Matters of the Heart, Part 4

When we speak about matters of the heart, our heart skipping a beat, being heartsick about something, being broken hearted, etc., we’re talking emotions, not our physical hearts.

As you know now, this series is about physical heart. The muscle that sustains our very life. The type of heart issues which can be life threatening.

As you read previously in Matters of the Heart, Parts 1, 2, and 3, my husband has experienced heart issues since we were married a little over 34 years ago, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two. He’s had two open heart surgeries and numerous other cardiac procedures that we didn’t really know existed until he had to have them. And we’ve learned a lot more we you ever wanted to about heart problems.

After the pacemaker episode in the summer of 2013, I really thought things were stable; that we wouldn’t have any more issues. That all we’d need to do was keep up with regular doctor appointments, and everything would be fine.

Well, it was a nice thought.

And over the past several years I have learned there is no assurance that the problems are ever totally solved; that there will be many other times that his heart decides it’s moving out of regularity and into a whole other area of problems.

After the pacemaker episode, things began to normalize to a degree. We had our daughter’s wedding to plan, along with all the festivities involved. We were so thankful Ben was healthy and able to host their engagement party just a few short months after we’d almost lost him. After all, the Father of the Bride is a very important participant in the wedding! And Ashley and her dad are very close.

But Ben being Ben, I later learned there were things going on with him as the big day grew closer that he elected not to tell me. Or Ashley. Or anyone, for that matter, including his cardiologist!

Nor did he voluntarily tell me until a few weeks after Ashley and Chris’ wedding (which was beautiful and perfect!) when he was noticeably having trouble walking a couple of blocks to an auditorium for a graduation event. I questioned him about it, and his answer shocked me. “It’s like the nurse said; all the fluid buildup is causing me to have breathing problems, and I can’t walk that quickly.”

Nurse? What nurse?

Oh, the doctor appointment you forgot to tell me about!?? What else did she say??!! Oh, that if it gets worse you need to get to the hospital….??

That was on a Friday afternoon. He insisted on going to our daughter’s best friend’s pre-graduation dinner after the white coat ceremony we attended for her (a very important part of the graduation process for medical professionals), but the next morning when his breathing was so much worse we ended up in the hospital emergency room instead of attending her actual graduation ceremony.

Imagine how we felt when they rushed Ben through a series of tests…chest X-rays, blood work, EKG, etc., and were told he had congestive heart failure. And that very combination of words sounded to me like a death sentence. I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good. We were both scared.

Simply put, congestive heart failure, or CHF, is a condition in which the heart is working harder then it should be, but still isn’t pumping at its full capacity. Because of this, fluid builds up around the heart and in the lungs, which makes breathing more difficult, and the heart work harder. Ankles, legs, and abdomen swell. Lightheadedness, dizziness, and exhaustion are also common. And yes, he had all of those symptoms as well.
Without treatment, the prognosis isn’t good.

CHF is not curable. Once you have it, you can only manage it. You’ll always have it, although you can control it by diet, exercise, and medication.

Because of the huge amount of fluid already built up in his body, he was immediately put on IV medication to cause him to eliminate the fluid, which meant several bathroom visits per hour. During the first two days in the hospital he lost probably 6 pounds of fluid, and a total of 14 pounds before he was released after almost a week.

Fortunately, at least so far, he’s been able to manage it. He’s on fluid pills twice a day, religiously counts the sodium in each meal to avoid going over 2,000 mg per day, weighs himself almost daily to be sure his weight remains stable, and tries to walk as much as possible each day. He sees his doctor every three months as well.

But there are still times the fluid starts to build up again, even with the pills, and the dosage has to be increased. It’s a never ending cycle. And yes, I always worry when he has problems starting to develop again. I can’t help it.

However, CHF isn’t the only issue we’ve recently been dealing with. And when it involves the heart, it’s not minor in any way.

And it continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 5, to be published March 6.

Making That Ultimate Decision

In the past several months we have had two friends in that ultimate life or death situation. A situation that none of us would ever want to be in, on either side.

Two people experienced catastrophic medical events which resulted in irreparable brain injury. Their bodies still functioned, but brain activity was minimal. Their loved ones had to make a choice; the most difficult choice any one could make.

Medical science has progressed in so many ways, and continues to do so on a daily basis. Today people are being saved from any number of horrible accidents and diseases that even five years ago would have been fatal. They may have life altering injuries which require months of rehabilitation to enable them to return to an active, although sometimes changed, lifestyle, but they are able to continue their life with their family and friends.

Unfortunately medical science cannot repair damaged brain cells. It cannot rejuvenate them, or replace them. When the brain is denied oxygen during a major medical crisis, brain cells begin to die. And although doctors can do amazing things to pull people through these horrific episodes, sometimes they just cannot.

