Through New Lenses…

It’s a poor worker who blames his tools, but I have slacked off on the blog because I am still trying to accustom myself to a new pair of bifocals.  After insurance, I paid $15 for new Skechers bifocals at the Ohio State University College of Optometry.  Each new pair of bifocals requires adjustment, and learning new habits about where to look, how to align your eyes with your target (horizon, screen, page), and I’m still learning.  It’ll be next winter before I can go in for another eye exam, so I’m making the most of it.

Last Monday night, Susie arrived home from Romania.  She and the others were exhausted, jet-lagged, but very happy to be back.  It took most of the rest of the week for Susie to get back onto Eastern Daylight Savings Time (two nights in a row, she was in bed by 9 p.m., but still up before 6:30 or 7 a.m.).  She went through the laborious process of loading her pictures (both still and video) from her Nikon to her laptop, and from there to her Facebook page.  (There were some 800 pictures, of which she posted at least 300.)  She told me she had written three journal entries for the whole 10 days she was in Eastern Europe.  Part of me wondered why she wasn’t writing pages every night, but I also understand what a friend once wrote to me, apologizing for not having written: “I’ve been living life so much I haven’t had time to write about it.”

Susie is adamant that she never wants to eat rye bread again as long as she lives.  It seems that rye bread is a staple of the Romanian diet.

I am pleased that there were no crises with any of the travelers.  On the morning Susie arrived in Romania, I did get a text message asking for a PIN number.  (Instead of exchanging currency, like I did for the Costa Rica trip, I bought Susie a $150 prepaid Visa card, since the Hungarian and Romanian currencies are so erratic.)  I texted her back two possible numbers, and offered to send her money by Western Union if they didn’t work.  (As it turned out, the card did not operate with a PIN.  She was able to buy most things–clothes, tea, munchies, etc.)

Susie was the first one of the travelers down the concourse at Port Columbus, and I took this picture of her after the welcome-home hugs and kisses:

Susie upon her return to the U.S. at Port Columbus International Airport (CMH), Monday night, June 17, 2013.

I put Susie a little more at ease when I told her that we can stand down from “red alert” about my aortic aneurysm.  While she was in Romania, I went to see a vascular surgeon at the Ross Heart Hospital on the Ohio State campus.  The worst part, as always, was the time on the treadmill for the stress test.  I am proud that I managed to stay on it for over 7½ minutes, and achieve the 180+ beats per minute that the technicians wanted.  In previous stress tests, I’ve had to bow out either from exhaustion or from pain in my joints.

The vascular surgeon has said I do not need to see him again until November.  At that time, he will check the aneurysm again and see whether it has dilated any further–once it reaches 5.5 or 6 cm, then it will be time to plan surgery.  In the meantime, I am on Coreg (for blood pressure) and Lipitor (for cholesterol), one each morning.  I have tried to ride the trike more; earlier this month I rode from Franklinton through Victorian Village, Olde Towne East, and back across the Scioto to Franklinton, a distance of almost nine miles.  My knees were sore at the end, but my stamina was mostly intact.

Right after telling me he would see me in November, the doctor ordered an ultrasound echocardiogram, to be done immediately.  This took almost an hour, and the technician scanned my heart from every possible angle, and my shirt was stuck to me with conducting gel for the rest of the afternoon.  Apparently, he didn’t find anything radically amiss, because his office didn’t call me to say, “Come in sooner.”

This weekend was Pride weekend in Columbus.  It’s the third largest gay pride celebration in the U.S., behind San Francisco and New York, and Goodale Park and downtown Columbus was electric with activity and pageantry.  Susie and I wandered the vendors’ and food stands in Goodale Park Friday night, when everyone was at their best.  (Since it was evening, it got cooler, and it was before everyone would be dehydrated and exhausted from Saturday’s march.)

Yesterday morning, Susie and I went downtown and wandered around the many groups (churches, political parties, and businesses) represented in the parade, until Susie found some of her friends from the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, the only organization in Ohio solely dedicated to LGBTQ youth.  Susie has visited their facility on N. High St. fairly frequently, and came home laughing and full of anecdotes after a Friday evening laser tag activity they sponsored.

I was not going to participate in the parade, but I took a position on High St. with my camera.  I shot some video as well, such as when the parade rounded the corner from W. Broad onto High St., and the insane rantings of a street preacher with a sandwich board and a bullhorn.

But there was only one picture I had to take.  I waited for Kaleidoscope’s banner to appear, and they came, shortly after banners from the King Avenue United Methodist Church and the church a block west of me, the Maynard Avenue United Methodist Church.  And I almost dropped my camera in surprise.

Susie, who vowed that she would hijack a ride on a float (as opposed to walking the 1.2 miles from City Hall to Goodale Park), was just ahead of the Kaleidoscope banner, and she was carrying the Pride flag.  She was naïve enough to assume I would not immortalize the moment with my camera:

Susie on W. Broad St., flag-bearer for Kaleidoscope Youth Center.

Susie apparently did not object too much to my picture-taking, because one of the flag-bearing pictures became her Facebook profile picture later in the afternoon.  Classmates of hers from The Charles School have posted to compliment her and to “like” the picture.

Time Bomb?

Before I launch into this entry, I want to inform my readership that Susie and company landed safely in Bucharest about 7:05 this morning Columbus time (2:05 p.m. in Bucharest).  I was planning to post during the night, but my attention would have been divided.  I sat in the living room with either Cat Stevens or Seals and Crofts playing on the turntable, and watched this site to track the progress of her Finnair flight from Helsinki to Warsaw.  I read a little, but could not stay focused.  I did attempt to write in my diary, but only got as far as taking the thick red and green book out of my knapsack and clicking the ballpoint pen.

