Category Archives: Dagmar

FedEx is inferior

What’s Wrong with FedEx?

This is a picture of Mick, our UPS man, showing how it’s SUPPOSED to be done. 

The Photography Shipment

Last October we finished the last of our wedding photo shoots for the season. As is standard I ordered a custom DVD case and DVD as a presentation piece for the couple. I’ve done this many times with no problems. I placed the order and received a confirmation saying the order would be delivered a few days later on that Thursday. Great, no problem. I e-mailed my customer and said I’d have the photos ready for them by the end of the week. They were very excited and anxious to get their pictures!

The next day I received an e-mail from the photo lab saying I’d made a mistake on the order and they couldn’t start the processing until I fixed it. No biggie, I fixed the problem, and called them to upgrade the shipping to next-day to ensure the product still arrived in time to meet my deadline in spite of my goof. It cost me about thirty bucks, but I’d rather lose the money than have a product go out late and lose a customer.

The photo lab always shipped UPS in the past, and both the lab and UPS had always been very, very dependable, so I was surprised with Thursday slipped away into evening and there had been no delivery. I checked the tracking info – for some reason the lab had shipped the order FedEx instead of UPS. My heart sank. FedEx has a nasty habit of delivering our packages to a post office in a town 25 miles away and letting the United States Postal Service make the actual delivery. This would be fine, except when FedEx hands the package off to the USPS they mark it as “Delivered” and claim the package was delivered on time, yet it may take the Post Office several more days to get the package to us. It’s very, very inconvenient when you’re trying to plan something. Sure enough, the package was marked as “Delivered,” yet I had no product.

I e-mailed the photo lab and told them the shipment hadn’t arrived, even though I’d paid quite a bit extra to ensure it would get here on time to meet my commitments. They never answered me. I e-mailed FedEx as well, but I received no response from them either.

The package finally arrived in the mail the next Saturday, and my customer was very understanding about getting their order a day late, but it wasn’t a fun experience for me to explain to them that I couldn’t meet the deadline.

The Gift

Beloved Wifey and I don’t have much money at the moment, but we did decide to treat ourselves to one holiday gift this year – a cast-iron stovetop grill that caught our attention. “Voodn’t it be nice to be able to grill up a nice chicky-breast?” she said in her neato Germanic accent. “Und you could make sandviches und grilled pineapple. Ve could eat healthy!” So we waited a few days for a sale, then ordered the $25 gadget online (originally $48!) from and called it a Christmas present for both of us.

About a week later I looked up the tracking situation on the griddle doohicky to see when it would be delivered. Hooray – it was to be delivered that very day! Yay! Then I saw who the shipping vendor was and my heart sank. FedEx. We’ve had very bad luck with FedEx in the past. “Well, the tracking software says the grill thing should get here today,” I told Beloved Wifey, “but they sent it FedEx, so it’ll probably be next Monday before it gets here.”

Sure enough, the day came and went with no sign of a FedEx van. We weren’t surprised. The only thing they actually deliver on time is Beloved Wifey’s weekly medical supplies (more on that later).

The next day I waited until past FedEx’s normal delivery time, noted that there still wasn’t a neat grill/griddle thingy sitting by my door, and decided to let know that the delivery was late, just so they know. I went to their website, clicked on the “I Haven’t Received My Package” button, and wrote a short note saying the package isn’t real time-sensitive and it’s not a big problem that it’s late, but FedEx hasn’t delivered the package yet. I turned back to my work and didn’t think any more about it. Until half an hour later when I noticed another tracking e-mail from in my inbox. had immediately shipped out a duplicate order, with rush shipping and a guarantee that the product would arrive the very next day (a Saturday). I was VERY impressed at how fast they handled it! But I was also rather embarrassed – I didn’t need the grill/griddle doohicky the next day, I just wanted to let know that their shipping vendor bobbled their order. I went online and hit the “Life Chat” button at and explained the whole thing to a very nice lady, “I don’t need the second order, I was just letting you know FedEx isn’t very trustworthy around here.” But I was too late – they’d already shipped the duplicate. (It had only been about forty minutes since I’d pushed the “Shipment Did Not Arrive” button. Amazon is GOOD.)

The next day, Saturday, came and went with no shipment. I e-mailed and let them know (this time explicitly stating I didn’t need them to do anything to fix the problem other than let their shipping department know that FedEx missed a “guaranteed” ship date).

I e-mailed FedEx to let them know I was not amused, and that Beloved Wifey gets very expensive medical supplies delivered every week. “It’s not a big deal that our Christmas present was delayed, but the medical supplies are fragile, perishable, and if my wife doesn’t get them on time it could mean some serious health issues for her. Please, when you say you’re going to deliver something to our door, DO IT. Don’t send it to the post office.” (I got a message back about five days later saying, in its entirety, “The package was delivered on the 17th. I hope this resolves the issue.”)

We did get our Christmas grill/griddle chingus the next week, and a duplicate a day later that we now have to ship back. I’ll ship it via UPS.

The Medicine

As I mentioned before, Beloved Wifey gets medical supplies shipped to us on a weekly basis. We were sad when we learned the pharmacy was using FedEx rather than UPS, but there’s not much we can do about it. These shipments are the only time I have any interaction with a FedEx driver as most of the time they choose to send our shipments to us through the post office rather than do their job and deliver the packages to our door – but they must have instructions not to do that with Wifey’s medical treatments as they do deliver them personally.

When we order things that are shipped via UPS the delivery is a glorious occasion. We know about what time Mick, the UPS driver, will be by, so we can watch out the window for him. He always pulls up with a smile and a wave, hugs our dogs, gives them puppy treats, chats with me for fifteen seconds, then smiles and waves and off he goes!

The FedEx guy, on the other hand, has never once smiled. He doesn’t interact at all with our dogs and tries to sort of kick-push ’em out of his way (he’s not kicking our dogs, but he’s not being nice to them either) when he comes up to the porch. He doesn’t come at the same time of day, so I can’t be ready for him and have the dogs kenneled – which I hate doing anyway. He has to know that the packages with the big medical stickers all over them are important, but he just throws it on the ground anyway. Last week I saw him coming up the driveway, kenneled the dogs, and opened the door to see him standing there. He’s literally six inches away from me. He knocked on the door, looked me right in the eye, dropped the package, and walked away without a word. That could have been a $1,500 thud he heard when he dropped it. (The infusions were okay, but it worried me nonetheless.)

This morning Beloved Wifey got a call from the pharmacy in Omaha. It turns out FedEx says they may not be able to deliver her package this week (no explanation), so the pharmacy is sending someone to drive the package up to us in person today. That’s a round trip of about 260 miles that someone has to make because their preferred shipping vendor can’t handle the Christmas rush.

When we use UPS, we never, ever, ever have any problems. The packages are delivered on time, every time. But when we see we’re getting a shipment from FedEx it’s always a crap shoot…

Chris & Dagmar Radloff


It takes a special woman to say “Yes” to a man who proposes to her just moments after wearing falsies, a dress, and combat boots. But I’m glad she did!

How I Proposed

How I Proposed

I’d been rehearsing a production of “A Tuna Christmas” lo those many years ago when I decided the time was right. The play had just two actors, myself and friend Ross Janes, who had to cover some fourteen characters, half of which were women. Each actor played seven different characters throughout the play, which meant when one actor was onstage delivering a soliloquy the other was backstage changing from Bubba to Bobby Sue. The quick costume changes (some of them had to be completed in less than seven seconds) meant that we had to have someone backstage helping us.

I conned Dagmar into it. She had a rack of costumes right offstage and would help me change characters every night. After a week of rehearsals it felt normal to be wearing a wig, falsies, and a dress overtop a man’s western shirt and combat boots.

The play opened on a Friday night and everything went well. Saturday night everything went off without a hitch as well – except Dagmar asked me several times, “Did you notice how many of our family and friends are here?” When we got to the final scene (for which I was, thankfully, dressed as a man), Ross (the other actor) slipped the ring to me. Moments later when we went out for our curtain call, we went out as planned, then motioned for our dressers who came out for their bow as planned. Then the spotlight narrowed down on me and Dagmar. Very awkwardly I stammered out a proposal… I thought she was going to pass out! All our friends and family cheered. (Two elderly ladies who had been sitting in the front row asked me later if that last scene was some sort of a segue into a sequel. “No,” I replied, “I actually just proposed to my girlfriend. We’re really getting married!” The ladies hugged me.)

