Joining the herd

As of today, we have completed 1/6 of our household steps towards vaccinated immunity. With the recent drop in age for the AZ vaccine, my GP’s office had sent out a broadcast email to patients over 40 to say “Come and get it!”, like ringing a dinner bell. But my profile isn’t completely typical, so after reading a bunch of stuff online, I reached out to my GP to check on whether the AZ vaccine was right for me and that my curation had been correct.

Efficacy concerns

Generally speaking, of course, the recommendation is to go with availability over efficacy rates. Currently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about rated to 90-95% efficacy, while AZ was down at 70%. Those are the initial efficacy rates against contraction, but all three of course are almost 100% effective against serious illness leading to hospitalization or death. In other words, even if you get sick after that initial efficacy number, your second number is generally 100%.

So what’s the issue?

I’m on the cusp of pre-diabetic / diabetic. When the three available vaccines were tested, they had very few people in the sample group with diabetes, and when they did, they usually weren’t separated out between Type 2 (controlled with lifestyle or medication) or Type 1 (requiring insulin shots). I would be near to the Type 2 category.

For the results they DO have, the numbers drop for efficacy — anywhere from 15-25% lower than that of the general population. Again, though, that’s the efficacy rate against contraction. Very few of the studies reported had reliable reporting on the secondary efficacy, but it LOOKED like 100%.

Yet you can only get one vaccine type, and I was reasonably sure I was good to go with the AZ one, but as I said, I wanted to be sure. I booked my appointment and then reached out to the GP for a quick consult before getting it.

My questions broke down into three steps:

a. As a near type 2 patient, was there anything that suggested I should wait for Pfizer over AZ? Was there anything with my health that said “wait”? As expected, and as hoped, she confirmed that the second efficacy number is close to 100% still for AZ for diabetics, and thus, yes, availability is more important than initial efficacy.

b. My household has an atypical profile with all three of us in the house having higher-risk profiles individually. Did that change anything in the calculation? I was mostly worried that I could still contract it with the lower rate and transmit it to them. But “some” immunity faster is still better than efficacy rates, as expected and hoped. It might even strengthen the rationale, although it is a double-edged sword, of course.

c. The last question was one I found no information about anywhere…some disease profiles suggest that the person should NOT wait 4m for the second dose but should get it sooner rather than later. Certain auto-immune diseases for example are being recommended to get Dose #2 as soon as possible. While AZ is being rolled out for dose #1 now, and the second in 4m, I wanted to know if anything in my personal or household profile changed that calculation. Put bluntly, if I could get Dose #1 of AZ now but Dose #2 wasn’t available for 4m, but I could wait a month for Pfizer but get 2 doses a couple of weeks apart, then waiting might get me “completed” for dose #2 faster. Diabetes didn’t seem an obvious candidate to avoid the waiting period, but as I said, you can only get one dose. I didn’t want to find out after the fact that I should have gone another route.

In the end, I was all clear. I was expecting to be, sure, but I did want to be sure. It’s too important to rely on Dr. Google for this one.

The shot

I confess, I don’t often think of it as a shot. Sure, I say “flu shot” like everyone else, and my “COVID shot”, but I would never use it as a verb. A couple of friends posted about being shot and I was like, “Huh?”. Because for me, it is very clearly a stabbing. 🙂

I booked the appointment through my GP’s online site and was relatively shocked to see that they had Sunday appointments available. I didn’t click as soon as I got the first notice, I wanted to check a few things, but I was able to book on Thursday for Sunday’s schedule. Pretty quick overall.

I arrived, parked in the lot next door (free on weekends!), and entered the hospital (the clinic is in the first floor of a LT care facility). A security person directed me to a COVID screening form, a receptionist checked me in and gave me a new mask, a nice escort took me to an available nurse in one of the examining rooms, and it was on like Donkey Kong.

Cathy, the nurse, did a simple run-through of who I was, checked my contact info so I could get receipts and follow-up notifications, screened me for a bunch of Qs again about reactions or likely reactions to a vaccine, confirmed a few details about the vaccine itself (where I was like, huh? Oh right, yes, she should tell me what she’s injecting, I suppose). Small needle, go to the waiting room for 15 minutes.

While I was in the waiting room, I got the notification from the scheduling portal for my second dose. They also told me orally that it was assuming they got the vaccine then, and nothing changes to either move it up or back. It’s an administrative booking, basically, more of a reservation than any guarantee that they’ll have a dose available then or that it will take that long.

I killed my 15m and left. About 30m after I got my shot, the Ministry of Health sent me a confirmation email as my immunization record.

My mental / emotional reaction

I said to Andrea and Jacob that I might cry when I got it. So much stress, and here’s a small light at the end of the tunnel. And as I walked towards the hospital, I did feel quite emotional. All the way through it? Nada. Just process.

When I left the building, I let the experience flow into me, and while I felt like I *could* react more for a release, I wasn’t feeling like I needed it. I was fine. Ho hum even.

I found it a bit odd, actually. I wanted to ring a bell, smash a pinata, get doused in confetti, have someone solemnly say, “I now pronounce you vaccinated”.

But ten minutes after I left, I was back in my ongoing mindset. The NY Times had a great article this past week about the new term for those who are stuck between normalcy and not-quite-depression — it’s called languishing. And it almost precisely captures what I have been feeling for the last two months as I recovered from my leg wound and rebuilding my website.

Now that I’m done the rebuild, I feel almost out of sorts. There’s no fanfare for finishing THAT either. I feel like there should be a reward for myself, some milestone to celebrate somehow, and yet here is perhaps one of the biggest milestones of the last 14m, and I was already past it and thinking, “Hmm, what’s for dinner?”.

Right up until Andrea hugged me at home. Then I lost it. I could probably lose it again right now, while I am writing this, if I let myself. The built-up energy, the tension in my heart and mind. Yet it isn’t honestly about me, not really. Sure, I’m scared like everyone else, and with my health, there’s a good chance that long-term ventilator use would not end well if I was hospitalized.

But my biggest worry is about Jacob and Andrea. I am their biggest vector. Jacob has almost no other vectors BESIDES me, actually. And the thought of my getting sick and exposing them, or leaving them without my support, is scary AF.

The journey isn’t over

Earlier today, I received my feed from GoComics.com and I loved the post by Tim Campbell (here). In the comic, it shows a person running a race and crossing under a banner held up by two vaccine needles. The caption reads, “Keep Going. This is not a finish line.”.

And it’s not, in oh so many ways. But let’s cut it to two.

First, the obvious one, just because I have a single dose, or even if I had a double dose, I still have to keep social distancing and wearing a mask. It doesn’t change my life until we get closer to herd immunity.

Second, the bigger issue? It’s one dose of six that my household needs. I need another dose of course. Plus Andrea is consulting with one of her doctors on her best way forward, similar to my discussion above. In the meantime, she’ll take whoever offers her an appointment first, and she’s registered multiple places. With 2 doses needed for her.

But Jacob is turning 12 in May, and probably by the fall / early winter, there will be options for people down to the age of 12. I chatted with him recently about how he feels about it, and while he has no strong views about the vaccine or not, the abstract doesn’t really resonate with him vs. the practical issues of going to school or being virtual. The bigger issue for him is that he doesn’t like needles. I told him he needs to get comfortable with the idea because I don’t know of too many reasons we wouldn’t do the vaccine for him if it’s generally available. 🙂 Maybe he can race his cousins although a couple of them might have a leg up, having a doc for a mom. 🙂

So where does that leave me? A tad bit more hopeful than I was this morning. I’m still languishing.

But I’m at least languishing with a small hole in my left arm. I’ve taken my step towards joining the herd.




The end of wound care (with warning)

For those who are friends with me on FaceBook, you’ll know that since mid-January, I’ve had an ongoing issue with one of my legs. An open wound that wasn’t healing. It’s a long, torturous saga, and I’ve been torn (literally, hah!) about how to talk about it in a way that makes sense to other people, because it wasn’t a “small thing”. In many ways, it likely seems like it. And it started that way. But I didn’t want to share ugly photos on FB that people would see and immediately say, “Ewwww, why would share THAT? That’s gross!”. Because it IS gross in some places.

So this is the big warning — some of the photos are raw portrayals of the actual wound. Not exactly “bloody” or gory, but not something you want to view before dinner or share with Grandma. If you don’t want to risk seeing that, DON’T SCROLL FURTHER.

Let’s start with a bit of simple context

I’m overweight. And pre-diabetic (depending on my latest A1C numbers, sometimes I am closer or not at all). Regardless, big, diabetic-ish, and as per both, I have problems with liquid pooling in my legs. They swell, and then I sleep, they drain, it starts again. Gravity is not my friend in these things, or many others for that matter.

I have scars on both legs on my shins. A well-spent youth, shall we say. Nothing scary, nothing worrisome, just old childhood scars. On my right leg, it’s a bit more of an issue than the left, but that’s through usage.

If I go to block a soccer ball, or catch a closing door, or some wood slides and is going to bang against my leg, it is ALWAYS my right leg that goes forward. Almost NEVER my left. Right at the exact same height on my right leg is where I catch the dishwasher if it’s open and I move too close too it as I go around, or the corner of the car door if I have my hands full and trying to use my body to close it. Over the last few years, some of the scars have swelled up at times. Or at least I thought that was what was happening. They’d swell, like a blister, and go away or pop and leak water, heal, all good. It happens, it’s annoying, but generally no biggie.

