The dangers of following in Chicken Little’s footsteps

Newspaper heading: The sky is falling

Warning to all: if you ask me how I am, I will respond honestly. Expect an earful of my medical worries, and of the challenges of waiting for more information. Is Dr. Blood Lite’s recent concern valid? This question will not be answered until next Tuesday morning.

Considering what I was dealing with, I felt that I was holding it together at least somewhat. I wasn’t happy and, in fact, me and my little blue Sadness doll were likely spending an excessive amount of time together on the couch. I also had moments of panic because Chicken Little is my first cousin. After the initial shock passed, I felt I was coming to terms with the fact that my health may be in peril.

Then I got more bad news. Prior to the corkscrew procedure last week, the doctor sent me for blood work, which he reviewed with me before I left. In only a week, my red blood count had dropped significantly, to the point of my potentially needing a transfusion.

These ups and downs in various blood counts are not new. Sometimes the doctors know why and sometimes they don’t. In this case, with so much hanging over me, that little piece of potentially bad news threw me over the edge. I was a basket case for the following few days. A mess. Hopeless and terrified. Many tears were shed between naps.

My discombobulation is a reminder that despite my efforts to prepare myself for whatever may come, when I am truly threatened, all that preparation flies out the window. In this case, when I wasn’t overwhelmed during the day, I had dream after dream of hospitals and illness at night. There was no rest for the very weary.

What I managed to forget was that I don’t cope well emotionally when I’m feeling crummy physically. Because of the anemia, I’m exhausted and all I want to do is sleep. I am also likely dealing with the effects of withdrawal from the chemotherapy Dr. Blood Lite reduced two weeks ago. I recall vividly Dr. Blood telling me long ago that I should stay on it because the side effects of withdrawal are so aversive.

Somehow, Sunday morning at 2 a.m. when I chose insomnia over nightmares, I put one and one together: I realized my moving so quickly from feeling well to feeling sick was not helping my mood one bit. When I woke up Sunday morning, I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed. I made it to yoga, and even stayed awake through not one but two coffee dates later that day. My body did not demand a nap that day, and I felt better on all fronts. Today, despite a sleepless night, I feel even more like myself. Might my anemia be abating? I can only hope.

Sure, I’m still scared of what my little corkscrew procedure will reveal, and I’m expecting a sleepless night next Monday. Still, I can’t imagine feeling worse than I did last week when I could actually see the sky falling. Even if the sky does fall, I expect it will take some time to reach the ground.

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This is what happens when J. goes to the doctor (or the dentist)

Yellow upper case: Can I have your attention please?

You must be eager for an update on my last post. First off, thus far Jelly remains an only pup. I’m not hopeful.

Also, I am pleased to report that J.’s condition has improved dramatically. She has reduced her pain medication substantially, is eating more, and even sucked down a few potato chips yesterday. These are all excellent signs. Keep your fingers crossed that her infection has finally been quashed.

This medical crisis was uncharacteristic for J., who rarely visits the doctor. She doesn’t even have any specialists! When she does make an appointment with one of the medical professionals we share (Dr. Family, Dr. Tooth), I know she is terribly ill.

Sometimes when J. sees these docs, instead of focussing on her concerns, they ask about me. “How is Annie?” they inquire timidly. J., who oddly enough is not at the appointment to talk about me, finds their queries annoying. “Hello! I’m the patient here!” screams her inside voice.

I was first to see Dr. Root, the go-to guy for dental crises, years ago when I had a dental emergency that landed me in hospital. He treated me upon my discharge, ably fixing what a colleague had botched.

Dr. Root and I got along famously from the outset. Since my injury was so dramatic, he remembers both me and J. well from that initial encounter. He managed my care so well that J. has sought him out in her subsequent times of need. Of course she landed back in his chair last week.

While J. was writhing in pain in Dr. Root’s office last week, he asked her, not unexpectedly, how I was doing. As they chatted, J. could feel his anger escalating at how I had been treated long ago and the danger his colleague had placed me in. Then he showed J. the PowerPoint presentation he has used in his teaching ever since, which includes two head shots of me at my worst. I look like a monster, one side of my face and neck completely black and blue. When J. told me about this exchange, I realized I’ve become a haunting celebrity to local dental students. Thankfully I am unrecognizable in those shots.

