So What Should We Believe?

The TEE I mentioned in my last entry still has not happened. I worked a full day yesterday, typed two doctors’ reports and was well into a third one when the work day ended, and around 5:30 I went over to Mount Carmel West to be with Steph. (She had texted me late in the work day to say the TEE would be tomorrow–i.e., today. So, I told my supervisor I wouldn’t be in today, and I wasn’t.)

Steph blew another IV during the night, so her pulmonologist ordered that another one be installed. The TEE would be on hold until that was done. The new associate minister at First UU, Rev. Eric Meter, came by a little before 9, since that was when we told him the TEE would be happening. Because of the IV blowing, Steph was waiting for a team to come in and install a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line, since they were having such short-term success giving Steph regular IVs.  It took two hours and a team of nurses and aides, but by 11:30 or so, Steph had a PICC line in her right forearm.  It could stay there, if kept properly clean and sterile, for nearly two years, and would be a good place to deliver Coumadin.  (Our insurance carrier, Aetna, has a home-nurse program for situations such as this, and it authorizes 180 visits per year–almost one every other day.  We didn’t even know this–a nurse who works for Aetna called Steph on the phone, just out of the blue, and let her know.)

The team didn’t have the PICC installed until after 11:30, by which time there was no doctor or technician available to do the TEE, so it has been postponed until tomorrow.  Both Eric and I had been asked to leave the room, so we sat in the fifth-floor lounge, and Eric bought us lunch at the hospital’s Wendy’s.  He had to leave for a meeting at First UU soon after 12 noon, but he was still there when we found out that the procedure had been postponed.

What is truly puzzling was the visit from the pulmonologist.  He says that he is not 100% convinced that Steph had pneumonia.  Yes, she had fluid on her lung, but that could have been a result of the surgery, and it would drain away on its own.  Her blood draws and cultures have been coming up negative for Staph or other bacteria.  He was not happy about the PICC line.  Yes, they did call him during the night when Steph blew the IV, but he did not authorize a PICC per se, mainly because it can often be a doorway to more serious infection–especially one leading straight to the heart–if it is not maintained religiously.  (Radiology had X-rayed Steph after the line was finally in place, to make sure it was reaching the heart, and it was.)  He still wants a TEE, but Steph is questioning whether or not that’s necessary if the labs say there is no infection.  The TEE test is not fun, and Steph is also eager to be out of the hospital, since she has been there since Saturday.  She plans to try and pin down the cardiologist when he makes his rounds this evening.

I ate a wonderful meal last evening when I got home from the hospital.  Our friend Joanna had cooked it and left it in our refrigerator, so I had it later in the evening.  (Susie had gone to the first older kids’ choir rehearsal at First UU on Tuesday evening, and her godmother Cynthia had brought her to see Steph afterwards, while we were in the fifth-floor lounge watching Big Brother X.)  It was quite late in the evening before I ate, because I wanted to dry some clothes I had put in the washer after work.  The dryer and stove are both in the kitchen, and yet there’s only one heavy-duty outlet in the kitchen, so I cannot have both working at the same time.  I dried clothes first, then put the food in the oven for 45 minutes (per Joanna’s recommendation, when I E-mailed her from work yesterday to ask), and checked E-mail and read The Marietta Times‘ Website to see what was going on in the city where I lived until I was 19.  I had a somewhat productive evening, creativity-wise–I E-mailed a poem to The New Yorker and wrote 3.5 pages of a first-person men’s health article I plan to submit to Maxim or Penthouse.  The poem has been through more incarnations than most Hindus, and the prose has already been rejected by the first obvious choice for publication, Men’s Health.  There was an AutoReply from The New Yorker that said that a reply could take as long as three months.

And I can live with that.  I remember the severe beating my ego took when I mailed a short story to Esquire in 1987, still high from two classes with Jack Matthews at Ohio University.  Their entry in Writers’ Market said to allow three to six months.  The rejected manuscript came back in six weeks.  It felt like I was getting my story back on the tines of a pitchfork.

I’m going to wrap this up and then see if the letter carrier has brought anything interesting.  There have been thick stacks of envelopes from Aetna, and now the Cleveland Clinic, so I’m hoping that something different will arrive.  A personal letter or post card would be best, but the latest New Yorker (or even Catholic Worker) would be great as well.