Their brains are still functioning enough to operate most of their organs, with help of advanced medical equipment, but the essence of who they are, who they were, cannot be restored. They cannot breathe on their own. They cannot “eat” without a feeding tube. They cannot see what’s around them, because their eyes can no longer open, or if they do, we have no idea if they are seeing, and if what they do see even registers on any conscious level of their minds.

Yet their bodies function, and the minimal brain activity tells us they’re still living; still with us. Our minds tell us they can get better, because we desperately want them to. We want them to be who they were before that catastrophic event that changed everything.

But sometimes it just cannot happen. And we are forced to make decisions that no one should have to make.

There are two sides to this issue, and I can understand both of them. There are many people who say that under no circumstances should their loved ones be shut off from any chance of life; that there can always be a miracle, and that person can wake up and be him or herself again. I appreciate their faith, and I understand it. I totally get it. In that circumstance I’d probably feel the same way, at least in the beginning.

Unfortunately in such severe cases as I’m describing, there is no miracle on the horizon. Yes, it always could happen, and I don’t dispute that.

But let’s talk about the person in the hospital bed who is the one hooked up to life supporting equipment; the person who cannot function at all without that equipment. If he or she could talk to us, what would that conversation be like?

What would you want to tell your loved ones if you were in that situation? Trapped in a body that would never work properly again? And your mind, the essence of you, if any part were still functioning to understand what was happening, what would you say?

Would you want to be trapped in a body that you have absolutely no control over? Would you want to exist not being able to speak, to move, to see, to do any of the things you used to enjoy? Would you want to exist in this new world in which you found yourself, with no chance of ever leaving this new world because of medical science? Confined to this one small space?

Or would you want to go home to the Lord, finally free of the suffering, finally and beautifully restored with a new body and a whole intact mind?

That’s the choice we have to consider. Because when our loved ones cannot decide any more, we are forced to make that decision. And it’s a gut wrenching, grievous, and irreversible decision. One that we can wrestle with for days, sometimes weeks, before deciding.

While our loved ones remain trapped in that twilight world we cannot imagine. And we have no idea what, if anything, they consciously know. We know we don’t want to make a final irreversible decision; but sometimes we have no choice.

We pray. We cry. We talk to the doctors. We pray more. We ask others for guidance. But in the end, we are forced to make that ultimate decision. And it’s far from easy; far from simple. And it’s a decision that must be lived with the rest of our lives.

It’s extremely hard to do the right thing, and no matter what decision is made, it will be questioned many times over. Because we’re human and we will always have those moments of self doubt.

In these two situations, neither person had an advanced medical directive. They had talked about it, but like so many of us, they just “didn’t have time” to get it done. They thought they had all the time in the world. Until their world irreparably changed, and they could no longer make that choice. One person passed away on their own, before the choice had to be made. The other, well, loved ones had to make the choice.

My heart cries for all of those involved, not just in these cases, but in the countless others every day. And I cannot judge anyone’s decisions in these situations.

I know what I would want done, and both my husband and I have advanced directives which clearly spell out our wishes.

It wouldn’t make such decisions easier, but it would make it better for our loved ones. I pray they will never need to be used.

Think about it before you judge or criticize. Put yourself in their places.

May the Lord bless each and every person who has or is going through this situation. May you be comforted with the hope and assurance that one day you will all be reunited. And know that the decisions that were made were the right ones.

Matters of the Heart, Part 3

When we speak about matters of the heart, our heart skipping a beat, being heartsick about about something, being broken hearted, etc., we’re talking emotions, not our physical hearts.

But this is not about emotions, although as you will see, emotions were very much a part of this particular episode.

This is about the heart. The physical heart. The muscle that sustains our very life. The type of heart issues which can be life threatening.

As I wrote previously in Matters of the Heart, Parts 1 and 2, my husband has experienced heart issues since we were married a little over 34 years ago, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two. He’s had two open heart surgeries and numerous other cardiac procedures that we didn’t really know existed until he had to have them. And you learn a lot more than you ever wanted to.

After the cardioversion I wrote about last, we thought everything was going to be smooth sailing. That our worries were over.

That’s what we thought.

Until a few years later when the A-fib returned. The doctors tried several medications which stopped it for awhile, but once again he had to undergo another cardioversion procedure. We weren’t quite as scared that time, but any time your heart is undergoing a surgical procedure, you’re nervous. Who wouldn’t be?!

Fortunately this one was successful as well, and we went a few more years without any issues.

Until he unexpectedly passed out at his office one morning. And called me from the ambulance complaining that everyone at work had forced him to go! (I was later told when he passed out he hit his head so hard on the floor those who heard it thought he’d cracked his skull!)

Doctors found nothing wrong; they said it could be a low blood sugar episode, or a quick drop in blood pressure, but nothing really concrete. His heart rhythm was fine. So he went back to work the next day. When he almost passed out the following week, he went to his primary care doctor, who couldn’t find anything wrong either.

