Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This is Heart Surgery

"You don't have COPD."

Great news! When you've spent half your life smoking, and much of that unfiltered toking, that has got to be one of the best things you'll ever hear, especially when you're sixty-five. No tubes in the nose, no iron lung, no caddy of oxygen tanks. A retirement of sitting while your family cavorts around, and without, you.

But that's not you! You are emphysema-free. You--

"It's your heart."

What the fuck?


Not that we didn't know that was coming. G-man had a congenital condition, a prolapsed mitral valve, whose only symptom so far had been an irregular-sounding heart beat. But, as Dr Parker explained, these already-defective valves wear out over time. We could either let it ride--in which case he'd die much sooner rather than later--or have surgery to correct it.

Put that way, heart surgery sounds good. We knew people who had had heart surgeries; they seemed happy and well-adjusted post-surgery. We made arrangements to meet with the surgeon and went about our business.

Pro Tip: When you meet with the doctor, take an extra person with you. You as the patient are just not going to remember, or even process, the vital information you're given. And when you meet with the surgeon, take two.

Three of us sat in Dr Postell's office: G-man, his daughter Alisha, and me. We all had note paper and pens. Dr Postell's explained the problem. The weakening valve let too much blood back-wash, so G-man's heart was only pumping at thirty-, maybe forty-percent capacity. That's why he was so winded and exhausted. We had also waited a bit too long before doing something about it--well, we can pin that one on the smoking, I suppose. The doctor did not perform the minimally invasive surgery for two reasons: too hard to get a good view of what was going on, and too high a risk of post-operative stroke. So that leaves...

"Open-heart surgery?" Yes.

The kind where they... "Open the rib cage, yes." Here I'm not sure if G-man's years as a hospital orderly worked for or against him. But he seemed resignedly calm and almost cheery about the whole thing. We compared notes after the meeting, decided we were comfortable with irascible, Old-World Dr Postell, and scheduled the surgery for the end of August.



You can expect to stay in the hospital for about a week, including at least 1 to 3 days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Recovery after valve surgery may take a long time, depending on how healthy you were before the operation. You will have to rest and limit your activities. Your doctor may want you to begin an exercise program or to join a cardiac rehabilitation program.
If you have an office job, you can usually go back to work in 4 to 6 weeks. Those who have more physically demanding jobs may need to wait longer.

You get a lot of literature when you're scheduled for heart surgery. We were both depressed and elated that much of it did not pertain to G-man. His diet was great, and, although it diminished with his blood flow, he exercised. He didn't smoke or drink. He was an anomaly as a heart patient: not there for poor health, and not there for being old. It was slightly encouraging, and with the surgery date rapidly approaching we took all the encouragement that came our way. We read, we partook of Humboldt's summertime food bounty, we played with the new dog. I submitted my FMLA paperwork (Family Medical Leave Act) to the post office. We shopped for a post-op chair.

That's right! For a month after the surgery G-man would have to sleep flat on his back, no rolling onto his side. He would also have a difficult time clambering into and out of our very-tall bed. We spent an hour after the Saturday farmer's market inside the Arcata Exchange, test-driving different lounge-chairs. We had been fore-warned that the pushing and pulling required to use an attached foot rest might be too much, so we got one with a detached ottoman, that was cushy enough without being too plush, and that most importantly, reclined almost completely flat.

What to Expect
The operation will be scheduled at a time that is best for you and your surgeon, except in urgent cases. Be sure to tell your surgeon and cardiologist about any changes in your health including symptoms of a cold or the flu. Any infection may affect your recovery.
Before surgery, you may have to have an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), blood tests, urine tests, and a chest x-ray to give your surgeon the latest information about your health.

The tests were our fore-shadowing. The x-rays, the blood tests, no problem. But Dr Postell also wanted a pair of tests to view the heart, as in, send down a camera. Now, the one where they thread a camera up to your heart through your femoral artery, yes that made sense. Of course you can reach the heart through an artery! Unpleasant, but doable. Did you know, though, that you can also reach the heart by sending a camera down the throat?

I'm still not clear on how that's even possible; frankly, my mind shuts off at the point when it gets too uncomfortable with what exactly was going on. And trying to suss that out is definitely one of those points. It was also an extremely uncomfortable procedure for G-man.