But it all turned out well! Nearly a decade and a half later we’re still happily plugging our way through life…

Dagmar’s Birthday

Wheee! What a fun day!

Today was Beloved Wifey’s birthday. I made her pancakes for breakfast, though she thought they were biscuits (I’ve never made pancakes before – they kinda got a bit out of hand). In the afternoon Wifey’s Mama came over with a fantastic Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Birthday dinner. Towards evening my family stopped by for a brief visit. My brother has a Golden Retriever almost exactly the same age as our little Buttercup – the two dogs had a ball! When it was time for the family to go, our Buttercup kept trying to get in their car, and their Aspen kept trying to get in our house…

Photo by HippieBoy Design

The Day’s Ruminations

There Are Good Things…

The past few days have been pretty good, all things considered. Beloved Wifey is still ill and is having a lot of trouble getting around, but we truly feel there may be an end in sight. The thought of having a healthy Dagmar next spring makes me all happy!

And there have been other little blessings. Pops came over with his tractor and helped get some of the junk metal out of my grove, and I was able to get out there with the chainsaw and clear some deadwood out (it’s a never-ending project, that). My back isn’t nearly as hurty as it was last week. I’m very nearly finished with my last large photo project of the season. Things are good.

So THIS is why statistics are important…

Random SEO Cogitations

I often get asked about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – the technique behind getting your web site boosted higher in the search engine rankings. Here’s what I told a friend of mine earlier today: 

Here are two articles that explain SEO fairly well. The first one is very detailed and explains how it all works, what you can do, and what you can expect.

The second article explains why you don’t need to do any of it.

In my experience, there are just a few things you can do to increase traffic, but websites like ours will never be getting 3,000 hits a day – it’s just not going to happen. There’s not a market that large for big numbers. (I remember back in the beginning of time when “hit counters” first started coming out. People were amazed that their sites were getting 10,000 hits a day – fantastic! The problem is that those weren’t real people – they were getting five hits a day. Four from themselves looking at the silly hit counter and giggling in glee, one from their mom, and 9,995 hits from search engine robots.)

The best ways, in my opinion, to get good results are pretty simple.

Have a good, solid site with engaging content. That gives a visitor impetus to remember your site and come back again.

Make sure your “keywords” are in your site somewhere. If you don’t say “I do graphic design in Sioux City, Iowa,” in the text somewhere, Google won’t have any way of knowing that you do graphic design in Sioux City. That sounds simple, but it’s the one thing most people forget.

The third thing is to give it time. The search engines all send out little “spiders” that crawl the web, looking for new sites, categorizing, indexing, and combing through the text. It sometimes takes a month for Yahoo or Bing to trip over your brand-new site. And when it does, the search engine won’t give the new site a whole lot of credence – the longer a site is up and active the higher your ranking will be. (Active is a key word there – you need to update the site occasionally or the search engines assume the site is dead and it will start to drop in the rankings again.)

It also helps if you can build links. The more people who link to your site, the more important the search engines will think your site must be. Mention your site in a blog, or on FaceBook. That helps.

But the best way to get people to your site is to market the heck out of it – make sure it’s on your business cards, start a business page on Facebook and G+, make sure you tell prospective customers to check out your site. I still get most of my customers from the phone book. “I saw your name in the Yellow Pages, checked out your website, and I’d like to hire you to take our family photos…”

If you’re interested in getting a website designed, please check out HippieBoy Design – it’s what I do! 


Random Happiness


Happiness and Joy

I saw a TED Talk yesterday that’s still bouncing around in my head a bit.

The clip points out that we have put happiness on the far side of success, that we believe that if we work harder, longer, faster we will be successful – and THEN we’ll be happy. But our definition of “success” changes as soon as we get near it (“I will be successful when I earn twenty thousand dollars a year,” lasts precisely until two days after you hit that goal, at which point you change your definition of success – “I will be successful when I earn THIRTY thousand dollars a year,”) which means we never achieve “happy” – it’s on the far side of success. What we need to do is find “happy” now and let success follow.

The presenter gave some concrete methods of how to rewire our brains a bit to achieve a happier state – including writing down three things you’re grateful for each day, journaling about one positive experience each day, and committing random acts of kindness. While I’m not a miserable wretch of gloominess, I very much tend to live in the Dark Side – and I’d like to change that a bit. So, throughout the day – and hopefully every day – I’ll list a few things I’m grateful for and will scribe a paragraph or three about happy happy things.

But first, here’s a link to the TED Talk itself:

I’m Grateful For…

…having a relatively stress-free relationship with my wife. While we sometimes disagree and have occasional spats (about once a year we need a good, old-fashioned, stomping off into the night kind of fight), we’re both strive to be as supportive and understanding as possible. I know without a doubt she has my back, and I hope she knows I’ve got hers. We’re on the same team.

…having a job that allows me to be home to help Beloved Wifey through her illnesses.

…having a warm, snug house for my family.

And off we go!

I have much more to say today, but it’s time to run Beloved Wifey to a doctor’s appointment. Sadly, she’s not doing real well lately

Self-Employed Slacker

3:17 a.m.

It’s not the work that kills me, it’s the hours. If I were independently wealthy (hello Publisher’s Clearing House, did you get my address wrong AGAIN?) I’d still do most of what I do now. Just not quite as much of it… I love doing photography, and I do truly enjoy doing design work. But I’m not sure I’d be getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning to do it day after day. My customers’ deadlines are important to me, though, so I’ll do whatever I can to get the job done on time!

Now, where’s that coffee. I need another refill. It’s my day off today – I gotta get this stuff done so I can go slack off for an hour or three.

5:10 a.m.

Exporting some photos. It always ties my computer up for a few minutes.

I’m worried about Beloved Wifey. After the pneumonia last fall her health (which has always been precarious at best) took a turn for the worse. (Worser?) After months of illness, doctors, etc., our primary physician (who’s great!) and the Mayo finally got a handle on what’s been going on. Five or six weeks into her new meds, Wifey was doing better – well enough to go back to work. But yesterday she called me, “I think I’m coming down with something again.” And sure enough, this morning she’s as sick as ever again. Things move sooo quickly with her – yesterday morning she was fine, this morning she’s miserably ill.

Something ain’t right. I worry.

5:42 a.m.

I swear I’ve airbrushed the same “Exit” sign out of at least 30 photos this morning. In a dimly-lit reception hall those things glow like you wouldn’t believe. In the background of every “first dance” photo, there’s that silly Exit sign, merrily glowing away… Bah.

6:34 a.m.

This seems an awkward time for my computer to want to back things up, but whatevs.

Today is Halloween, my least favorite holiday. I don’t like the blood and gore, and I’ve never been a fan of spooky stuff. If society would be content with cute cartoons of pumpkins and children wearing sheets over their heads I’d be fine. But there’s all the icky stuff that goes along with the holiday – zombies, corpses, chainsaw massacres for “fun.” I guess I’m just not a fan of violence, or the ramifications thereof.

My favorite Halloween was about ten years ago (everything in my past was either “yesterday,” “a few months ago,” or “ten years ago” – I’m not into specifics). I was playing in a happy band and had a gig that night. I showed up to find that the singer had dressed as me. I laughed for quite a while, and to be honest it made me feel good that a friend thought enough of me to do that. That’s really my only fond Halloween memory.

Whoops, computer’s done backing up – back to work!

7:04 a.m.

Exporting photos of a wedding shoot. It’s not the self-doubt that bugs me so much as, well, the self-doubt. I’m never satisfied with my photos, but eventually I gotta quit tweaking them and give them to the customer…

Beloved Wifey is sleeping, the dogs are in their kennels whining – it’s almost breakfast time. I smell like old cabbage. I have about an hour to choose the top photos from this shoot and get them off to the developer, get a shower, feed the dogs, and gather my thoughts before the “It’s 8:05 a.m. and I just got the e-mail you sent me last night” rush. With luck Wifey will be able to get in to see the doctor this morning.

7:45 a.m.

As soon as these photos are done uploading I can go take a shower. I stink like nerd and my feet are cold.

8:46 a.m.

The Hippie Has Showered. Dogs are fed and back in their kennels for their morning nap. Wifey is getting ready for her doctor’s appointment. The wedding photos I’ve been working on the past few days are exporting and uploading and doing their various things. Time to make another pot of coffee and get a start on the day. I’m hoping to get some motion design work done, burn the wedding photos to disk if they finish exporting, design a patch for a biker friend, and get started on a website I promised a local church several weeks ago. If I’m lucky I’ll have time to start on another web design that needs done as well. (Sorry, don’t mean to bore you, I’m just sort of talking out loud here, planning my day.) I’m wanting to fix that pesky trim under my deck and fix the leak in the garage room too if I have time. Then I can chill for a bit.

