Two Week Tuneup: Electric Boogaloo

heart grahic
A word cloud from the glossary of my device manual.

So I went back to the Arrythmia Guy’s office today for my first followup. It went very well. There was some fine-tuning of the setup that, frankly, surprised me, but in a good way. There was one part of the visit that seriously sucked, though. Because I have nothing but nice things to say about them, I probably ought to mention that I’ve been going to the Arrythmia Center at St. Elizabeth’s in Edgewood. While Dr. Hays is my guy, I wouldn’t hesistate recommending the practice in general (I think it’s four doctors, a nurse practitioner and a whole bunch of other nurses and technicians). It is, without a doubt, the single nicest medical staff I’ve ever dealt with.

Despite the fact that there was one point today I thought they were going to kill me. (Spoiler: they didn’t.)

The nurse who handles the implanted device programming had to test the thing. It started out easy: speed up, slow down. Then it started seriously sucking. She had to text each lead (and there are three of them) under varying conditions. And at one point she shut the thing down. The good news is that in the vanishingly small chance the thing ever fails, I probably won’t die. The bad news is that I’ll want to. Man, that sucked. Not painful, really. More like a fish jumping around in my chest, along with a sudden, profound fatigue. She worked fast. She warned me. It still sucked.

I’m glad she got that out of the way first because the good stuff came next. I’ve been having minor spasms in my diaphragm pretty much since I got out of the hospital. They’ve been easy to live with. I’ve been aware of them, but that’s about it. I could usually reposition myself and that would be that. Or so I thought. She was able to make adjustments to the leads that made the spasms stop altogether and keep the same safety margins I had before. That’s good, but it gets better. Now that they’re completely gone I realized it was more than just spasms. Apparently all the muscles on my lower left side have been continuously tense. Maybe it was just me anticipating the spasms, but whatever it was, it feels like somebody unwound a rubber band on my left side. Tomorrow will be two weeks since the surgery and I’ve just been attributing some stiffness to that. Nope. That wasn’t it. I haven’t been sleeping all that great and now I think I know why. The technical term for what she did was ‘adjusting the lead vectors.’ The alternate title to this post was “What’s the Vector, Victor?” but c’mon. The word “two” was involved. I never pass up on a chance to work in “Electric Boogaloo.”

Classes start up in three weeks and I’ll be teaching two HTML/CSS classes over at NKU. I’ve let myself goof off for the last couple of weeks, but I really need to get down to getting stuff prepared. Last year I had no time to work on anything but classes because I wasn’t well-prepared. I don’t want that happening this time. I’ve got some writing I want to get done as well as some coding. I think of myself primarily as a freelancer, but I think you have to have actual clients in order for that to be accurate. Otherwise I’m just massively underemployed.

And it’s time to start moving on. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks waiting to freak out. It’s not really happened. I’m having to kind of figure out what’s the same and what’s different, and I still have to baby my left arm until the end of this month. Other than that? I guess I’ll find out as I go along. A few months ago I was seeing my GP about something unrelated to any of this and it came up in the discussion that any more A-Fib was going to mean another ablation, and I was figuring that would be the last. one of those Anything beyond that would mean getting a pacemaker. She shrugged and said I’d be surprised how many people had them and there was no way anybody would know you had one unless you told them. All the stuff you used to hear about avoiding microwaves and the like is pretty much ancient history. I really like my GP because she doesn’t make a big deal out of thngs that aren’t so you pay attention to the things she says are a big deal. Everything about this conversation screamed “no big deal” and I think that’s why I’ve been able to take this all so calmly. If you read this you know me, and if you know me “taking things calmly” isn’t really one of my strong points. This? I’m shrugging about this.

And now I can’t feel it in my left side when I do.

Taking It Slow

Tom's Manual
After 19 years of marriage she finally gets a manual. I suppose I should be encouraged she only asked about the ‘mute’ button and not ‘on/off’.

The bottom line right now is that I’m feeling pretty good. If you’re pressed for time you can stop reading right now and be pretty much up to speed. If you decide to keep reading you’ll know only a little more than you do now and the chances are pretty good that will only be a fart joke.

