Friday, July 30, 2010

Mini's final day... We say goodbye

We said our final goodbyes to our angel Mini yesterday afternoon, knowing all too well that while she's left us in body, she'll be with us forever in spirit.

But that doesn't make it any easier.

It was the most harrowing day of my life, and the culmination of what was easily the rockiest emotional roller coaster of a week I've ever endured. What makes this passage even harder to write is that the focus isn't on the joy and happiness that Mini brought so many people in her life, but it's about her final hours with us, what they entailed, and the unfortunate ease of the hard decision we made.

Yet, as sad as the outcome was, the circumstances couldn't have blessed us with a more beautiful and perfect afternoon.

That's just how twisted the past week has been.

On Thursday evening, July 22, Mini had emergency surgery on her spine that we were told would have a 50-percent chance of reversing hind leg paralysis suffered earlier that afternoon (details here). Heading into surgery, Mini was "deep pain negative" in her right hind leg (the worst stage of paralysis - you could cut off her toe and she wouldn't feel a thing). The fact that she still had pain sensory in her left hind leg, despite its paralysis, was perceived as a good indicator that regained mobility would be possible.

She seemed to be recovering rather quickly from the surgery and anesthesia, another good sign that her spirit and will were intact. We brought her home Saturday afternoon, July 24, feeling every bit as optimistic as we were nervous of what the days ahead would bring.

She ate Chinese food with us Saturday night (the chicken portion of chicken and broccoli), and was quite the cuddle monster on the couch, watching whatever disposable television was on as we studied a roomful of recovery aids, prepared for everything the coming weeks might bring... A playpen to limit her attempts to move and alleviate stress on her recovering spine, a tempurpedic cushion for the playpen - because she deserves nothing but the best to rest her weary body on - and as incontinence was a given, we had a bulk of wee wee pads, doggie diapers, canine baby wipes, and every cleaning supply imaginable for impending accidents.

Mini was visually happy to be home and surrounded by her people Saturday, and seemed more content soaking in the attention than sleeping. Sunday proved her day of rest, but an anxious day for us, as it provided my learning curve in exercising her bladder.

Monday was great - Mini was wagging her tail, smiling, and sitting up in her bed in my office, watching me intently as I juggled her care with my ongoing job search and incoming contract and freelance work. I talked to her throughout the day, and she listened, as has been the case every day for the past nine years. Given that I have worked from home all but one of those years, she and I have developed an obvious co-dependence, and that only intensified with the care I'd been administering to that point.

I'd take her outside every few hours to relieve her bladder, and she'd wag her tail - she always loved the sun just as much as I did. Every trip outside ended with physical therapy on her back legs. We had a routine, and it worked for us both. There was no need for diapers, no need need for cleaning aids, and when Rika came home from work and was greeted by Mini's smiling face and wagging tail, there was nothing but optimism.

Our hearts glowed with hope.

My only concern was that she hadn't eaten since Saturday night's chicken, and I called the hospital Tuesday morning to express my concerns. The doctor I spoke with was encouraged by Mini's spirit and the ease and speed at which I'd taken to her care, and said she truly didn't see her lack of an appetite as a reason for immediate concern. She recommended waiting until her first week of medication ran its course before letting panic set in. She also lowered Mini's morning dose of pain reliever, suggesting that by easing the medication we might relieve her stomach and boost her appetite.

Mini was less energetic Tuesday, but I attributed that to her lack of eating. She tried to sit up a few times, but to little avail, and her spirit weakened noticeably over the next 24 hours. I happened to receive a call from her regular veterinarian on Wednesday afternoon, who was checking in for the first time since the surgery. We talked at great length, and while she was encouraged by Monday's tail wagging, she couldn't hide her worry that Mini wasn't eating. She offered me a few suggestions of things to feed her over the next 24 hours - baby food, apple sauce, vanilla Ensure and light vanilla ice cream - and, Thursday being her day off, we agreed to touch base again on Friday morning to monitor our progress.

Mini ate half a jar of baby food that night, but we needed to hold her head up to help her lick the spoon. As I detailed here early Thursday morning, my escalating concern over Mini's weakened condition - both physically and mentally - led me back to the hospital late Wednesday night, where they expected to provide her with intravenous nutrients, monitor her overnight, touch base with me in the morning, and have me bring her home Thursday afternoon.

Unfortunately, Thursday morning's phone call changed everything.

It began, "I wish I had better news...", and my heart shattered as the surgeon proceeded to explain Mini's condition. I wanted to cry, but I knew I couldn't - I needed to be strong, because I needed to call my wife with the news, and then one of our best friends, who I rescued Mini with nine years ago. I needed to be strong for them, just like the three of us needed to be strong for Mini - and make the hard decision that she couldn't make on her own.