I didn’t meant to hijack J.’s emergency appointment; I wasn’t even there. Even when I’m not there, I am, it seems.

Focus on the positive, J. You should stop complaining about these queries about me since occasionally our sharing medical professionals works in your favour. For example, I know you have slyly asked Dr. Family to check my thyroid if I’ve been crankier than usual. What joy you must feel seeing Dr. Family respond with her knowing smile.

Enough about J. already; let’s get back to me. Shortly, I will head to the Cancer Centre. Once I am in a drug-induced loopy state, Dr. Blood Lite will complete a procedure on me akin to tapping a maple tree. With the help of my Ativan, I will not leap off the hospital bed and flee in a panic. Today is no big deal, I say, but I’d appreciate your praying for me two weeks hence when we will reconvene to review the results. I’d do the same for you.

Picture of tap running out of maple tree

Grover does the Negev

Today was a comedy of errors on the vacation front. It’s possible that God was punishing us for doing something on the Sabbath, our day of rest. In retrospect, we should have gone with the flow and taken it easy in Jerusalem. So what if the city shuts down altogether every Friday evening to Saturday evening? No buses, no restaurants, nothing but people spending time with families and resting after their busy weeks. It’s a wonderful notion, yet I couldn’t fathom our day of rest becoming a day of waste. Our time here is so precious that we decided to leave town to visit the desert with forty other restless people.

Have I mentioned that I’ve been largely tasked with the vacation planning for this trip? As J. has reminded me repeatedly, these are my people, so I should intuitively know what to do here. I’ve tried to make this holiday perfect from beginning to end, but certain events today were beyond my control. Everything that could have gone wrong did, and I mean everything. Our tour started late, our tour guide was awful, and we spent more time travelling and waiting for other heretics like us than experiencing the sights.

We had trouble containing our disappointment, but Grover was having none of our negativity. That guy’s smile is always plastered on his face. He was going to have a good time no matter what. Sure it was hot on Masada, as we were told it would be, but our little monster didn’t break a sweat. That’s because he was wearing a desert-appropriate outfit with minimal coverage and excellent ventilation.

While we were waiting for the others in the Masada gift shop, Grover jumped on the back of a camel for a ride. He was determined to have the time of his life. I’ve never seen a happier little monster.

Mini stuffed Grover riding on a stuffed camel

Once we arrived at the Dead Sea, first J. and I floated in the salty water. Since J. is a sinker, her floating was a miracle. Maybe God wasn’t so mad at us after all. Then we did what all must do at the Dead Sea: we slathered ourselves with Dead Sea mud, allowing it to dry before rinsing it off in the water. Today, for the first time in many, many years, my skin feels as soft as a baby’s bottom.

Grover jumped in after us wearing his desert-appropriate attire, which handily doubled as a bathing suit. Despite his lack of swimming prowess–his blue fur takes ages to dry–Grover floated in the salty water with ease. He may look a little dismayed in this shot, but he’s merely clenching his lips so as not to swallow any of the salty water. I was not so smart. I can still taste that disgusting water.

Grover on the Dead Sea

In the end, we had a good, if long, day. I’m glad Grover was there to remind us that negativity is not wanted on the voyage. Who’d think a little monster would be so full of life lessons?

So much for fresh-picked apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah

Very run down country home, holes in roof and walls, abandoned

I have an annual ritual before the Jewish New Year. I go to the market the weekend before the holiday and buy the best fresh-picked apples I can find for dipping into honey. This year my favourites, the crispy tart Macs, are in season. I had a busy weekend with few windows of opportunity but I thought Sunday afternoon was clear.

It wasn’t. Remember last year when I thought I’d found the house of my dreams but we who hesitated were lost? Since then, we’ve continued to keep our eyes open to homes in our neighbourhood. We have a very specific set of criteria and a price range, and when a house comes up, we’re checking it out. We are frequent attendees at open houses.

So far, we haven’t had much success. Each home we’ve viewed has been wanting: a bedroom short, yard deficient, run down, overpriced. J. loved one recent listing beyond our price range so much that she rushed out to buy a lottery ticket. She said, as she always does during her semi-annual lottery-ticket purchase, “We’re good people. We deserve to win the lottery, don’t we?” She wasn’t even hoping for the jackpot, just a few hundred thousand dollars to cover us. Guess how that panned out?

