Ashes of Eden

I really need to find someplace that has this song for karaoke. (Breaking Benjamin’s “Ashes of Eden”)
I first heard this song a week or so before we went to the Breaking Benjamin / Disturbed concert, when I was dealing with the whole “possible heart surgery” situation. I was a nervous wreck up until the concert, but after singing along to almost every song that Benjamin and Disturbed played, there was a whole week when I felt no symptoms – no chest pains, no abnormal heartbeats, nothing. The power of music, I’m telling you.
I’ve been singing this song in the car ever since, and it wasn’t until my cardiologist (“my cardiologist”… that’s oddly easy to say) told me I *wasn’t* in need of immediate heart valve surgery that I stopped tearing up every time I sang it. I realized tonight that I’ve been holding on to this song as a way to get me into and through that possible surgery. I don’t know if that’s what Ben had in mind when he wrote it, but it works for me that way.
After the concert, I did some research, and found out that Benjamin Burnley (the lead singer) is not only a hypochondriac like me, but has some actual serious, chronic, mysterious medical issues. Suddenly, all of the band’s songs, all the dark tones and themes about loss and giving up, all shone in a different light. It also explained why this latest album of theirs seemed more upbeat, more “screw it, I’m doing what I want” – Ben has basically given up chasing after doctors to fix him, and was just powering through the illness and the symptoms. Again, that works for me.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling pretty good. I even started running again – the cardiologist was surprised I’ve been doing that at all, actually. I know that there’s something wrong with me, but it’s nothing that’s going to kill me. I’m “possibly decades away” from surgery. I’ve found a few groups online of people with my condition who are in worse much worse shape than me, and they’re still kicking. I just have to keep plugging along and doing what I do.

Medically-induced blargh

For those of you who have been following me on other social media platforms, rest assured that this will not be another rant about hives.

With that being said…

Several years ago, after many years of successful and ongoing treatment for high blood pressure, my doctor diagnosed me with mitral valve prolapse. To put it as simply as possible, one of the valves in my heart would occasionally fail to seal properly, allowing some blood to pool in a chamber instead of cycling through normally. Most of the time, I never even noticed it, but sometimes it felt like my heart would “skip a beat” as it moved the “extra” blood through my system. I was put on the “wait and see” program for this, since it isn’t an immediate concern – lots of people never even know they have this condition, and many that do live their whole lives without being treated for it.

On Tuesday, I went for a follow-up checkup on this condition, getting an echocardiogram – basically an ultrasound of my heart. I felt fine, the exam seemed to go fine, and I was on my way without a question or concern.

On Wednesday, I got a text from my wife saying the doctor’s office wants to speak with me right away. (I ran out of minutes on my cell phone, so they called the house, and she happened to be home sick.) They told me that as a result of yesterday’s test, they want me to contact one of their heart specialists to set up a consultation about the “dilation” they detected in my heart, and to discuss a possible surgery.

Heart surgery.

I’d known that valve surgery was an option as treatment; I know someone that had a valve replaced long before I’d even been diagnosed with my problem. Still, it’s not comforting news to hear. The rest of my day at work was spent doing not a lot of work, and trying to do not a lot of worrying, and trying really hard not to a lot of research online about my new diagnosis. (From what I saw, dilation refers to the heart swelling from being overworked, and is a step along the way towards heart failure (which doesn’t mean that it STOPS, it just functions below acceptable limits to keep one feeling well and healthy).)

I called the doc, and set a “first available” appointment for August 1st – ten days from now. After I hung up, I went through all of the symptoms I’d had in the last few months, and wondered if they were signs I missed (probably), or if the antibiotic I took back in June had anything to do with this (possibly), or how I’d deal with surgery… which actually didn’t bother me too much. I mean, I’ve had my gall bladder out, and my tonsils, and wisdom teeth. My dad’s had four different pacemakers installed, and just had a hole drilled in his head for a new cochlear implant hearing aid. I guess we’re sturdy stuff, and if it’s gotta be done, it’s gotta be done.

Still, the options I’ve seen for replacement boil down to: an artificial valve, which will mean taking blood thinners for the rest of my life (yay, more meds!), or a natural tissue valve, which won’t need thinners, but won’t last forever – another surgery to replace the replacement in the future. I also found valve repair as an option – plastic surgery, basically, to firm up the valve and make it fit better. Still, my condition is described in my paperwork as “moderate to severe mitral regurgitation”, so what are the odds that repair is an option? I had to keep reminding myself – don’t fret, don’t worry, it doesn’t help to worry, focus on the next step…

I made it home, promptly flopped down on the bed next to the wife, and took a short nap, too tired to bother fretting any further. After getting up, I did some more research on surgical options, and found a video of a woman who was in much worse shape than I am currently in (she couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without running out of breath), and she got away with just the repair surgery, not a replacement. So, that quieted down some of the more panicked voices in my head. A chat with Doctor Mom helped as well – they’re going after this early, you’re not showing serious symptoms, we’re here for you, etc.

