Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Three Stones

My urologist has told me that the passing of each kidney stone is a unique experience and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had three stones pass so far, as I’ll detail in the following paragraphs. Women have said that it’s the closest that a man will come to experience childbirth, but honestly, if that was the case, we would all have at most one child and the human race would no longer exist. Of course a kidney stone is not as cute and loveable as a baby, so maybe part of my skepticism is based on the lack of a longer-term benefit. Or maybe I’m just a wuss with a low pain tolerance, but in any case, here goes.

The first stone made its appearance back in the late 1980’s while I was working at The Mead Corporation. The morning started with the usual alarm clock, shower, shave and donning of the traditional suit and tie. I walked out the front door of my house, turned to lock it and thought to myself “something just happened”. I stood at the door for a few moments, determined that I couldn’t put a finger on the source of that feeling, locked the door and drove to work. During that twenty minute commute things started going wrong, and by the time I parked at my normal spot on Riverview Avenue, my suit was soaked and I felt terrible. I stood by my car for a few minutes, started feeling better and made the ten minute walk to my office. Within a half-hour I was in more pain than I’ve ever experienced, without a clue to its cause or even a particular body part that was suffering. My colleagues took me to a room to lie down then quickly decided to drive me to Miami Valley Hospital. I spent the next two hours in pain, alternately burning hot and freezing cold, whatever pain medication I was given having no discernible effect. I was relieved when the diagnosis of a kidney stone was made, at least knowing I wasn’t likely to die that day. The doctor decided to give the stone some more time to see if it would pass on its own before deciding on surgery to remove it or shock waves to break it into smaller pieces. An hour or so later I remember the exact moment the stone passed into my bladder. My body temperature shot back to normal and the pain was totally gone. I felt fine and figured I would just go back to work, but they insisted I go home and rest. The final task was to capture the stone as it exited, which took about two days and resulted in a smooth stone no larger than a tomato seed. So much pain caused by such a little object.

Having one stone is not a guarantee of having another, but it’s always in the back of your mind. Is today the day? After about twenty years had passed, I figured, and hoped, I had a “one and done”, however stone number two was not to be denied. This one started with some unusual back pain on a Friday, but eased by Saturday morning, which was appreciated since my wife and I were making the two hour drive to Muncie, Indiana so we could drive a second car back home. By the time we got to Muncie I was not feeling well and passed on eating lunch. Shortly after, the pain hit full force and I knew stone number two was trying to work its way down. My wife drove me home as I laid down across the back seats, feeling each and every bump for two solid hours. We made it home and knowing it was likely just a few hours before the stone reached my bladder and the pain would stop, I tried to tough it out, but it eventually got too much to bear and my wife drove me to Kettering Medical Center. I remember sitting in a chair, bent over and miserable, waiting to be admitted, which seemed to take forever. Like before I was given pain meds, but this time they seemed to help quite a bit and the pain gradually faded away over a couple hour period, no sudden moment of relief. Two weeks later, I passed a nasty-looking, jagged, peppercorn-sized stone, so very different from the first.

The third stone repeated the theme of being a unique experience. My doctor had taken follow-up x-rays after the second stone and saw what could be another stone developing in one of my kidneys. He told me it might elect to stay put and never detach or eventually follow its brothers and make its way down and out. About five years after stone number two I had my answer. In the middle of the night, during one of my normal “wake up, relieve and fall back asleep” cycles, sitting half awake on the throne, I snapped fully awake when the familiar, abrupt, stream stoppage occurred. But in that split-second, my mind was really confused as I wasn’t expecting a stone, not having any pain or other symptoms like the first two events. But sure enough, bloop, a stone popped out, this one not quite the size of number two, but still large enough, and it was quite the relief to know I had skated past hours of pain and a trip to the hospital.