Sunday afternoon, smack in the middle of my scheduled apple picking, a home that looked absolutely perfect was open for viewing. The listing said it was the right size at the right price on the right street. Pictures suggested it had a nice yard and a spiffy kitchen and three decent-sized bedrooms. The separate entrance with stairs to the basement would even give it office potential.

(Did I happen to mention I have not one but two clients scheduled this week? Maybe if I worked a little more, J. could stop buying lottery tickets.)

Reluctantly, I set my annual apple buying ritual aside. Off we traipsed to check out the house, showing up at 2 p.m. alongside the realtor. The crowds were eager to enter as he changed his “Coming soon!” sign to “For Sale”. But J. and I weren’t waylaid by his tardiness: we went straight to the backyard first.

Somehow the gorgeous photos didn’t capture the many doggy deposits and the ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts. While we were watching our step, we met the friendly furry depositor, who’d been left at home to greet potential buyers. Had we only known it was a dog-friendly home, we’d have brought Jelly, who would have loved a tour of the home, especially if it involved racing around after the four-legged resident.

I regret to inform you that those gorgeous interior pictures must also have been Photoshopped. The inside of the home was in shambles. Counters were filthy, appliances were dented, blankets were strewn around couches, toothpaste dotted the washroom floor. I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Because I am infection prone, we didn’t linger.

Our look-and-dash left me time to go marketing, but my hopes were so profoundly deflated that I needed the time to mourn. All is not lost, however. Maybe the next house will be perfect, even without Photoshop or a lottery win. They say you’ve gotta kiss a lot of frogs….

Why remove my tongue from my cheek? I like it there.

Very large needle

I had a long day yesterday, which I’m now going to review in excessive detail. Consider yourself warned.

Yesterday Dr. As-Yet-Nameless sent me to the urgent care clinic to address my ailing finger once and for all. Following my teeny weeny ultrasound, Dr. AYN tried to treat the infection with antibiotics, which failed, so a more intrusive approach was called for. Needless to say, I wasn’t so excited about prospect.

I commonly suffer from performance anxiety in triage. Rating my current pain as a 2 out of 10 would lead any triager to wonder why I came. I neglected to clarify that at one point the pain was a 10, and that the medication that is stopping my finger from returning to a 10 has resulted in my dramatic weight loss over the past month. I should have mentioned that, before I disappeared into nothingness, I needed action taken pronto. I understand why I was placed in the wait-forever line. I wasn’t in searing pain, I could easily skip lunch, and the problem would still be there whenever the doctor saw me.

When the doctor entered my room, I learned that she considered the barbaric procedure I sought elective. When I think “elective” I naively think “breast implants” or “facelift” or “liposuction”. (Perhaps the surgery I should get to remove my tongue from its permanent lodging inside my cheek would also be elective.) After considerable internet research, I learned that “elective” does include those procedures that are sought out and paid for, but more broadly includes any procedure that is not deemed emergent. I’m sure you knew that already.

The doctor and I may have differed on whether my procedure was elective. To me, what she needed to do to me needed to be done promptly. It wasn’t a tummy tuck! (I’ve always wanted a tummy tuck, but where would the surgeon tuck my ginormous spleen?) My finger needed to be dealt with before the infection spread to my bone (although at that point she’d likely agree it was emergent). If I could have done it myself, I would have.

I am assertive with doctors. If I am at odds with something they say, I tell them. That very day, I questioned Dr. AYN’s directive that I attend the clinic rather than waiting for her to refer me to a specialist, but she insisted.

There was no point in quibbling with Dr. Annoyed-With-Me over the definition of “elective” because, within minutes, elective or emergent, she’d be performing a barbaric procedure on me. Why anger her before she started causing me pain? She’d already proven she wasn’t the coddling type.

Procedure now done, I still wonder whether I could have handled myself differently. Was Dr. AWM punishing me for Dr. AYN’s misjudgement? Should I have protested Dr. AYN’s plan more vociferously? Was I at fault? Does it matter? It’s over, and my finger is really sore. And, Dr. AWM is referring me to a specialist to finish the job she started. Oh, I can’t wait!

In the spirit of volunteerism, would anyone like to attend that appointment in my place? I’ll gladly loan you my photo-less health care card. I guess you’d need to borrow my finger as well, though. That could be more complicated. Forget it.

