobody cared.)   There was one guy...ONE...who came in Wednesday and Friday and said "I don't think this is getting better.  This needs to be opened up and drained."

Finally on Saturday, a CT scan was ordered.  They wheeled me down to a huge beautiful room with a park-like view where the machine was located, operated by a cute but seemingly slightly crazy blonde who wore at least two sweaters over her scrubs.  The scan revealed a couple of things they had not noticed before, and a foot specialist was called.  The vascular doctor wanted him to open up my leg and...uh...degauss me?  I'm not sure.  Anyway, what ensued was an argument between the two over who's problem this was.  Finally on Sunday, the foot guy showed up.  He walked in, sat on the couch, and without so much as introducing himself, said "Well we can open it up and drain the infection, but I think the more practical solution is to amputate below the knee."



NOBODY to this point has so much as suggested this, and I angrily make this point clear.  The consensus so far is the infection hasn't reached the bone and is superficial.  And he just wants to lop it off and be done with it.

"We'll clean it out and see what can be done, but if I find any surprises while I'm in there..."

So that afternoon, I had my first ever surgery.  This was the most awesome thing ever.  They wheeled me into a room where Huey Lewis and the News was blaring.  They had me spread my arms out and put a mask over my face and shouted "BREATHE! BREATHE! BREATHE!"  All that was missing was them piping in sound effects of chainsaws and shrieking cats.

That's all I remember.  When I woke up in Recovery, I heard the doctor shout from afar, "Everything went great!"  An assistant later described the procedure to me as "They filleted you."

Mid-afternoon the next day, a nurse said "They're moving you downtown to be closer to your doctors."  Within fifteen minutes, an ambulance crew appeared.  I was loaded into a black and green ambulance that looked like a giant energy drink can, and off we went.  The new room was HORRIBLE.  It was maybe a third the size of the other one.  The color scheme was pinkish barf and blue.  It had a narrow slit window.  It was a cave.  I took to referring to it as "the coffin."  The TV was an old 19" ceiling-mounted CRT.  The channel selector was a single button that went up only.  You couldn't even power it off without going up through the entire channel lineup until it got to the end, then it shut off.  Unless you skipped past off.  Then you had to do it all over again.  A doctor I complained about the room to was actually confused about my opinion.  My response to him:  "Forget it.  You're obviously not a human being."

At least things started moving along now.  Tests were performed.  They changed up the antibiotics, then did so a second time when I broke out in a rash that made me look like I had chicken pox.  They wrapped my legs in things similar to blood pressure monitors to test my circulation.  (Doctor: "It's good."  Me: So everything's great there?"  Doctor: "I never say great.")  They did a second surgery to drain the other side of my leg.  (Wheeled me in...mask..."BREATHE! BREATHE! BREATHE!"  SO awesome, though when I woke up from the second one, I legit wondered why I was in a Cici's Pizza.)  They decided to put me in a hyperbaric chamber for five ninety minute sessions.  Finally, calling the progress "remarkable," they hooked me up to a wound vac, a Frankenstein-looking setup where foam is inserted into the surgical wounds tied to a suction tube and a vacuum pump thingy.  It sucks out goo and starts you healing.  A couple days of observation, and I was finally sent home after seventeen days, still attached to the wound vac (it's portable enough and has a good battery) , and with an oral antibiotic prescription.  And crutches.  And a blood glucose meter.  And an insulin pen.  And some documents about a diabetic diet given to me by a dietician who clearly has never attempted a diet in her life.

My one vice in life was soda.  Don't tell me God doesn't hate me.  Don't even try.

Since then, I've mostly been laying around the house short of follow-up appointments and scheduled wound vac changes.  I still can't stand or move around a whole lot without exhaustion setting in.  But I can at least see better.

Still, this is no vacation.  I miss work.  I miss feeling like I have a purpose in life.  I feel so unbelievably worthless.

I just want everything to be normal again.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Invasion of the Uppity Grocers

Place: Culver's
Lunch: Mushroom-Swiss double basket with cheese curds, Culver's root beer

Culver's advertises the holy crap out of their "North Atlantic" cod sandwich, which Craig Culver claims is the "best fish sandwich in the business".  Which is stupid because 1. it's not even the best cod fish sandwich, let alone the best fish sandwich, and 2. the best fish sandwich is YOUR OWN NORTHWOODS WALLEYE SANDWICH, which Culver's doesn't advertise at all and barely acknowledges exists save for a counter card at the order counter.

You suck at fish math, Culver's.

Anyway, I'm here to get in one more walleye before the end of Fast Food Fish Season (aka "Easter"), but the counter card is gone, so I'm guessing they're already done.

Me: "Do you still have walleye?"

Counter Girl: "No, it's out of season now."

Me: Okay, Mushroom -Swiss..."