The surgeon explained how shocked he was by Mini's condition when he saw her that morning, and how there was no way that a lack of eating could take such a devastating toll on her body, especially considering how well she was doing as recently as Monday afternoon.

He went on to explain, in great detail, how a number of indicators, on their own, might not be cause for great concern, but together they led to a catastrophic conclusion.

He started with the fact that there was no disc material to be found in Mini's spine during the operation, and that she lost deep pain sensation in her second leg post-operation. On their own those weren't great signs, but they also weren't dire. But when you couple them with the devastating turn her body took between Tuesday and Wednesday, to the point where she felt like a boneless bag of sand when I brought her to the hospital early Thursday morning, the signs all pointed to a horrific disease...


The word sounds bad, because it is bad. Very bad. Where most canine back problems start and end with a single disc, and can be controlled and/or repaired if treated quickly, in the extremely rare cases of myelomalacia (the doctor said he sees one, maybe two cases a year), the disc proves to be the launching pad for an irreversible, untreatable, and fatal condition.

In Mini's case, a concussive disc began the chain of events Thursday, when her hind legs were paralyzed. From there, myelomalacia began its corrosive path through her back, destroying her spine as it spread. While we didn't know it at the time, its ravaging effects began to show Tuesday, and rapidly led to Wednesday's weakened state. The further through the spine the disease spread, the worse Mini would get, until she ultimately died of respiratory failure.

Based on the speed at which she was deteriorating, the doctor urged us to get to the hospital as soon as we could, as it would likely be the last chance we would have to see her. He presented me with two viable options - euthanasia, and waiting 24 hours, just in case there was an unexpected change of condition. On the positive side (if there could be one), he did assure me that, since the condition literally destroys the spine and kills the nerves, Mini was feeling no pain, and if we chose to wait, she would not be suffering.

He said that if it was his dog, he'd probably wait the 24 hours - which is what I told him we'd likely decide. I got off the phone with the doctor and immediately called Rika and Erika.

Talk about horrific phone calls.

Little more than an hour later, we were all at the hospital, where we were put in a room with Mini, who was carried to us bundled in a blanket and in a small sherpa bed.

While her body didn't seem significantly different than when I brought her to the hospital 12 hours earlier, her spirit seemed drained and her eyes were haunting, a third eyelid forming within each. The scientific term for those inner eyelids is nictitating membrane, and in dogs it is a sign of failing health.

Mini was receptive to our presence, but that offered us little consolation. It was unspoken at the time, but within seconds of seeing her, we all knew what needed to be done.

Holding Mini's head in my hand, petting her, and looking as deep into her soul as my tear-filled eyes would allow, I said what everyone was thinking - I didn't want Mini dying alone in a hospital in the middle of the night, and I wanted to hold her as she left us, letting her leave this world surrounded by the same love that she brought to it.

Rika and Erika agreed, as did the doctor, who assured us that given the love in the room and the peace we so visibly brought Mini, it would be the greatest gift we could ever give her. He also assured us that the process is painless, and we could be with her throughout. He had a scheduled surgery, and said he'd leave us alone with her until he returned, at which point we could make our decision.

The moment he left the room, we all agreed to one of the easiest decisions we hoped we'd never have to make.

We spent the next 90 minutes alone with our baby. There were a lot of tears, but it was absolutely beautiful, and as perfect as such a sad situation could be. I cried more in that room than I've ever cried in my life, but there was never even a split second where any of us doubted that we were doing the right thing.

We took turns holding Mini in our arms, and there was hardly a moment that I stopped cradling her head, petting her face, and getting lost in her adoring gaze. Rika and Erika did the same. We kissed her so many times, I can still taste and feel her fur. And I never stopped talking to her, telling her that she didn't have to fight anymore, and she didn't have to be afraid. I told her to look to the light and find my grandfather, who would be waiting for her with a bowl of meatballs. And I told her about all of the other people she'd meet in heaven that would be part of her new family.

And I told her that anytime she wanted, she could sleep in our beds and sit on our couches, because in our hearts, those are places that she is always going to be. In the midst of all that talking, Mini touched my hand with her paw - like she often did at night, sleeping in our bed - and as I always did, I took hold of it...

I didn't let go until five minutes after the doctor - his eyes red and swollen just like ours - lifted his stethoscope from her tiny chest and said those words that we will never forget...

She's gone.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

MINI: Forever in our Hearts
April 2001 - July 29, 2010

Mini spread smiles and joy wherever she went, and she left this life just as she lived it - with her people, and surrounded by love.

She was our angel long before she earned her eternal wings.

We love you, baby!


Paul, Rika and Erika

Skinny Mini is back in the hospital...

On Monday, I said that I wasn't panicking over the fact that Mini hadn't been eating.

