A couple of days after I conceived of the title of this post, Rob Jones was on an episode of Jocko Willink's podcast titled I can't vs. I won't, so of course the whole thought process for the post changed.
Goggins' dad was a sex trafficker, moving prostitutes across the border from Canada to Buffalo. He didn't believe in sending his kids to school — instead, they worked at a roller rink at night, then slept while their mom worked a bar until 3 a.m. Dad beat the kids and mom, and mom finally left when Goggins was 8, moving the kids to a small town in Indiana where racism was rampant.
He wanted to be an Air Force special operations agent. He failed the test twice, but got a tutor and managed to pass it the third time. He was also afraid of the water and after six weeks of toughing out a training program, the military tested him for sickle cell and found he had a trait for it, so they sat him out for a week.
Goggins had quit everything he'd ever done, so until he was sidelined, he wanted to prove he had changed. After he sat out his week, he figured he could push through the final three weeks, but his commanding officer (CO) told him he had to start the training from the beginning. He couldn't imagine going back through that, so he told his CO the sickle cell discovery scared him and he got a medical excuse out of the special ops unit.
He had quit again.
He went on to do a job that didn't require any work in the water, and put on 120 pounds, then left the Air Force and went to work for an exterminator. Eventually he saw a show on Discovery Channel that struck a chord with him and he decided he wanted to be a Navy SEAL.
He finally found a recruiter who would sign him up for the path. His prior stint in the Air Force helped him, but at 6'1" and 297 pounds, he had 90 days to lose 106 pounds to meet the weight requirement for the SEAL teams.
The next night he went back to work at the exterminator, and decided that wasn't going to be his life. He walked off the job and, as he puts it, became "a guy who didn't exist." He went hard. He sought discomfort. He lost the weight, got into the class and went through 3 SEAL hell weeks in a year. He didn't make it through the first, but he did through the other two.
Rob Jones joined the Marine Corps Reserve during his junior year in college as a combat engineer. He and his team would be responsible for using explosives and detecting buried IEDs. After graduation, he would be deployed to Iraq in 2008 and later Afghanistan in 2010.
After a landmine exploded near him in Afghanistan, he had both legs amputated just above the knee.
It took over a year for him to heal, and eventually he left the Marines with an honorable discharge.
What's a wounded Marine with no legs to do?
Row his way into the Paralympics and win a bronze medal, of course. And then cycle across the US. And then run 31 marathons in 31 days.
Misty Diaz is called Li'l Misty because she is about 4'4" and weighs 78 pounds. No, she's not 9 years old. She's an adult with Myelomeningocele, the most serious form of spina bifida, a condition described as "a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth." She walks with the aid of two pink crutches, or sometimes a walker.
Diaz' bio says she started entering races when she was 7, but in talking to Fussman, she says at one point she found herself broke, divorced and wondering what to do, so she signed up for a 5K and started off walking to the mailbox and back so that she'd be able to complete it (which she did, in around an hour).
Now she does 15-mile Spartan races. You know, the ones with the obstacles in them. She also holds some weightlifting records in her weight class.
I conceived this post while I was in the midst of what was then my longest-distance run and still remains my longest-duration run. A few weeks after this run, I went a mile farther, but did it about six minutes faster.
But let's talk about me for a bit, and about Goggins, specifically, because most of us are not ever going to have to deal with losing both our legs above the knee, nor are we likely to suddenly find ourselves with a birth defect we weren't born with.
There are three basic body types: ectomorphic, mesomorphic and endomorphic. Ectomorphs are long and lean. They tend to have problems putting on muscle or fat. Think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mesomorphs tend to put on muscle very easily, and are often rectangular and lean. Think Dwayne Johnson. Endomorphs tend to put on both muscle and fat easily, and are often pear-shaped. Think Danny DeVito.
Elite distance runners tend to be ectomorphs; elite sprinters more often are mesomorphs. Endomorphs? We're likely to be elite post-run beer drinkers.
Yep, me and Mr. DeVito both, though to be honest, I don't know anything about Danny DeVito's drinking habits. Or his running habits, as far as that goes.
What I'm getting at is that running doesn't come naturally to me. It's actually very difficult. I don't start enjoying a run until I've been going for 45 minutes or so. At that point, I can finally zone out and not think about how awful it feels.
Of course, in order to run two or three hours at a time, you have to take a few 30- and 40-minute runs a week. [As I prepare for my first full marathon in November, I hope to just make my "shorter" runs over an hour and mostly cut out the annoying ones.] That means I enjoy one or two of my five or six runs a week.
Really, I do it because I'd probably weigh close to 250 pounds if I didn't. Not exactly an ideal weight for someone who is 5'2".
I got started because when I was going to get married, my future sister-in-law (my wife's brother's wife) said we should do a 5K every month until the wedding. We signed up for the Chilly Chili 5K, a mid-January run in Cazenovia, New York. It was 12 degrees at race time.
That was the last one she ran with me.
I did a couple of others, and when we moved to Savannah at the end of the year, I needed a new challenge, so I signed up for a half marathon and trained hard for it.
It wasn't easy. Easy would be sitting on the couch.
When I signed up for the race, if you had told me I had to run it the next day, I would have said, "i can't." I'm no Bert Kreischer, who barely trained for the LA Marathon.
