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How am I doing?

How are you doing?

That’s the question I hear often. It’s reassuring. The whole experience of having open-heart surgery and managing its recovery as a self-employed single person can be exhausting and frightening.

But I look back on the last six months and see I am one lucky person. So many people are in my life for which I am grateful. My heart is full. Sometimes I think I sound like broken record on that point. But, I always look to see the blessings and do my best to express my gratitude.

2017071795203209I am doing well by my accounting.

Am I back to “normal”?

Well, since I’ve never thought of myself as “normal” (that’s good thing), I would have to say no.

There are times I do too much, or can’t get enough sleep. They can cause me to have pain through my chest or shortness of breath. But those occurrences are fewer and farther between. I am more active than I was before the operation, though I still have stamina issues. I do Cardiac Rehab twice a week and am very protective of that activity. At this point it has to be a true emergency for me to miss it. I will be continuing with that for a long time.

I have days where my brain is clearer than it was and my memory is better. My creative soul is vibrating and inspired. I don’t get the amount of time I’d like to release the stream of ideas coming through. But its vitality is a sign to me that I have turned a big corner.

In the hospital they indicated after 3 months I would be able to play golf. Honestly, if I was a golfer, I sort of doubt I would have been able to do that after 4 months. The feedback of the Physical Therapist and nurses at Cardiac Rehab has taught me to expect things to take 6 months to a year before I’ll start feeling more like myself.

It took about four months before I could start to incorporate a part time work schedule. In the last month I’ve started to have longer days at the computer and working on projects. But my finances are still extremely challenged by such a big break and I find every week I am scrambling to find money to keep the bills paid. I am so fortunate to have had the donations through the GoFundMe page and the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund to help the last six months; otherwise I would have lost my house and my business in the third month.

Living on the edge is stressful. Fortunately I have a good attitude about being able to overcome the financial issues. But what happens, like most of us, is I start to get moving forward and an unexpected expense happens. My main computer stopped working last week.

I took it to the shop. What I thought was going to be 2 weeks without my computer, became 5 days as the shop got it back to me quickly, for which I am grateful,

Every week there is something unexpected that challenges my ability to respond. But I see no reason to give up. I’ll find a way to get things back together. As I look back on all the times I’ve thought I wasn’t going to get past an obstacle, somehow, I always do. I think there are many people who have this mindset. That’s how I learned it. Yes, I have my times when it gets scary. But right now I’m intent on rising above.

That’s how I’m doing. How are you?


Thanks to everyone who has been supportive both emotionally, physically and financially. I am still way behind on my financial commitments. If anyone and help out, please consider donating. Click this link for my  GoGundMe Page. Thanks!

10 Weeks Post Heart Bypass Surgery

IMG_8801It was one of those extraordinary experiences when life just picks you up and says, “You’re going to do this”. And you can do nothing but be taken along by the tide.

What happened? Did you have a heart attack? Why did they have to do a bypass?

These are the questions I get most often about my 4 way Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) I received 10 weeks ago today.

No, I didn’t have a heart attack (whew)! They had to do a bypass because I had too many blockages for a stint to be effective.

So what did happen?

Well to start, my heat pump died.

It was late January when it was very cold. It was a very old system and it became clear that I needed to replace it. With some assistance I was able to arrange a replacement. But during the 5 or 6 days I had no heat, I started experiencing pain in my jaw that would come and go. I knew this could be the sign of something to do with my heart as my mother always told me my father complained of that pain in the weeks before he had a massive coronary at 57 years old. I also knew that it could be TMJ (Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder). It’s a similar pain.

But once my Heat Pump was installed, and I started to get back to some normalcy, I ran into a musician friend at Food Lion on a Saturday night. We never see each other in there so it was an unusual encounter, but one I have come to be grateful for as I saw it as the universe sending me a message. It turns out my friend had recently had a heart attack which, fortunately, caused no damage to his heart and only required a stint to correct. But of course the entire time he was telling me his story, the awareness that I had been experiencing pain in my jaw and some other mild symptoms, was causing me to think maybe I’m getting a message here.

