Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Jingle-Bell Heart

So Monday I was lying on this big, steel table with six catheters sticking in me.  Only one of them was sticking in where you think it was.  Another one disappeared into a tiny artery in my right groin.  Yeah, groin.  Get over it.  The other four - FOUR - were jammed into one, single, tortured vein in my other groin.  Collectively, those last four tubes were about the size of a fire hose.  Of course, I didn't know all this at the time.  I was in the Mayo Clinic, well beyond sedated.

For some years I have suffered from a discombobulation of the heart in which the intake side keeps forgetting what the output side is doing.  Generally, you want those two functions to be similar.  In plumbing, there is a natural law that says, "the shit going into a pipe must equal the shit coming out plus the shit caught in the pipe."  This universal truth ranks up there with toast always landing jelly-side down.  Over the years, I had become dis-enamored with getting shit caught in my pipes, so I signed on for an RF ablation.  If you are not familiar with this term, "ablation" is the process that, while a space capsule is screaming back to Earth, the front end gets so hot that it  bubbles up like melted cheese and burns away.  "RF" means "soldering iron."  Any questions?  Did I mention that all this takes place inside the heart at the working end of one of those fire hoses? 

I would like to announce that I am alive and doing well.  And the food at the Mayo Clinic is no better than at the local Golden Corral.

As a technical challenge, it turns out that cauterizing a couple of figure 8 paths inside a beating heart pales in comparison with sealing up those big holes in your groin left behind after the five catheters are yanked out.  Computers are not up to it.  Stitches, glue, they're not up to it either.  Instead, Mayo Clinic brings in a couple of defensive linemen from the Jacksonville Jaguars who plunge their fists so far into your groin that they leave knuckle prints in the steel under your weary ass.  Once they have stanched the blood flow down to a trickle, they install a couple of size 48-Long C-clamps and tighten them until your eyeballs bulge.  As a precaution, a nurse whispers in your ear, "Don't y'all move for the next six hours or you will surely bleed to death."

I slept poorly Monday night.

All of this is preface to what one of the other catheters was doing all this time.  It was taking pictures.  Specifically, it was taking the picture that follows.  This is what the inside of my heart looks like now, complete with two neat squiggles of scar tissue.  Yup - heart-shaped. The Christmas tree colors are because my cardiac team had a sense of humor that ran all amok.

So now I'm home, bruised, battered and sucking down Hydrocodone every five hours. Or maybe four.  My heart is kicking over at a comfortingly steady pace, and I have something funky to hang on next year's tree.  Life remains good.

Happy New Year.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Incident at a Coffee Shop

As you likely have already surmised, I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting outside coffee houses absorbing the essence of Florida.  If you do so long enough, blog material just leaps into your lap.  Yesterday I was enjoying a Grande Mocha at the local shopping center, seating myself at a difficult parking lot crossroad.  Although the intersection looks a lot like a 4-way stop, the road leading to and from the lot entrance in fact has the right of way by dint of no stop sign.

Enter old Mr. Joseph Schlesselman, whom you may recall from his recent dunking in the Gulf of Mexico.  I knew it was him* because he was driving that same old Mercury Marauder, the one with the waterline on the paint job.  Hunched over his steering wheel, he drove up to the stop sign at the crossroad.  I drank my mocha, knowing pretty well what would happen next.

Another car approached from the left, on the road with no stop sign.  Mr. S started to go, then , sensing danger, fumbled around in the foot well until he blundered onto the brake pedal, stopping quickly enough to bounce his noggin off the big steering wheel.  The other car breezed through the intersection without so much as slowing down or waving to the mildly concussed Mr. S.  (No stop sign, mind you.)

Mr. S exploded into a feckless fury at the rapidly disappearing car.  He cackled obscenities that even this adult-directed blogger blushes to recall, shaking his mottled fist and spraying spittle onto the distant Marauder windshield.  Boy, was he pissed.

Eventually, Mr. S recovered enough of his faculties to negotiate the intersection and herky-jerk his way into the first Handicapped space he saw.  I sipped my mocha as Mr. S scuttled into the liquor store.  Obviously, the story was not over.

On his return, pint-sized package in hand, Mr. S hopped - so to speak - into the old Merc and see-sawed his way back onto the roadway.  Now, however, he was on the main parking lot road, approaching the very intersection where his erstwhile adversary had run the non-existent stop sign.  The shoe, as it were, was on the other foot.  (Eagle-eyed readers will recall that Mr. S has a wooden leg.)

