Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Alien Extraction

Greetings from Suburbia readers. I am recovering with the parental units at the moment. Certainly was a long day for me today. My morning started at 4 after a fitful night of sleep. I had to be at Ben Taub at 6 for surgery. Maybe two or three years ago a lump on my face started growing, and I didn’t have as much of a problem with it as others did.
As it grew larger, people began to wonder what it was, and I did too. I wasn’t worried at first, but I thought I should at least find out what’s up. Back a couple of years ago, I went to my doctor and he diagnosed it as a lipoma, a fatty tumor basically. I was given a referral to an ear, nose, and throat doctor, and it promptly got sucked into the black hole that is my efficiency apartment. Another year passed and I realized in a picture just how large it had gotten and decided to get that referral again.
So I found myself in the waiting room of a plastic surgeon, and I was on my way again. I figured this is it I’m going to get this thing taken care of. Well, it wasn’t that easy. My doctor ordered a CT scan, but he wouldn’t tell me the cost. Then I got a call from the diagnostic clinic later in the week and when they quoted me the cost, I was floored. I had insurance at work, but being a PPO, they would pay only the deductable and the rest would come out of my pocket.
The amount wasn’t exactly astronomical, but on my budget, it was a lot. It was explained to me that they could bill me. Of course I already knew that they wanted that money up front, and not in increments, the only way I was able to pay. To be that close to getting that tumor removed only to be turned back like that was heartbreaking. I was upset, but I wasn’t deterred. There was always the Harris County Hospital District.
Even though I had insurance, it was at least worth a try. I couldn’t disappoint my friends and family and just give up like that. So began another journey for me. I called the hospital district and they sent me to the far north side of Houston to pick up my papers. Once the form was filled out, I had to make an appointment to turn in my paperwork and get registered in their system. Easier said than done when using public transportation.
I had to go to the far southeast side of Houston and be there at an appointed time. The first thing I learned about dealing with the hospital district is that just because the appointment is at a certain time doesn’t mean that I’ll be seen right then and there. So I arrived at the registration office with all the required paperwork and waited – and waited some more. Finally I was seen by a hospital district worker and turned in all my paperwork. I was worried that even though I had insurance I’d be denied.
Then surprise, surprise I was approved. I was now in the Harris County Hospital District system. I was now the proud owner of a HCHD Gold Card, and I was on my way again. After dragging my feet for a little bit, I finally called and made an appointment to be seen at the clinic back on the north side of Houston. I think I must have confused a lot of HCHD employees when they called my name in Spanish and I’d answer them in plain English. \
Being a patient in a public healthcare system means having to give over a lot of my secrets. Foremost my real weight and my real height. The doctor couldn’t understand why I was there until I showed her the mass on my face. She probed the surface with her finger and determined that yes it might just be a lipoma. I was given a referral to Ben Taub and see an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
The doctors looked it over and ordered a CT scan. I thought, oh no here we go again, but no sweat. There was no give us your money or your life this time. I got the CT scan, met back with the doctors again. They determined that sebaceous cyst, and was probably benign. The next step was to have the cyst biopsied. I’m thinking big needles and heavy sedation, but no.
The needle used was smaller than the one used to draw blood, and there was no anesthetic necessary. At the pathologist’s office she took a very fine needle and probed it twice. When she said I might feel pressure, she wasn’t kidding. It hurt and my skin was red in that area. It was the first time that it ever really hurt. Most of the time the only pain I got from it was a shooting pain in the temple and jaw, or when it was exposed to extreme temperatures. The biopsy determined that indeed the cyst was benign, and the next step was to have it removed.
A quick meeting with the anesthesiologist determined that I’d be put under plus have a local applied as well. I was nervous and I had my apprehensions, but the docs assured me that it wouldn’t be that bad. So bright and early on the morning of the 9th, my parents took me up to Ben Taub hospital for the surgery. All my friends and family were pulling for me, and they were happy that I was finally having it taken out. I was probably the happiest though because I’d have peace of mind knowing that it was gone forever.
The surgery waiting room was chaos. Everyone was scheduled to be there at 6 in the morning, but the nurse had to explain that patients would be called according to the time that their doctors could see them. So finally around 8:30 I was sent into surgery. After struggling with the stupid hospital gown, I was sent to pre-op for screening and monitoring. Then the docs came, looked me over, and I was wheeled into the operating room after 10 in the morning.
The last thing I remember is looking up at the OR ceiling with a mask on my face. I woke up again and found myself with the mask still on in the recovery area. At first the nurses didn’t realize I was awake until I got their attention. They took off the mask because that hurt. Then I explained that I was feeling pressure in my sinuses. I was administered apple juice and a Vicodin tablet. The nurse assured me that it was safe to take the pill on an empty stomach.
After a while I felt nauseous and the pain hadn’t gone away. I still felt the pressure, so I was administered morphine. Still nothing, so I was given Ketamine. All that did was knock me out, but I was in so much pain, the nurse brought in the doctor. He loosened the bandage around my head and the pressure went away. I passed out, and when I came to, it was time to go.
Once the docs and nurses cleared me to go home, I was prescribed pain killers and an antibiotic. My parents took me to their house and I’m going to convalesce here the next couple of days. It’ll be a while before you see me out again, and if you shop at Disco Kroger over in the Montrose, you’ll have to wait ‘til Monday to see me slinging meat again. A big thanks to the ENT specialists at Ben Taub for the excellent job they’ve done. And thanks to all my friends and family for their thoughts, their concerns, and their prayers. It’s greatly appreciated and I look forward to seeing y’all again soon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thai Seafood Curry