Over the last year though, I’ve done way less walking around than I used to when I was commuting to work, so the swelling is a bit worse, and at the time of the “incident”, my right leg had a couple of blisters. I thought it was just the scars, but in retrospect, it was PROBABLY blisters / leg ulcers due to veinous insufficiency (the fluid doesn’t drain as well as it used to, and if you don’t move around as much / walk as much, then the calf muscle doesn’t get around to pumping it back up).

So what was the “incident” and why do I keep referring to it that way? Because it was really innocuous. Benign. Simple. It wasn’t a trauma, no war injury. I am not exactly sure of the date because it WAS so minor. Late October / early November, I guess.

I was going to bed late one night, it was dark in the bedroom, and as I went by a laundry basket on the floor, I caught my shin on the edge of the rim. It hurt, sure, but it wasn’t OMG, I’M GOING TO DIE or anything. It was “nothing”. I did an intake of breath, cursed under it, and went to bed.

When I woke up in the morning, I realized I’d actually broken the skin. It tore the “blister” and a bunch of water leaked out. So I had a bit of blood, and a spoonful of water or so probably, but well, not much more than a 100 other scratches you would get in the garden.

It was no big deal.

Until it was “something”

Fast forward to January, it had more or less healed, didn’t really think much about it. A couple more times it leaked in November and December, but well, there was no blood. I’d clean it up, have a shower, get on with my day. I wasn’t really worried about it, it was just annoying.

But in the third week of January, it started to hurt. The blister also seemed bigger. But it didn’t seem like a major cause for concern. I took a photo just so I could see it better.


Pre infection - Jan 18

It didn’t scream “giant problem about to take over your life”, but it was sore, maybe infected, so I called my GP. Of course, it’s a pandemic, so going to a GP isn’t my idea of a good time if I can avoid it, but saying the words “potential infection” moved me to the top of the list. By the time I saw them that week, it had, umm, progressed and was clearly now infected.


Infection - Jan 21


Last appt - Jan 22

(the first photo is taken upside down from above, and the lighting is off, it wasn’t that red, but the infection part is relatively clear). I did 10d of antibiotics, plus they cleaned and dressed it, and then the GP referred me to the Local Health Integration Network for ongoing wound care. They deal with a lot of post-surgical follow-up so people don’t have to go to hospitals to do it, they have multiple companies and offices all over the city, and wonders of wonders, one just two blocks from my house. Awesome.

Round 1 of wound care

So I started wound care. Basically what this means is that they would see me every two days. I would go in, and we’d start with some general COVID screening questions (a light screening since many of the patients coming in ARE running fevers, so they have to see more “is this normal fever or something else?” and really mostly seeing if anything changed in the last two days). I wouldn’t say it felt as “formally safe” as going to places like massage therapists or chiro or even a hospital where you have to fill out a full form everytime, but they run fairly efficiently, so I never waited more than a minute or so in the waiting room to go in, where it was just me and the nurse in a repeatedly sterilized room.

For wound care, they remove all the old bandages and stuff, check to see how much drainage there was and what colour, they clean the wound with saline, and then start “debriding it” which scrapes off any of the dead skin that is preventing / blocking healing. Yep, that sounds about as much fun as it is. Anyway, after it’s clean and debrided, they put a layer of “something” to fight infection / draw stuff out of the wound, a layer of bandage to capture any drainage, and then a layer of compression to force any liquid out of the leg and improve healing.

Given my weight and diabetes, and the original ulcer-like blistering, all tied to the swelling of fluids, I was in compression for the right leg. Note that you can use custom wraps, put a compression “tube” on, use generic over-the-counter compression socks, or get custom-fitted compression socks. I call them geezer gaiters/garters, but all four options are rated by pressure in “mm of mercury” similar to blood pressure.

The rating for commercial over-the-counter stuff is often 10-20 mmHg, and I had tried those once before back in about 2016 or so. I didn’t find them terribly useful, didn’t seem to do anything, and since they were also hot, scratchy and uncomfortable, I only lasted a few weeks before ditching them. This time around, it wasn’t optional.

It also has to be “uniform” to promote healing, and the best way to do that is a custom wrap. Like a mummy up to the knee. So every two days, they’d give me a new anti-infection layer, a bandage layer and a compression layer. The tension of the wrap establishes the level of compression, and therapeutic use is generally 20-40, with a good starting point of 20-30 mmHg. So that’s what we did.

Every two days, regardless of the day of the week, I would go over and get everything changed. The first two weeks went well enough, a bit of pain here and there, but the antibiotics seemed to work, compression was going okay, I was working on longer-term custom socks (I’ll come back to that in a minute). Things were progressing.

After two weeks, it looked like this:


20d later - Feb 8

Really, I was only having three issues. The first was easy — going every two days and doing the debriding was a little irksome. But no real choice, and oddly enough, I think the regular human contact was probably a good thing in retrospect. Second — showering was REALLY annoying. You can’t take the wrap and bandages off, so I had to get a little shower bag thingie to cover my lower leg while I showered. Not very satisfying, but no biggie.

But the third issue was my mental health. I can manage my health well enough for my physical stuff, being obese and diabetic-ish. It’s taken its toll over the years, but I make progress when I do what I’m supposed to do, and I don’t when I don’t. Not the happiest of subjects for me, not a great success story, but I know all aspects of it. Yet here was something I couldn’t avoid/control/manage.

I suck at chronic physical pain. I can handle stress, emotional stuff, intellectual blowouts, I know how to adapt, manage, evade, control, etc. But physical? It’s my weakest area. And I’ve always known that. It’s my greatest fear about getting old, or even falling now and injuring a knee. This wasn’t my knee, so I could still walk around, but I have to wear compression socks generally for the rest of my life. Which I’m going to be embarrassed to do, for example, at a resort or at the cottage. So will I be able to be out in public in shorts? I already tend to wear a t-shirt in swimming (a rash guard for avoiding sunburn, hah!) but how am I going to be with compression socks on? Will I do what I expect I’m likely to do and just wear pants until I’m about to go in the water and come out, put on the socks, and then cover everything up? Adjusting to the new reality messed with my head for a few weeks. Yeah, I knew I’d get there mentally, but it messed me up for awhile.

But the rest of it? Relatively manageable.

Okay, I had ONE setback

Most of what was going on was simple adjustments. We tried wrapping to “this” height or “that height”, one felt better than another. Standard adjustments. But I did have one BIG setback.

I mentioned there were 3 layers — anti-infection layer, bandage layer, and a compression layer. We started off with using a silver nitrate type layer for the anti-infection layer. It’s essentially a mesh layer with silver in it that helps fight and draw out infection. Here’s an example from later in my treatment plan of what it looks like going on:


Silver nitrate worked well - April 3

It worked well for me, generally, but after about a week, the one nurse thought the drainage pattern was a bit sub-optimal, so we tried a new tool. It’s an iodine base layer. It goes on like a layer of cloth, all dry, but as the leg warms it up, it turns to a bit of a paste. She felt it might work well on my leg and draw out more infection. There’s no “single” way to fight this stuff, they adapt their choice of tools to how the wound looks, and in her view, it was asking for the iodine layer.


Setback -- the iodine layer - Jan 29

Now I’ll tell you, we also adjusted the compression that night from 20-30 to 30-40. To help the leg heal faster by draining fluid that attracts trouble, like infection. Great, right?

I had everything done mid-afternoon and shortly after supper, my leg was SCREAMING at me. Really really painful. Up until that point, on a scale of 1-10, the first week it was maybe a 3-4. Occasionally, if I sat too long without raising my leg, I’d get a twinge that would go to 3-4 too. But overall, maybe a 1-2. Nothing to write home about.

By 6:30? My leg was a really irritating 5-6. I had no idea what was going on, and the only thing I could figure out was that the new compression increase was too much. I couldn’t take it. So, despite the fact I’m not SUPPOSED to do this, I had to take it off. Instant relief. It dropped to about a 2-3 again. Still a bit sore, but manageable. And I wasn’t jumping every few minutes. Whew.

Until about 9:00 p.m. When it started again. I was going crazy, it was like someone was constantly stabbing me with a pin. Fine for about 30s and then another stab. Two minutes, settling down, okay, then stab, stab, stab. WTF?

I had to see what was going on. So I took the bandage off with Andrea’s help and the wound looked like the photo above with the goop on it. It was stinging so much, I had no choice, I had to wash it off. It stopped screaming again, and stayed that way. Sore, sure, but easily manageable with Tylenol or just putting up with it.

So we switched back to the silver nitrate the next day AND figured out that I needed backup bandages at home in case I ran into another problem. I had simple stuff, but nothing that would work well for wound care.

The next couple of weeks were, umm, iterative. 🙂 We would adjust something here or there, make it more comfortable, address my latest pain point so to speak, but it was, overall, progressing.

Time for discharge?

About 6 weeks after we had done everything, I was nearing the end of my time. Basically they don’t do anything if you’re no longer “leaking” i.e. “no discharge from the wound = discharge from wound care”. I was feeling good, able to move around a bit better perhaps too, etc. We took a drive out to the Carp Library to pick up some telescopes for a project I’m working on, I was carrying one out to the car, and I fell.

