Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Back to the grind

I'm back home. I have to admit that I shed tears at the airport (after 8 hours in airports, anybody might). I finished a book waiting on my flight from Dallas to Waco (which was about an hour late), and just sat there and cried.

Fortunately for me, I have great friends in Waco! Despite the fact that my flight landed at 9:55 p.m., I had a welcoming party in the terminal! My good friends, family really, were there with balloons, cards, posters, and chocolate! My little brother even came to meet me! (Sorry, teachers, that he was sleepy today in school!)

I spent my first full day back in Waco by returning to my old construction crew. We were rebuilding a warehouse room for a non-profit food and emergency funds organization. They had a fire several years ago and were just getting around to repairs.

It was bittersweet to be back outside exerting myself. I got a little too much sun today and am a little pink, but I didn't need any Vitamin D pills, did I?

I also hit the snooze button today and had a diet soda (with caffeine) for lunch. I hadn't been able to do that in two weeks. Also bittersweet. I'd rather be head down in a fishbowl.

Ah well. The earth keeps spinning and I have to buck up and move on. There are folks out there who have been diagnosed with cancer or who lost all their possessions or who lost their jobs. I got to have a really fantastic two week paid vacation.

Forgive me for complaining. My life is good.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's over


It's with great sadness that I announce that I have been dismissed from the NASA flight analog bed rest study. My veins proved too difficult to access, and they have run out of alternatives that meet both protocol and the approval of the board that protects human subjects during testing.

I am heading home soon. I must pack and say goodbye to those who are working here today.

Thanks for following along with my journey.

Gin the earth-bound monkey

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pushing back head down

I've got to write quick. I've only got 15 minutes til lights out, but I wanted to let you all know about today and the future.

I had a bunch of cardio tests today. They were 0 for 3 on the veins (total = 25), but they came really close, and they used an ultrasound machine to direct the needle into the vein. Trouble was, the cath was too short for my deep veins. It wouldn't thread. So, we did everything cardio that we could without blood draws. It was a lot of ultrasounds and blood pressures and a nitroglycerin tablet.

On the bright side, we got a new guy today! Blue is here, and we watched Inside Man and played some poker. That's why I don't have much time to write. He he.

I'll catch you up more later. For now, my testing for tomorrow has been rescheduled. I was supposed to go head down tomorrow, but they're pushing it back a couple of days until we can get some more testing in. At least, I hope so.

I've got to get to bed. Goodnight space monkey friends!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Can I borrow your veins?

Well, we tried today to do a dorsal hand vein test. Nurse M. came again and . . . long story short, 5 sticks later (total sticks = 22), he left. He did a great job, and we even had the cath in on one shot, but it kinked up and he had to pull it out.

He's really good. I hardly have any bruising. It was really not painful at all.

Tomorrow morning we try to do the cardio testing again. These are tests that we were going to do on Thursday, but couldn't.

Meanwhile, I've spent the day playing Guitar Hero and reading in the common room (pictured below). From the common room, you can see the Gulf, and from my bedroom window, I could see two cruise ships today!

Don't be sad for me. I'm still having fun! Monitor K. and I got out a plastic bowling set and played some hospital hallway bowling. We're so silly here. It's so fun! You should come join us!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

First Dorsal Foot Vein Test

Woo hoo! I had a needle in my foot for 4 hours, and it was great!

Having been scared that my problematic veins would send me packing, I'm now a fan of needles and desire to be stuck! Every day gets me one step closer to head down, and that's a good thing!

It was a crazy day, though. At 2 a.m. (I'm told) we lost power for a few seconds. At 6:30, the lights started flickering about once every 30 minutes, and there was a horrid alarm going off in the nurses' station for about 4 hours.

My next door neighbor, Purple, had a dorsal foot vein procedure scheduled between 8 and 12 this morning. They started the test, but every time the power flickered, the computers would restart and they'd have to begin the test again! She finally got done around 3, and then I began to be prepped at 3:30.

Cardio nurse M. was back, and he put a heating pad on my foot. The veins in my foot are more visible than the ones on my hand, and he felt confident.

Sticks #15 and #16 of the journey didn't find any blood, though it seemed like a sure thing. He heated and looked at the other foot, then returned to a different vein on the left foot. This time, with all our positive energy sent to my foot, he got it!

We weren't sure for about 15 minutes that it was really a perfect stick, but from that point on, things went smoothly. It's so neat to see your vein on screen as it reacts to small doses of medication that constrict or dilate it. Though I mostly watched Fiddler on the Roof, I occasionally glanced over and . . . WOW is all I can say. That was so cool. (Read about the procedure.)

Blessings on you who head to worship tomorrow. I'm going to have the exact same procedure done on my hand starting at about 8 a.m. but know that I'll be thinking of you at Lake Shore!


Friday, March 27, 2009

News from NASA

As of this evening, the NASA scientists and doctors are trying to get approval from dozens of sources to alter my protocol and access my blood in different ways. Nothing has been decided yet, but the fact that they are pursuing new ideas is so encouraging.

Tomorrow at 12:30, I have a Dorsal Foot Vein test. I'll be strapped to a bed for about 4 hours while they pump small doses of powerful medicine into a vein in my foot. I'm so excited!

Contest #2

Alright Space Monkey friends, it's time for race #2. I've been tearing up newspaper this morning in prep for paper mache. What I need from all of you out there are ideas for what to make. The best idea for a paper mache project will receive an official NASA crew patch sticker!

