This work ethic belongs in World Series

While watching a TV sports show early one morning last week during a dialysis treatment, it was mentioned that the Kansas City Royals (my favorite baseball team) were getting ready to begin their 50th season as an American League franchise. I have been right along on that half century every step of the way, being one of those in the original group of Royals’ fans. Certainly, the highlights have been the two World Series championships (1985, 2015). During my own 50-year career as a journalist, one of my favorite columns centered on a KC player who in the maiden season for the franchise was selected for the American League’s rookie-of-the year award. That particular writing is among my multi-compilation collection titled A Half Century of Writings. The column, written 31 years ago, follows:

(October 17, 1987)

THIS WORK ETHIC BELONGS IN WORLD SERIES

By Bernie Gilmer, Editor, The Belvidere Daily Republican

The field generals on the diamond battlefields today are Whitey Herzog and someone called Tom Kelly. It’s hard to say, but I would be willing to bet a World Series ticket that neither has been down the road a piece from St. Robert, Missouri.

Many generals and their troops have journeyed down the chute from St. Robert to the entrance of Fort Leonard Wood, a sprawling military reservation where Army recruits and “weekend warriors” have had occasions to pitch their footlockers over the years. I pitched mine on that miserable post – somehow Army bases never are listed in travel brochures – twice back in the late 1960s, although the brief, two-week summer camps on behalf of the United States Army Reserves hardly qualified the footlockers as dust collectors.

The summer outing of 1969 did prove to be something special for someone like myself, who found helping to run a mess (dining) hall and serving Army chow less than a career opportunity at that time. It offered a study in human nature as the Army tends to provide a melting pot of the nation’s populace. And each individual element of this olive-drab society does pass through the mess hall for his daily allotment of sustenance, as it were.

Some soldiers pass through mess halls in other than voluntary fashion. Some are placed on kitchen police – a glorified term for duties that include busboys, floor moppers, potato peelers, pots and pans scrubbers and the like. It’s one of the Army’s punishments – do something wrong and you end up on K.P.

That brings us to the summer of 1969. Our unit reported one Saturday morning through the gate at Fort Leonard Wood, settled into some clapboard-sided barracks and promptly got assigned work quarters. For a handful of us, that meant buying (signing for) a mess hall and breaking open some rations for upcoming feasts.

Now that same weekend the Kansas City Royals, playing their first season as an expansion entry in the American League (Charlie O. Finley had vacated his Athletics to Oakland), were involved in a homestand at Municipal Stadium and playing for the most part like the expansion team they were.

The lone bright spot for the Royals was left fielder Lou Piniella, a surprising development as a rookie since he had graced and disgraced several minor league teams since being signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1962 at age 18. Piniella was the first Royal ever to get a base hit, going four for four on Kansas City’s opening day in 1969. He became an instant hero in the Heartland of America, an area where many fans still consider the St. Louis Cardinals the local team and any Kansas City organization merely a farm club of the New York Yankees.

Piniella also became the first Royals’ player to ever scrub pots and pans at Fort Leonard Wood. A member of a reserve component in Kansas City, Piniella elected to play those weekend games and consequently, along with Royals’ pitcher Roger Nelson (a Cincinnati castoff), reported to summer camp a couple moons late. And the two – Piniella and Nelson – promptly were slapped on K.P., which places them under the command of the mess hall cooks. It was only for a day, but what a thrill for someone like me, who is a charter member of the original Royals fandom. Stop by my office and I’ll show you my Royals pennant.

It was also a study in human nature.

Nelson was assigned to peeling potatoes, which he took to with little enthusiasm. He whiled away most of the time tossing potatoes in the air with one hand and attempting to slice them with a knife in the other hand.

Piniella’s approach was quite different. Scrubbing pots and pans is considered the dirtiest, filthiest job in the mess hall – soiling his Army fatigues way before daybreak (K.P. begins about 4 o’clock in the morning) – and when he left that evening (15 hours later) every pot and pan was washed and left hanging in its proper place.

It’s little wonder that few people can relate whatever happened to Nelson and his baseball career. As for Piniella, he went on to become the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1969. Not too bad for a guy who had lumbered through the minors for seven years with a temper as hot as his West Tampa, Florida, upbringing.

After being signed by Cleveland, Piniella began in Class D with the Selma (Alabama) Cloverleafs. Then – in November of 1962 – he was selected in the Minor League draft by the Washington Senators and the next July traded to the Baltimore Orioles … and then swapped back to Cleveland. During these years, it is possible most players would have found a nice nail for retiring the spikes. Oh, Piniella got cups of coffee with Baltimore (four games in 1964) and Cleveland in 1968 (six games), but never collected a hit.

