Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Market Saturday

First note. . . . Allan, thanks so much for your call. Sorry to hear your team didn't do so well. Maybe you should pick em' better! Anyway. . . nothing that a good glass of wine can't fix, huh?

So first thing Saturday morning I walked over to the hospital to get my second daily dose of Kepivance at the outpatient clinic. Sunday morning I'll have the third infusion and then they can remove the catheter from my arm so I can take a proper shower without worrying about getting the bandaging all wet. Small pleasures.

I'm also very glad the hospital is less than a ten minute walk over. I usually take a shortcut through a small park on the clinic grounds. With the thin layer of snow, it's a welcome change to the daily sunshine grind in California. . . .

So I'm not going to pull any punches here. Today has been quite a cold day. It's a cold minus -9C and feels especially cold if there is even a small breeze. Almost froze my schnutz off. Yuko. . . bring gloves. And also a scarf. If you have an extra warm jacket, that too. And a hat wouldn't be a bad idea. And toe warmers, yup. And if you want to bring a few chemical hand warmers. . . well you get the idea. Luckily it's always warm inside, regardless of where you go here in Heidelberg.

The clinic usually has normal business hours (8-5, M-F) but there are still a lot of people on a rigid schedule (like me) that require a specific treatment outside of normal business hours. Seems like cancer doesn't follow the business clock. I was told to just go directly to my treating nurse during off hours. I'm sorry to say that I have forgotten her last name. It is usually rude to immediately address people by thier first names in Germany because the society values a certain level of polite formality. But this very nice nurse insisted that I call her by her first name, which is Meike. Here is a picture of Meike on the right. . . .

Basically she runs the outpatient facility and provides very nice care to all the patients here. The outpatient facility consists of five or six separate rooms that have specialty treatment chairs that line both sides of the room, like this one (I took a picture of an empty room since I thought it would be rude to take a picture in the full room of patients where I am treated). . . .

After getting my Kepivance infusion Meike wrapped up my arm again and I headed back to the apartment. I'm just spitballing here and can't be 100% sure but I am an observant person, you know. While walking out the main hospital door I was surprised to see 'possible' evidence that someone may have smoked nearby. Yuck! I would think that a hospital would have a 100% ban in a place like this. Well, eventually, I'm sure. At least they make the smokers additionally suffer by standing in the liquid-Nitrogen temperature weather to have a fag (yes, that's British English for "cigarette!"). Hey Frank. . . you weren't visiting here recently, were you? I'm going to do a DNA test to check.

And then let the Saturday (my last Saturday for a while) begin! . . . When I came back to the aprtment Judy had invited her good German friend Caroline over. Caroline lives less than an hour away toward Frankfurt and previously spent a year in the California Bay Area. After an hour of topical discussions on global warming, politics and car repair, she graciously offered to both take us to lunch and also swing by the Christmas Market.

Another important side note to all my eligible bachelor friends. . . . Caroline is available and a great catch for a decent guy willing to be a gentleman.

Like most German drivers I noticed that Caroline has superior driving skills compared with the average American. Although thats not saying much, Caroline can parrallel park in one move. I love that and she has my undying respect!

We parked on the north side of the Neckar river at the Karl-Theodor Bridge directly across from the East end of Heidelberg Old Town. This is a pedestrian & bicycle-only bridge. Very nice walk (but almost froze my ears off). . . . .

The bridge is at the base of Heidelberg castle. Very nice to look at. Sort of looks a little like the Disney castle, but larger and without any large-ear rodents. . . .

I find the row of riverside buildings very nice and scenic. And entering old town from the bridge is like entering a castle. Pretty cool. . . . .

Carloline first took us to a very nice resaurant that had a very delicious menu where it's not just all schnitzel and pork brains. And as we usually find, the serving staff are fiendly, helpful and very nice. I hope that Judy will be able to take Yuko here while I'm tied up with other things. . .

Following lunch we went out in the central old town plaza area where the Christmas Market is located. So much nice architecture.

And in the plaza area this building is reported to be the oldest hotel in Heidelberg still in operation. It was built in 1342.

We were able to take some time to walk around the Christmas market where you can buy many christmas-oriented trinkets. They also sell mulle, a heated spiced red wine. We didn't stop for any however. It was so darned cold we decided to stop at an inside coffee shop to get warm.

Later we stopped at the restaurant at the apartment and had some snacks. I have to very sincerely thank Caroline soooooo much for taking us out today. Otherwise I'm afraid that I would have missed the best that Heidelberg has to offer. I won't get another chance to see these wonderful sights until the next time in the future I return to Heidelberg. Thank you Caroline!

I'm going to depart a little from all the good feelings I gathered from today's great activities and return to something I witnessed this morning while waiting in the hallway at the outpatient clinic for my medication to arrive from the pharmacy. As I was sitting there a German couple passed by me headed toward the end of the hallway near the windows. The couple was perhaps in their early-to-mid fifties and obviously husband and wife. The husband clearly had been through I stem cell transplant to treat some form of cancer, having no hair from the chemo. When they reached the end of the hallway they spoke at length to each other and the wife was quitely, but noticeably crying. And although I can't understand German, it was obvious to me that the husband, speaking in a very calming tone, was trying to reassure his wife. So they wouldn't notice, I very quitely snapped a picture without the camera flash. A few minutes later when I went in to receive my infusion I asked about that man's condition and was told that the stem cell transplant was unsuccesul to cure his cancer. And knowing that stem cell transplants are usually done on people that will otherwise die from thier cancer, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that he will likely not survive his disease. (Click to enlarge):

The reason I tell this story is to keep my life in perspective. Yes this stem cell transplant and associated chemo is a very serious (and a little dangerous) treatment. But I'm not otherwise going to die of cancer and in general my overall risk of complications is not terribly high. Overall, my life is good. I have a beautiful wife and son, great friends (many of whom are reading this blog!) and get to work together with great professionals that I enjoy being around (go PlasmaSi !!). I'm a lucky man to be able to receive this potentially curative treatment for my MS and I also hope that (especially during the holiday and New Year season) that you will also appreciate what you have. Not everyone else in the world has it as good as the rest of us.

So it was nice to go back to the apartment and see "our" Christmas tree. Reminds me that sometimes small things are all that I need.

See you tomorrow.

- George

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