Sunday, April 6, 2014

April, finally!


April is finally here and, with it, there have been (thankfully!) a few more long-in-coming days of sun and warmth. Not yet a normal spring, but beggars can't be choosers.

Looking forward to when we'll actually be able to use it, last weekend my husband cleared our porch, converting it back into something appropriate for human use after it spent the entire winter as a "homeless cat camp" we created for Hester, the feral cat we trapped and had spayed last spring and whose kittens we trapped and delivered to the rescue that sterilized her.

Hester was a little confused about the change but we're both very happy that the porch (which she was used to this way before this horrid winter began and made it necessary for us to creatively contrive shelter to keep her safe at -40 windchill) is ready for warmer weather, if it ever really comes.

In the meantime, my husband built a small home for Hester, which she has yet to use, but which we hope she'll get used to after she realizes it's not a trap.

Lance also brought out our dining set into the patio, which is also there for when we're able to have dinner "in the veranda," as he likes to say. This is all helping us to look forward to what should inevitably come.

Meanwhile, the beautiful bright yellow tulips he gave me after I got out of the hospital two weeks ago, held on strong. I can't wait for our own tulips and forsythia and daffodils to bloom!


Also, last weekend (I'm a little behind here), Lance made his world-famous pizza with my homemade dough. He made two kinds, one deep-dish veggie for him and one thin-crust with pepperoni for me. And a small loaf of bread. This time we decided to use the recipe for artisan bread as our dough and it worked out well.

Healthwise, I've had two other "scares" with my AFib, this past week and one today, but they eventually resolved themselves with the emergency medication. I see the specialist again on the 21st and will be wearing the heart monitor until the 14th so we'll see what he says.

The good thing with this situation is that I'm making the very best of any and every minute in which I feel normal. It's a feeling to treasure because it can be so evanescent, and that allows me to live very much in the present. That is a good thing, indeed.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Springtime in Ohio

It's hard to reconcile with the fact that, though we're almost to the end of March, it's snowing outside. This winter just won't let go! Our favorite peach orchard here in Ohio recently announced on Facebook that the hard freeze we had thanks to the Polar Vortex killed off its trees so there will be no peach harvest this year. That's is so sad since those are the best peaches ever, from anywhere.

I'm ready to start screaming and running for the hills (though my husband likes to point out that the weather would be even colder at an altitude) any minute now if this weather doesn't take a sharp turn for the better. Thirteen years in Ohio and I'm definitely not used to, and never will my Caribbean soul get used to six months of winter.

On a brighter side, I did get out of the hospital a week ago today and, except for another scare on Monday that eventually resolved itself without an ER visit, all has been quiet on this front. I'm afraid to even whisper it since these arrhythmias are so unpredictable but so far, so good. Feeling normal is priceless and, I have to say, that this situation has given me an even greater appreciation for the days I feel well.

Because things have been as they've been, the 12th anniversary of the surgery at the Cleveland Clinic that saved my life went unremarked and uncelebrated this past week on March 25. But I'm ever grateful that my husband got a job in Ohio 13 years ago and that it allowed me to get to the place where they were able to give me this second chance at life. It's a good reminder that every day, really, should be lived as if it were our last, even if it's just to be grateful for the good and the bad.

In not-so-good news, after my post-second-ablation scare on Monday, the new doctor scheduled a third ablation, this time an AFib Ablation, which is more complicated and dangerous than the other two I've already had. I don't really want to spend a lot of time thinking about it since it only produces anxiety but, maybe, just maybe, this third time will be the charm and I will regain some normalcy again, just like I did after that other surgery more than a decade ago. This next ablation is in May so maybe that will be another anniversary to mark and celebrate. We can only hope and pray it is so.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cultivating patience

Well, not only did it snow here in Ohio yesterday when spring officially began after noon, but I'm actually back in the hospital (at least not in the ER this time), in the heart unit, because I had a bad episode of arrhythmia Tuesday afternoon (while having dinner with dear friends after my first day back at work and after teaching two really good classes). That episode turned worse Wednesday morning after I woke up and my new doctor direct admitted me into the hospital where I'm still at, awaiting to see whether the sixth and seventh new heart medications I've been on in as many years will work and allow me to recover some semblance of the life I knew before September 2013 when my workhorse heart decided to become a caballo desbocado.

I'm supposedly being released tomorrow, if my EKGs stay the course, when, in keeping with the universe's sense of humor lately, the weather is expected to take a 30-degree plunge and go from the sunny 60s today back into the wintery 30s. I'm tired of gripping about the winter but it's hard not to when we've had six months' worth of it this year!

Staying in the hospital, which I've done too many times since before being diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in 1988 (at least six since 1987 and that's not counting emergency visits), is one of those experiences that I always try to move through as quickly as possible and then try to forget just as fast. Still, I do remind myself that de los males el bueno (it's not the worst of evils) since I'm not battling terminal cancer or something equally hard.

