Miracles of modern medicine

Monday, 7:45 am

I have to be at Kaiser Hospital by 8:15.  Today is the day I have my gall bladder removed.

Last month I spent 5 days in Kaiser with acute pancreatitis, a result of a gall stone blocking the system up.  They would ordinarily have removed the gall bladder then, but I had to wait 6 weeks because I am still on blood thinners from having a stent installed in February.  The older you get, the more complicated things are.

I tried to get Uber to take me, but they said there were no cars available, so I tried Lyft.  That was difficult because their software couldn’t find Kaiser Hospital.  I ended up just putting in a nearby address and then telling the driver the truth.


Shanaz, who has 13 brothers and sisters.

The Lyft driver showed up in a neatly kept Prius and we arrived at Kaiser right on time.  That was the last time anything went according to schedule.


Into the office for the paperwork.  Sign consent forms.   Refuse to let them take my cell phone.  I’ve left my wallet, watch and rings at home so I have no valuables for them to lock up.  Pay the $250 copay–first things first.  Get sent to the waiting room.  Get called from the waiting room, shown to a cubicle and told to put all my clothes in the bag. There is a system for everything here–even the bag for your clothes is part of a formal, numbered, bar-coded system.


I don’t know why I would want to go to their website, but there it is.


I’m in a bed, dressed in the usual absurd hospital gown, answering endless questions.  the nurses say I’m to have a “lap choly”, short for laparoscopic cholecystectomy.  I love those long medical words you can practically chew.


No, I don’t drink.

No, I don’t smoke.

Yes, I took my pills this morning.

No, I don’t have dentures.

Yes, I wear contact lenses, but not today.

And a thousand more.  Much of modern nursing consists of reading lists of questions and entering the answers into a computer. Each nurse has her own computer workstation, battery powered, that she pushes from cubicle to cubicle adding to the immense data base that is modern medicine.

Somebody comes by and starts an IV in my hand.  She does an amazing job, sticking me painlessly with a huge needle in the back of my hand.


An IV, a wrist band with lots of way to ID me and two different bar codes.  The red one says I’m allergic to some medicine I had once, 15 years ago.

9:45 am

Waiting.   I’m ready.  The nurse is ready.  The hospital, not so much.   They’re still working on the previous patient.


Still waiting.


They’ve finished in the OR, sort of, but they’re having problems getting the patient to wake up.  One of the nurses told me that, but she shouldn’t have.  Patient confidentiality is taken very seriously here.  More on this subject later.


My doctor shows up



Dr. Yilmaz-Gonzales

She’s finally gotten out of the OR from the previous surgery, and comes by to make sure I’m OK, aware of what is about to happen and capable of giving informed consent.

Next up is the anesthesiologist, Dr. Krisman.


She’s really serious, with lots of life or death questions.  I asked about the patients they had trouble waking up, and her eyes turned to fire as she wanted to know who told me that.  I wasn’t about to get anyone else into trouble, so I didn’t tell, but she was clearly upset that any level of confidentiality had been breached.

Still more questions, and it turned out I had not followed instructions properly about which medications to take the day of surgery.  Many phone call and conferences later, it was decided that they would go through with the operation as long as I recognized the grave danger I was in.  Realizing that they medicos invariably overstate that sort of thing, and that they simply would refuse to operate if it was seriously dangerous, I said yes. Still, I had to take the medicines I had forgotten and wait yet another hour to begin.


I get wheeled into the OR.  Scoot across to an impossibly narrow table.  They start the anesthetic.


I wake up in recovery.  Bob Munson, saint that he is, has volunteered to bring me home, although he expected to be doing that 5 hour earlier.  He didn’t have to wait around: the hospital called him when it was time.


I’m home.  A little sore, but no big deal.  I have 4 small incisions on my belly where they cut space to insert their instruments and do the job.  No particular restrictions on what I can eat, just try to avoid great exertion and lifting of heavy objects.