But Piniella didn’t quit. He kept right on scrubbing. In the expansion draft ahead of the 1969 season – when the Kansas City and Seattle franchises were added to the American League – Piniella had wanted to be picked by the Royals because he had once played for their manager, Joe Gordon. Seattle had the first pick and selected Chico Salmon. Kansas City then plucked Roger Nelson, the pitcher. Piniella then went to the Pilots. But not for long because Piniella then was traded to Kansas City for outfielder Steve Whitaker.

Piniella got off fast with Kansas City. In his first spring training game, he homered off Steve Carlton. And he opened the 1969 season as the Royals lead-off batter and responded with four straight hits. The rest is history. He quickly went from a $12,500 a year rookie ballplayer to become an American League star. Then ahead of the 1974 campaign, the pipeline from Kansas City to New York (the Yankees) vacuumed up Piniella and he became one of the top hitters in baseball for the next 10 years.

And one of his mess hall cooks at Fort Leonard Wood continued to be one of his biggest fans. I always rooted for Piniella to go four for four as long as the Yankees lost. A true Royals’ fan also is a true Yankee hater.

Of course, Piniella two seasons back replaced Billy Martin as manager of the Yankees. And since the Royals aren’t in the 1987 World Series beginning today, I wish the Yankees and their manager were (nothing against Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals or Tom Kelly of the Minnesota Twins).

But it is only Piniella who has made that trek from St. Robert to Fort Leonard Wood. I only hope Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner knows how well Piniella scrubs pots and pans.

NCAA hopes can have their crushing moments

Twice now as a passionate follower of Kansas State men’s basketball have my NCAA tournament hopes been crushed by women. The first time was back in 1964, when K-State was one of the participants in the Final Four at Kansas City. The most recent came a day ago (Thursday, March 22) in Atlanta, where Loyola of Chicago prevented my Wildcats from reaching their first Final Four since that KC hoops spectacle of some 54 seasons ago.

Ever since K-State surprisingly had dispatched the Kentucky Wildcats this past Thursday at Atlanta, I had been thinking about the possibility of my Sunflower State’s Wildcats reaching another Final Four. Much of that consideration came while whiling away time during my early Friday morning dialysis treatment (I was still celebrating from the night before), with thoughts carrying me back to when I had accompanied the Kansas State entourage to Kansas City as the university’s sports publicist.

For a man, it is always demeaning (tongue in cheek) that a psychological setback can be caused by a woman. But this time, there she was – Sister Jean, that spunky 98-year old nun and Loyola of Chicago’s basketball team chaplain for 24 years. She has been a long-time Rambler fan who has witnessed more than a half-century of her team’s basketball history – for almost as long as I have followed my K-State men’s basketball scores. For Sister Jean, though, it would be her school’s first Final Four. My school has reached a quartet of Final Four gatherings (1948, 1951, 1958, 1964), having lost in the championship game to Kentucky in 1951 (I was 10 years old at that time).

The one Final Four (in 1964) that I was able to see first-hand included semifinal match-ups between Kansas State and UCLA and between Duke and Michigan. How that tournament began and how K-State’s basketball team and its fan base were impacted by a group of women is reminisced in a column I wrote two dozen years later while serving as editor of the Belvidere Daily Republican. The column follows:

(April 2, 1988)

POM PON GIRLS STEAL NCAA TITLE

By Bernie Gilmer Belvidere Daily Republican

There are those who contend today’s NCAA semifinal basketball contests and Monday’s title match-up comprise the top attraction in all of sports. That includes the Super Bowl, the Indy 500 and the Calaveras County Frog Jumping Contest.

No doubt about it. Final Four college basketball is big-time. Officials of cities that have hosted the event will substantiate this claim. Ask those in New Orleans where twice in the last six years the NCAA Final Four staging has rivaled the Mardi Gras as an economic draw.

Needless to say, it’s a “really big shew” in Kansas City this season. And so it was 24 years ago when Kansas City last hosted a Final Four tourney. I know because I was there representing one of the Final Four schools – Kansas State University – as sports publicist.

That 1964 extravaganza is a memorable one. Not because of the bitter cold and wintry conditions; those are commonplace for residents of the Great Plains. And not just because I had the opportunity to watch the games in person.