Then came the early morning at home when he passed out while getting ready for work. Three times in a row. I didn’t hear him since the bedroom door was closed, and I was still asleep. I always keep my cell phone beside the bed, and he texted me to come help him. Fortunately I heard the phone….

When I got to his bathroom he was on the floor, lying in the doorway, dizzy, and breathing hard. I was terrified. I called 911, and I’m sure I sounded hysterical. Our daughter still lived at home, and I yelled at her to come help me with her dad so I could put my contacts in and throw on clothes to follow him to the hospital. And she was as scared as I was.

Fortunately the EMT’s got there quickly, made sure he was stable, and got him down the stairs and in the ambulance, telling me he was going to be ok. The hospital is only 5 minutes away from our house, and for some reason when they told me, “if we pass Princess Anne Hospital we’re taking him to Beach General. Just come there, but don’t follow us through the red lights,” I didn’t really think about what it could mean.

And that ambulance didn’t take their time, that I will tell you! I was relieved when they pulled in to the emergency room at the closer hospital. Both Ashley and I jumped out of our cars and ran in, bypassing security, and met everyone in the room they already had set up for him, where about 6 ER staff members were waiting for him. I should’ve known then how serious it was.

We watched as they hooked him up to more machines then I could imagine, working quickly, as if his life depended on it.

I had no idea how true that was.

And as they hooked up the last wires to the electric paddle machine, it happened. As my husband was talking to everyone, suddenly his eyes rolled back in his head, he fell back on the pillow, and began making a horrendous rattling, gurgling sound. And the heart rhythms weren’t registering on the monitor.

I froze.

Fortunately the team in the room didn’t. I have never witnessed such a display of coordination, everyone working together at the same time doing different jobs without having to be told how to react. Obviously this team knew what they were doing, and had most likely done this many times before.

And in what seemed like hours, but was most probably seconds, they began the life saving procedures that very literally saved my husband’s life.

There was no time for them to ask Ashley and me to leave, as the paddles were quickly turned on to restart his heart. A lot of it is still a blur, but we do remember the doctor apologizing to him for the pain he was going through, as the electric impulses traveled through his body, causing him to jump and flop around on the gurney. There was no choice. At one point Ashley grabbed his ankles to try to stabilize him somewhat, while he continued to jump around on the gurney, almost like a frog being electrocuted in a testing lab.

It seemed to last forever, and all I could do was sit and watch and pray that he’d be ok; that he had to be all right to be able to walk our daughter, who’d just gotten engaged, down the aisle. I couldn’t even move off the chair.

At one point, the doctor came over to him, and apologized for what he was going through, but added, “Mr. Newell, you are not going to die on my watch!” That’s the only thing, aside from the pain, that he remembers.

A few minutes later his cardiologist arrived along with his partner, and told him he needed to have a pacemaker, and they were trying to get a time scheduled as quickly as possible, for that day. Ben immediately told him he wanted a second opinion. I can still very vividly remember the doctor telling him, “Ben you already have two second opinions. My partner’s and your wife’s!”

Fortunately he came through that ordeal. And so did Ashley and I. One of my best friends arrived shortly thereafter, who’d been an EMT for a number of years. She happened to see the EKG strip the ambulance attendants had left in the room, and when she read it, she told me we’d been extremely lucky, because he was in very bad shape when he’d been brought in.

Thank goodness he hadn’t coded at home, because I truly don’t know if I could have remembered my CPR training. I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.

The rest of the morning he was drugged to the gills on morphine, and hooked up to an external pacemaker until his doctor could get the OR scheduled to implant the pacemaker which has literally saved his life.

But God certainly has a sense of humor, and after the surgery was scheduled, and he was sent to the ICU to wait for the procedure, we all laughed ourselves silly at the things he said (from the morphine, of course) about seeing a woman in his room eating a sandwich, watching huge bugs crawling all over the walls, searching for his glasses that were right beside him, wanting to make phone calls to clients to talk about their mortgage applications (he couldn’t even remember their names), continuing to argue that he wanted a second opinion before he’d consent to the surgery, and at the same time jumping and asking us, “did you feel that?” as the external pacemaker kept shocking his heart back into normal rhythm every few minutes and literally keeping him alive.

How could we laugh after that ordeal? I can only say, it was our reaction to the stress and adrenaline rush of those first hours. A way of calming all of us down, including Ben, from a very frightening and traumatic episode. Yes, we were still worried; very much so. And we tried to distract each other in order not to think about it.

The pacemaker surgery took place early afternoon. It was a short procedure, and he did quite well, although the meds still were making him say crazy things, and telling visitors he was going to have the pacemaker taken out the next day because he wanted a second opinion…

That was a day I never want to repeat. Nor does he. After the pacemaker was implanted and working properly, he went home the next morning, resuming his normal activities in a few days.

Unfortunately that still wasn’t the end of my husband’s cardiac adventures. When rheumatic fever sets out to harm the heart, its aftereffects last for a lifetime. As we continued to discover.