Ideas will be judged on creativity and feasibility, and I will give 12 hours (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) for submission of ideas by any means.

Meanwhile, I have no news about the cardio team's decisions. Things have otherwise stayed on schedule. I had a functional fitness test yesterday, a functional neurological test this morning, and t-reflex this afternoon. We watched a scary movie yestersday - Quarantine. Phew! I don't watch many scary movies. Green (another guy here) mostly just laughed at me while I shivered and jumped around.

Good times, folks. Good times.

Oh, and word is that we're getting two new subjects next week! Yea!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ups and downs of life

Whew. What a day. This was as much of a roller coaster ride as I've had here.

I was prepared for it to be a good morning. A cardio nurse (we'll call him Nurse M.) had visited me two days ago to take a look at my notoriously difficult veins. He sounded positive as he said that he'd be in at 6:15 on Thursday to put in an IV cath so that the cardio team could take blood from me from a single port for the three required blood draws during the 4+ hour long scheduled cardio test. In addition, the nursing staff was going to draw another half dozen or so vials for testing from that same port.

Well, Nurse M began on the cardio arm this morning. He brought a heating pad and a UV light to see the veins with. When he didn't feel comfortable with the left arm, he moved to the right, looked again with heat and light, and stuck me (#12). Strike one.

He tried again. Strike two.

Now, don't start thinking poorly of Nurse M. This guy is an expert. They brought him in especially for me. He's drawn blood a thousand times. I'm just a challenge.

Nurses have been coming in and out of my room, and I've been prayed over by my lovely monitor. They're all rooting for stick #3. Before he sticks, though, he brings in two more people from the cardio team to look, too. They suggest that he try one vein on my left arm.

They leave, he tries, he strikes out, and to my horror, he leaves! He has been in communication with the powers that be, and they've decided to postpone my cardio tests.

For the next hour, I'm stressed about being kicked out and sent home. To be honest, I'm a little frustrated, but no one can help what's happening. They've always gotten the blood they needed in the past. It may have taken patience and extra sticks, but they always fulfilled the requirements and sometimes it happened on the first shot.

Make no mistake - I want to be here. I want to stay. I want them to stick me until they get what they want. I'm willing to give them the hand, foot, both arms, neck, or head if that's what it takes. (Red - former subject - you know how I feel. I don't want to go home.) Don't be afraid to dig around with the needle, either. I've got a high tolerance for pain. When I shot myself with the nail gun in November, I didn't even cry.

Fortunately for me, I had a visitor today! Heather Archuletta, the Pillownaut herself, was back for her 6 month bone density scan. It was great to meet Heather. She's the reason that I'm here. Her multiple interviews and incredibly in-depth blog about her experience gave me the curiousity, confidence, and exposure to the actual study that I needed to pursue this adventure.

Come to find out, we're from the same neck of the woods! Heather, who has moved around more than I have is now living in a home about a block and a half from a house I used to live in! It's an incredibly small world.

So, Heather's visit raised my spirits and the nurses and monitors are all pulling for me, too. They're a great bunch. As of 4:00 p.m., I've heard nothing from the cardio guys or the higher ups at NASA about my fate. I'm hoping that no news is good news. Stay tuned. We'll see what happens next.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Test Subject Monitors

Day 8, and life continues to be good.

It's starting to hit me that I can't go outside, or choose what I'm going to eat, or how much I'll eat, or when I go to bed, or when I get up, or when I feel like being tested, or that I am never really alone. The bathrooms have no cameras in them, but just outside the door are dozens of people who want to know if you've gone #1 or #2. It's so strange!

Have I explained to you about the monitors? The "test subject monitors" are great folks. Their job is to watch me and write down what I'm doing at all times. I am the focus of a whole binder worth of sheets including lines such as "6:45 Subject brushes teeth. 6:47 Subject changes clothes. 6:50 Subject checks e-mail. 6:56 Nurse X takes vitals of subject."

On and on and on the list grows. It's a constant update. If I go to the common room and watch a movie or a b-ball game, they'll update it about once every 15 minutes, but it's not as if they can leave or get distracted and trust me to keep watching. And when I'm up and around, they're scribbling away furiously. It's kinda fun to mess with them like that, walking from place to place, starting one activity and then moving on to another. (he he he)

Each monitor can watch one or two subjects. Since there are only 4 of us right now, it's pretty quiet, but they say that it gets pretty crazy when the beds begin to fill.

The hard part is, when we are sitting in our rooms they sit in the hallway or in the nurses station with the camera monitor, just watching. Some of them do word searches or sudoku puzzles, but they can't do anything distracting, like reading a magazine or book themselves. They're stuck there, watching us.

So I'm purposely out in the common room a lot, or chatting it up with them. I realize that they signed up to do the job, no matter how boring, but it seems to make it better for everyone if they're enjoying themselves, too. We've played games, joked around, and watched tv/movies together.

If I can keep them on my side, I've got a good feeling about making it through. Mess with the monitors, though, and I'm done for! (In jest, we've already discussed cattle prods, super soaker water guns, and scare tactics.)

So, this one's dedicated to the hard working, note taking, super observant crew of test subject monitors. Thanks for keeping an eye, or 20, on me!

P.S. Both the Bears and Lady Bears won last night! I didn't watch the Lady Bears game until this morning, so I was jumping up and down with excitement 9 hours after they won! Go Baylor!