Well by the next afternoon I went on my first trip to the emergency room. They saw no evidence of a heart attack and, beyond the jaw pain, my other symptoms were somewhat vague and could be confused for other issues I deal with.

So they sent me home. I followed up with a cardiologist the following Thursday and we scheduled a stress test for the next Wednesday.

But that evening when I was carrying laundry to my laundry room, I felt what seemed to be a muscle cramp in my right pectoral muscle. It stayed tight while I was in motion but relaxed once I stopped.  (I later was informed that this is “stable angina.”)

A similar experience happened the next day as I was walking into the grocery store. My right pectoral muscle tightened and then relaxed once I stopped.

Then on Saturday it happened again and I also experienced pain down my right arm.

Well certainly all this should have been happening on the left side. Right? But it wasn’t. I later found out this is called referred pain.

Well I talked myself into going back to the ER that Saturday night. Even though they found no evidence of a “heart event” they kept me over night to talk with a cardiologist the next day about doing either a stress test or a catheterization. The cardiologist cut to the chase. There was no reason for a stress test. The catheterization would tell me what I needed to know.

So on Monday we did the Catheterization. It wasn’t very long because as soon as they saw my arteries, they said, “There are too many blockages, and you’ll need heart surgery.”

The next day when I had a chance to talk to the cardiologist, I asked him “What caused this? I’ve never had high blood pressure or high cholesterol?” He said it was my genetics. Indeed, heart disease is in my family on both my mother and father’s side. I knew at some point I would face something in my life, but that I had so many blockages was baffling to me.  He did confirm for me that I have a strong heart. So that was reassuring in having to face the upcoming surgery.

And then I spent the following days in the hospital waiting for confirmation of what day I would have the surgery. Of course there were numerous tests and personal matters to take care of.

So many of my friends were supporting me with prayers and well wishes on Facebook. Many friends came by to visit. This helped my determination to face this event.

I had every confidence in the doctors. I was in a nationally recognized heart hospital. Everyone answered my questions and gave me more reason to expect that it would go well. Of course there is always a fear with an operation like this. There is always a chance that things won’t go as intended. And I felt that. When I was taken to pre-op, I trusted I would be awakened in recovery. But I also had the thought that I may not. Fortunately all went well and I have a mountain of gratitude to all the doctors, nurses, and technicians who cared for me and repaired my heart.

But I know the strength received as I was lifted up by the power of prayer and good thought that came to my aid. Though it has it’s troublesome aspects, Facebook is an extraordinary vehicle for sending powerful energy to each other in times of crisis.

So at ten weeks post surgery I am driving again and many of the stresses of my life have come creeping back in. I drive and can do most things but still rely on a few friends to help me with heavy things.  I am still on the restriction of not being allowed to lift more than 10 lbs. There are good days and rough ones. But I certainly feel a lot better now than I did when I came home 5 days after the surgery.

There is a lot I haven’t mentioned here. So many friends who stayed with me the first week and so many who just dropped by to check in on me, help me with chores, and brought food and meals. One can only feel blessed when that kind of energy comes to your aid. Thank you all.

I am especially grateful for the concern and care from my family: my brothers, sister in law, nephews, cousins who were there for me day of the surgery and so many who were sending me strength.

My brothers set up a GoFundMe account as I really lost a lot of work over the last three months. It’s times like these that being self-employed can be extremely difficult. It’s still going to take some time to get back into the full swing of work, but I’m certain I will be making a new start with the new energy I will receive from my repaired heart.

The Haunted Palace for Halloween

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It’s the October Country Ray Bradbury wrote about. Spooky and mysterious, it’s a time of shadows, ghost and goblins. I’m one of those people who enjoys a good scary movie. Not necessarily slasher films, but things that have the intensity of the unknown and unpredictable to them. The Exorcist is still one of the best movies to scare me. A good H.P Lovecraft story will also keep me engaged.

But perhaps the first writer I came across when I was a boy who really spoke to me and exposed me to a sense of the macabre, was Edgar Allan Poe.

So this Halloween I offer up my reading of Poe’s the “Haunted Palace.”

I hope you enjoy.