What is memorable is the arrival of the sun-tanned California pom pon girls during one semifinal contest. Also making a distinct impression was the play of a Kansas State team consisting mostly of small-town recruits coached by a very patient taskmaster, Tex Winter. And the fact that the unsuspecting contingent came within minutes of doing something that might have altered drastically the history of college basketball as it was recorded the following dozen years.

On the surface, Kansas State might have looked like it least belonged among the Final Four. Winter’s starting line-up featured a popsicle-stick pivot, two blue-collar guards and one forward who used to sell concessions at rival University of Kansas basketball games as a high school student.

All right, so Winter had one bona fide All-American – a 6-6 forward named Willie Murrell who later that summer led the Olympic trials in scoring but was left off the United States squad by Olympic Coach Hank Iba, the taskmaster at Big Eight foe Oklahoma State. Iba had wanted Murrell, who grew up in the all-black town of Taft (Oklahoma), to come to Oklahoma State. Murrell, however, opted for junior college and then Kansas State.

But possibly the most interesting player was Roger Suttner, the Kansas State center from Ridgway – that’s a Southern Illinois community of fewer than 1,200 residents in Gallatin County (not far from where Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky all share the Ohio River). Suttner was billed as being from the popcorn capital of Illinois, if not the world.

At any rate, Suttner was the first 7-footer in Kansas State history, although on a good day he might have weighed 180 pounds. Deep-voiced Rog discovered early that when the Big Eight basketball winds blew, he toppled over like corn rows in a Dyfonate commercial.

Remember, I said Winter was patient. The first thing he had to teach Suttner was how to walk backwards. In his first varsity game – some three seasons prior to the 1964 Final Four and against the roughhouse St. Louis Billikens – Roger went for a rebound and was deftly hipped into the two-bit seats at Kiel Auditorium. He promptly called time out and informed Winter rather apologetically: “Coach, I don’t think I’m ready yet.”

But three seasons later – after considerable patience on the part of Winter – Suttner was ready. He blended in rather well with the four other small-town guys. By the way, Kansas State’s sixth man was Gary Williams, the highly touted Peoria (Illinois) prep whiz who later would play collegiately at Abilene Christian and Oklahoma City.

So, the 1964 Final Four field was set. The semifinal pairings pitted Kansas State against UCLA and Michigan against Duke. Michigan might have been the tourney favorite had the Wolverines’ All-America selection Cazzie Russell not been out with an ankle injury. As it was, any of the four schools appeared to have a solid chance of winning the NCAA title.

For 33 minutes it appeared Kansas State’s small-town guys would make the championship game. They had big-city UCLA on the ropes and reeling, sporting a seven-point lead with about seven minutes to play.

But then it happened! The weather apparently had broken and a previously delayed flight carrying the UCLA pom pon girls had arrived in Kansas City. And their sudden emergence – sun-tanned California beauties enthusiastically waving pom pons – obviously captivated the crowd, disrupted Kansas State and served to charge up UCLA.

Needless to say, UCLA rallied to beat Kansas State and then went on to defeat Duke in the finals. This represented UCLA’s first NCAA basketball title, a feat the Bruins and fabled Coach John Wooden would repeat nine times in the next 11 seasons.

But as far as I am concerned, the credit shouldn’t go to Wooden and his players – some such as Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich and Keith Erickson, who would go on to become household names in the professional ranks.

The true credit for starting UCLA’s dynasty should go to the pom pon girls. Had they not arrived when they did, who knows? …maybe a kid named Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) from Power Memorial High School in New York might have favored the gently rolling hills of Manhattan in Northeastern Kansas, … or perhaps an academic giant like Duke.

This year’s Final Four will provide additional memories, and certainly add to the history of perhaps the truly greatest spectacle in sports.

But history also carries strange accounts. It is interesting to note this season that three of those Final Four teams that made it to Kansas City some 24 years ago were still hopeful for a return trip after this year’s tourney field had been trimmed to 16 possibilities. Michigan, Duke and Kansas State all had a chance for today’s return journey. Of the 1964 foursome, only UCLA – a school whose program has fallen on rather ordinary times of late – was not a part of this year’s 64-team bracket.

Maybe the Bruins should be out recruiting pom pon girls!

Dialysis has its own pains and sufferings

I came across an interesting blog on www.madogre.com the other day that drew my attention, and it might help me in developing a total perspective on the topic of pain. The title of the writer’s post reads: “You don’t know Pain, until you know Gout Pain.”

His opening paragraph follows: “(Pain), it’s kind of like Gout. Dude, if you have never had a Gout attack, you have no idea what Gout is like. So don’t even think you know.”

