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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

At War With the Grapefruit

I’ve never liked grapefruit.  First of all, it’s too bitter.  Or maybe it’s sour.  I’ve seen people sprinkle sugar on grapefruit halves and eat them that way.  I have to admit that looks good, but I would need a layer of cake icing to make it work.  And I admit there’s something appealing about how a small spoon fits those wedges, making perfect bite-size chunks.

But I’ll be content to watch other people enjoy them, thank you very much.

Then there’s the name—grapefruit.  Who looked at one of them and thought of grapes?  I happen to like grapes and don’t appreciate their good reputation being tarnished by grapefruit.  Yes, grapes are fruit.  It’s like saying, “beanvegetable” to describe a vegetable that looks more like cauliflower than a bean.

Grapefruit continued to stay on my bad side when I started ordering Screwdrivers in bars.  A Screwdriver is vodka and orange juice.  According to vodka folklore, the drink was first popular with construction workers who ordered it after work and stirred it with their screwdrivers.  The addition of orange juice to the vodka makes it seem so healthy, too.  Kind of like washing down a donut with Diet Coke.

The problem there is that at times I’ve been given a Greyhound—vodka and grapefruit juice—when the bartender was out of OJ, lazy, or distracted.  At the risk of receiving a second drink watered down with orange juice or spit, I called it to their attention and told them I wanted a real Screwdriver.  If they’re out of OJ they can give me a Cape Cod—vodka with cranberry juice.  Now there’s a drink name that makes sense.  Cranberries grow in New England, where Cape Cod is.  I have no idea how the Greyhound drink got its name.  Don’t care, either.  It’ll never be more than a Screwdriver Wannabe in my book.

In 1998, when I had the kidney/pancreas transplant, they told me there was one food item I must avoid because it could render the anti-rejection drugs useless.  Grapefruit.  This would be the easiest adjustment to make to my new lifestyle.

Since then, bartenders don’t give me any attitude when I make them do a Screwdriver do-over, telling them, “I can’t have grapefruit juice.  It’s for health reasons.”  If they act skeptical, I launch into graphic descriptions of kidney/pancreas transplants and their immediate aftermath.  They rarely have the time or the stomach for much of that.

It seemed that I had successfully kept the evil grapefruit at bay.  Well, except for occasionally buying one by mistake because the grocery stores keep them next to the oranges and it’s not always easy for me to tell them apart.  But, this has happened less often than you might think.

Now the grapefruit has found its way into my life.  Actually, it’s found its way into my abdomen—in the form of cancer.  Yesterday, I met with the oncologist for the first time.  I was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago.  I had done some reading online about cancer treatments and their side effects, so I was well-prepared for this appointment.  One thing he told me surprised me, though.
     “You have a mass in your abdomen the size of a grapefruit.”
     It explains why my back and belly have ached the last several days.  The pain should subside a few days after starting chemotherapy next week.  Now, I’m actually looking forward to chemo—one more ironic twist to my ever-changing situation.  So, look out, grapefruit.  I’ve got some serious backup.  And we’re going to shrink you down to the size of a real, authentic grape.  And then keep shrinking you until you’re all gone.  And when I get through this, I’m going to celebrate—with a tall, cool Screwdriver, of cours.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Allow me to introduce myself.  I’m Jim Fairbanks and to call me unique is a bit of an understatement.  Ditto terms like atypical, unusual, unordinary, or odd.  I guess One of a Kind best sums it up, though I’ve known several people who were also one of a kind, but for reasons very different from mine.

Where do I begin to explain?  If you read the subtitle of this blog, you have an idea of my situation.  There are a lot of adjectives there, so let’s start with the most obvious ones first.

I’m middle-aged.  Most people (especially those who haven’t reached middle age) guess my age at around five years younger than it is.  Part of this is no doubt due to my personality, which can best be described as “smartass.” 

I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  This funky, picturesque city in the Ozarks is home to the University of Arkansas, where I graduated in 1986 with a BA in advertising/public relations.  About half my childhood was spent here and I’ve left and returned a few times since college.  This place has a way of tempting U of A graduates (and other former residents) to return.  It has a way of drawing eclectic, artsy, college town Bohemian types from all over.  I fall into both categories.  A guy like me isn’t as out of the ordinary as I would be in most towns this size.

It should come as no surprise to you that I’m a writer.  I’ve been a writer my entire life.  But, I was in denial most of that time, refusing to believe anyone would be interested in what I had to say or that I had enough talent.  It wasn’t until 2006 that I finally got serious about it and started writing my memoir.  That’s when I accepted that I could do this and that maybe, just maybe, people would be interested in what I wrote.  I’ll share excerpts from the book now and then.  I’m looking for a publisher and this blog is a way of putting myself out there.  I also write humor set in the Ozarks and you’ll get a sampling of that, too.

Legally blind people with a certain amount of usable vision can often “pass” for sighted.  This has led to quite a few funny situations, which I will share with you here.  How well I can see depends on several variables—contrast, time of day, how tired my eyes are, and the quality of light.   Artificial and natural light are different.  The angle and direction of light makes a difference as well as if it’s at eye level, above, or below me.  Reflected light usually works best.

The transplanted pancreas, which I received in 1998 at the same time I got a new kidney, makes insulin.  For 21 years I had to inject myself with the stuff, now I eat whatever I want and don’t take any shots.  I don’t have to think about what my blood sugar is doing.  Life as an ex-diabetic is, at varying times, miraculous and surreal.  This really was an unexpected turn in a life brimming with surprises.  Five years later, the kidney failed and I got another surprise.  Someone not related to me gave me a kidney.  It’s lasted longer and works better than the other one ever did.  Taking care of two transplanted organs is a challenge, but well worth the effort.

As you can see, my situation is unique.  There are so many aspects of my life that most people just can’t imagine experiencing.  Not long ago, I was complaining to a friend about all these things which make me different.
     “People just don’t know what to make of me, so it makes them nervous.”
     A few days later, I realized it’s up to me to explain what life is like for me.  Because all of these things make me so different from most others, I have the responsibility—and the freedom—to define myself to a greater degree than the average “normal” person.  Limited vision means having to grope around to find or identify things.  In this case, I’m groping for focus, in more ways than one.  Magnifying devices—some fairly high tech—help me get some focus.  I’m also on the lookout for medical breakthroughs that could improve my vision.  Then there’s focus in the more esoteric sense of the word.  With so many surprises and unique situations in my life, I often have to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.  By taking you through that process with me, I hope to find a deeper level of understanding—your understanding of me, and my own understanding of the world around me.