That’s no moon…

One of our cars, the one I drive, is a C-Max hybrid. Huge windows, high visibility, sleek lines, LCD dashboard panels with fancy animated gauges, odd metallic paint color… I always said it reminded me of a spaceship.

So this morning, an alert popped up on one of the little LCD displays – “Service Tire Mobility Kit”. I had never seen this before, so I clicked the OK button on the steering wheel and figured if it was important, it would come back.

Well, it did. The alert showed up again as I was leaving work for the day. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go home and read the manual, rather than bother with it in the parking lot. I got home, dug the user manual out of the glove box, and looked up the alert message. It told me I could find the mobility kit under the passenger seat.

I looked under the passenger seat – someplace I’ve never looked in the 2+ years we’ve owned this car – and found, of all things, a small air compressor (to inflate a flat tire) stowed in a compartment in the floor. Attached to the air compressor was a canister of “fix-a-flat” foam which can be automatically injected as part of the air compressor process. That was what the car wanted me to service, since the canister had a “use by” sticker of February 2018 on it.

But that wasn’t the coolest thing. While digging around in the back seats, I discovered that if I lifted up the floor mats, there were removable panels that covered up storage compartments in the floor.

Hidden compartments.

Smuggling holds.

I’m not just piloting any old spaceship, I’m captaining the Millenium Falcon!

(And as I have spent the last five minutes trying to figure out how to work in a Chewbacca gag without offending my co-pilot wife, I shall instead take my leave. Writing ain’t like dusting crops!)


*tap tap* Is this thing on?

Well, after seeing a tweet this morning from The Bloggess calling bloggers back to active duty, I realized that it had actually been a year since I last updated this thing. So, let’s do something about that.

I see that I totally forgot to update the blog with any information about my heart surgery. Well, suffice it to say that the surgery that I had on August 11, 2017 was a success. A textbook procedure, as my surgeon described it. I was back on my feet in short order – cleared to return to regular activity after five weeks, actually.

I was far exceeding expectations in my cardio rehab classes as well… Until I overextended while running on the treadmill and popped something under the scar on my right shoulder where they performed the surgery. That put me a bit behind in shoulder recovery, and it’s been a bit lacking ever since. But other than that, I’ve been fine.

Well, outside of the surprise root canal.

And the not-so-surprise tooth extraction.

And the four trips to the ER in the last year for chest pains.

But those will have to wait for later entries. I’m doing good for now.


I’ve been listening to a lot of industrial music the past few days after finding it in my Amazon Music account – a band called The Crüxshadows in particular. I was listening to their song “Winterborn” as I was walking out of work today. Dark and brooding, full of acoustic instruments and chants, lyrics of suffering and sacrifice – a good fit for the weather and the mood of the day.
I stepped around a building just as the song swelled and the chorus came in (at 1:30 in the video). A bell chimed as I set my foot down on the sidewalk and stepped into a strong, cold breeze. My coat and scarf billowed behind me as I walked, and I thrust my hands out to my sides to capture both the air and the moment. As the singer sang the line “I am Winterborn”, a single snowflake drifted down in front of my face.
I couldn’t have shot a video with a more fitting and dramatic scene.
I’m still not fully up to speed on the lyrics, but I sang the last two lines of the chorus out loud right there in the parking lot 😀

Chicken wire

I had my pre-surgery blood testing and checkup today. As part of the process, a nurse practitioner came in to review the procedure with me and to see if I had any questions. During the review, she described the procedure, and showed on a little drawing where they were going to cut into my chest to perform the operation.

There was only one problem with that – the doctor and I had already agreed that the procedure wasn’t going to go through the center of of my chest, but was instead going to go through my side since – in the doctor’s own words – “nobody opens up the chest for a repair any more”. Going through the chest involves cutting the sternum, and spreading ribs, and literally wiring things back together. It’s a longer recovery, and then there’s the little detail of leaving extra metal in my chest for the rest of my life. I’m already going to have a plastic ring sewn to the outside of my heart to keep my valve snug; I’m trying to minimize foreign objects inside me.