9:01 a.m.

Shoot. I forgot today’s billing day. Everything else is on hold until that’s done. Gotta get the statements in the mail!

10:43 a.m.

Billing is done, just gotta trot the envelopes out to the mail. Wifey is at the doctor – with luck she’ll have some answers soon on what’s causing her current illness. The poor girl’s on so many medications already…

You know, those Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes Forms are TRICKY! I’d forgotten how stressful they make it. Gotta get that in the mail too. As blessed as we are, we could sure use a little cash infusion.

When I was a child, I always thought that the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes was a contest. I imagined they chose the neatest entry, the one where all the stamps were JUST right, perfectly straight and centered exactly in their appointed box. I still do, to be honest. Not that I’m persnickety or anything, but I got out a scissors and a ruler to make sure my stamps had perfectly straight edges.

I’m sure they’ll choose my form this year. I’m sure of it!

11:46 a.m.


The deadline for three motion design ads has been moved up to noon tomorrow and I just took an informal contract for a CD cover design. I finished the photos I was working on this morning, now I just need to burn the DVDs for the customer – yay! The monthly billing has been figured up, printed, collated, enveloped, stamped, and is happily in the mailbox next to some other correspondence and my winning (I’m just positive!) Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Entry.

12:15 p.m.

I love absolutely EVERYTHING about food. Love love love it. Except, well, choosing it. Or shopping. Or storing it. I’m not actually all that keen on preparing or cooking it, either. And I hate cleaning up afterwards.

12:21 p.m.

The dogs are unhappy about spending so much time in their kennels the past few days. I’m unhappy about muddy pawprints scampering through the house. Maybe I can teach the finicky cat to clean the dog’s paws before they come inside. Hmmm.

4:27 p.m.

I worked on some correspondence with some clients. (My motion design customer called – one of their clients couldn’t upload a file through an FTP server I’d set up for such eventualities. The guy called – it showed up as “Los Angeles Area” on my cell phone, but he assured me it was “Hollywood,” in a very clipped New Zealand accent. Seemed like a nice guy. Couldn’t understand a word he said. I’m looking forward to seeing his work, though. Hollywood has a lot more money and resources to spend on motion design than rural Iowa. Ten to one says that the designers here in the Midwest can hold their own against West Coast designers any day of the week – if we’re provided the same amount of time and given the resources.)

Eventually Beloved Wifey noticed I was still tapping away at the computer and kicked me out. “Here, you,” she said, “take dis beer und go outside und play mit de doggies. You stink like computer geek, und you haven’t seen the sun in veeks.” Und so, thus endeth my narrative for the nonce. I shall go outside und play, then I may come back inside and play my bass guitar (if I can find it) for a bit, then go to bed.

Life is, indeed, good. I’m happy to work hard in order to have a happy Wifey who cares for me. Good good good.

The end in sight?

So many times, so much illness, so much pain…

When my Viennese snickerdoodle Dagmar and I got married way back before digital cameras, life was a whirlwind, mostly undocumented. Of course we spent a lot of time and energy at our respective jobs, but also with our new household, riding the motorcycle, going to parks, traveling the area as much as time and money would allow, me playing in the band, she helping with equipment. We kept busy! In our early 30’s, life was pretty full, and we were happy — even if Fruitloop-kitty had a tendency to pee on her foot every now and then.

One day, “I’m tired,” she said. “I don’t tink I can go mit you to vatch you play in the band tonight. Maybe you can go by yourself?”

That’s okay, no problem. But a week later, “I still don’t feel vell,” she said.

Life for me became a series of medical vignettes. I remember little snapshots of life. Milestones of a sort. No, not milestones — mileposts. That’s a better word. Not a goal, but rather a spot to pause and remember.

I remember one day playing with the band at an outdoor concert. We were playing the “Beer Stage” at Rivercade, an annual festival in Sioux City. George Thorogood and the Destroyers had just finished playing on the main stage, and people were headed to the beer tent. Our job was to keep ’em there long enough for management to sell enough beer to afford to pay us, basically. The good part is that it was a built-in crowd — we didn’t have to work to get the customers IN the door as they were all ready for a beer, we just had to keep their attention long enough that they’d hopefully buy another… We had a couple hundred people in the beer tent, dancing and having a good time, when out of the corner of my eye I saw our singer drop the microphone and jump off stage. My eye followed the motion, and in an instant I realized Dagmar had passed out — she was on the ground, slumped in a heap, just to the side of the dance area. She was in danger of getting tromped on by about fifteen half-drunk concert-goers who were oblivious to the unconscious lady in the shadow… By the time I got there, seconds after the singer got to her, she was sitting up, blinking. “I didn’t feel so good,” she said.

I remember a neurologist looking at the results of an MRI, asking Dagmar, “Do you often have migraines?” Dagmar shook her head and replied, “No, I just get a little headache every vunce in a while, but I don’t have major pain.” The neurologist gaped at her. “No,” he said, “you have migraines. You have migraines so bad they’ve scarred part of your brain…” Dagmar looked at me, “Vell, these headaches, they don’t hurt as bad as my tummy,” she said.

Vignettes. Little snapshots.

I remember the story she told coming out of anesthesia, half in English and half in German, about a princess taking a red rose to a castle. I remember a few days after she told me the story about the princess she collapsed while being discharged from the hospital.

I remember spending our first anniversary in the hospital as she recovered from cellulitis in her face, most likely caused from an infection from the surgery. I sat up for 22 hours straight, watching her. I remember waking up in the middle of the night on a chair in the hospital, wondering what all the noise was. “I can’t believe you slept through that,” the nurse told me. “Your wife nearly died. It’s a good thing she pushed the ‘call’ button or her blood pressure would have kept dropping… It took us five minutes to pull her back. And you slept through it all…”

I remember how happy she was when she found out she was carrying, and how utterly crushed she was when the miscarriage happened. Horrible, wracking sobs… This happened four more times in the coming years. Sobs each time.

Vignettes. Little snapshots of life.

“You go ahead,” she told me. “I’m not feeling very well again.”

I remember when they removed her first ovary (you can read that story HERE). By that time she’d had so many surgeries that the scar tissue in her abdomen was pulling her internal organs out of place. They were supposed to take a cyst from her right ovary, but when they got in there, her right ovary was fine. “We started looking around,” the surgeon told me later, “and it turned out that the cyst was on her left ovary the whole time. But we thought it was on her right ovary because both ovaries were on the same side — the left was behind the right one.”

I remember when they had to go in to remove a blood clot.

I remember when she started bleeding from her navel one day. Oddly, it didn’t surprise me.

I remember being terrified that they’d have to remove her remaining ovary. “I can’t have kids,” Dagmar said, “but vhat scares me is dat the doctor told me if I had one more operation they’d have to remove my bowel. I don’t vant a colostomy bag…” When they did do the hysterectomy they had a special surgeon there whose main job was to pull out her intestines and cut off the adhesions and scar tissue. I remember being very relieved when they said they got her all put back together with no colostomy bag problems…

It all blurs together after a while. Which hospital were we in for what operation? Which illness happened when? Does it really matter? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and carry on… Dagmar smiled and took food to other people in the hospital on her way home from work, refusing to show her own illness. I worked as hard as I could, constantly afraid of not being able to make the bills.

“I’ve never seen such a bad sinus infection,” the doctor said. “There must be some reason she keeps getting these.”

A few months later, “this is the third time she’s had pneumonia,” the doctor said. “There must be some reason for this.”

Through it all, Dagmar would do her level best not to show any pain. “Vhy should I moan about it?” she asked. “Udder people die. Me? I’m just sick all the time.” We’d go out and see friends and she’d be as bubbly and happy as she was in 2000 when we met, flitting around the room, beaming her smile at whomever was lucky enough to be there. Then when we’d get in the car, “I don’t feel so good.” The smile would still be there, but it would be strained, her green eyes a little unfocused. The next day she’d stay in bed.

I remember coming home from work and finding her on the floor, writhing in pain. “It’s just a kidney stone,” she said through clenched teeth. “I get these every once in a while.” A pause while she gasped for breath. “A couple more hours and it’ll be over.”