Counter Girl interrupts: "Well it's not out of SEASON, we just don't have any."

Me: "..."

Counter Girl: *stares*

Me: Mushroom-Swiss basket with cheese curds."

Counter Girl: "Do you want a basket, or the two items separately?"

In the history of Culver's, no one has ever asked me this.  Why would you?  What's the difference other than price?

Me: "No, I want the basket."

Counter Girl: "Okay, no basket."

At this point I throw my hands in the air.  "STOP.  YES, I WANT THE BASKET."

Counter Girl: "You DO want the basket."

Me: "YES."

Counter Girl: "I can't hear you very well...with all this...noise...of the kitchen."

Yeah, its not loud.  At all.

The food arrives and there's fries instead of cheese curds.  And she got me so confused that I forgot to ask for pickles, onions and mayonnaise on the burger.  Because Culver's automatically puts nothing on most burgers unless you specifically ask.  I complain about the cheese curds and that situation is remedied.


It's no secret I'm a fan of supermarkets.  Always have been.  From the days of following my grandmother around the neighborhood Safeway, I was hooked.  I loved everything about them.  The colorful department signage.  The stacks of sale merchandise.  The neatly organized freezer cases.  All of that food just waiting to be tried.  And my grandmother was a grocery shopping master.  She knew exactly how to pick the freshest produce.  She knew what was on sale and where.  She had an inch-thick clip of coupons, and knew how to maximize them.  Which is why a six-year old would be seen alone in line buying two rolls of toilet paper because she had two coupons, and she was buying the maximum allowed on each coupon.

I'm not the bargain-hunting coupon-clipping saver she was, but I do love to browse supermarkets.  I'll buy things I haven't seen before and go to specific places that carry specific items that I desire, not only locally, but when traveling.  I bring soda back from Texas.  Salsa from Wichita.  Pasta sauce from Cincinnati.  Chip dip and clam chowder from the Pacific Northwest.  And if I moved to a different region of the county, I'd be bringing stuff from here there.

Some of "there", however, is coming "here".  Three new upscale (gourmet?) or healthy type grocery stores have recently come to town.

These are grocers operating in a smaller footprint than the modern behemoth supermarkets being constructed by the chains of today.  They're usually in a footprint of 15,000-25,000 square feet.  They tend to market themselves as "fresh", "organic", or "healthy".  At the rate they're expanding, they must be doing something right.  People seem to love them.

Whole Foods and Trader Joe's apply to this concept.  We have both of those now and I've covered them previously.  Now, let's look at the new ones.

The Fresh Market
Apple Pay? Yes, but it's stupid
Paper or Plastic? Plastic

The Fresh Market is less organic and more upscale.  It's quite possibly the most beautiful market you will ever shop in.  A friend of mine described it as "hoity-toity".  Enter to the always piped-in classical music and marvel at the colorful produce section.  The wood tones and muted targeted lighting makes the colorful produce pop.  A lit refrigerated beverage case full of fresh squeezed juices in the vicinity doesn't hurt.  Grab a half gallon jug of The Fresh Market's lemonade while you're wandering by.  It's the BEST LEMONADE EVER.  In the center of the store is a large deli island where you can get prepared foods like potato salad and some hot foods.  There's the prerequisite salad and olive bars.  The meat department is also very impressive, though also very pricey.  The seafood selection is kind of limited.  The bakery has impressive looking treats, including some amazing cheesecake slices. There's an extensive candy selection, both bulk and boxed (including some ridiculously expensive Godiva boxes).

The grocery section has several upscale brands but the focus is on The Fresh Market's house brand.  And some of that crap is really freaking good.  Their Alfredo sauce is the thickest I know of available in a jar.  It's heavy on the garlic.  REALLY good for crab Alfredo.  Don't be afraid to try their store-branded stuff.  For a good laugh, check out the ice cream section and wonder how pints can cost north of $10.  The booze selection looks impressive,  but I know nothing about booze.  You can get some classic sodas in glass bottles like Moxie, Cheerwine, and Dad's Root Beer.  But you can also get HFCS Coke and Pepsi.  Come on, guys.  Even Walmart has real sugar Pepsi.  You don't need to carry that crap.  Expand the real sugar glass bottle soda line.  Carry the glass bottle cane sugar Faygos.  And bring back the Pop Shoppe sodas you had for awhile.

The negative with The Fresh Market is they have a track record of discontinuing stuff I really like.  They used to have the BEST full-strength (whole) chocolate milk.  They used to be the only place in the Midwest I could find Newman's Own Limeade at, but they recently quit carrying it.  They also used to have the real restaurant-grade natural casing Nathan's hot dogs, but those went away.

