Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Advice to Anyone Having Cardiac Bypass Surgery:

  1. Stop Reading This - There is no shortage of junk and unqualified commentary on the Internet, full of rants, and false information, written and composed by illiterate and unqualified monkeys, that collectively, given a million years and a million keyboards, could not type a single comprehensible, relative, important, sentence - and I am no different. You are far better off looking at anything to do with Monty Python.
  2. Be Born Rich or Live in a Rich Culture - For this procedure to work or even get done, you have to be rich and a food, energy, and resource gluten. Ebenezer Scrooge, before his encounter with the spooks, is a good role model. Bear in mind that you personally do not necessarily have to be rich, but you have to live in a culture that is rich. Lots of roads packed with cars, grocery stores full of fresh strawberries all year round, lots of angst about the next generation of TV, and the inability to see stars at night due to light pollution are all good signs that your culture is rich enough.
  3. Have a Good Employer - I work for a company that thinks its employees are its most importance asset A company that understands that life happens and things happen and sometimes you need help and time to recover. Of all the things that play on one's mind during this opportunity for health, economic insecurity did not burden me .
  4. Have a Good Family Doctor - She is going to be your advocate and motivator, a cry and worry shoulder, a mentor, a coach, and an auditor on the work of others.
  5. Believe in a Power Higher Than Yourself - Okay, maybe you are the King of the World just like that guy in the movie about that ship that sank, but I found it essential to believe and have faith in a force or energy or entity that has true power. God, Allah, SOAPE (Source of All Positive Energy), and Yogi Bear are just some examples. (It's personal)
  6. Have, Hire or Hold a Good Spiritual Adviser - In the flesh is better than just in media, but any port will do in a storm.
  7. Do As You Are Told - I sometimes think that the most insulting thing that you can say to someone in today's time and world is "Do this!" We seem to get bent out of shape at any hint of direction but my advice is this: If a general practitioner, , a cardiac surgeon, a cardiologist, physiotherapist, a pharmacist, exercise consultant, dietitian, and most importantly of all a nurse tells you to do something, DO IT.
  8. PEFL - Every day Pray (or meditate) , Exercise (within your sensible guidelines so that your partner does not have to curb your enthusiasm) , have Fun (which includes being silly) and Learn something (which does not include silly stuff, so reading mailings from the Woman Who Claims to Be Our Member of Parliament does not count) . Thank you Jim Clarke for this idea!
  9. Have A Partner- There are many reasons to say "I do" at the alter, on the beach, at the city hall or maybe just in your own mind. And there are many benefits to the "I do", but the biggest benefit is knowing that when you fall, there will be someone to catch you.
  10. Have a Family - For when the partner needs a break.
  11. Have Friends - A friend does not have to be a kindred spirit, bosom body sort of individual, although that does not hurt. Sometimes the person that you sit beside in a meeting, someone who does a silent or maybe public prayer for you, someone who covers for you at work, someone who waves when you walk down the driveway for the first time by yourself. You have friends, you just have to be aware.
  12. Share a House with Pets - They put you in the place in the universe where you belong.
  13. Share Your Gratitude- You are so damn lucky that this procedure is taking place and you can never fully repay the debt. But the least you can do is make a few minimum payments. Donate something to something. Share your time for a clean-up in the local park. Give money for shipping bikes to, I don't know, Africa or some place. You never know what happens when you go to that Big Accounting Office in the Sky - better to start paying off your debts early.
  14. Live in the Moment - That, at times, will be your refuge. Enjoy that breath, feel the pillow against your head, smell the outside air for the first time after your surgery. The moment is all that you have.
  15. Have Fun - That sounds crazy, but it is not; fun is in the eye of the beholder. Compared to an awful lot of procedures out there, a bypass is a snap. Just don't overplay the fun card.
  16. Buy an Expensive Kevlar Carbon Sea Kayak - The Impex Serenity Sport from Ottawa Valley Kayak and Canoe (perhaps this does not apply to everybody)
In summary, the best advice I can give is to ignore this completely and find your own line in the water to that lone pine of in the distance. But this is the line that worked for me - I can almost smell the pine tree (from the comfort of the new kayak).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The bottom picture is me 3 months ago - February 23rd, 2010. The top picture is me a week ago on my birthday. Bit of a difference.