We took her to the emergency room for kidney stones once. She spent seven hours curled up in the fetal position on a cot while we waited for a doctor. Not only would the nurses not give her any aspirin, but they wouldn’t let Dagmar take the aspirin she brought herself. She finally went to the restroom and passed the stone on her own. A week later the hospital sent us a bill.

So we didn’t go to the hospital for kidney stones any more.

I remember. I remember hearing her crying quietly into her pillow at night, trying not to wake me. “Vhat can you do?” she asked. “Why should I wake you. It’s just pain. I vish it would go away, but there’s nothing you can do. Now you go back to bed. It’s just those cramps again.” She held her side and rolled over, a small trail of blood coming from her belly-button.

I remember the doctor saying, after looking at Dagmar for five minutes, “Really, she’s in good shape. We don’t know why she’s having all these problems.”

One doctor said it was her gall bladder after looking at Dagmar for five minutes, so that came out. (That was in 2002, the surgery that caused the cellulitis in her face — we think that operation is the one that led to the current problem.)

One doctor diagnosed her as having polycystic ovarian syndrome after looking at her for five minutes and said that was causing all the problems. Once she had no ovaries, well…

Celiac’s Disease. Crohn’s. Massive sinus infection. Let’s do more tests… Are you SURE these are your symptoms? What’s with the rash?

The last year has been difficult. Dagmar was ill more and more often, and more severe cramping. “I have pains in my arms und legs now,” she told me a few months ago. “I feel like someone punched me in the gut.” Oddly, the dark circles under her eyes accented the green, making her Gypsy visage the more mysterious. “It feels like I have weights on my arms und legs.” All I could do was bring her tea, tuck the blanket around her, and make sure the ever-present barf bucket was close at hand.

“Does she have Celiac’s Disease?” I asked the doctor during the five minutes we were allowed to see him. He shook his head. “No, that’s not it,” he said. A week later we were back in his office again for another five-minute visit. “I think she might have Celiac’s Disease,” the doctor told us. We went shopping and spent most of our remaining moolah on gluten-free food, a requirement for Celiac sufferers. A week later, “It’s not Celiac’s Disease,” the doctor told me on the phone.

A few days later, “I don’t think I can go to verk today,” she said. “I’m really feeling pretty bad.” We went to the doctor for more tests later that day. I cornered the head nurse. “Look,” I said, “something’s gotta happen. We can’t live like this. She’s been sick for EIGHT YEARS, dammit! You’ve been treating her for two years. If you guys can’t find the problem in two years, send us to someone who can!” That’s when we got the referral to go to the Mayo Clinic. To be honest, I think the doctor had already come to that conclusion anyway, but it made me feel better to harangue the nurse…

So we took Fruitloop the Diabetic Cat to my more-or-less-brother-in-law and sister’s house and taught them how to give a cat a shot, packed up the dog, and headed to Minnesota.

Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic, looked startlingly like… Well, like a town. We pulled into the Super 8. Dagmar checked in while I started loading our stuff on the rickety little cart they provided, Zoey-dog looking on in dogged amusement. I was just adjusting the last bag on the cart when Dagmar came back out with two little key-cards. “Ve haf a room on the third floor, but we have to be out by noon Thursday.”

Walkway in Rochester, MN

A walkway between two of the Mayo’s buildings

“That’s not gonna work,” I said. “On the phone they said we could reserve the room for two days, then extend the reservation as much as we need.”

“I know, but they say there’s an antique convention in town this veekend and all the hotel rooms in town are all full.”

I started to get angry. We went up to our room. I got more angry. “This doesn’t look anything like the picture they showed on the Internet,” I hollered. “This is NOT going to work!” I’d brought pretty much my entire office with me, under the impression that the hotel room would have a desk upon which to put my computer and two monitors. “Where’s the desk?” I demanded. I looked out the window. A fine view of a parking lot under construction backed by a factory of some sort. The only thing that made the jackhammering bearable was that it was being drowned out by the factory noise. “I need a desk, dammit. Their website clearly indicated a desk!”

Dagmar pointed to the little end table next to the bed. “Vell, if you push that little bitty table over by the tiny refrigerator and put the two of them together…” her voice trailed off as she looked at my face. “Maybe I should go downstairs und see if they have a different room.”

By the time she got back, I’d calmed down. But she was successful, and we moved across the hall to a different room — one with a slightly larger table. “It’ll work,” I said sheepishly. Dagmar had ridden the entire way from Sioux City to Rochester unable to lay her car seat back because I’d insisted on taking my computer and hadn’t complained. Here I am, stomping and fuming about minor annoyances when she’s in pain… A look at her face confirmed that she was, indeed, hurting. “Why don’t you lay down, Schnook?” But she wouldn’t — not until the clothes were unpacked and put away, the dog walked, and the mini-fridge stocked.

Up at 5:30 the next morning, showered, and off to the clinic… We left the room early as we weren’t real sure where we were going — only to find that the hotel had an hourly shuttle bus to and from the Mayo. Convenient! We boarded the 6:35 bus and were dropped off at the Clinic about ten minutes later.


The Mayo Clinic's main entrance

The Mayo Clinic’s main entrance

The Mayo is not one building. We were supposed to check in at the Gonda Building, then use the “subway,” a series of tunnels, to walk from Gonda through the Mayo, under the street through the Hilton, through the Guggenheim, past Harwick to the Baldwin Building. The check-in process took, literally, thirty seconds. We walked up to a desk that looked like the front desk at a classy hotel, or maybe a fancy airport, Dagmar showed her ID, the lady handed her a packet and said, “Here’s your schedule of tests. You meet with the doctor at 8:30, then you’ll go to…”

The May Clinic's Gonda Building

The foyer of the Gonda Building

The whole time the lady was talking, I was gawking. I’ve never seen so much marble. We went down the steps to the subway and found ourselves in a three-story lobby complete with a grand piano… That’s the way the whole clinic was — at one time I found myself complaining about how the artwork hanging in the hallway looked like a cheap Warhol ripoff, only to peek at the sign and learn that it WAS a Warhol…

We made our way through the maze with a minimum of woes and found ourselves on the fifth floor of the Baldwin Building. We sat in the waiting room until the pager they gave us started buzzing, at which time we were ushered into an examination room.

You know how the little exam rooms are… One, maybe two chairs, a table for the patient to be undignified upon, a sink and a small desk with a box of Kleenex where the doctor writes his prescriptions… This room was not like that at all. There was a couch (or loveseat), a couple nice chairs, a computer…

The doctor came in, dressed in suit and tie, and shook our hands. He went through Dagmar’s history, bit by bit, gave her an examination, and after TWO HOURS started to methodically order tests and appointments. Two hours with a doctor! I’ve always considered myself lucky if I could get ten minutes’ time. It turns out that the standard is for doctors to get paid according to how many patients they see in a day, which means that they try to rush through as many people as possible. At the Mayo Clinic, however, they pay the doctors a salary — thus encouraging them to actually spend time with the patients.

The Mayo's chapel


A novel approach indeed!

The next days were a bit of a blur. Back and forth from hotel to Clinic, seeing various doctors, getting assorted tests… On Friday Dagmar had a series of biopsies. A gastrointernetologist had narrowed most of Dagmar’s symptoms down to problems in four categories. The biopsy would give us the final answer.

We were in the 9th floor of the Gonda Building, I think. Dagmar’s little pager buzzed, I gave her a quick kiss and watched her follow the nurse back into the “procedure rooms” for the biopsy, holding her belly where the cramps were. Three or four hours later, my Alpine Snowflake was back, getting out of a wheelchair, smiling at me. “Ve can go home now,” she said. “Back to the hotel, ve take a nap, und in the morning we go home. They’ll call us Monday with the results.”

The trip home went quickly. We’ve lived here for nearly ten years, and have never been gone for five days before, except for one vacation we were gone six days. It felt strange, coming home. We unpacked, Dagmar put on her comfy jammies and went to bed. “I hate to say it,” she said, “but it still really hurts where they took the biopsy.” They’d put her under, then went down her throat, snipping bits of her esophagus, stomach, and small intestine for testing. Those tests would tell us if it was Celiac’s Disease or some other problem.

Today the results came in.