I was going through the door, my boots kind of rubbed against each other, the little buckles caught on each other, almost like I had tied my shoe laces together, and I went down. Hard. Right on my right shin.

I was freaking out mentally. No, no, no, no, no, this CANNOT be happening. I’m DONE. No, no, no. On top of it, I fell on cement that was covered in that ice melting stuff, the crystals, and it was eating into my knee. Yep, I had ripped part of the pant leg, gashed my leg, drawn blood, and I had potential ice crystal crap on it. Fudgicles was NOT the word that came to mind.

I did realize something though. The compression wrap on my leg? It acted like a shinguard. I had felt NOTHING below the knee. It was intact, no issues at all. It had even protected the knee a bit by absorbing the fall. We finished up, and then I drove home, limped into the house, and had Andrea check the leg. It was not great looking, but very superficial wounds, we thought. I called the wound care people, I went in the next day, no damage. Simple abrasion, very shallow, we’d monitor it, but no setback.

I wanted to cry in relief.

A week later, I was good to go.


Ready for discharge - March 7

It would take a while to heal, and I was having “dry skin issues”, but I was good to go. No more drainage, no more wound care. I was officially discharged.

Woohoo!

Not so fast there, chief

That night, I’m at home, and I notice that my sock is a bit wet. WTF? Why is my SOCK wet? Oh, there’s a small area at the bottom inside of the wound area that is still leaking. Okay, call them the next day, I’m back in wound care until that spot closes. No biggie, this happens all the time. I skipped over mentioning that not too long before we got to week 6, I was changed over to every 3 days instead of every 2, normal for pre-discharge. Anyway, I was back in.

But it was minor, so they don’t even want to see me. I can do it myself at home and come back in a week. They give me a small nitrate for the infection layer, just in case, AND, just for fun, this exciting new bandage.

Dun, dun, dun, I call it the spider bandage.

It’s basically a large bun-like bandage, about 3 inches in diameter, you put it over the area, and then it has about 8 little strips of adhesive going off it like spider legs to adhere it to the leg. All good, easy to work with, I’m fine.

Andrea helps me with wound care after 2d and we switch out the old spider bandage with the new one. She even has to do the saline cleaning, no debriding thank goodness, but we’re good. Takes a bit longer the first time, but it’s easier for her to do it than for me to try. It stings a bit when we take off the old bandage, but well, it’s a bandage. It doesn’t kill me or anything, maybe a little more painful than a bandaid, but it’s 8 strips.

Day 3-4 go okay, it’s a bit sorer than I was expecting, but okay, fine. Another change of bandage, a bit more pain, but I appreciate the help, and I don’t have to go out. All good.

Day 7 is the next change, and well, it doesn’t go as well. It’s sore removing the bandage and my leg is inflamed. It is red, it hurts, and as my GP calls it later, visually striking.

Houston, we have a terrible, terrible problem

I go into wound care, and it is clear I’m in pain AND the wound has gone drastically in the wrong direction. It isn’t clear to me at first how or why, but something is seriously off. The main nurse looks at it, asks what we were doing, asks what was on it, realizes it was the spider bandage and says, “Oh.”

We give the other nurse the benefit of the doubt that my leg has reacted to the adhesive. In fact, fast-forwarding to the end of my diagnostics, what actually happened was that the choice of bandage meant that the adhesive strips were on relatively “new” skin next to the wound. It hadn’t fully healed. So when we took off the bandage, it basically tore the new skin off with it. We work with the “one or the other” possibility for a few weeks, and I’m not chasing blame, just diagnosis as we did with the iodine (“Okay, that doesn’t work for you!”) but eventually one of the doctors tells me it is / was not a reaction to the adhesive, it is very clearly skin tears.

Okay, I’ve held off long enough. This is the scary photo.


Angry and painful - March 18

The good news is that my primary area in the middle is unaffected, but now I have two NEW wounds either side of it. FFS.

And yes, it is painful AF. I am DEFINITELY not discharged, in fact, I’m back not only to square one, but in fact we’ve also past that point and regressed further. I’m now worse off than when I started. There is only one small saving grace.

The new “wounds” are NOT like the previous ones which were deep. These are, relatively speaking, superficial. Sure, I now know what it means for someone to tear a strip off me (hence my original joke at the top about tearing), but well, it might not be as long. I hope.

Nevertheless, the wound care people heavily advise me to go see my GP. Obviously. Which I do. The on-call doctor covering is a long-time GP that I love, not my doctor but he fills in when she’s on vacation, and he did indeed sum it up well. “Well, that certainly is visually striking.”

(Our cousin and friends are doctors who concurred that it was better to be visually striking than medically interesting at least.)

He looks at it, assesses it, confirms continued wound care, and turns me over to the nurse who is new and also covering for the regular nurse. She is a bit older, and practiced nursing in her home country before immigrating to Canada, very nice. But she doesn’t listen to me very well. I don’t know if it’s her bedside manner or a language barrier.

For example, when we were removing the bandages, we got to the bandage layer, which regrettably has had some drainage and thus is stuck to my leg. I’m at week 8 of wound care, and I know that the best way to get it off is with saline to soak it to let it “release”. Which I tell her, she confirms, and then proceeds to rip the bandage off in three strips. Like removing a bandaid, as they say. EXCEPT I’M THERE BECAUSE I HAVE NO F***ING SKIN because the bandages already took it off. I visibly react in pain. “Oh did that hurt?”. Okay, deep breaths.

We get through everything, we go to do the close out, so she cleans and dresses the wound. She doesn’t have silver nitrate (or more accurately, doesn’t know where this office keeps it), so she does a basic bandage which will be fine until the next day with real wound care. But she uses this liquid to clean the wound. I forget the name now, but when it goes on, it practically burns. It is really stinging. She then takes a cloth and proceeds to quickly WIPE DOWN MY LEG AREA OVER THE WOUND. I just about jack-knifed off the table. OMFG. If I wasn’t almost passing out, I would have been screaming at her. I did, in fact, scream a little when she did it. And she suddenly realized that I am in fact in pain and she’s about to get murdered, as she switched to being very careful after that. I got the name of the liquid so that we won’t ever use it again in my wound care, and when I told the wound care people, they were like, “Are you crazy? You can’t use that on a wound. It’s a debriding agent. It probably took off more skin!”. Yeah, so there’s that.

They wanted me to report her, not for punishment but as a learning opportunity, and I thought about it but I’d moved on. Then one of the nurses there called to follow up and I said, “soooo, while we’re on the phone, who do I report this too?” Not for blame, just to let her know, never do that again. They reported it to the nursing manager who did, apparently, use it as a teaching moment.

Whatever. I’m focused on wound care.


Starting to heal - March 28

Wait, I haven’t been to the ER yet, have I?

I’m set up, wound care fixes me the next day, I’m all good. I’m moving forward.

Until the Saturday morning. I wake up, and my leg is SCREAMING at me. A 5-6 level, WTF? Why? What’s going on? It’s been hurting a bit all week, actually, but that’s just normal stuff I think. I do have a MAJOR LEG WOUND after all. It isn’t a paper cut.

But Saturday morning? It’s screaming. If I am vertical longer than about 30s, it starts hurting. If I elevate it, it’s more normal.

Now, of course, all the way through this journey, I’ve been asking, “So what if…” this or that happens, what do I do?

One of the things to watch for is sudden intense pain or spreading pain that might indicate blood clotting. Well, here I am, with very intense pain. I don’t know that I need the ER, but, well, it’s Saturday. And the wound care people said, “If you’re in pain, go to the ER.”. Okay, off I go.

I go in mid-afternoon, finally see someone around 6:30, and then doctor around 7:30. Dr. Carter is his name. Very good, imo, although mostly I spend time evaluating pediatric people, not docs for adults! Anyway, he agrees that it is very visually striking, no signs of infection, but he wants to run a blood test to see if there’s any chance of blood clotting. He warns me that the test often gives a false positive in the sense that a negative result rules out 2-3 things, but a lack of a negative result only means they can’t rule it out, not that it’s positive. If it comes back “non-negative”, then I’ll need an ultrasound.

Great, I love phlebotomy as a practice. (Not). But it goes well, all done. And 20m later he’s back — I’m negative, none of the problems we tested for are what’s going on. No signs of clotting or anything else.

But here’s the thing. I’ve been in the ER for about 4.5h at this point, with a lot of pacing since I couldn’t put my leg up. Which means I used my calf muscles to get the fluid moving out of my leg, and the pain is almost gone too. I can go home, since there’s not much else to do, but I don’t have any real “resolution”.

However, he is concerned about who’s driving my wound-care bus. When I tell him me, he says, “No, I mean someone with a medical degree.”. I had to admit, well, almost nobody. Sure I saw Doctor #1 back in January, Doctor #2 by phone in late February for another round of antibiotics), nurses for ten weeks, and doctor #3 the day before, but well, I guess my main GP was following all of it (which she was, I shouldn’t imply she wasn’t, I just mean I didn’t meet with her because of timing).

None of which was sufficient, and in his view too, it was dragging on. He referred me to the soft tissue clinic at the hospital, and they gave me an appointment for 2w out. In the meantime, I would continue with wound care.

I went home, we adjusted my wound care to go only with the silver nitrates that worked, the 20-30 compression that worked, and a new wrapping technique for the bandage layer that covered more area with less slippage and no tape anywhere on my skin. Okay, 2w and we’d see what happens.