What you'll need:

1/4 small onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic crushed and minced
1tbsp grated ginger
1tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp green or red thai curry paste
1 can coconut milk
1tbsp oyster or teriyaki sauce

1lb 51-60 count shrimp peeled
4-6 tilapia fillets
octopus or calamari (optional)
prepared crawfish tails (optional)
prepared crab meat (optional)
prepared lobster meat (optional)

2 cups water
1 cup rice

In a dutch oven or deep covered frying pan, drop the curry paste and cook out the oils. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and brown. Add can of coconut milk and add brown sugar and oyster sauce. Stir until blended and then toss in fish.
Once the fillets flake and separate, add in the rest of the seafood. Shrimp will turn pink when ready. Sauce should come to a simmer,but not a rolling boil. Turn off heat and let sit covered.

In a sauce pan bring two cups of water to a boil, stir in rice, bring to a boil again, and lower heat, Let rice cook 20 minutes covered on low heat. At end of cooking time, fluff with fork and let sit five minutes before serving.

This dish can be very filling and the remaining paste can be used in other dishes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More Urban Jungle Survival Tips

All right so it's grocery shopping time, and I am always on the lookout for bargains. My eyes are automatically drawn to the yellow or bright red shopper's club card deals. Sure some of them are great, but not everyone can afford those pricey deals. However, there are other options.
Number one is the closeout item. That is a product that the store is no longer going to sell, or is changing the packaging, or any number of reasons. Some of them are really useful, and then there's some that well, just flat out useless. Most grocery stores have a corner or area where these items are gathered. Other places will specify them with a different colored shelf tag to draw attention to it.
Items that are marked down are also kept in some of these closeout areas as well. The one proviso here is that some items in markdown areas are either close dated or damaged, so be careful.
Canned goods that are dented, packages that are torn or crushed are good examples of these. Most times if the top of the can is not pushed out, then the product is still good. Just remember that the clock is ticking on those items once damage occurs. It may not stay fresh as long, so the quicker they're used, the better.
A lot of grocery stores have areas where marked down meats are kept as well. Most of the time these products are a day or two out of date. In the case of processed meats such as ham and turkey, they should be anywhere from seven to ten days from their expiration date. Products day of or older should not be in either of these areas. and if they are, they should be brought to the attention of store management.
Things to look for when choosing marked down meat are color, smell, and packaging. If the product is still red, most of the blood is still in the meat. Anything brown usually means that most of the blood has soaked into the pad underneath or leaked out. When looking at the packaging, it should be rightly wrapped and stuck to the bottom of the tray. If it is not, it can be re-wrapped, but remember to move it to another package at home.
If the product has turned green or gray, move on to something fresher. Also when choosing fresh meat, if the packaging smells, the product may not. However a lot of the time odor has to do with case sanitation and whether or not the package was wrapped tightly. Choosing processed meats is a different game altogether.
Processed meats should look slightly pink or white depending on what it is. If the product has turned beige, green, or gray, don't take it home. Chances are that air has been introduced into that product, thus initiating the decomposing process. If the product has a stomach or has puffed up, then definitely don't take it home.
That means that dangerous bacterias like listeria may be lurking in that package. For the most part listeria is harmless, but it's best not to take any chances. For instance bacon should be bright red or pink and white. If it is brown and the edges look feathered or frayed, chances are it is not safe to eat. At home if the processed meat has a slimy coating, contact the manufacturer directly and discard the product because they will more than likely send a coupon for a free replacement.
Seafood is usually marked down, but it's best to pass it up and get something fresher. But if it's too hard to pass up, there are some things to remember. Fresh whole fish should smell like fresh water, and the eyes should not be clouded over. Shrimp should be stuck to its shell and slightly firm. If the shell has separated, or it's a bit soft to the touch, it's probably best to get something fresher.
Dairy and produce also usually have markdown items as well. Again take the same precautions. Typically milk will last one to five days after the expiration date, but the best way to tell is the smell test. When it no longer beings to smell fresh, pour it down the drain or use it for baking. Most dairy or produce products should be marked down within five days of their expiration date to ensure maximum usage.
Bread or bakery items are usually marked down a day in advance of their expiration date. Most of the time the best thing to do here is take the product home and store it in sandwich bags in the freezer until ready for use.
Fish and seafood can be frozen for up to three to four weeks. Breads no more than two weeks because they will dry out. In some cases that can be a good thing because that can be used as bread crumbs or bread pudding. Fresh meat can survive up to six weeks in the freezer, and processed meats up to three months.
Hopefully these tips can save money and hopefully time in the grocery store. My rule is always if it's green or gray, throw it away.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tex Mex Mac and Cheese casserole