In describing the pain, the writer points out that “when the weight of a light bed sheet on your foot is too much agony … when the pain keeps you up all night. I mean, Zero sleep because nothing touches, relieves, or does a dang thing to help the pain … .”

I have never experienced having gout, or a gout attack. But I can tell you there are enough pains and sufferings for those of us who are on dialysis, the end stage of renal disease. Like mentioned on www.madogre.com regarding gout, if you have never been hooked up to a machine that methodically circulates your blood for 3½-4 hours a day (three treatment sessions a week), then you may not have a realistic view of what someone on dialysis is experiencing.

Chronic kidney patients on dialysis are often confronted with sufferings of various kinds. For example:

** Physical pain – actual aches and pains within the body due to chronic kidney disease, and/or those sufferings that can be attributed to other medical concerns, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension, just to name a few.

** Mental pain – worries that painfully can affect the person’s mindset and, at times, cause ongoing stress and perhaps unending sleep apnea.

** Emotional pain – public episodes that might produce embarrassing reactions brought on by medical treatments, medicinal side effects, or blood pressure and/or blood sugar readings that are out of balance.

** Financial pain – dollars & cents matters that painfully can affect the pocketbook.

** Family pain – circumstances that painfully can affect not only the person on dialysis   but oftentimes the relationships with family members, extended relatives, neighbors and friends.

** Religious pain – Sometimes, as a result of intertwined pains and extended sufferings, patients on dialysis might reach a low point of questioning their faith, whether it be Bahá’í Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam or many other religions of the world.

In experiencing the sufferings associated with dialysis, I can vouch for such pains in most every category listed above.

Physical sufferings on my part really had begun several weeks ahead of being placed on dialysis. A sudden, unexpected weight gain had put me over 200 pounds on the bathroom scales, and suddenly the smothering of internal organs (heart, lung, etc.) due to excess fluid had created a lack of stamina and a shortness of breath, both accompanied with an element of pain and suffering.

The stamina and breathing issues came to a climax in January of 2017, when my wife Maureen and I returned home from a weekend in Florida to watch three grandchildren play youth basketball on a Saturday afternoon, and to visit with daughter Sara and her family in Jacksonville. While it was fun watching the three games, it was burdensome for me to sit at length on the aluminum bleachers; at times I would stand up and lean on a structure pole within view of the court. The next day we returned to Indianapolis on a 90-minute flight. I had trouble exiting the chute from the plane into the terminal and required a wheel chair to reach our ride parked at the airport curb.

After starting dialysis treatments on February 1 of 2017, I soon learned about the possibility of cramping up during the process. While only slight, the cramping in my feet and calf areas was quite painful and generally eased by the attending technicians in short order. Mostly, leg cramps while on dialysis result from the following conditions: 1. When blood pressure is lowered quickly, 2. Due to rapid sodium removal, 3. The appearance as a clinical manifestation of low potassium level, and/or 4. Inaccurate fluid removal goal established prior to the start of a treatment session.

When cramping occurs, nurses and technicians can make adjustments that likely will alleviate the pain and the session can continue through completion. If the adjustments do not stop the cramping, then the dialysis process can be halted prematurely.

My second week on dialysis brought about what developed for a neophyte dialysis patient into a catastrophic and somewhat traumatic experience. Certainly, it was not what you would call a “warm welcome” to a new lifestyle.

On the Monday session, I began feeling quite colder as the treatment went on, despite sitting in a heated chair and wrapped up in a sweater and two blankets. Eventually the chills began alternating with an occasional bout of profuse sweating. I left the treatment center, went straight home and immediately sprawled out on the living room couch covered by a blanket. I stayed there until sometime in the night when I moved upstairs to another sofa, where I remained for all of Tuesday and until the time to return to the dialysis center for the Wednesday treatment.

That mid-week hook-up to the dialysis machine was not any more inviting than the one two days before. The chills prevailed once again, only this time noticeable shakes could be characterized more as uncontrollable tremors. About halfway through the treatment, my temperature reached 102 degrees; my wife was notified that it might be wise to take me to the hospital following treatment. However, before she arrived at the center, the temperature had climbed to 104, and clinic personnel already had summoned an ambulance, noticing that I was in a rather hallucinating state.

At the hospital emergency room, I was diagnosed with sepsis and eventually admitted. The doctors determined that my access ports located high up on my right chest for facilitating dialysis were infected. I stayed in the hospital for about a week while antibiotics eliminated the sepsis and a new catheter connecting to the jugular vein was implanted once again.