Half a century ago, when my mother had this same operation, they cut her from stem to stern and she spent 2 weeks in the hospital recovering.  If not for the delays, this would have taken 3 hours, I’m already mostly recovered and the shock to my system is vastly smaller (and safer).  Our health care system is seriously flawed, but when it works, it works great.

Third time may not be the charm

Restaurants come and go.  There is no business riskier to get into, yet there seems to be an endless stream of entrepreneurs willing to give it a go.

Dinner last night at Sunol Ridge on Locust in Walnut Creek.   This is the third incarnation we have seen in this specific location, and may not be the last.

The facility is quite attractive, dark and cool with lots of wood and modern decor. There is a bar in front with 36 craft beers on tap, dramatic lighting and sufficient sound dampening that the place isn’t too loud.

Sunol Ridge styles itself as a “gastropub”, whatever that means.  Probably something to do with all the different beers and wines they purvey and a hearty menu.  Since I don’t drink I don’t have anything to say about the alcohol choices, but there is plenty here if you like that sort of thing.

Four of us at dinner, and three chose exactly the same meal: the tomato and stone fruit gazpacho and the stuffed branzino.  Gail had the rib eye steak, but that’s because she wanted something to take home to the very spoiled dog.

The gazpacho was much spicier than I would ever have imagined, which pretty well obliterated any flavor from the stone fruit.  Ramping up the spice in the food makes it more macho, but that isn’t really my main goal in fine dining.

The branzino, on the other hand, was interesting as all get out.


A whole fish, mostly deboned (I found a few lurkers), stuffed with tiny tomatoes, cipolini, summer squash and who knows what else.  The accompanying roasted carrots were superb dipped in the dish of oil and garlic, which I also drizzled over the fish.  I liked this dish, lots.

Gail’s steak looked good to me, but she said it was not as medium rare as one would expect.

So we finished our fine meals.  And sat there.  And sat there, dirty dishes in front of us. It was an absurdly hot Sunday night, and the place was not crowded at all.  Nonetheless, it took ages before our plates were cleared.

I was undoubtedly cranky at this point, but being asked twice if we wanted dessert, when I had said the first time we were ready for the check, did not make me think more kindly of the operation.  I felt like she was more interested in selling more than in providing quality service.  Sunol Ridge is not McDonalds, they shouldn’t push the upsell the same way.

Yet again, it’s the service that makes or breaks a restaurant.  I like the food here, the ambiance is pleasant, I’ll bet it’s great for a beer lover (if Mamula ever comes to visit I know where to take him).  Still,  if I’m not to try the fourth new restaurant in this location, they need to pick up their service game.  Plates need to be cleared promptly and customers must not be nagged to buy more.  You’d think this was the easy part of food service management, but you’d be wrong. Virtually every restaurant that fails does so because of the service and the customer experience or other staff problems.  It’s much easier to cook good food than to get it to the customer properly.


An Even Trade

Quite some years ago, Gail and I were wandering through an art fair in Union Square and stumbled upon the above sculpture by James Moore.  Crafted from solid steel, we were immediately taken with it and proceeded to negotiate and bring it home.

James became a friend, and last month we went to see his open studio in San Jose.  While we were there, I found another piece we liked, and that seemed quite appropriate as we await the birth of Gail’s first great-grandchild.


The only problem is that James loves this piece, and had no intention of selling it.

Art is not only about money.  Artists frequently fall in love with something they have created and want to keep it for their personal collection.  Fortunately for us, we had something better than money to offer him.  Gail suggested we could trade straight across for the original piece, and James assented.  We have agreed that in a year or two we may change back again, so that we can both enjoy both works.

James delivered the new work the next week, and stayed to lunch.  Because he is a lifelong vegan, I made a cold carrot soup.  There is something intriguing about cold soups; they are filling and refreshing at the same time.

My price for lunch was that he had to sit for me in my photo studio.  Here is what our friend looks like.





