Sunday, March 25, 2012

On being ill: the pneumonia blues

Everyone's been sick from time to time, and by definition, it's never fun. No matter what you enjoy doing, illness invariably dampens -- or in many cases entirely eliminates -- the potential for good times. Of course, not all illnesses are created equal; some will interrupt your life a lot more than others, which is why I'm here today to tell you about my recent bout of influenza that turned into full-blown pneumonia.

You Can Die From This. Yes, You.
Let's get the scary and dramatic part out of the way first. Anyone who gets pneumonia and either a) doesn't recognize what they have or b) chooses not to have it treated, can die. If you think that pneumonia can only kill the very young and very old, you're mostly right. However, if you don't seek treatment and follow your doctor's orders, you can be one of the people who have the prime of their life cut short unnecessarily. While medical science has come a long way, and conditions like pneumonia are very treatable in most cases, you need to take it seriously.

You Can't Fight What You Don't Know You Have
This is my second bout of pneumonia; the last one was about 4-1/2 years ago, in December 2007. The first time I got it, I thought it was strange that the cold I'd had was seemingly getting worse and worse. I couldn't seem to shake it. I was also very fatigued, and would start running out of breath easily. The final straw that caused me to go into the doctor's office was a strange sound when I would take a deep breath. It sounded as if there was tissue paper in my chest that was crinkling, especially at the end of an exhalation. It also hurt quite a bit when I'd cough. I did not, by the way, have a high fever that time, nor was I coughing up stuff. But the breathing sounds and the pains were disturbing.

Diagnosing and Treating Pneumonia
The medical people are pretty good at diagnosing pneumonia these days. First they check your usual vital signs. Then they use a stethoscope and listen to your chest while you breathe. If it seems pneumonia is likely, they give you a chest x-ray. Pneumonia is easy to see; there will be an area of the x-ray of your lungs that shows the infection.

In my case, I'd acquired influenza type a (aka, the flu) from my son a few days earlier. When you get the flu, one of the problems (in addition to the miserable fever and aching body) is that your immune system goes to hell, leaving you susceptible to other problems. This time, I was familiar with the sensation of pneumonia, and begrudgingly went to my local urgent care center, Ocean Medical here in Redondo Beach on Wednesday evening. Everything seemed pretty good until they checked my O2 level, which was at 93%. That's a little lower than I like to see. But the bigger sign was when I started coughing... and dropped to the ground in pain. After Dr. Villarreal examined me and they did the x-ray, the pneumonia was very apparent.

Despite the fact that my influenza was viral-based, the pneumonia is a separate disease that's a bacterial infection, and has to be treated with strong antibiotics. The first line of attack was an injection of Ceftriaxone (aka Rocephin) that Nurse Juan expertly jabbed into my butt cheek. Side note: butt cheek injections don't hurt... at first. Later on, it may feel like someone kicked you in the ass while wearing steel-toed boots, though. The antibiotic parade kept marching; Dr. Villerreal was concerned about the pneumonia enough to treat it aggressively, which is why he prescribed two different antibiotics after that. I have been taking both Azithromycin and Ciprofloxacin, and just a few days later, this onslaught of bug killers seems to be working well.

The Cure Hurts Too
While I appreciate the need to go in and clean house, so to speak, in my lungs, the problem with antibiotics (especially multiple strong ones as I'm on) is that they tend not to discriminate in terms of which bacteria they kill. It's like going after a terrorist cell by setting off an atomic bomb; there's going to be some collateral damage. So, all of the "good bacteria" that lives in your gut will also be eliminated, and you'll likely find that your ability to digest food is immediately gone.

It's Probably Going To Be Okay
The fact is that if you're older than 6 and younger than 65, you will probably be just fine after getting your pneumonia treated. One of the most difficult aspects of it for me has been keeping my optimism level high. Pneumonia tends to sap all of your energy, and it's easy to forget that things look a lot brighter when you have your health. You just need to trust the idea that as you defeat the bacteria in your lungs, your energy and attitude will eventually come around as well. I'm not the most patient person in the world, so this part is particularly difficult for me. However, I have too damn many things I want to do yet... more music, more films, more web sites, more family activities, more travel, more new experiences, more good times with friends, and more fun... that I know this mopiness is just a temporary side effect that will, soon enough, be gone.