On Tuesday, I panicked and called the hospital where the surgery was done. The doctor that returned my call said I shouldn't be worried about the seven days sans food, and to wait until her first week of medication ran its course before getting overly concerned.

Earlier today (Wednesday - I haven't slept yet), Mini's regular vet called to see how she was doing. When I told her that I was worried that she wasn't eating, despite the fact that the hospital told me not to worry, she told me that she, too, was worried.

In fact, she couldn't stress enough how important it was that we get food into her as soon as possible.

The extent of Mini's nutrients have come from honey, which I give her after her pills. Knowing that, my vet said to try giving her sweet foods that can are easy to digest and offer ample calories - apple sauce, baby food, vanilla Ensure, or light vanilla ice cream. We tried the baby food first, and over the course of about an hour tonight, Mini ate a half a small jar of Gerber chicken and vegetable.

That's my baby!

The problem is, she's so weak and anemic at this point, we had to hold her head upright to even feed her - she can't support any of her own weight, collapses like a ragdoll if you don't support her, and doesn't even have the energy to bark when someone is at the door.

I took her outside shortly after 1am tonight to express her bladder, and was absolutely panic-stricken over how limp her body had become. I called the hospital, and they recommended I bring her in as soon as possible. I was at the hospital fifteen minutes later, where both the tech and the senior doctor were flabbergasted by Mini's emaciated condition.

While I am the first person to call out bad customer service (it drives me insane!), tonight was a rare, exemplary case of the opposite. The attending doctor not only listened to everything I had to say (to my credit, I go out of my way to stay level-headed in these situations), but she was also sympathetic, oozed understanding, and never attempted to either justify the other doctor's call, or even insinuate that I might have misunderstood her directions.

And, with minimal effort on my part, she dropped the charges for tonight's hospitalization by more than 80-percent, and told me that I didn't have to pay the estimate until I spoke with the owner in the morning. More than anything, it was the pacifying manner in which she did it that made me feel completely at ease.

I was never made to defend myself. She not once tried to defend her colleague (not that her colleague needed defending - medicine is an inexact science, and she made the best assessment she could, given the information at the time). Despite Mini's condition, I left her in their care feeling nothing but warmth.

In the meantime, they're going to run blood tests on Mini, then pump her full of electrolytes and get some nutrients into her. I'll be getting a call in the morning, and will hopefully be picking her up in the afternoon, once they've had a chance to kickstart her food intake.

Baby steps... Baby food... My poor baby!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

There's a method to my Mini-information

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." ~Anaïs Nin

I read this quote for the first time today, and its timing couldn't have been better.

Last Thursday night, our dog Mini had to have emergency surgery on her spine. When the surgeon informed us that she'd only have a 50-percent chance of walking again, my initial reaction was one of fear, followed by sorrow, and then rear-ended by truckload of helplessness. I'm only human, and my head automatically swayed to the worst case scenario...

But just as quickly, an instinct took over. It was an instinct of preservation, and a level-headed realization that I wasn't about to let my baby go without a fight. And I started asking the surgeon every question that I could. Every question... Lest you think a Paul Gargano line of questioning starts and stops with fluffy commentary about a new album from a band whose record label paid my salary with full-page ads, think again - I was an editor for the Associated Press long before I was waxing poetic at the helm of Metal Edge.

I'm inquisitive by nature, and painstakingly thorough when I'm looking for information. To the point where I almost start to feel bad for the people on the receiving end of my inquests... but why should I? If you're charging me a base of $6000 to operate on my dog's spine, aren't I entitled to have every question answered to my satisfaction? To the surgeon's credit, he went out of his way to make sure I was completely clear with everything - and in a situation like Mini's, that was all I could ask for.

My goal was to not only understood everything that Mini was going through, but also how she got there, where she was heading, and what I could do to best prepare for her future. The surgeon gave her a 50/50 chance of walking again, and am doing everything in my power to tip that balance to her favor.

But please don't get the impression that I think I'm special because of how much I love my dog, or the way I handle her surgery and recovery. I don't believe my dog's story is any sadder than similar stories that happen to countless other pets on a daily basis. And I don't believe that what I'm doing is anything less than what so many of my friends, as well as other pet owners, would do for their animals, if the tables were turned.

And because the tables are constantly turned, I wanted to write about our experience - I don't think I'm special, I just think I'm different.

And I'd like to think that someone might find my perspective helpful.

I wanted to document the knowledge I've gained, express the emotions that we're battling, and share the ups and downs of Mini's recovery. Yes, there is a part of me that writes for the therapy, but there is a bigger part of me that does it because I feel like it is my responsibility to say what others are often not able to say.