And it wasn’t that much later that his heart issues reared their ugly heads once more….

More to come on Matters of the Heart, Part 4, to be published February 28.

Just One More Day

All of us who’ve lost a loved one have said this, and said it many times.

“If I could have just one more day with you…a special day we’ve already had that we could relive…how wonderful that would be! I remember the day we……”

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago who had recently lost her mother, and we were discussing particular times and events we particularly remembered with our moms, and reminisced how wonderful it would be if we could just live a few of those special times over again.

Which, of course, got me thinking about a very special time with my mother. I remember it so well, down to so many details….

What day do you remember that you’d like to relive one more time with your loved one?

For me, the answer is simple: my mother’s 92nd birthday. Why that particular day? Because it was one of the last times her memory was actually clear. One of the last times she allowed herself to enjoy having a birthday. She never wanted anyone to know it was her birthday, let alone make a big deal of it; she always said it was just another day. But this day was one of the very last times my mom, my daughter Ashley, my aunt (Mom’s sister), and I were together and able to have fun and laugh together like schoolgirls.

My mother’s memory had been slowly fading for a few years, and I had no idea how much longer we would be able to leave her by herself. Ashley and I had come to visit her for a few days so we could be with her on her birthday.

The day didn’t start well. Mom saw me putting presents in the car and thought it was her sister’s birthday, and was upset she didn’t have anything for her. I had to explain that it was HER birthday, and the gifts were for her, not her sister. She ignored that statement, or else didn’t really understand what I’d said.

We got to the restaurant and went to our table. At first Mom was really depressed and quiet, and it was hard to carry on a conversation with her. My aunt and I talked, while Ashley tried to get her grandmother interested in something. She told her about her own 16th birthday she’d just celebrated, even though she’d already told her several times, so they decided to celebrate Ashley’s birthday!

Suddenly the mom I’d always known was back! The mom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. She started talking, and even eating her lunch (which she didn’t ever enjoy doing), and by the time the waitress brought out her birthday cake, she was laughing and even smiling! Something she hadn’t done in so very long….. I took so many pictures of her that day, and she didn’t mind, like she usually did. She even blew out the candles on her cake and helped serve it! Usually she’d sit there and let someone else do it because she didn’t want anyone to know what was going on.

At one point my aunt spilled her coke, and some of it went in the cake, and my mom laughed more than I’d seen her do in years! We stayed at the restaurant for so long, I was beginning to think they’d try to kick us out. One of the presents I’d bought her was a book called “A Mother’s Legacy”. It was full of questions for her to answer so we could always remember things about her and her childhood. She and her sister had a wonderful time with it, reading and answering almost every question in it, and laughing like teenagers, having a wonderful time, just like we all used to all do. Mom had more energy than I’d seen in ages.

It was a wonderful day. And for that time, as brief it was, I had my mother back, the way she used to be before the aging process started stealing her memories. It was truly a gift from the Lord, and I have thanked Him so many times for this special day. I’d gladly relive it as many times as possible.

We never know when the time will come that our loved ones will no longer be here with us. Each day with them is a gift to treasure. Because those days are numbered, and one day we will all be wishing for that one special day to be repeated.

What day would you relive with your loved one if you could? Please feel free to share in the comments below. We’d love to share your memories.

Hey, Cupid! It’s Been Another Year!

“Did you forget something?

Like that certain person I’ve been waiting for? I didn’t have him/her last year, and you said just wait. Next year will be different. Trust me, you said.

So Valentine’s Day is almost here. And guess what!? I’m still single. Still by myself. And there’s no one on the horizon. Again.

Cupid, I really, really don’t like Valentine’s Day. And I’m starting to really not like you!”

Is that you? Are you feeling that way? Again?

It’s been a long year since last Valentine’s Day. You were so glad when it was over last year. And you really thought this year would be different.

But it’s not.

You still cringe when you walk by the huge display of cards with all the red hearts in the stores, each one seeming to be yelling at you and saying, “You still can’t buy me, can you?!” And you want to go over and grab a bunch of those cards and rip them in half.

Or you go to lunch or dinner with friends and see all the signs advertising valentine dinner specials for two, and decide you won’t go back to that restaurant again, at least for several months!

And yes, there are all those florist ads and diamond commercials reminding everyone if you’re planning on proposing to your special someone this Valentine’s Day, there’s still time to get that amazing ring……

You really don’t need that reminder, do you?

This is the time of year that constantly reminds my single friends that they’re just that. Single. By themselves. Alone. And most of them hate it.

I know how that feels.

I was in that same place for several years. I hated it. I hated being alone. I was lonesome. Valentine’s Day was one of the worst days. It seemed everyone around me was getting flowers, cards, and talking about all the great things their special someone was doing for them that day and how they were celebrating that evening.

It hurt. It stung. And it made me feel terrible, unloved, embarrassed, unworthy, and miserable. Which caused me to make mistakes with dating, and actually resulted in a disastrous marriage to an abusive man that fortunately lasted less than a year.

