29 January 2015

Attitude Dancing

A couple days after heart surgery, the marathon starts. By marathon, I mean the powers that be make you get up and start walking the floor at least three times a day. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. You do it every day, three times a day, no matter how exhausted you feel. You notice a lot of things walking the same floor over and over: the nurses’ station, the art on the walls, that there are actually other patients on the floor.

On one walk, I was noticing that the glass doors to the rooms had writing on them. One would say something like “do not disturb between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.,” another would say “Please check in with nurse before visiting,” etc. So, on my last day, I went back to my room, got the dry-erase marker from the board, and put this on my door. I wanted something upbeat and happy on my room door that people would see as they walked by. (I did the words, Matt provided the illustration.) 

A little while later, the door to my room opened. It was the manager of the floor. I figured I would get in trouble writing something that wasn’t officially sanctioned. “Did you write this on your door?” She asked. “Yes,” I told her. She smiled. “Thank you for writing a positive message.”

28 January 2015

Heart Surgery Update: Week Two

Here we are: two weeks post surgery. I’m happy to report I’m doing really well. I thought I would be stuck in bed out of the hospital, but that’s proven to not be the case. With little exception I’ve been up and about this past week. Some days I have more energy, some less; but either way, I’m not stuck in bed. Yeah! The excess water-weight I gained in the hospital (forty pounds) has been disappearing over time. I only have five more pounds to go until I’m back to my pre-surgery weight. Sigh! I struggled for years to keep my weight down, and one trip to the hospital sets me back years!

As of now, I’m still not allowed to drive or return to work. I’m meeting with my surgeon next week to hopefully get work clearance. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve seriously got too much going on to be just sitting around.

Matt continues to impress me with how much slack he’s been able to pick up in my convalescence. He made a super panko chicken dinner Monday night that was delicious -- especially now that my MIA appetite has finally begun to make a come back.

More updates next week.

Thank you for your continued thoughts and well wishes. :-)

24 January 2015

A Coincidence

When I was in high school, my best friend at the time (frankly, my only friend at the time) had parents who would become, over the next many years, like my second parents. They were both smart, sophisticated, cultured and willing to spend time with a young guy who relished being exposed to smarter, older, people and who they would treat with respect. As well, the house was filled from floor to ceiling with books. You have to like people who read.

I enjoyed spending time with the mother, Joyce; and the father, Don (pictured). We did all kinds of things together. I even taught Joyce how to polka in their cul-de-sac.

For my high-school graduation present, Don got me an inside, family-only tour of the computer company where he worked by lying and telling them I was his nephew. Yes, I called him “Uncle Don” during the tour, and was thrilled to do it. He died in 1996 of, it turns out, the exact same heart ailment I just had corrected through surgery.

And here’s why I’m telling you this:

After my heart surgery last week, I spent four nights in the ICU. For the fifth night, I was moved to the “step down” floor, where you go when you still need monitoring, but not as much as ICU. As I was being wheeled into my room, a nurse walked behind me. He was talking. His voice was exactly like Don’s. I tried to turn around to see him, but could only turn a small way and saw an apparition walk by: the nurse not only sounded like but looked just like Don. I told my nurse about this and asked him to ask the other nurse to come into my room -- which he did. I explained the odd coincidence and he got a kick out of it.

Because I had just been moved into my new room, they had to start up some IVs. My nurse was having a little trouble, so this other nurse, Mike, stayed to help. At one point, standing over me, Mike reached down and put his hand on my chest. I kid you not, I was possessed of the most amazing sense of relief, as if someone wanted me to know everything was going to turn out well.

Look, I know it’s all psychosomatic, that I so enjoyed chatting with someone who reminded me of a man I both respected and loved a great deal, that it wasn’t Don’s spirit coming to visit. I get that; but I also get that being flooded with that sense of relief made everything feel better.

UPDATE: Joyce died in February 2018.

23 January 2015

You Can Find Anything on the Internet

I’m at home now, recovering from open heart surgery. I know, it’s weird to write those words. It’s even weirder to be able to watch a video of a procedure similar to mine which you can see here. Although the surgery lasts about four hours, this video runs just under an hour. 

Highlights are: the sternum being opened (03:28), connecting the heart to the heart/lung machine (13:55), cooling the heart to stop it from beating (15:50), exposing the scarred septum tissue that will be cut away (19:05) and showing the section of scar that was removed (28:30). The rest of the video shows how they corrected the size of the mitral valve, which was not done in my case (my valve was partly replaced by a synthetic valve), closing after surgery, and restarting the heart (44:05).