1 bag elbow macaroni
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes or similar style
1lb hamburger meat 80% lean or better
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 bag shredded medium cheddar cheese
1 bag Mexican style shredded cheese
1 stick unsalted creamery butter
6 tbsp flour
4-6 cups whole milk (nothing under 2%)

First things first. Prepare the water for the macaroni and place on back burner. Next brown and then drain hamburger meat. Add taco seasoning until meat is entirely coated. Cover and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. When water comes to a boil, stir in macaroni.

In a sauce pan, melt the butter and add flour a tablespoon at a time and make a roux. Do not brown. Whisk in the milk and combine until blended. Lower heat and stir sauce until thickened. When the sauce coats the back of a spoon, turn off heat. Add mild cheddar and whisk until blended into sauce.

Macaroni should be fork tender and white when ready. Drain off the pasta and pour into a rectangular baking dish. Add Ro-tel, hamburger meat and stir together. Pour sauce into pan and stir until all ingredients are blended. Spread the bag of Mexican style shredded cheese over top, pop into oven and bake until cheese bubbles and macaroni begin to harden.

This will serve a small crowd, or one or two people over several days. Can also be portioned and frozen for later use.

Quesadilla, pepper jack cheese, or even Velveeta can be used in place of medium cheddar. Other add-ins instead of hamburger meat can be prepared chicken and beef fajita strips chopped into small pieces. Ground turkey, chicken, or even vegetarian grinds can be used.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hurricane Hell followup 9/19/08

After being cooped up for almost a week, I decided Wednesday to hit the streets and see what this city looked like. All over it was pretty much the same. Lots of trees still down and lots of areas still without power.

I started out on the light rail line where there was no power, so no place to charge my Q Card, the rechargeable bus pass. Lucky the light rail was free, but none of the ride stores, at least as far as I could tell, were open. Since downtown still had power, I was able to recharge the card at one of the rail platforms.

Waiting for the bus west to the Galleria, I was able to see that Travis was still blocked off Wednesday. All of the windows blown out at the JP Morgan ChaseTower were now boarded up, as were most of the other windows that blew out downtown, as the bus moved forward through the city.

Traffic signals were still out in some places downtown, but Midtown was without power from about St. Joseph's al the way south to Elgin. So that was Wednesday, and I spent the day out. First to lunch, and then the Galleria.

After being couped up this whole time, it was nice to see civilization again, but there were still signs thinngs weren't quite back to normal. There were people all throughout Galleria II that were on their laptops or charging their cell phones.

On my way home I ran into some friends and that really made my day. It was great to reconnect with people, some that I hadn't seen in two or three weeks. We hung out at a local watering hole and hung out there until the owner ran us off 'round curfew time. Yep, Houston's still under a midnight to 6am curfew through Monday.

So Thursdfay I decided to head west to Memorial City Mall and see how it looked there. Still more of the same along Long Point and Hempstead, along the bus route I chose to take. Spotty is the best word to describe our current power situation. One side of the street will have lights, while the other won't.

One improvement I saw in Westmoreland here is a lot of the trees had been cut up and piled on the side of the streets. Out at Memorial City Mall, it was the same scene as the Galleria. Lots of people using their wi-fi and charing their electronics. I can understand what that's like wanting to reconnect with the world at large and let our friends and family in other places know that we're alive and that this storm didn't get us down.

The streets were busiere today with people either heading back home from evacutating, or just coming home from work. Westchase along Gessner and Westheimer all the way east to about Dunvale was spotty at best as far as electrical service goes.

I got the brilliant idea that Wal-Mart, being this mega giant retailer, would have fucking groceries like cold foodstuffs. Nope. Deli, produce, meat, frozen - empty. Nothing left on the shelves but some drinks and a hand full of gourds. I freaked the fuck out honestly. This was not what I was expecting from Wal-Mart for crying out loud.

Yeah I can understand 99 Cents Only, Kroger, and Randall's here in Montrose since they all just got their power back. 99 Cents Only and Randall's were spotty at best in their selection of perishables.

My friend from high school called me as I stood here agape at the sight of the empty coolers. He lives in League City, and he did a recon mission for me down there. His Wal-Mart had some cold foodstuffs, and he came and got me.