I ripped the Wild at Heart soundtrack to this laptop the other night, and I’m listening to it while I type this.  Currently, it’s on Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game."  He and I must have dated some of the same women.  (The song reminds me of something I overheard at a New Year’s Eve party in Cleveland when I was 19, a 1982-into-1983 party.  I overheard a guy in a hallway, about 16, saying to a girl his age, "I’m really starting to like you, and it kinda bothers me."  That was one of those lines that I had to jot in my breast-pocket notebook right there and then.) 

Another Night Alone

Steph is the guest of Mount Carmel West for another night… she’s been "in residence" there since Saturday night.  During the day, she saw a pulmonologist (different from the one she saw Sunday), who has ordered a transesophageal echocardiogram.  As you have plowed through the screens and screens of this blog since April, undoubtedly that word has jumped out at you.  Abbreviated TEE, it’s the procedure where they lower a little camera lens down the esophagus to obtain pictures of the heart.  The Staph infection that appeared on the eve of the surgery at the Cleveland Clinic seems to be back (assuming it ever went 100% away), and the doctor is worried about whether or not the infection is affecting the artificial valve and the muscle around it.

A cardiologist and his nurse came by after dinner tonight.  He studied under Dr. Lytle and was completely respectful of Lytle’s judgment and actions during the surgery.  Lytle is one of the top five cardiac surgeons in the U.S. (if not the world), and if he was worried about any aspect of the surgery, any physician should be.  He left without giving us a definite yes or no about whether or not the TEE will happen tomorrow.

This puts me in a logistical quandary.  I received permission from my supervisor to take tomorrow off, thinking that by the time that I saw Steph at the hospital we would know what was going on with the TEE.  No such luck.  So, I’ll go in at 7 a.m. (my usual time) and explain that I may be taking off at very short notice.  Hospitals have never been famous for timing their procedures and appointments around the convenience and comfort of their patients and the patients’ families.  This is one of the times I am glad she’s only a few blocks away from the house.

Freedom for Steph!

Steph was discharged from the Cleveland Clinic early this afternoon, after almost three weeks in the hospital.  They cut her loose from the remaining tube (in her neck, an injection site), gave her eight prescriptions (which cost over $100, and that was just the co-pays), and sent her on her merry way.

When the Patient Transport person wheeled her outside to the main building, it was the first time she had been outdoors since about 3:15 a.m. on the 13th (our arrival date).  The White Line shuttle took us to the Sight Center, which is where I am typing this.

Our celebratory meal consisted of microwave burritos and Hot Pockets from Rite-Aid, courtesy of my gift card.  Steph is now dozing in a recliner, and I’m at a round table in the living room typing this.  I have an odd juxtaposition of background–the Blue Angels’ air show is still going on, and I can hear the roar of the jets’ Doppler effect outside.  On the computer, I’m streaming a stellar oldies station, KBRX-FM in Topeka, Kansas (which you can reach at  I stopped listening to new music in the early ’90s.  (P.S.–Another good ‘Net radio station is Brandywine Radio out of Kennett Square, Pa.  Their site is  With the Wi-Fi as unreliable as it is here, if the station I’m streaming suddenly stops, I know I’ve lost the connection.

Steph’s first (and only, as of today) get-well card came this morning.  It was from one of my supervisors at the Industrial Commission, and it included a $10 McDonald’s gift card for Susie.  (It was also postmarked three days ago–my guess is that it’s been at the Clinic a day or so).

KBRX is playing Marty Robbins singing "Ribbon of Darkness."  (One thing I love is that I can go to their homepage and it’ll say just what is playing.  When I heard a song that I like but whose title or artist I don’t know, I’ve been known to stop what I was doing and call the station to ask, "What was that you just played?")

I’m not sure if we’re going back to Columbus today or tomorrow.  Steph called a friend of ours who offered to drive us back, but we’re waiting for him to call us back so we know his plans.  I was prudent enough to leave the Sight Center’s other bedroom vacant–the one that’s nearer the bathroom.  Once Steph takes her Lasix, she’ll need to be close to a bathroom.