But the fact is, I could have. Running is just one foot in front of the other until you're at the finish line.
Goggins found this out, as well. He could go in the water. He could go through SEAL hell week three times. He could run a 205-mile race, even though the first time he ran he weighed 297 pounds and only eked out a quarter mile.
What are you telling yourself you can't do? Have you proven you can't do it? Have you tried? I mean, really tried? "It's too hard" is not the same as "can't." You (most likely) can't flap your arms fast enough to fly. You (most likely) can't pick up a tractor-trailer and carry it to the nearest port.
You (most likely) can do basically anything you can conceive. Thomas Edison famously took thousands of tries to come up with a filament for the light bulb. When asked about all those failures, he is quoted as saying, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."
If you're going to say you can't do something. You'd better be able to prove it. Think about Edison. And Rob Jones. And Misty Diaz. And David Goggins. And then try harder.
I suggest removing the phrase, “I can’t,” from your lexicon and replacing it with, “I can’t YET.” Do this, so that you don’t risk being on your death bed saying, “I didn’t.”
Oh, and in case you need more proof that you can, meet Kyle Maynard, a congenital quad amputee (that means he was born without arms or legs) who went on to become a high school wrestling champion and a mountain climber.
Short story short, I have a procedure scheduled for April 25. They're so certain in the effectiveness of this procedure for clearing varicoceles (not always a fertility problem), that when they're happy you're conscious enough after the anesthesia, they just send you home and don't contact you again (apart from billing, of course).
I'm sure I'll have a post up in the couple of days before, and another in the day or two after.
• Read a lot, and read everything. Read a variety of opinions, sure, but also read about subjects you don't think you're interested in. Just read. Be curious.
• Books are where they keep the secrets. Before we had the internet, anyone who knew about things wrote books about it. A lot of people are still writing books.
• Know your values. If you're not sure where to start, try "work hard" and "don't lie."
• Be fascinated. Kotler says he was fascinated with people turning science fiction into science fact, and the parallel within the art world.
• Be ferocious. Sure, you can be playful and have a good time, but be ferocious toward your goal.
• Find your thing. You wake up in the morning, says Kotler, and you have to do this thing. Everything else is hogwash.
• There are three fail points for creatives. The first is during the first few years, when you're just not making much money and the poverty is too much for you. The second is about 10 years in when you get a chance to play with the big boys, but you're not so well-known that you get to do your own thing — you have to play within their boxes. A third fail point is when creatives forget that their job is to please editors, not themselves. Your book has to be acceptable to the editor, not yourself.
• Creative desperation will lead to a high-flow life. When you need to eat, you'll find your groove.
• Flow triggers. In the presentation above, you'll see Kotler had, for his book The Rise of Superman, identified 17 flow triggers. For Stealing Fire, he and co-author Jamie Wheal identified several more. None of the flow triggers is particularly difficult. Among common flow triggers:
— Flow follows focus, so get focused on your task.
— Intentional practice.
— Passion and purpose.
— Risk (doesn't have to be physical).
— Novelty and unpredictability.
— Clear goals; understand the next steps.
— Be able to shut out the rest of the world for a period of focused work.
— Stretch your comfort level by four percent.
• Tools. Don't be afraid to use some tools. They mention a few.
— Electronic music
This is an ongoing series about my journey with infertility. I was diagnosed with a varicocele, which is likely responsible for poor sperm quality. It's something present in around 15% of all men, but in upwards of 40% of all infertility cases. Start here for the background and what we've done so far.
Varicoceles don't only affect fertility (and don't always lead to infertility). Apparently, they can be very painful; mine doesn't hurt at all. I have, over the past few weeks, noticed occasional soreness in my left testicle, but that's really only been since the urologist told me varicoceles are often painful, so it may be primarily in my head. Who knows how long I've had this issue, with no pain?
When a physician's assistant asked, "On a scale of 1-10 (10 being excruciating), what's the pain like?"
"Two to three," I said.
"What do you do when you feel the pain?"
"Nothing. When you get older your knee just hurts a little bit sometimes? It's kinda like that."
I had a consultation with the physician's assistant for an interventional radiologist who would perform a varicocele embolization.
This is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure. They're so confident in the procedure not producing issues that they don't even follow up with patients to see how they're doing a few days later.
I have a CT scan scheduled. This will show a map of my arteries and veins, give the doctor an idea of whether he'd go in through my neck or my leg (more in a minute) and whether for some reason I might not be a candidate for the procedure.
The alternative is a surgical fix, called a varicocelectomy, performed by a urologist, which comes with as much as six weeks of recovery time.
Now, some of this is recap from the first installment, but here's the skinny. We don't know why varicoceles occur (we know how they occur, but not the underlying cause). After being corrected, they can return. Once detected, we have no idea how long they've been there (we might assume mine's been there at least 19 months, since that's how long we've been trying to have a child). The urologist told me both the varicocelectomy and the embolization have a success rate of around 90% (that's success in eliminating the varicocele), and in case that the varicocele is eliminated for fertility purposes, about half of couples conceive naturally.
Sperm take about three to four months to develop; sperm I might ejaculate today started forming sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2017. That means we won't find out if my sperm quality improves until four months or so after the procedure. We do that by a seed test, which is essentially me masturbating in a cup in someone else's bathroom (again, see the first installation for a deeper description).
