Saturday, September 19, 2020

Jumping into new worm woes...

Photo by Josef Gorres, University of Vermont
"Yeah, the jumping worms are like snakes, it is said. Fool around with them and they rise up like India cobras being tooted out of a cask by a Hindi seer."
 Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune, September 19, 2020


I have never cared for worms. Have you? Even harmless angle or earthworms seem kind of yucky to me. You used to put them on fish hooks, which was unpleasant to me even at a young age. Maybe that is why I have never cared for fishing. (Don’t get me started on impaling minnows.)


Why worms now? We here in the Northland are being warned of the arrival from Asia — where else? — of the jumping worm.  I’m not making that up. This paper published a lengthy report on the invasion of the Asian jumping worm a week or so ago. Google it.


Whew, as if we haven’t got enough to worry about, now it’s the jumping worm? And, of course, every few years or so we get invaded by army worms  — they’re actually caterpillars — that strip all the deciduous trees of their leaves and crawl around outdoor surfaces ruining picnics and other outdoor activities like just relaxing on the deck.  


But back to the angleworm for a moment. Beyond threading them on fish hooks back in the day, we actually dissected them in a college natural science course. There’s a saddle on their back, or in their middle, called the clitellum. That pretty well summarizes everything I learned about natural science in college. Well, there were very unfortunate spotted frogs too, but we won’t go into that. It explains why I didn’t go to medical school.


And if earthworms are yucky, what about night crawlers? They seem juicier. They show up on the driveways and sidewalks of the civilized world — at least it used to be civilized — after it rains, ready for the, what, picking? Not by me.


Some guy named Walt sells them at area gas stations/convenience stores. I notice the sign “Walt’s Crawlers” as I drive by. How convenient is that? Gas, milk, potato chips and night crawling worms all in one handy stop.


But this threat by the jumping worm has got me spooked. Suddenly it shows up right in the middle of a global pandemic, thank you very much, and it is said to actually fight back if you pick one up. Not a pleasant thought, not that any worm is actually a pleasant thought or not that I would ever pick one up if I didn’t have to. Let Walt do it.


Yeah, the jumping worms are like snakes, it is said. Fool around with them and they rise up like India cobras being tooted out of a cask by a Hindi seer. And what are they good for? Nothing. Turns out worm scientists say the jumping worm crawls around a couple of inches beneath the surface of a lawn, and consumes all that keeps the lawn healthy. Trees too.


So, it’s an election year and what are our leaders going to do about the jumping worm threat? Wouldn’t we like to know.


I imagine the two main sides in this election — need I say Republicans and Democrats? — would have vastly different reactions to the invasion of the jumping worm. Republicans would blame it on Democrats and Democrats would defend them as part of the environment.


But enough. I want to get to a discussion of another worm that somehow enters my consciousness every single day: The earworm.


I am deeply involved with the earworm because I am the kind of individual who has some form of music on my mind every minute of every waking hour of the day. Mostly, in my case, it’s classical music, but other music too, like patriotic in an election year.


So, as I go through any given day (they are all a gift), I might be internally humming a theme from a symphony by Beethoven (the composer not the canine movie star) or “O Canada” or a show tune like “Oooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain” or, possibly, a hymn, “Rock of Ages” (not to be confused with rock ’n’ roll of the ages embodied by the late Little Richard) when suddenly a strange ear worm intervenes.


Enter, lately, a guy named “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.” Do you remember him? The song got stuck in my mind decades ago and now suddenly it’s back in the form of an earworm.


Readers of a certain age might recall it and even remember the melody. Hum along here: “He likes to sing raggedy music to the cattle as he swings back and forward in the saddle,/On his horse — a pretty good horse —to a syncopated gaiter and the roar of his repeater,/How they run when they hear his gun,/ ‘cause the western folks all know,/ He’s a high falutin’, roootin, shootin’ son-of-a-gun from Arizona,/ Ragtime Cowboy, talk about yer cowboy, Ragtime Cowboy Joe.”


That’s my latest and ubiquitous earworm. Can’t seem to shed it. Like on the Fourth of July, I might be out in the garden on a beautiful morning poking my 10-inch flag into a flowerpot and thinking, “O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” when suddenly:


“He likes to sing raggedy music to the cattle as he swings back and forward in the saddle…” drowning out the Star Spangled Banner on the Fourth of July in an election year in the middle of a global pandemic, for crying out loud. Arrest this man. Send in the Army worms.


So there you have it. Worms that plague our lives, including this new jumping worm. I’m an old Lutheran, but I’ll never understand how Martin got along on a diet of worms.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, September 5, 2020

When Tums for the Tummy is not enough...

Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune, September 5, 2020

Let me tell you about my tummy. It ached. Oh how it ached upon awakening one morning a little over a week ago. By the end of that day, it had sent me on a journey that resulted in the first overnight stay (not counting birth) in a hospital in my ever-lengthening life.

Why should you care? You might not, I suppose, but take one lesson from all this: Never ignore a persistent abdominal pain that (A) doesn’t go away the way ordinary tummy aches do, and (B) keeps getting worse as the hours of wondering stretch on.

You could be having an appendicitis attack. I was, that day, but it took awhile to figure out. Tums for the Tummy might be fine under certain circumstances, but not when your appendix is about to burst.

Many of you probably know this. I hardly know anyone who hasn’t had their appendix taken out at one time or another. Well, actually one time, not another. It had better be.

Still, there’s the tendency to think the upset is nothing serious. Maybe spicy food consumed the night before acting up the morning after. Maybe not.

So I reclined in a recliner all day waiting for it to pass, and it didn’t. The pain kept getting more intense. (Not looking for sympathy here; people go through this every day. But I never had.)

Finally, after close to 12 hours of misery, we went to a well-known local hospital emergency department — my wife drove, avoiding potholes and bumps, the jolting of which made the pain worse. The emergency personnel were very nice, making sure I had a normal temperature and asking a lot of questions because there’s some kind of global pandemic going on.

They passed me on to an affable young evening-duty resident physician, his first week on the job, who wanted to know my “history.”

“Well, I was born in a trunk in the Lyceum Theater in du Lhut, Minnesota,” I began.

“Not that far back,” said the good doctor.

What he was interested in was my medical history, which is pretty sparse, I’m happy to say. Still have my tonsils, adenoids, appendix, fingers, toes, the usual stuff. Had to admit to two hernia operations a long time ago, “way back in the 20th Century.” Only time I was ever under a knife, I reported.

Still, the pain in my abdomen persisted, and kept getting worse. A CT scan was ordered; they’re often called “cat” scans. Later I told the surgeon I saw next that I do not like cats. She responded that she has two, and we stared blankly at each other.

By now I’m on a bed with wheels, wearing nothing but one of those flimsy hospital gowns that are open in the back and hard to tie. How often do we see on TV hospital shows patients being wheeled down hospital corridors always looking either miserable or unconscious. I chose to look miserable as I made my personal appearance en route to the cat scan, ambulatory pedestrians passing by looking sympathetically at me to see if they were looking at someone who might be about to expire. Fortunately, only my driver’s license is about to expire.

The CAT scan machine looks like a huge doughnut and you are pushed through the hole so the rumbling machine can take a picture of your stomach. The most interesting aspect of that is they have taught the machine to speak English. “Take a deep breath and hold it,” the machine says in a manly, authoritarian way, followed by “You can breathe now.” There’s a relief.

Somewhere in my absence the machine told the medical personnel that, “This guy is suffering an acute appendicitis attack,” and surgery was scheduled. First they had to finish operating on another unfortunate bloke who had the same problem.

In the meantime, a Covid 19 test must be given. With a chopstick size poker a kindly nurse told me to be prepared for the poker to go through my nose “all the way back to your brain.” So I opened my mouth. I just wasn’t myself, but she corrected me and did poke it through my nose all the way back to my brain, which I was pleased to know, was still there. I didn’t know it was in my nose, although that wouldn’t surprise some people I have known.

Ninety minutes later, after testing negative for Covid, I was being rolled through the corridor once again to the brightly lighted operating room where a friendly anesthesiologist greeted me and introduced me to his assistant. They would put me “out like a light.”

“You guys still use whiskey, right?” I inquired. I’ve seen a lot of Western movies in my day.

Suddenly, adios. The next thing I knew I was back in a regular hospital room, the operation long over, and a bright new day had dawned. Felt pretty good under the circumstances with pain medicine being pumped into my arm through an IV. Bless the registered nurses… and register the blessed nurses.

Since my wife couldn’t accompany me through the corridors before the operation due to that pesky pandemic, she was sent home with the promise that the surgeon would telephone her when it was over and report how it had gone.

She — the surgeon — called our home at 4 a.m. and told my wife the operation had gone well, all was expected to be fine and that my late appendix was “one of the three largest I have ever seen.”

Well, how do you like that. Lived all these years with a prize appendix and never had bragging rights. I returned home later that day, although I wouldn’t say none the worse for wear.

That is how the only overnight I have ever spent as an adult in a hospital went. And I didn’t even sleep…the regular way.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at