Why? Because I became desperate. And desperate people make poor decisions. I ignored warning signs. I thought they’d go away, or I could live with them. I changed as much about myself as I could to conform to what I thought he wanted. Just to not be alone.

Boy, was I wrong!

Fortunately I got away before things got really bad, and I realized there were things a lot worse than being alone, being single. And I decided it was better to be single and happy with my life, than married and miserable.

If that decision had been made around Valentine’s Day I would’ve bought myself my own valentine card, reminding me I really loved myself. Probably bought my own bouquet of flowers. Maybe even a box of candy. And celebrated finally loving myself and being happy to be me, and not trying to change myself to become someone I’m not, just to be in a relationship. If he didn’t care about me the way I thought I cared about him, well, he wasn’t worthy of me!

I’d wait for someone who was. I stopped looking. And discovered who I was.

And shortly after that I met my husband, and the rest is history.

Now I know you’re thinking, “but you don’t know how I feel. You don’t understand.” Yes, I do. So re-read what I wrote a few paragraphs ago.

Interestingly enough, both our daughter and her husband refuse to celebrate Valentine’s Day. According to them, why should we be forced to show someone we love them on only one certain day a year? Shouldn’t it be every day? It’s just a holiday made up for card stores and florist shoos to make money!

Something to consider….

Don’t let one day make you miserable for a month. It’s one day. Tomorrow it’ll all be forgotten. The Valentine cards will be replaced with leprechauns, bunnies, and colored Easter eggs.

And quite possibly a lot of those celebrants who looked like their Valentine’s Day was perfect…they resumed lives that really aren’t all that perfect, and all that happy. Many of them threw away those cards because they really didn’t mean what they said.

Think about that for a few minutes. Maybe the valentines in someone else’s home aren’t as loving aNd heartfelt as you think.

I know you thought this year would be different, and I’m truly sorry it isn’t. But I’m also here to tell you that when you least expect it, it’ll happen. All in its own time.

Don’t try to make it happen. Don’t force it. Life is too short to be unhappy, and too short to waste it with the wrong person because you settled for second or third best.

Matters of the Heart, Part 2

When we speak about matters of the heart, our heart skipping a beat, being heartsick about something, being broken hearted, etc., we’re talking emotions, not our physical hearts.

But this is not about emotions, although they do play a huge part in it, but….

This is about the heart. The physical heart. The muscle that sustains our very life. The type of heart issues which can be life threatening.

As I wrote previously in Matters of the Heart, Part 1, my husband has experienced heart issues since we were married a little over 34 years ago, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two. His first open heart surgery experience was frightening for both of us, but after 16 or 17 years with perfect checkups, we’d all but stopped thinking about the possibility of a second such operation.

Even his chest scar had faded to the point we almost didn’t even notice it anymore.

Until the day he walked up the stairs as usual and suddenly became exhausted and out of breath. At first we figured it was just because he was tired.

Until it continued for several days, worsening a little each day. Then came the morning he asked me to go up with him for prayer at church and started the conversation with the prayer counselors with, “Deborah doesn’t know this yet but I’ve been having pains in my chest for several days….”

Not again! I guess he figured I couldn’t get mad at him by telling me like that! Well I certainly did, but that was beside the point right then.

And once again we were on the roller coaster ride of facing another open heart surgery. This time, at least, we knew mostly what to expect. Sort of, anyway. Except for our 14 year old daughter who was immediately scared to death that she’d lose her dad. We did our best to reassure her, but at that age, there were so many emotions she had to deal with, and I’m sure her dad and I didn’t deal with them as well as we should have, because we were dealing with our own!

This time we were told they didn’t use the pig valves any more so he chose the bovine (cow) valve rather than the mechanical one. He did joke around that he’d had a craving for pork for a lot of years, and he guessed now he’d switch that craving to steak! At least he kept his sense of humor.

Still….

The second surgery was somewhat easier on him though, if open heart surgery can ever be easy. Techniques had improved, and the stay in the hospital was a few days shorter. He was out of ICU and in a regular room much quicker, less than 24 hours, and was up and walking around a little the next day. Our daughter was very relieved, and so were we! Since it was the middle of the summer she was out of school and was a big help taking care of him those first few weeks. And the doctors were delighted at how quickly he recovered and went back to his daily routine.

We thought we were out of the woods and that all his cardiac problems were behind us, at least for another 15 years or so.

And they were. For awhile. But a few years later the problems started coming back. Unexpectedly.
It began with three separate episodes of him going into A-fib. I had no idea what it was, or what it meant. We always thought we’d have to face another valve replacement eventually but this was something different.
A-fib, or atrial fibrillation, is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, or other cardiac complications. The heart races erratically, because of the erratic firing of the electrical impulses in the heart, which causes the blood to not circulate properly, resulting in fatigue, fluid retention, and other conditions.