The ER was so much fun the first time

Fast-forward 6 days to Good Friday and I went to bed really late on Thursday night, planning to sleep in. I was digging deep to move my website recover along, and it was about 3:30/4:00 a.m. when I crashed. Normally that would mean sleeping until about 10:30 or so, but at 8:30, I was wide awake with my leg SCREAMING at me again. I was hitting about a 6-7 this time on the 10 point scale, it wasn’t going away, AND on top of it, I couldn’t get it to stop even my elevating my leg. I’d raise it, turn it on the pillow and 30s later, back screaming. No good positions at all anywhere. The only thing that helped was walking.

So off to the ER again. I confess, I debated not going the first time. I mean, let’s be real. What were they going to do? It’s a leg wound; I’m not dying. Better pain meds? It didn’t seem like it was worth it. But I got the blood test done and was referred to the soft tissue clinic. I hadn’t seen them yet, that would be another week, but I had felt that the first visit was worth the 4.5 hours.

And yet here I was again, with no explanation. I took the compression off, no change; I took the bandage off, no change. We had used the best infection layer, the best bandage technique, the best compression. WTF????

So off I went again. The pain went down with all the walking, and after 5h, I saw the doctor. This one was not as, umm, useful. I described it more as what I originally expected. Nothing they COULD do. So she recommended cognitive pain management, although I don’t mean that in a technical sense. I just mean it was more “suck it up buttercup”.

She didn’t think it looked infected, but honestly she was already half-way out the door to talk to some other patient, I guess, with a real problem. She gave me a prescription for antibiotics in case it was infected (up to me to decide in a few days) and a prescription for a topical steroid to reduce inflammation (also up to me to decide if I wanted to use it).

Now I could play Health Gambling. Here are the rules of the game:

  • If you have an infection, then you should take the antibiotics;
  • If you have inflammation, you should use the cream;
  • If you only have inflammation, but guess wrong, the antibiotics will do NOTHING to help the inflammation;
  • If you have infection, but guess wrong, the cream will cause the infection to go CRAZY and get way worse.

Up to me to decide. Great. Where’s that wound care bus driver the first ER doctor wanted?

I talk it over with the wound care nurses after the weekend, and we all agree that it is probably safest to take the antibiotics to eliminate the chance, and then when it’s done, use the cream. Fine. I’m good to go. I have a plan.

Probably the wrong plan

So when I picked up my antibiotics, the pharmacist asked me about the prescription. Because the Rx was for 2x a day. Except that antibiotic is normally ordered for 4x a day. I confirmed she had indeed very clearly said 2x a day, so I went with it. He said it was possible, just unusual, but okay.

Took it for 4.5 days and then went to the soft tissue clinic. I had photos of the whole journey, and this is what my leg looked like at the time.


Just after soft tissue clinic - April 11

The clinic doctor was very clear and immediate with his diagnosis. THIS WAS THE BUS DRIVER WE WERE LOOKING FOR!

So, here’s the run-down:

  • Yes to everything about compression for the long-term except the level. The wound care nurse was pushing me to go for 30-40, he said 20-30 was working, and sufficient based on my left leg, all good;
  • The original problem probably could have been prevented with better initial cleaning, ongoing moisturizing, and compression throughout;
  • The secondary trauma was very clearly skin tears from a bad choice of bandage, not a reaction to the adhesive;
  • No signs of infection and I should stop the prescription immediately AND it should have been four times per day, the 2x was doing nothing but suppressing stuff;
  • I could stop wound care because there was no longer any sign of discharge (the bandage was clear after two days and he poked the wound a LOT, the only one who has oddly enough); and,
  • I had a skin inflammation that did need cream but the original prescription was not a great choice for this (and I hadn’t started it anyway), so he gave me a brand new one (the same one the wound care nurse recommended).

All of which we did in about 10 minutes (albeit it took longer with the resident initially).

Wow, now THAT’s a bus driver who knows the route!

Newly discharged

I went back to the soft tissue clinic today for my two week follow-up. Over the last two weeks, I’ve basically done three things.

First, I’ve used the cream. I was supposed to do it twice a day, 12h apart, but because my sleep schedule has been messed up, it was more like 3x every 2 days. Anyway, it was working.

Second, I’ve been wearing my new custom-fit compression socks, and I’m okay with them. My brain has already adjusted to them for the most part, and since wearing them is no more embarrassing then walking around fat, F*** the universe if they don’t like them if I’m wearing shorts. At least they are reasonably close to my own flesh colour. I’ve also been wearing an extra liner on my right leg just to stop any fabric from rubbing against the wound, and it doesn’t hurt that it adds another 10mmHg to the compression regimen. I’m also a little bit optimistic about the fabric. It is fairly durable, and I’m hoping it will prevent some of those past scratches in the first place when I inevitably bang my leg again.

But you know what else I’ve been doing? Showering.

That is so huge, you have no idea. Since I’m wearing just socks, and have no wraps to protect, I can just have a normal every day shower, no baggie / cast cover on my leg required. It feels like heaven. Sure, I can’t “rub” it with the towel for fear of scraping skin off, but a regular shower? That’s worth it’s weight in gold.


Discharged - April 22/23

The final photo above shows fewer wound issues, reduced swelling, and reduced inflammation. It will still take time for all of it to heal, but I don’t have to use the cream anymore unless I notice something later.

Which leaves me with a healed leg, some good ongoing treatment solutions, some renewed impetus for other health stuff for the future, and regrettably, a small lingering mystery.

What caused the pain to spike which sent me to the ER twice? I have a theory, and it holds up enough to be viable, but no way to know for sure. Both times, I was off work that day. Why is that relevant? Because it means I was up late the night before.

I just averaged an extra 40h a week for six weeks rebuilding my website, and on the Friday night before the first ER visit, I was up to almost three or so. For the second visit for Good Friday? I was up to almost 4 the night before.

Which means I put in two really long days while sitting at my computer for REALLY long periods of time without a lot of movement around to do other things, they weren’t generally days I had wound care so wasn’t out for that, and then at night, I spent almost 7 hours straight at my desk. Without raising my leg or moving around. Because I was “in the zone”.

If I’m right, that being too sedentary the day before led to the pain the next morning, I need to remember that gravity isn’t my friend and to set alarms to move around more.

In the meantime, start the jukebox…”Freedom’s just another word for…” being discharged.

I just need to keep my squirrels under control too. Because every bump on my leg makes me think it’s another potential ulcer and the bus stops at my front door every trip. What I do need to focus on is moisturizing. My feet and legs are REALLY dry right now. I couldn’t handle would care on my own, but this? I think I can manage this one.




Rebuilding: Dumpster fire or opportunity? (part 4 / 4)

I have already mentioned the accidental nuking of the site by tech support, the rebuild decision tied to mental health issues, and my decision to separate everything into two sites plus add Flickr for my photos. But one big question remained…if I was going to build back better, what else would I change in the process?

If I was honest with myself, I had to face the reality that perhaps, shockingly, I didn’t design the site incrementally over time the way I would have liked to design it from day one.

The problem-ridden version I had was a dumpster fire, that was clear. But could this be an opportunity to think outside the box? Could I, in fact, set the box on fire and start with a fresh page?

Yes, yes I could. So where should I start? My big four website choices were relatively straight-forward:

  • Theme/layout;
  • Front-facing design functions;
  • Behind-the-scenes functions; and,
  • Behind-the-scenes workflow options.

Theme / layout

For layout and colour, there are a lot of themes out there for websites, often coming down to a series of elements. Some sites go with a top menu and then a big splashy header, often combining that header with a slider to advertise multiple contents or the latest posts. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime all do this with their movie listings for example — slider areas that show videos or pictures that advertise content elsewhere in their offerings. On news sites, there are often similar layouts followed by spotlight boxes, three or four across, that highlight the latest articles or popular posts to click on. High energy, lots of images or videos, driving people to click, click, click!

They may be popular, but that’s not me. I don’t want a big giant flashy site, partly as I live and die by the word, not the graphics that go with it. Heck, other than my featured image, many of my posts don’t even HAVE graphics (gasp! the latest design bloggers would be aghast with my approach!). That’s not accidental or laziness, it’s the fact that I only include what advances the story I’m trying to tell or imparting info I think is relevant. I don’t use “optional flash” to add sizzle or pizzazz. If the words aren’t working, I’m already lost. Nevertheless, even ignoring those big layout issues, I’m still left with three types of theme options.

First and foremost, the latest approach is to sell people on using “page designers”. Secondly, you can choose an theme that has a fair amount of customization options. Or third, you can buy a theme that is EXACTLY what you want, no customization required.

If you think of it like buying Microsoft products, it’s kind of like buying MS Publisher (a completely open page layout program), MS Word (as a good editor with some layout options but generally looks like a page), or a custom background for your document that can’t be edited.

I don’t want or need a big Desktop Publisher / page designer program to do my blog as there’s a lot of extra overhead that comes with it. I confess that I think the common advice that newbies hear i.e., to start with page designers, is the worst advice possible. People get into it having no idea what a post or page even is in WordPress, have no real design background, and suddenly things start going wrong, with no idea why or how to fix them. Eventually, they get frustrated and give up, when if they had started with a simple blog and theme, they could wait and complicate their lives later when they have a working blog to keep them engaged in the meantime. People often buy MS Office for business and have options to use MS Word or Publisher. Which do they use? MS Word. Publisher has its use, and most people don’t want or need the overhead to get something looking the way they want.

