"Said the Right-Wing skeleton, ‘Forget about yr heart’"

The above is a line from Allen Ginsberg’s collaboration with Philip Glass and Paul McCartney, “The Ballad of the Skeletons,” but I can take it literally, at least for the next year.  I spent the first part of this morning at the Ross Heart Hospital.

I saw two cardiologists, which worried me at first.  It is always a little disconcerting to be seeing a doctor and for the doctor to call in another one and say, “You should see this.”  I worried for nothing.  My heart muscle is in good shape, the aneurysm does not seem to have dilated any further, and all the cardiac function is as it should be.  I have another CT scan in December–a year from this week–but that seems to be all the proactive work that needs to be done.  Yes, my cholesterol level resembles a ZIP code.  Yes, heredity is not on my side when it comes to this (Dad died of congestive heart failure, his dad died of a heart attack at age 52), and I could stand to drop some weight, but my heart seems to be holding its own.

My grandfather’s death was the beginning of my dad’s break with Roman Catholicism, as I understand it.  Dad was a senior at the Catholic University of America in the fall of 1951 when his dad–two years older than I am now–died unexpectedly in Wheeling.  My grandmother had been fixing lunch in the kitchen while my grandfather was in the living room listening to the radio.  She heard a “thud” sound, and went into the living room and found him dead.  She sent my dad a telegram in Washington, and he was on the next train back to West Virginia.

His crisis of faith (at least with Catholicism) came because, until she died in 1965, his mother always worried about her husband’s soul, since he was unable to receive the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church due to the suddenness of his death.  Dad questioned the value of a Church that could bring about such unnecessary worry to one of its own very faithful.

Work has resumed on my memoir re my friendship with Robert Lowry.  I began several years ago, and I have been within 20-30 pages of finishing for the past few years, but by now it doesn’t flow in the same voice, and there are parts of it that need to come out and stay out.  So, the best thing to do, in my eyes, is to start from the ground up and rewrite.

Part of the lack of progress on this project comes from, I think, my taking Abilify, which is a drug that is supposed to supplement antidepressants that a person already uses (Lamictal, in my case).  After about a week or so on the drug, I noticed I was beginning to fidget even more than I usually do (which is saying quite a lot–I never sat “like a little statue” when I was younger, whether in school, church, or a concert), that I cannot sleep for more than four hours at a time (which leads to dozing off at all times and in all situations), and–worst of all–that what manual dexterity I have was suffering.  I cannot shuffle cards, I can barely manage to use silverware, and yet I can type 80+ words per minute using only two index fingers.  I noticed a sharp decline in my typing skills and accuracy.  As much as I pretty much loathe the computer culture (he wrote in his blog which is on the Internet), I was so thankful for computers and word processing these last weeks.  I was making one error after another, as if my fingers weren’t going where my brain was directing them, and I shudder to think what a page from my Royal Skylark portable typewriter would look like if I was using it instead of a computer.

I saw my nurse practitioner Monday, and described these symptoms to her.  She agreed that the Abilify may be the culprit, so I stopped taking it.  Like other psychotropics, it will probably be a little while before it completely clears my system, but I have noticed I am not as fidgety as I was.  The restlessness first manifested itself on the bus trip to Washington last month, when I could not get comfortable, and could not sleep, no matter what position I assumed.  I also could not concentrate on the two books I had brought with me, The Girl on the Best-Seller List (Gold Medal Books S976) by Vin Packer–a thinly disguised treatment of Grace Metalious and the post-Peyton Place uproar; and William Harrington’s Which the Justice, Which the Thief.  (They were in the backpack when I left, the first one since PulpFest last summer.)  Also, even though the Pennsylvania Turnpike is quite conducive to dozing, I was unable to sleep at all–the first time that has happened anywhere and at any time in the last two or three years.

The heavy reading I brought along on the Washington trip.  The cover art closely resembles the author photograph of Grace Metalious on the back dust jacket of Peyton Place, where she was called “America’s Pandora in Blue Jeans.”  As I learned from living 19 years in Marietta, the citizens of small-town America hate it when someone writes the truth about them.

