Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Thirteen: "Talented Teacher" (Pt.2)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 19th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As I graduate from my master's degree program and I should be celebrating the pinnacle of my success, I can barely walk and require yet another surgery . . . which nearly kills me.

An Author's Confidance

Never let it be said that surfing porn was the only thing I learned from my masters degree program nor the most important. It was not. By far. My coursework was entitled something like Interdisciplinary Studies in Curriculum and Instruction and was heavily accented toward multicultural education which was just fine by me. Basically, by the time I got my degree I would be qualified not only as a master teacher, but also as a curriculum specialist. All of us would.

We shared our successes and failures from the classroom. These included parental vignettes from our experiences. And we were from all over the area. I was the only one from Chicago Public and so I had some unique stories to toss into the pot, but the best one I recall still to this day came from one of the 1st grade teachers who taught at a nearby school in a very wealthy district. She brought us a note she’d received that very morning from one of the parents of her 1st graders. It read: “I think you should teach more phoenix.” We assumed the parent meant phonics unless she wanted the teacher to teach more geography! Obviously, phonics hadn’t helped this parent very much.

The time finally came for us all to choose our research project which had to be approved by our prof. I’d thought long and hard on my topic, “The Use of Music to Accelerate Learning" which also covered under its umbrella The Mozart Effect. My prof was very happy with my choice telling me that this was kind of cutting edge which was what I’d thought. I’d chosen it because I wanted something which would interest me, which would have to do with music, and which I could also do the research with my students in my own classrooms. Many of us were trying to do the same thing. Research in our own classes.

Shortening this: that’s exactly what I did. Library research for available studies provided me with what had already been done, and I set up my own studies with what I could do in my own classes to the extent that I could. And then I set down my findings in my paper. The result?

Over two decades later after all my failures as a writer without a voice I seemed to have found one. My prof, my research adviser, everyone loved it, all 60-something pages of my rough draft. “Don’t change a word,” they said. However, I did. I found six typos, a problem which persists to this very day whenever I type. But I’ve been writing ever since. I’d finally found my voice, and they haven’t been able to shut me up! If there was one great thing to come from my masters degree, it was the birth of an author, or at least an author’s confidence.

Graduation Amid Continuous Health Problems

Okay, I got straight-A’s for my M. Ed. program. Us older students had all been kind of possessed. But I could barely walk down the aisle to receive my degree that June in 1997. While I was deeply entrenched in the final portion of my research project that spring, I was also ass deep in a recurrence of my back problems from four years earlier and much worse than before.

Let me back up a bit. After I’d had my earlier back surgery, my primary care physician had eventually informed me at some point that my blood pressure was mildly elevated. Okay. I was a middle-aged inner-city school teacher. What do we do about it? He put me on some blood pressure meds, and I forgot about it. I’m such a trusting guy. In those days I never asked questions like, “what are the side effects?” I have since learned to do so. The hard way. Thirty pounds later I asked the doc why am I gaining this weight? His answer was something to the effect that the BP meds slow down my metabolism. I told him that would have been nice to know going in! He didn’t appreciate it, and I didn’t care. I asked if we could change to something else. After all, my BP had only been 130/89. I’d gained 30 pounds for 130 over 89! He said no not that he knew of.

Well, trusting soul that I was (putz was more like it), I stayed with him for a few more months and 30 more pounds! But after I’d gained 60 pounds total, I went back to him and I begged him to change me to something else. I told the idiot that going from 130 over 89 to 120 over 80 and gaining 60 pounds for it seemed a tad ridiculous to me! He refused to change my meds. And so I weaned myself from the meds, and I changed doctors. But the 60 pounds were there to stay! And I did NOT need them.

My back suffered severely for the added weight. And so did my self-esteem. On one hand, I was working on my masters, so cognitively I felt great, but physically I was a wreck. And an MRI of my back showed that L3, L4, and L5 needed cleaning up this time. Throw into the mix that all of this played out over time amid Frank’s young courtship and marriage that winter to a wonderful young lady two years his junior from a neighboring congregation, so not only were we becoming empty nesters, but Nancy was having a terrible case of separation anxiety from losing her only baby. All of the stress seemed to be coming to bear upon the nerves in my back.

I probably should have had the operation in March of that year, but I flat-out refused. I was in the final stages of my masters program, and I needed to walk down that aisle to receive my degree in June even if I walked with a cane (which I did). Mom & Dad had already said they weren’t going to show (what a surprise!), but I’d missed my B.A. ceremony and nothing short of my own death was keeping me from this one. As it turned out, Nancy’s Aunt Karyn and Uncle Roy came in from Michigan for it, and I cried. We all did. They brought me a stuffed owl. I cherish it still.