Back to my consultation.
The procedure goes like this. You get an IV with an anesthetic (a name I wouldn't know) and a pain killer (fentanyl). In theory, just enough to keep you sedated, but a lot of people fall asleep. Then they take a catheter, put it into a vein in either your neck or your leg (you're facing away from the procedure, with a nurse monitoring vitals in your field of vision, if you're awake). Once the catheter is in, you get either some tiny metal balls or some tiny metal coils to break up the varicocele and hopefully prevent from happening again.
They pull the catheter out, remove the IV, monitor you for a couple of hours, put you in a car (preferably one driven by someone you know), and send you a bill at some point.
My next step is the CT scan. Results from that usually take about two days, so unless something comes up, that'll be the next installation.
I'm 41 years old. I can see 50 pretty clearly. I know lots of people who are older than 50. You probably do, too. I'm not sure exactly what put 50 in my head a couple weeks ago, but we're coming up on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so that's as good a place as anywhere to start, I guess.
My point in doing this thought experiment is for us to recognize three things:
(1) 50 years isn't very long in terms of human consciousness. Our brains and bodies take centuries — maybe millennia — to adapt biologically.
(2) So much happens in 50 years that it's amazing people who live 50 years don't short-circuit.
(3) Because of 1 and 2, have some patience with people who need a minute to wrap their heads around something newish.
Since someone might read this in the future, let's take a look at where we are in 2018. The most recent estimated US census was 2016; the population is 323 million. The population of the world is estimated at 7.63 billion people. The market cap of the Disney Corp. is somewhere around $157 billion and its stock price is over $105; Amazon's market cap is around $750 billion and Apple is fast-approaching $1 trillion.
SpaceX recently launched a rocket into space then released a car on a trajectory toward Mars, just to see if they could do it. The launchers and the rocket both returned to Earth, landing on pads.
Most of the US has hand-sized computers/telephones/cameras/video cameras/music players/video machines in our pockets. About half the world has access to high-speed Internet.
Gas averages $2.57 per gallon across the US.
A black man served as president of the United States for two full terms, with no known assassination attempts made public. Gay people can get married. Our current president is in talks to meet with the dictator of North Korea.
Now, let's roll back one set of fifty years. The US population was just under 201 million (less than 2/3 of what it is today). The population of the world was 3.53 billion (less than half what it is today). Disney stock was at 44 cents; adjusted for inflation, it was 30 cents a share. The guy who started Amazon, Jeff Bezos, was 4 years old. Apple wouldn't be launched for another eight years.
We hadn't yet gone to the moon.
Telephones were, by-and-large, on the wall. Some people did have mobile phones in their cars, but the handheld mobile phone wouldn't be introduced for five more years. Personal computers were still seven years off.
Gas was 34 cents per gallon in the US.
The Civil Rights movement was in transition from . Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were shot. Richard Nixon was elected president. "2001: A Space Odyssey" was the top grossing film. Arthur Hailey's Airport spent 30 weeks on top of the New York Times Bestseller list. There had been no openly gay people elected to any public office in the US.
The US population was 103 million, less than a third of what it is today. The population of the world was 1.8 billion, a billion of whom were incapacitated thanks to a flu epidemic that killed 20 million people.
The top five US companies the prior year were US Steel, American Telephone & Telegraph, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Bethlehem Steel and Armour & Co. US Steel is now #279 on the Fortune 500 list. American Telephone & Telegraph was broken up into the regional Bell Companies, and has since reformed as a more diverse communications company (AT&T). Standard Oil was broken up, also; the biggest remaining company is ExxonMobil. Bethlehem Steel stopped operating in 2003; Armour, a former meatpacking giant has been bought and sold a few times and is now a frozen foods brand.
We didn't have an average gasoline price across the country; the earliest measure we have doesn't come until 1929, when it cost 21 cents per gallon.
World War I ended late in the year. The first scheduled passenger flight had only been four years prior, and the Post Office launched the first airmail service. Federal offices were racially segregated (and so were many businesses) and interracial marriage was illegal in many places. There were race riots. In 1916, the US Military introduced "blue discharges," which were neither honorable nor dishonorable and were often used to discharge homosexuals from the military.
We're only three sets of fifty years back now, and we're largely in the dark.
The 1870 Census put the US population at about 38 million people, only a little over a third of what it would be 50 years later. Estimates put the world population around 1.2 billion.
Tabasco first hit the market; MetLife and Pacific Life were both founded.
We didn't yet have a telephone or a light bulb.
Andrew Johnson became the first president to be impeached (like Bill Clinton, the only other president to be impeached to date, the Senate would acquit Johnson). We were very much rebuilding from the Civil War.
The US population, according to the 1820 Census, was a little over 9 million people. That's roughly the population of New York City today. The world population is estimated to have been between 950 million and a billion — less than the population of India or China today.
There were 20 US states, and the current design of the US Flag (though with 20 stars) was made the official flag of the nation. The steam engine hadn't quite made its way to the US from Britain.
We were still 11 years away from the first indoor plumbing.
The First Seminole War ended. Brooks Brothers, the men's clothier, opened its first store. Frankenstein was published.