P.P.S. The correct answer to yesterday's contest was bbq beef, macaroni, squash, broccoli, green beans, white roll, and fig newtons! Good guesses, those of you who didn't get it! Good detective work to those who did! Post cards are on their way!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's a race!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, get on your feet! It's time for the first of many Space Monkey races! The races are simple and will require you simply to keep up with this blog and respond to me as quickly as you can when you have the answer to the question that I pose. The winner will receive a super fantastic, heart-pumping, tear-shedding prize.

So, without further ado. Today's first test is -

The first person to contact me (in any way) and tell me what I'm going to have for dinner tonight (use your resources) will receive the first NASA postcard from me, straight to your mailbox! Unless you are certain that I have your mailing address, please also include that when you contact me.

Note: I have lots of postcards and stamps, so if you're not the first, don't fret. You can still get one! Send me your address, the address of your little nephew, your granddaughter, or your mom. I've got lots of time and lots of postcards!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


It's Sunday, and that means it's time for me to set aside the pressures and work of the week and rest. No jogging around the halls, no breaking a sweat folding origami cranes.

I have to admit, though, that I did my laundry. Yes dear friends. I have labored. I repent. No more laundry on Sundays.

Speaking of repenting, though, I'm using the Book of Common Prayer now. I'm trying to follow it morning, noon, and evening, but I seem to be missing the noontime ones. I'm still new to this. It's only been 3 days. Still, though, I'm really excited about joining in the prayer and worship of millions of others. It's a sense of community that I appreciate a lot in general and especially here.

I had a really quiet day. I worked on the latest puzzle, played a game of monopoly with Yellow, the guy who goes head down tomorrow, read some of Marle's Door (I read The Glass Castle yesterday. Again, thanks Raymonds!), and watched some b-ball. I also made a space shuttle out of clay. Here's a pic.

I can't figure out why the local station isn't broadcasting the Lady Bears' game on tv. They're showing Tennessee instead. Seriously! Can't a girl get a break?

Not to worry, friends who know what a Lady Bear freak I am, I'm watching on my computer. I LOVE high speed internet! The Bears are going to win, and then defend the heck out of the Jackrabbits (who shot at least 16 3-pointers tonight!)!

Sorry to hear about Coach Kim's kidney stone and medicine reaction. What a relief that BU has 3 Hall of Fame coaches on staff!

Boy do I wish I were with my Lady Bear-fan-friends tonight. To those of you in Lubbock, give a Sic Em Bears for me!

Oh, I wanted to show you, too, how strict they are about counting calories. Dessert last night was Famous Amos cookies, and I got a triple decker. It was really a cookie and a half. They untwisted cookie #2 and scraped off most of the icing, stuck the half on the whole, then realized I needed a little more icing, which was put in the little bowl. How funny! (I've also gotten purposely broken pringles chips and halves of pretzels.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lazy Saturday

Ah, the weekend. No different for me than any other day around here. Except for the fact that it's generally quieter because the primary staff gets weekends off, so there's not as many tests run.

In fact, my day has been really quiet. I had my first saliva collection this morning. As soon as I wake up, I'm given a cylindrical wad of cotton and told to make it as spitty as possible. I didn't do a very good job today. There's a learning curve here. There's saliva, and then there's SALIVA. I'm going to do better next time, I promise.

Then I had all morning off. I read some, worked the puzzle some, folded two more cranes, and watched the Baylor men beat Virginia Tech! Woot! Go Bears! They've won two games in the NIT now. On to Auburn (a #1 seed) for their next game.

After a great chicken parmesan lunch with garlic bread and cheesecake for dessert, I had a functional fitness test to record my muscle strength. It was kinda like yesterday's test. I did crunches for 2 minutes, inverted pull-ups, push ups, maxed out a sit and stretch reach, and then maxed out my leg press. (Is 360 lbs. good?)

Poor soul that I am, the rest of my schedule says that I'm now required to eat dinner before bed! Do they think I'm a machine! Don't they know I only have so much time in the day! How can they put this pressure on me!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Too easy Drill Sargent, too easy.

(The photo here is yesterday's turkey dinner. Yum!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

The human pin cushion - the saga continues

Well Dad, I've got veins like yours. They're safely tucked deep down inside my body, under layers of skin, fat, and muscle. They like it down there, where it's warm and dark and cushioned . . .

I've been trying my best to be good, really I have, but I had the nurses shaking their heads in frustration today. Lab work required 13 or 14 (I lost count) vials of blood to be taken from me this morning. A great nurse yesterday (who drew blood the first day) put a heating pad on my arm to see if the veins would rise with heat and be easier to access. She was happy with the results, and marked two veins for the next morning's draw.

Well, this morning at 6:15, the heating pad went back on and 15 minutes later, the first nurse entered to draw blood. She didn't seem too thrilled when the first stick produced no blood. So in came nurse #2 for stick #2. She got me on the first try and began to fill vials. Unfortunately, 9 vials later, I dried up.

She then tried another vein (stick #3). No luck. That brought on nurse #3 and stick #4. Again, no luck. I'd now been lying there for about 45 minutes, was throwing off the breakfast schedule, and the nurses were looking nervous.

They seemed to have given up hope when from out in the hall I hear a cheer. The cardio experts, who are given my left arm to poke (while the other lab work comes from the right arm), have agreed to let them poke my left arm, so off we go again.