The morning of the surgery I drove us into Eureka, well before sunrise, and up to the emergency room of St Joe's, where we signed in then were whisked into pre-op. We sat together and tried to keep it light as he was scrubbed, enrobed, shaved, and tricked out in the latest cyborg fashion accessories. [The entire staff of St Joseph's, from orderlies emptying trash cans right on up to the ICU nurses, played along and humanized, as well as made tolerable, the intolerable. My sincere and undying thanks to them all.] Then they wheeled him away.


To be continued because I've had enough for one morning.--Suzanne

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Poultry Peeple

The other day one of my egg customers asked me, "So how many chickens do you have?"

And I didn't know! I used to keep track of all that, but lately, not so much. Chickens come, chickens go. They get sick and die. They get dragged off in the night by raccoons. Sometimes they just drop dead, and when I go out to do my afternoon chicken chores I'll see somebody's little corpse lying in the coop while the other chickens step around (or over) her as they go about their business. It's all very New York City, life in the coop.

So yesterday I popped open Google Docs and started cataloging who's still out there. Amazingly, that includes Pearl, my Gold-laced Wyandotte (an old American meat-n-eggs breed) who will be 10 years old if she makes it through the winter. Ten! We expect nothing of her these days except to enjoy the sun and look pretty.

There's Cleo, the Copper Maran hen who's a crappy layer of eggs but an excellent brood hen...Gary Seven the Leghorn who is the first to awake, the last to go to bed, and lays eggs like a maniac, even though she's gotta be pushing 5. Lurch the Jersey Giant, I almost never see her in the nest box. Oh, well. Amondine the Rhode Island Red who is top chicken and her mellow breedmate, Mushroom Mike with the crooked comb. Hefty Brosis, so large that everyone initially though she was a rooster. Jasmine, Patrice, and Marina, the Cochins (fluffballs, good layers). Bodhi, Dharma, and Cinnamon Girl the Ameraucanas, plus Ama and Owley, more Ameraucanas (green eggs, pretty feathers, good layers). Zoppe, the Barred Rock that we got last week when our neighbors said, "Say, there's a chicken in the tree down by the circus; is it one of yours?" No, but she is now.

Pearl, the amazing 10-year old hen. See, isn't she pretty?

And so on. The thing is, many of our birds are older if not ancient, and if I don't add some pullets or chicks soon I'm not going to have very many eggs next summer. But of course, no one has chicks now! Plenty of people giving away older birds, but that I don't need. So when I saw that A&L Feed had gotten a box of chicks Friday--they come through the Arcata post office--I said "Hot rats! Let's get us some chicks!"

Because I'm not a breeder, and for fun, I like to have a mix of birds in the coop. It's certainly easier to tell who's who. But the entire box of chicks at A&L was Ameraucana chicks--the one breed I have a lot of. What to do? I could wait for a future box (they're getting a couple more before the season ends) and hope I have a broody hen when they do, but...Marina, Cleo, and Jasmine have already been broody and given up so I can't count on them raising the babies. Live Free or Die, our sole New Hampshire Red, is in the next box now, hunkered down as though through sheer willpower she can make the infertile eggs she takes from the other hens and shoves under her body hatch. It's a fierce concentration.

The only hens still with us are Pearl and the black one on the far right: that's Cleo. The others? Gone.
So we grabbed an empty box and drove to McKinleyville, coming back with four Ameraucana chicks. In the past I have brooded them in my dining room, but I've got somebody living in there right now, so that ain't gonna work. Plus, I am tired of chick dust getting onto everything. Two of the cool things about chickens, is that once the sun goes down they turn off, and they really have no long-term memory, or not much, anyway. Whatever they do have they do not clog with useless facts like, Yesterday the humans slaughtered our brothers the roosters!, or Yesterday these were just eggs! Now I have babies!

So once Live Free or Die shut down for the night, I took the box of chicks out to the coop, opened the nest box, took out the eggs she was sitting on and put the babies under her. Once I heard the happy peeping, I shut the nest box and went to bed.

When I went to let them out this morning, Live Free or Die had lost that look of fierce concentration and now had the look of ultimate vigilance: I have babies!

The variety pack.

Hopefully she'll be as good a mom as Cleo is. But I can already see some pretty green cartons of eggs next year. I gotta mix this thing up!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Maybe not so sweet

Today I'm driving into the big city--Eureka, Calif.--to get my name changed on my driver's license. I had no idea it was such a big deal. But just like back in the day when you could scurry down the jet ramp in the terminal and greet your returning loved one as they passed through the galley behind the cockpit, or not have a credit card, or just decide to go by a different name, these days that doesn't fly.