Dagmar Kopacs-Radloff at the Mayo Clinic

Dagmar at the Mayo

Dagmar has had West Nile disease for the last few months, but that’s not the main issue. The muscle aches are caused by a Vitamin D deficiency, which can be remedied with a simple dietary supplement. But the BIG thing is the abdominal distress she’s been suffering for eight years… The biopsy showed that she has a bacterial infection with severe and prolonged bacterial overgrowth. There’s a fancy word for it that escapes me at the moment, but basically she’s had an infection in her small intestine for the last decade. It’s been getting progressively worse and worse, making her sicker and sicker until the past few months when she started having problems digesting food — thus leading to fatigue and various vitamin deficiencies. A month, maybe six weeks on a couple antibiotics and an illness that’s been plaguing her for a decade will be over, and I’ll have my happy wife back! (They say this is a very aggressive bacteria, but I’m optimistic that the antibiotics will work.)

I can’t imagine having an infection for more than a few months, but the doctor said that with the amount of infection she’s got, it’s been going on for years, possibly decades, wearing her out, making her sick, making her more prone to catch other illnesses (the pneumonia, for example).

But this is it. It’s over. I truly believe this is the end. The illness is done. My wife is back!


Edit, 8 May 2016 – Nearly eight years later I’m re-reading this post. It’s hard to believe how optimistic we were back then… Since this post was written so much more has happened; Dagmar is now disabled, needs oxygen, can only walk a few yards even with her walker, has seizures, and is still very ill nearly one-hundred percent of the time. It’s hard to imagine now that there was a time she was healthy enough to travel so far as the Mayo, then be able to actually walk through the halls. The bacterial overgrowth has been taken care of, but the disease that caused it remains – Common Variable ImmunoDeficiency – and is causing so many more problems…

Happy Anniversary!

First words

I still remember the first words I heard Dagmar, the love of my life, say.

It was the Fourth of July weekend in 2000. On my way home from a gig at 3:30 in the morning I happened to go past a buddy’s apartment. I was anxious to get home as I’d just bought my first house earlier that week. But I could see lights on and people sitting on his balcony, and I was still all wound up from the gig, so pulled my car around the corner and stopped, thinking to have a beer before heading home to my new house. I got my 130 pound carcass out of the car and headed up the street, still sweaty and grimy from hauling speakers, my hair blowing in the wind. As I neared the apartment I could see all my friends up there waving at me, and I heard a magical voice, accented with the mystery of far-off lands, say from the balcony:

“Who is dat homeless drug addict und vhy are you all vaving at him?”

First Impressions

A few minutes later I was sitting on the balcony enjoying the company of my friends. It turns out they were sipping beer, having a going-away party of sorts for one of our group, enjoying the summer air. “Oh, Chris, this is Dagmar. You know her, don’t you?”

“No, we’ve never met,” I replied, nodding across the length of the balcony to the woman with the accent. “I’ve heard of you, though.” We’d been running with the same circle of friends for six months, but had never seen each other in person. When I would show up at a gathering, someone would invariably say, “Oh, Dagmar just left, you should meet her sometime.” At the moment, the mysterious Dagmar was sitting in a puddle of shadow. And, it seemed, a puddle of water. “Are you wet?” I asked.

“Ja. I jumped into de fountain at dat fancy restaurant across de river.” I laughed and sat back to listen to the conversation meander around me. The group had gone out to eat as part of the going -away party and Dagmar thought the restaurant was too stuffy and pretentious so she took a dip in their fountain… After a while the party moved from the balcony into the living room. I found myself chatting with Dagmar and playing Trivial Pursuit (they didn’t give me credit for knowing where the pituitary gland is, which made me mad). Within minutes I fell asleep on the couch, letting the party wind down around me.

Our first impressions? It wasn’t love at first sight… Until she saw me close up she thought I was a homeless drug addict, then all I did was fall asleep on the couch (a talent I hold to this day — you show me a couch and I’ll show you how to sleep on it).

The First Date

I’d bought my Little House in the Hood in June, and took possession of it on July 1st. I met Dagmar just a few days later, on the Fourth of July. I was planning to have a House Warming Party the following weekend. Every house needs to have something spilled on the carpet before it’s truly a home, you know.

“Dude, you gotta bring that Dagwood lady with you,” I told my friend a few days before my party. “I met her at your house, you MUST know how to get in touch with her somehow.”

“Dagmar. Her name’s Dagmar, not Dagwood.” My friend leaned back, sipping on his Guinness. “I can try to bring her, but I can’t guarantee anything.”

I reached in my pocket. “Ten bucks. That’s all I have.”

“She’ll be there.”

True to his word, my buddy brought Dagmar to the party. I somehow made sure to wrangle her a seat next to me at our impromptu jam session in the basement. We finally got to talk. I called her “Dagwood” three times.

The next week she started gradually moving stuff in.

The Negotiations

For the next three months or so Dagmar and I held negotiations. “Vhat kind of relationship are you lookink for?” she would ask me. We’d talk about that for a while. “What kind of music do you like?” I’d ask. We’d talk about that for a while.

Both of us were in our thirties. Both of us had been burned before. I was just coming out of a two-year-long depression caused (I think) by the messy end of a bad long-term relationship. Dagmar had just gotten back from a few years in Europe, where she had a bad experience of her own. We were both healing, but still feeling vulnerable…

“Religion’s next on the list. Strong views?”

So we negotiated. Was I ready for a relationship? Did she want one? What are the deal-breakers? Are we compatible? We did NOT dive into the relationship head-first, but rather waded into it with small, precise steps.

“Children. Do you vant children?”

Every question was impetus for a week-long discussion… By the end of three months, we were sure.

The Proposal

We were sitting on the Couch of Many Negotiations one night, watching the kitten chase invisible monsters across the room, when Dagmar suddenly got up and got something out of her purse. “Look at dis,” she said, handing me a box. “It’s been in my family for nearly a hundred years. Or sixty. Whatever, a long time.”

I opened the box and saw a simple, elegant, exquisite lady’s diamond ring. Very classy! “Very classy!” I said, admiring the ring. I put it back in the box and started to hand it back to Dagmar. She quickly stood up and looked the other way, not taking the box.

“You just keep dat for now,” she said. “Und any time you might vant to give it back to me, I’d be villing to take it…”

Oh. OH! Oh…

Two months later, “Vhere is dat ring? It’s not in any of your normal hiding places.” She picked up a stein from the shelf and peered into it. “Vhat are you doing with that ring?” I sat on the Couch of Many Negotiations and smiled.

“I thought you were peeking!” I said. “Now I know. Just never you mind what I’m doing with the ring. Put the stein down, it’s not in there.”

Two months later yet, “Are you nervous?” Dagmar asked me, kissing me on the nose.

“Yeah, I am!” I answered. We were backstage at the community theater. I was just moments from going onstage as half of a two-man show. “I’m nervous.” The show had just two actors, but there were fourteen characters. So me and my buddy Ross each had to play seven different characters, half of which were women. What this meant was that while one guy was onstage delivering a soliloquy the other was backstage changing costumes. Which means I had Dagmar backstage with me, helping me with the twenty-second costume changes. (And they were odd costumes indeed — for one character I needed to switch from blue jeans, T-shirt and bandana to wearing falsies, wig, dress and combat boots.) Dagmar peeked through a crack in the curtain. “Vhy are all our family and friends here at the same time?” she asked. “Almost everyone ve know is out there in the audience…”

The stage lights came up. Time to get moving… My first character was a cowboy…

An hour and a half (and uncounted costume changes) later I staggered offstage for the last time of the night. “You guys did vunderful!” Dagmar said. “It vas a great show!” The audience was still applauding.

“Yep, time to go do our bow,” I said, grabbing her hand. “Come on, let’s go.” The actors went on first, so Ross and myself went to center stage and bowed, then we gestured at the wings and our costumers came out and we all bowed together. The audience kept clapping.

“We have one more announcement,” said Ross, quieting the crowd down. “Here,” he said to me, sotto voce, passing a small box to me behind his back. I took the box, opened it, and motioned to Dagmar to join me center stage in the spotlight. “Honey, will you… wait, don’t pass out. Will you…” She looked at me with big eyes. “I asked your mama, she said it’s okay…” Dagmar numbly nodded, tears in her eyes. The crowd, mostly family and friends, went wild.

The Wedding

“I don’t want a church wedding,” I said. “Me not either,” agreed Dagmar. Over a period of weeks our wedding plans fell into place. We were gonna get hitched in the park.

The day of the wedding, August 11th, broke sunny and warm. I put on my black leather pants (that was the last day I ever squeezed my fat @ss into THOSE pants) and white shirt and got on my motorcycle and headed to the park. I got there before lunch, plenty of time… My parents and Dagmar’s mother had been there already, decorating and primping the place. I found the box I was looking for sitting in a corner under a bush. In the box were toys. Kites, frisbees, little nerf balls… I figgered if it was my wedding I wanted to have fun! So I spent the early afternoon in the park, flying a kite.