Nurse #4 enters and sticks me with #5. She hits the mother lode and fills up the remaining vials quickly. We all celebrate!

After breakfast, I have my first of 4 isokenetic labs. Basically, I'm maxing out my knee, ankle, abs, and back muscles in short reps on a couple machines that look like steroid induced weight lifting machines at a gym. It's not even hard enough to break a sweat.

All in all, the day went great. We started a new 1000 piece puzzle, I had my first physics lesson, finished a book provided by the Raymonds (thank you! The Water Room was good!), and watched a little NCAA b-ball.

Sadly though, I had to say goodbye to a new friend. Red and I were just getting to know each other. I'm confident that she and I would have had a good time together. She did absolutely nothing wrong. It just didn't work out. I don't think I can say any more. But she didn't do anything wrong!

Best wishes to you, Red, as you return to your home, work, family, and dogs! Our time here was too short, but we'll stay in touch. You've really got me thinking about impacting lives like you do.

Good night everyone. Lights out in 50 minutes! They're serious!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Too easy Drill Sergeant!

If the days to come are anything like the last two days, this will be a nice vacation. With the exception of cutting off my computer with 8 seconds left in the Baylor Men's first round NIT game (which they wound up winning!), life has been good.

Today my only test was a cycle test to check out my heart and lungs under stress. I had about 13 wires attached to me and was breathing through a huge tube with my nose pinched. One guy kept an eye on an image of my heart, another checked my blood pressure, and a third monitored the CO2 output. It was no picnic, either. Having ridden 15 miles on Tuesday, I felt good going in, but the test was about quickly observing stress levels, not helping me lose weight. The bike's resistance was increased, and I was required to maintain a steady level of activity. I'll be doing it again in a few days.

Beyond that one test, I had 3 more great meals (4 if you count pre-test breakfast and post-test breakfast), the psych dept. came by for a goal setting seminar, we finished a difficult 1000 piece puzzle, I folded my first two origami cranes, watched Iron Man, and am working through my first novel.

Thanks for all the communications! I really appreciate each one!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Moving day

It's begun. I'm overwhelmed. I think I knew what I was getting myself into. Maybe I downplayed the lack of privacy, though.

It's going to be an amazing time. The people are super friendly. The activities coordinator is going to do all she can to fulfill my every wish (within protocol), and the food is really, really good.

I got stuck again (7th time) and though the nurse drew blood, it wasn't much. She made it work, but getting to my veins might be the biggest physical problem I have.

On a funny note, I passed yet another pregnancy test. I think that makes 3. And my bone density was recorded for about an hour. Beyond those tests, I have spent day 1 unpacking, reading, working a jigsaw with a few others, and generally getting adjusted to life in my new world.

Oh, on another funny note, I'm now being referred to by color, as are the other subjects. Our stuff is color coordinated. I'm pink. Don't laugh. The other two females here already got purple and red. Seriously, stop laughing. It's not that funny.

I'm in my own room for now. Might have a roommate in the next few weeks. We'll have to see. For now, though, I've got the room to myself, and while I'm on my feet I share a bathroom with the two females next door - Red and Purple.

Don't be shy about asking questions or making requests or recommending books or movies or activities to me. I've got a LOT of free time now! Space Monkey out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In Houston, ready for takeoff

We're just hours away now, friends. The paperwork's been signed, the house has been locked up, the laundry detergent's been taken away by our good friends at airport security, and I've tried to do a lot of things today that I won't be able to do tomorrow.

In short, I've:

eaten at Shipley's donuts
taken a nap
had sweet (non-decaf) tea
eaten sushi
had a bar of chocolate
ridden an exercise bike for 15 miles
taken a bath
flushed the toilet after doing my business

Wow. I'm going to miss these things. Life will never quite be the same.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One last night in Waco

Tonight is my last night in Waco for three months. I can't believe that this is really happening. It's come so quickly!

I've spent all day running around town gathering up last minute things and returning books to the library, doing my taxes, buying postcard stamps, learning how to fold cranes. It's 8:30 and I'm mostly packed, so I'm feeling good about that, but I know that I'm going to forget something.

I have my new mailing address, so if you're interested in getting it, please e-mail me. (My e-mail is accessible in my full profile - by the picture of me and the gorillas.) If you go to my church, you'll find it in this week's newsletter, I think.

Tomorrow I leave on the 6 a.m. flight. I get picked up at the airport, given a few more hours to ponder this serious decision, and then asked to sign the paperwork making this official. Wednesday at 6:15 I am picked up and driven to Galveston. At 7:30, I am admitted to the hospital. Then the real work begins!

For tonight, though, I'm going to spend some personal time with my pillow. I'll miss you ol' friend.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A new brother!

My family just got bigger! Today was a busy day, with my last Sunday School class with the 1-3rd graders at church, cheering on the Baylor Lady Bears to their conference tournament win (woo hoo!), learning how to crochet, and most importantly, an adoption ceremony at church.

Jonathan Pendleton, my 9-year-old friend, is now my 9-year-old brother. We've been friends for about 5 years now, and during the last year or so, we've called each other brother and sister. During our recent camping trip, we decided that the time for talking was over. It was time to really seal the deal.

Though we did not sign any legal papers, we invited our extended family in Waco to join us for a Brother-Sister Ceremony Celebration. It's as official now as it can be without slicing our hands and binding them together or signing papers.

