Friday, January 12, 2018

happy birthday heart valves

A romantic soap stone heart and an organically correct tin heart. I also have an embroidered heart, a heart pillow, cards with hearts. Memories of visits in the hospital--a couple from friends who had deep-seated personal experiences that made them loathe to step into hospital, and yet they made their way to the ICU while I was still bloated with anaesthetic, for which I will always be grateful. I have a particular paranoia about lying unseen and untouched while unconscious, and I don't want R to have to deal with that alone. I told my friends and they came.

Six years ago today my ribs were sawed open--sure, I asked to see the saw--and my heart was stopped and attached to a pump so that two artificial valves could replace my valves that were no longer functional because they were thick with rheumatic scar tissue.

I wasn't afraid of the surgery but I was existentially FREAKED OUT about having my heart stopped. Would I still be the same person? Was my "soul" going to be altered? Rationally, these were all silly questions. I don't believe in souls per se. But... my heart! I must have studied too much medieval literature once upon a time. I had this idea my heart was still somehow the centre of my being. True, it is the engine that keeps us breathing and moving. We don't get far without a heart.

The surgery itself went well. My heart was stopped and started again. The mechanical valves clack like castanets inside the cabinet of my ribs. Since one opens and closes with the ingoing blood, and the other with the outgoing blood, I get two clacks per heartbeat which sounds like my heart beats twice as fast as normal. I've gotten used to the speed. When I hear the magnified sound of a normal heartbeat, for example, it sounds way too slow. Like the person might die any moment. Although a normal heart does have a lovely organic sound--flesh and blood pumping. Mine now sounds like a machine. I've more or less adjusted to the loudness of the clacking. What choice do I have? There are some funny stories of how people have tried to muffle the sound of their valves with padding so they can sleep. I tried a wave machine and rain falling. I count in Spanish along with the beat. I remind myself I have two spanking new valves that will apparently function for 50,000 years! How can a surgeon tell you this with a perfectly straight face? It leaves me with an image of myself dissolved to ashes and dust and my valves still clacking.

I don't know how much a cardiac surgeon's time and labour are worth, the cost of an operating room and a heart-lung pump, and a respirator, and the heaps of gauze and equipment and saline solution and all the other attendant doctors, but I priced the valves at the time of the surgery. Each cost about $7,000 US. I quote US dollars because the valves were manufactured in the US, so that's where the figures are available. I live in Canada where we have socialized medicare, so I did not pay for them. 

Here's an aortic valve. I have one of these as well as a mitral valve. Some people show off their new cars. Me, I've got anatomical hardware complete with warranty and servicing agreement. (Servicing includes dental hygiene, blood thinner, bi-monthly blood tests.)

My quality of life has improved significantly. More than significantly since I would be dead without the new valves. I walk every day, I cycle, I hike, I snowshoe. I've been told I can jog but I don't because I don't want to.

I am fortunate that among the many things that can happen to the human body I had something that could be dealt with. I am fortunate that I live in Canada where I've had access to stellar medical treatment.

I have other cardiac abnormalities, which are also a result of having had rheumatic fever, but medication gets adjusted every now and then, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm fine.

Happy Anniversary valves! The sound of your incessant clacking is the sound of me being alive, so... Keep clacking!

Monday, January 8, 2018

fresh minds / young bodies

Listening to an enthusiastic fourteen-year-old explain the growth of slime in sunlight seems as good a way as any to open the new year.

Skating even though it was minus thirty-seven. Or because it was minus thirty-seven and four boys under the age of sixteen in a single house could quickly turn into mayhem. (Five boys if you include the sixty-year-old masquerading as a tongue-replacing surgeon.) The sky is big, the land flat, because this is Winnipeg.

There was reading together

reading alone

begging to go ice-fishing even though it was so cold there were sun dogs

helping with chores

cleaning jack fruit

Another afternoon of skating

And did we see Star Wars? We did. My first 3-D movie experience.

games of ping pong

making empanadas, pizza, and jam donuts

listening to a BBC podcast

and always more reading

not giving up on the fish under the ice.

black jack too

I questioned the betting (silly me) and was told from all parties playing that pennies weren't worth anything anyhow, and a game was more fun when there was risk.

meanwhile the slime and the closed jar terrarium were still growing

I make no apologies for the energy that blurred the pics

or the COLD

the Prairie sun dogs that stretched high in the sky all afternoon set only when the sun did

Saturday, December 23, 2017

last errand of the day / montreal Dec 23

Snow falling, almost dusk, and we've got one more errand. It's got nothing to do with the holidays or tourtière or chestnuts or last-minute gifts or coloured lights. All of that is done. The beans (for the tourtière) are baking.  