Hey, I gotta be me.

As the title says, I’m taking it slow. It’s only been five days. I haven’t been out of the condo since we came back from the hospital and I don’t plan to go anywhere until tomorrow. There’s no place I want to go that badly. The dressings are all off and everything looks like it’s healing fine.  I’m learning what positions lead to the diaphragm spasms and how to shift around to make them go away. My follow-up is next week and at this point I’d rather give them a data set with no settings changes. I’m conscious of the spasms, but they aren’t troublesome. And it tells me the damned thing is still working. Right now there’s a lot to be said for that.

I was in bad shape.1 I knew I felt like crap. I just didn’t know by how much. I’m not going to say it was like being a frog in a slowly heating pot of water. One of my favorite writers is James Fallows and he has a special disdain for that metaphor. Turns out that’s not how frogs work. Unless you remove their brains.2 But the left bundle branch block had been damaging things a lot more than I thought.

It’s not like every doctor didn’t tell me it was a big deal, because they did. Imagine hearing every time you went to the doctor that you had a spike in your forehead. It’d kind of take up all your  attention at first,  but after a bit  it’s “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spike in forehead.  Got it.  But what about this other thing?”

The only one who lost track of the spike in my forehead was me. My electrophysiologist (AKA “the Arrhythmia Guy”) certainly never downplayed it. I’d be all “Yay! I’m out of A-Fib” and he’d be all “Yeah, but there’s still that bundle branch block…” He wasn’t just trying to be buzz kill. Mistakes were made. Let’s look forward and not backwards. I have a lot of denial to account for here.

I’ve found it’s much easier to move around now. Getting up out of a seat isn’t the epic production it’s been.  They told me they wanted me up and walking around and I kind of groaned when they said that. I will be commencing actual walking for exercise, but for the moment I’m just enjoying getting around the house. This is one time I’m actually following instructions. I have lifting restrictions for another five weeks, but I’m getting used to them.

It’s amazing what happens when your heart beats closer to the way it’s supposed to.

No fart joke.  Sorrry.  Next time.

EKG Before and After
What a difference a month and tiny electronics make. I think the technical term for the “before”  is “that’s butt-ass ugly.” And yes.  I have an EKG app. Is that a surprise?

1To make your reaction more entertaining for me I’d like the left side of the room to handle saying “no” and the right side to say “shit”. OK, OK. You can all say “Sherlock” together.
2Insert Pepe the Frog fanboy jokes here.

THAT Escalated Quickly

I have a pacemaker now.  I keep saying it to myself waiting for it to sink in. To get some kind of reaction.  Something significant. Something momentous. I’ve got a little computer in my shoulder that controls my heart via three wires.

A technician can pull out a large briefcase-sized unit, press a couple of keys and say “Your heartrate is 80. ”

Click-click-click

“Now it’s 70.”

And all I can think of is how cool it is. There’s a box about the size of a set-top cable box plugged in next to my bed that downloads data from the pacemaker and transmits it to my Arrhythmia Guy’s office every night. If they see something funky, I’ll get a phone call the next morning. Having a pacemaker means never being alone.

I didn’t know I was getting a pacemaker Wednesday when I got up buttcrack early to go to St. Elizabeth’s. I knew I was getting one someday, but that was some other time that wasn’t now.  Wednesday was supposed to be an ablation. It’s the same procedure I had two-and-a-half years ago. I’d been in A-Fib since May. I’d been progressively feeling worse and worse. I ‘d cooked at the Porkopolis Eggfest over the weekend and it just about did me in.  I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without having to rest. It’s been hard to stand for any  length of time for quite a while. I don’t even want to talk about the depression. It’s not been a period I plan to look back on with nostalgia.

A-Fib isn’t what got me the pacemaker.  Not directly, anyway.  What got me the pacemaker is something called a Left Bundle Branch Block.  That had first been diagnosed back in 2004 or 2005.  When it was first discovered a cardiologist told me that someday I’d have a pacemaker.

Someday.