When I neglect the blog for an extended period of time, there is often quite a bit of news to relay.  The front-page item in our household has been Susie’s trip, and yesterday, I did not want to steal any of her thunder, so I focused exclusively on that.  I have some significant news of my own, and news that is quite worrisome: I am now the proud owner of a thoracic aortic aneurysm.

I learned this news totally by accident, and am wondering when it first started to develop.  Two weeks ago, on a Friday night, I went straight from work to the emergency room at Riverside Methodist Hospital.  (Susie was away for the weekend at a Senior High Youth Con at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Akron, so I did not have to worry her.)  Throughout the day, I had a sharp, almost electric pain in the right side of my chest, which spread up into my throat and jaw, and constricted my chest so much that I would go into spasms of dry coughing every time I drew a deep breath.  I was not worried about it being anything cardiac, since it was on the wrong side of the chest.  All I knew was that I was in pain, and had no idea why.

I won’t reel off all the procedures and conversations I had in the six or seven hours I was in the emergency room.  I came early Friday evening, so I was there well ahead of the Knife and Gun Club activities.  They put me on a Dilaudid drip, drew blood, and hooked me up to a heart monitor.  (I now can understand how someone could develop a Dilaudid habit, by the way.)

The emergency room doctor ordered a CT scan, because he was suspecting that I had a blood clot in my lung.  I have had CT scans before, but I will never get used to the feeling when they inject the dye.  It only lasts about 15-20 seconds, but it feels like they’re shooting you full of hot water.  For a brief terrible moment, I thought I was going to mess myself, but the technicians reassured me that was a normal feeling.

The doctor and nurse came to my cubicle three or four hours later (I spent most of the evening lying there watching reruns of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit on USA Network) with the diagnosis.  The pain in my chest was an inflamed muscle.  He was prescribing hydrocodone and Naproxen, a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory, respectively.  Then he said, “But…”

That’s never a good thing to hear from a doctor.  He followed up, after pausing for dramatic effect.  When he read the CT scan, he found that I have a thoracic aortic aneurysm.  It was totally unrelated to muscle inflammation.  The aorta is the largest artery in the body, and the aneurysm is analogous to a knot tied in a garden hose.

Apparently, this is what I have.  Look for me to be Centerfold of the Month in the next New England Journal of Medicine.

From my own research, I have learned that when the aneurysm is dilated 6.0, surgery becomes almost immediately necessary.  (Mine is 4.2, which is 70% of that.)  Steph pointed out that had it been urgent, they would have admitted me to the Cardiac Care Unit immediately.  Cynically, she brought up the fact that my insurance is good enough that they would not have hesitated to operate, since United Healthcare would be sure to foot the bill.

I followed the emergency room doctor’s advice, and saw my general practitioner about a week later (as soon as I could schedule an appointment.)  I faxed her all the paperwork from the E.R. (including the printout for my EKG), and the following day Susie dropped off the two disks of my CT scan.  The doctor renewed my Naproxen prescription, but not the hydrocodone (since it is a narcotic).  She said that she was not a radiologist or cardiologist, so she could not look at the disk.  (I tried to look at it, but apparently do not have the software necessary to play it.)

So what’s happening now?  First, I am going on record as saying I am not letting this condition turn me into an invalid.  I’ve been going to work, walking (although I am just getting over an unrelated pain in my left foot, probably because I’ve been wearing a shoe that is too old), and will be on the trike this weekend.  I worked at the bookstore after the diagnosis, which entailed 2½ hours at a time on my feet.  Again, I come back to Abraham Lincoln’s attitude toward assassination, at a time when he had a file of 80 threatening letters in his desk:  “If I am killed, I can die but once; but to live in constant dread of it, is to die over and over again.”  I have kidded my supervisor (who is an R.N.) that if she assigns me a task I don’t like, I’ll do the “I’m comin’, Elizabeth” routine Redd Foxx made popular in Sanford and Son.  She told me never to joke about that.

I have an appointment with a vascular surgeon at the OSU Ross Heart Hospital on Monday afternoon, to be followed by a stress test.  I’m not sure if it’ll be a treadmill test, or by IV stimulation.  (Neither one sounds like much fun.  I have had the treadmill test, and do not have fond memories of it.)  I mailed the disk of the CT scan to the doctor earlier this week, and hopefully he’ll have looked at it by Monday.

Oddly enough, I don’t meet the usual characteristics of the typical thoracic aneurysm patient.  I do not have high blood pressure, and I have never been a smoker.  I do not have any connective-tissue diseases, such as Ehrlers-Danlos syndrome or Marfan’s.  I am well aware that my cholesterol and triglyceride levels resemble zip codes, a byproduct of loving the fare at the Blue Danube Restaurant, I am sure.  My weight surely does not help, and the genetic factor worried my E.R. doctor–my dad died (aged 70) of congestive heart failure, and his father died of a heart attack at the age of 52, two years older than I am now.  My mother had a heart attack in her 60s, but made a full recovery.  Also, abdominal aortic aneurysms are far more common.

As a departure from this gloom and doom, I want to share with you the current view from where Susie is right now.  (I received a text message from her this morning, saying I had forgotten to give her the PIN number to the pre-paid Visa card I sent with her.  I replied, and told her that if it didn’t work, I’d go to Western Union and send her money that way.)

So, I leave you with this picture from Romania:

Photo by Ben Iten of the southern Carpathian Mountains.  (Susie took her Nikon digital camera with her, with a memory card capable of holding about 1600 pictures, but we won’t see those until she returns to the States.)