At first he was treated with medication, which for most people, usually controls it. Of course, in his case, it didn’t. He was continually tired with occasional shortness of breath. And it just wasn’t getting any better.

What to do next? We figured there’d be another switch of medications again or maybe a combination of different drugs.

But hearing the doctor tell you that your husband has to have his heart stopped and then shocked to begin beating again in order to get the rhythm back to normal doesn’t give you a good feeling. He wasn’t wild about it either, but since the medication they were giving him wasn’t helping, he had to do something, and once again we headed back to the hospital.

Fortunately cardioversion is a simple procedure, at least for the doctors who do it regularly, but not to those of us who are the patient or the family! The process sends an electrical shock to the heart through electrodes placed on the chest to stop the heart and then re-start it to a natural rhythm. The very thought of what is going to happen is frightening to those of us who are not in the medical field, and Ben was certainly apprehensive as we waited for it to be done at the hospital with a number of our friends and our daughter and her boyfriend (now husband) waiting along with us.

Yes, we were nervous. And yes, scared as well. After all, would you want to have your heart stopped and then re-started? What if it didn’t work properly? What if…what if??

Thankfully the procedure was over almost before we knew it, and he was fine. His heart was once again beating at a normal rhythm. We all breathed a big sigh of relief! We were sure all of his heart problems were finally over.

And they were. Until a few years later….as the saga continues on Matters of the Heart, Part 3 to be published on February 21.

The End of Civility?

It’s certainly looking like it. And sounding like it.

And I certainly hope I’m not the only one who’s tired of it. However, I’m not too sure.

Certainly, it’s been going on from generation to generation. Kids call other kids names because they can. Because they enjoy bullying and intimidating other kids. It makes them feel important. It gives them a sense of superiority. But in our generation, the names weren’t anywhere as nasty and insulting as they are now. They didn’t make those that were picked on and humiliated want to kill themselves (and sometimes succeed); at least not that we knew of.

Our teachers would hear about it and try to stop it, but there was always a group of the “cool kids” who delighted in putting others down so that they could be the center of attention, the “leaders of the pack,” to quote an old song. They wanted to be at the top of the heap, and it didn’t matter who they stepped on to get there, as long as they were the leaders. And it certainly wasn’t “cool”.

But that was back in high school for most of us of a certain generation. And for many of us, it was a long time ago. Fortunately we’ve grown up, become mature adults. And most of us know that kind of behavior, that kind of humiliating bullying, is just plain wrong.

Putting others down to make yourself look good is wrong. It’s offensive. It’s disrespectful. It’s degrading to yourself as well as to the person or persons you’re doing it to.

It’s a serious character flaw, and when taken to extremes, it can result in disastrous consequences.

So why do we not tolerate it in our children’s lives and become advocates for anti-bullying, and at the same time think it’s ok for celebrities, right wing talk show hosts, and some of our highest elected officials to do it?

Where did this double standard come from? Isn’t what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is WRONG?

And yes, I’m going there, and yes, I’ll probably lose some more friends with what I’m about to write, but I just can’t take it anymore.

I am so tired of hearing the president of the United States use insulting nicknames for his political opponents, world leaders, and others he doesn’t like. Why does he think it makes him look strong and important? Why does he think it’s ok? Doesn’t he ever stop to think that it makes him look foolish and weak? Why does he think it’s ok to say that this or that person is stupid, or not as smart as he is?

It’s derogatory. It’s rude. It’s disrespectful. It’s governing by intimidation. It’s embarrassing to our country. And it’s certainly nowhere near presidential.

And it’s spreading to other elected officials as well.

Why aren’t more people speaking out about it, and why aren’t those who support him saying it’s wrong, when at the same time they teach their children and grandchildren that such actions are not to be tolerated because it’s wrong? Why is he allowed to insult everyone he doesn’t like with no one who is close to him trying to stop it?

Why do his supporters just laugh it off and say, “Oh, he’s just telling it like it is! He doesn’t care about how it makes him look. It’s part of who he is!”

It sure is. A bully. Who’s been able to get away with being a bully most likely all of his life. It’s wrong. And many of those same people are furious when comedians and other celebrities make fun of him and call him derogatory insulting names. They’re doing the same thing he is, but it’s still ok for the president.

No, it’s not.

It’s not right for either side. I was disgusted with it during the election campaign, and it keeps getting worse and worse.

Because if all the political insults and name-calling, I’ve stopped watching all of the tv awards shows except the CMA’s whose hosts and sponsors haven’t stooped to that low, at least not yet. Because one side does it, doesn’t make it right for the other side to do it, too.

It’s just bullying. Plain and simple. It’s ego taken to a new level. No wonder bullying in our schools has reached a new level, with more and more kids who are perceived as weak being continually picked on to the point they just can’t take it any more.

Because adults have taken it to a new level as well; the very people who should set good examples for others are setting an example, and it’s not a good one.

What’s happening to us?