We were pelted with more snow Monday night into Tuesday morning.  Oddly enough, it made walking much more easy than the trek from hell which I described in the weekend entry.  Good packed snow makes for a better walking surface than slick, bumpy ice.  The fact that I did not have a laptop causing me to list to one side probably helped as well.  The scene outside my front door looked beautiful enough that, despite the fact that I thought I would be running late, I went back inside and got the camera.

East Maynard Ave., December 10, 2013, about 7:15 a.m.  My only problem with this picture is the flash reflecting off of that sign across the street.  Sunrise was still a half hour away, so I decided the flash would be better.

There were nowhere near as many cancellations as there were when the first wave of snow hit last week.  Some churches and recreation centers cancelled evening services and activities, and two schools in counties other than Franklin County were under two-hour delays.

I am off work today.  I was not sure whether the appointment would lead to a cardiac catheterization, so I opted to write off the entire day.  (The procedure itself is brief, but the patient is pretty much wiped out for several hours afterwards.)

So, I’m going to try to keep walking more (although the snow hampers my progress, and makes walking even more aerobic than usual), and hope that this heart issue resolves itself.  (A friend gave me some not-so-pleasant advice about whether my aneurysm has burst: “If you wake up in the morning, it hasn’t burst.”)

But, if the doctors are correct, the aneurysm is not bursting for awhile, if ever.

Follow-Up to CT Scan; NaNoWriMo

I’m home from work today, because of the Veterans’ Day holiday.  When last we spoke, I was dreading an appointment at the Ross Heart Hospital, since it has been six months since I learned about my thoracic aortic aneurysm.  I had all kinds of worst-case scenarios playing in my head as I made my way to the Ohio State campus.

One of these days I’ll learn about the futility of worrying.  I had the CT scan.  The cardiovascular surgeon and the radiologist read it, and it turns out I don’t have to have a scan again until next year.  (I found it amusing that The New York Review of Books sent me a checkbook-sized datebook/appointment diary for 2014 as a gift for buying a subscription.  I christened it by turning straight to December 14 and writing, “CT scan, Ross Heart Hospital, 9 a.m.”  I still have not filled in the contact information in the front cover!)

The news is not all worry-free, however.  Dr. Whitson, the cardiovascular surgeon, mentioned that he was going to refer me to a cardiologist, because I told him about how I have pain that comes and goes in the left side of my chest, all the way up to my shoulder and sometimes into my humerus.  (None of these twinges have lasted long enough to justify a trip to the emergency room–especially when I’m paying off Riverside Methodist Hospital in $50 monthly installments for my trip last May, the parts that insurance would not cover.)  The pain lasts no more than four or five minutes, but during that time, it feels like that side of my chest is full of broken glass.

A day or two after the appointment, the cardiologist’s aide called me up and told me about the appointment on December 11 at 7:45 a.m.  She may have tipped her hand a little too much, since she mentioned the trip may involve a cardiac catheterization.  I had a co-worker once who hung a sign above her desk that said Eat a live toad before breakfast, and nothing worse can happen the rest of the day.  I guess the same is true for starting the day by having a needle jabbed up your groin.

I’m writing this in haste, because I need to leave the house not too long after 1 for my monthly appointment at Optima Behavioral Health Care, meeting with my nurse practitioner for medication monitoring.  This is a time-consuming event, not because of the appointment (which seldom lasts longer than 10 or 15 minutes), but because of the travel time involved, going way out to the borders of East Columbus, out by Mount Carmel East Hospital.  So my goal is to have this entry safely in cyberspace before I head out to the bus stop.

We’re in the 11th day of NaNoWriMo, the much-anticipated and -dreaded (by me, and by all other participants) monthly writing contest.  As of last night, I stand at 16,541 words, which is about one-third of the way there.  I took the laptop to Kafé Kerouac and wrote there two or three nights, but I also goofed off one or two nights, more out of depression than laziness.  I couldn’t seem to summon the energy to do anything more than watch DVDs of the third season of The O.C.

The subject I tackle this year is–NaNoWriMo.  I gave it a different name, 50 K in Thirty Days, and it is semi-autobiographical through several characters.  One character is a single father who is attempting to tackle the contest along with his teenage daughter.  (The major change from my situation is that the father is a widower, not separated, as I am.  Another is that his daughter is a lesbian, while Susie is bisexual.)

