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.)


First Time Blogging Since Turning 50

Early onset senility has not been the reason why I have not logged into this blog in nearly eight weeks.  I won’t waste my readers’ (or reader’s) time by listing all the lame reasons for why I have been absent.  I think I’ve been like many people who try to keep diaries.  They’ll go to the bookstore and buy a blank journal, write in it like mad for a week or two, and then toss it in a drawer and never pick it up again.  As far as keeping this blog current, to paraphrase A. Conan Doyle, “I can but try.”

I turned 500 (oops, one too many zeroes) on April 29.  Since then, I’ve done another stint at the Columbus State bookstore.  After a day trip to Cedar Point, Susie’s sophomore year at The Charles School ended.  At the end-of-year assembly, she learned that she is one of 20 students accepted for the Early College program at Ohio Dominican University.

However, the big news for Susie right now is that she is, even as I type, en route to Romania.  She and six other teenagers–and three adult chaperons–left Port Columbus this morning for a 10-day Justice Trip, representing First Unitarian Universalist Church here in Columbus.  (This was the best expenditure of a tax refund in the 30 years I have been filing!)  Just before I started typing, I received a text message from the church’s Associate Minister, letting me know they’ve all landed safely at JFK in New York.  (They will be there until late afternoon, before embarking on the longest leg of the trip, which is between New York and Helsinki.  There will be much tighter connections between Helsinki and Warsaw, and Warsaw and Bucharest.)

Susie is the first of our immediate family to journey outside North America.  My overseas travel was 15 minutes in Ciudad Juarez in 1987, where my sole activity was buying a bottle of tequila for $1.15.  Steph lived in upstate New York until she was nine or 10, which meant frequent trips in and out of Canada.  However, Susie journeyed to Costa Rica (for the “Winterim” trip at The Graham School), and now will be headed across the Atlantic Ocean to Romania.  (Although it is known as “the Eastern Europe of Eastern Europe,” Romania plays a prominent role in Unitarian history, and is as important as Jerusalem or Rome.  The only Unitarian monarch, John Sigismund Zápolya, ruled Hungary in the mid-16th century (as John II).)  A Reader’s Digest version of the Unitarian history of the region can be found here.

Our Associate Minister picked us up at 7:45 for the ride out to Port Columbus.  (The flight was supposed to leave at 8:30 a.m., but did not leave until after 10.  He called me, and the parents of all the other youth, around 2:15 a.m. to let us know.)  Before everyone headed to the TSA metal detectors and the American Airlines boarding area, they posed for pictures.  Here is the group, rarin’ to go:

Just across from the American Airlines ticket counter, after checking in baggage and scanning passports.  Susie is on the left, in front of the Honda logo.

There were many planning meetings for this trip.  One of the adult chaperons wisely mentioned that they would be together almost constantly, and they would get on one another’s nerves.  (There will be a buddy system to make sure no one is out and about alone.)  Susie told me that when the Graham School trip to Costa Rica ended, the plane had landed at Port Columbus, and was still sitting on the runway before the passengers disembarked.  One of the teachers in charge told everyone, “I love you all, but I don’t want to see any of you for 72 hours.”
I am taking the day off from work.  I thought about coming in to work once I knew Susie was airborne, but my sleep was spotty last night (Susie and I had considered staying up all night, but I caved a little after midnight, and she went to bed around 1 a.m.  I was just getting to sleep when my phone rang, bringing me the news the flight would be leaving later than expected.)  I foresee an early night for me tonight.  I am hoping that Susie and the others will take advantage of the long flight over the Atlantic Ocean to Finland, and get some shut-eye during that.

Bless Me, Blogspot, For I Have Sinned. It Has Been Nine Weeks Since My Last Entry…

With Susie away for the weekend, I decided that I was fresh out of excuses for not writing in my blog.  When I pulled up the Website to begin typing, I was appalled to see that it has been over eight weeks since I last wrote in here.  I have been alternating all fall between a malaise where holding up my end at work and at home is my major accomplishment, and bursts of short-lived manic energy that usually end up producing nothing constructive, either at home or creatively.

Susie is spending this weekend as a chaplain at a Junior High Youth Conference at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, on the west side of Cleveland.  She left last night, and will probably be back late tomorrow morning.  She and I are both a bit humbled by the fact that our involvement in National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) crashed and burned quite early into the “competition.”  I think she lasted a little longer than I did, but at least she has the constructive reason that she is also working on a writing project with a friend in Akron.  Their manuscript is a shared Google Document, and they work for hours each night online.  (The earliest practitioner of this that comes to mind is Stephen King.  When he and Peter Straub were working on The Talisman, in the early 1980s, their respective word processors were connected by telephone hookup–a primitive modem–between King’s house in Maine and Straub’s in England.)