Here we are, just five 50-year segments ago, we weren't the US yet. Estimates of the world population are around 800 million. The first modern circus is held in London. The Royal Academy is founded.
Just 10 50-year jumps ago, you might not recognize the world, which only had about 500 million people in it. Leonardo da Vinci was far and away the brightest technological mind, living in the Vatican during his waning years (he died the following year). Magellan went off to the Spice Islands. Thomas More's "Epigrammata" was published. Shakespeare wasn't yet born. There was actually a dancing plague — in Strasbourg, people just felt the urge to boogie, and many of them died of stroke, heart attack or exhaustion.
If you know someone who is 50 years old, and when they were a kid they knew someone 50 years old, you only have to go back 20 of those people to a world with fewer people than are in the US today. It would be another 48 years before the Normans would invade England, so the English language sounded very much like German.
There was no printing press. There was no Genghis Khan. We have a few written records about battles no one remembers.
50x50: 482 BCE
Socrates would be born in a dozen years. The earliest Kabbalists are starting to chase Ezekiel's vision of God on the chariot. The Buddha died the year before.
100x50: 2982 BCE
OK, here's the big one. Only 100 groups of 50 years, and we're basically on a different planet. The earth's population was nearing 100 million people. The Egyptian Empire is 100 years old and hasn't started building pyramids yet. The oldest city we've found in the Americas, Caral, isn't settled for another 300 years.
It's amazing how much happens in just 50 years. I don't even want to predict what our world is going to look like in 50 years, but hopefully I'm here to see it!
There don't seem to be many stories of male infertility online. If you want to know anything about any complications for women, there are lots of stories available. Some of those stories are self-authored, some are reported in magazines or newspapers, and some of them are from the husband's perspective.
There is a forum for male infertility, though a lot of posts in there are from women.
I decided to start writing about my journey for two reasons: (1) It's how I work through things, and (2) maybe it will help others share, or at least feel better.
Before we get going, you should be aware of a couple of things. Links (none of those above, but going forward) might have instructive images. By that, I mean pictures of penises and testicles. Also, I'm going to be me here, which means that I'll use both correct language and slang (read: I'll write both "scrotum" and "ball sack" and I might drop a cuss word or twelve). I'm not going to pull punches. I won't be gratuitously graphic, but if something's pertinent, it'll be here (if you're my mother or my sister, you might want to stop reading, since this might get uncomfortable for you). Finally, we're in a discovery phase at this writing, so this really will be an ongoing story, perhaps for months or a year or however long it takes.
For those of you who don't know me, I'm 41 years old, a few pounds overweight but a regular exerciser and distance runner. I live in Savannah, Georgia. My parents call me "Mr. Excitement" because it's typically difficult to read my emotions. I'm an introvert, which means not that I'm shy or afraid of sharing, it just means I charge my energy by being alone, which makes writing a great outlet for me.
I have what's called a varicocele. It's reasonably common; about 15 percent of men have them. They don't always lead to infertility, but in cases of infertility or subfertility (which I guess is what I have, technically), they appear in upwards of 40 percent of cases. It's probably hard to nail down a good number on who actually has them, since most people don't just go get tested for them.
Essentially, it's a varicose vein in a testicle. It's most common on the left side, which is where mine is.
The way my urologist explained it to me, we don't know why it happens, but we do know how. Veins have a flap that acts something like a railroad switch in them, which allowing blood to flow online in one direction. When that flap fails, blood pools and the veins become swollen, which means the veins leading to my left testicle are too big, and it's harming my sperm (more on that later).
Now, let's get into how we got here.
In August of 2016, my wife and I decided to start trying to have children. We started off "normally," just having sex as often as we were up to it. Over the ensuing months, that turned into an ovulation thermometer and ovulation strips. Her periods are slightly irregular, varying by a few days each month, so it was difficult to track any other way.
A year later, we decided it's been a year, let's get checked out. My wife is "mostly fine;" one of her tubes is blocked but that doesn't stop her from releasing an egg each month, and her ob/gyn says that's not going to impede pregnancy at all.
I scheduled my first seed test around the same time. Read: they test semen.
A seed test goes like this.
First, you're abstinent for a minimum of three days and a maximum of five. They want you rested, but not dusty.
I went to a an office in a local hospital's "professional building" and sat in a chair in a waiting room. It appears that most of the patients are couples; one woman was there with someone I assumed to be her mother.
Eventually, someone came to lead me out the door and down the hall. She handed me a piece of paper, a pen, and a cup, then told me to mark the time when I'm done, put everything in the carousel, spin it, ring the doorbell, and leave.
In other words, please don't check in again. We all know you're in here masturbating and we don't want to see you right after you finish.
The bathroom they sent me into was bizarre. There's a toilet, of course, and a sink. And a chair with one of those pads on it people leave on the floor and hope their dogs pee on. There's a TV/DVD player combo above the toilet and a pile of magazines hidden inside blue folders that probably haven't been updated since 1996.
There's a note to not use lube or soap or anything, since that can taint your sample.
I provided my sample, put the cover on the cup and put it in basically a bank safety deposit box, rang a doorbell and got out of there.
Since the order for the test had come through my wife's ob/gyn, they called her first with the results. "Low sperm count, low motility and little chance of pregnancy."