We came up with the program all by ourselves. Here's a look at the outline of the service:

The Dedication of Gin and Jonathan as Brother and Sister

Prayer -- Rachel Sciretti (friend and Minister of Children)

Stories of Love -- All are welcome to share

Promises to Each Other
G&J: We have come here today because we want to be seen as brother and sister. We promise to love each other no matter what.

G: Jonathan, I promise to be your big sister. That means that I'll be there for you forever and ever. I'm going to pray for you, encourage you, tackle you, and cheer for you for the rest of your life.

J: Gin, I promise to be your brother. That means that I'll be there for you forever and ever. I'm going to pray for you, encourage you, tackle you, and cheer for you for the rest of your life.

G&J: We make these promises today with God's help.

Song of Love "I Love You" (words from Barney the Dinosaur,
music from Holy Manna)

Prayer of Blessing -- Jo Pendleton

Afterwards, I gave Jonathan one of two matching necklaces. Then, we went to dinner, and I tacked him at his house. He needed it! I couldn't have him thinking that things were going to be any different than they were yesterday!

Tomorrow is my last day in Waco for a while. I've got house cleaning to do, some shopping for needed supplies, a lesson in folding origami cranes, packing, and goodbye lunch, dinner, and more! I hope everyone's doing well. Tomorrow may be crazy, but starting on Tuesday when I fly to Houston, I'm going to have a LOT of free time to chat. Write or call whenever you'd like!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Phase 2 - Go for launch!

Phase 2 was a piece of dehydrated chicken compared to phase 1. I drove down on Thursday morning and at 11 a.m. was picked up and taken back onto the Johnson Space Center property for what I was told was a Vitamin D lab. Little did I know that it involved more blood work!

Both the male and female doctor who drew blood from my arms during phase 1 remembered me as the lady searched and searched for a vein. Like last time, the first stick found nothing but air, so I got stuck a second time (6 times now in all) and had a little blood drawn for study. Then, it was down to Galveston to meet the folks at UTMB!

Galveston was hit really hard by Hurricane Ike last August, and it's still recovering. The UTMB facility is at 200 of 500 beds, and does not have an ER/Trauma Center back yet. Mostly, it's urgent care and labor and delivery. The 6th floor, where I'll be, is also a children's floor, and the bright walls and decorations are cheering, but the empty halls and rooms just make it eerie.

UTMB is literally right on the coast, and cruise ships will be sailing past the hospital regularly, I'm sure.

When I arrived, I found two male subjects in the common room watching The Dark Knight with their "test monitors," the lovely folks who's jobs are to be our hands and feet. There was also a female subject, but she had checked in that morning and was in a test. Another female is scheduled to start Monday and then I'm in on Wednesday, so for the first time in study history (I was told) the females will outnumber the males when I check in! Go girls!

The two guys have been in UTMB before, for different NASA tests, and are old pros at life on the unit. They'll be good folks to learn from. I also met two other guys who are in the screening process. It looks like one big happy family!

The nurses and dietician and monitors and other staff seem like great folks. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. They had a jigsaw puzzle out, video and board games stacked high, and smiles on their faces. If it was just an act for me, it worked! But I think it'll be great down there.

That was it for my first day. On day two I met with the psychologist to discuss coping techniques and potential stressors. "You mean that laying in a bed 24 hours a day for 60 days might make me go crazy? Nah!"

Then after lunch I sat down with the bed rest coordinator and a lead scientist who walked me through all the details of the study for a couple of hours so that there would be no denying that I knew what I was getting into. Most of the material covered the medical procedures that I would be going through, and I'd be lying if it wasn't a little scary to hear about being poked and proded over and over again, but like I've said before, these folks are good. I'm not worried about my health.

It continued to rain off and on the whole time I was in Houston and the drive back was tough, but I'm back in Waco now for three days. I've got to be on a red-eye flight back to Houston on Tuesday morning. Admit. to the hospital is Wednesday, March 18th! I have so much to do!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stories from Big Bend, part 3

The final morning at Big Bend was a beautiful one. You cannot describe the beauty of the place. Well, finer wordsmiths can, but I am at a loss.

After a hearty pancake and peanut butter breakfast, we headed to Boquillas Canyon for another hike. This 1.4 mile hike took us back to the Rio Grande River, but we were a good hour from where we were the day before.

On this hike, we met Victor Vasquez. Victor's beautiful tenor voice filled the canyon and our hearts. We had a picnic on the bank of the river, and then Jonathan and I headed up a steep bank of sand and boulders. Going up was tough work, but going down was a blast! Running down the mountain face as fast as you can, with sand shifting around you with every movement was an absolute rush!

In the photo on the left, you can see Jonathan and me about halfway up the sandy slope (in the center of the photo).

After we left Boquillas Canyon, we did a little plant research and Jonathan finished his requirements for his Junior Ranger Badge! Congratulations Ranger Jonathan!

Leaving Big Bend that afternoon was bittersweet. It turned out to be good timing as it started raining after dinner (Italian pizza in Alpine, Texas) and didn't stop raining on us for 25 hours! We drove through rain all the way from Alpine to Waco on Wednesday, but got home in good time.

On Thursday morning, at 5:15, I was on the road again, this time back to Houston for Phase 2 of my NASA screening!