People started showing up. The Americans spoke English, the Austrians not so much, but they all understood, “The keg is over there and the toys are over here. Have fun!” Dagmar arrived, resplendent in the red dress my sister chose for her. We spent an hour or so getting our photos taken, then we called everyone together for the dinner. A fried chicken picnic in the park.

After we ate, we all went around the corner of the building to sit on the hill by the pond. My buddy Bryan started playing his guitar and the hitchin’ ceremony started. We had the whole ceremony translated into German as Dagmar’s family were all there. I’d written my vows in English, had them translated into German, and memorized them so I could vow myself auf Deutsch. Dagmar’s cousins grabbed a guitar and sang a wedding song in German.

The ceremony happened at sunset on a perfect night in front of a lake… The photo is really the way it was! That’s not a backdrop, that’s really real.

What you can’t see in the picture, though, is that there are train tracks just a half mile away. Not one but THREE trains went past while we were in the middle of the ceremony, blowing their whistles. I didn’t hear ’em at the time, but that’s one of the things everyone remembers about the wedding… I remember crying, seeing Dagmar cry, watching our friends all light candles on the hillside…

After the hitchin’ ceremony was over, we all went around to the other side of the building where my band was all set up and ready to play. We had a belly-dancer and a blues band — it was a good wedding!

That was all in 2001. Since then we’ve gone through a lot — a few medical procedures, a couple arguments, band changes, job changes, stress, and money woes… But what I remember most is that I’m not alone! We’re in this together, and we laugh a LOT, Dagmar and I. The world is a much more comfortable place knowing Dagmar’s with me. I’m not scared much about anything, ’cause she’s tough and she’s MY friend! She’s taught me how to like myself, how to give to others, how to smile with my soul rather than just my face, and how to trust. I owe her a lot.

Love you much, Snookums! Happy anniversary!

Thoughts About Dagmar’s Surgery ‘n Stuff

The Procedure

Why they want you there so early is beyond me. If you’re gonna have an operation, wouldn’t it be better for you to have a full night’s sleep the night before? I guess not… Dagmar had to be there at 5:30 a.m. (For you military types, that’s 0530 oo-RAH, prime @ss-kickin’ time. For Republicans it’s time to get to work repressing the working class. For Democrats its, like, man, that’s like really early and stuff. For Libertarians, that’s when Mickey’s big hand is on the five and his little hand is on the six… In any case, it’s like, man, really early and stuff…)

“Vhat time is it?” she asked me blearily, one eye open. “Vhat are you doing up?” (Her Austrian accent is always stronger when she’s sleepy. Sometimes she mixes German and English together, which is always kinda funny sounding. Germish.)

“It’s four in the morning,” I answered, rubbing my eyes. “If we’re gonna get you to the hospital in time I’d better get in the shower and start packing.”

“You shower. I schlaf.” With that she rolled over and started snoring.

By quarter after five everything was packed and in the car, and off we went to the St. Luke’s, the smaller of the two hospitals in Sioux City. “Why did you pick St. Luke’s, anyway?” I asked Dagmar. “I thought after that time you sat in the emergency room for eight hours before anyone saw you that we decided we were going to go to the other hospital.” Dagmar had a kidney stone a few years ago. I ran her to the emergency room, where she sat curled up on the floor for over eight hours before she passed the stone on her own without any medication. Yes, they sent us a bill, even though she didn’t get so much as an aspirin.

“Yeah,” she said. “I know. But my mama used to work at St. Luke’s, und I know people there. Dey have nicer rooms.”

We pulled into the parking lot. I dropped her off at the door, parked the car, and met her at the front desk. The lady at the front desk was really nice and ushered us into a “prep room” or some such thing where Dagmar had to put on the little half robe. A nurse came in and very nicely explained what was going to happen. Another came in a few minutes later and poked Dagmar’s arm with an IV. Shortly after that yet another nurse came in and asked a bunch of questions.

“Boy, it’s sure going quick,” Dagmar said to me after the third nurse left. “I can’t believe they got the IV in so easy — usually dey have to poke around for a long time.” Dagmar has notoriously small veins in her arms. Last time they had to give her an IV they were eying her ankles… “Everyting’s going so vell!”

About that time the anesthesi… anisthes… drug doctor came in. “Hello, how are we doing today?”

Dagmar has adverse reactions to almost every painkiller known to science, so she learned long ago it’s best to simply hand the anesthesiologist the form the LAST anesthesiologist used. That way she knows it’s gonna work. “Here,” Dagmar said. “This is vhat verks for me. Und can I maybe have an epidural?” The doctor was agreeable to that. “Sure,” he said. “We’ll give you an epidural, then we’ll give you a real light dose of the general anesthetic. You won’t feel a thing.” He patted Dagmar paternally on the head and left.

“Gosh, I hope I don’t feel anyting,” Dagmar said, laying in the little bed. “I don’t vant to remember the pain.” Dagmar’s mother, Kriemhild (or Mama K), came in. “Hello, Mama! The nurses and doctors here sure are nice!”

They chatted a few minutes, Dagmar and Mama K. Then a nurse came in. “It’s time to go,” she said, grabbing Dagmar’s little trolley-bed and dragging it out the door. “Everything will be okay.” Mama K and I followed into the hall and watched our beloved get wheeled towards the operating room. I could hear Dagmar’s voice as she rode her little bed-trolley through the doors at the end of the hall, “You’re a nice nurse. I’ve never had an epidural. Vill I remember de operation? I don’t vant to remember… What pretty blue outfits you all have! Vhat’s dat machine for?”

Mama K and I stood there for a moment, then went back to the waiting room to start The Wait.

“So far so good,” I said to Mama K as we sat down. “The nurses were nice, the doctor was nice, they got her IV in on the first try – this is going really well.”

“Ya, I haf a good feelink about dis,” answered my mother-in-law. “She’s in good hands. Did dey say how long this vill take?”

“Forty minutes is the guesstimate,” I said. Mama K pulled out her Bible, opened it to the bookmark and proceeded to stare at it. I could tell she wasn’t reading the passage, but it gave her something to look at. I sat with her for a few minutes, then said, “I have to go home to give our diabetic cat his shot. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” Mama K nodded and smiled.

I zipped home, shot the cat, and was indeed back in my Waiting Chair within fifteen minutes. I sat and stared at a magazine while Mama K sat and stared at her Bible. A few minutes later my mother arrived to help us wait. We talked.

The forty minute mark went by. We started to look at the door more and more often, hoping to see a nurse or doctor with news. We chatted.

After fifty minutes I was pacing back and forth between my chair and the door. We chatted.

After an hour we quit chatting and spent our time staring at the door, willing a nurse to come and tell us what’s going on.

I think it was around the eighty minute mark that the nurse finally came through the door. “Dagmar’s in recovery,” she said. “She’s doing fine. The doctor will meet with you in this tiny little room over here.” She led us to the tiny little room, where the three of us sat for another five minutes waiting for the doctor.

The funny things about small rooms is that they hold the tension in very well. There’s nowhere for it to go.

The doctor finally came in, a tall confident lady with black hair. “Hi, I’m the doctor,” she said. “Everything went well.” We all relaxed a bit. The doctor continued, “I made the incision here,” she traced an invisible line on her abdomen from hipbone to hipbone, “but as soon as I opened her up I could see things were out of place — nothing was where it was supposed to be. We were prepared for that.” (Dagmar’s last surgeon found her left ovary behind her right one.) “I had another surgeon in the room to handle that, and we did end up calling in a third surgeon as well to handle the bowel. He had to cut through a lot of scar tissue and adhesions from her other operations. We found Dagmar’s uterus tangled up in her intestines and removed that, and she had a cyst the size of an orange or small grapefruit on her ovary. We got that out. Dagmar also had endometriosis, an ovarian infection that causes a lot of, well, sticky stuff. We cleaned that up best we could, put her bowel back in, and stapled her all together.”

Day One, Thursday. The Incompetence Begins.

The doctor looked at us as we sat in the tiny room. “She must have been in a LOT of pain for a long time. She’ll feel a lot better now. Her ovary and uterus had to come out. It was time.” We asked a few questions, mostly out of nervous energy, then the doctor left.

“Vell, dat’s good news!” Mama K said, standing up.

