Saturday, March 28, 2009

Creative Process

There was the most amazing set of poems in the March 16 New Yorker by John Updike. Written in November and December 2008, a few months before he died, they reflect his last recorded thoughts about his illness. Or at least, the ones I know about.

What struck me is that these were either written in his hospital room, or at home between stints on the oncology floor. He was turning out still more work, converting his experiences into art, instead of bemoaning his fate. What did I do in the hospital a couple of weeks ago? Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t involve crafting amazing images to convey the meaning of those events.

Usually, I keep a notebook on my hospital bedside table to track the comings and goings of my doctors, vital signs, and random insights. (“Usually”? How sad to couple that word with “hospital”.) Anyway, composing poetry is not paramount at those times. Watching out for myself and not annoying the nurses are activities that generally top the list.

Here are the last ones in the set, apparently written on December 22, 2008:

Needle Biopsy
By John Updike

All praise be Valium in Jesus’ name:
a CAT-scan needle biopsy sent me
up a happy cul-de-sac, a detour not
detached from consciousness but sweetly part—
I heard machines and experts murmuring about me—
a dulcet tube in which I lay secure and warm
and thought creative thoughts, intensely so,
as in my fading prime. Plans flowered, dreams.

All would be well, I felt, all manner of thing.
The needle, carefully worked, was in me, beyond pain,
aimed at an adrenal gland. I had not hoped
to find, in this bright place, so solvent a peace.
Days later, the results came casually through:
the gland, biopsied, showed metastasis.

Fine Point
By John Updike

“Why go to Sunday school, though surlily,
and not believe a bit of what was taught?
The desert shepherds in their scratchy robes
Undoubtedly existed, and Israel’s defeats—
the Temple in its sacredness destroyed
by Babylon and Rome. Yet Jews kept faith
and passed the prayers, the crabbed rites,
from table to table as Christians mocked.

We mocked, but took. The timbrel creed of praise
gives spirit to the daily; blood tinges lips.
The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas,
saying, Surely—magnificent, that “surely”—
goodness and mercy shall follow me all
the days of my life
, my life, forever.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Waking up

So I went back to work on Monday after a leisurely five days off with my “procedure”. I felt really logy, walking around in a fog. If I drove somewhere, I was surprised at how uncoordinated I was, and would hurry home before anything happened. I kept slogging along, and then finally, I woke up on Thursday morning in more ways than one. At last I felt like myself: rested, alive and ready to go. I realized that it was the long sleep under anesthesia the week before that had taken so long to wear off.

The doctor ordered no exercise for a week, so as soon as my sentence was up, I jumped in the pool at work and did my regular half mile. I was quite proud of myself. The exercise bike is seeing some action, and next week I’ll be back into my regular rhythm.

I’m sure you were all glued to the set on Friday night, following the Cleveland State University Vikings basketball team in the NCAA tournament. Ohio State (who?) was playing at the same time, but they had the CSU game on a different channel so we could see it without interruption. As I’ve always said, my favorite team is whoever is playing Ohio State—lowly Siena beat them in the first round. Not sure CSU will get past Arizona, but I’m glad they got this far.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It’s always in the last place you look

This past week was my big heart health event. I had my TEE on Monday, where they run a camera down your esophagus to look at your heart, and then the “procedure” on Wednesday. It’s properly a PVI—a pulmonary vein isolation.

There was an electrical problem in my heart that would send me to the ER at odd moments. There didn’t seem to be a particular trigger. Sedentary reading could set it off. Walking down the hall—completely random. The electrophysiologist was 70% sure he could fix it so we gave it a try.

They put me under general anesthesia instead of the usual “twilight” state that they use. Good thing too, since the whole thing lasted eight hours. When I woke up, the doctor said he’d found the problem and fixed it. He was about to give up when he got one more idea about where to look and that did it.

Eight hours! That was impressive. He never took a break; just kept on working straight through. Kathy and her sister were waiting that whole time without a single word of his progress or lack thereof. He did warn us that that could happen and that they shouldn’t read anything into it. Also, they take the family into a separate room to explain the results, and again they were warned that the private session did not imply that any disaster had occurred.

He said that I was “tough”. Imagine that. My blood pressure stayed steady through the whole deal—guess all that swimming and biking paid off.

When I got to the room, I was woozy and kind of out of it. Then the phone rang. Stupidly, I picked it up.