As I slurped down the last of my mocha, Mr. S blasted through the funky intersection like a high-balling freight train on a night run to Juarez.  By that time, Mr. S's alter ego was approaching the intersection from the other direction, threatening to T-bone the blithering Mr. S.  Alter-S hunkered behind the massive wheel of an ancient Lincoln with peeling leatherette top.  As Mr. S careened on by, Alter-S managed at the last instant to bumble across his own brake pedal, noggin-smashing and casting imprecations upon the hapless Mr. S for not stopping.

And so it goes.


* Legal disclaimer:  I suppose this may not have been the same hapless Mr. Schlesselman that drove into the Gulf a couple months back.  After all, there are other old farts driving old Mercury Marauders.  That does not make me feel a lot better.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


My Ten Favorite Things About Having a Nasty Chest Cold - - -

No. 10  .........  crap, I'm out of things already.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Slice of a Lifetime

A lot of things you do once in a lifetime - birth, death, circumcision, those sorts of things.  Speaking of being circumsized, I applied for Social Security today.

Our favorite government says on its website that the best way to apply for SS is on its website.  Then it refers you there.  Thus, the weirdness begins.

On is a button that says "Apply for Benefits."  You might expect an application to appear on-screen at this point, but you would be so desperately wrong.  What you get is a video that tells you how to apply.

On the video, in the finest government tradition, is a series of PowerPoint slides - yes, a video of slides - and an authoritative voice that reads the slides to you.  In case you are both illiterate and deaf, there is a button that provides Closed Captioning of the authoritative voice reading the slides.  Evidently, someone else would read the Closed Captioning to you.  If you are not only illiterate and deaf but also blind and stupid, there is a phone number, which you can get someone to dial for you while you sit drooling in a corner.  There's no doubt a video on how to do that.

"It's easy," says the video, "just make sure you read the instructions."  So you click on the instructions, which explain that you should type your name into the space labeled "Name," and progress to complicated issues like, "Are you married?  ___Yes ___No."  Still not sure what to do?  There's a video you can watch.

About halfway through the video for the second time, I began to suspect an endless loop of the "lather-rinse-repeat" variety, and so I disobeyed the authoritative voice and resumed searching on my own for the application form that I thought I had clicked on in the first place.

In the final analysis, getting circumsized by the government is easy.  The application, once you drill down to it, contains only a couple of dozen highly predictable questions.  It took me 10 minutes to complete.  But of course by that time I had been inspired by an hour or two of preparing to learn how to understand how to understand the instructions that explain how to begin to start to fill in the application.  Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Redundancy Department.

My first check should arrive in the mail any day now.  Along with a video explaining how to open the envelope it came in.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dear God, Give Me a Sign

Besides advertising that holds you down and kicks your ass, locals here are given to personal testaments that would never see the light of day in more organized communities. The first time I drove through Clearwater, last fall, I watched a young zealot manhandling a 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood down North Myrtle. He had invested hours painting his message in neat block letters:
Jesus Christ is coming SOON and
He is going to KILL
everyone who is not Born Again!!!
Born-Again-Man is likely the endpoint of a progression that starts down here with the ubiquitous sandwich board, on which an endless parade of sandwich-board-men and -women hawk everything from $5 foot-longs to a strip joint called Mons Venus. Outside the Pinellas County Sherriff's office last week was an otherwise normal-looking lady with a sign reading:

Police Unfair to Jaywalkers!

Carry-it-yourself messages are not the only medium in town. Newspaper classifieds here commonly publish squibs like:

Thank you, dear Lord, for punishing your enemies!

No doubt submitted - and paid for - by a relative of Born-Again-Man. The same relative may be responsible (if I can use that word) for:

Scientologists Suck!!!

Tampa Bay is a land where Scientology is half-revered, half feared. Also last week, a nearby pizza joint that routinely posts specials and menu items on its sign posted this plaintive appeal:

Happy 14th Birthday, Angela!
God Help Me!

Actually, I'm sure the comma was not in there, but I have considerable editorial discretion here. Despite an appalling absence of rigorous punctuation, personal billboards of all persuasions do have one common excess: exclamation points. I think the number of exclamation points is intended to convey the level of fervor for the sentiment expressed

Florida is perhaps the only state that approves of makeshift roadside memorials to loved ones who have departed this mortal coil via the windshield of a car. Paeans to Linda or Rocco or Satchel-Butt appear at regular intervals on most roads. The state apparently sees the signs as an effective, if macabre, deterrent, since a bureaucratically correct message is fixed to the top of each such memorial:

Drive Carefully!

It seems to me that the state's message would be more effective and certainly more personal if it were less generic. Depending on the cause of a crash, the topper sign might read:

Don't Drink and Drive!


Check your Brakes Soon!

Or perhaps Born-Again-Man could schedule an appearance at each such memorial, saying:

See? I Told You!

I could be wrong, but I don't think so.