Susie’s site (work experience) at The Graham School this fall is a twice-weekly stint in the Human Resources Office at the main library downtown.  She is finding the work–mostly filing and compiling packets for new employees–to be quite boring.  I come down on both sides of her predicament.  I can understand her dread of boredom.  As I have learned at my own job, especially in the last two or three years, extreme boredom leads to severe depression for me.  As I age, I find myself less able to combat or offset depression than I did when I was younger.

At the same time, the realist in me wants to tell Susie that there is a name for going someplace you really don’t want to go, and spending the entire day doing something that bores you to tears.  The name for this is employment.  (I have often wanted to say this to parents of gifted children who wring their hands about how bored their children are at school.)

There is probably a cause and effect at work here, but when I decided not to continue with NaNoWriMo this year, ideas for the novel I began (about four or five pages, altogether) began popping up.  I have begun to jot these down in notebooks, and will keep filling them in as they come my way, and in October begin working on some type of outline.  And at midnight on November 1, 2013, I’ll begin the book again from scratch.

I bought this Jack Kerouac Bobblehead from the Lowell Spinners, and put it on my desk in the hope (vain, thus far) that it would inspire me to keep my nose to the keyboard, much like Schroeder’s bust of Beethoven atop his toy piano.  Still has yet to happen.

Steph made a brief trip to Columbus last month, and all went well.  She made the trip so Susie could apply for a passport.  Since Susie is a minor, both parents have to be present when she applies.  Susie will be going to Costa Rica in January on a school trip (“Winterim”), and we wanted to make sure that the passport was in her hands well before her departure.

The only frustrating moment was when we applied for the passport itself.  Steph and Susie went to the FedEx Office downtown for passport photos, and then met me outside the post office across from the building where I work.  According to the State Department’s Website, we could obtain a passport at this post office branch.  When we got to the counter, the clerk told us that they hadn’t handled passports in years.  After venting some frustration, we took a taxi to the main post office on Twin Rivers Drive, where we knew they processed them.  The clerk behind that counter was a joy and a delight, and we finished the process in less than 10 minutes.  (Susie’s passport came in the mail last week.)

The passport will also come in handy next summer, when Susie and the youth group in Columbus hopes to fly to Romania, which is the first place where people first began to call themselves Unitarians.  This will include tours in Transylvania and Hungary.  In a way, it is analogous to a trip to Rome or Jerusalem.  Once Susie comes home from Costa Rica, I’m going to put an ad in Ohio State’s student newspaper, the Lantern, looking for someone to tutor her in Hungarian.

One place where Susie and I differ is that she still has not outgrown trick-or-treating.  I never cared much for it after I got to be about eight or nine, despite my love for sweets at the time.  Susie turned 15 last month (I bought her Taylor Swift’s new album, Red, and my friend, comic book writer Ken Eppstein, graciously signed a set of Nix Comics for her), but she was glad to walk around with a 12-year-old girl from church.  Columbus was quite the exception, in that trick-or-treat took place on Halloween’s actual date, October 31.

I usually mark the occasion by listening to a compact disk of Orson Welles’ infamous dramatization of The War of the Worlds, broadcast October 30, 1938, which scared the nation to death by describing an invasion from Mars in the form of news bulletins and the diary of a survivor.  (I was pleased to see one Facebook friend posting allusions to the broadcast: “Listening to Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.”  To show him I was in the loop on this, I quoted the voice of a ham radio operator after the Martians conquer New York: “2X2L calling CQ, 2X2L calling CQ.  2X2L calling CQ, New York.  Isn’t there anyone on the air?  Isn’t there anyone on the air?  Isn’t there… anyone?”)

But on the weekend after Halloween, I went to a very festive post-Halloween party at a friend’s house that is about a five-minute walk from home.  The young woman who hosted the occasion is fun to be around, and you are always in a good mood when you leave.

Saying goodbye to Amber, hostess extraordinaire.  (I have been a teetotaler for almost 15 years, but usually in party pictures, I’m the one who looks like he most has his load on.  This is one of the rare exceptions.)


Susie and her friend are working on a novel that includes a heroin addict as one of its characters, so as part of her research, I showed her Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955).  She watched with one eye and kept her other eye on her laptop for most of the movie, but she sat in rapt attention and stunned silence during the withdrawal scenes.  This was not Reefer Madness’ silliness.

I was happy about Obama’s re-election, although I did not stay up to wait for the announcement.  I went to bed a little after 10 on Election Night, and at that time Mitt Romney was leading by some 80 or 90 electoral votes.  Susie was awake before I was on Wednesday morning, and I asked her on my way out the door.  She told me that she learned sometime around 11:30, from one of her friends on Tumblr.

What struck me that morning was that regardless of who won, I still would be getting up, catching my bus, and going to work, making payments on Susie’s trip to Costa Rica, and mailing a check to my landlord.  (The governor’s race in 2014 is another matter altogether.  Governor Kasich has announced that he plans to run again.  His dream for State workers is for us all to be living under bridges and drinking Night Train while his cronies run privatized State agencies.)