Three months ago today, at about this time, I was oblivious to the world, relying on machines, the skill of doctors, nurses, technicians, and God's Grace to keep alive. Today I went for a bike ride and did my first paddle of 2010. I have already spoken about how wonderful it is to be back on the old Kona. Today I hauled the Palmico down to the water. It was so nice to wade into the Madawaska, the water unseasonably warm , with just a little bit of wave action today. My wife was with me to again curb my enthusiasm. We did a lazy paddle but it was so nice to be cutting through the water with only the sound of the paddle and the kayak sluicing. The wind was warm and dry and the sun was a bit muted by a few clouds. We did not go to a dam, we did not even go to the little falls, before we came back. But I had kayaked!

I must say the the bike ride and the paddle tuckered me out. My cardiologist has given me a pretty good bill of health (in fact I do not see him again until May 30, 2011) and I have the okay to go back to work June 7th. I am looking forward to getting back in the saddle but they tell me that stamina is going to be an issue and I believe them.

But today, the Sunday before Victoria Day 2010 gave me, yet again, plenty of fireworks of gratitude.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Seven months ago today was October 21st, 2009. The late afternoon was sort of cloudy and rainy and even a bit on the cool side. I had been jogging since early July (well, not continuously, bet pretty religiously 4 times a week). At the start it was slow going – I would jog for 30 seconds and walk for two minutes and do that cycle for 30 minutes. But on the 17th of October I had jogged 30 minutes straight, just so I could prove to myself that I could do it. And so on the 21st I was doing ten and ones with some confidence and pride.

I was doing the last 300 metres or so when I saw my neighbour Anne walking her little dog. Anne is an Iron Man; she had completed that unbelievably harsh swim / cycle / run race in Lake Placid back the previous summer. I could not slow down in her field of vision, so I put on the gas, so to speak. Hmmm, a bit of a strange pain in the chest. As a middle aged runner I was used to everything hurting at one time or another. But this was weird: light pain but accompanied by a bit of pressure. OMG - it’s my heart! It’s not my heart!

Well, the regular reader knows that it was my heart, so today, seven months after that little bit of pain and almost three months after my surgery, here are some of the things I am grateful for:

1-God or Providence or my Higher Power or whatever it was that had a doctor’s appointment already, long arranged for me the following day, October 22nd. And for the continued outflow of blessings that have overflowed my chalice from that Source of all Positive Energy.

2-My personal family physician who was smart enough, and thorough enough, and tenacious enough to arrange a prompt appointment at the Queensway Carlton Hospital for a myocardial perfusion scan. And that was only the start – she really carried a lot of my burden for these seven months.

3-The technicians and internist at the Queensway Carlton who were able to do the test on me (even getting their hands on radioisotopes that of course were unavailable from Chalk River) and tell me that there is a concern. At the time they scared the pants of me, but in retrospect better safe than sorry. And thanks that they “rushed” the results.

4-Ilona for being the big sister that I did not have. For her words of inspiration and support and affection that rushed across the wilds of Ontario – a sort of Sirocco of Love in fact.

5-The doctors in the family.

6-The University of Ottawa Heart Institute. The first face I saw was the smiling woman in medical reception; how courteous, how professional, and how calming. Little did I know that this was the standard for everybody there: Housekeepers, OR Nurses, PAU Nurses, Ward Nurses, Cardiologists, Interns, Cardiac Surgeons, Food Service Workers, Admissions Staff, Anesthetists, Physiotherapists, Mentors, Dieticians, Volunteers, Blood Techs, Cardiogram Techs, Stress Test Techs, X-Ray Techs and the folks I have forgotten. The only scary thing – everybody is so wonderful, that when you wake up after surgery, you think that you have died and gone to heaven.

7-The congregation at St. John Chrysostom Church in Arnprior. I do not belong to the Parish and I am not even Catholic but the folks there prayed for me and Father Joe inspired them to do so. The choir even sang to me.

8-The prayers from Main and Lees.