Collecting art has brought us a number of new friends, and we’re happy that James Moore is one of them.

Sunday on the Delta

If you have a cool convertible, a cute blonde and the cutest little red dog ever, what better way to spend a sunny Sunday than motoring around the Delta looking for lunch?

The water levels are the highest I’ve ever seen, with the snow melt rushing down the rivers toward the ocean. The waters are right up to the top of the channel, swiftly flowing into the bay.

Wandering along Brannan Island Road, we ended up this time at Moore’s Riverboat Restaurant, in Isleton.

It’s a real riverboat, built in 1931 as a freighter moving bulk products from San Francisco to Sacramento.  In the 60’s it was retired, then purchased and refitted as a restaurant by the family who still own and operate it.


I’ve never seen a window like this.  The boat has lots of interesting architectural details.

There is a lovely outdoor deck, of course.  We don’t eat anywhere these days unless we can eat outside and bring the dog.  Or maybe the dog brings us.  It’s hard to tell who owns whom.


The staff is friendly as all get out.  They brought us a water dish, took our orders and disappeared.


Waiting for her burger.

We didn’t care.  It was a beautiful day, about 83 degrees, gentle breeze, great views. interesting activity as boats came and went, grabbing a bit of lunch and the requisite beer before heading back out on the water.

Lunch got there eventually.  Not too warm anymore, but still tasty.  I had a grilled chicken wrap with both onion rings and cole slaw.  Given that it was only $8, it was fantastic.


Gail had a burger which was just what you expect a burger to be.  You can order a second patty for $1, which is a cheap lunch for the mutt.  The fries were neither hot nor crispy, but that’s life.  Claudia liked her burger, so that’s a good point.

One of the telling points in a restaurant is the quality of the tableware.  Usually, hamburger joints have the cheapest stamped out flatware available.  Moore’s actually uses some very interesting heavyweight item that you would expect in a fine dining establishment.


That’s a really heavy piece of silverware, and I think the handle is genuine silver.

Then I noticed something I have wondered about for years–the leftmost tine was wider than the rest, and came to a strange, curved point.


Why is this fork shaped like this?

I’ve seen this design before, and never understood it.  Looking up forks has left me baffled.  Do you know why this exists?  What is the purpose of the leftmost tine?  Little things like this make me crazy–I know somebody put time and effort into a particular design, undoubtedly for some grand purpose, and I cannot fathom it in the least.  What’s going on here?  I’m open to all suggestions.

After paying the minuscule bill we drove home all the way around Brannan Island, still puzzled by the mystery of the fork.  I noticed that Moore’s has karaoke on Friday nights, so if we can raise a party we’ll go back.  Anybody like to sing?

Food 8, Organization 3

I can’t stand it anymore, I need to write.  We’ve got a president so crass he drives his golf cart across the greens, and there’s nothing I can do about it.  So I went out to dinner.

Gail and I found a very good Mexican restaurant in Lafayette called Rancho Cantina. Not only do we like the food, they have a patio in front so we can bring Claudia with us.  That has somehow become very important in a short time.


I just liked the look of the chips.

Tonight we went there for the 4th time, meeting friends Mike and Gretchen. Our experience was pretty much the same as the other times–very good food, disorganized and random service.  We keep going back, so it isn’t that terrible, but it’s irritating.

We began with the tapas platter.  Barbecued boar, manchego cheese, flatbread and olives.  Nicely presented and a different way to start the meal.


Gail ordered some enchiladas to go, for tomorrows lunch. That was the first dish they brought to the table, plated and ready to eat.  We sent it back to be packaged for takeout.

The dish she wanted for dinner was a chili relleno, and that made up for the early confusion.


Digging in before I could get the shot.

I had the grilled fish tacos.  They are a bit spicy for me, but so good I choke them down anyway.