I played with a couple of page designer plugins/themes, but honestly, my view is that WordPress is opening up design more and more, and eventually page designers are going to be redundant since WordPress’ block options will be able to do just about all of it anyway. I’ll stick with the core.

I have looked at the third option — prebuilt static themes — and most of them are not quite what I want nor do they come with support or customization. I’m “vanilla” for my design, sure, but I at least want to add some sprinkles or syrup occasionally.

Which leaves me with the MS Word-level of theme (Weaver XTreme Plus) that I have been running for over 10 years in one form or another (premium, free, plus, etc.). As it has so many customization options, I really don’t need anything more powerful. Sometimes I need LESS power. But I like it because it allows me a format that works for me and enough tweaking under the hood to add the sprinkles or syrup occasionally.

But I did my due diligence anyway, played with a couple of new popular themes, tested the layouts, inserted some flashy graphics here and there, tried a header, and in the end, I kept coming back to what I already had for the tool.

Yet, as I mentioned earlier, I DID want to play with branding. So on my PolyWogg site, I went with my main header (a photo where I grew up, with a nice logo overlaid on it) and then added custom headers for my HR Guide, Reviews, Recipes, conference, and Astronomy. I have one waiting for trivia at some point, but I’m not ready for that yet. I’ve also gone with some “splash” pages on PolyWogg with intro pages for each area rather than simple blogs and menus, and ditched the sidebars.

Meanwhile, over on ThePolyBlog, I went with the lilypad header that I like, based on a photo from the Bruce Pit, but no custom headers for the rest of the site, and generally a pure blog-style layout, albeit with reduced content hiding in the sidebars. I have kept them — for now, at least.

Front-facing design options

For the public side of the blog i.e., what the average viewer sees, I have 21 plugins that help with design, layout or functionality. Most are relatively straightforward — adding social media buttons, controlling spam, adding a bunch of layout blocks that aren’t in the core WordPress options, adding navigation menus to go from post to post, providing links to other related posts, or simply displaying the posts in a specific format.

For the post-dumpster-fire build, I tweaked a number of things.

I already mentioned removing sidebars and changing headers, but on PolyWogg, I also have different headers for different areas of the website and with those separate areas, I also installed a plugin that lets me display different menus in each section. So if you’re in the reviews section, you see a narrower reviews-related menu; if you’re in recipes, you see a recipe-related menu. All of that is done through a special plugin (Conditional Menus).

Another part of PolyWogg has my TV Premiere posts, i.e., reviews of individual premieres, and for most of the posts in “reviews”, I created a separate index of them in sortable tables (with TablePress). But the TV Premiere list is different…it’s literally just a list of posts by date. The simplest way to generate that list was a plugin called simply Display Posts along with a related addon called Date View. Between the two, I generate a list of all the posts in that category and place it on a page. It’s a pretty powerful tool, and I may decide in future to expand it to other areas on both PolyWogg and ThePolyBlog. It makes a really simple navigation tool without a lot of overhead.

A friend constantly complains that my website shows posts in feeds as the full post, and she hates it. She feels like they should always be in “excerpt” mode so you can scan more quickly. While I understand her view, it’s a design choice that has two competing views in the design world. One side agrees with her that you should show the excerpt and let people click to see more; on the other side, they argue people want to be able to scan quickly without having to click. The same happens with newsletters or auto-feeds — if you send the entire post by email, then people don’t have a reason to click, and so they don’t go to your site and they don’t generate ad revenue. But I don’t run ads on my sites, not now, not ever. And I have always preferred the long form in feeds and on the site. One fewer click. But in the end, I decided to follow her advice, albeit for a slightly different reason. I use a newsletter (to be mentioned in the next section), and it doesn’t like certain types of blocks. If I use them, then the feed looks terrible. It looks great on screen, but not in email. Soooo, if I only go with excerpts, problem solved. I don’t use those types of blocks in the first 100 words anyway (another plugin to help where it cuts off).

Earlier I mentioned that I have social media icons already, and I have multiple ways to do those. However, while they also include options for printing or PDF, I added two PDF-related plugins as well (PDF & Print, and PDF Embedder) as they work well with my HR guide so people can access it more easily on the PolyWogg site. I have more docs coming, so I added the functionality now.

Before I come to the big front-end change, I’ll mention quickly that I also changed my Forms plugin (to go to WPForms) and I reinstalled my trivia plugin called Quiz Maker.

All of the above changes are, for the most part, relatively cosmetic changes here and there. Tweaks, I would say. The next one is huge.

As I noted earlier, one of my biggest areas and the most work on the original site was my Photo Gallery. I paid for a premium version of NextGen Gallery and I have been using it for sometime. I doubled down on the plugin, I found ways to do things that others hadn’t, and I’ve even thrown myself into the support forum, acting as an informal extra resource for anyone and everyone. Due to COVID, the plugin developer has had trouble providing ongoing support to users of the free plugin, and where I can, I’ve stepped in to offer some suggestions. Sometimes, a week later, the support person will chime in and say, “Yeah, what he said”. Often with more aplomb and gravitas, and with additional suggestions, but a number of people have been able to try what I suggested and fix their problem. Not necessarily with “my” solution, but in testing my solution, it better defined the actual problem. I often joke that I may not be able to fix your problem, but sometimes I can break something else that I can fix.

NGG is the most used plugin in WordPress for photo galleries, it has power out the wazoo and I had almost 10,000 photos uploaded using it as the basis for my galleries prior to the crash. How many have I uploaded since? Zero.

I killed the plugin.

Remember I said I was doing my due diligence to build back better? Well, one of those changes was to go with Flickr as my online repository for my photos and video rather than embedded directly in my website. As I noted in a previous post, I went for “ease of use” over perfection. And NGG was the solution for direct embedding. With all of my photos in Flickr, what I need NOW is a good tool that lets me embed the photos FROM Flickr into the site. Now, WordPress already has a default embed option for individual items, and it works just fine. But if I want to better embed galleries or albums or subsets, then a tool like Photonic Gallery directly connects to my Flickr account and lets me embed. Another tool called Meks Simple Flickr Widget also lets me embed easily too, with a bit more control than the standard WordPress embed. But make no mistake. This is a HUGE change on the front-end and the back-end. It is also the change that reduced my rebuilding workload from a year to probably six months of normal revision.

It’s a total gamechanger for the front-end, the back-end, and everything in between.

Behind-the-scenes functions

On the back-end, I have 18 plugins that I use to manage the site’s functions. The obvious ones that many people use are there — an advanced editor, a broken link checker, tools that maintain wordcounts, security certificate manager, a tool for managing redirections within the site, and a status checker to make sure the Cron tool is running regularly.

Not too long before I lost my site, I had upgraded two back-end features, including a tool that auto-posts to the Buffer website which in turn autoposts to Twitter and Facebook for me, as well as a newsletter plugin called MailPoet that lets me send out posts to people who are subscribed to the site. When I created the initial newsletter, a bunch of people subscribed, but when I was rebuilding the site, I had to “force stop” their subscriptions and invite them to rejoin afterwards (otherwise they would have received 1500 emails saying “Hey, this post is back up”).

But beyond those basics, I made five fairly large changes behind the scenes. Each of them are significant on their own, to be honest, and most of them I had not done previously as they didn’t work well with NextGen galleries and some other tools I had running. With the rebuild, it was time to “fix” the site and do it right.

Up first was simple Google Analytics. Every site owner should get the reports of what Google thinks of their site, but I am not a slave to metrics since that isn’t the kind of site I have (I don’t really care how I rank or the load times as long as they aren’t measured in decades, people come to my site for specific content they can’t get anywhere else, I’m not a random stop on the information superhighway). Yet, even though I’m not a slave, the analytics can help tweak the site for performance and user experience, so I added a good setup to monitor it.

The obvious related area was Search Engine Optimization, and well, as I said, people tend to come to my site because they’re looking for me. They aren’t randomly searching for info on widgets that I happen to sell, I’m not a commerce site. People are either looking for specific posts I’ve written that they have been referred to by others, OR they are looking for me in particular. It’s an unique niche so the “one size fits all” advice that people say “every site should do” doesn’t really apply to my site in the same way. It’s an issue, sure, but it’s not a DEFINING issue. But I can do more to be SEO friendly, if not exactly SEO optimized. I asked in a few online fora about good options, explained that I was really looking for a plugin that does the basics without getting into the weeds, and someone referred me to SEO Press. Everything I need, and easy to run? I’m in.

Security is a necessary staple of any site, and I had a small quandary. I have tried various plugins over the years for firewalls and anti-malware, and I like several of them. But two of them didn’t work well on my servers or with NextGen Gallery. First up was iThemes. I like it, I liked the interface, it seems intuitive to me, and more than a million other users agreed with me. But the way it interacts with the main config file for WordPress for security didn’t seem to work consistently on my previous host (I was overloading their server and they couldn’t tell me why, so I eventually left that company’s hosting plan). When I started with my new host, it did it again after about six weeks, and the guy was able to narrow it down to that plugin and how how/why it was doing it. Simple fix, but not exactly warming to the heart.