Every where he went traffic was hell. Between the lights out in places on Westheimer, and the traffic on the freeways, what's normally a thirty - or forty-minute drive took closer to an hour. Finaly, he arrived and shuttled me down to League City.

All along 45 South the Gulf Freeway, Ike's calling card was every where. From darkened parking lots to broken signs and fallen awnings, the devastation was evident. The League City Wal-Mart was spotty at best, but they had the essentals I wanted like lunch meat and cheese and milk, things I realized I take for granted.

I have to say that I really appreciate my friend braving all that traffic to get me the hell out of here so I could get groceries. And I appreciate all my friends who've checked in on me, or have thought about me in the wake of this storm. I also give a shout out to those who showed their concernts for not just me, but my family too.

So, the lights are back on here in Westmoreland, but other areas of the Montrose still remain in the dark. Hopefully the power will be back on by the time the curfew's lifted Monday. I know a lot of the bars and clubs have been posting bulleteins that they'l be open this weekend, and they'll even open early to accommodate the city-wide curfew. Hope to see some of you out this weekend. I miss y'all, and I miss hangin' out with y'all. Be well.

Hurricane Hell 9/16/08

For the last twenty-five years or so, the Houston/Galveston area managed to dodge some major bullets in terms of major hurricanes. Many times me and my family prepared for the worst and nothing happened. The most we saw in that 25-year span were baby hurricanes and minor tropical storms. Then, about three years ago, we got the wake-up call with Katrina first and then Rita, which apeared it would take dead aim at the Houston/Galveston area. Once again we'd dodged what was a monster hurricane.

This year's hurricane forecast as in recent years didn't look too good fo the U.S. coastal areas. Personally I'd become complacent in recent years. I'd pretty much determined that if it happened, it happened, and there was nothign I could do about it. This year we avoided a direct hit by Hurricanes Dolly and Gustav, but took a glancing blow from Tropical Storm Edouard.

Then the Cape Verde season began, and that's usually when I pay attention because those storms have historically taken aim at the Gulf Coast. So when Ike formed just off the Cape Verde coast, I really didn't pay much attention because the forecasters said Josephine would have a better chance of taking aim at the Texas Gulf Coast.

Ike was already ahead of Josephine and tmoving over storm weary Haiti, Cuba, and the Caribbean. Forecasters and meteorologists scrambled to predict where exactly the storm would make landfall. For the first time in 25 years, I actually stopped and took notice. Galveston and Houston were in the center of the cone of uncertainity, and the closer it got, the more likely landfall would be somewhere in the area.

Monday I got in touch with my family in Texas City, just to the south of Houston and north of Galveston. Mom told me that she had no idea we were in the target zone, but that she would concact me later in the week with their plans.

In the mean time, I hoped and prayed this thing would go the other way and miss us, but I knew our time was past due. The grocery store where I work was busy Thursday morning, and then by that afternoon, shelves had emptied of can goods, water, and even perishables like dairy, meat, and produce.

After I got off work, Mom had made the decision to evacuate now that it was obvious Hurricane Ike was about to take aim at Galveston. Dad and Grandma sheltered at my apartkment, and the rest of my family at my sister's house in Bellaire.

We watched the news coverage and waited as the storm got closer by the hour. Ahead of the hurricane water pushed into the bays and bayous south from Corpus Christi north to Surfside, Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula, and even as far north as Beaumont and southern Louisiana. This storm was huge and it was only a cat 2.

Just after midnight Ike began to move into the Houston area after battering the coast. For eight exhausting hours wind and rain battered my apartment complex. All over the Montrose where I live transformers exploded and the entire area went dark.

Daylight revealed lots of downed trees and there were branches and leaves all over the place. Listening to the battery operated radio I had, word from the coast wasn't good. Many landmarks across the Gulf Coast were gone or destroyed.

Just today I got electricity back, and I was able to see just what exactly happened. East of Houston in Orange County and Chambers County, the devastation was unbelievable. Entire communities along the Bolivar Peninsula to the east of Galveston Island were wiped off the map, and water still inundated areas further east.

Along Galveston Bay, many of the communities from Bacliff to San Leon, and north to Shoreacres and Baytown were nearly wiped out by the 13-15 foot storm surge.

On a personal note, my family went home Saturday afternoon and found their roofs slightly damanged, and the trees knocked oer. Nothing as major as what happened along the coast.

So far the Texas Gulf Coast from Brazoria to Galveston and Chambers counties are closed off. Do not attempt to go south and try and help. Instead I encourage people to donate to their local Red Cross and Salvation Army.

It will be many months, possibly even years before many of these areas fully recover. If you loved going to the Gulf of Mexico to vacation or to party or whatever, then I strongly encourage you to help those people because their situation is dire.