9-My very good friend Father Jack who helped me breathe and helped me see.
My friends like Maris and Kathy and Al and Jack and Janice and Rose and Ambrose and Reg and many others who kept me strong many nights.

10-Judy who makes the best damn lemon meringue pie in the OV.

11-Neat and Castlegarth for reviving the taste buds.

12-The folks like Tommy Douglas who thought that a Public Health and Medicine Medicare plan was not some type of wild eyed communist plot that would destroy our level of care, but was instead a basic human right that gives dignity, care, and courage to all.

13-My employer for having a plan that gave me time to heal without losing pay and maintaining a benefit plan that covered most of my additional costs. And to my pals at work that helped carry the load.

14- John and Grant for your timely return to Ottawa.

15- The Gravenhurst Team – all who grew up there and thought of me.

16-All who sent cards, books and music and those who waved their encouragement from the road as I did my first walks.

17-Susan who dreams of blue delphiniums nodding over the spread of cheddar pinks as purple coneflowers sway in the breeze and helped me hone the skill of wasting time.

18 - Seb, who I have yet to meet, but is allowing me to help people who need it.

19- Mikla, Melnoga, Pipars, Vaira and of course Barney.

20- And finally and most importantly - my wife: in 1996 on the beach at Engure , looking at the darkness of the Baltic with the stars lighting up the froth of the waves in that phosphorescent glow – I knew then what I know now. My wife had a year of challenges but she put everything on hold for me. How blessed is that?

No doubt I have missed a lot on this list. But it is Victoria Day Weekend Friday and my wife and the beagle and I are heading out for ice cream – the gratitude just keeps piling up like a February blizzard’s snow.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Freedom 55 – I know that is a high quality wealth and income management programme operated by London Life. I have heard many tales of the professionalism and Everestian levels of competence and integrity of the many advisers and account managers that one is privileged to meet when dealing with this organization. I cannot even begin to describe my emotion at not having dealt with this concern.

So I am stuck with my own Freedom 55. I was born in the fifth month of 1955 on the fifteenth day, so that makes today, May 15th, 2010 my 55th birthday. And I did experience Freedom 55 today. Today I hopped on my bicycle for the first time in about seven months and went for a 2 kilometer ride. I do not posses the skill in prose to tell you how wonderful that was. It was like being in something like 1965 or so and getting my first bike from Canadian Tire. It was a red Supercycle, one speed and the brakes naturally were just the reverse pedal. I had to wheel it home from the store as I did not know how to ride. But the day came where I learned. It was like flying. I could move faster than I had ever moved myself. I could cover distances. I now had power to be where I wanted to be – okay, as much power as my parents would grant me. With no helmet the wind was in my hair as I happily and contently pumped past the granite and pines of the Muskoka byways and roads. It was crossing one of the Rubicons of life and no Springsteen driving song could describe the affection. (sorry Bruce and Danny hovering in heaven)

So today I had the okay from Sandra, my University of Ottawa Heart Institute Mentor to ride. Under the watchful eye of my wife (who is there to curb my enthusiasm in the interests of my health and longevity) I pumped up the tires, put on my helmet and went for a spin. Down the road the wind was behind me and it was as if I were propelled by Heart Spirits as I glided past the home of the neighbours. I did the turn at the end of the single kilometer and was reminded that the laws of motion had not changed. Going against the wind still sucked. But no matter, I was back in the saddle. Watch your back Lance.

My Freedom 55 blesses more than just me. I pledged $3.00 a day for Bicycles for Humanity Ottawa so that they can help healers and educators and first responders get from A to B in Malawi. I went in for my Quintuple Bypass on February 23rd, 2010 and first rode today May 15, 2010. So if my math is right that is 81 days. So if I round that up to 90 days that means that they get $270!! (the check is almost in the mail Seb)

Please indulge me by letting me get on a soap box and preaching a bit. (it is my birthday after all:

We all like to whine. (at least I do). The HST is going to bankrupt me. There is not enough snowmelt in the Ottawa River this year. Hospital ERs are jammed. Solar Power is going to bankrupt me. There are bad priests. The Prime Minister has no soul or vision. But here is the deal – Our health care system is the best on the planet that has ever been. Surgeries and treatments are done on a routine basis that would have been a dream to us 20 years ago and still are a dream to most of the planet. The debt that I have to this system I cannot pay. But what I can do is make a concrete gesture (in this case with a bit of money) to toss one shovelful of hope that levels things just a tiny bit.