So what seemed like the hard part, actually making the decision to change my name, was the easy stuff. Then I had to go to court.* then, instead of just waving my Real Court Document around, I had to down to Social Security in person and get a new card. Ditto for my driver's license. (Strangely enough, my employer, the United States Postal Service, was okay with me changing it online.) I understand; they are controlling documents after all. And another chance for California to collect a fee.

I of course waited too late to make an appointment so I'm going to have to take my chances with the rest of the risk-loving citizen mob. My timing will be tricky--I want to get there early enough to make it back in time for a lunch date, but late enough to swing by S.T.I.L. and pick up some new knee pads for tonight.

Yes, about tonight. I'm going to try going back to derby. I have reservations. Hesitations. Trepidations.

Back in May, when I was overwhelmed with emotion from my Very Shitty Year-and-a-Half, I abruptly quit the league. Wondering if my husband would ever be right again, losing my mom, panicking over the what-ifs about my brother's condition--because if what happened to him happened to me, I would throw my ass off an overpass--I just could NOT take any more slights, real or perceived, about being such a laggard about practice. Showing up late (if at all), unwilling to be aggressive on the track, being totally unwilling to take any criticism...And let me tell you, ladies, you haven't lived until you've had someone twenty years younger than you crawl up your ass about your lack of drive and athleticism.

Fuck. You.

Yet, just like horseback riding with its epic falls, derby, with its aches and epic bruises, was something I just cannot stay away from. Movement is my drug. So like riding I'm going to try again. But I still have some anger issues (reservations). I also have a gnarly bone bruise on my elbow and a sore back from a spectacular fall while navigating the cavalettis bare-back. My knee is scraped and sore from tumbling down my porch steps this Monday (trepidations). I am feeling banged-up and old, and that has me feeling hesitant.

Having Mr. Sports living at the house helps, as I have somebody to discuss sports psychology with. (G-man can riff on just about any subject, but not that one.) it's like having an in-house personal trainer. And my personal trainer says it's time to get back to derby.

Who falls down concrete stairs and doesn't even get a bruise to show for her efforts?!

(And the hoodie? It says "Trinity: When Humboldt isn't good enough")

*Okay, court. All I heard was, Show uo on such-and-such a date at such-and-such a time. I didn't stop to think the courthouse has three entrances, four floors, and any number of departments...So where exactly should I go? By the time I'd figured it out (and removed the pocketknife in my bag) I was late. My reward was sitting in the back and listening to the parade of restraining-order petitions. Can you imagine that as your job day after day? In a windowless room?

Two hours later the only people left in the court were the judge, the court reporter, the bailiff, a scrawny dude wearing a Breaking Bad t-shirt, and me. The judge looked at us. We looked back, andwith a confirming glance at Mr. Breaking Bad, I spoke up. The judge riflrd through the stack of papers on his desk, then looked up and said, "Granted. Pick up your paperwork any time after Monday."

I never did learn what the other guy was there for.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Well, I'm back.

As much as I like to single-mindedly dive into projects, I realize that I can only handle about thirty minutes of combing through old photos at a sitting before I have to stop and process. And, just like in Oaxaca, what beter place than in a blog?

Remember these? If you're under, say, 45 you probably don't. Google "viewmaster."

Where have I been? Well, hanging out a lot on Facebook. If you're there, too, you probably know that G-man had open-heart surgery last September to replace a defective mitral valve. That was wildly successful, and he has mostly mended in the year since.

About the time we were hunkering down for his surgery, though, we found out that the dizziness and jaw-pain my mom had been experiencing since shortly before my June visit was not TMJ, Bell's Palsy, or an old lady's heart as had been floated. No, it was salivary-gland cancer. Have you ever tried to deal with cancer long-distance? Doesn't work so well. Normally my cousin JoAnna, who lives ten minutes down the road and is a nurse to boot, would look after her. But her husband, my cousin Stephen, had congestive heart failure about the same time, then a stroke and another, smaller, heart attack, so she had her hands full. We got a home healthcare nurse to stop in once a week, then added an out-of-work nurse's assistant. Then my brother made the big sacrifice and moved back home to oversee her care and finances.

Come January of this year, though, and I knew I needed to go out there myself and assess the situation. My step-son moved back to Arcata so I felt like I could leave G-man and head to Texas. I decided to drive so I could take the dog for support. Glad I did! Not only was it a rad road-trip, but when I got to my mom's and saw the situation myself I knew it was time to start making the big decisions. Then my brother had a stroke.