No details, no explanation of what that translated to, no next steps. So, we basically tried to figure out what we could do and how.
We knew some of the risk factors. Tight underwear. Bicycles. Saunas. Hot tubs. Alcohol. Caffeine. Being 40 years old. Being overweight.
I maintain that boxer briefs are fine. My wife wanted me to wear boxers. I refused, but as a compromise I mostly stopped wearing underwear except when I'm working out or running. I've stayed off my bike, out of the sauna and out of the hot tub. I cut back from 5-6 drinks a week to 3-4. I cut back from a pot and a half of coffee a day to a cup every couple of days, with a cup or two of tea every day replacing all the coffee. I couldn't do anything about my age (in fact, I had another birthday, making it worse), and I didn't manage to lose any weight — that's really difficult when you're cutting back on stimulants.
I asked my physician for an order to get another test. He gave me one, I went back in December to jerk off in a cup again, and waited. I got a call a couple of weeks later from my doctor's office with just the information that the test was abnormal, and I should go see a urologist (he sent over a referral). Again, no details.
So I went to the urologist, and he spelled everything out for me.
All sorts of things get tested, but he was looking for three things:
1. Sperm count: About 50 million per milliliter is average, but 20 million is considered a minimum threshold for normal. 2. Motility: About 35% is normal. 3. Appearance: Average is 14% of sperm in one ejaculation appearing "normal," with 4% being a minimum threshold for effective.
In my first test, my sperm count was 19 million/mL. He said that might as well be 20 million. My motility was 27%, which means they were generally lazy. A big fat goose egg on appearance, though. Zero percent appeared normal.
My second test — the one for which I tried to eliminate as many risk factors as I could — looked somewhat better. My sperm count was 74 million/mL (overachiever!). My motility was 67% (ditto!). The appearance, though, had only approved to 1% appearing normal (yeah, I know that's an increase of infinity, but it's still not good enough to give me a good shot at getting my wife pregnant).
Now that we had an idea of what the problem was, the next step was to figure out why.
He ordered some blood work and an ultrasound. The blood work was easy. I have good veins for needles. I don't have a fear of them and the sight of blood doesn't bother me.
The ultrasound, on the other hand, was pretty awkward. And yes, it's the same procedure used to show pregnant women their babies.
I sat down in the waiting room, and a woman came out to get me. We got to her room, which consisted of an exam table, a chair, a sink and a computer desk. She handed me a rolled-up washcloth and a hand towel folded in thirds.
"You're going to lie down on the table," she said. "You can leave your shirt and shoes on, but pull your pants and underwear down to your knees. Put the washcloth between your legs to prop your scrotum up, and use the other towel to cover yourself. I'll be back in a few minutes.
You know how you don't take a toddler's pants all the way off to change a diaper? Like you just let the pants keep the feet together well enough to move everything around as needed? I was in that position, but squeezing a washcloth between my thighs. Of course, a toddler can look up at you and all that. She wasn't in the room, so I was just staring at the HVAC.
Finally, after what seemed like 90 minutes but was probably more like four, she came in and asked if I was ready.
Uh, ready? Sure. I'm lying on an exam table doing kegels with a washcloth and wearing the shortest skirt a grown man should ever wear.
She sat down, put on some gloves, jellied up her sound-camera-thingy, and reached up my towel-skirt.
"I know this isn't your whole day," I said, "but what's the conversation like when you get home? How was your day, honey?"
She smiled politely and said she'd been at this for ten years and didn't even think about it anymore, it's just part of the job. "At least I'm not starting catheters," she said.
After 10 minutes of drawing abstract art on the computer screen with sound waves, she told me she was all done, when she left I could get dressed and head on out, and they'd call me when the lab came back with results.
This freed me up to start doing some research.
It turned out there were two likely culprits: hormone levels and varicoceles.
Hormone levels could be adjusted with Clomid, which we think of as a thing they give women.
Varicoceles, on the other hand...
I didn't want to Google image search varicoceles, because, frankly, I didn't want a pile of dick pics in my face. Turns out they're all illustrations anyway, since the varicocele is inside the scrotum.
"Want to know what the surgery's like?" my wife asked.
"That depends," I said. "Do they cut open my ball sack and fix something, then leave me stitched up and bruised?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"I'll pass, thanks."
My hormone levels came back basically fine; he could find an excuse to give me Clomid if I wanted to, but really, the varicocele is most likely the problem.
It turns out there are two fixes for varicoceles. One is surgical, the other nonsurgical. They have roughly the same success rate (close to 90%), my urologist said, and successful correction typically leads to pregnancy about half the time, which is probably not that much different from "normal" couples.
In either case, there's a long waiting period to figure out if it worked. Sperm production takes about three months from genesis to ejaculation (so, sperm you ejaculate today started forming three months ago). They wait four months and then send me back for a seed test.
I've spoken to the urologist about the surgical version. He makes about a two-inch incision in the abdomen, goes in and drains the varicose veins, then fixes that little broken railroad switch. The recovery is 2-3 weeks of rest, then 2-3 weeks of light duty after that.
He also described the nonsurgical version, which is called an embolization, though I have an appointment set for next week with the interventional radiologist who would perform that, should I go that route. It involves going through my groin with a catheter, and putting a balloon up beyond the kidney (or something like that). The recovery is more like 2-3 days.