Do I cross the line sometimes, maybe injecting my humor or sarcasm in a place where another might find it offsetting? Maybe. But that's who I am, and I don't think any of us should ever be afraid to let our guard down. The people that are taking the time to read are doing so because they care - and because they care enough to read, I care enough to try and be as honest as possible.

I want people to know exactly what we're going through with Mini, because I want them to know that if they are ever faced with a similar situation, they can go into it armed with knowledge, and backed by knowing that they are not alone.

Will reading about Mini's lack of bladder control make some people uncomfortable? Perhaps. But that's a small price to pay for the possibility of having someone, someday, research their dog's condition on the internet and stumble upon my collective writings. I may not be able to cure their dog, but perhaps I can help them find a little bit of clarity throughout the muddied process.

If a single person makes the decision to work their dog through its recovery, rather than giving up because they can't handle the pressure of inconvenience, then my offerings here are not in vain.

That is worth more than any paycheck, and that is why I write - because I feel an inclination and obligation to say things that others may not be able to say... With the hope, of course, that they are things that others may also want to read.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mini sports her sutures like fine couture

Lest people forget my daze as a professional photographer, that would be Mini's over-the-shoulder, 'bringing sexy back' pose. Yep, she even shaved for the photo shoot! If there was a Studio 54 for dogs, she'd be the queen of the velvet rope, popping more pills than Paula Abdul (allegedly), and weighing less than either of the Olsen twins.

Aside from some poultry hand-picked from Chinese chicken & broccoli delivery Saturday night (yes, she eats off chopsticks), Mini hasn't eaten a thing since Thursday's surgery. That said, she's washing her medication down with honey, and is also taking in more water than the Titanic, so I'm not overly concerned just yet.

As you might imagine, drinking all that water does wonders for a dog with no bladder control, but we're making progress - I've finally, after two days, figured out how to effortlessly (for both of us) help her relieve her bladder. How proud was I when I figured it out? So proud, I woke Rika up at 4:30 this morning and made her come into the driveway and look at the puddle of piddle.

I'll refrain from posting a picture, but you know I gave it more than a passing thought...

So while another person might be worried if the upstairs neighbor in their duplex looked out the window and saw them in the driveway holding their 10-pound dog's backside in the air, wiping her lady parts with baby wipes after a manually-induced bathroom break, well, I've never claimed to be like other people.

A friend of mine emailed me yesterday and said, "if you ever had any concerns about being a parent, clearly you're ready." I never honestly had a doubt, but it is good to know that we can rise to the occasion.

In a lot of ways, Mini is like having a baby.

She's used to sleeping in our bed, but that's obviously not an option right now - not only am I known to throw a punch or two in my sleep (not good for the sutures), but she's also got that bladder issue to contend with. So we got her a playpen that we stationed right next to my side of the bed - Mini lies in bed until I'm done reading at night, then I move her to her to her snazzy, waterproof digs.

And like a child that has nightmares, as soon as her whimpering wakes us up, she's back in our bed until she calms down, then back to the playpen. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I never claimed she wasn't spoiled. Or soiled, as the case may be.

Spoiled, soiled, and dining on a steady diet of take out... Mini has always been the epitome of rock and roll - even before she got the heavy metal in her back.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mini is home... and chillin' like Bob Dylan

Mini is one tired little wiener dog!

Tired, and maybe just a little doped up. We brought her home from the hospital yesterday, less than 48 hours after rushing her in Thursday night for what would end up being an emergency surgery on her spine.

The surgeon told us that it could be weeks before we not only start to see any sign of improvement, but even get a real indication of whether or not she'll ever be able to walk again. In the meantime, the hardest part - for us, at least - is not getting ahead of ourselves, and just taking things one day at a time.

Mini doesn't know what happened, let alone what she's going through. All she knows is the frustration of immobility. With her hind legs being paralyzed, she now has no bottom end to balance with when she's sitting. She now has no leverage when she just wants to shift her position. If she's lying down, she can't get into an upright position without a struggle. And she can't stand up at all.

But she'll adapt, that's what dogs do. They don't feel sorry for themselves, they just do what needs to be done.

What we need to do, is start with the basics and work from there...

It's not hard to forget what Mini's been through - her back is shaved, and she's got 13 staples binding a 4" incision over the center of her spine. She needs three pills twice a day - one antibiotic, and three pain relievers - has no control over her bladder, and no mobility at all in her hind legs.

What is hard, is remembering that even the smallest progress can be a huge leap in her recovery, and those baby steps are what we need to strive for.

For now, just seeing her sleeping and stress free, restful and calm, and so happy to just snuggle up against us on the couch, those are all the baby steps that we need.

Baby steps...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What happened to Mini?
The events that led to spinal surgery...

That's a picture of Mini, taken yesterday afternoon.