Thus, I try to look forward to the good things I hope are coming, like returning home to my husband, my furry children, and my lovely home; traveling to my nephew's college graduation in May and to a conference in the Berkshires in June; and, celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary in July! They say one shouldn't live in the future but in the present, but that's when the present doesn't suck. When it sucks, having a future to anticipate and look forward to is crucial in getting through the present.

I remember a card I've seen in stores that says something like when you find yourself in the valley of the shadow of death, move quickly. That seems like sensible advice to me.

In the meantime, here are some recent photos of an expectant (and pleading) Chiquita, looking forward to one of the cheddar puffs I usually have for lunch that she loves so much, and a "breaded" Hamlet, who kind of overdid it with the catnip recently.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hopes of spring

Spring arrives in these parts on Thursday but you wouldn't know it with the furnace running at full blast even past the Ides of March, and the temperature outside today staying at a stubborn 24 degrees when it's supposedly forecast to reach 45 today (or about 10 degrees below the normal average by this time). Yes, this winter of our discontent feels eternal and even my favorite weatherman, who loves snow and cold, is now saying so when he looks at weather models forecasting a cold end to the month.

But what I like most about Spring, as I write pretty much every year on these pages, is that sense of resurrection. That no matter how cold or cruel the winter may be, the green will sprout, the birds will sing, and, on the best days, the breeze will caress us with warm promises.

On the home front, we have a dedicated Mr. Robin, who now often waits for us (on the snowy colder days) for his ration of expensive dessicated worms, and we have valiant snowdrops that have pushed up into the sun all over the yard, making pledges of spring with their delicate (yet hardy) white blooms.

March for me is a month of two important anniversaries and now I'm hoping I can add a third. I had the second heart ablation on the 14th at the Ross Heart Hospital, part of the Ohio State Medical Center, and while the experience was much more painful than the first (hard as they tried, they couldn't get my heart to replicate the crazy heartbeats that have assailed me now for seven long years), the care and the quality of the hospital was truly impressive. My new specialist is confident that he knows what's going on and that he "got it," so now we just wait and hope and pray that nothing happens. I had my huge let down last time a week after the first ablation, when the crazy heart returned, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up at all so I'm not terribly disappointed again. In any case, at least now there's someone who thinks he knows what's going on, which is an improvement from my first specialist who told my mom and my husband one thing and then couldn't remember what he'd said to them when I followed up with him. "Time to get a second opinion," I thought. And I'm glad I did.

This Wednesday it'll be 13 years since I moved to Ohio, in the wake of my husband's earlier move in February 2001 for a job that changed our lives, nonetheless because it allowed us (through his health insurance) to afford the surgery on March 25, 2002 that saved my life and has given me these subsequent 12 years of at least a Crohn's Disease-free life. Of course, other complications have ensued, like this relatively new heart problem, so when someone says lightning doesn't hit in the same place twice, I just laugh. But I'm always thankful that while these are health setbacks they are not catastrophes, and that I'm ultimately very blessed and very fortunate.

While spring break wasn't much of one (I spent the time being anxious about the second procedure and battling the return of an annoying cold that started before I arrived in Puerto Rico in February but seemingly had "cured" itself once I breathed the Caribbean air) there's less than two months to go before this semester, this entire academic year, concludes. Time does go fast, doesn't it?

Perhaps, like everything around us, I also will get some springtime-of-life this year and my heart will settle down and I will resurrect some much-longed-for tranquility into my expectations of what each day may bring. At least in my heart (perhaps ironically), hope does, like the season we look forward to after the hard finality of winter, always spring eternal.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Puerto Rico

The trip to Puerto Rico, though a quick in and out, was very productive and enjoyable. Not only did I get to present on my papi's novela, one (the only woman, too!) among a distinguished panel of estudiosos of my dad's work, but we also did some mandatory sight-seeing in Old San Juan and Playa Cerro Gordo, in Dorado. I also brought back the picture above (taken in 1992 or 1993?) of my impromptu interview with Henry Kissinger at The Caribe Hilton.

I was at the hotel, in cocktail dress attire, for some event my newspaper (where I was a lowly reporter) was holding when the editor came to me to tell me Kissinger was in the hotel and I needed to find him to ask him about Puerto Rico's status. "But I don't even have a pen or paper!" I despaired to him. "Here's my pen and take this napkin," he said. "On your way, and he'll be with his wife, Nancy, who'll hate you for this, but just press on." And so I did. I'm so glad that the photographer had the presence of mind to snap this photo. Otherwise, this, like my subsequent and years-later interviews with Lech Walesa and Michail Gorbachev, would disappear into the realm of vague memory.

During our walk to Old San Juan, we were delighted to find that the Capilla del Cristo, which has a storied past (it is said to have been erected by a grateful horse rider in the 17th century whose runaway stallion was about to plunge from the top of the battlements with him astride when he prayed to the Virgin and was miraculously saved). We'd never seen it open but it was available to the public this time so we spent a few minutes admiring the Campeche paintings inside, marveling at how intact it has been conserved.