15 January 2015

You Gotta Have Heart

I’m going in for open heart surgery today. Yup. Despite leading a relatively clean life -- never smoking, never drinking, never using drugs (and barely using prescription drugs) -- I end up with a genetic heart defect that necessitates surgery. The bad news is that I’ll be out of commission for up to two months, if everything goes well; the good news is, despite what so many people have thought, I actually do have a heart. So there.

This odyssey began more than five years ago. I’ll spare you the details aside from saying that three years ago my cardiologist said my heart was fine and nothing was wrong; yet last year my general doctor was so concerned with my heart murmur that she suggested I go back to the cardiologist. Which I did. And that’s when they found it. Oh, well.

The surgery involves cracking open my sternum, cutting open my heart and shaving off part of the septum (the muscle that separates the left and right chambers of the heart) because it’s gotten too big and interferes with the flow of blood. It’s a relatively common surgery with a huge success and survival rate, so my odds are good. In addition, they’ll be replacing one of my heart valves and maybe installing a microwave oven, or a pacemaker, I forget which.

I’ll be adding updates to this blog as I can, but it might be a while before I’m back in the saddle again, so to speak.

11 January 2015

When an Egg is More Than an Egg

When I was three or four, I remember waking up and finding my father on the couch in the living room. He wasn’t able to get up from the couch. He would have been about 30 or 31. Being so young, I didn’t understand what was going on, but it seems he had hurt his back at work the previous day and was trying to find a comfortable place to rest. Once he got down, he couldn’t get back up.

A little while later, the ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. I screamed and wailed when the medical staff loaded him into the ambulance. Our next-door neighbor, the woman who baby sat me while my parents worked, had to strain to hold me back.

Eventually, I got to understand that he had gone to the hospital to have surgery on his back. The surgery was a success, but his back problems lingered for the rest of his life.

I only remember visiting him one time. It was Easter Sunday. The hospital was a big and incomprehensible place for me. My dad was in a bed, people were rushing around, wearing white. Other people were in bed. I brought my father some eggs I had colored. He told me to give one of the eggs to the man in the bed next to him, which I did. The man was very young and very nice. Turns out he was from Germany. I think he was in the hospital because of a car accident. He had no family in America. He seemed very happy to have me talk to him and give him an egg.

Many years later I was talking to my dad about this episode and he said "Remember the guy you gave the egg to in the bed next to me? He died the next day."

03 January 2015

"Blackmail at Wrigley Field"

Yes, it's true: there are now FOUR James Murray Mysteries! (See link in the "My Books" section to your right.) 

James Murray is a young man with a dream -- he wants to be a writer just like his idol, Dashiell Hammett. He pens his first novel while working as a clerk at a swank downtown department store. He writes his second while working at a famous movie studio turning his first novel into a screenplay. His third novel chronicles his adventures trying to find a kidnapped scientist.

And now the fourth, and perhaps most dangerous adventure, brings him perilously close to someone who's blackmailing baseball players, threatening to take their money and expose their secrets. But James has other troubles: he’s not done very well since his girlfriend left him to pursue her own career. He’s fallen on difficult times and fallen hard. Can he help himself as he tries to help his new friends discover the identity of the blackmailers?

Blackmail at Wrigley Field -- like its predecessors Abduction at Griffith Observatory, Sabotage at RKO Studio and Murder at Eastern Columbia -- is unlike any other book you've read: Not a single novel, it's two parallel novels, featuring two heroes, working two mysteries in two different versions of 1930s Los Angeles. Join James and his alter ego as they each try to find the person behind the blackmail. His hard-boiled alter ego -- neither a private detective nor a police officer: just someone "who wants to help" -- needs to find out why ballplayers keep getting threatened and who might be behind it all.

Along the way, they encounter a rich cast of characters including a handsome young baseball player who’s been leading a secret life, a girl reporter with her own agenda, a hardworking man from China who lost his family in the influenza epidemic, a young deacon, a man with a drinking problem who might have the answer, a mysterious girl from Italy who harbors a tragic secret, an unsavory gangster with whom they have crossed paths before, and the beautiful girl who works at a boarding house who might be the one they’re looking for.

Blackmail at Wrigley Field is filled with twists and turns, leading to a final showdown in a spectacular mansion high above the city in the Hollywood Hills.

Come along for the ride in this, the fourth James Murray mystery: the story of a young man who dreams of something better.

01 January 2015

The Shape of Things to Come

I wake up this morning happy to be alive and enumerating the many wonderful things in my life. I’m excited about all the changes coming this year. I already know some of the changes to come, and am eager to see the changes I don’t yet know will happen. I have a new novel coming out this month (my tenth book!) and am, believe it or not, starting my tenth year with this blog! I just finished celebrating the twentieth year with my spouse, Matt and look forward to another wonderful year with him.

Please stay tuned to this blog so we can share some of the wonderful, and not so wonderful, things to come.