And so the surgery was scheduled for a couple days after school let out for the summer. I almost didn’t make it, and I got so bad that last week of school that I had to wheel myself around school in a wheelchair. I could not walk. My back hurt that bad, and my legs just weren’t in it. Fortunately, I’d already been through commencement. But the worst part was yet to come. I had no idea what hornets nest I was stepping into. And yet necessary.

Surgery . . . Again

My neurosurgeon was in Naperville this time, and I had the operation at the beautiful hospital there also. We lived only two miles away. School got out really late that year for some reason, so I was being operated on something like the 28th of June. I recall lying on my belly in the operating room as I went under the anesthesia, and then at some point before they’d started to operate I came out from under the anesthesia but my body was totally paralyzed and I couldn’t speak. I was fully aware though of what was going on, but being on my stomach facing the floor no one was aware of this, and for about ten seconds I was terrified! Then I had the presence of mind to pray to God and close my eyes and hope I’d go back to sleep. I figured someone had to be monitoring me. The next thing I knew I was waking up in Recovery. Thank God!

From the first day of my recovery I felt the tiniest hint of neuropathy in my toes, and even though I was not diagnosed with diabetes at that time the diabetic neuropathy showed up immediately after this surgery. Immediately. I mentioned it to the doc. He ignored me.

I was discharged and sent home. Basically I felt okay, but buried deep in my walking papers it read something about if I felt nauseous at all I should call them. I guess the at all part was really important. I’d informed them about what happened to me with my stitches during my first surgery, and so he took extra good care to stitch me up by hand. Nice and tight. That probably exacerbated what would happen . . . later.

They wanted me to walk daily which I did. Every day I would go out and walk a little bit. Not too much, I didn’t want to push it too much those first few days. I basically felt okay, but I didn’t feel really chipper. And I didn’t feel vomitous, but I didn’t feel like kicking ass either. Basically, Nancy and I wrote it off as how major the surgery had been. And I was actually in a lot better shape than I’d been before.

On the 4th of July it all came down, don’t you know. It would be a major holiday and one when the ER was full . . . FULL! That evening found me lounging in my pajamas in my LazyBoy recliner, and when I put the foot down to get up out of it and stood up my neck and head instantly hurt more than can possibly be imagined! TEN on a scale from one to ten. And Nancy heard my scream, and she came running to find the back of the chair soaked and fluid leaking from my spine! My radiator had sprung a leak! She got me into the bed, and once down my head didn’t hurt quite as badly and the flow let up. She called the hospital immediately. Not too long later it was decided to head to the ER. Rather than wait for an ambulance, she drove. After all, it was only a five minute drive for us.

Once there, I was wheeled into the ER by an extremely concerned orderly. I say extremely concerned, because by that time the flesh on my arms and face had turned a macabre grayish-green color. I’m not exaggerating. I was wheeled past a waiting room full of bulging eyes and sent directly into a room, no triage, where Nancy and I explained the predicament, and then all of the poking and prodding began. And that’s when I felt it or rather it’s what I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t feel the pain from the poking and prodding, but I could feel the twilight begin to overtake me. I was slipping into shock. I’d heard about this before . . . from John, in the old days, from his war stories of Viet Nam and the experiences of his buddies, and now I was experiencing firsthand what it felt like at the edge as my cerebral spinal fluid dripped from my spinal cord before they could get it tubed and bagged. At some point they shot me full of Demerol, and then I didn’t give a damn about anything, but before they did that I’d experienced that sweet twilight one slips into where there is no pain anymore . . . no pain before you die.

Resurgery . . . Again

Obviously, they kept me in the hospital. The doctors wanted to try and let the hole in my back heal up on its own. It was a slower process, but superior I was informed to reopening me if it worked. And so they had rigged up a bypass which allowed my spinal fluid to circulate outside my body below the tear and into a bag and then back into my spinal sac again while hoping that the hole closed of its own accord.

I was put into a private room and treated like a king for seven days while we waited for the miracle to occur. To no avail. That damn hole never closed up, and so the doc finally decided that we’d waited long enough and he went in and slapped what amounted to a tire patch on it. So just like my first back surgery, I had to suffer through a reopening this time around too. But the patch worked and four days later I was allowed to go home . . . for good this time. But I’d stayed a total of thirteen days in the hospital - two for the first surgery and eleven for the second. All I knew was that I didn’t really care to see the inside of a hospital for a long time.