The IV in her leg is where she gets her hydromorphone drip to control the pain of Thursday night's emergency spinal surgery. So if she looks a little glassy-eyed in the picture, well, that might explain why - according to the surgeon, the drug is a notch stronger than morphine.

As bad as that may sound, I've just been told that we'll be bringing her home from the hospital today. A couple dozen people have asked what's happened, so I thought I'd try and offer an explanation here - hopefully we can track her progress over the coming weeks, as well.

Essentially, the next six weeks will determine if Mini can ever use her back legs again. How did it happen? We're not really sure, and neither are the doctors...

Two years ago, a set of unrelated x-rays indicated what our vet at the time referred to as early onset arthritis, as well as a calcium deposit forming in the mid-section of Mini's spine. Back problems are common in daschunds and corgis, and being a daschund/corgi mix, it wasn't necessarily a cause for panic. We did, however, take precautionary measures, buying a second set of dog steps for our house - giving us one for the couches in our living room, and another for the bed in our bedroom.

Last Thanksgiving, she was experiencing back pain. We knew because she would wince and/or give out a yelp if someone approached her suddenly (not necessarily touching her), was guarded when anyone would try and pet her (especially around the back, often yelping), slow moving around the house, and not really excited about walks. The vet prescribed a steroid treatment, as well as a mild pain reliever to help ease the recovery.

Much like a human, the best remedy for a back is rest - the anti-inflammatory agents in the steroid, as well as the pain reliever and close supervision, were intended to provide just that. She recovered after about a week, and we were told it was no doubt related to the calcium deposit and/or the arthritis. While we should be aware that it could happen again as she gets older (she turned nine in April, so was about eight-and-a-half at the time), we were told it wasn't something that required excessive concern.

About six weeks ago, Mini started favoring her back again. We had since transitioned her to a new vet, who at the time had just finished treating her for an aural hematoma (which is why one ear stands up, the other now flops). She recommended the same course of action as November's incident - 5 mg of Prednisone (steroid) twice a day, as well as Tramadol for pain relief. After two weeks of treatment, as we had begun to ween her off the Prednisone, we were growing concerned because she wasn't showing any signs of improvement. The doctor recommended going back to twice a day with the steroid.

After a week of this, I started to notice that Mini was favoring her right hind leg (left hind leg, if you were facing her). As her doctor had previously noted that we shouldn't be overly concerned as long as there wasn't an indication of nerve damage, this gave me pause - if her leg wasn't working, perhaps the nerves were starting to show wear. I brought her in for x-rays this past Tuesday (7/20).

The results indicated two spaces between her vertebrae that appeared smaller than the rest, but there were no signs of tumors or any other indications that this wasn't something we might be able to treat with a prescribed anti-inflammatory and continued pain relief over the short and long term. A new course of medication was prescribed, and we were on our way, encouraged that surgery would not appear to be a necessity.

That was Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday, she not only was wagging her tail for the first time in weeks, but also followed me outside and wanted to socialize with a few dogs that were walking by our house. She tired quickly and wanted to go back inside, but we were excited by the show of progress.

Thursday, she spent the first half of the day under the bed in our master bedroom, her safe haven as of late. I took her out at about 1:30 to administer the first set of daily meds, and while she hates the meds, she stayed with me in my office after that. She was whining a little, but nothing out of the ordinary after taking those wretched-tasting pills. She was holding her head up, as if craning to look at something, but I assumed that was because of either the pills, or just a comfortable position given her back issues. After about a half hour, she settled down and was just lying in her bed.

I got on a conference call at about 4:15, and since I tend to pace on longer calls, I started walking around the house so that I wouldn't disturb Mini in my office. At about 4:45, I noticed her, in a seated position, pulling herself out of my office and into our foyer so that she could be with me. It was almost as if she was scooting her butt (like dogs do to scratch that itch), only she was "walking" with her front legs, and her hind legs weren't doing anything.

I sat on the floor with her and pet her for a bit, and she was smiling, showing absolutely no signs of pain. I picked up her backside to see if she could support herself, and it fell like dead weight. I made several attempts to get her to stand on all fours, but her hind legs continued to slump into a seated position. I excused myself from the conference call and phoned Mini's vet immediately. Her regular doctor was out, but another vet - who was familiar with her situation as he consulted on Tuesday's x-rays - called me back at 5:45 and strongly urged us to immediately take her to a spine surgeon.

When dealing with paralysis, as was the case here, the chance of recovery drops dramatically after the first 24 hours, and waiting even overnight could make all the difference in the world. I called the surgeon, and we were at the hospital by 6:45.

The doctor we met with gave us a 75-percent chance of recovery if we had immediate surgery to decompress the pressure in her spine. We agreed to the surgery, and were then introduced to the surgeon, who actually offered a less-optimistic 50/50 chances of recovered mobility. Needless to say, we still agreed to the surgery.