While Wi-Fi is Cooperating

I’ve wrung my hands at length about the on-and-off (mostly off) Wi-Fi provided by the Cleveland Sight Center–my only real complaint about this place, in the 2+ weeks it’s been my base of operations.  Since it’s cooperating for now, I’ll sit down and type an entry while I have clothes drying in the basement.  I have Al Stewart on my Windows MediaPlayer ("Song on the Radio") and I’m at the desk in my room.

I don’t consider myself to be superstitious, but I am a little reluctant to relay the latest news about Steph’s hospitalization, for fear of jinxing it.

Steph may be getting out tomorrow (today–it’s just after 12 midnight, but to my reckoning, it’s still Thursday night).  Her Coumadin level has been at 2.0 during her last two blood draws, which is the minimally acceptable level in the eyes of the cardiologist who comes to see her every afternoon.  His only worry now is her fluid retention, but he has increased the Lasix, which meant that Steph has been making several mad sprints from her chair to the bathroom.  (The down side to that is that she feels she can’t take walks, because she’d be too far away from a bathroom.)

Her walking is easier now, because the doctor discontinued the Heparin drip.  Whenever she’s ventured out of bed, she has to drag along a metal pole where her bags hang, and with two different digital monitors attached.  Her first walk (to the north solarium on the 10th floor, 75′ from her room) without the pole was a little funny, since she’s used the pole like a cane.  It’s analogous to the first untethered spacewalk.

(By the way, a physical therapist told us the way to measure distances in the Clinic: Each ceiling tile is 2′ x 2′, so just count the tiles above you and double that figure.  The things you notice when you’re bored…)

I have yet to hear Obama’s acceptance speech, but when I’m back in Columbus, I’m going to try and stream it from CNN’s Website.  I wish I had heard the speeches of both Clintons.  Even though I knew it was coming, I was on the edge of my chair watching the states’ roll call.  I admit I did hold my breath until Hillary Clinton announced that she was turning all her votes loose so Obama could be nominated by acclamation.  (If I could trust this Wi-Fi, I’d listen to the speeches here and now.)

I spent a little of the $30 gift card from Rite-Aid.  I checked back every day to see if they had MP3 players for sale (there was a hook for them, but they were out), so instead I bought two Hot Pockets and a bottle of Diet Pepsi.  I also spent about $10 on a little 3K Rite-Aid digital data organizer.  I would never had paid for something like that out of pocket.  Since there are no Rite-Aids in Columbus, I decided to buy something fun but useless in the long run.

The nearest pop machine to Steph’s room is in the sixth-floor family waiting area.  I’ve made the trip down there to get my "fixes" of Diet Pepsi, and it seems that there are people elbow to elbow and sprawled out on the floor and furniture in sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, etc., regardless of what hour you come by there.  It reminded me of pictures of the post-Katrina Superdome in New Orleans.

Steph isn’t totally recovered.  The right arm and hand have healed much more quickly than the doctors said they would, although she still lacks some flexibility in the fingers.  She says that her strength and stamina are better than they were in the months preceding the surgery.

There was an air show in Cleveland during the afternoon.  Looking out the windows, we could see four or five jets flying wing to wing (maybe about a foot apart from one another) and doing different pitches, rolls, loop-de-loops, etc.

This is the longest I’ve ever been away from Columbus since I moved there in 1995.  It is also the longest Steph and I have been separated from Susie.  (The previous record was a week when she was at a UCC camp in Brinkhaven.)

I am actually looking forward to going back to work.  I am counting down the time until 7 a.m. on Tuesday.  I don’t plan to E-mail ahead to my supervisors, but rather to just stroll through the doors, sign in, and start collating the morning reports that I deliver at the start of each day. 

Dare We Hope?

Steph has now been 24+ hours without tachycardia.  Yes, there have been some times that her heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, and the line on her monitor gets very wavy and spiky, but this usually comes with exertion.  This doesn’t happen every time–even after walking, the heart rate is usually in the 90s.

Her sprinting may improve in the next 36-48 hours.  The doctors have been giving her large doses of Lasix, mainly to help her lose the water weight she has gained since coming here.  (She lost 20 lbs. just last night.)  Lasix is a very strong diuretic, and it causes your bladder to fill up to capacity all at once, so you need to empty the tank almost immediately.