Needless to say, the introduction to dialysis to this point had already brought on some physical-type pains, not to mention the many painful thoughts that had an effect on my mindset, emotions and family considerations. There were those sleepless nights where thought processes were stressed out to the limit, emotions were challenged, and considerations as to how family members would adapt to the new lifestyle changes I was being forced to live.

The most physical pain and suffering for me came in the second month (March) on dialysis when one of my new medications – Calcium Acetate, known as Phoslo – became quite problematic. One of its many side effects is constipation. Within two weeks, I met up with this big blue pill that is designed to prevent high blood phosphate levels in patients on dialysis due to severe kidney disease. The original dosage called for taking about 35 such pills weekly, and soon the prescription was upped to twice as many.

I never got to increasing the dosage. It soon became quite evident that the pills would unleash the one side effect – that would provide me with some tales that should not be told at the dinner table. Early in my transition to dialysis, I began researching and writing a book that was published in late 2017 that was titled Dialing in on DI-AL-Y-SIS. Chapter 7 (GUESS WHAT NEW MONTH BLEW IN?) documents the two rather personal bouts with Phoslo, the first in my ground-floor bathroom at my condo and the other at the Emergency Room at Community Hospital South. Soon thereafter, my nephrologist dropped that medication from my pillbox list.

Note: Those wanting to read the entire details of Chapter 7, or might be curious about the other 15 chapters of the 174-page book, the quality paperback is available online at www.diodialysis.com or at www.amazon.com.

There was one evening during the early weeks of my being on dialysis that my wife was out of town and unable to pick me up after my treatment. At that time, my dialysis sessions were late in the afternoon. Good friend Jerry Lantz stepped up to handle chauffeur duties, and we planned on eating out.

When he pulled up to the pick-up site next to the center’s main entrance, I walked out and got into the passenger seat. He pulled out of the drive and while entering Madison Avenue on the south side of Indianapolis, he asked me where I wanted to eat. I started to reply, but somehow, painfully, I couldn’t reply.

What an embarrassing moment and more. I knew where I wanted to go eat, but I couldn’t get it out. My lips and mouth were moving, but I just couldn’t get my voice to work. Jerry quickly noticed I was having a major problem with my speech and suggested we get something to go so I wouldn’t have to get out of his vehicle. We settled on a Subway sandwich shop, and with some prying he got the word “tuna” out of me. We went on to my condo where I was still having difficulty with my speech and began eating our sandwiches. In 20 minutes or so my speech slowly returned to somewhat normal and my son Evin showed up to stay the night with me. That would wind up being an account that I can definitely document as having suffered an embarrassment.

Some public episodes have been more embarrassing. I have over the years passed out due to equilibrium issues on several occasions – once conveniently at a funeral home showing, another time at my urologist’s office, and again at a Bob Evans restaurant in New Castle while in between games at the annual boys’ basketball holiday classic. The latter experience was quite painful; when I woke up I was lying on the restaurant floor exchanging stares with eaters while I was being loaded onto an ambulance gurney for treatment in the parking lot. After being tested for blood pressure and blood sugar readings and invited to be taken to a New Castle hospital, I decided to return to the restaurant to eat the lunch that I had already ordered. I also went back to the country’s largest high school gym for the night-time game.

For many, if not most, end stage renal disease patients begin their journey on dialysis in a mental state of denial. “Why me? I really don’t believe this is happening.” It is at this point where some patients may begin to question their spiritual faith. I can admit that my mental state and my emotional being was being challenged.

Before my initial dialysis treatment, I threw a one-night “pity party” with no invited guests. I spent an entire night tossing and turning in a hospital bed ahead of my first-ever time to be tethered to this rather imposing, blood-circulating machine, searching for a way out of doing something I truly totally didn’t understand and truly totally didn’t want to do. As the sun slowly prefaced a new day, the party came to a halt and I ended up doing what I truly totally did not want to do.

That was more than a year ago. Since that beat-down by Phoslo, any pains and sufferings have subsided for the most part, thanks to a great extent to having completed the therapeutic exercise of researching and writing the book Dialing in on DI-AL-Y-SIS, documenting my experiences and overall perspective of being on dialysis.

What bothers me now more than anything is directly witnessing three days each week the ongoing pains and sufferings – whether it be physical, mental, emotional, financial, family or religious – that are endured by fellow patients. What my mind wrestles with almost daily is trying to transition a multi-faceted vision into a realistic and worthwhile project that will help alleviate some of these pains and sufferings. Stay tuned.