I'm looking forward to getting back to my usual silly self. And I will.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Molaskey's Pub w/Lyndon Heart (03.15.12)

I was so glad to be able to do my show along with my buddy, fellow musician Lyndon Heart, at Molaskey's Pub in Second Life last night. I mean, I'm always happy to be able to have fun with a terrific musician in front of a cool crowd, but yesterday's show was particularly needed. Here's why: my 12-year-old son has been feeling ill for the past few days, and yesterday morning, it got to the point that a doctor was necessary. The poor little dude had already been running a high fever, but then started throwing up anything that went into him. It wasn't good.

So, while one is never happy to hear a doctor say that your kid was confirmed as having Influenza type A, it was good to get a diagnosis and having him start getting treated properly. However, in addition to several medications there were able to fill at the doctor's office, they also prescribed him an antiviral drug called Tamiflu. Since my son doesn't do very well taking pills, they wrote the script for a suspension. Well, I spent the subsequent four hours running all over town from pharmacy to pharmacy, and hearing the same thing everywhere: we don't have any, and it'll take a couple of days for us to get it in if we order it. I obviously didn't have two days to wait; the kid's temperature spiked to almost 104ยบ the other day. Fortunately, I got referred to a cool little pharmacy by a local hospital where they actually compound their own medications on site. Hats off to Choice Compounding Pharmacy in Torrance, who mixed me up a batch of suspension Tamiflu in no time flat. They seemed to be very nice folks there as well, and it was much less impersonal than a typical pharmacy around here. My son is already starting to feel a lot better, which in turn makes me feel a lot better.

Lyndon gets into the jams while I yelp vocals. Photo by Kat.

Ah, Molaskey's. You always bring the fun. Photo by Kat.

Back on topic: all that craziness had just finally mellowed out before I cruised over to Molaskey's for my show, and I think I was a little delirious with relief by that point. We have a formula that works well when Lyndon and I are performing together; I play my own stuff from 6:00 to 6:45, and then Lyndon and I play together between 6:45-7:15. After that, Lyndon fills out the hour with his own solo set. Last night went well in that regard, though there were a few people who were having difficulties with the audio stream. The technology that allows two guys who live 1,000 miles away from each other to jam together for a remote audience in real time is amazing, but it's also fickle. Sometimes it just doesn't work right. But most of the folks there were able to hear the show properly.

Molaskey's Set List...

Solo Set:
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Black Peter (Grateful Dead)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
Let's Pretend that Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)

With Lyndon:
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
Everyday I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Down By The River (Neil Young)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles)
With a Little Help from my Friends (The Beatles)

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to see Lyndon and I, especially those who helped support my show!
Thadicus Caligari, EvaMoon Ember, Kat Claxton, Diana Renoir, TheaDee, Chestnut Rau, Lyndon's and my manager Maali Beck, Molaskey's great hostesses Cicadetta Stillwater and Mia Kitchensink, and most of all Molaskey's owner Katydid Something!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ground Zero (03.10.12)

Ask a group of random musicians to make a list of things that they do not want to have happen before a live show, and you'll get plenty of similar responses. Those lists will almost always include things like equipment malfunctions, feeling unprepared to perform a song, and having the gig cancelled before they start. But one of the other things you'll see on every single list is getting ill or having an injury before playing. At the same time, most of those performers will try and do their show unless death is imminent. The old saying "the show must go on" is kind of burned into our collective psyche, I suppose.

So, that's the long-winded way of my saying that I wish I hadn't been feeling so crappy before taking the stage for the first time at Ground Zero in Second Life. It's particularly weird because Kat and I had been having a nice, relaxing Saturday, and up until an hour or so before the show, I felt fine. However, with the clarity of hindsight, I have to think that inadvertently skipping lunch and then massively overdosing on caffeine in the late afternoon contributed to my general feeling of horribleness right about the time that me show was scheduled to start. Beginning a performance while wracked with aches/pains and pouring sweat is not a good formula for a great gig.

Funny, you don't look sick. Photo by Kat.

But wait... there's more. Making matters way worse, for the first time in many months, my usually very reliable stream decided to go south as I was starting the show. I even tried another stream on the same Shoutcast server... no dice. I can only assume that the server itself committed hara-kiri sometime yesterday, since I'd been using it recently with no problems at all. The good news is that I borrowed another stream via a different server and everything was fine after that. The bad news is that it ate the first 12 minutes of my show. Especially considering that this was my first show at this cool new venue, I had particularly hoped that all would go smoothly. Gah!