So now I just have to get through the next ten days until I can see my new specialist about what to do next. I apologize in advance for anyone that I might annoy with any further fretting. I’ll try to keep it down.

“Oh, knob and tube!”

Pam and I have been talking about the possibility of replacing our janky old under-the-sink dishwasher, so we ended up at Lowes tonight window shopping. (Well, dishwasher shopping.) After quickly concluding that just getting a new washer might not be an option (since only one company makes them to fit our specific environment, and they are hella expensive), we started looking at options to re-configure the countertop and move the sink.

We ended up getting a little slap-happy once we allowed ourselves to freewheel the idea of redoing the entire bottom half of the kitchen, and I started riffing on the idea of tearing out the old cabinets and worrying about how out of code things might be once we get in there. “Yeah, we need to get the Property Brothers in on this! I can just imagine Johnathon in here with a sledgehammer – ‘Yeah, this is way out of code, there’s… wait, what? How do you even have knob-and-tube *in* your sink?'”

And then Pam sort of broke, and she giggled and snickered and sputtered like she used to do back when we weren’t so stressed about everything in the world.

I may also have come with a new curse phrase.

For a limited time

25 years ago(!), Rush released an album titled “Roll The Bones”. On it was the song “Dreamtime”. The chorus went as follows:

When we are young

Wandering the face of the Earth

Wondering what our dreams might be worth

Learning that we’re only immortal

For a limited time

Strictly going on the math of it all, this would have been in 1991. I would have been 21 at the time, working a 3rd shift job in a photo lab, and attending community college during the day, seeing my girlfriend (not even fiancee at that point, I think) on the eigth day of my seven day week, and pushing myself headfirst into a nervous breakdown. This was before I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, before a doctor had ever called me a hypochondriac, before I had ever heard the phrase “obsessive compulsive disorder”. Long before I was diagnosed with a weak valve in my heart that lets blood leak instead of pump it properly through my veins.

That chorus was stuck in my head for  weeks, and all I could to survive it was tell myself “Yeah, that limited time probably runs out around 40. Long time from now – you’re good”.

I’m 46 now.

Robin Williams has died. David Bowie has died. Alan Rickman. Lemmy. Patty Duke. Garry Shandling. Abe Vigoda. Glen Frey. Natalie Cole. Dan Haggerty. Merle Haggard. Chyna. PRINCE. And as of this posting, today, Michelle McNamara. She was only 46.

I’m 46 now.

I am sure as shit not ready for my immortality to be up.

Prisoner exchange

(Include standard CYA disclaimer: Personal opinions, not reflecting my employer, yadda yadda.)

Nine years ago this week, I was hired by the University of Michigan’s School of Information as a computer technician. Nine months ago, myself and two of my co-workers were relieved of our duties as UMSI employees, and transferred to the University’s Information Technology Services (ITS) department. We remained as primary technicians for UMSI, and kept our office locations in the building, although our duties expanded to include other departments in other buildings within our department.

Today, I was informed that I will be removed from the department that services UMSI and placed in a different department on another part of campus. All of the relationships I built over the years with staff and faculty, all of my hands on experience with the people and technologies in that building, will apparently no longer be needed.

My initial thought was that I had been traded, like in a sports team. My second thought was Bugs Bunny saying “Holy cats, I’ve been drafted!” Then the title of this posting came to mind. A bit cynical, and not totally accurate – prisoners are typically freed as part of an exchange, after all. I’ll still be part of ITS, just in a totally different location, with totally new people and processes to learn about. It’s a “great opportunity”, so I’ve been told. But they also said the technology migration project was doing “fine”, and it’s a “big success”.

I really do have a whole lot of ranting I want to do here, but it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m really not up to it. Check back in the coming days for edits and revisions to this article, and to make sure nobody asked me to take it down altogether (canary text).

How I imagine the start of 2016 sucking less

Lemmy rolls up to the Pearly Gates on his Triumph motorcycle. “Bloody hell,” he says to St. Peter, “you sure you got this right?” He drops the kickstand and slides off his bike. He looks around, shrugs, and snarls “What the hell, let’s get this fuckin’ party started!”

Suddenly, David Bowie slides up next to him. Straightening out his tie and smoothing out his suit, he looks Lemmy up and down, smirks, and says “That sounds like a grand idea. The biggest show in heaven or on… well, in heaven, at least. Shall we dance?”

Alan Rickman then shows up unexpectedly in a puff of smoke. He nods at the two of them and says “Gentlemen, I believe we are all in agreement on this.” He bows slightly, and makes a dramatic flourish towards the Gates with an outstretched hand. “Lead the way.” Trumpets sound, an angelic choir sings, and the Gates swing open to welcome their newest guests home.