We left Mini in the hospital's care shortly after 9pm, and received a call around 11pm, letting us know that her blood panels cleared her for anesthesia, and a myelogram - where they inject dye into the spine to see where the actual obstruction is - confirmed that the blockage was in the same area as indicated by the x-rays, and they would immediately proceed with the surgery.

A little before 1:30 am, I received a call from the surgeon, telling me that they had completed the surgery, but with "strange" results. Typically, an invasive spinal surgery such as Mini's - as necessitated by the x-rays - would result in the finding of calcified disc matter that results in the decreased space between the vertebrae. By removing that disc matter, the nerve damage can often be corrected. But in this instance, when the surgeon cut through the bone surrounding Mini's spine, he found no disc matter whatsoever. Instead, her spine was swollen, exposed, and rubbing directly against the bone - hence the irritation and eventual paralysis. The surgeon called it a "Type 3 Disc Protrusion," and something that he doesn't see very often.

While he admitted that he would feel better had he physically been able to remove disc matter - and what would have been the obvious cause of the problem - in this case, by removing the bone surrounding the spine (and the cause of irritation), he felt hopeful that similar results were possible. Post-surgery, he estimated that Mini's chances of walking again remained at 50-percent.

He did say that she was showing tremendous recovery from the anesthesia and surgery, and was lifting her head and trying to look around a lot sooner than many larger dogs would be in a similar situation. We agreed to talk again the next morning and set up a time to visit her, after we all (including Mini) had a chance to rest.

As can be expected, a morphine drip can have quite the impact on an eleven pound dog, and she was a loopy little patient when we saw her for the first time less than 12 hours after her surgery. That said, she recognized us all, and even started to whine when I left the room to get her some water. We sat with her for an hour, a lot of which was spent with the surgeon, and she spent most of that time dazed and content, resting in my hands.

The surgeon said he would remove the IV that night, transition her to pills, and was confident we could take her home the next day.

I promised Mini that, given her medicated state and starry-eyed stare, I'd play her one of my favorite Coachella DJ mixes when we got her home Saturday... Ironically, Fatboy Slim was on the radio when we got in the car to leave the hospital moments later.

Today's plan? We are heading out to buy a playpen - that way she can be with us at all times, but won't be able to move more than necessary - then we pick her up this afternoon, take her home, and begin the slow and hopeful road to recovery...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

VIDEO: Gogol Bordello "Pala Tute"
Zappa reincarnate?

Maybe Frank Zappa didn't die, he just developed an accent...

Driven from his Ukraine home in the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz bounced between Poland, Italy, Hungary and Austria before landing on New York City's lower east side in 1993. That last stop must have been his breaking point. Pushing musical and visual flamboyance to twisted extremes, Gogol are as nomadic sonically as they are culturally, swirling their bizarre gypsy fare and punk rock credo into a rag-tag elixir that tickles the senses like a musical mustache ride.

Buckle up, beatniks and freakniks, because Bordello are about to kick off a co-headlining summer tour with whacked-out, alt-rock icons Primus that is sure to feature all the syncopated madness of the above video, and then some. And then some more.

The two-week tour starts July 29 in Burlington, VT, wraps August 14 in San Francisco, and is highlighted by an August 7 appearance at Lollapolooza [complete itinerary]. Sadly, there is no date in So-Cal.

Gogol Bordello's new album Trans-Continental Hustle is out now [listen here].

Gogol Bordello Official Website

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BRET MICHAELS: 'Custom Built' for a good time
(and fun for all ages)

I can't decide whether the above teaser for last night's VH1 Do Something! Awards (I didn't watch them - I was doing something) is funny or wrong...

Can something so funny, be wrong when it's so right?

Either way, you've gotta love Poison frontman Bret Michaels - he gets the joke, and isn't afraid to be part of the punchline.

Michaels' new solo release Custom Built isn't funny, but it's a lot of fun - and I'm not just saying that because Jason Miller gives the Rock of Love theme song a techno remix on the album [listen to song clips here]. Sure, I'm a little creeped out by the duet with Miley Cyrus (remember that she doesn't turn 18 until November when you listen to the lyrics - altogether now, "she's only seventeen..."), but it still works really well. There are more than a few Poison/Bon Jovi-inspired moments, as well as a healthy dose of country fashion that culminates with a star-studded, fiddle-flavored remake of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" featuring Brad Arnold of 3 Doors Down, Chris Cagle and Mark Wills. The album's not reinventing the wheel, but when did Bret ever lay claim to such lofty aspirations? He does a commendable job reinventing Sublime's "What I Got" as the album's lead single, and that just about says it all - you'll find everything Bret's got on Custom Built, and the results promise nothin' but a good time... Whether you're young and sexy, old and creepy, or somewhere in between.