Stories from Big Bend, part 2

It didn't take us long to get into Big Bend, find our campsite, and settle in. We had eaten so well for so many meals in a row, that we skipped lunch without even realizing it and took a 1.6 mile hike in the Chisos Mt. valley. The view out of the valley, called The Window, is one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. A spaghetti dinner filled our bellies that night.

In the morning, as we were cleaning up after breakfast, our campground was visited by a group of whitetail does. The littlest one was picked on by the others, and they all looked young. In the photo, you can see the roughhousing going on in the back right. The deer in Big Bend, like the javelinas and roadrunners, have no fear of people. I got to within 20 feet of them and sat watching them for several minutes, and they didn't care at all.

That afternoon, we went to the Santa Elena Canyon. The short 1.6 mile hike took us over the rocks on the right and down into the cool, moist canyon. Except for being scared out of my wits when Jo and David jumped out from behind the reeds as Jonathan and I straggled behind, I had a fantastic time!

Dinner that night was a great beef stew followed by ice cream (and some cobbler!) at the restaurant in the Chisos Valley. Then it was early to bed to rest up for another day's adventures!

Stories from Big Bend, part 1

On Saturday morning, March 7th, Jo, Jonathan, David, and I headed west from Waco. The trip was great and was highlighted by pancakes, sausage, brisket, and multiplication tables. Jonathan is getting good at his times tables!

We spent the first night of the trip in Marathon. It's a tiny little town, but it's full of great surprises! Most people who have heard of Marathon know about the little town because of the famous Gage Hotel, and it's great, no denying, but if you walk north for a block, you'll find yourself in Eden.

Eve's Garden, an Organic Bed and Breakfast, is a fantastic hideaway. The owners have added multiple rooms and an enormous garden. They build with papercrete, a lightweight, heavily insular, really green product, kind of like adobe.

For dinner, we walked to The Famous Burro and I had grilled chicken with chocolate ganache. Yes, you read correctly, chocolate chicken. Ooh it was good.

Then, for breakfast, our hosts fixed an incredible feast. I ate a flower, along with eggs, bacon, home-grown tiny tomatoes, and baked pears.

After breakfast, we headed out again. This time, it was Big Bend or bust.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Back from Big Bend

What a trip! I have never had that much fun camping! I will be detailing the trip in further posts, but for now, let me just say that Big Bend is as close to a must-do-several-times-over as I've ever seen. It was on my list of things to do asap, and I suppose that it will stay on that list no matter how many times I go there.

Tomorrow I head from Waco to Houston for Phase 2 of my NASA screening. More details on that later, too. For now, I must reintroduce myself to my mattress.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Change of plans

Attention Space Monkey followers! A call from NASA today has bumped up all previous levels of excitement and anticipation! Phase 2 has been rescheduled from the 16-18th to the 12-13th (cutting out one day of camping at Big Bend - rats).

In addition, a tentative start date for the program has been set for MARCH 18TH!

More news as it becomes available.

(Woo hoo!)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A date for Galveston

I got a call from NASA today. We've set a date for phase 2. I'm heading down on Sunday March 15th and will be in Galveston until probably Wednesday of that week. I got asked today about my shoe size, which leaves me with many questions, but other than that, it seemed innocent enough.

So, it's off to Big Bend for a week and then to Galveston for a few more days. I'll be in and out a lot, so catch me when you can!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shorter program

I called NASA today to ask about when I might be expecting to hear from the Flight Analog team, and got some interesting news. Nurse Kathy said that they were still waiting on the final drug screen, and that I should hear something immediately after that, but she also said that the program is likely going to be 84 days instead of 114 days. They apparently are moving from a 90 day bed rest to a 60 day, as it was a the beginning of this most recent set of studies. (I recently read an article about a man in the 60s who was in bed for 210+ days!)

I'm a little sad about the corresponding financial downsizing, but it's still going to be a long and exciting journey! Plus, this will probably get me out of bed in time for a wedding! (not mine) And, there will be 30 fewer days of muscle atrophy and bone density loss and needle poking! So, friends, stay tuned. There should be more info soon.

Oh, and in an effort to soak in sunshine and stretch my legs and be vertical, I'm heading to Big Bend National Park on Saturday with my dear friends, the Pendletons, for a long camping trip! I'll be back on Thursday, so don't be alarmed if I don't post for a while.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Medical tests


Several of you have asked questions about the medical tests that I will undergo during the NASA study. As a healthy young person, I haven't spent much time with doctors and nurses in my life, but considering that I'll be moving into a hospital for four months, I figured it would do me some good to figure out a little bit of what is coming.

Pillownaut, the young lady from Texas who did the study last year, has a great site of her own that includes just about everything you could want to know about the program. I've already linked the menu from her site to mine, and now, for your education and entertainment, I'll link up the descriptions of the medical tests. (Warning: Some of the descriptions are so detailed you might start to sweat.)

It's sobering to think about putting nitroglycerin into a healthy body, inserting catheters into foot and hand veins, and being strapped to a bed to prevent motion during painful procedures, but hey, you're only young once!

On a serious note, the doctors and nurses are some of the finest in the country. I'm already going to be at the hospital in case anything should go wrong, and what kind of story will this make if they just feed me jello and let me watch movies?

I don't think that Nietzsche is totally correct about things that don't kill us automatically making us stronger, since I'm expected to lose bone density and muscle mass. But when I'm finished with NASA, there's not going to be much of anything I won't be able to overcome.