A moment in (cancer) time

hand pushing elevator down button

I usually try to end my blogging week with an upbeat post. Something funny or light to make you laugh. Who wants to hear from Debbie Downer right before the weekend? But Sadness nixed my planned frivolity this week, and I always listen to Saddy. Everyone should listen to Saddy.

Yesterday J. drove me up to the Cancer Centre to pick up my chemotherapy refill. (I’ve given up on having my drugs mailed to my home since that unfortunate Canada Post fiasco last year.) J. waited in the car while I popped in to the pharmacy.

Things went as planned. I made my way through the hoards of patients–cancer stops for no one–hopped onto the elevator, and headed to the pharmacy. I showed the kind pharmacist my red card (also known as the PROOF YOU HAVE CANCER card), and she gave me my little brown paper bag, as if I were hiding condoms or something (not that I’d know about that).

I returned to the elevators, which at that moment were overflowing with patients going up. I needed to go down. After the uppers were gone, I pushed the down button while I watched an older gentleman shuffling toward me very slowly. I asked him where he was headed, and he said he too was going down. “Great. I’ll have company,” I said, perhaps a bit too jovially given the environs.

When our elevator arrived, I let Mr. Shuffle enter first. I followed him in and pushed the button for us. He leaned against the elevator wall as if it were holding him up. After the doors shut, he said, so quietly I almost didn’t hear, “I am so weak.” I looked at him sympathetically but did not know how to respond, so he added, “The chemotherapy.” I touched him on the arm and said, “Cancer is hard.”

I struggled to know how to respond, and I still wonder if I said the right thing. Is there ever a right thing to say? It wasn’t the time or the place to get into the nitty gritty of his treatment; we had only one floor to travel. I didn’t want to minimize his experience with a “Things will look up!” because I didn’t know if this would be true for him. I could have given him a hug, but strangers don’t often hug, and I might have tipped him over. It’s more than that. Since he seemed to be alone, I wanted to bring him home and take care of him, but my boundaries stepped in.

Cancer is hard in different ways for different people. I’m hoping this man sensed that I could see that he was struggling. Maybe I provided comfort, however fleeting. And I’ll hope there comes a time when he doesn’t feel so weak. But right now, I feel sad that anyone has to endure the worst of cancer. I know it’s not easy.

I still feel sad when I think about this man, but I have to let that go today. Joy is joining Jelly and me at the university, where we’ll be cheering up some stressed-out students. Volunteering, my purely selfish endeavour.

You catch more nurses with kindness

I hope you realize how devoted I am to you, even in times of stress. I managed to type that last post with one hand while trying to stop the deluge coming out of my nose. In case you weren’t aware, I would do anything to keep you entertained at regular intervals.

I regret to inform you that my adventure did not end with my publishing that post. Soon after, my jump-into-action friend, Mr. Chauffeur, graciously drove me to the pharmacy for that special something to stop the bleeding. But by then I was too far gone. I finished a box of tissues on the excursion, and the bloody flood seemed nowhere near abating, so I capitulated. I called J. and told her I needed to visit the hospital forthwith, and I’d take a cab and meet her there. She didn’t think a cab was very practical given my profuse bleeding, so she drove me there instead.

My first words to the triage nurse were: “I’m sorry I’m not better dressed.” That got us off on a good footing. After she reassured me my outfit was acceptable, she told me an 8-hour nosebleed was legitimate reason to come in. I always need reassurance. Then she sent me to the Ear, Nose, and Throat chair, where a talented team deals with problems like mine every day. Every single person we dealt with over the course of that visit was incredibly kind and caring. Within 2 hours, my platelets were checked, my bleeding was stopped, my nose was cauterized and I was discharged. The ER moved faster than a speeding bullet last Friday afternoon. That ER is a well-oiled machine.

The only downside was the patient on the other side of the curtain, who had clearly never heard that “You catch more flies with honey.” She was very upset by the wait, and she and her husband expressed their discontent repeatedly. While we were bantering with our lovely nurse, Ms. Grumpy shouted, for all to hear: “Shut the #%$& up!” (I’ve never typed an expletive before. That was fun.) Later, she and her husband bemoaned the long wait because “we pay to get to the front of the line overseas.” The nurse replied, much more calmly than I would have: “That’s not the way it works here.”