When you walk through Viejo San Juan you have to look down so as not to take a misstep on the loose cobblestones or ancient sidewalks, but you also always should look up because, if not, you miss the bluest of the blues, the Caribbean blue of the Puerto Rican sky, the actual color (not navy blue) on our national flag.

The colorful balcones and Spanish-style homes are also a sight to behold, as is the old cemetery, by the sea wall, where my dad's ashes are interred.

From there we proceeded to the Cathedral, where I always like to light a candle in my father's name (the farthest one to the right is his), and where the Virgen del Socorro, my mother's patron Virgin, is found.

Our last day there, my husband and I went to the public beach in Cerro Gordo, Dorado, his favorite one on the island and one that we used to visit a lot when we lived there.

We had a lovely visit and it was hard to leave and return to the coldest of winters on record here in Ohio. We are seriously thinking that we'll have to plan for our retirement in the island since there's no way we want to try to psychically survive living stateside with these God-forsaken winters. After all, I'm a Caribbean girl and my husband is most definitely not a cold-weather person either.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Celebrating papi's birthday

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - Today my papi would have been 77 years old. Yesterday, to celebrate his birthday, we held an activity at the university where he and my mom used to teach, and where my mom now works at the dedicated reading room that contains the books they collected during a lifetime together. The event included a six-person panel, and I presented on my father's 2004 novel, La séptima vida, while other participants presented on other of the 23 books (!!) my father published over his life.

My mom organized the event, including the pizcolabis or entremeses, which included locally made cookies, and two of the small zucchini breads my mother-in-law had sent my mom some time ago and which my mom had frozen to enjoy at a later date. They were thawed and sliced and were a hit! 

The panel was excellent (more details can be found here) with each participant presenting on one of the books. Then we had a break and returned to the Sala for a conversation that lasted until 5:30 p.m., past the time when the university offices stay open on a Friday afternoon. I know everyone wanted to continue but it was time to go so we pledged that we'd do something similar again next year, which I'm already looking forward to.

This is a quick trip here in Puerto Rico so today I'm taking advantage that I'm now done with my responsibilities (on Thursday I also visited and presented at the private high school where I taught as a substitute many years ago) to spend some much-appreciated time away from what's become the Alaskan-cold of Ohio this winter. 

We hope to visit my father's grave, in honor of his birthday, and walk around the Old City for a bit. My heart gave us some concerns on Thursday and most of the day yesterday but nothing bad enough to force an ER visit. I finally reached my doctor who advised taking one more medication so, fingers crossed, perhaps there won't be any more scares until I see the new specialist on Wednesday, once I'm back home. As always, here's to hope!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

False hopes

Pretty much all my hopes that February would be much better than January winter-wise have been continually dashed by one snowstorm after another. Indeed, it appears that January wasn't so bad at all, historically speaking. And, thankfully, we're not in Pennsylvania where storms caused disastrous pileups this past week. So I know we're fortunate, indeed.

But our heating bill this past month, which exceeded the previous record, does tell us that this winter has been unusually cold and snowy and yucky. Because of the bad weather, and thanks to a kind colleague who has loaned me her home, I've been staying several nights a week up near my small college on the hill. Her home is a lovely little cottage with a view to the woods and it makes me wish we had our own small "country home" up there where I could stay anytime I needed to. I have dear friends who always offer me their homes but, because of my physical and other limitations, I'm a lot less anxious when I can have a place to myself. But paying for the college inn gets expensive after a while so this is a great solution for now.

On the flutter front there have been two episodes, including one more ER run early this month, but at least the second one (while I was away from home) thankfully resolved with the emergency medication.  The great news is that, thanks to a close friend, I was able to get an appointment to see an expert at the large research hospital at OSU so I'll be doing that later this month. We had dinner recently with good friends and he was telling us of two people he knows who got treatment at OSU and are "cured." Those stories always make me feel like weeping, not only because I'm so happy for the people who had to endure this and because I yearn for similar good news, but also because I fear I may not be like them since I tend to be that "one in a million" person, and not always in a good way. Still, I'm thinking positive and hoping for the best, as usual. Hope, after all, never disappoints. It's reality that gets in the way.

The constant cold has driven Chiquita to seek any and all ways to keep warm and she now burrows into the large sofa pillows so that you can almost only see her big ears when she raises them to try to figure out what's going on (when there's anything "going on" that is, in her mind).

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to a trip to Puerto Rico next week to present on my papi's last novela at the university where he and my mom used to teach (and where she now coordinates the research room named after both of them), and to recruit for my small college on the hill at the all-girls' private high school where I substitute taught many years ago. The presentation is in celebration of my papi's birthday and my mom has organized a great panel with presentations on several of his 23 published books (!!). For someone who didn't have a Ph.D. my J.D. father was on a very productive research and publication schedule; much better than my own, that's for sure!

I also know that, after this winter of my discontent, it will do my overworked heart so much good to see some green and blues and yellows, like only my beautiful Caribbean island can do them. The warm break (both in weather and in visiting my mom) will be most welcome and, hopefully, I'll be re-energized to handle whatever the OSU expert says has to happen next with my case.