“Hello?” says I, groggily.
“Arak?” a gruff voice barked.
“You have the wrong room.”
Click. He hangs up, no word of apology.

This happens three more times, with calls for three different people. Finally, after the fourth call, this woman says, ‘”Oh, they moved him, huh?” I said, as politely as I could, “Ma’am, I just came out of eight hours of surgery. I have no idea.” She at least apologized, and that was it, since they turned the phones off on the floor at that point.

A pair of nurses came in to introduce themselves. Get this: They were named Faith and Sara. I love it! God’s gift to us, and God’s faithful servant. And there they were. I knew I was going to be fine.

Of course they checked my vitals every half hour—I mean it—they were in there every thirty minutes all night. So sleep was impossible.

The next day I was a sleep deprived goof. I was supposed to be discharged by 11am, but my neck was bleeding where they had put in a catheter. It took them five hours to get the bleeding stopped. There was a hierarchical parade of nurses, residents and one of the partners in the practice as they each tried a remedy. Finally, the partner came in with some needles and injected lidocain and epinephrine (Nora Ephron?) and for some reason, that did it.

So, much prayer brought us all through this. We thank God for his Spirit, guiding the doctor, giving him “one more idea”.

Now if I could only wake up.

Friday, March 06, 2009

It's my birthday

Today is my 59th birthday. This means I am still in my 50’s, in case anyone asks.

So what did I do on my big day? Stayed home from work and napped. Does this sound like something an old person would do? To be fair, I am recovering from a bad cold which went to a sinus infection, as my colds are wont to do. It was a good call, since I do feel better. I saw my regular doctor last night for some antibiotics and that seems to be working.

I am reading “The White Tiger” by Aravind Ariga. It won the Man Booker prize—an award for fiction for writes from the British Commonwealth and Ireland. It took me a while to get into it. My daughter and I have rules for books. Give it a hundred pages—if you can’t get into it by then, forget it. This one was oddly seductive. It draws you in and before you know it, you’re speeding along with the story. Give it a try.

Cardiac News Department: On Monday I have a TEE (transesophageal echocardiogram) scheduled. It’s the third one I’ve done so far. The last one was about ten years ago, though. I do remember you have to gargle with this stuff to freeze your throat, then they spray your throat with something to numb it further, then they sneak up on you and slip a camera down your gullet before you realize they’ve done it.

On Wednesday, I go to the hospital for the ablation procedure. They will try to induce the arrhythmia that typically sends me to the ER. by using my pacemaker to fiddle with my heart’s electrical system. “Fiddle” of course is a technical term. If they can do it, they’ll stick a laser thingie (another technical term) in there and burn out the offending circuits. The doctor is “70%” sure he can do it. If it doesn’t work, I guess they’ll stop and that’s it. I’ll have to ask if they can try again when the rhythm kicks in naturally next time.

Work was so busy lately that I didn’t really think about next week. Now I am free to obsess all I like.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Made another one!

The 30th Annual Spring Career Fair is in the books. We had 1,519 people through the doors and 138 organizations there. The attendance for candidates was a new record, eclipsing the old mark of 1304 from a couple of years ago. The number of employers was the lowest in many years, though. Counting the number of employer representatives, the number of candidates and the number of Career Services Center staff, we figure we had 2,000 people in the gym on Friday.

This year was especially hard on me for some reason. I was dead on my feet when I began work on Friday at 6:30am. I felt the way I usually feel at the end of the fair, but it was only just beginning. Fortunately, we have a pretty good crew who did what they were supposed to do and everything worked out well.

I told everyone how I had woken up at 2am worrying about things I had forgotten to do, and the wind was howling outside and the rain was lashing the windows and I was so distracted, that I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I began to pray. I asked the Holy Spirit to settle over the building where we hold the Fair, and to grant us wisdom and peace—and He did. Ordinarily there are small moments of panic when someone comes up to me and asks for something I had forgotten to get, or there is some error I’ve made that scrambles things momentarily, but there was none of that this year.

On Saturday following the Fair, after sleeping for nine and half hours, I got up, took the car to shop at the end of our street for an oil change, walked home, sat for a while, walked back up to get the car and then fell into bed for another three hours of unconsciousness. Today, Sunday, I am feeling a little better, but probably shouldn’t operate machinery or make major life decisions for another twenty-four hours or so.