As they pass through, Robin Williams careens into the scene on a motor scooter, a manic grin on his face. His Hawaiian shirt flaps in the breeze as he honks the horn on his handlebar. “Ha haaa! Now it’s a party!” His voice runs up and down the scale, from girlish squeals to deep guttural growls, as his rapid-fire patter continues.” Oh, we’re getting it on now! C’mon in, don’t be afraid!” He guns the engine, circling around behind them and urging them forward. “*honk honk* Let’s go, let’s go!”

With the Gates closing behind them, Robin’s gleeful voice can be heard echoing throughout the heavens as they move off into the distance of forever. “Oh, you’re just gonna *love* it here! I have to introduce you to Jimi, and Elvis – yup, he’s here all right, thankyouverymuch – oh, and there’s this little writer named Shakespeare that I think someone’s going to want to meet…”

Flint’s poisoned water, and the criminal responsible

Copied from the Michigan Rising Foundation Facebook page:

“Michigan this is CRUCIAL for you to understand. Snyder himself must be held accountable for the Flint disaster. He removed the elected officials from their positions in Flint. In their place, he put in a non-government ‘official’ who was neither elected by the people or employed by the state, and gave that person sole power to make all decisions that would impact the community. This left the people with no power to vote, to recall and no right to redress. It is literally written into the emergency manager law that emergency managers have total immunity for their actions. READ IT.
If you allow this to stand, you will be throwing away every right you ever had to participate in government and nearly every ounce of political power you hold as a registered voter in Michigan. People not from Flint cannot just keep saying ‘it doesn’t matter to me,’ or ‘what do I care I don’t live in Flint’ (or Pontiac or Benton Harbor or Detroit or any of the other places Snyder has set up an emergency manager) This is a PRIVATIZED government. It is a government that is not a government
The emergency managers can take bribes and gifts (see Snyder’s NERD FUND). They are not sworn in. They do not take any oath to protect the public or serve the citizens. They can receive unlimited corporate ‘donations’ and they do not have to disclose who is paying for stuff like luxury penthouses and luxury automobiles. They aren’t there to serve the public. That is not their job. Snyder’s EMs do not answer to the voters or the public.
You have to understand that if you allow this to stand in Flint, next year or the year after or the year after, it will be your town and you will be the one who is powerless to stop it. If you want to bury your head in the sand because you vote republican, and therefore you are willing to look the other way no matter what this man does, FINE. I get it, who cares about Flint, Detroit, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, It’s not your problem. You’re not your brother’s keeper. But what if this impacts YOU personally?
Think about this… In November Michigan may well have a democratic governor. What if the shoe is on the other foot then? What if a democrat comes into your primarily republican community and removes the people you voted for, and puts in place a puppet who acts only according to the direction of the democratic governor? What if it is your children who are poisoned and you cannot do a damn thing to stop it? What if you can’t even recall or vote out the criminals responsible? You’re worried about the oppressive bird sanctuary in Oregon? You’re worried that terrorists, convicted criminals and the mentally ill won’t be able to buy assault rifles because of the evil and oppressive Obummer? In the meantime, Snyder has taken your right to participate in local elections away entirely. I don’t care where you live, your community can have an emergency manager installed at any time. Why even bother to vote in a local election? Your vote means nothing unless approved by the governor. You’re not voting. You’re participating in a sham election. We might as well just throw out local elections altogether because they have no merit. Doesn’t matter who you elect, what local ordinances you pass, what proposals you favor or don’t – Snyder has the authority to toss all that.
What’s happening in Michigan is the definition of oppression. I guess when you’re the oppressor, oppression doesn’t seem as ugly and evil as you like to pretend you think it is.
Think Michigan. Stand up and say no to this before this, or something worse, happens again. The emergency manager law in this state has got to be overturned and Snyder and everyone that was a party to this must go to prison for what they have done here.
Snyder wanted to be the only person in Michigan with the authority and power to make decisions at the local level.You don’t get to have all of the power and none of the responsibility. You don’t get to make all the final decisions and then say ‘It’s not my fault.’ It is no-one’s fault if it is not Snyder’s fault.
We know from the statements of the emergency managers that the decisions made in Flint came straight from the great dictator himself. We also know that the Snyder administration KNEW that these citizens were being poisoned, and did nothing to stop it. Instead they took deliberate steps to hide it. They rigged the tests and falsified documents. They LIED to the public, assuring them the water was safe, when they knew that it was poison. They allowed school children to drink lead contaminated water. They allowed pregnant women and infants to consume that water, promising that it was perfectly fine, when they 100 percent knew it was poisoned. And they let it go on for more than a year. How is anyone not outraged? How is a single Michigan resident not demanding the arrest of Rick Snyder and his entire administration? These people want you to think they are Christian. They are thieves, liars, frauds, con artists, and cold-blooded killers.

Original post by Randa Morris”