The Procedure to Remove the Plaque, Double Vision and Coming Home

 

Pre-op

Though my procedure to have the plaque removed wasn’t scheduled until 2 pm, we were called in a 9am and arrived at 8:30am.

Suddenly after four days of being by myself or with Holly, I was around an entire hospital of people of all ages. I was acutely aware that I was radioactive and had been told to avoid children and pregnant women.

Ended up in the elevator with a teenager. I assumed their exposure was minimal, otherwise the hospital would have taken more precautions to keep me away from people. But I still felt very self-conscious about it

When we checked into he surgery lounge we made them aware I was wearing radioactivity and they did put us in a separate room for a minute. Then someone came in and told us to check in at a different desk. I was asked to fill out a form and told to sit down in the general area. A few minutes later a nurse came out and said no we couldn’t sit there, then she told us to return to the room where we had originally been, away from the general population.

Holly & I sat from about 8:45 am until 2:05 pm when I was called up for surgery.

Holly had the chance to go get some breakfast and take care of a few things. I was allowed a glass of water since my scheduled 2pm surgery was 5 hours away

There was a challenging drilling type sound just outside or above the room. Some construction was ongoing.

Fortunately the hospital provides a wi fi and we both had laptops with us. Holly was able to connect to it, but I couldn’t. I was, however,  able to connect through her Smart phone hotspot.

The first 3 hours actually passed quickly because we were both engaged with computer tasks. As 12:45 came I became concerned we had not been called up to pre-op. We were then told that the call would likely not come for  another 45 minutes. We engaged in conversations about various things and when 1:30 arrived, I became concerned that the radioactive disk may end up being on my eye too long. We asked again. They then said they talked to the doctor and he said everything was OK and we would be called soon.

Finally around 2:05 we were taken up. I changed into the hospital gown and saw some of the doctors, new nurses and anaesthetists.

The Second Procedure

Finally I was taken back. This  procedure, though similar to the one previously described,  was much quicker.

The local anesthetic was applied which caused the temporary blindness though not as complete as during the procedure to attach the plaque four days before. I could see some shadows with the eye they were working on.

They quickly removed the plaque, removed sutures, did some cleansing, gave me a shot and added a new patch over the eye.  Not more than 15-20 minutes.

Post-op

Once again I had a bandage over my eye with instructions to remove it the next morning and begin a regimen of Prednisilone (optical prednisone) in the eye 4 time per day.

Fortunately post-op did not include the hard drugs they gave me after the first procedure. Once out of the hospital I was pretty much just feeling a mild sedative effect from Versed. On the way home I was able to go with Holly into the drug store and then we grabbed french fries again.

That evening I was quite energized and cooked dinner. I think my adrenaline was kicking in after feeling like a pariah for four days. I was also looking forward to getting back home the next day.

Double Vision

I slept well and in the morning, Holly removed the bandage. The immediate effect was extreme disorientation as I was struck with the fact I had a severe case of double vision. Not just double, but warped as well.

Squinting as I looked in the mirror, I could make out that my left eye was still dilated and there was only a little sliver of white along the pupil. The rest of the eye was deep blood red. As I tried to walk, I had trouble sensing the floor and where I should step. I went and sat for about ten minutes to try to get used to the double vision. At that time I began to become aware how to describe the manifestation.

If you were to take two copies of the same image and place them side by side. You would keep the horizon of the right image level. But the left image’s horizon would be on a tilt, the right side higher than the left. There would also be he sense that the right side was farther away and the left side was nearer – a sense of perspective. Plus the left image just did not fit over the right. They could not be brought in sync.

However, once I had this understanding, I was able to stand better.

Coming Home

I did all my packing and awaited the arrival of my friend Michael. Michael and I have known each other since we were tikes – about 5 years old. Though we’ve not seen each other in many years, he was in town this summer and graciously took care of driving me to Charlottesville on the previous Wednesday evening and was about to drive me back.

I was concerned that the double vision and the experience of being in a moving car might trigger some vertigo, but it didn’t. In fact the ride helped me to start getting used to the double vision.

Next installment: Back Home and allowing the eye to heal from the trauma of the surgeries.