After having a talk with the NP, who then in turn called my doctor’s assistant to confirm what was going on, it was left up to me which procedure was being done. I opted for the “minimally invasive” option of going through the side, and my day continued.

Before I left, I texted my wife to let her know what was going on, and she told me to make sure I was getting the non-invasive surgery. I replied with one of my better texts:

“It’s all going to be invasive. It’s just that one leaves me held together with chicken wire and the other doesn’t. I’m a farm boy at heart, but not that close to my heart :D”

She thanked me for the laugh.

“Have you been feeling any worse?”

So last week was another six month follow-up for my ongoing heart valve saga. I went in first thing in the morning, and the tech did another echo test of my heart – basically an ultrasound, with the wand and the gel and all, as well as a few EKG pads glued to my furry chest. They were going to get the results to my cardiologist, and she would compare them to the trans-esophageal echo that was done six months ago. (I didn’t even tell you about that, did I? For *that* one, they literally knocked me out, then stuffed an ultrasound wand down my throat and did a scan from the *inside*, where they could get more accurate measurements. Great fun!)

So I got cleaned up (that gel gets everywhere), headed out of the office, got breakfast, and came back a few hours later. I was led to an exam room, played twenty questions with an assistant about my medical history, and waited for the doc to show up. When she did, her first question – asked with an oddly knowing tone – was: “So, have you been feeling any worse recently? Any new symptoms?”

Well, shit, I thought, that’s no way to start an “Everything’s good, see you in six months!” conversation.

When I told her no, I’ve been feeling about the same – maybe a little more inclined to take a quick nap after work – she smiled and nodded her head. “Yep, that’s not a surprise,” she said, as she and her now-pregnant belly took a seat (it had been six months since we last met, after all). I must have shot her a “Oh, come on, you can’t be serious” look, because she then said something to the tune of “We’re going to need to talk about surgery.”

The exact words escape me, but that’s pretty much how it went down. No gentle chit-chat about results or how I’m feeling otherwise, just that, and then right into “we’re looking at more enlargement of your heart”, and “eventually that’s going to affect your heart’s performance” and  “it would be good to get it done sooner rather than later”, and “before things get worse and you suffer some permanent damage”. She suggested that due to my condition (relatively healthy) and my symptoms (relatively symptom-free) that a valve repair would be much more likely than a valve replace. This would mean an easier surgery on me, and a quicker recovery, both of which sounded fine to me.

But still, it meant surgery. On my heart. I’m not a Time Lord, so it’s not like I’ve got a spare one as a backup. Either surgery – repair or replace – means, quite literally, putting me on life support, pumping all the blood in my body out into a machine and then back in to me, then *stopping my heart* while they poke at it with sharp things. I would be lying if I said the whole concept didn’t bother me. At least repairs can be done without cracking open the whole chest, like would be done for a replace. There’s laproscopic procedures that can be done, like they did to take out my gall bladder – just a few small cuts to stick in tools.

I guess I took this news remarkably well, since the doc seemed a bit surprised at my lack of external response. I told her that it’s not like I didn’t expect that surgery was a possibility in my future… I just didn’t expect the future to get here so soon. And anyway, my dad’s had four pacemakers installed and had a few heart attacks, and he’s still kicking, so I should be fine.

So next week, on the 22nd, I have an appointment with a heart surgeon to discuss my situation, and I would assume when and where I might be having surgery. It’s not like I don’t have options – our hospital does them, as well as the UM hospital down the road, and then there’s the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which is a bit more of a trek, but still the top place to go for heart surgery, from what I understand (with UM and my hospital being second and third, respectively). I honestly don’t know yet what sort of time frame is involved, but I’m hoping that however it goes, that I’ll be able to attend my Penguicon convention at the end of April. Meanwhile, I wait for the 22nd to arrive, so I can figure out where I go from here.

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.