I could go on, and I'll detail some of this in another post. I put my mom in hospice care at the tail end of March; she passed May 3rd. My brother was--and still is--in the same care facility as she was, so she had family with her right to the end, for which I am eternally grateful to my brother, as that was not easy.

So I have been zoning out on blogging and life, but I think I am ready to slowly come back. But man, it's hard to wear the big-girl pants sometimes.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The mail was waiting for me when I came in from the garden. The usual fire-starters from Suddenlink, Geico, and BedBath&Beyond, but a letter, too, the thin paper necessary for Air Mail both attracting me and repelling me. My life here is quiet, a small pension, a garden plot, and selling eggs and vegetables to the neighbors. The drone of insects in the summer air fills my head, keeps it clear of old thoughts. I traced the fragile edge of the envelope once, twice, walk away but come back. Always, I come back.

The slides look blank to my eyes, black squares in smudged white frames. I can't read the faint cursive on the single sheet inside. Nothing else in the envelope. Now, the envelope...Cyrillic cancellation, Russian stamps, no return address. Who is Zarcagual?

The only thing I am sure of is the seal in red wax on the back of the envelope: a six-leaved palm frond under what I always thought looked like a cloche jar, and the cursive L of the Librarians.

The Librarians! I thought they were all dead. The temple blew up. Nobody could have survived that.

I throw the letter in my traveling bag.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Mariposas of Leisure

We are terrible tourists, Greg and I. In four days we have seen zero area attractions--unless you count a pet cemetary as an attraction, in which case we have seen one. And epic freeway traffic; we've seen that, too.

(The news says it's been "chilly" lately...Really? It's been mid-70s, so nice.)

Anyway, today was the best day yet. I slept in til an astonishing 7:30, had coffee and reading time with my love, then we hopped in the car and headed to the Santa Anita fashion mall to meet my grade-school friend Pam and her kids for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. The restaurant was very accommodating as it was a four-hour lunch! We had a lot to catch up on, and I loved having time to talk with her kids, all grown now, and a real delight.

Then, as if the day could possibly get better, we headed over to Burbank to go trail-riding at Circle K Stables, nestled at the foot of Griffith Park. Since Greg starting taking lessons a year ago, we haven't ridden together. I haven't even seen him ride, so we were pretty excited to do this together.

We then ended our fabulous day with a tlayuda, a selection of Jarritos sodas, and a bottle of Lagunitas.

We might just get up tomorrow and go back to Burbank!

The Circle K corral.

I introduced myself to the horses while the wrangler matched riders with horses.

Greg's on! We were amazed that Circle K had a helmet big enough to fit his ginormous Stafford head.

Greg's riding Chief, a good ol' gelding of a roan.

 ...and Chief's place in the herd was up front! He and Greg took off like a shot.

 It took me some maneuvering to get around the Asteroid riders but soon it was G-man and I in front, setting the pace...And the pace we chose was, fast! I'm sure some of the asteroids behind us weren't thrilled to be cantering so much, but we didn't care. At one point, while we were waiting for the slower riders to catch up, one of the Asteroids asked us, "Are you professional riders?" Ha! But now Greg feels that he no longer needs to put "novice" on the trail-riding forms. Damn straight, G-man!

 Back at the corral with Chip. Or Snip. I'm not sure which. On our ride together I called him Beautiful Chestnut, which he was.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Estamos listos

After last night's super-feed at Guelaguetza, I was not exactly looking forward to breakfast anytime before noon. So while Greg slept, I got up on the late side--almost 6!--and went out to explore the neighborhood at my own brisk pace. By the time Greg was up at 8, I was ready for a second cup of coffee and having scouted things out I knew where to take him.

Denver isn't the only town with a Devil Animal...good thing we're packing the Power of Juquila!

After an expedition to Burbank to buy sports bras we were finally ready to eat a meal so back to Koreatown for a stop at Expresion Oaxaquena. We were now acutely aware of the need to pace ourselves so we just got a lunch plate each: enfrijoladas for me, entomatas for Greg, and two fancy horchata with nuts, cantaloupe bits, and a dollop of sandia nieves. Wow!

We still ended up stuffed, but oh my those beans and tortillas tasted good. Nothing to do, really, other than read and nap. I love vacation!

(We did better at a late dinner: two tacos and an agua fresca each and done!)

I believe that's a chicken tinga (front) and a mole poblano taco, which is what Greg had.

And on the other side of the table, a cochinita pibil (front) and hongo & cilantro taco, which is what I had. They were delicious.