Bret Michaels Official Website

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marketing Fail: Advance Tix for Kix

This isn't a knock on the band Kix - I may very well be there when they make their triumphant return to the Sunset Strip on August 27.

This also isn't a knock on the event poster (above) - though I'm seriously irked by the fact that the House of Blues is located in West Hollywood, not Hollywood. Semantics, you say? Maybe so, but it would have been easy enough to make the poster semantically correct, and just as impacting.

No, this is a knock on the advance ticket price of $22.50 (purchase).

The live music industry is experiencing an epic crash this summer, with major concert tours getting scaled back, if not cancelled, on a weekly basis. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I highly recommend you visit the online archives of Bob Lefsetz - and while you're there, sign up for his Lefsetz Letter. He's one of the only journalists I find inspiring, and if you know me, that says a lot...

So here we have Kix, playing "Hollywood" for the first time in two decades. No opening act is being promoted. No indication of who might be original members. No mention of their hit single ("Don't Close Your Eyes," if you need a reminder). What we do have, is the $25 day-of-show ticket price, and the advance-purchase price of $22.50. (Okay, I guess I am knocking the event poster.)

Maybe the House of Blues are convinced that this is going to be such a big walk-up crowd that there's little point in offering a worthwhile advance discount. Or maybe they figure that they don't need to offer incentives to buy tickets to see a band that haven't played Los Angeles in nearly 20 years, because anyone who wants to see them isn't going to scoff at the price.

Or maybe that's not the case at all, and the $2.50 advance-purchase discount is just a routine that nobody gave a passing thought.

Regardless, it's time to reconsider.

I love seeing shows at the House of Blues (any of them, but the Sunset Strip location in particular). I don't cry about the $15 to park. I don't complain about the over-priced food. And I don't mind that by the time you've had a few drinks, your show has turned into a paycheck. I don't mind, because I always have a good time - and isn't that what it's all about?

At the same time, I'm a consumer that doesn't live under a rock. Money is tight, I don’t part with it easily, and I know that the music industry is fighting for its life. I know that if I wait, I can get Steve Miller Band tickets for $10, Heart tickets for free, and lawn seats to half the amphitheater concerts out there for less than the cost of pulling into a parking space.

Economics 101: if you sell enough discounted tickets early, you don't have to give away free tickets later.

What did I do when I saw the $22.50 advance ticket price for Kix? I laughed, then ranted on my soapbox until I knew my wife could take it no more. Why should I buy in advance, when the only incentive you're offering me is a $5 savings off two tickets? If you give me that savings in singles, it's still not enough to cover my tips for the night!

The show is still six weeks away, and I haven't even started thinking about my plans for this weekend. Unless you're giving me a valid reason to buy tickets now, I'll wait, thank you very much - we're talking about Kix here, not U2, and a lot can happen in six weeks...

Just ask U2.

But what if House of Blues offered free parking for every two tickets purchased in advance? What if they offered free drink tickets? Or a free entree at the restaurant, with the purchase of another entree? Or four tickets for the price of two? Find me two couples that will go to a rock concert together and not buy a few rounds of drinks, and I'll show you the exception to the rule.

Do something - anything! Give me an incentive to pay $45, plus fees, six weeks in advance for my wife and I to go see Kix a week before Labor Day weekend. Because if you give me the incentive now, you know I'll be there later.

Without giving me an incentive to buy now, you're just hoping that I buy later... And that's assuming I don't forget altogether.

Don't worry, House of Blues - I'll keep sending my resume in for marketing positions, and you can keep ignoring me at every turn...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Goodbye, George Steinbrenner...
Goodbye, Excellence

I just got off the phone with a friend in New York, and he was complaining about the George Steinbrenner media saturation in the wake of the Yankees owner's death Monday morning. "They're deifying the guy," he told me. "Enough already!"

Not enough, I say.

I'm not advocating the deification of entertainers in the least bit, but at a time when LeBron James can turn the shunning of his hometown into a prime-time, worldwide spectacle, Tiger Woods can act indignant and cavalier about sinking his putz into more strippers than golf holes, and Michael Vick can torture and kill dogs in cold blood and still be rewarded a multi-million dollar NFL contract, can we really over-saturate the passing of a man who celebrated excellence in a world that can't spell the word?

Cynics say George Steinbrenner did little more than ruin baseball with his exorbitant spending, brash firings and ostentatious demeanor, but they live in a world where ignorance is bliss, Miller High Life is truly the "champagne of beers," and everything is black or white.

But we live in a grey world, and not only did George Steinbrenner give it color, he did it with zest, elevating accountability to a pedestal while others just embraced excuses.