Steph walked around the entire 10th floor of the Clinic this afternoon.  We had to stop and rest along the way, but she made it.  She was still quite exhausted and needed to catch her breath when we sat down, but this is something she couldn’t have done before the surgery.  Her room is in G101, and we walked to the other nursing unit, G100, on this floor.

I have $30 to play with, and I wasn’t expecting it.  There’s a Rite-Aid diagonally across from the Cleveland Sight Center, which has been my base camp throughout this whole experience.  I ran out of BuSpar, one of my meds, but still had one refill.  I went over to their pharmacy to see if they could fill it.  Not only did they fill it, but they gave me a $30 gift card for transferring the prescription!  There is no Rite-Aid in Columbus anymore, so I need to use up this $30 before we leave Cleveland. And leaving Cleveland may just happen by the end of this week!

When the surgery was first scheduled, the Clinic gave Steph a relaxation CD.  We played about 10 minutes of this disk before we were both laughing our heads off.  Readers, just so you can be aware of it, the disk is called Guided Imagery for Pre-Procedure/Surgery (with nature sounds), and it’s narrated by Diane L. Tusek, R.N.  After listening to her voice, we wondered if she’s moonlighting with a phone sex service.  (Her Website is, and it may include sound files.  I can’t do it justice!)

I didn’t watch the Democratic Convention last night.  Yes, I am supporting Barack Obama, but the conventions have not been worth watching in about 20 years.  The last two that interested me were the Republican Convention of 1976 (Ford versus Reagan, which went right down to the wire before you knew who would go against Jimmy Carter) and the Democratic Convention of 1980, when Ted Kennedy challenged an incumbent for the nomination.  The last shining moment any convention had was Mario Cuomo’s keynote speech in 1984 (which you can listen to, extant, on Great Speeches of the 20th Century).  What I need to know about the Convention I get from, which is my home page.  I will stream a video of Ted Kennedy’s speech later on, though.  I saw a 15-second clip of it on the noon news; he looks pretty good for a man with brain cancer.

I Twittered for the first time pre-surgery this afternoon.  (If this blog is one of those big leatherbound diaries, Twitter is the equivalent of the appointment books that have the whole week on two pages, with Sunday crammed into a corner.)  (I can be found at, if my day-to-day activities captivate you somehow.

Dr. Lytle came in while I was typing this entry.  They’re thinking about discontinuing the Heparin tomorrow.  (It’s an anticoagulant.)  They’re still trying to get her to the desired Coumadin level–Coumadin is not a one-size-fits-all drug.


Tachycardia Back and Forth

I’m typing this while sitting on the edge of Steph’s bed.  She has her laptop in use while she’s sitting in a comfortable chair next to the bed.  Whenever I come to the end of a sentence, I’ve been looking up at her heart rate monitor.  It’s currently holding steady in the 80s and low 90s.

The cardioversion they did in ICU on Saturday afternoon was successful, and Steph was back up in the Step-Down Unit on the 10th floor of the G Building by mid-afternoon.  They didn’t have to play musical rooms, either–she’s back where she was before the latest flare-up.

Yesterday morning, Steph called me just before 7 to let me know the tachycardia was back, with heart rate in the 140s at the lowest.  I got dressed and went over to the Clinic from the Sight Center, and my worst fears were confirmed.  It hadn’t just been a fluke–her heart was consistently holding that crazy heart rate.

The doctors tried a different approach, instead of sending her downstairs for a third cardioversion.  This time, they decided to attack it with medication.  They gave her Lopressor and calcium channel blockers.  It took time, but by late afternoon-early evening, we could watch the heart rate as it fell back to where it belonged.

I’m typing this just after yet another episode of it.  Steph’s nurse, at the suggestion of the physician who was doing rounds, gave her more Lopressor, and it was less than 15 minutes before the rate levelled out and fell below 100, where it’s stayed.

Steph is following the advice of the doctors and nurses and is walking several times a day.  Down to the nurses’ station and back is about her limit.  She’s breathing better, and is much more active, but even this short walk down the hall drains most of the energy from her.