We split an order of the grilled asparagus with fennel slaw. Not at all what you think of in regards to Mexican cuisine, but the slaw was innovative and the asparagus were prepared expertly.


An unusual and delightful side dish.

Mike had the guisado, a stew of wild boar, cactus and potatoes.  I didn’t much care for it, thinking it was just all boiled together into tasteless mush.

Now here’s the problem: he also ordered a chili relleno and the kitchen couldn’t manage to get it to the table before the rest of us were completely finished with our meal.  Last week, Gail had nachos and was close to finished before my very good chicken came to the table.  There appears to be no organization or system to the operation.  It occurs to me that I have never seen the same waitperson twice, either. I feel like they have a decent chef but no management whatsoever.

Still, it’s a good, local, casual Mexican place with better than average food and outdoor seating so we can bring the dog.  That goes a long way these days, and if you can handle a little chaos in your life, you will probably like Rancho Cantina.

I Don’t Want to Write

About politics.

Washington is a disaster.  A catastrophe.  A shamble. An embarrassment.  Every day is another revelation, another scandal, another failure. The news is depressing, enraging, irritating and unpleasant.  There are people at the bridge club I can barely manage to be civil to because they support and cheer about this deplorable situation.

A health care plan was introduced that would take insurance away from 20 million Americans, and the GOP voted it down because it wasn’t harsh enough.

I don’t like conspiracy theorists; most certainly don’t want to become one.  Still can’t shake the sense that the entire election was stolen by Vladimir Putin.

The Supreme Court just struck down the North Carolina voter suppression laws and gerrymandering, but that doesn’t change the result of the election.

So that’s easy, just don’t write about it.  Unfortunately, I also don’t want to NOT write about politics.  There is nothing more important happening. It seems pointless to pen another anodyne article about the lack of crispiness of the fries at another restaurant when the nation is going to the dogs.  I’ve got a great post about the Tel Aviv Central Bus terminal with photos I took months ago, just can’t bring myself to write it while all this mishegoss is forefront is everyone’s consciousness.

Writing about restaurants and ballets and bus stations seems like so much re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Okay, so maybe I’m whiny and self indulgent.   I’m certain to be less important than I think I am. Probably I should just shut up and keep writing about the few things that interest a tiny group of people in my insignificant corner of the internet. Be happy to have my few hundred readers and muddle along in my irrelevancy.  Is that what a grown up would do? I wouldn’t know.

This boring funk won’t last, one hopes.  Just as one hopes this insane crisis in American politics will be resolved, in some fashion, sooner rather than later. I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned.


Spectacular Ballet

Smuin_Broken Open 2_Chris Hardy.jpg

Smuin dancers Ben Needham-Wood, Rachel Furst, and Jonathan Powell in Amy Seiwert’s “Broken Open,”
presented as part of Smuin’s Dance Series 02
in the 2016-2017 season.Photo credit: Chris Hardy


We’ve been subscribers to the Smuin Ballet for 10 seasons now, and tonight’s performance was the finest I’ve seen.  Go see it.  Saturday or Sunday.  Or the next 2 weeks at Yerba Buena Center in the City.  Or in 3 weeks in Carmel.  Or go to all of them–once you see this, you’ll want to see it again.

There are three pieces in the performance.  The first, The Poetry of Being, is classical ballet set to Tchaikovsky.  The curtain rises on a cast clad in blue and beige, and there is an audible gasp from the audience at the glamour of it.  Lighting designer Michael Oesch has outdone himself in this, setting mood and tone before a note is struck.  The dancing is superb, the choreography by Nicole Haskins is brilliant.

The second act, Broken Open, is all modern.  From the new age score by Julia Kent to the graffiti stenciled costumes by Birgit Pfeffer and Robert Burg to the radical, angular choreography by Amy Seiwert this piece captures the imagination and dazzles the eyes.

