One Down, One To Go

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay 


Yesterday was my first of two COVID-19 vaccinations. Who knew getting needle-stabbed would be so eagerly anticipated, a celebrated milestone of this ongoing pandemic reality show?

Connecting this surreal experience to anything similar in my past was challenging. Between the calm, purposefully distanced elders in line contrasted with the high-energy, helpful county health workers moving us through the lines, I couldn’t help think about this slice of American hope, one courtesy of socialism.

With too many Americans falsely considering any form of socialism as the devil’s work, yesterday was an excellent example of why our democratic socialism works: public county health department and public workers delivering publicly provided free COVID-19 vaccinations to a public regardless of race, creed, color, or economic status. Maybe doubters will finally realize our lives depend on democratic socialism in too many ways to count here, and it’s a welcomed benefit of American life.

As I sat in my chair at the back of an elementary school’s cafeteria, safety distanced from others to wait out my 15-minute “what if” moment, I had time to think about the significance of this experience.

In our now-lost former normal times, elementary kids would be in this room, either during an indoor activity, or since it was around noon eating lunch and learning essential social skills: coping with others, trading lunch food (really Mom, PB&J again??), or hanging out with goofy friends.

That sad thought morphed into a sad empathy, realizing in my six decades on this planet, unlike some, I’d never had to endure bread lines familiar to my parent’s generation, or waiting in lines for food stamp, or water bottles after a natural disaster. Yet here I sat, dutifully waiting, complying, and patiently distancing while the monkey mind wondered if I’d die in the next 8 minutes from shot side effects.

I’m no stranger to shots or needles, at least the modern version of me. But at the end of my 10th decade, my lack of any shot or needle injection experience would soon change. Raised in a household with a religious exemption to such things, the only previous shots were the first-born ones like smallpox.

Before my memorable summer #10 would begin, the Navy transferred my father to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Navy didn’t allow our family’s religious exemption when transferred overseas, so I had some catching up to do. Every Saturday for eight weeks my Mom would drive me to the Navy clinic for shots: not just one, but one in EACH arm, for the next eight Saturdays. Yup, 16 shots in all.

Happy Navy family arriving…

As a boy raised not to cry but to “take it like a man,” those were testing Saturdays. Most, as I recall, weren’t that bad, but the Saturday I got the yellow fever shot (long needle) I recall seriously betraying my manly training. Despite the dread each week as Saturday approached, offset by Mom’s buying me an ice cream after (first life lesson that such rewards really don’t make up for the event), I survived and didn’t catch any nasty bugs during my two-years at Guantanamo.

Now my waiting clock resets, and the countdown begins toward shot #2. Its reward is the promise of ~90% risk-free, earned by my immune system kicked into learning-crazy mode from the pseudo invaders. It’s a science miracle this vaccine developed so quickly, but there’s still much work on it ahead. I’m in the camp that expects our future fall regimen will be a one-two protective punch from a flu, then a COVID shot for the foreseeable future.

I can now add yesterday to my short-list of “where were you…” events such as JFK’s assassination, the moon landing, and 9/11. But getting this vaccination, while brimming with hope, comes with a nagging fear that many will either refuse it, or worse, think they’re immune now and shed the masking/distancing.

I’ll keep the same personal protocols going, at least for now, and probably permanently adopt wearing a mask in high-density public situations. The shot gives me a new, glorious feeling that it will now significantly lower my risk against the worst. And that’s well worth a couple stabs in the arm.

Journal Bits – March 5

Occasionally I'll share unedited recent bits from my daily journal. These make nice fillers on days I'm not ready to post something I'm working on. Hope you enjoy and get some inspiration, value, or perhaps a chuckle from them.

Good talk this morning about writer’s block [w.b.]. My takeaway was that my denial this affliction does not exist for me, based on my definition of it not knowing what to write or can’t produce words on the page, had a hidden loophole I wasn’t seeing. I have [or have had, not lately!] the w.b. form of unable to just start writing. This is, in essence, a habit issue as it is a “how much do you want this?” issue. In the past I’ve waited on the right structure, a good time to do it, the right organization of the writing area, etc., as my procrastinative muse. Is that the truth of this? Are these valid reasons or is something going on hidden in my subconscious? I’m past the “can I be published” and “I should have more work to my name by now” regrets, but there may be more darkness to this lurking somewhere.

Embracing an attitude of common sense plus wait and see seems to be the program these days for most of my body’s aches, pains, and weirdness. Some issues react faster than others to this “get out of the way” approach, but all tend to improve or least lessen with this approach.

Looks like travel this year is camping, and based on heavy TV population these days, likely not going to state parks or formal campgrounds. Would like to find a cabin to rent, maybe even update NY and invite boys up for the weekend. Sticking closer to home this year until vaccinated and others state behaving sanely makes sense.