Add that mental victory to the relationships I start and foster, the boost in the bank account, and the physical gratification of getting back what I lose, and I see this as the adventure of a lifetime!

P.S. You may think I'm nuts, but remember, I've already passed the psychological tests!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Patience young apprentice

No news yet blog followers. I took the third drug screening on Wednesday, but I'm still waiting on a call from the flight analog team. I'm sure that they're busy since the program started again this week after a long hiatus after Hurricane Ike.

Still, patience is not my strongest virtue. I'm getting more and more excited about this program, and I'm really looking forward to going down to Galveston to meet everyone and work on setting an entry date. That's really been the biggest question (besides the bedpan issue) -- "When do you start?"

My best answer is, I don't know, but I'll let you know when I do! Meanwhile, I'm compiling a recommended book/movie list. Just comment to this posting or e-mail me. I'd really appreciate it. Hopefully I won't read through the whole list before the program starts!

For your entertainment, here's a photo of a paper mache duck that my sisters and I made a couple of years ago to hold pencils for my dad at his office.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Phase 1 - Go for launch!

Yippee! The results are in! I've passed phase 1 and my name is being submitted to the Flight Analog Team at UTMB! I'm go for launch! (aka not pregnant or crazy) Nurse Thompson says that I should hear from them within a week, probably sooner.

Next up, another trip to Houston to meet the FA Team and sign a bunch of paperwork!

More news as it becomes available!

(Follow up two hours later: I just got a call from Nurse Thompson who informed me that I'll need to go in for a THIRD drug screening tomorrow. You got to give them this, they're thorough.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Tang and dehydrated chicken.

Several of you have been asking about the food served while at UTMB. It is counted, calorie by calorie, and adjusted to keep your weight exactly the same from day to day. Everything has to be eaten and drunk. Everything. That mustard pack that wasn't used with lunch - that's dessert. The salad dressing at the bottom of the tray. I hope you have some bread of some sort to wipe that up with. Every calorie counts.

Here's the rotating menu.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Houston, day 2

I'm not too crazy! In fact, they're fast tracking me into the program. (I think.) The oral psychological exam also included an observation of what I had responded in the written eval. the day prior. The doc seemed to be happy with everything she saw and heard. She also went into detail about the program. No surprises. Just a little more realism about the fact that I'm "head down" for up to 3 months. (Apparently they're reviewing whether or not 90 days is really necessary. It used to be just a 60 day bed rest program.)

I also had a DEXA screening. That's code for a bone density scan of my left hip and lower spine. It took all of 15 minutes to do. Then, I was set free and told that I'd be called in a few days.

I had a few hours to kill before meeting with a seminary friend, Jen, and so I headed downtown to the Downtown Houston Aquarium. (Photos to come later.) It was great! Not only did they have an octopus, hundreds of huge fish, snakes, and rays (that you were invited to touch), they have 4 White Bengal Tigers! They only had one in the exhibit at a time, but I stuck around and watched them switch out tigers and feed one. They were gorgeous!

I had a great night hanging with Jen, and then this morning headed to Austin. I had sushi with Emily, took a great hike near Zilker Park, and am headed off to dinner/movie at the same time at the Alamo Drafthouse!

I'll be back in Waco either late tonight or tomorrow morning. See ya later!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Houston, day 1

So I had my first day of screening today and as far as I know, I'm still in! After realizing last night over an amazing bowl of Mongolian b-b-que that I had no idea when things began tomorrow or how I was going to meet the mysterious driver or what was going to happen, I woke up at 5:30 based solely on the blog of pillownaut who wrote that she got started by meeting her driver at 6.

At 6:30 I took the risk of calling the direct number of the nurse who has contacted me in the past. She was already at work and glad to hear from me. At 7, I met the driver and another screening applicant in the lobby, and it was off we go!

By 7:05 I had a NASA temporary badge and was on my way into the facility. There, I began a battery of tests.

I had a baseline EKG, blood pressure, and temperature taken first. Then a 4 vial blood draw for HIV, hepatitis, and iron count (because it was low the first time), among other things. The doc had trouble finding a vein. He stuck the left and got air. Then he stuck the right and had to wiggle the needle after the first two vials filled. Come to find out, I had to be restuck again, but more on that later.

Next came vision and hearing. Then, it was time for a 3-D image of my heart! I got hooked back up to the EKG machine a second time for this and had to regulate my breathing for several minutes.

After this, I'm told that they need another vial from me. No problem, I think, but when a new doc comes to take blood, she can't find a vein! She checks the left, then the right, then the left again, then the right, then the hand, then the forearm. Finally she sticks me and gets it on the first shot. No prob.

Finally, they take more urine for a second drug screen and second pregnancy test (ut oh folks, the jury's out again on my pregnancy!). I also had a breathalyzer test. Strange, since I'd been fasting for 12 hours before the blood draw and had been given juice and cookies by the nurses after the blood draw. Needless to say, I passed.

Last bit was the physical with a sweet ol' doc. Third doc of the day. They're well staffed there!

At this point, I'm sent by driver to another building for the written part of the psych eval. Boy, I thought that the multiple blood work was thorough! It consisted of 3 written forms, mostly about alcohol and drug use and two computerized tests with 200+ and 300+ questions each. The first was based on a scale of 1-5 and the second was T/F.