And yet, the best is still to come.  The third act, Be Here Now, is a rousing anthem to the 60’s; the score is all music you know (if you’re old like I am) from the Mamas and the Papas, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and straight up Janis Joplin.  The pitch-perfect period costumes, more of Michael Oesch’s lighting, video highlights by the choreographer, Trey McIntyre, and the incredible, happy, bursting with life and vitality dancing of the ensemble, create a moment of pure joy at the ballet that is simply not to be missed.

Go. Go soon, go often.  I’m a committed fan of the Smuin Ballet, and I think this is the best work they’ve ever done.  Do not miss it.


Talent is where you find it

People have many talents, yet we tend to think that bridge players only play bridge, or tennis players only play tennis.  I got another lesson in how wrongheaded that is this afternoon when Jan Gunn took us to the Berkeley Tennis Club for an art show presented by club members.

The club has a large room, with a full stage at one end.  The lighting is great, and it was perfect for the event.


Here are Gail and Jan talking with one of the artists, a woman who does botanical drawing to exacting perfection:


Some amateur and some professional, all the artists displaying their work were showing a side of themselves not ordinarily seen by their fellow club members.  Here are some of their creations:

Thelma Lancaster makes bread sculptures, just for the heck of it:

Her husband, Sydney Kennedy, creates fine wood crafts.

Ama Torrance creates fiberglass sculpture.  I think one of these would look good in our yard, with lighting from within.


A didn’t get the name of this artist:

untitled-10It is interesting to see a painting and the item it was fashioned on:

Cary Lapidus was surrounded by her paintings:


The sculptures of Danielle la Fontaine were enchanting:


It wasn’t a large show, and not everything was for sale–you could have a bread sculpture for the asking.

We enjoyed the art, and may even purchase one of the fiberglass animals.  The real lesson here is to keep you eyes and heart open for the breadth of abilities the people you know have and not to limit you thoughts about them to the one arena of life you see them in.

Flamenco in Walnut Creek 

Dinner tonight at Teleferic in Walnut Creek. We were here in once before and enjoyed it, but tonight was a special occasion. 

Monday’s being traditionally slow, restaurants try different promotions to get the crowds in. Teleferic brings in three masterful flamenco dancers, a singer and an incredible Spanish guitar player. A small wooden dance floor is laid down, and the music takes over. 

There were five of us and a four year old. We didn’t even read the menu, just asked our very competent waiter to feed us. We had salmon tartare, octopus, salad, potato croquettes, scallops, jamon Serrano and of course finished with churros and chocolate. There is a rolling tapas cart, like dim sum, and we tried a deviled egg.  Every single bite was scrumptious. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the food here.  

The music is free– there isn’t even a tip jar. The three women rotate in and out, doing what is essentially a Spanish tap dance. I believe they are improvising to the music and they are so expert it just flows. 

My only complaint about this place is the same as the first time we were here–it’s too damned loud. With all the stomping in the dance surface it was even louder than before. Fortunately, this time I had earplugs with me which eased the pain. I strongly recommend them to everyone. 

Teleferic is a great place for an authentic Spanish experience with brilliantly prepared and presented food. Give it a try on a Monday evening and get in the groove with the music and dance. It’s truly wonderful. 

No Dallas for me. 

Micky working in the Admirals Club while we cool our heels in O’Hare

We were headed for home through Dallas. It’s always Dallas. But our plane kept getting more and more delayed. 8:15. 9:30. 10:25. 2:30. It was looking ugly. 

With the help of an enormously competent young man named Jesse, we were able to reroute home via Chicago. A few minutes later we heard that our original flight had been further delayed until 9:30 PM!  A full 13 hours behind schedule, and too late to get any flights out of Dallas even if we got there. We had definitely made the right choice. 

The flight to O’Hare was quick and easy. Now we are ensconced in the Admirals Club, waiting for a 5 pm flight to SFO. 

We will end up about 6 1/2 hours behind schedule, wasting a day we each had plans for. 

I try to remember we’re still having a better trip west than the Donner Party had.