Medical staff deal with all sorts of patients all the time. People who are sick are stressed and sometimes belligerent. Stressed or not, isn’t there still a level of respect that we all must adhere to? These clinicians are doing their job to the best of their ability with the resources they have. A visit to the ER takes time, and sometimes one problem takes precedence over another. Over the years, in addition to learning the art of dressing for the ER (you can review my guidance on this matter here), I’ve learned how to treat the medical staff.

I’m not kind to medical staff because I want better treatment; I’m kind because I know ER staff work hard in tough conditions and deserve my patience and gratitude. So that’s what they get, however crummy I’m feeling. I’m there because I trust they’ll make me feel better.

Quote with dog at top: Be the kind of person you want to meet.

Waiting on a couch

There were mixed responses to my last post, but no Go Fund Me donations. I get the message, folks: one of me is plenty. A few readers were thrown by the whole nature-nurture thing. Would my clone really be me without my experiences and memories? Probably not. I’ve always been an idea person; perhaps I didn’t really think this through.

But my time for random musings is over, it appears. Now that summer is ending, I find myself with not one but two volunteering opportunities on the horizon. Expect more typos as my time to obsess over my writing will be reduced substantially.

Next week is my first shift at the Canadian Blood Services. I’ll be at 727 – 13 Avenue SW every Monday afternoon from 3-6 p.m. if anyone would like to stop by to give the gift of life. I’ll watch over you after you donate and alert a nurse if you need a new bandaid or faint unexpectedly. I’ll serve you soup and cookies and juice. That’s if I can manage to complete all the on-line training. I spent hours on it yesterday, and I still wasn’t sure of all the answers on the final exam. Thank goodness it’s open book.

In the midst of prepping for Monday, I dropped off my completed PALS application. The lovely Linda, administrator extraordinaire and kind person, greeted me. She also offered to schedule Jelly and me for our initial interview.

Assuming we jump that first hurdle, as most do, we’d undergo a behavioural assessment involving multiple volunteers and 13 challenging stations. But there’s one problem: J. and I plan to be away during the two fall assessment dates. Jelly and I may have to wait until the spring.

What did you say, Sadness? I know, I’m disappointed too.

Imagine you’re ready and excited for something new and then you realize it’s going to take months. Which brings us to the couch analogy. When I need a new couch, I choose the frame and the fabric and then I occupy the old, uncomfortable one for months until my purchase arrives. But what if, after 2 or 3 or 8 months, I’m told my choice of fabric has been discontinued, or my order never went in, or my sofa arrives but it’s damaged, and I’m back at square one? Do you see the parallels?

I think Jelly and I would make great PALS, but the powers that be may not assess us for several months. (I know, Joy, more time to work on improving Jelly’s obedience. Run off with your silver lining, would you?) Even after that long wait, Jelly and I may still fail to meet the behavioural criteria.

So I told Linda, who discerned from my application how serious I am about this venture, that since my leukemia diagnosis, time is of the essence. I had disclosed my leukemia in the application so I wasn’t technically pulling the L card, although you might beg to differ. Without further prompting, Linda offered to speak to the boss to determine whether there might be another way to speed up the path toward PALShood. Here’s hoping, because that old couch is getting mighty uncomfortable.

In the meantime, I’ll focus on being the best bloody volunteer I can be. Maybe I’ll even pick up a few extra shifts. Soup anyone?

Road sign says: Welcome to disappointment. Don't stay too long.

Admitting to my own prejudices

I, like you, want to believe I am free from prejudice, accepting of people of all different colours and backgrounds and proclivities, but that’s not necessarily the case. In my work as a psychologist, I saw people of all kinds and laboured to ensure my biases did not interfere with my work. I did, however, once refuse a parent seeking therapy to turn her child from gay to straight. Reparative therapies don’t work, folks. When she asked for another referral, I politely told her I knew of no one who could help her child, but I’d be glad to help her with her homophobia.

This professional example notwithstanding, I have one prejudice cannot seem to shake: I am brimming with judgement each time I go for blood work. I was thinking about this hierarchy yesterday when I smugly booked the bloodwork for my next Cancer Centre checkup in late February.