All in all, I suppose I'm not crazy. I couldn't say that I had ever heard voices or felt like people were trying to rob me, and I don't think people think that I'm cold and vindictive. I am not afraid of dust storms and I would be interested in a park ranger's job.

Time will tell, but so far I think I'm still eligible for the study. Tomorrow's the oral exam and the bone density scan.

I'm off for now! They've got me in a suite that's nearly as big as my home! I'm enjoying myself!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Short hair

I've been wanting to go shorter with my hair for several months now, but finally decided that today was the day. Whether or not I actually get to start the NASA program, I wanted to donate my hair to Locks of Love (non-profit that makes wigs for kids). We managed to get about 12 inches off in this ponytail, then she just kept snipping away! Talk about an easy way to lose weight!

I leave tomorrow, midday, for Houston. Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be undergoing lots of testing, both physical and mental, to make sure I'm up for the adventure! More later!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I just saw a great movie. Wall-E is an animated Pixar movie about a robot who is left on Earth when it becomes too uninhabitable. He winds up saving the day and falling in love, too. Classic story, but with a timely backdrop.

The movie definitely resonated with me. It's theme about choosing "life" over "survival" and hard freedom over sterile sameness is much the same as in 1984/Pleasantville/The Giver/etc. But more pertinent to this particular blog is that it specifically talked about bone density loss during prolonged space travel! It was definitely not scientifically accurate, but for a moment there, I really was concerned that I would wind up looking like the obese former Earthlings because of my participation in this bed rest study!

Then, I realized that woudn't happen and that I'm going to get back in better shape afterward than I am now. Plus, I'm going to do my part so that astronauts know how to deal more effectively with bone density loss and muscle loss.

The real goal, though, that everyone can be a part of is doing your part to prevent the destruction of the world we have now. Recycle! Go Green! Use public transportation! Invest in clean energy! Don't put your lives in the hands of a robot like Wall-E! Chances of him being the hero in a real life situation are a little less than Disney would have you think.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Things I take for granted

I've been thinking . . . hang on . . . I need a drink. I'll be right back . . .

Mmm juice. So, I've been thinking that getting up and going to the fridge, or the bathroom for that matter, is something I definitely take for granted. Every time I move between rooms, run out on a quick errand, run around with the great kids I get to play with through my church, etc., I've thought about the bed rest study and how I won't be able to do any of those things for 4 months, esp. when I'm on the 90 days of strict bed rest.

Then I got to thinking about all of the people I've known who have had to live with some form of mobility problems on a day to day basis. Whether it's a broken back, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, or amputation; challenges like these that require assistance, a slower lifestyle, or absolute dependence on someone else are so foreign to the vast majority of young, healthy people. We might be kind to the elderly or physically disabled around us in our little worlds. We might even have a relative who we've helped in some form or fashion, but I don't imagine that anyone really knows what life is like being bed-bound unless you've experienced it yourself or been beside a family member who needed you for the most basic human functions.

I don't pretend that the NASA study will teach me what the elderly or physically disabled go through. I don't pretend to believe that I will be able to do more than empathize with more compassion and patience in the end, but I hope that through this adventure that I am volunteering for I can expand my vision of the world around me and increase the gratitude that I have for what the human body can do. I imagine, too, that my desire to support medical research for anyone with a physically debilitating condition will grow. I hope so.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I'm not pregnant!

Great news! I'm not pregnant! I'm drug, STD, and HIV free! NASA has received my blood work and has cleared me yet again as I pursue the job of any couch potato's dream!

Next step, eat more steak. The only negative from the blood work was my iron count. I'm back on supplements and green veggies and red meat for a little while. Also, I'm scheduled to head to Houston for my physical and psychological eval. in two weeks.

Now, I'm off to practice for my new job. (He he.) We've been digging up an asphalt driveway and prepping it for concrete for the last two days. Great exercise in the warm weather, but exhausting too!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No news . . . good news?

NASA hasn't called back. I can't believe it's because they found anything unusual and are retesting. At least, I'm sticking to that story!

Meanwhile, I'm flipping people out by telling them that I'm waiting on pregnancy test results. I have to admit, it's fun. That's the kind of shock and awe that I'm into.

And, I've been soaking up as much sun as my white skin can handle. (Sorry Kentucky and other places that are sub-freezing.) It's been beautiful here. Upper 70s and sunny. I went out for a long bike ride on Monday, read in the sun yesterday, and today, broke a good sweat while tearing out my friend's asphalt and gravel driveway so that her son could have a real concrete driveway to play basketball on. (The son and I went to see the Harlem Globetrotters last night.)

Tomorrow's plan is to pour the concrete, then on Sunday we've got an all-church soccer game planned, sponsored by my 1,2,3rd grade Sunday School class!

Why do so many of you live in cold places again?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The human pin cushion - day 1

I had my first blood test today. Joy of joys, it also included my first urinalysis. I didn't faint, or miss the cup, or squirt blood or anything! I'm feeling good about this!

There probably won't be any new developments until after the weekend, but you know that if there are, you'll be the 2nd or 3rd or 14th to know.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I am not a crook!

The criminal background check came back clear (no surprise!). Next step is preliminary blood work tomorrow morning here in Waco. Step by step, NASA is getting closer!

Monday, January 26, 2009

I've made contact with NASA

Things are starting to heat up on the NASA front. I've created this blog to share my experiences should I become the next in a short line of ordinary citizens who make contributions to space exploration by lying in beds for months at a time.