My heart apparently decided someday was Wednesday. According to my surgeon, they had run the first lead up my leg to start the ablation procedure when the left side of my heart decided it wasn’t going to talk to the right side anymore. Maybe they talked politics. Could have been Russia.  Might have been a Bernie/Hillary conversation.  I don’t know. Whatever it was they had to go track down Carla to get permission to change directions.  Apparently one of the leads was tough to get in. Took three or four tries. They did a cardioversion and called it a day. The nurse anesthesiologist’s first words to me (that I remember, anyway) were “We’re done and we had to put in a pacemaker.”

I feel OK. I can already tell that I can stand and walk better than I could Monday. Some things are awkward because I have to limit my range of motion with my left arm for the next six weeks. It’s going to take a while for the leads to get really secure in my heart muscle, so I have to be careful about pulling them out. That means I can’t reach backwards with my left arm or go above my shoulder with my left hand.  I can’t lift a weight more than 10 pounds or so with my left arm. It’s going to be difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. Pain in the ass more than anything else.

There are still adjustments to be made.  One side effect is that one of the leads stimulates the left side of my diaphragm.  Imagine having the hiccups on one side and not the other. It’s as pleasant as it sounds. It was bad the first night, but a rep from the pacemaker manufacturer came out and made some initial adjustments. I still get them, but not very bad.  It has a lot to do what position I’m in.  It’s extremely mild (or can be if I shift around) so I’m inclined to let it ride until my next follow-up in a bit over a week. I figure there’s a lot of adjusting to be done.

When I had the ablation done in 2015 I didn’t say much about it. This time I decided to be a bit more open about what was going on. I’m glad I did.  I’ve gotten wonderful support from so many people. I’m grateful for all of you. I still feel a bit shakey. Anesthesia has always kicked my butt and this time is no different.

So I have a pacemaker. That’s not a surprise. Apparently I also have a future I don’t have to dread. That’s what’s different.

 

Long hot summer

It’s been 76 days since I last wrote a post here. I haven’t written because a lot of the time I’ve been angry. I get mean when I get angry and I don’t like being mean. I always regret it later. I’ve saved my rants for Facebook and Twitter because they’re kind of like the ancient privies archeologists are constantly digging up. You’ll find interesting stuff in there now and again, but you always have to remember that at some point in the past someone decided it was best if the thing was covered in shit.

Summer-2010-ClipArt9-SunWearingGlasses-800pxTrump got nominated last week and Hillary was nominated last night. I supposed it’s possible someone might not know what they’re going to do about voting, but I don’t think it’s too likely. My guess — and it’s only that — is that the biggest source of uncertainty is turnout. If people were magically transported to the polls (or it was somehow not necessary to go to a physical place to vote) I suspect almost everyone knows who they’d vote for. Intentions and actually doing something about them are two different things, though, so the only question left is who actually shows up in November. When I feel like looking into other people’s self-absorption I go read Medium (Motto: Facebook comments — with pretension!). There are all these posts explaining why the writer is or isn’t going to vote for this or that person. Some are funny. Some are poignant. Most are thoughtful and, I assume, sincere. All are predicated on the flawed assumption that someone gives a crap what you think. People only care inasmuch as you agree with what they already believe. Change is difficult and uncomfortable and most people handle it very badly. Nobody’s going to change their mind because of something you write except possibly what they think of you.

I write because I ceased caring what people thought a long time ago. It’s part of my charm. It also explains why I spend so much time with the cats. They judge me, but their criteria are clear. I’m good with that.

It’s not just politics that have made this a long summer, of course. A lot of people who should be bitching about things along with the rest of us are dead because somebody else thought shooting them was a better way to go. People are doing horrific things in the name of their religion. Buddhist extremists are targeting Muslims in Asia. Muslim extremists are carrying out vicious attacks in Europe. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League gets asked questions on TV. The horrors perpetuated in the name of religion are legion.