I always place myself at the top of this patient hierarchy. I am a regular, I know the drill, I even have standing orders on file for my regularly completed lab requisitions. I’m certainly several rungs above those folks who furtively deliver their bodily products to the lab in brown paper bags. Sure, I’ve done those tests, but I hand over my poo with confidence and pride.

A variety of ill folks occupy the lower ranks, most often sickies who do not make lab appointments, thereby subjecting themselves to a very long wait when they arrive. There are those that are there for what look like colds or the flu, subjecting the rest of us to their viruses when they’d heal faster were they home resting. And those that walk straight up to check in at reception as if, despite the standing-room-only waiting room, they will be served first.

But I’m working on my unfair judgements. If I can be kind to people of different colours and shapes and sizes, surely I can be kind to the lab drop ins. Many in this group may lack the understanding or capacity to make an appointment, whether because of language barrier, intellectual limitations, or access to the internet.

Woman's hand holding apple, surrounded by serpent

What the heck were you thinking, Eve?

And then there are the lowly folk who drop in without an appointment because of supposed medical urgency. Even I have been part of this group on more than one occasion. Have you ever had the pleasure of a full-blown bladder infection? (I realize I may lose a few male readers here.)  Bladder infections must be God’s punishment to Eve for seducing Adam.

Last time I had this type of infection years ago, I could not wait for a lab appointment; I sat for hours like the other low-rungs (whoa, that was harsh), getting up only to go to the washroom every five minutes or so. I would have done whatever my family doc told me to do to secure a round of antibiotics. I’ll try to keep this incident in mind the next time you try to cut the line at the lab. Maybe you are feeling as frantic as I have on these occasions.

My tolerance only goes so far, though. If you dare cough on me while I am waiting, I will judge you, all the moreso if I catch whatever you have. Bottom rung for you, my friend.

Calling all Germinators!

I’ve decided to write a blog post so I can burn enough calories to earn dessert after dinner. I’ll let you know how it goes. If it doesn’t work, maybe next time I’ll go for a walk instead.

I want you to think back to those high school parties. (I was too busy studying to attend, so I’m using my imagination.) There were the friends who came early to help set up, brought food, and stayed late to clean up. Then there were the others who sent out the invitation on Facebook, lazed around with all the party crashers, spilled drinks on the carpet, and moved on to the next house, leaving destruction in their wake.

Picture of 5 female superheroes flyingThis is the difference between your white blood cells and mine. We all need white blood cells to fight infection, and I have 3 or 4 times as many as you healthy folk. With such an abundance of infection fighters, you’d think I’d be healthy as a horse, but in fact I’m immunocompromised. My white cells are the ones who show up at the party with their hoards of friends but don’t do much to help when I need them. I’m calling them Germinators, even though mine don’t really deserve the superhero moniker.

And so we arrive at the events of the past week. It starts with my scratching my finger. Dumb, dumb Annie. It was a superficial scratch since I’m a shallow person, the skin barely broken, but the darned thing wouldn’t heal. Germinators crowded the scene, but they were just hanging out rather than helping clean up.

Within a week, I was in such pain that I called the doctor. Despite what you might think, I don’t call the doctor very often. So when I do call, I really need to get in. Unfortunately, Dr. Family didn’t have time to see me for another two days. Because I am a loyal patient and didn’t want to attend a walk-in clinic–I’d need an hour to provide my medical history–I waited it out.

This, folks, was a mistake. While I was waiting, and my Germinators were lazing around, I developed weird red streaks up my arm. Yes, my Germinators extended the party to my lymph nodes. Lymph node infection can result in bloodstream infection. Last time my bloodstream came to the party, I ended up in the ICU for 13 days.

But not this time. My Germinators finally got off their arses and started cleaning up, the inflammation in my arm settled, and day by day my finger is healing. Unsure whether to keep my doctor’s appointment, I decided to go so for guidance in the event of another life-threatening scratch.

When I arrived at the office, I apologized for wasting Dr. Family’s time. Her response? “OMG (or something like that)! A few more days and…. Next time, get thee to my office forthwith. Oh, and do you realize that every time you visit, you apologize for wasting my time? I just ignore you.” No wonder I adore Dr. Family.

Next time my Germinators bail on me, I’ll go directly to the doctor. I will not pass go and I will not collect $200. Oh, and I will not apologize.