ICU Redux (or Re-Redux)

I regret to say that I am typing this in yet another Family Waiting Room, and that Steph is back in the ICU with another tachycardia episode.

I want to preface this entry by apologizing to the people I’ve been E-mailing regularly with status reports throughout the stay in Cleveland. This computer does not allow access to Gmail. It’s a shame that many people will learn about this via the blog.

My cell phone rang at the Sight Center just before 4 a.m. It was Steph, and she said I needed to get dressed and come straight to the Clinic and to her room. I got out of bed, flung myself into my clothes, and I must have set some type of record in walking the 1/3 mile from Chester and E. 101st to the Clinic.

When I arrived in Steph’s room, one glance at the monitor above her bed made me realize what was happening. The numbers for her heartbeat were all over the place; the lowest I saw was 140, the highest around 180. No question–Steph was experiencing tachycardia again.

The only IVs in Steph since she returned to the Step-Down unit have been for Heparin and Lasix, so I was optimistic… up to now. The cardiovascular doctor on duty injected some medication into her line. He wanted to try and bring the high heart rate down by medication, if it could be done.

After about an hour, the handwriting was on the wall–Steph would have to go back to ICU, and they would be shocking her heart back into sinus rhythm. A nurse, a nurse’s aide, and I were soon en route back down the corridor, into an elevator, and thus to ICU.

The difference is that we’re in an ICU on the second floor. This is the Coronary Intensive Care unit, and from what little I saw before I was shooed out, it is not quite as chaotic–and much less noisy–than the one on the first floor. That is small comfort to Steph, who asked the doctor if this will just buy her some time before another episode of tachycardia happens.

I wish there was more to record, but that is all I know up to now.

Steph is Out of ICU (Again)

Late yesterday afternoon, Steph finally returned to the Step-Down Unit on the 10th floor of the G Building of the Cleveland Clinic. She stayed downstairs much longer than she anticipated, and much longer than medically necessary. (They waited until a bed was available. She’s in the same unit, but not the same bed, as before.)

Her room is closer to the nurses’ station than the other one. When the venetian blinds are open, there’s a good view of the downtown Cleveland skyline–especially Terminal Tower, the B.P. Building, and the Key Bank Building.

Life in Columbus is proceeding without us–Pat and Tanya took Susie to her first soccer practice last night, and she told us she actually had a good time. In her homeschool history class, they’re talking about Joan of Arc today. (That should really light a fire under the kids to be enthusiastic about homeschooling.)

Steph is in quite a bit of pain, especially in the right shoulder. Her nurse this morning told her that this was most likely a nerve irritation, and that the Dilaudid she’s been getting through an IV really wouldn’t help it. I think she’ll be discontinuing the Dilaudid for oral Percoset because of that. (I wonder if that nurse should have told her that–I’d think the placebo effect would help with the pain.)

A bright spot in this whole recovery process was a visit from Marin, an old friend of mine who has lived most of her life in Cleveland. She and I knew each other fairly well during the times when I was up in the Cleveland area 3-4 times a year for various Unitarian youth functions and conferences. (She was from Cleveland Heights, and was a classmate–in a <6 degrees of separation example–of a good friend at Ohio University.) We kept in touch sporadically by letter, but lost touch after I moved to Boston in 1982.

She's now an immigration lawyer in Beachwood, married with a kindergarten-age son. She came by with a bouquet of yellow roses (representing friendship, I believe). Steph was in with one of her doctors when Marin arrived, so we were able to have the "Are you still in touch with…?" and the "Did you know So-and-So married…?" talks without Steph feeling like a fifth wheel.

She and Steph clicked quite well. Marin has both a law degree and a master's in library science, just like our friend (one of Susie's godmothers) Anne, so there was some common interest there. Marin got a kick out of hearing about the last time Steph and I were in Cleveland before this heart-related journey started. We went to San Francisco via Amtrak for our honeymoon, and since there is no Amtrak station in Columbus, our friend drove Rich, Steph's dad, and us to Cleveland to catch the westbound train. We arrived at the Amtrak station a little after midnight, and the trains didn't leave until sunrise. So, we spent our wedding night in the Amtrak station. (My father-in-law rode the train with us as far as Chicago, so he could transfer to the train taking him to Milwaukee and we boarded the California Zephyr from there.)