I then tried WordFence, which is the big guy on the block, but it didn’t seem to be very intuitive to me at first, and then I had a conflict with an old plugin I was running. I ended up going with All-in-One security, which was working relatively well on the old setup. Except with respect to Next Gen Gallery. There is a partial conflict with their firewall settings and NGG’s update process. Each time NGG would need an update, the plugin would stop working afterwards. But if I deactivated the firewall, ran NGG, and then reactivated AIO, everything would work fine. It just didn’t seem to “complete” the update for NGG when AIO was running. AIO and NGG both tried to narrow it down, and while neither could identify WHAT was causing it, we did manage to agree that temporary deactivation fixed it. But I’m not running NGG any longer, nor the older plugins. So I joined the 4M+ people running WordFence again. I feel it is the most reliable, and it makes more sense to me out of the box with a lot less tweaking than I had to do for AIO.

Another area for the sites is how they send emails from the site. There are default ways to send stuff, and most of the default approaches get flagged as spam or might never send in the first place. Instead, I went with a new upgraded plugin called WP Mail SMTP and linked it to better email sending. I’m not 100% certain it’s a significant update, but it is a more professional way to do things.

Last but not least, I added an optimizing plugin. I know, I know, if you have read my previous blogs, you’ll know that a server-level optimizer was part of what killed my site in the first place. However, this one allows some granularity of control AND it provides a simple caching solution. It does a couple other things too (minify, image compression) that I don’t use, but WP Optimize is compatible with my setup and doesn’t cause gremlins to proliferate. I’ll take it.

Together, those are five pretty significant upgrades to the back-end. I had tools doing some of it before but nowhere near as extensively or even, dare I say it, “properly”.

Behind-the-scenes workflow options

When I had two small websites (for family and friends) plus one big PolyWogg site, it was relatively easy to maintain. I would never confuse any of the three with each other for the back-end as I generally don’t have to do much on the back-end for the other two. But now that I have two BIG sites to manage, and I’m administering both almost daily, I need to make sure in the back-end that I’m working on the right site!

That may seem obvious to the non-user, but it isn’t. The back-end has the same colour, layout, look and feel. Except for the small name in the top left-hand corner, you wouldn’t know you were on ThePolyBlog rather than PolyWogg. And in the first two weeks of the rebuild process, I made two mistakes where I did something confusing the two sites.

The first was simple. Before I nuked the whole account and started over, I moved ALL of my PolyWogg content to ThePolyBlog. ALL of it. Then, when PolyWogg was running again, I moved a copy of it all back. So my content was actually in two places at once, even though ultimately it would be in only one. For example, I put all my reviews on PolyWogg, went through everything, got it up and running, and deleted all the reviews from ThePolyBlog. Good to go. Except I went into PolyWogg the next day, and couldn’t find some of it. WTF? What did I do? Oops, I accidentally changed the category it was in, thinking I was on ThePolyBlog instead of on PolyWogg. I almost deleted all of them, but fortunately I just misfiled it by confusing which site I was on.

The second was stupid but potentially devastating. I run a plugin called TablePress that lets me have sorted tables on various pages. You can even filter them as the user on the front-end. But it is really only used for lists of Reviews, and since that is only for the PolyWogg site, I don’t need the plugin for ThePolyBlog site. So I went into ThePolyBlog, deactivated it, and deleted the plugin plus the data. Next day, I’m on PolyWogg and one of the tables isn’t showing right. Hmm, that’s odd. Go into the admin area, TablePress isn’t even an option. WTF? Ohhhhh. I accidentally deleted it from PolyWogg, instead of ThePolyblog. Okay THAT needs a fix. I could recover the data, no problem, but I needed to solve the confusion problem.

Fortunately, there are two easy ways to do this. Built into WordPress is an option to change the basic colours of the admin layout. Which sounds perfect except I didn’t like any of the other three simple options. Instead, I found a plugin called Admin Color Schemes which adds about 10 more. Voila!

Now my ThePolyBlog admin area is a relatively bland beige because it is the secondary site. If I lose a post, or forget something, no great loss. It’s calm, it’s soothing, it’s daily wear and tear.

The PolyWogg site? I have a very bright blue interface! It screams HEY PAUL PAY ATTENTION THIS IS YOUR POLYWOGG SITE WITH ALL YOUR BIG CONTENT LIKE YOUR HR GUIDE. Nothing calm or soothing about it. It’s not raging red, but it stands out. As soon as that page loads, I know I have to pay attention to what I’m doing.

Problem solved. I think.

Oh sure, I have other tools too, such as an admin menu editor that I used to make both sites look rather similar in the backend for administration (Dashboard / Posts / Pages / Comments / Media / Reusable Blocks/ Menus / Widgets at the top as my most active areas). I also use a nested pages tool to help me drag and drop pages, which is incredibly useful for the PolyWogg site for my HR and astro guides, even my review indices. On both sites, I used WordPress Importer to bring the data back in, and particularly on PolyWogg, I used Tako Movable Comments and Bulk Move to parse comments into 8 different pages rather than all on the one “main” page for my HR guide. For ThePolyBlog, I frequently blog about articles, so I use the Press This plugin, but I don’t need it for PolyWogg. On both sites, I use Yoast Duplicate Post to clone or copy existing posts into a new post, often to duplicate a post layout easily.

Hmm…something’s missing, right?

What could it be?

Backup tools

It would be an obvious conclusion, i.e., better backups. That’s how I got into this problem in the first place, right? The assumption is generally if you have good backups, everything’s right in the world. Except that needs to be unpacked a bit.

Any backup solution actually splits into three elements:

  • Creating the backup
  • Storing the backup
  • Restoring from the backup

If you haven’t read my previous posts, first, what’s wrong with you? How could you read this LONG post without having whetted your appetite with the previous laments? 🙂

Second, you’d know that I actually HAD backups. It was the third part that was the problem.

In fact, I was already using 3 backup options, one that was completely up to date, and two that weren’t. I’ve already covered multiple types of backup tools for a WordPress site, so let’s talk about the three I had in rotation at the time of the nuclear blast.

First and foremost, I had a complete download of EVERYTHING. It’s the simplest form of backup, but is entirely manual to do.

However, it was about four months old, and I had made a lot of changes since the last download, but it was relatively there for structure. I could have tried to restore from it AND then just add in all my content. The problem was that the latest version of my content was a bit suspect. Not completely, but when you merge different sources, you multiply your chances of an ongoing gremlin problem. Which I already had, and was trying to erase. This failure though is on me. When you’re in the process of making updates, and you have another 20 to go, it’s hard to remind yourself to “stop” and make a big manual download when you’re busy. This isn’t news, it’s why systems designs include automated backups. So it doesn’t rely on the dumb user to remember to do it. I could have gone with the existing option, rebuilt the data manually, etc., but with a small corruption problem in the data, it wasn’t clear this would be reliable. Equally, having a complete backup wasn’t the problem. I had that solved already with another tool.

Second, I had a proper backup done automatically by my server about six weeks before. I was running an WordPress-based backup tool, and I disabled it while I was doing some reconfiguration (you don’t want it trying to run while you’re in close to maintenance mode), so again, I had a complete but slightly out of date version. The problem with this one was that it too wouldn’t restore properly.

Third, the core “problem” was again, not the backup. The server runs JetBackup every single day. It had a complete backup of every day going all the way back to November 2019. It COULD restore everything. In theory. And it had a great version from about 2 hours before the nuke.

So again, going back to the top of the section — I had 3 backup options that were creating the backup, check. I had the info stored in three separate places — the host’s server area (separate from mine), within my own area (the WordPress plugin-based backup), AND I had a complete download. Check.

The first two elements wee tickety-boo (creation, storage).

The third? A restore function? Welllll, therein lies the rub. The host was running LiteSpeed Cache at the server level and it was interfering with the restore function. That couldn’t be disabled, so that’s a problem. But I had an “out”. I could download my backups, up to date as of 8:00 a.m. the morning of the nuke, and take my whole site somewhere else. Photos, WP, data, everything. All good.

Except we had done a full restore. Which completed without errors. And yet there were gremlins in the new version. If I went to “new host provider X” and installed those versions, chances are that some of the gremlins would remain. AND I had already paid for the website for the next three years. Which meant I would be paying again somewhere else with no guarantees of a successful restore, I would have to “pay” to try it out, and I would likely have to repair everything manually as I suspect part of the gremlin lay in the creation initially.

I needed a fourth backup option

I mentioned above that generally you need an option that generates and stores the backup and permits restoration. All good. But all three of my options above were generally tied to the server that my site was running on. If it malfunctions, all three of my results were generally at risk. It’s not exactly technically accurate, but I tend to think of it more as an unmitigated risk. I wanted a fourth option, and by happenstance, it links to another tool I had in mind.

I already said that I was going from 1 active site + 2 inactive sites, to 2 active sites and 2 inactive sites. Or put more simply, doubling my workload (1 active to 2 active). There’s an app for that though.

Well, technically, there are plugins or websites for that. What they all basically do is tie all your websites into a single interface. They have different ways to do that, some require a separate website to be created, etc., but you end up with one ring to rule them all, errr, one site to administer them all. Sorry, my precious, I got distracted.