If anyone reading this had had anything medical done to them this year – be it fixing a smashed nose or help in recovering from an addiction or even getting your teeth cleaned I would beg of you to consider grabbing a shovel or even a tablespoon of gratitude and tossing into that great unevenness that exists in Africa. What difference can such a minuscule effort make? Just consider what happened (on the afternoon of May 15th at that!) to Horton and JoJo (that is from Horton Hears a Who for those whose brain is at low tide)

My Freedom 55 Day is far from over but I did want to talk about the freedom so far. I am a blessed man living in blessed times.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Today was a Red Letter day in my little cardiac journey, as I went for a stress test at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. The last time I did one of those it was not that hot. I did my first ever blog last Halloween evening on that stress test (myocardial perfusion scan if one wants to get technical) .
So today after signing in, I hang out on the first floor waiting area just outside the PAU (Pre Admission Unit). I see the singles and I see the couples and I see the families. It really is a Red Letter Day for everybody there. People waiting for tests. People waiting for surgery. People getting their pre surgery instructions. People holding small bags for their clothing. Everybody going into surgery wears the same fashion. No room for Jeanne Becker here.
If there is a common thread here it is the thread of hope. Hope is contagious and in a way you, as a patient or a support and love person are united in this silent bond of hope. There is no chalice of wine here, nor host. Yet the sense of Communion drifts invisibly and powerfully from occupied seat to occupied seat. It is quite powerful.
Out of the blue my cardiac surgeon passes by and says "How ya doin'?". I resist my smart ass desire to reply that we will know in about 45 minutes. I just nod my head up and down vigorously and say I am doing great. I am not sure if he really recogizes me with my clothes on anyway.
What's that? My name is being called and off I go to the tread mill. First a few checks to ensure that I am who I say I am. I sign a release to okay full medical intervention if needed. Shirt off - lay on my back and get the electrodes glued onto me. It is old hat, the little shave you get, the cool gel that gets rubbed on you. Some may find this erotic, but not me. I get the Blood Pressure cuff, and plugged in, and then on the tread mill.
This is a BIG DEAL. I have not exerted myself since mid October. No bike rides or kayak paddles yet. My daily walks have been modest in effort, I have made sure that my HR did not go much above 100 bps. Even with my beta blocker infused blood that was modest. For almost seven months I have not broken out in a sweat. Not once had I had been conscious of my heart pounding like it does when running or cycling or kayaking or some other activity of pleasure. What if I heard a big POP, the technician shouting "Oh Shit!" and then blackness, awakening, and then facing my lifetime of shortcomings and failures item by item by item.
I saw the computer screen but I will not interpret the data myself. I meet my UOHI mentor on Friday and my cardiologist on May 20. I will just say that in the end I was out of breath, I was panting, and I could hear my heart pounding. Best of all I felt wonderful.
I got dressed and was walked backed into the waiting area. Communion was still being celebrated and I gladly took part.

Friday, May 7, 2010

I am having my stress test on Monday May 10th , 2010 at the UOHI. I have to be honest and say that there is a bit of trepidation in that. It is a bit like pressurizing the plumbing in the old house for the first time after the reno work – you are hoping that it holds but for the sake of the furniture and the hardwood you worry.

It has been a busy week. Last weekend was the retreat at Galilee, Tuesday evening was the Murray McLauchlan Concert in Renfrew and Wednesday was Contemplative Mediation with Jack Lau OMI at the Arnprior Public Library. Mixed in with all of this was a side trip to Foymount , a conference call for the day job that I hope to return to in the next while, lunch in Eganville, getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist, my weekly meeting with my mentor at the UOHI, getting the riding mover fixed, tent caterpillar executions (very not Franciscan – Richard Rohr may shun me), learning that my tentative role in the Prince and the Prior is Major General Robert Bruce, and doing the usual solo and dog walks.