All I can figure, and fervently hope, is that I’m getting better at “birthing” these kidney stones, but since each one is different, who knows what a potential fourth experience may be like. I hope to never know.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Six Paper Companies

My full-time, professional working career began in November of 1977 at Wright State University and continued at Hobart Corporation in 1980. But most of my career, 37 years in total, was spent at paper companies which produced a variety of coated and uncoated papers. Although there were six different names involved, I stayed in the Dayton, Ohio area during all the name changes. But in reflecting on my journey, I realized that every company change had a different, defining emotion, which I’ve bolded in their stories below.

The journey started at The Mead Corporation when I was hired as a mainframe systems programmer. The emotional memory from when I started there in February 1981 was Intimidation. I was in downtown Dayton on the 21st floor of the second tallest building working for a four billion dollar company. I felt like I landed in the big leagues surrounded by incredibly talented individuals and not really knowing if I would fit in or measure up. But the next 21 years were incredible as I moved up into management, ran the network group for awhile and directed the SAP technical group during that project’s initial four-year run. When people ask me where I worked, Mead is the answer, the place I felt most at home.

In August 2001, I walked into a management meeting to find out I was the last of our group to learn that Mead and Westvaco had agreed to a “merger of equals”, a term that has no real meaning since ultimately one company buys the other, and I was Stunned. This was my first real experience in having my apple cart upset and not having a clue what the future held for me. Fortunately it was decided that the IT group would be centered in Dayton and that I would report to the new CIO, the same VP that led the entire SAP project. That fortune only lasted a few years before it was announced that all corporate groups would be relocated to Richmond, Virginia. I am forever grateful to myself for not making that move and staying put in Dayton.

I was without full-time employment for the next ten months, doing a little consulting work, looking for my next job and best of all, planning my wedding. My wife took a big leap of faith, agreeing to marry this guy without a job. We wed in January 2008, and I didn’t get more than 5 hours of sleep the week before, worried about getting a job. When NewPage, the former Papers division of MeadWestvaco, offered me a job following their acquisition of Stora Enso North America, a wave of Relief washed over me. Not only did I get back to the ranks of the fully employed, but I re-joined some of the colleagues I had said goodbye to back in 2005. But after 8 years, my apple cart would be turned over again.

In late 2014, Verso Corporation, a near-bankrupt paper company based in Memphis, Tennessee announced it was buying the financially-stable NewPage Corporation in one of the strangest deals I’ve ever experienced. Now this was the fourth paper company, but the others worked out OK, so I wasn’t overly concerned until the first joint meeting and I got introduced to their highly dysfunctional group of executives, and then the emotion was Anger. I was mad this was happening and I immediately knew my time there was short. The Department of Justice filed suit against both companies and after a year of work limbo, Verso acquired six of NewPage’s paper mills with Catalyst Paper, based outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada acquiring the Rumford, Maine and Biron, Wisconsin mills.

Catalyst Paper needed to stand up a U.S. operation quickly and was able to hire a number of NewPage’s Ohio employees as part of the deal with Verso. I was so Thankful when I was extended an offer and couldn’t say yes fast enough. When I first met the Catalyst management team, I was very impressed. It was 180 degrees opposite of the pompous attitude that Verso demonstrated. Unfortunately, but out of necessity to insure that the I.T. system split would be success, I had to be Verso employee for four months to help launch the separation activities before becoming a Catalyst employee to complete the transition. Given the alternative would have been looking for a new job at the age of 59, it was worth putting up with the pain.

Finally, in 2018, as I was lining up my retirement date, Catalyst Paper sold the U.S. operations they had bought three and a half years prior to ND Paper, a large, China-based, financially-strong paper company, returning control to people who were paper-makers, after thirteen years of being owned by all types of equity and debt organizations. When the announcement was made, I was quite simply Calm. I moved up my retirement date to match when I thought would be the proper time to leave, grateful that the colleagues I was leaving behind would be in a better place.

So that’s the story of my 37-year paper career, staying in the Dayton region as the paper industry seemed to revolve around me. For all the changes, I’ve been fortunate to work for mostly great companies and always awesome colleagues. So the final emotion is Gratitude, that even for all the changes, it all worked out for the best in the end.