“Yes, it sounds like everything’s going to be okay,” said my mother as we made our way into the hall.

“She’s getting such good care,” said Mama K, holding her Bible. “Everyone’s been so good here.”

“Where do we go now?” I asked, eager to see my little Austrian Snickerdoodle. No one knew. I went to the front desk. “Excuse me,” I said. “My wife just got out of surgery. Do you know what room she’s going to be in?”

The lady glanced up at me, seemingly annoyed. “Fourth floor.”

“Where on fourth floor?” I asked. “How do I get there?”

“Just go up to the fourth floor.” she said, eyes glued on her computer monitor. I had the feeling she was playing solitaire.

I shrugged, went back to my mother and mother-in-law, and we just sort of wandered through the hospital looking for an elevator. We eventually found one and got to the fourth floor. “Oncology,” read the sign on the wall on the fourth floor. The cancer ward. We three looked at the sign. “No one said anything about cancer,” I said. “Why is she in the cancer ward?” We stood there for a moment, looking down both halls for a nurse’s station, or even someone who looked like they knew where they were going. “Let’s go this way,” I said, wishing I had brought some bread crumbs along with which to leave a trail through the maze. “No one said anything about cancer…”

We found a nurse’s station about six miles down the hall. There was a big marker board on the wall with a lot of names on it and scary symbols. “Hi,” I said to the lady at the desk, leaving my mother and Mama K to chat. “My wife just had a hysterectomy. They told us she’d be up here…?”

“If she had a hysterectomy, why would she be up here?” the nurse asked. “This is oncology.”

“I know, I saw the sign. But the lady in the waiting room told us to come here.”

“This is oncology,” the nurse repeated. “Hysterectomies are on the second floor.” A movement over her shoulder caught my attention. It was another nurse writing something on the marker board — “Dagmar, rm 421, gyno rcvry.” I looked at the first nurse. “That’s my wife there on the board,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, sometimes they bring people up here to oncology from gynecology if we have extra room. They’ll bring her after she’s done in recovery.”

“If you knew that, why didn’t you believe me when I said my wife was here?”

“This is oncology,” she repeated. I started to get the impression that the lady just learned that word and was trying to show off. “We’re oncology.”

I went back to Ma and Mama K. “This is oncology,” I said. “She’ll be in room 421. Don’t talk to that nurse.”

Room 421 ended up being another three miles down the hall on the left. But geeze, what a room! I’ve seen hotel rooms worse than this. A private bathroom with a shower, a place for Dagmar’s little trolley-bed to go when they brought her up, a desk, a couch with a hide-a-bed, a rocking chair, an easy-boy, and a TV with static. The view was great, too, overlooking a scenic park.

St. Luke's Hospital Room

Classy Digs!

“Vow!” said Mama K.

“This is nice!” said my mother.

We all kinda stood there for a few seconds, wondering how long it would take Dagmar to get out of recovery. I mean, she had an epidural with just a light anesthetic, so it shouldn’t take too… “Here she is!” I said as the nurse wheeled the little bed-trolley into place. We all gathered around to peek at Dagmar. “Hi everbuddy,” she said, looking up at us. “Is it done?”

“It’s done!” I said. Mama K chimed in, “You’re avake! You look fantastic!”

You know, it always breaks your heart to see someone you love come out of surgery — no matter how good they look. Dagmar was a very small lump under the blanket. She was pale and shaky. She had an oxygen tube stuck in her nose. There were all sorts of tubes coming out from under the blankets. An IV stand with three bags. But she was smiling! She was smiling. Everything’s good when Dagmar smiles.

“It doesn’t hurt,” she said. “I’m awfully tired… Ich glaube I sleep. Schlaf.” Her voice trailed off as she fell asleep.

The doctor came in. Dagmar said she was feeling pretty weak. The doctor lady looked at Dagmar’s belly. “It all looks good,” she said, “but we did have to play with your intestines quite a bit. I want you to take it slow. Don’t move too much, just concentrate on healing. Take things slow. You’ll probably be here until Monday or Tuesday, and that’s fine. We don’t want to push things too quickly.” She smiled reassuringly and left.

Dagmar napped on and off throughout the morning. My mother went back home. Mama K and I would read quietly when Dagmar slept, and we’d chat with her when she was awake. Most of the time when you’re in the hospital there are always people coming and going, taking blood, checking things… But we were pretty much left alone until after lunch.

“Okay, I need you to sit up,” the nurse told Dagmar. “You need to start moving. The more you move, the quicker you heal.” The nurse started fumbling around with Dagmar’s bed.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked. “She just got out of surgery six hours ago.” Mama K looked on in concern.

“Yes, she needs to get up,” the nurse said without looking up.

“I get up,” said Dagmar. I held the IV cords out of the way as Mama K helped Dagmar struggled to sit up. The nurse watched. “Hoo boy,” said Dagmar, sitting on the edge of the bed, “I think I might need a bucket. The vorld is spinning.”

“Here’s a bag if you get sick,” the nurse said, handing Dagmar a baggie. “Now get up.”

“No, I need to sit here a minute. Dis is too fast.”

“We need to get you moving. Get up.”

“No. I’ll pass out. No.”

“Get up.”


Mama K and I both took a step closer to the nurse. We want to follow authority. The nurse represents the medical community, after all. What she ways must be true. But there’s Dagmar in pain and misery. Do we defend our loved one? Do we defy authority? Or do we assume the nurse knows what she’s talking about? But the doctor said to take things slowly. In other words, do I punch the nurse or not?

Dagmar solved the dilemma for us by simply laying back down. “I’m not getting up yet. Give me a minute. I’ll try in a few minutes.” The nurse, sensing defeat, left without a word, her mouth set so tight I could swear her lips disappeared.

Ambulatory Patient

Dagmar and Mama K Walking the Halls

True to her word, Dagmar tried to sit up again just a few minutes later. After sitting for a bit, we untangled her IV and various other tubes and helped her stand up and walk around. Out the door and up the hall twenty feet, then back to the little trolley-bed. Dagmar was asleep again as soon as she was in bed.

The afternoon continued and drifted into evening. Dagmar snoozed and woke and snoozed again. I went home and gave the cat his evening shot and grabbed my iMac and went back to the hospital. Mama K went home to take a nap. I set my computer up on the desk and logged into the hospital’s complimentary wireless network and got caught up on some work in the minutes Dagmar snoozed. She was spending much more time awake than asleep now.

I learned that you can’t really sleep on a hide-a-bed.

Day Two, Friday. The Incompetence Continues.

“It hurts more today,” Dagmar said. She still had the needle in her back for the epidural, so the medication she was getting there was helping the pain in her abdomen, but you could tell she was hurting.

“Is it your incision that hurts?” I asked her.

“No, it’s my IV und my catheter. I vish I didn’t need them.” Unfortunately, though, if you have an epidural you need a catheter.

The morning and afternoon were spent with Dagmar taking small walks up and down the hallway and chatting with her mama. When she would nap I would get a few minutes work done on my computer — I had two newsletters from work to typeset and design somehow. Every time a nurse came in Dagmar would mention her IV and catheter, but all they said was, “you just keep walking as much as you can.” Once a specialist came in to look at the IV. She moved it to the other arm.

I went home to give the cat his shot that evening and lay down on the couch to get a nap. Dagmar and her mother both encouraged me to get some sleep, so I did. Much to my horrification I slept until five the next morning! I got up, sprinted through the shower, shot the cat again and ran to the hospital.

Day 3, Saturday. Incompetence Intensified.

Miserably guilty that I’d fallen asleep at home whilst Mama K was watching Dagmar in the hospital, I ran down the fourth floor hall to get to her room as soon as I could. I knew I shouldn’t have tried to take a “two hour” nap! Dammit dammit dammit. I swooshed past the nurse’s station, thinking I was a failure for abandoning my wife for the night. I skidded to a stop in front of her hospital room door and peeked in. I could tell immediately that something was wrong . Dagmar’s face was pale. She had a self-absorbed, inward look, as if she was battling something inside. The IV was gone. Mama K was sitting on the edge of the chair by Dagmar’s bed. I could see she was on the verge of exhaustion; worry written on her face. It was five in the morning.

“What happened?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

“It vas a rough night,” Mama K answered. “Dey took her IV und catheter out.”

“Why?” I asked, gazing at Dagmar, tugging a little on her toe. “They said they were going to leave that in until Monday. This is only Saturday morning!”