Ground Zero is gorgeous. Photo by Kat.

Despite the wackiness, the crowd and I managed to have a little fun. Photo by Kat.

Now that I've finished complaining about the bad aspects of last night's show, let's focus on the good part: the actual performance of music. Once we got rolling, I think the show at Ground Zero was really pretty good, all things considered. Since the venue is owned and operated by a couple of friends -- Thea Dee, who discovered SL through me, and her friend GMetal Svartur, who's been to a good number of my shows over the last year -- I decided to pull out some relatively rare material for their enjoyment.

Ground Zero Set List...

Wonderwall (Oasis)
Polly (Nirvana)
*Roxanne (The Police)
Lines on your Eyes (Zak Claxton)
*Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)
Let's Pretend That Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
†Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†My last live performance of "Waiting for This": August 6, 2010!

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to Ground Zero and helped support my show! Thanks for putting up with my tech difficulties and sickly whining!

Katenali, Triana Caldera, Alyss Whitewood, Ariadne Kira, Mulder Watts, Diana Renoir, crimson242 Stipe, Kat Claxton, Alexis Fairlady, adn especially the great Ground Zero owners TheaDee and GMetal!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Molaskey's Pub (03.05.12)

Here's something kind of goofy: despite having played at Molaskey's Pub four or five times in the last six months, this was my first solo show there since August 2011. How does that work, you ask? Well, my more recent shows at Molaskey's have all been tandem shows along with my buddy Lyndon Heart, and those have been great (I have another one there with Lyndon coming up next week, on March 15). However, it was great to take the stage at one of SL's best live music venues all by my lonesome again. I really enjoyed being back there and spending a full hour rocking Zak-style.

We had a great crowd turnout, and that can mean a couple of things at a place like Molaskey's. First, it means what you usually expect, in that we had a good number of people show up for the evening's festivities. But it also means that the quality of the crowd was high as well; along with many of my usual Zakster fans, we had a good portion of the audience who were SL veterans. I enjoy seeing noobies at my shows, but there's something particularly cool when you look around and see a majority of names that you've known for 5+ years.

The crowd seemed to dig the show, and I got great feedback on the R.E.M. song I did for the first time. Photo by Kat.

Molaskey's is always a great place to play, every time, without exception. Love it. Photo by Kat.

The show itself went very well. Both my voice and guitar were behaving nicely. At first, I thought I may have picked out a set list that was too full of slow and serious tunes, but it actually worked out very well for the vibe of the show.

Allentown (Billy Joel)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
*Man On the Moon (R.E.M.)
Hurting Each Other (The Carpenters)
Let's Pretend That Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)
Breaking Us In Two (Joe Jackson)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Big thanks to everyone who made last night's show super fun, including those who helped support my show!
Diana Renoir, Joy Teskat, EvaMoon Ember, Alexis Fairlady, Kat Claxton, Gideon McMillan, TheaDee, Thinkerer Melville, my manager Maali Beck, Molaskey's great hostesses Cicadetta Stillwater and Mia Kitchensink, and Molaskey's owner Katydid Something!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show #15 (02.28.12)

Click the Play button and see/hear the whole show above.

I'm rather enjoying the return of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show.

In various forms -- Ustream, StreamJam, StageIt and elsewhere -- I've been doing live video shows for over two years, but for some reason that is unclear to me, I kind of stopped. I guess there are only so many directions you can choose to split your musical performances, so with my focus in the last year being more about playing in Second Life and working on my original music, the video performances just sort of trailed off. Anyway, I've now done two Happy Fun video shows in the past couple of weeks, and both were pretty happy and fun. I find it likely that I'll do some more soon enough.

It is called a "Happy Fun Show". Mostly for myself.

Dramatic Zak.

I am a psychopath, la la la la laaaa...

So happy and fun, I'm blurry.

Goodnight! Peace!

Last night's show was kind of cool in that I decided to focus nearly exclusively on new songs that I'm planning on recording for my upcoming album (whenever I get around to actually getting in the studio and recording, that is). In fact, though I hadn't planned it this way, I did an entire evening of my own original music, which really went rather well.

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show #15 Set List...
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
Look Out for Me (Zak Claxton)
Let's Pretend that Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
The Sands of Redondo (Zak Claxton)
†Waxing Gibbous (Zak Claxton)

†My last performance of "Waxing Gibbous": January 5, 2011

Thanks to the folks who came and checked out the show. You put the "fun" in the Happy Fun Show!