So it’s been a hell of a summer. Like all summers, though, this one is ending. When it does I’ll be doing something I really never thought I’d do again. No, I don’t mean being employed. I assumed that would work out somehow. No, the thing I’m going to do that I didn’t think I’d do again is teach. I’ve accepted a one-year, non-renewable lecturer position at Northern Kentucky University in the Media Informatics program in the College of Informatics. I’ll be teaching a basic web coding course, a course on non-linear storytelling, and another on the impact of video games and virtual worlds. They had a couple of folks leave at the end of last year and it left them just desperate enough that I seemed like a good option. I’ve been cramming like crazy to get ready, but it’s been fun. It’s going to be good to work with students again and be able to immerse myself in stuff I love. It’s all happened pretty fast, but I’m very impressed with the department. I hope their confidence in me isn’t as horribly misplaced as it feels right now. My teaching schedule for Fall has all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I should have at least some time to work on my own projects. There was a time in my life that a one-year teaching gig wouldn’t have sounded so great, but it’s actually pretty perfect for me right now.

That’s what I’ve been doing. Hope your summer’s been OK. Feel free to let me know.

I’ll only judge you a little. Promise.

Well, I missed a post

I didn’t post yesterday. Technically my streak ended on January 31. I didn’t post that day either. As I recall, I just forgot. I had a couple of ideas, but I got into the mode where I substituted thinking about doing something with doing the thing itself. I do that with emails all the time. Well, I did back when people sent me emails I needed to reply to. That doesn’t really happen that much anymore. Words can’t express how OK I am with that. Seriously. This lack of steady income thing is, frankly, a pain in the ass, but I don’t miss being dismembered one paper cut at a time.1 Anyway, not posting yesterday wasn’t a matter of forgetting. I put it off several times earlier in the day. Not having a damned thing to talk about seemed like a pretty compelling reason to procrastinate. There wasn’t a point where I said “Nope, just not going to post today.” Apparently there was a point when my brain decided that I was going to quit reminding myself that I hadn’t posted because it didn’t occur to me again until I got up. So here we are. I missed a post.

Carla suggested that I write today about what I’ve learned about forcing myself to write every day. Carla often makes suggestions like that. Good suggestions. Rational suggestions. Suggestions about what a person sitting outside my skull might want to hear out of the cacophony inside it. Because my life story is largely a series of cautionary tales for others, though, I usually don’t follow up on them. This time I’m gong to take a shot at following through. We’ll see how it goes.

I resent structure, but I generally do better when I have it. I’ve figured out that when I can get a post up early in the day I’ve probably struck a pretty good balance between structure and creative space.  “Creative space” is what the people who used to pay me money to do things I mostly wasn’t interested in doing called “fucking around.” The more a task was something I didn’t want to do, the more creative space I needed. Why was creativity necessary? Mostly because I needed to figure out how to make whatever it was that somebody else wanted go away so I could continue to get a paycheck without shoving a pencil through my ear2. I joke now that I’m not housebroken enough for an office job. Well, I really never was. And now I’m not in one. So now there’s nothing between me and the realization that there’s a much shorter natural distance between me and someone in a coma than there is between me and a productive member of society. Here’s another example of where going with my gut is a a really bad idea for me. Some people seem to have a built in “Start” button. I have a “Sarte” button. You press it and nothingness happens. I know now that I’m going to have to fight that and it’s never going to be easy. I will mutter a lot.

I’ve read and listened to a few books lately that have really made me look at what I’m doing in a different way. Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy came out back in September. I can’t tell you how much I admire her as a writer and and as a person. Technically those aren’t two different things, but I don’t want to go down that rathole right now. She is such an amazing writer. She’s managed to create this persona on the page that’s kind of like a one-way mirror. We get to look in and see what’s going on, but she’s able to distract herself by making funny faces at herself. She overcomes her fear by being fearless. Which makes no sense if you think about it but is so clearly true you decide the best course of action is to just not think too much about it. The second book is Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Her inner monologues and self-deprecating humor are brilliant. I like to say I like write in a flow-of-unconsciousness style, but she pulls it off. It’s also a great testament to the power of not knowing any better. She had no idea what she was getting into when she did The Guild. Confession: I’ve only watched a few early episodes. I was never a gamer. Doesn’t matter. To pull off something like that is amazing. The book explains exactly how hard it was to create something without knowing what the end product was going to be. I hope it’s obvious why I’d be interested in something like that nowadays.