“It vas time,” Mama K said. “Daggie’s vein in her arm perforated. Dey never flushed the IV like they vere supposed to. So they had to take the IV out early.”

“What about the catheter?” I asked. “I know Dagmar was complaining about it hurting yesterday.”

Mama K looked at me. “Those nurses, they vere supposed to clean it every few hours, und they never vunce did. They never cleaned it! Now it has to come out, even though Dagmar’s not ready for that yet.”

“You’re kidding me!” I said.

“De grumpy night nurse said it vasn’t her job,” Mama K continued. “I asked her whose job it is, but she just left und said it vasn’t her fault.”

Just then Dagmar stirred, reaching over to hit the “call” button on her bed, sweat beaded on her forehead. “Yes?” came a voice from the speaker.

“I’m really in a lot of pain,” Dagmar said. “Can I have my ibuprofen, please?” The nurse on the other end never answered but rather just hung up. Click. That’s standard operating procedure at St. Luke’s, I guess — I never once heard them do anything but hang up on Dagmar when she hit the call button. Dagmar closed her eyes again.

“They took her epidural out vhen they took her IV,” said Mama K. “She hasn’t had any pain medication since before midnight. It’s been six hours. She’s been asking for ibuprofen or aspirin ever since und dey just ignore her.”

“You’re kidding me!” I said, sitting down. I started mulling through my options. My first instinct was to go to the nurse’s station and start choking people until someone got the hint and helped my wife. My second thought was to get her the hell out of this hospital and go to Mercy Medical across town. My third thought was that choking someone really sounded pretty good.

My ruminations were interrupted by the door opening. An elderly nurse walked in. No knock or anything… I say “elderly,” but she was probably only in her fifties — but she wore old-school hair, old-school clothes, and an old-school attitude. She looked like an unhappy prune. “What do you want now?” she asked Dagmar in a snitty tone.

“I vant some ibuprofen, please,” Dagmar said. “It’s been over six hours and I haven’t had any painkillers und it hurts.”

“I told you when I took the IV out that this would happen. You should have left the epidural in.”

“If you vood have taken care of her IV and catheter like you were supposed to, she’d still have the epidural,” said Mama K.

“I’ll go see if you’re allowed medication,” Nurse Prune said as she left. “Allowed medication?” I thought to myself. “It’s over-the-counter ibuprofen. Allowed?”

Dagmar sunk back into herself. I could see her utilizing her pain management techniques. At this point I should probably mention that Dagmar is NOT a wimp. A few years ago she had to have her head scanned for a different ailment. “How long have you had these migraines?” the doctor asked at that time. “Oh, I don’t have migraines. Vunce in a vhile I get a liddle headache, but nothing bad,” Dagmar told him. The doctor gaped at her. “No, you don’t understand. You have migraines so bad they’ve left scar tissue in your brain.” So when Dagmar says something hurts, most likely it really hurts…

Time passed. Dagmar covered in sweat, eyes clenched shut. Mama K reading, and me brooding. After a while Mama K said she had to go home to nap. Dagmar looked up long enough to say that was a good idea, so then it was just Dagmar and myself. Dagmar pushed the button again. “Yes,” said the voice from the speaker.

“I’d really like some ibuprofen, please,” Dagmar said. “It’s been seven hours now. Please. It really hurts.” The only response was “click.”

An hour later there was a tap at the door. I looked up and saw a head poke in the room. A male nurse. He looked at me. “Radloff?”

“Schroeder?” I asked.

Both of us at the same time: “Dude! How ya been?”

“Honey, this is Schroeder. I was in the Guard with him in the 80s.” Turns out my buddy Schroeder had moved to Houston and had lived there for the last 15 years or so, and had just moved back to Sioux City a few months ago. “Can my wife maybe have an Ibuprofen?”

Schroeder glanced at the passel of paperwork in his paw. “Oh, certainly,” he said. “She was due for some painkillers four hours ago.”

“She hasn’t had anything since before midnight,” I said.

“You’re kidding me! I’ll be right back.” He scampered out the door.

“Your friend seems nice,” Dagmar said. “I can’t believe I have to stay here for three more days.”

“I feel so bad for you,” I said. “All they can do is give you ibuprofen and they’re not even doing that.”

The door opened. It was Schroeder with a little sippy-cup with a couple pills in it. “Here’s your ibuprofen,” he said. Dagmar wasted no time getting the pills down her gullet. Schroeder started checking Dagmar’s blood pressure and stuff, chatting lightly with us.

When he was about halfway through, the door swung open and a tall man walked in, with Nurse Prune close behind. “Hello, your doctor is gone for the weekend. I’m the doctor on call. How are you?”

“I’m in a lot of pain,” Dagmar said. “But Mister Schroeder just brought me some ibuprofen.”

“He shouldn’t have done that,” hissed Nurse Prune quietly, seemingly doing a Gollum impersonation. “thiss is MY patient, my precioussss.”

The doctor grabbed Dagmar’s toe and wiggled it. “Well, you look okay to me. Pack up and go home if you want.” He whirled and was gone, taking Nurse Prune with him.

Schroeder, Dagmar and I all looked at each other, competing to see who could look more surprised. “Well, I’ll go get your discharge papers,” Schroeder said, breaking the stunned silence. “You still look a little shaky though,” he said, looking at Dagmar. “You can stay another couple days if you want. And you’ve paid for this room through midnight if you want to stay today.”

“Who’s going to be my nurse tonight?” Dagmar asked.

“You’ll have the same nurse as you had last night.”

“I’m going home. I’m not going to put up with that voman again.”

“I’ll finalize your paperwork for you,” Schroeder said, heading for the door. “You can go whenever you want.”

I helped Dagmar get on her feet and started packing. Within five minutes we were ready to go. A nice lady named Donna (she had been the consistent bright spot in our stay — a cheerful woman who popped her head in every couple hours to see if we needed food, blankets, water — she was a Godsend) helped me find a cart for all our luggage, flowers and assorted crud. “Vhat do we do now?” Dagmar asked Donna. “Do we just leave?”

“I guess so,” said the nice lady. Dagmar and I slowly made our way up the hall, Dagmar keeping one hand on the cart I was pushing. “I don’t know if I can valk all the way to the car,” she said to me. “Don’t they give you a vheelchair ride to the front door?” I shrugged. We walked past the nurse’s station. Schroeder glanced up as we walked past. “Oh, hey,” he said. “Leaving already?”

“Yeah,” I said. “She’ll be more comforable at home.”

“Yep. Well, have a good day. If you need anything, just call!”

“Can I have a vheelchair, maybe?” Dagmar said.

“Oh! Of course!” Thirty seconds later another nurse-type lady was pushing Dagmar up the hall whilst I followed pushing our cart ‘o crap.

Home Sveet Home

“I can’t believe they’re letting you go home,” I said to Dagmar as we pulled into our driveway. “Didn’t your surgeon explicitly say you’d be there until Monday or Tuesday?”

“Yeah, dat’s vhat she said, but I’m NOT going to stay with dat nurse again. If the doctor on call said I go home, I go home.”

That was all a little more than a week ago now. Since Dagmar’s been home I haven’t seen that look of pain on her face, not even once. By the next afternoon she was up and valking half a block up the street and back. We’ve had lots of visitors and flowers — including a bunch of flowers from St. Luke’s with a note, “Sorry your visit wasn’t what you expected.” To me that translates into “Please don’t sue us.”

We’re sorely disappointed with St. Luke’s. The prep nurses and surgical team were fantastic, and the lady that took care of our room, Donna, was fantastic. But the nursing staff on that floor seemed, by and large, rude. Nurse Prune in particular seemed happy to let a patient suffer because it “wasn’t her job” to do anything but take notes and sniff unhappily. My buddy Schroeder was good, but we only saw him for ten minutes. We’re not going to go to St. Luke’s again if we have a choice in the matter.

Dagmar’s perforated vein (from the IV they failed to maintain) has healed, thankfully. She does have a bladder infection (caused, maybe, by a catheter left in for three days without any cleaning?) to deal with, but that’ll pass. For someone who had three surgeons stretching her intestines halfway across the operating room, Dagmar’s doing VERY well! She’s so much happier now. She’s still weak and has pain now and then, but another month at home and she should be back at work.

And that’s that!


It went well!

Three surgeons spent over an hour playing around with Dagmar’s innards, but everything went well. No complications, no surprises, full recovery expected!

I’m so happy!

She’ll be in the hospital for a few days yet, then she’ll need the usual six to eight weeks recovery time… But she’s doing great!