George Steinbrenner had pride, and he transformed it into a legacy of Yankee Pride.

Sports is entertainment, and George Steinbrenner understood that reality better than anyone. He knew fans were paying their hard-earned cash to watch his product, and he believed in giving them nothing less than the best product his money could buy. But Steinbrenner didn't stop at paying top dollar for stars like Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Alex Rodriguez - he expected nothing short of top-dollar performances, as well as top-dollar images.

If you wanted to play with a raggedy beard or scraggy hair, go play ball in bohemian Boston. In a day-and-age where mediocrity has not only become the norm, it is also rewarded, George Steinbrenner represented the last bastion of capitalism at its finest - he rewarded premium players with premium contracts, and accepted nothing less than premium results.

And if he didn't get them, he wasn't afraid to be vocal.

Working as a Sr. Editor at one of the largest internet companies in the world, I had to hire a new Editor to join my team. When our human resources representative handed me a stack of a dozen resumes and started to walk away, I told her to stick around - and in less than a minute, handed her my three choices. "What?" she asked me, a confused look on her face. "Those are the people I'm interested in talking to," I said nonchalantly. "Those are all good resumes, and you never even looked at them," she countered, pointing to the stack of paper I still held. "I don't have to," I told her, "they're applying for a job as an Editor, and they have typos in their cover letters than an eighth grader could catch - I'm not interested." "You're not being realistic," she said, "you need to lower your expectations."

George Steinbrenner never lowered his expectations, and he helped teach me that I shouldn't need to lower mine.

In the 37 years he owned the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner's team won seven World Series trophies and 11 American League pennants. They were one of the Top 5 winning teams in the American League every year since 1993, and in the Top 3 all but two of those years. In his four decades as owner, the team only finished in the bottom half of the American League standings seven times - one was the year he bought the team, and five were the rebuilding years, from 1988-92.

The passing of George Steinbrenner is more than the passing of an iconic figure in sports, it is yet another nail in the coffins of excellence, pride and accountability in a nation that rewards people for doing barely enough to get by.

George Steinbrenner has died. Mediocrity is alive and well.

Rest in peace, Boss - you'll be missed.

Thank you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Clash of the Titans Redux!

July 7, 1991.

That's the day the Clash of the Titans tour steamrolled through Bristol, CT, turning the Lake Compounce amusement park into a carnival of sights, sounds, and metal smells that only long hair and black leather in mid-summer heat and humidity could inspire. I loved every minute of it - Megadeth supporting their epic Rust in Peace, Anthrax tearing through Persistence of Time, and Slayer celebrating the haunting Seasons in the Abyss. (And, yes, there was even this up-and-coming band named Alice in Chains - they got booed.)

It was a defining moment in my metal years, and also the show where I bought one of my favorite pieces of band merch ever - Anthrax 'P.O.T.' shorts that I long ago threw away when the elastic fell apart and the waist expanded wide enough to host a circle pit.

That was then, this is now, and the past and present will collide this fall, when the second leg of the American Carnage Tour finds fellow Titans Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax sharing stages once again (Anthrax isn't on the tour's first leg, in August). In keeping with the spirit of the original tour, Megadeth will be performing Rust in Peace in its entirety, Slayer will pummel crowds with Seasons in the Abyss from start to finish, and Anthrax will be loading their set with classic material featuring recently returned frontman Joey Belladonna.

Twenty years later, can the remake top the original? If they sell Anthrax shorts at the merch stand, you can count on it...

Presale tickets go onsale Wednesday, July 14, and a discount code can be obtained by visiting,, or Public on sales begin July 23, and a limited number of $10 tickets will be available in many cities - complete details are available on the band websites, and at

Confirmed dates for the second leg of American Carnage:

24 Verizon Wireless Theatre, Dallas, TX*
25 AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX*
26 Verizon Wireless Theatre, Houston, TX*
28 Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA*
30 Civic Coliseum, Knoxville, TN

1 The Arena at Gwinnett Center, Atlanta, GA*
2 Hard Rock Live, Orlando, FL
3 Bayfront Park Amphitheatre, Miami, FL*
5 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA
6 Eagles Auditorium, Baltimore, MD*
8 Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, Long Island, NY*
9 Toyota Pavilion @ Montage Mtn, Scranton, PA*
10 LC Pavilion, Columbus, OH**
12 Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY
14 War Memorial Coliseum, Ft. Wayne, IN*
15 DeltaPlex, Grand Rapids, MI*
16 Eagles Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI**
19 E Center, Salt Lake City, UT
20 The Pearl, Las Vegas, NV
21 Gibson Amphitheatre, Universal City, CA*

* $10 discount for tickets purchased during pre-sale
** $5 discount for tickets purchased during pre-sale