I'm assuming there's a cost difference, since that second one sounds more difficult, but the recovery time is so much better.
I've called the insurance company, and they'll cover both equally.
I have an appointment with the radiologist next week, to learn a little more about the procedure, hopefully figure out costs, preparation and recovery, and work toward making a decision.
After that, it'll be recovering, waiting for that next seed test, and seeing what happens from there.
Note: We're going to talk about guns, gun rights and gun control; mental health, health care and privacy; and political movements and political parties. Before you get outraged, fucking read it. This is researched, thought-out and edited. I'm happy to listen to differing opinions based in fact — I might even change my mind (I've certainly evolved on some of the issues here) — but this is not a platform for your instant outrage. This is my website. I spew my own damn bullshit. If you want to spew yours, get your own damn website. If you need help doing so, get in touch and we'll talk.
In brief, what happened
Here is full coverage from the local paper, but in case you missed it, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz (allegedly) walked into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, from which he had been previously expelled, pulled a fire alarm and fatally shot 17 people and injured a dozen others with an AR-15.
There were warnings, then, despite the fact that the couple he was living with following his mother's death said there were no warning signs he might do something like that. But we'll talk about privacy and such.
Some gun and gun law basics, and what we need to do
Let's start off with some definitions, particularly of the type of weapon used. We in the media have been terrible about this, so a brief explainer is definitely necessary for many of us. I'm gathering most of this information from this more in-depth summary and this look at automatic weapons laws.
If you're yelling about gun control — particularly if you're talking about banning certain weapons — you should also learn the difference between automatic and semiautomatic weapons. Very few people are licensed to own (never mind carry) automatic weapons. Lots of people are licensed to own and carry semiautomatic weapons.
An automatic weapon discharges multiple rounds (bullets) with a single trigger pull (so, you pull the trigger, the weapon starts to fire, and it stops when you release the trigger).
A semiautomatic weapon discharges one round with a single trigger pull, and then, assuming there is more ammunition available, chambers the next round. This covers most weapons on the market, from the AR-15 (allegedly) used by Cruz to an everyday pistol, the kind most of us not-gun-types typically see used on television.
Then there are manual weapons, which you have to either reload after each shot (think old-style rifles you see in Civil War movies), or you have to manually chamber the next round (think six-shooters you see in old Westerns).
There is hardware available to make some semiautomatic weapons behave like automatic weapons. It's either illegal or on its way there in most states. Stephen Paddock used what's commonly called a "bump stock" to do this when he managed to discharge over 1,100 rounds from his hotel room in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding some 850 others.
Most states have separate rules for purchasing guns and carrying guns, and also have separate rules for long guns (like a hunting rifle) and handguns. You might not need a license to buy a weapon (though you might need to submit to a criminal background check and a waiting period), but you probably need a license to carry a weapon with you in public, and of course states differ widely on whether you need to demonstrate proficiency, take a safety course or register your individual weapons.
Some states also have "red flag laws," which allow some people — teachers or family members, for example — to report to authorities that maybe you're dangerous and you shouldn't be allowed to buy a weapon.
Florida does not have a red flag law, though one is currently hung up in the legislature.
What qualifies as a mass shooting varies by definition and can be really confusing if we don't pick a definition to agree upon.
If you saw the piece about a school shooting every 2.5 days this year, you were probably shocked. That's because it takes a very wide definition of school shootings, some which even the most slanted among us must admit are not school shootings — things like accidental discharge of a firearm in the parking lot of a school that had been closed for seven months.
Let's go forth with this explanation from Politifact, shall we? The current federal definition of a mass shooting is three or more shooting victims (excluding the shooter) in one or more locations in a single event. And can we agree that a school shooting is a shooting that takes place on or about school grounds when students and/or teachers are present? ["On or about" because if someone trying to escape crosses the property line and is then shot, it's still a school shooting.]
Now that we have some facts behind us, here's what I think.
First, stop whining. I don't want all your guns. By all means, if you are a demonstrably safe gun owner — i.e., you have no violent crime in your past, you take a safety course, you show some proficiency, you don't carry while intoxicated and you get your vision checked every time your carry permit renews (like a drivers license) — own weapons for protection and hunting.
If you have kids, I want you to be willing to submit to random home visits from Children & Family Services to make sure you're storing the weapons safely; we have way too many accidental shootings involving toddlers finding weapons.
You should also receive, during the permitting process, a psychological evaluation. It doesn't have to be invasive. If you're on medication (that you could go off of whenever you felt like it — or stopped being able to afford it) that's probably stopping you from killing yourself or someone else, sorry, you probably shouldn't have access to a firearm. It's not that you're definitely going to kill someone eventually, it's just that the probability is too high to risk.
The AR-15 is modeled on military weapons that are designed to kill people. They have no other purpose. It's the weapon that legally obtained and used in Parkland and in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary and in Las Vegas (though the shooter modified his to fully automatic using a "bump stock" there).
If you are of the opinion that we need AR-15s and similar weapons for protection in case the government ever turns the US military loose on its people, we can keep them locked up in a civilian armory — hey, how about at private gun ranges? But let me point out that you can't go out and buy a working tank or a lot of other items the military has. Civilians are not equipped to fight against the US military. We never will be. And we never should be.