Marin opened her own law firm this year, and while she has an office in Beachwood, her office is mainly anyplace where she has Wi-Fi access. (I doubt I would have the self-discipline for that. That's why I'm lukewarm on the State of Ohio allowing for work at home. How much would I get done, realistically?)

I'm headed back to Steph's room soon–I'm typing this in a solarium down the hall on the Clinic's TheStatus computer. There's a flyer for the 20th annual Egyptian Festival at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church on the table here (it begins tonight), but otherwise the room has old magazines and cups of cold coffee for decoration.

Stepping Up to Step-Down

Apologies for not blogging yesterday–I was at Steph’s bedside until 2 a.m., and was almost sleepwalking the short distance between the Clinic and the Sight Center.  Plus, there have been a “failure to communicate” (as they say in Cool Hand Luke) between the Sight Center’s Wi-Fi and this laptop.

Steph was finally moved from the ICU early yesterday afternoon.  The timing couldn’t have been better, because Susie’s godmother Anne had come up to Cleveland to drive her back to Columbus.  As much as Susie enjoyed seeing her mother, the ICU quite visibly shook her up, as did the sight of her mother buried beneath all kinds of tubes, equipment, and hoses.  Anne got somewhat frustrated by my vain effort to help her negotiate the maze of one-way streets, detours, and construction areas around the Clinic’s campus.

Even though Steph is out of ICU, the dancing in the streets is still a bit premature.  She still has no mobility and almost no sensation in her right arm, and she has had extreme difficulty breathing.  The bed’s mattress is made of vinyl, and when you’re sweating buckets, that is not a very pleasant thing to have beneath you.  (I think vinyl is for the hospital’s convenience, since it’s easy to clean and reuse.)  The up-down mechanism on it didn’t work all that well, either.  It was the same bed she had been in since she was out of surgery.  The practice now is to move patients, bed and all, from one section of the hospital to another.  The orderly who replaced her bed this afternoon said that the old bed belongs in the junkyard.

Two important milestones to report: Steph sat up in a chair next to her bed this afternoon.  The other is that she is finally back on solid food.  She was not in the chair all that long–it seemed to exhaust her after not too long.  The meals have been small, although she has tried to eat complete meals and can’t seem to.  I had two burritos from the Mexican restaurant near the hospital cafeteria, while she was barely able to pick at what she had.

Steph’s chest tubes are all gone.  She is still catheterized, and is getting oxygen through a nasal tube, but it is not quite as disturbing as when Pat and I first saw her post-surgery.

During the day today, Steph had several brief episodes of tachycardia (rapid heartbeat).  The highest I usually see it is around 102, although it’s usually in the low to mid 90s.  Several times today, but not for more than 30-45 seconds, the heart rate skyrocketed to around 150.  The EKG readout on the screen didn’t seem any different, although when Steph does any significant position-changing or movement, heart rate remains constant yet the EKG lines get very spiky, like a sine curve drawn by a trembling hand.

I’ll better post this before the Wi-Fi here gives up the ghost for tonight.

It’s Definite–We’re Awaiting Steph’s Move

Susie and I are still in a Family Waiting Area, but this one is on the 10th floor of the G Building of the Clinic, and much more pleasant. There are nooks with comfortable chairs and windows that overlook other Clinic buildings, but this area lets in much more sunlight and improves your overall mood quite a bit.

In simple English: Steph is finally being moved. Her next destination will be the Cardiothoracic Nursing Unit, and Susie is writing in one of the waiting area nooks, and I’m using the computer in another one to type this blog.

Susie filled up her book of MadLibs during the last session in the Family Waiting Area on the fifth floor, and she was getting bored, so I gave her the blank composition book in my bag. (I don’t think I’ll fill up my present diary volume here, but to be safe I’ll go to Rite-Aid–diagonally across the street from the Sight Center–and buy a new one. They’re six for $.96 beginning today.)

That’s all there is to report at this point. I just wanted to share the news that Steph is finally getting out of that God-awful ICU.