Glimmers of how I yearn for days to be consistent in lighting up corners of my thinking and awareness. Fore-front is the realization that only my lack of a habitual effort to daily take up pen, pencil, or keyboard block the path ahead. It isn’t organization, or waiting until task a, b, or c is complete: it’s me stopping and writing, regardless of peripheral or collateral distractions, influences, or demands. As I’ve often heard inside my head, “If it’s important to you to write, you’ll make it your top priority.” Humbleness is finally understanding that the what (sit down & write) tops the how (nice studio, chair, desk, etc., etc.). While all this seems d’oh obvious, apparently it’s eluded my importance radar for a long time. Perhaps no longer.

Mornings

Drove the housemate to the airport at 3:00 a.m. Tuesday, grateful it was less than 30 minutes away, unlike the 90-minute one-way airport runs from where I lived in Ohio. Up this early often jumpstarts a productive day, unless the inevitable napisodes later on interrupt the flow.

Driving back home in the pitch-black darkness, on a mostly deserted Interstate highway, I was thinking how much I love early, pre-dawn mornings: the quiet, the solitude, the chance to be alone with thoughts, and the comforting sense in these hours before daybreak that this new day brings possibilities and fresh starts.

Certainly this bizarre behavior and infatuation with rising so early, some might think, is merely an artifact of getting older. My younger self remembers witnessing very few sunrises, unless I’d already been up all night (ahem… college days, people, college days).

During my 2019 solo RV travels, making coffee and fixing breakfast early as the dawn broke, was close to a religious experience for me. Such starts felt like homage to the universe for allowing me to travel and roam. In the mountains, by a beach, or in a flat, viewless forested campground, many of my days back then began with this ritual. I’d usually follow with some morning pages journaling, then take a brief, brisk walk as nature’s light slowly revealed the world from the confusion of darkness into sunshine and clarity.

Now such moments consist of coffee and thoughts, sunrises slowly illuminating the world I contemplate outside my breakfast room, while wondering what this fresh day will bring.


Subscribers and Supporters greatly help my commitment to full-time writing. They never miss a new post or newsletter since they receive fresh emails when published. These encouraging souls remind me there are readers out there I’m writing for, and that awareness helps me create new content every day.

For those who can help a bit more, the cost of a cup of coffee each month covers becoming a Supporter. This helps defray my site’s cost while further supporting my indie writing and publishing efforts. Supporters receive extra benefits, including exclusive chapters from my two upcoming books plus the final, completed PDF versions. They also can access a growing set of journey portfolios: stunning photos of places I’ve traveled (e.g., Hawaii, Ireland, etc.). I’ll be adding more Supporter benefits in the months ahead.

A Message to WordPress Followers

There are a lot of folks who opted to “follow” my site versus subscribing to new post emails. This post update is exclusively for you.

In my redesign/repurposing of the site for the increased content ahead, I’ve made some changes:

  • Switched to a non-Wordpress service for email notifications which enabled the next item.
  • A new, free newsletter launched today that’s only available to subscribers or supporters, and not viewable to you as a follower (unless you’re signed up for one of those groups).
  • There is a newsletter only option here if you’d like to receive that but continue as a WordPress follower.
  • More content coming that won’t be viewable to those who only WordPress follow.

I’m not going to disturb the list of followers, if that’s what works best for you. But wanted to let followers know of the changes, and hope many will consider signing up instead of using the WordPress follow system.

I thank you for your continued support in following my adventures and writings.

If you’re interested, please consider one of the options here instead of the WordPress follow.

T-Minus 1 Minute

Arriving early for my stress test in June 2019, scheduled due to a bad EKG the day before, I sat in the waiting area intent on relaxing. I did some light meditation around acceptance until the tech called me in. Based on the EKG results and various symtoms during the months before, I knew something was amiss with my heart. The tipping point was the easy hike in Hawaii that felt like a 50-lb. monkey was sitting on my chest.

This was not my first rodeo, as they say. With my first stress test 4-5 years before, I knew the drill and how “fun” these could be as they wind up your heart rate while on a treadmill cruelly involving varying speeds and slopes. Back then it felt like the objective was to make me pass out, but in reality only to work my heart rate up to a specific target for a period of time. The theory behind the test is with a dye injected into your veins, then the CAT scan images before/after the stressing, they can see your good (or bad) “pipes.“

Despite wishing I wasn’t there, I was grateful how things had aligned and uncovered the issue through my long-time OD physician during a visit to my former Ohio hometown.

This time the approach was to get this 60-something’s heart rate up around 140 for about a minute. Sounds easy, but since I wasn’t feeling well, I had concerns whether the stress test would uncover the issue or kill me quickly.