As the summer wore on my overall physical condition significantly improved, and I was able to begin the school year right on time, though from that point on I had to use a cane from time to time as I had prior to the surgery. I had the newfound neuropathy in my toes that I had to contend with, and as time would go on this would grow worse quite swiftly over the first couple of years. Scary. But I could walk a lot better and for that I was very, very thankful.


After this last round of back surgeries I began what would become a period of exceptional creativity for me. It all started at school sometime during that following school year when I got the idea for writing my own musical sort of like Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’d been playing around on the piano in and around my extra time at school, and I was coming up with a lot of unique melodies, and I began putting the framework of some verses to some of them. Added to that was the idea I’d been kicking around in the back of my head of adapting part of the story of Job from the Bible into a stage play.

I’d gotten all caught up in the mania with one of our 5th grade teachers of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which she and her class had performed for the school during the previous school year, and I’d helped out with it. Nancy and I had even seen it onstage at the Chicago Theater downtown with Donny Osmond in the lead. Amazing!

So I had this wild idea of doing something with the story of Job which is a great story, but what I lacked was a Tim Rice, time, experience, plus the fact that I can’t sight read music. I was in over my head to be sure. All I had were ideas that never came to fruition . . . except . . . I wrote the production number first! Yup! I managed to knock out one song for the show I’d entitled Man of the People, and it’s still one of the best songs I’ve ever written.

Job has lost everything and is having to make his justification for his continued existence before God by his questioners, and they’re all sitting around in a circle, cross-legged. This is Job’s plea to God as he figures it out before all onlookers.


Dear GOD . . .
My life has meant discovery, and up till now you've given me
A life so full of harmony with joy beyond compare
But each new setback that I find keeps breeding doubts within my mind
And burdened down, I feel inclined to slip into despair
In stronger times I would have fought this nagging feeling . . . it's all for naught
And chased this fear of being caught alone without a prayer

Why do YOU allow the Bad to reign the Good to bow
And Why do so few see the seeds of truth and harmony
I wonder how can I explain the height of love, the depth of pain
I have no answers, only questions, mere suggestions . . .

Tell me why am I so frail, a prisoner of this form of jail
And where is it decreed that I should ache or I should bleed
I wonder how does one prepare for one's demise, a strange affair
It is a riddle, quite confusing, and not amusing, so I cry

I want to laugh and sing with thunder, I want to run and dance on air
I want my world refilled with wonder, not empty, cold, and threadbare
Oh that empty! I can't go there

Tell me why should there be tears as we grow wiser in our years
And where do people go who lose their faith, who lose control
I wonder how long must I stay in such a wretched state, I pray
That I can bear it as I grin it every minute that I die

I want to laugh and sing with wonder, I want to run and dance on air
I want my world refilled with wonder, not empty cold and threadbare
Oh that empty! I won't go there

Tell me why am I afraid to grow above the standard grade
And what is there to fear should my path not be always clear
I wonder who of us can say that he has fought his best today
Now there's a challenge for the taking, history making
Why not try?

Words & Music 1998 By Ken Painter
Copyright 1998 By Ken Painter

You see, it wasn’t really Job who was questioning God about his existence and asking all of these questions . . . it was me. I was the one who was afraid to grow above the standard grade. I was pouring my heart out in rhyme, the only way I knew how. I was making progress, but I still wasn’t there yet.

(In the next installment, as my health continues to worsen Nancy's gets even worse than mine while we rejoice as we become grandparents. Don't miss Part 3.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Class, Classroom, Gay, Gay Community, Gay Experience, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Music, Musical, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, Song, Song Lyrics, Songs, Songwriting, Teach, Teachers, Teaching, Teaching Children, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
19th Oct 2013 (#)

Good evening, Ken. Skipped to this to say hello. Need to back track and catch up. The writing is definitely improving if you think you have typos in most of your pieces....did not find a single one in this. :) ~Marilyn

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author avatar Ken Painter
20th Oct 2013 (#)

Thanks Marilyn. I try really hard to edit and re-edit, but sometimes they still slip through. Thanks for continuing on reading. Almost done. Seventeen Chapters in all, plus the Epilogue.

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author avatar Karen Smith
20th Oct 2017 (#)

Marilyn: Ken Painter is a gay loser who has stolen from his family and wrecked his family for the sake of another man. He has stolen money and been fired. His "husband" has stolen money and been fired. people read his trash? SHAME

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author avatar Karen Smith
20th Oct 2017 (#)

You sir are nothing more than a LIAR and THIEF. You should be embarrassed to show your pic and this stupidity in public!

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