Let me say this. I am not a Democrat. And I am not a Republican. I am a conservative independent who’s embarrassed and disgusted over the political machinations and insulting behavior going on in our country.

The longer we tolerate this behavior, the more consequences we will have. It’s not ok. It’s not funny.

And it’s time to end. Once and for all.

Matters of the Heart, Part 1

Since this is American Heart Month I believe it’s time to begin sharing the journey my husband and I have been on for a number of years, as well as what we are being faced with again. Maybe, quite possibly, our story can serve to help others, or even to save someone’s life.

The last eight months have been very stressful ones in our family, as we have been dealing with some serious heart issues concerning my husband Ben. And I have to admit, it has put me into a strange place, one in which I couldn’t even concentrate on writing for months, or much of anything else except worrying about my husband.

Heart problems affect not only the person having the problems, but the entire family. Depending on the type of issues, you can find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, just to check to be sure he’s still breathing. (A friend of my mom’s said she used to do that many years ago with her husband. I didn’t understand it then, but I sure do now.) You call or text him several times a day while he’s working to make sure he’s ok and not overdoing it or experiencing any symptoms that could indicate more problems.

An unfamiliar number comes up on your cell phone and you’re not sure whether it’s a solicitation call or someone calling to tell you your husband was taken to the hospital.

Now you may associate heart problems with the elderly. I’m here to tell you that is very, very far from the truth. Heart problems can occur at any age, and at any time.

Ben’s started at age 35, not quite a year after our marriage. We were at a concert when he started having chest pains. Typical man; he didn’t tell me. Even though it went on throughout the entire concert. When we got home, he finally told me, and I promptly gave him two choices. Go to the hospital then, or agree to go first thing in the morning.

Needless to say, he took option #2 and I worried all night that I should’ve just called an ambulance then and there!

The next day we went to the ER and he ended up in the hospital being cared for by a cardiologist, who discovered he had a leaking aortic valve. I remember sitting in the room while they did an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart, and I could actually see the valve leaking blood every time his heart beat. Mind you, this was 34 years ago, and those echos have advanced dramatically, so for me to be able to see the leak then, you know it was serious!

I was terrified. I could picture myself a young widow before our first wedding anniversary. Ben was visibly shaken as well, and we were suddenly faced with a lot of decisions.

Open heart surgery. Heart valve replacement. Choose the kind of valve we want. Mechanical vs. pig valve. Chances of rejection. How long we could safely wait to decide…

This was 34 years ago. We were young and nervous. Ben was braver than I was, and he was the one who had to go through the ordeal. I was the one who had to wait outside the OR for news while he slept through the whole procedure.

What started all of this? A very healthy young man, who played tennis 3-4 times a week, went bike riding almost weekly, seldom ate junk food, suddenly finds himself in this situation. Why? A bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two set this in motion. And it continues to plague him even today.

At that time we decided on the natural (pig) valve which, if or when it failed again, it would be a gradual process, with time to have another replacement, vs. a mechanical valve which if it failed, well…there’d be no second chances.

At the age of 35 that’s a tough decision to make. But what choice did we have?

I remember checking him in at the hospital the day before the surgery, going through an orientation about what to expect for both the patient and the family. He really wasn’t that scared, so he said, until we went though the cardiac ICU and saw the post-op patients full of tubes and surrounded by monitors. It was a scary sight.

What were we getting ready to go through? But more importantly, what was my husband getting ready to go through??!!

Fortunately one of our neighbors was a nurse at the hospital where the surgery was being performed. Although a labor and delivery nurse, she asked to be assigned that day to the cardiac OR because she knew the doctor as well as the patient.

We arrived at the hospital at 6:00 am that morning, and they were already in the process of taking him down for surgery earlier than planned. We did get to see him, but he’d been given medication to calm him, and wasn’t making a lot of sense, until a nurse came by with a bucket of fried chicken she’d brought in for an early lunch. And he started a conversation with her about how he liked fried chicken and wanted to share it with her, while starting to slur his words a bit.

At least he still had a sense of humor, although with the help of a lot of meds, but I was still nervous and anxious to get this over with.

A four hour open heart surgery makes for a long morning for everyone. I was nervous, as were my mother and my aunt, who had come to the Washington, DC area where we lived at the time to be my support system. Our neighbor came out several times during the procedure to tell us things were going well, and that they’d cooled his chest down by throwing a bucket of ice in there. Yes, 34 years ago that’s what they did! Then she finally came out and told us everything went fine, he didn’t even need a transfusion, and he’d be in recovery/ICU soon. I actually saw him for a second as they wheeled him past the waiting area, with tubes and a monitor, but at least I saw him for a brief second.

What a relief!

Until I saw him several hours later up close in that UCU with tubes and lines everywhere, monitors softly beeping, imagining what he was feeling, and realizing he was asleep and had no idea. We’d been told it was harder on the family at this time, and I think they were right!