In the end, I went with ManageWP. What I essentially can do, for free, is link all four websites into the ManageWP site, and it will let me go to that site in order to THEN go to any of the four sites for individual management. Or if I want to upgrade a common plugin on all of them, I can do it from the main site. It’s a bit like running MultiSite, without the sharing of plugins and themes. Each site runs its own install, I just get to share admin in the background.

Know what else I can do? Add a regular backup that stores that backup on a TOTALLY separate server and doesn’t require me to do downloads manually. It costs me about a $1 a month per site to do it, but for about $50 a year, I have a fourth backup. One that, in theory, I should be able to re-install on any server anywhere with no issues in the future, and isn’t quite as dependent on the original server. More of a “pull copy” than a “push copy”.

I can’t rely on it as my SOLE tool, but it is a nice addition to the ones I already had. So I’m ditching the server-based one, since it had some challenges running properly anyway with a cron issue, I still have the daily backups, AND I will set a schedule for regular full downloads, something that will be simpler now that I don’t have 10K photos installed with it too.

Wait, didn’t you say it would take you six months?

I did say that. I estimated a year if I was rebuilding EVERYTHING the way it had been, including the photo galleries. Working at a normal website management pace. When I ditched the gallery tool to upload into Flickr, I reduced that estimate to about six months. It seemed ambitious, even though a few people thought I was being dramatic. Nope, I knew it was going to be a lot of work.

Yet I managed to do it all in six weeks. How? By killing myself.

Starting on March 6th, when I fully committed to the rebuild, I worked about 4h a night for Monday to Friday every night and week. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Sometimes longer. It was not uncommon for me to start working around 7:30 and at 2:30 to be shutting down so I could sleep. Sometimes I would work at lunch too. Or from 5-6 in the afternoon before supper. Some nights I wouldn’t start until 9:30 or 10, or I would watch a bit of TV while doing the grunt work.

And make no mistake, it was straight grunt work. No fun, no designing, no creativity, it was either reconfiguring plugins until my eyes crossed, or opening, editing, and resaving posts or pages until everything started to blur together. At a minimum, it was 4h a day through the week for six weeks.

On weekends? I generally doubled- and tripled-down. For each Saturday and Sunday in those six weeks, I generally worked a minimum of 10h a day on the rebuild. I’d take a break, hang out with Jacob, do some more, eat, watch some TV, and then be back at it for the night shift. Between the regular week 4h/day x 5d, and the weekend of 10h/d x 2d, it was about 40h a week I was spending on the website. On top of working my normal full week for work.

I’ve been doing almost nothing else for the last six weeks in my spare time. My estimate is that I spent somewhere between 240 and 260h to build it all back the way I want it. If I had put a more normal 10h per week into the rebuild on top of my normal workweek, it would have been the full six months.

But I just wanted to do my due diligence, check a few things as I went, but then to just blast through. It took about 2.5 to 3w of that time to get through most of the structural changes, testing new plugins too, and to get PolyWogg relatively where it needed to be. I then spent 3w getting all the content back up to where it needed to be, and another half week or so putting the final touches on some of the elements. It was a ton of work, and almost none of it was fun. It was just a grueling slog.

How now, brown cow?

About the 5.5w mark, I had to take a break one day and just BLOG about something. I needed to feel a sense of progress. That I could actually create NEW content again. So I wrote a few posts and it gave me enough of a boost to get over the final hump.

There are a few niggling things I want to tweak, or fix. There are about 100 posts where I am missing a photo that will need to be repasted from Flickr instead of from an upload to the gallery built into the website, but generally speaking, I’m done. The sites are running almost at full capacity.

And yet, I’m essentially starting from scratch. I sent out my invites to all the previous subscribers, and only 2 have resubscribed. I even sent all the invites MANUALLY so it wouldn’t go to their spam filter.

I’m also posting a bit each day on this journey, summarizing what I went through, part catharsis, part transparency. And because I have those great trackers, I know that almost nobody is reading any of it. My traffic is way way WAY down from low to mid triple digits all the way to single digits. I get almost no comments, not here or on FB. I’m typing into the abyss.

I’ve been here before. Hopefully it will grow again as I write about more interesting topics that don’t sound like I’m writing computer manuals in four parts. Or, in the end, if nobody reads it, then my site is a glorified digital diary.

But it’s back, and I hope, better than it was before. Time will tell, I suppose.




Building back better for my website (part 3 / 4)

I already discussed the fall of my website and the hit I took on the mental health side before I could commit to rebuilding my website. It’s just too important to me to simply let it go, and honestly, as much as I pretended it was a real choice, it never likely was an actual option. But if I’m going to rebuild, might I revisit some earlier decisions that I had made in the previous version?

Bifurcation is a lovely word

I have had a dual online personality for quite some time. PolyWogg vs. ThePolyBlog. It is a regular conundrum…I had my initial website as PolyWogg.ca for almost ten years and my personal email was ThePolyBlog for almost the same length of time. About seven years ago, I tried separating all of the content into two sites — PolyWogg.ca and ThePolyBlog.ca — thinking it would somehow improve my blogging approach. But at the time, I was blogging sporadically and the division itself never made a lot of sense. I couldn’t really picture in my head what the real difference between the two sites was…and honestly? I could go either way on just about every topic.

Take something about mental health for instance. I am PolyWogg, and I’m writing about mental health, shouldn’t it BE on the PolyWogg site? But I’m BLOGGING, shouldn’t it be on the ThePolyBlog site instead?

Eventually I gave up due mainly to the large overhead of running both sites without a clear delineation between them, and rerouted ThePolyBlog to PolyWogg. Either website would take you to PolyWogg. I’ve debated over the years letting ThePolyBlog.ca domain lapse, but something always held me back a bit. A niggling thought somewhere in my head that maybe I just didn’t separate things out right the first time.

So here I am again. A giant site of 1.6M words that is really quite large for a site. With a TON of pages and posts and photos, oh my.

Could I split the load between two domains?

The wisdom of the crowd

If I was going to separate the two, then there were two giant questions to ask myself:

  1. Which elements would go to which site?
  2. Would I brand the sites differently (and how)?

I reached out to friends on FaceBook, and I had trouble articulating the questions in a meaningful way to get much useful feedback. One overwhelming suggestion was to make PolyWogg just about my HR guide (under the rubric of my “professional” side), but that is peanuts of the whole. Sure, it’s popular, I’ve gotten a lot of hits over the years, but in terms of content, my HR guide takes up about 10 pages, perhaps 30K words. A drop in the proverbial bucket. And if I’m honest, as great a niche as it is, once I retire, it will be of diminishing relevance over time as I get more and more removed from the working world.

I was hoping for guidance from the crowd on branding, but it didn’t go too far, and I had trouble articulating what I meant. I have about 10-12 different areas that I blog about, but I can’t run them all as separate sites, I’m not THAT squirrelly.

In the end, I went back to basics. And instead of focusing on content per se, I thought of the division more as a question of products. Which opened a productive thread of brainstorming with myself.

I do, in fact, have generally two types of products.

The first are what I consider writing products. I have my HR guide, of course, that’s the biggest. And it is associated with PolyWogg, so that is easy to put on that site. I also have a bunch of “reviews” that I do … movies, books, music, TV premieres and seasons, and even podcasts of late. They tend to be “stand-alone” items, very formulaic in layout, a consistent product that I “produce”. I’m also working on a guide for astronomy, I have trivia games underway, a small but increasing collection of recipes, and a report from a 2002 HR conference. All of these are finite products.

The only thing they DON’T have is much in common with each other. So I found a way to have about six different areas on the same site, all linked from the main page, but once you get into the sub-areas, all of the sub-areas have their own menus and their own headers. All completely different but shared under the same site. I had considered trying to do this a long time ago with my old site when it came to the Photo Gallery, but it never quite worked right, and with another 6-8 possible additional areas, it was way too much work previously.

I designed a bunch of different headers using Canva, uploaded them to the site, assigned conditional menus and headers, and voila, six sub-areas within the same site, yet totally different branding for each of them.

My second “set” of products are my blog posts. Most of them are a bunch of little areas, nothing too huge on their own, nor are they necessarily “products” like the stand-alone ones in the first batch. Instead, these are more running commentaries or musings about a variety of topics. I threw them all into the ThePolyBlog site, updated some of the categories to collapse a bunch together, and then grouped them into a few small menu collections. I’m not 100% sold on them yet, so I may make some tweaks in future weeks, but it works for now.

The first group I call simply “Life”. I started to call it “Lighter Fare” as it tends to be a bit more about my life in general, experiences of different types, maybe some family trips. I also have jokes of the day / humour posts in there. But when I added “computers” (which includes all the website drama) as well as “family” which includes my posts about my son, some mental health stuff, my parents, etc., it no longer seemed entirely “lite”. So I grouped it under a general heading just called “life” — which has posts about jokes, websites, experiences and my family. All big chunks of who I am.

The second group is harder to name, and I struggled even more with it. It is generally a collection of posts about more serious topics that I have tentatively named “The Little Grey Cells” (with a nod to Hercule Poirot). Learning is a huge area for me, with lots of posts about courses and non-fiction books, and I had another area about ideas (around governance or development, for instance), that I merged into “Learning and Ideas”. And just as with “Humour”, I have one that is more general in nature and called simply “Quotes”. Some are funny, most are more thoughtful. I merged a bunch of posts about health, mental health, philosophy, gratitude etc under “Health and Spiritualism” and then merged anything to do with writing, publishing, books, libraries, etc. under “Writing and Publishing”.