I go through the same scenario every night.  The first few pages are like torture, but then I gradually pick up speed.  NaNoWriMo keeps reminding its participants that the name of the game is quantity, not quality, so there are times when I write prose that I’ll marvel over, and there are times when I’m veering very close to word salad.  By the time I have reached my quota, there are times when I want to keep on going, but at the same time the mental and physical exhaustion have reached their peak.  I’m quite fond of a Louis L’Amour anecdote: “One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter–who was a child at the time–asked me, ‘Daddy, why are you writing so fast?’  And I replied, ‘Because I want to see how the story comes out.'”  That’s the way this project stands at the moment.  Ask me how this story will resolve itself, I cannot tell you.  (I am not a big fan of Louis L’Amour–the Old West has never held my interest, although I do respect the fact that the man meticulously did his homework when he wrote his books, consulting newspapers, letters, diaries, and memoirs of actual pioneers and cowboys.)

Ross Heart Hospital, on W. 10th Ave. in Columbus.

Just a Typical Fall Season–Cardiopulmonary Doctor and NaNoWriMo

We’re back to Eastern Standard Time here in Columbus.  The leaves are turning, and I habitually put on a denim jacket (and sometimes something heavier) when I venture outdoors.  I think I’ve retired the trike until next spring, so it will serve its secondary function–something in the dining room that I can run into while walking from the steps to the living room.

At the stroke of midnight, NaNoWriMo began.  As the hands of the clock neared midnight, I was sitting upstairs in my cleaner-than-usual study, Microsoft Word template onscreen, waiting for October to end and November to start.  (I admit I had jumped the gun a little by pulling up Word’s manuscript template, and filling in the variables at the top, such as my name, address, email address, etc.  But I did not do any work on the manuscript proper.)

This will be the third day of NaNoWriMo–the aspiring novelist’s PMS–the race to write 50 thousand words in 30 days.  As of right now, I have 4306 words under my belt.  I worked at home on Friday (not all of it just after the stroke of midnight), and had a long and rather aerobic session at Kafé Kerouac last night.  Susie was going to pass this year, but my first-day word count inspired her enough to jump back into the fray.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, here is a picture of the Lanier word processor former President Jimmy Carter used to write his memoir, Keeping Faith (1982).  When the machine glitched and he lost a chunk of the manuscript, it was newsworthy enough to make The New York Times.  (I have this on the brain because I am reading Charles Bracelin Flood’s Grant’s Final Victory, about Ulysses S. Grant’s race against certain death from throat cancer to finish his Personal Memoirs in 1885.)  

Work, planning the Christmas trip to Orlando to see Susie and Steph, and NaNoWriMo–not necessarily in that order–are what dominate the month of November for me.  Tomorrow, I will be focusing on something else I have mentioned in this blog.

Late tomorrow morning, I am checking in with Dr. Bryan Whitson at the Ross Heart Hospital.  It has been six months since the emergency room doctors at Riverside Methodist Hospital discovered my thoracic aortic aneurysm, so it’s time to check in to see whether it has dilated any further.  He is the same physician (a cardiovascular surgeon) who saw me in May when I first learned about the aortic aneurysm.  Before the appointment, I’ll be having a CT scan, and, based on that, we’ll see what will happen afterwards.  I think he will either decide on surgery (especially if it’s 6 cm or greater), or waiting another six months.  (One friend suggested it may not be a bad idea to take my toothbrush and some clean underwear along with me for the exam.)

The CT scan is not painful, although the feeling when they inject the dye is not pleasant.  It feels like they’ve shot boiling hot water into your veins, but the feeling lasts less than 10 seconds.  And I am not happy about the prospect of going under the knife again.  The first surgery I ever had was exciting, when I was five and having a tonsillectomy.  (The enticement of all the Popsicles and ice cream I could eat afterwards sold me, as it would any five-year-old, but the reality was far different!)  I have had three surgeries since then (plastic surgery, vasectomy, and cholecystectomy), and each one has become more and more of a burden.  I am saved the worry of telephone-number medical bills, because I am blessed with excellent health insurance, but the idleness that comprises so much of recovery is worse than the immediate post-surgical aftermath.

So, I have tomorrow off, but it’s hardly a vacation day.