Some thoughts on school safety
People have offered up some ideas for keeping schools more secure; I have yet to hear one that won't detract further from education (and we could go on for long time how public education has been suffering from high-pressure standardized tests and fewer resources over the past couple of decades, but we won't).
More armed officers in schools. Parkland had an armed officer, but of course most schools have large enough campuses that if an officer is in one place and an active shooter is in another, it could be four or five minutes before an the officer can reach the same area. An AR-15 is limited in the number of rounds it can discharge by two factors: the number of rounds available and the ability of the shooter to pull the trigger. If you've ever performed a repetitive motion for several minutes, you know fatigue can set in, but let's assume a 19-year-old male with lots of adrenaline flowing can average somewhere around a shot per second for five minutes; that's around 300 shots fired if it takes an officer five minutes to get across campus.
So, what if there were more officers in the school? Well, now we're running into a resource problem, right? Teachers are already buying materials for their classes (and they're not paid for the time they put in outside of school hours, creating lesson plans, correcting papers, submitting grades, etc.), textbooks are outdated, some classrooms have upwards of 30 or more students, and budgets are dropping. Adding two more officers might mean cutting three or four more teachers. And how many officers can you station in a school before students feel like they're in a prison?
Arm teachers. It's hard enough to find good teachers. Are we going to make it a job requirement that teachers be proficient enough with a weapon to fire it accurately in a small room full of students with an active shooter? Or are we just going to give teachers basic firearms training and then ask them to act in a high-pressure situation with a high likelihood of accidentally shooting students who are not the shooter?
Neither of those sounds like a good idea to me. I don't have a great solution, but it seems taking care of this on the weapons side (see above) is the best way to go.
What we need to do on the health care and privacy side
Two personal stories about health care, to start. Congress and the president touted its tax reform as a big give-back to the middle class, and gutted funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, also known as Romneycare (oh, you mean you forgot this is the same plan that Massachusetts' Republican governor instituted?). It's also the plan that Congress and the president have. When they largely gutted the program, they wrote themselves an exception. That tells you that Romneycare/Obamacare/ACA is so good the people who don't want to pay for it for us commoners want it for themselves.
I have insurance through my company; it covers my wife and I, and my employer pays most of it. I made a $14/month change to health care options this year, but my biweekly paycheck is down $74, which means almost $2,000 out of my pocket this year. If you're doing the math on my health care change, I paid $1,924 for $168 of increased benefits.
My sister is not so lucky. When she moved, she had to work a part-time job before finding a temp-to-hire job that. The company decided to buy her out early, which means she's a full-time employee after 2 months of temping instead of 3 months, but they still have a 90-day probationary period before they have to offer her health care. She has a two-year-old daughter, who, oddly enough, is not working full time.
In order to get her daughter health care, my sister joined the ACA exchange, which is partially funded by Medicaid. Funding for the exchanges has been gutted by the administration, and no one's required to take it.
So it seems very few do.
One day recently, my sister called me to say her daughter had a tick on her head and she needed to be picked up from preschool. I went to pick up my niece while my sister called the exchange to find out which urgent care facilities near me would take the insurance. She found one, and after I arrived and filled out paperwork, when the insurance card arrived via email, they said, "oh, we don't take the Medicaid version of this."
They referred us to another urgent care center 20 minutes away.
I'm no fool, so I called ahead. No, they didn't take it, but another center 30 minutes away did. I called them, and they also didn't take the Medicaid version of the exchange.
We're lucky enough that we could just come out of pocket for both insurance (which apparently doesn't cover much) and getting a tick removed from my niece's head. We're also lucky that we don't have a lot of Lyme disease here, so that's the end of it.
And yes, you can remove a tick at home by yourself. But good luck if your kid gets an infection on her scalp. At best you're talking about staying home for work for a while until they let her back at school. At worst you're talking about brain damage or death.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: health care may not be a right, but we're certainly better when as many people as possible can get help.
What does this have to do with what's going on?
The same way it's very difficult to find someone to take a tick out of my niece's head and check her out to see if she might need some antibiotics, even if she's covered by insurance, it's very difficult to find mental health care, affordable or not.
It's also hard for some who needs mental health care to recognize that they need mental health care, and it's even harder to compel them to get it — they have to be a proven risk to themselves or others. Even then, someone has to care enough to get them to help and check them in.
Nikolas Cruz had some mental health treatment a while back. He checked himself out, because he's allowed to.
Health care providers are not allowed to talk to anyone without a patient's permission. I have to sign forms if I want my doctor to be able to talk to my wife.
So when Cruz was investigated briefly after cutting himself and talking about guns on Snapchat, no one was allowed to tell law enforcement that he had undergone mental health treatment, so he wasn't on a list of people who couldn't have guns for mental health reasons.
That's why I want a basic mental health evaluation when you register for your permit. And your mental health history is absolutely relevant when purchasing a firearm.
Voices of Parkland
This is what students and faculty from the school are staying. Again, a plea against your outrage: Many of these voices are those of minors who have just lost 17 of their friends way before their time. If you're reading this, statistically speaking you're probably an adult who wasn't directly affected by the event. It's up to you, but if you're going on the attack, you're attacking teenagers. Pick your lane.