I’ve discovered I enjoy writing the most when I can do it in the first-person. I don’t know why that is. Probably terminal self-absorption., which is weird considering how little I like myself. I think I grew up thinking people were always pointing and laughing at me so I might as well get ahead of the game and do it myself. I know now that people weren’t pointing and laughing as a general rule, though I did know some assholes growing up who definitely were sometimes3. In a more serious vein, I did come to the conclusion early on that I wasn’t wired like everyone else so I’ve had the blessing or curse (depending on the situation) of not assuming anyone else sees things the way I do. I know now that’s not true all the time either, but damned if I can figure out when it’s true and when it’s not. Thus, first-person seems the safest route. It’s a commercially-limited approach however, mostly because no one knows who the fuck I am and has no reason to care.  That sets me up for posts like this that I’m having fun writing but ultimately don’t matter.

I know I don’t like writing when I’m mad or depressed. I seldom get less of either while writing. It’s probably that self-absorption thing again. I don’t think what I write then is all that good when I look at it later. Maybe it’s because I know where my head was at the time.

I’ve learned I wish I could make money writing haikus. That doesn’t mean I think there’s a way to actually do it, but I can no longer say I don’t have a dream. You want an impossible dream?  There you go.

I like writing jokes. In casual conversation I do OK telling them, but I don’t know that I could get up and do standup. No, that’s not true.  I could do it. I’d have to work on it a lot. I don’t know that I want to do it so badly I want to work at it. I just wish there were somewhere I could write “You know how people always say do what you love for your job? The first time I heard that I thought to myself ‘What? Where’s the money in masturbating?'”

I like thinking about beer. I like drinking beer. I’m still finding out how to write about beer I don’t find tedious.

Many mornings Carla and I hear a bell ringing at the Catholic church that’s across the park our condo backs up to. It turns out that bell once hung in the John Hauck brewery up in Cincinnati. I don’t know why, but that’s what I can’t get out of my head lately. I’m going to write that story. It involves people who are dead, buildings and businesses that are long gone and the small number of still-living people who have first-hand memories of events probably don’t realize they know part of an interesting story. It’ll be a piece of cake.

I’ve got to be working on something. I think this is going to be it.

And that’s what I’ve learned from trying to write every day and missing only two days so far.


1I know there are people I’ve worked with in the past who read this. Understand that I don’t mean the emails you used to send me. I treasured each and every one of those. You know who I’m talking about.
2If at any point I’ve been someone who reported to you, I need you to know that I’m not talking about you. You’re well aware that I’ve done many different things in my life and I’m talking about all those others that don’t involve your wise direction and leadership.
3Probably not you. Probably.

Circling the drain

The brevity of my posts the last few days are a pretty good indication of where my head is. It’s not terrible, but I can see it from here.

Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I resent the fact you’re bothering me about how much liquid there is in a glass. If you can’t figure out out I don’t know why it’s my problem.

Here a cute picture of Mia and some stuffed animals that one of the cats dragged out. It might have been her, but they’ve all played with them enough that they’re all suspects. Every day she takes over just a little more and I love it. She’s a bright spot. The fact that I can still see bright spots is a good thing.

Man card on hold


I spent a lot of the day trying to install a new radio into Carla’s car. It all seemed to be going smoothly until I hit the point where I powered it on. Nothing. Probably a bad connection in the wiring harness. Redo tomorrow. 

Surprisingly little cussing. 

Man card renewal pending.

(Truth be told I can think of more than a few women I know who would have gotten this done in one try. So consider my tongue firmly in cheek.)

Bump in the road

I’ve never been anything resembling a morning person. I find more and more now that if I don’t get started on what I really need to get done in the morning it doesn’t get done. As the day goes on it’s like my head fills with cotton.

What I’m trying to say is that I had several things I wanted to do today and I didn’t get any of them done  One of them was the post about the great brisket cook.

Here’s a nice picture of s sunrise  I should reacquaint myself with these things.