Surprisingly, no doubt because I’d been hiking a lot in the preceding six months, I made it to the target point and held for the required time. Despite my legs feeling like rubber, my head light from the exertion, and my lungs working overtime, I finished. One of the two test nurses then helped me onto the gurney bed beside the treadmill. There I’d relax and recover until my blood pressure (BP) returned to pre-test levels. After that, they’d wheel me over to take CAT scan for my “after” glam shots

T-Minus 10 Minutes

The expected BP recovery back to normal after a stress test is about 5-8 minutes. But, after 10 minutes, mine had not dropped: it remained high as when I finished the test. This abnormal reaction caused a third nurse to come in and consult on how best to get my numbers down so the scan could proceed.

I chatted freely with the nurses and felt reasonably okay, but my BP was still stuck like a high-revved engine.

“Let’s give him five more minutes and that should do it,” said the new nurse after checking me out.

T-Minus 5 Minutes

Still no BP change, and now a fourth, and seemingly more experienced nurse, entered the room to join the team.

“Let’s give him some water and have him sit up a bit and see if that helps.”

T-Minus 2 Minutes.

Still. No. Change.

Now the nurses paged a cardiologist to examine me. He arrives quickly, notching up the expertise in the room and making me feel they’re taking good care of me. After a bit, he orders a nitroglycerin tablet and I take it.

T-Minus 1 Minute, 30 seconds

Within a blink of swallowing the pill, a wave of unusual feelings rush through every part of my body as the nitro dilates seemingly every vein in my body. Suddenly, I have blood and oxygen circulating like I was twenty again, and it was marvelous. Nothing hurt and all senses were now on 11. I felt like I could have run a marathon at that point. Apparently, my body was digging this new feeling like it was cocaine (ahem…or so I’ve heard). Pleased with the quick results, the nurses noted my declining BP as it approached pre-test levels.

Right about then, I turned ashen, and began to sweat profusely out of seemingly ever pore in my body. I barely had time to utter “I feel really weird” when it seemed like someone turned out the lights.

T-Minus 1 Minute

Time now seemed sped up.

My BP dropped below normal and kept falling until the monitor ]no longer read it.

I’m unable to respond to the nurses.

I’m unable to move any part of my body.

I can’t open my eyes to see.

But I can breathe. And I can hear everyone in the room.

Now there are two cardiologists and four nurses in the room working feverishly to stop the BP drop. As my breathing begins to slow, I hear the experienced nurse who‘d been trying to find my BP with her learned fingers and ears using the old-school cuff-and-bulb, scream out, “I have BP! 38 over 52.”

I vaguely remember hands quickly fussing with my IV port, later learning they’d injected a drug followed by some solution on full flow.

Finally, my breathing normalized and I slowly become aware of my body and could move my hands a bit. My eyes finally open and see 6 pairs of eyes staring at me intently from serious-looking faces.

Quick Recovery and The Fix

In a matter of minutes I seem back to normal and chatting with the team. After giving me another five minutes to be sure no further crash occurs, they wheel me in for the post-test scan, revealing a serious blockage in my widow-maker artery, leading to a subsequent successful stent insertion.

I was fully awake during the surgeons stent work and found it fascinating and awed by the technology and skill of the procedure. Quite amazing how he managed to thread that tiny metal tube with inflation balloon up through the chaotic venal network to the right spot to inflate the stent and the blockage.

Epilogue

While recovering from the procedure in my overnight room, one of the stress lab nurses stopped by, and we chatted about the event. At this point, I hadn’t had any feedback on what happened, and even while it was happening I was thinking I must have fainted or became too light-headed from the stress test.

She shared how concerned and worried they were when I wasn’t recovering or responding, and when I went into cardiac shock from the too-rapid opening of the veins and subsequent BP plummet, they went into emergency response mode. And while she obviously couldn’t come out and say it, after some clues and query, it seemed they had less than a minute to bring me back before a flatline.

My telling of the event comes from remembrance and this post-procedure conversation with the nurse. Until then, I had no idea it was a rare event. They always tell you before these kinds of things about the small chances of this or that going wrong, but who ever believes it could happen to them?

I pondered on all that had happened while in that hospital room overnight (not a lot else to do but think). I remember being calm during the event, and not panicked thinking “this is it.” I seemed fascinated with observing the experience and listening to the team work. Clearly I was at ease and trusting they would take care of me.

Weeks later I got confirmation from a neurologist friend on how close I was. I shared the events and remarked how odd I thought it was that only my breathing and hearing seemed to define me as I lay there on that gurney. She responded that those are the last two functions we have before we’re gone.

They say that some people know when it’s their time to go before they pass. I guess on that day it wasn’t my time because I didn’t see any bright lights nor that odd dude dressed in black carrying a scythe. I seemed to float through the experience and come out of it and back to the real world.