The next few days are a blur. He was in ICU for 24 hours before being transferred to a regular so could begin trying to get enough strength back so he could finally walk a few steps and go home. Which was an effort in itself. Seven days after surgery he was released. I was scared to have him home because I had no idea what to do or how to take care of him. But we managed.

It was an experience, and one I didn’t ever want us to repeat. Six weeks for recuperation, and get his strength back. Not to mention the huge medical bills and lost income. And the stress on both of us. After-surgery recuperation not only involves the physical recovery, but emotional recovery as well. Both are difficult.

Looking back, we had no idea what other issues would face us in the future. Fortunately after this first surgery, we went about 15 years before a recurrence. Even though Ben followed up with regular check ups with his cardiologist, a heart damaged by rheumatic fever never totally recovers. It just slowly gets worse.

And 15 years later when he suddenly started having difficulty going up the stairs without becoming short of breath, and extremely tired, we were faced with him undergoing the same surgery again…

The saga continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 2, to be published February 13, 2018.

The Little Man Who Cried Wolf

We all know the story of the “Little Boy Who Cried Wolf”. He was a young shepherd tending his sheep. The boy wanted attention so he yelled there was a wolf chasing the sheep. The villagers came running to help, but the boy just laughed at them, telling them there was no wolf.

After they left, he did it again, with the same results. Once again the villagers told him not to yell about a wolf when there was none.

Later, a real wolf came and he cried out for help. No one came. When he didn’t come home that night, the villagers went to find him and found him crying because the sheep had run away from him because of the wolf. “You didn’t come,” he said. “Why?!”

To which the villagers replied, “Why would we? You lied twice. We can’t believe you anymore. No one believes a liar, even when he is telling the truth.”

Kind of like the last four days here in Virginia.

First a picture appears from the governor’s college yearbook. A very racist photo showing two men, one in blackface and one in a full KKK robe. You cannot tell who the men are, but the picture is on the governor’s yearbook page, with other photos of him. Mind you this is his yearbook from his graduation year from medical school, not high school.

At first he actually did the right thing. He admitted he was in the picture, and said he was sorry “for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo.”

But then, the next day, most likely after he’d had the opportunity to realize he’d ruined his political career, he changed his mind…and his story.

Suddenly he said he’d looked at the picture again and decided it wasn’t him. “I’m telling you the truth. It wasn’t me in the photo on my page.”

Huh????

He said he took responsibility that it was on his page, but he doesn’t remember posing for a picture like that and he doesn’t know who the people are.

He didn’t see the yearbook page, and he didn’t buy a yearbook. But he gave them the pictures to use. What? You graduate from a prestigious medical college in your home state and you don’t buy your senior college yearbook or even look at it? You never even saw it?

And don’t forget how he also said he heard some of the pictures got mixed up. Right. That sounds good, too.

But when asked if he’d ever worn a KKK robe he said he didn’t remember ever doing that, but he did wear blackface for a Michael Jackson dance contest. (And when asked by a reporter if he could still moonwalk, he appeared to be looking around to see if he had enough room on the podium to demonstrate that he could. Until his wife said that wasn’t an appropriate question.

And his nicknames listed in the yearbook of Coonman and Goose?? Gee, he remembered Goose was because of his changing voice, but he has no idea about Coonman?? If you don’t know what that means, let’s just say “coon” is an old derogatory term for an African American person, a term unfortunately commonly used in the part of Virginia where he grew up, and during that same time period.

Supposedly he’s spoken to some of his former classmates who say they don’t believe it was him, but as I write this, no one has come and and stated that, nor has anyone else spoken up and admitted they were in the picture, either with him or not. So who or what are we to believe?

This is crying wolf, only in reverse. It’s insulting. It’s racist. It’s a sad attempt to save his political career. And by now almost no one believes any of his story. How can we, because he changes it, and conveniently thinks of excuses, and can’t seem to remember a lot of things.

I would hope a pediatric neurologist would have an excellent memory. Wouldn’t you? Or is it just a convenient excuse? If his memory is that poor I wouldn’t want him taking care of my children or grandchildren.

He has embarrassed himself, his family, and the people of Virginia. One photo circulating online shows him during the press conference with his wife angrily staring at him. The picture we saw in the newspaper Sunday morning of him and his wife on the podium at that same press conference spoke volumes. She looked so embarrassed standing beside him, her head down, and not even looking at him. Yes, it was just one photo, but I felt so sorry for her. Sorry for the embarrassment he has caused to a fine medical school from which some of our friends or their children have graduated. Sorry for his family, and for those of us who live in this state, whether we voted for him or not. And I did vote for him.

Although there have been calls from politicians from all over the state for him to step down, he’s still refusing to resign. Obviously his ego won’t let him. He’s trying to hold on to a political career that has spiraled down so far it’s probably at the bottom of the ocean.

Virginia deserves better than this and so does our nation.

Mr. Northam, for everyone’s sake, please resign and let all of us move on.