Murray was playing in the O’Brien Theatre in Renfew. This movie theatre will be celebrating its 80th anniversary on June 25th. It has a large theatre pipe organ and a stage. Not a great stage (no wings ) but a stage none the less. It was from here where this mini tour of Lynn Miles (she opened) and Murray McLauchlan started. If you don’t know Lynn Miles, you should. Judge for yourself:
FYI – she does great shadow puppets.

Murray McLauchlan is , well, Murray McLauchlan. He is a Canadian Music Icon and knows his music and knows his shtick. With bass player Dennis Pendrith he entertained solidly for over 90 minutes. Don’t like the Farmer’s Song and Down by the Henry Moore? Maybe you would be better off with Lady Gaga.

I actually accosted (well, maybe that is too strong a word) Murray as he was walking up the aisle after the concert and I told him that I loved his concerts and I saw my first one in something like 1975 at the University of Waterloo. He said “Thanks man” and shook my hand. I desperately wanted to say something clever but the best I could do is offer him my half eaten bag of popcorn. I told him that I wanted to show my gratitude but all I had was the popcorn. He politely declined, explaining that he had had a big bowl of soup. I hope that this was not my 15 minutes of fame.

More on the rest of my week later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I was off, with my wife, to Galilee Centre this weekend for a retreat on Living a Soulful Life. So there were the two of us, Father Jim Clarke who ran the thing, Father Jack Lau who is the Spiritual Director of Galilee, and about 58 other people.

I thought it was an amazing weekend. Jim Clarke took us though his perspective on the body, spirit, and soul. Jim is trained in religion, philosophy, and psychology. He is an expert on peace building and ritual. He is a gifted story teller and a skilled facilitator. I am not going to diminish what he gifted us with other than share one perspective and a bad poem. (mine, not his)

But first a bit on the beauty and serenity of the Galilee Centre itself. It is situated on the shore of the Ottawa River, just upriver from the confluence with the Madawaska. Just adjacent to the main house is the Gillies Grove. The Grove is 45 acres of Old Growth Forest, with well marked, easy trails. Walking the trail is as quiet as a cathedral; the noise, such as it is, from Arnprior is muted. Cathedrals have great man made works of art. Here the frescos are painted by Mother Nature , the quiet greens and grays of the white pine in winter are being supplemented by the rich fresh greens of spring. The trilliums are just coming out in the whiter than white than a detergent commercial can do.

You can walk down a trail to the banks of the Ottawa to a natural gravel beach. The beach is not long but it again is as nature made it. If you walk as far as the upstream property line you will see, a bit of a distance away, the splendor of a green lawn that seems to jut out into the river. Pristine and as elegant as any Augusta Georgia golf green it is a testament to what our species can do to a river. I hope the owners enjoy every moment. Walk back downstream to return to the trail back to Galilee.

Are the great houses of worship in Europe beautiful? I am told they are, but I have to say in my limited viewings in London, England and in Spain I found them Houses of Worship and not Homes of Worship. Take the time to go to the little chapel in the Galilee Centre and sit. No stained glass, just a view of a tall white pine and behind that the Ottawa. It sure felt like home to me.

We were instructed to go out during the retreat and do what the Spirit directed us to do. We were also asked to draw a picture, or write a story, or do a body moment like a dance.

Here is my direction:

The Spirit told me to check my heart plumbing out by walking down to the beach. I had my water sandals and shorts on, and I waded for a while in the water. It was frigging cold. I saw others that were staring into the horizon and others were aimlessly scratching things on the beach with sticks. The Spirit then commanded me “Stop goofing around looking like you are some kind of wannbe Saint. Get out of the water, pick up that garbage you see, and bring it up the trail. Your heart plumbing will hold out” It did.

And here is my poem:

I look around and I realize that I know nothing about anything,
I make a list of what I fear and it is everything,
The absolute nadir always strikes at my soul’s midnight,
When thinking about the past or future fills me with fright,
But then something makes me see that all these demons are in a phony pose,
It is the Lord Jesus Himself , on a unicycle, and wearing a bright red clown

I think I got my money’s worth at the retreat. (and if you don’t understand my poem please write)
Photo Credit - ACS