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Full report tomorrow

It’s my birthday, so I’m not going to write a bunch.  It’s been a very nice one. I’ll write up the particulars tomorrow, but for the moment believe me when I say the brisket was worth the effort.

I’m taking the rest of the day off. Except for burping.

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Chance encounters of the purple kind

It was Christmas break 1981. I was home from my first semester of college. I got a call from the box office of the Houston Summit where I worked part-time as a ticket seller, but usually only in the summer. The manager, whose name escapes me now, explained that it was a little half-house show and given how close it was to Christmas it was a little tough to get anyone to come in. I was on the list to work the Willie Nelson New Year’s Eve show, so she knew I was in town and figured I’d like to get another night in. And she was right.

I loved working the Summit Box Office. I’d gotten on there because a lot of the folks from the Astrodome Ticket Office also worked up there and they always needed sellers for the Ringling Brothers Circus every year. It was a fun bunch. It’s where I learned that the plexiglass on the front of a ticket booth isn’t to protect the seller from the public, it’s to protect the public from the seller. I will never forget as long as I live the night one of my co-workers — a very experienced guy — completely lost it with a customer and went up on the counter. We had to pull him off the top and drag him back. He was reaching up under the plexiglass screaming he was going to kill the guy. The hardest part? Not cracking up laughing as we were doing it. He was to the left of me. The guy two windows down never stopped selling.  It was spectacular. It was also a couple of years after my current story.

So I get down there and buzzed into the office to get my drawer checked out. I passed a bunch of kids coming in and it was quite the fashion show. It wasn’t punk, really, but there was a lot of hair gel propping up structures that physics wouldn’t normally allow. It was a very androgynous. Somewhere along the line I picked up that the act was a “he.”

“Who is this guy?” I ask Rob, the assistant manager as I was checking out my drawer.

“I don’t know. Some guy named Prince.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, I never heard of him. Seems to be popular, though.”

Since it was only a half-house show we only opened one side of the box office. It wasn’t super busy. The kids came up, pushed their money over the counter and went on their way. There was a lot of time to make cracks about some of the outfits we saw. I was just out of high school myself, but what struck me was how young these kids coming to the show were.

There was a monitor in the main part of the office that showed what was being projected on the scoreboard in the arena.  Right around the time the show was supposed to start the manager came out to put out the promoter return tickets. I doubt it’s still this way, but in those days it wasn’t a bad strategy to walk into  a show right at showtime and get a ticket. If you got the right window there was a good chance that you’d get a ticket that the promoter didn’t give away for whatever reason. That’s one of the things that went away when Ticketmaster took over. Anyway, the show was just kicking off and she made a comment about how elaborate the stage was for a half-house show.  As the first set went on we heard the sound on the monitor being turned up. Windows were being closed one at a time, but I could hear through the door that no one was leaving.

When I finally closed up about a half hour in I saw what all the commotion was about. The stage was packed with gear and people. The music was intense and full of energy. The backdrop behind the stage was backlit and there was a multilevel catwalk silhouetted against it. In the middle of it all there was this tiny guy with hair a lot like what we’d been seeing in the crowd all night. He was everywhere. He’d moved like a jungle cat. The guitar seemed to be nothing more than another appendage. He’d play it, then sling it around and walk to some keyboards that someone else was playing. They’d vacate and he’d take over without missing a beat. Then he’d go running up onto the catwalk. He’d disappear behind the backdrop and the backlights would come up. There would be silhouettes of women and men with him and there would be these sexually-charged dances that were utterly mesmerizing. He must have worn layers of costumes because there were times it appeared he’d discarded all his clothing, but when he popped out from behind the backdrop he was fully dressed. Well, mostly anyway. More than you thought he’d be. If I could use only one word it would be ‘kinetic.’  If I could use another I woudn’t and I’d just say ‘kinetic’ again.

A bunch of us wound up going up and watching a lot more of the show. I didn’t stay to the end because I hadn’t really wanted to work too late. I don’t really regret it because by the time I left my brain was pretty much overloaded. I knew at the time I’d seen something special. I have never seen a show anything like it since.

And apparently I never will again

Rest in peace, oh Purple One.

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