Oh my god. 17 OF MY CLASSMATES AND FRIENDS ARE GONE AND YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO MAKE THIS ABOUT RUSSIA???!! HAVE A DAMN HEART. You can keep all of your fake and meaningless “thoughts and prayers”. https://t.co/al9DWBM2AW
It’s very sad that thousands of voices won’t be heard bc this egocentric maniac is too caught up on himself instead of the change for the people. What’s not acceptable is you continuously trying to put the blame on someone else other than you. We want action not your words. https://t.co/GgSinporaI
helena, you have been both my first friend and my best friend ever since i moved here 15 years ago. you were the most thoughtful, kind, and beautiful person i’ve ever met, and i’m not really sure what to do without you now but i’ll always love you, heli #NeverAgain#douglasstrongpic.twitter.com/8DjOfF9Yx3
My beautiful neighbor, Cara Loughran, was murdered by Nikolas Cruz in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. She was only 14 years old. Children are dying, families are being torn apart, and communities are suffering. SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE. #NeverAgain#DouglasStrongpic.twitter.com/49DYdoHh0T
You know what isn't acceptable? Blaming everyone but the shooter and the lack of gun control in our country. You even blamed the students. We did report him, we tried. But how were we supposed to know what would happen? Your lack of sympathy proves how pitiful of a person you are https://t.co/32L1z0hhZJ
I will cry.I will cry because 17 people in my school were shot and killed with an AR-15.Trump may be your president but he is a lousy one.The NRA, GOP and even the president value the right to own a semi automatic weapon more than children’s lives, and to think they are “prolife” https://t.co/S2ZX10hwGq
DONT YOU DARE use her name to promote your bullshit. Emma is a warrior, a person I’m proud to call a friend. We will make change, you’re just scared that students are using their voices. https://t.co/fFLttB5BPA
Over the past several years, we've started to see more of what we'd call movements in the US.
The Civil Rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s were really the last time we had mass movements in this country. Growing up in the 1980s and '90s I saw the Million Man March, AIDS awareness, and the revival of the yellow ribbon campaign during the first Iraq War, but these were small in comparison.
Now we have Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the Women's March, and now, as you'll see in the Twitter names of some of the students quoted above, we have #NeverAgain.
There is plenty of splintering within some of these movements. There is no overall organization, though some pockets are organizing and we may see national NGOs start to pop up.
Movements are not parties, but sometimes they become parties.
We have two main political parties in the US: Republicans and Democrats. Right now, they wear their respective jerseys and, by and large, follow other people with the same jersey. I'm not convinced the majority of jersey-wearers elected to national office are concerned with thinking for themselves. Each party agrees among its members upon some talking points, and members who don't stick to the party line are set aside as pariahs, unworthy of funding.
Every time we try to take money out of national politics, we write in loopholes, which are easily exploited because the people who need them wrote them in.
We're basically living in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Or maybe Vonnegut wrote how he wrote because he had two eyes and a brain.
Ho hum, as it were.
Presidents have term limits, but senators and congressmen do not. It's time to set those. Five or six terms for members of Congress and two terms for senators — that will guarantee that anyone serving out the maximum number of terms works alongside at least two presidents.
Here's where I hit you with a shocker: we wait six months, and we do this all again. Because our system doesn't want change; only those of us governed by the system do, and believe it or not, we don't have that kind of power.
Sometimes I think I should run for office, or volunteer for someone I agree with. Most of the time, though, I'm too cynical to think it matters.
The best things you can do to help support the podcast would be to rate and review it in your podcast app of choice — that will help more people find it — and if you know someone who needs the knowledge, please share it with them.
I know I said I'd be back in April, but I found a direction and purpose for the podcast. I'm not going to do extensive show notes this time around, but I hope you'll get a little more out of these.
The best things you can do to help support the podcast would be to rate and review it in your podcast app of choice — that will help more people find it — and if you know someone who needs the knowledge, please share it with them.
Two of my favorite things to do are read and write.
While I've always found reading relaxing — thanks, primarily, to my parents, who, when I claimed boredom growing up, told me to go read a book instead of to go watch TV — I really love reading (and listening to) books for growth.
I write to make sense of things. To parse them in my mind. To explain difficult concepts to myself in a simpler form. Hopefully some of you have benefited from me doing that and sharing what I've learned.
I need a break to refresh that learning. The stuff I do here is what people often do on Sabbatical. So think of this as a reverse Sabbatical.
I also write to keep exercising my creativity muscle.
I have plenty of creativity to exercise scheduled in the next few months. I'm spending six months taking the Master Key Experience, which involves lots of reading and writing (and thinking). I want to pay more attention to the JKWD Podcast — it's really good and I think there's a lot of room for growth.
I have some thick books sitting on my shelf I want to get to, too, Antifragile and Tools of Titans (and I guess there's some new Tim Ferriss for me to track down, too).
I also want to learn some basic psychology. If you've got a recommendation, please pass it along.
And since New Year's is really an arbitrary date and you can start anything anytime, here is my annual posting of Doug MacLean's "Auld Lang Syne." Don't forget where you've been, but don't be afraid to leave it behind for where you're going.