I maintained a third area for my posts about Goals. I have a LOT of posts on the site about goals, goal-setting, monitoring, tracking, bucket-lists, etc. as well as individual goals and how I’m doing on them. It seemed like an obvious grouping all on its own.

And finally, for a fourth area, I added one simply called Challenges. To be more precise, these are my Reading Challenges, with the materials for 2019, 2020, and 2021. I enjoy running them on FaceBook as a little book club, and I wanted to keep them somewhere. I considered putting them on PolyWogg.ca with the book reviews, but they’re not really “products” in the same sense and they didn’t really fit with the “reviews”.

Ease over perfection

I have already posted that I’m back up and running, but I confess I decided to cut a fairly large corner in my rebuild. (Well, it seemed like cutting corners at the time. Only time will tell if it was a cut corner or a brilliant tactical move.) I chose to NOT rebuild my photo gallery on the website.

For a very long time, I have wanted to be able to share my photos and videos online. I’ve tried standalone galleries, I’ve worked within WordPress, I ran separate installations on my website, I considered totally different software, and I even went with SmugMug for a couple of years. But the biggest irritant previously was that I was paying for other sites or running extra software when what I REALLY wanted was to embed my photos and videos WITHIN my regular website. And in the last year, as I said earlier, I spent a lot of time up until February of this year getting those photos and videos into the site. An enormous amount of work. And ultimately, fixing the uploading of photos was what triggered the error by the technical support people in the first place.

So when I looked at how much work it had been just to get it to where I was at in February, I couldn’t in good conscience think that was the right way to go a second (or seventh) time. It was just too much work.

I didn’t want to go back to SmugMug, Google Photos is dying, a few other big sites don’t handle video properly, and then I decided what I really wanted was to reduce my workload at the same time as I was trying to find a good working solution. I didn’t want perfection, I wanted something that worked well and cut my processing time. If I was going to pay for something new, I wanted easy.

I use Mylio already for managing my photos and videos. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t add all the overhead the way Adobe products do. Nor do I want to shell out the cost each month for the proper Adobe package I would need. And what does Mylio have built-in? Export options that let me send by email, export as pictures, save as a video, or…wait for it…upload directly to Flickr.

I already had a free Flickr account from back in the day that I’ve used sparingly over the years, trying out things here or there, or for sharing photos for a photography course that I took a few years ago. I spent an hour or two doing a deeper dive to try out a bunch of features and testing uploads, as well as finding ways to embed Flickr photos and galleries in my site. And then the kicker came. Flickr would let me upload small videos easily. No conversion of format, it would handle just about anything I threw at it, and then I could embed them into my website whenever and wherever I wanted.

Is it perfect? No. But it is WAY easier than the perfect solution of embedding directly within the website. And suddenly all of the rebuilding work looked a LOT more manageable. My “up to a year” projection was down to perhaps “six months”. So I upgraded my Flickr account to the paid “pro” version, and I’ve uploaded more in the last three weeks than I did in the last three years. It isn’t “embedded” in the site yet, it’s just on Flickr so far, but I’ve linked a few pages here and there. I will eventually add an “index” to the Flickr Gallery somehow and include it as an option on ThePolyBlog.ca. For now, I’ll settle with sharing albums to FaceBook.

A final question before I began the actual rebuild

Okay, step one — I committed to the rebuild. Step two — I decided how to divide up the content overall. Step three — I had a solution for my photos that would be a lot faster than the previous solution, if not as efficient, and about the same or a little less for effectiveness.

But if I’m going to “Build Back Better”, what exactly does “Better” mean? All of the above was mostly about building back “different”, not necessarily “better”. It was better for a bit of workflow, and some branding, but could I make it better in the way it WORKED too?

Continue reading at Rebuilding: Dumpster fire or opportunity? (part 4 / 4)




My existential angst as a dead blogger (part 2 / 4)

In my previous post (The Fall of PolyWogg (part 1 / 4)), I covered the technical fall of my site. After the nuke went off, I spent a full week attempting to work through all the technical options to get my site back up and running. And repeatedly failing. I knew I had all the data, so there was that consolation, but the rest of the site? It was looking increasingly like I was going to have to erase everything, nuke the entire account, and start over. I had managed to partly fix two other sites that I host on my account, one for a friend and one for my brother, but beyond that, I was not positive either one were any more reliable than my main PolyWogg.ca site.

So as I reached the end of February, I had to accept the reality. My site was dead. 24y of content, 17y of running a website, and I was at square one. My blogger days were done.

Understanding the magnitude of the loss

I have a hard time explaining the loss to others, because there is no other word for it except loss. I was in shock. A major part of my identity is tied to that blog. I consider myself to BE PolyWogg. And the website is as part of that reality as my own body and soul. They go together. I pour my heart out on that blog, sometimes writing about stuff that I have never told anyone about before. Not even my wife. Or my son. Or best friends. I dig deep, I bleed out on the screen, and sometimes my psyche is so raw that when I’m done writing, I’m spent. I collapse into bed, exhausted. Like I have nothing left.

If I want to look at the numbers, I had 1600 posts and 200 pages of information up on the site. 1800 “docs” with some 1.6 MILLION WORDS. Almost every one of those words mine. There are only three things on the site that aren’t mine in that total count: a report on an HR conference that I still host that is almost 20y old, and two blog posts by my wife. The rest is ME.

If you want to comprehend the volume, 1.6M words is about the length of twenty mystery novels. Now think of it in those terms, as if an author lost all of their work-in-progress or a doctoral candidate lost their thesis. Perhaps they have drafts to rebuild from, but the thesis or the WIP? Gone. Now take into account I had lost 17y worth of work on the structure AND thousands of hours building and running the site over the years.

All of it gone.

It messed with my head

As I said, the loss put me in shock. I shut down emotionally and mentally, combining way too well with some challenges I was having with a leg wound. It messed with my head enough that it scared the crap out of me. How? Try this on for size.

I actually considered NOT rebuilding. I don’t mean I briefly thought about it, I mean I was seriously asking myself if I even COULD rebuild. If I had it in me to do. If I did a few nights a week, it would take me about six months to rebuild. It wouldn’t take much to even have it take me a full year. That is NOT a joke. That’s how much work was involved in rebuilding. I knew it would take an enormous amount of work.

And I didn’t have the energy to even think about committing to it.

Let me give you an equivalent for the leg wound. I was so frustrated with it that one day when I was getting examined, and I was waiting for them to come in with the diagnosis, I was running through dark scenarios in my head. And I realized that if they said they had to amputate, I wouldn’t have asked for a second opinion. In my head, I would have been like, “Okay, is this an out-patient thing we can do today?”. I just wanted to get through, I didn’t care about the “right” outcome.

For my website, I was looking at it and thinking, “Okay, maybe I should just let it go. Get a life somewhere or something.” Bearing in mind that I define myself as a WRITER, who exercises that muscle by BLOGGING, because I don’t feel like I have the time or energy to write full books right now. Yet when I retire, I have a long list of projects I want to undertake. Things I want to write about. And to post on my blog. It’s almost my ENTIRE retirement plan, outside of some fitness and travel. Andrea won’t be able to retire for several years after me, so this is my big scary goal.

But here I am saying to myself, “Okay, it’s gone, let’s move on.”

WTF?

What was GOING ON with my head?

A spark of energy

I’ve reached out in recent weeks for some mental health care, and the first question they always ask is, “Are you having any thoughts about harming yourself or others?”. And the answer is simple. No. Sure, I might have thought of a couple of thousand ways to torture the tech support person who killed my site, but not serious ones. Just fantasizing as therapy.

But IS IT that easy a question? No, I’m not thinking of harming myself, but I wouldn’t have pushed back too hard about amputation or just killing the site completely. That doesn’t exactly scream self-preservation or self-care either.

My GP consult doesn’t see signs of clinical depression and my regular counsellor thinks most of what I was experiencing was a combination of factors including frustration with the leg and shock at the loss of the site, helplessness in being unable to immediately fix either one, and a giant overlay of “COVID isolation sucks” dampening everything down.

I tend to think both are right. But at times I also wonder if because I don’t act like a typical patient that I could be faking them out. If a mental healthcare worker asks me a question, I don’t dodge it. I embrace it full-on usually. Getting me to talk? Never a problem. Getting me to get to the point in your 50-minute hour? Sure, THAT’S a problem. But getting me to open up, talk about things, diagnose the issues, and contextualize it within a larger frame? I can do that in my sleep. Yet it can also make it look like I’m more functional than I am. Let’s face it, I’m an analytical squirrel on a GOOD day. And that can mess me up.

But as the second week of my status as a dead blogger continued, some of the shock wore off, and I could more ask myself, “Really? Are you really going that way? CAN you go that way?”

And finally I asked my wife for a blunt assessment as the person who knows me second best to myself.

Could she see me ever being happy without rebuilding?

There was no need for the Jeopardy theme, she knew the answer without having to think about it.

Which I also knew, or I wouldn’t have asked the question. I was trying to protect my mind from the shock during week 2 by framing it as a choice. But there was never any real choice.

I had to rebuild.

We have the technology; could I rebuild it better, stronger, faster?

Continue reading at Building back better for my website (part 3 / 4).