Oh, the deal with Apple Pay?  They accept it, but they make you go through extra steps that vary between locations.  At this new store, they make you confirm the amount on the touch screen.  At the Wichita store, they make you confirm what type of payment Apple Pay just verified AND confirm the amount.  Completely unnecessary steps.  You're doing Apple Pay wrong, Fresh Market.  And THAT'S NOT VERY FRESH.

UPDATE: Less than seven months after opening, The Fresh Market CLOSED.  Dicks.

Natural Grocers
Apple Pay? No.
Paper or Plastic? No.  Bring your own, or you can have a used shipping box (much like Costco).

Colorado-based Natural Grocers started out as Vitamin Cottage and still devotes a crap ton of floor space to vitamins and natural health and beauty products.  This is really a health food store.  The store size, at about 14,000 square feet, is the smallest of anyone in the segment and there's no prepared foods area, so don't plan on picking up hot take-out meals or salads.  Sorry, no olive bar either.  The meat is all pre-packaged.  The produce area has a big focus on organic.  The frozen foods and regular groceries are the usual brands you expect to find at any healthy or organic section of any major supermarket.  Natural Grocers is more picky than their competitors when it comes to their suppliers' processes and practices.  I used to buy Brown Cow yogurt there (WAY cheaper than Whole Foods), but they discontinued it and several other brands when they revised their "dairy ingredient standards" and considered Brown Cow no longer qualified to be sold there.  They DO have goat's milk yogurt, which I'd never seen before.  (Yes, I tried it.  It was okay, but not $1.89 okay.)  I used to buy cat food here, but then my cats decided they didn't want that brand anymore.

One of the odd quirks about Natural Grocers is their store hours, which are often posted as something odd like 8:00pm-9:04pm.  No idea why, other than they can.

Fresh Thyme Farmer's Market
Apple Pay?  Yes.
Paper or Plastic? Either/or

There used to be a chain called Sunflower Market out west that was bought out by Sprout's Farmer's Market.  The guy who ran Sunflower started Fresh Thyme, apparently financially backed but not managed by Meijer, a Walmart/Target-style hypermart chain out of Michigan.  (Side request, could we please get a Meijer here?  K thanks.)   The business model seems to be "jump into Midwestern markets Sprout's hasn't yet and be Sprout's in everything but name."  And do it mostly in aging shopping centers with cheap available leases (though the first Fresh Thyme I visited elsewhere was new construction).  I overheard a manager explaining to a group of customers that they "compare to Whole Foods, but have much better pricing".

Fresh Thyme opened this week after a construction period so long that I assumed they abandoned the project.  All they were doing was spiffing up an old Office Max, yet start of construction to open took longer than it took Natural Grocers to construct a whole building.  Once completed, the building sat empty with no sign of activity for several months before a grand opening date was finally set. They held a job fair last November for crying out loud.

The location is terrible.  There's no street visibility.  Do they think they're going to draw business from neighboring TJ Maxx and Dollar Tree?  How do they market themselves?  "Cleverly hidden behind Tires Plus and the abandoned Quizno's"?  Doesn't seem to be hurting them, the place is packed for the grand opening.

Fresh Thyme has a similar product mix and layout as Sprout's, sticking the produce section in the center of the store.  I like the look.  The prices can be lower.  I picked up blackberries and strawberries on sale at Walmart-like prices.  But I also saw grocery  prices WAY higher than the traditional markets.  And there were far more comparable items than the others.  Fresh Thyme carries more traditional brands than their competitors.  They had Kemps ice cream and Campbell's soup for example.  They do have their own store brand label offerings, from canned or frozen items to fresh bakery items. I picked up a clam shell 4-pack of chocolate mint cupcakes from the bakery area.  Those never are as good as they look at traditional supermarkets, but these were delicious in a very homemade way.  (Cookies, not so much.)  They have Newman's Own lemonade and pink lemonade, but no limeade.


Sprout's Farmer's Market
Apple Pay?  Yes
Paper or Plastic? Plastic

We're not getting one here, but there's one that I pass right by on the Wichita commute, so I'm covering it.  The focal point of the store is the centrally located produce section, seemingly taking up a third of the floor space.  This is my go-to place for watermelon.  I have NEVER EVER EVEN ONCE gotten a bad watermelon at Sprout's.  EVER.  Even out of season.

Sprout's has the real Nathan's restaurant-grade natural casing hot dogs that The Fresh Market stopped carrying, so Sprout's wins there.  They're also the only place I know of that sells Sabrett's hot dogs.  But the biggest deal for me is that Sprout's brought Tillamook yogurt to the Midwest.  Which is crazy because Sprout's doesn't even carry Tillamook cheese.  Now, if they would just bring Tillamook ice cream, that'd be magical.

Actually, the first of these stores to just start carrying Tillamook everything will win my heart forever.

Not holding my breath.