We're looking for a squeegee to clean the shower stall because the $$ store squeegee we had broke. So where do we go? To the $$ store. It's easy. There, people are cruising the aisles with carts. The last Saturday before Christmas. I cast no aspersions. We're there too.  

There is no squeegee--called un squeegee, even though the proper French word is raclette--so we head to another store much similar. They, too, have no squeegee but direct us across the street to the hardware store. 

It's an old-style store where you tell the owner what you want and he or his daughter go behind the counters to look through their stock. He not only has squeegees, he asks if we want to use it for outdoor windows or the bathroom. He spends a while looking. His daughter goes to help. They know they have the bathroom ones. They even describe them to us. They have white plastic handles. They're either over here, or over there, or behind this, or maybe in that box. 

We look around in case we can see them, though stock is piled to the ceiling and I suspect you need to belong to the owner's gene pool to understand where to begin. There are door handles, plumbing elbows, brooms, boxes of shoelaces, anti-freeze, chocolate bars, rolls of carpet. A cream pitcher stuffed with plastic combs flanked by a few Elvis LPs. A bubble gum and a jelly bean dispenser. 

By now, several of the outdoor squeegees have been found and R picks one. It costs $3. 

We don't need a bag but the owner tells us he's ready for the municipal law supposed to come into effect in January when stores in Montreal are no allowed to give out plastic bags. He's got paper. He's all set. He can even remember when he used to tie purchases up with string and he can do that too.

We walk home through the snow sifting, drifting, falling. 

Happy holidays!

Dec 24: news from the bathroom. Outdoor window squeegees don't work on shower stalls. Nor does raclette cheese. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Gaspé Dec 2017 / Slush Puppie waves

I'd described to a friend how I was standing at the window and watching the waves on the shore rolling in slow-mo. Sorta thick. Then I went down for a walk and saw how the rocks left exposed at low tide had a coating of ice.

At high tide the ice gets smashed, making slow, slushy waves.

Which made me wonder if the inventors of the Slush Puppie drink happened to be hanging out by the coast in the winter.

We walked in the hills and found a summer cottage where someone likes to have the salt breeze on the very edge of the cliff dry their clothes.

We walked up the side of a mountain. About 300 m/1000 ft high? The range behind our house are called the Chic Chocs. They're the end of the Appalachians.

The neighbour wasn't able to do any work on trail last year. It only takes one summer for fir trees to start to grow and storms to knock down trees. By next year, it won't be possible to climb up there anymore.

I was behind R who was following moose prints. Moose prints in snow are surprisingly delicate and mincing, given the size of a moose. R's are bigger.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

old houses / the Gaspésie

When we were in the Gaspé last week, we took a trip farther down the coast to the tip of the peninsula to visit an old house. The question was whether it was a Sleeping Beauty to be woken or a dump to be demolished. Cedar shingles, planks, a crumbling chimney--but when chimneys are that crumbling, they can easily be knocked apart. What a gorgeous piece of land! That's the first from-the-road assessment. 

Closer up, the house is thickly entwined by tenacious alders and dogwood. Luckily no thorns. Sometimes life is kinder than fairy tales.

We had to scramble and climb as well as we could through the branches. Some had even tried growing into the house.

R, ever the optimist when it comes to potential, pointed out how straight the walls were.

However, we weren't the first to come exploring the house. Boards had been pulled away, glass broken, plastic ripped.

But an elegant lamp stand as a bemused survivor.

This door, smashed, was on a mudroom. No big deal. But note the grasping branches. I was wondering how hard we might have to fight to establish our presence in the house.

Despite weather and neglect, this door is still upright, straight, and thick. Painted cheerfully once upon a time. It's the once-upon-a-timeness that fascinates me about the look and structure of old houses--all the while I'm asking myself whether we can get modern plumbing and a little more wiring than the two fuses currently in the tiny electrical box.

Inside, it's true, there's a mess because whoever broke the windows was as rough with the boxes and furniture. But again, as R says, look at the tongue and groove walls. Look at the ceiling.
 Close up, too, some of the garbage could be seen as treasure too.

There's an open Monopoly game, ready to be played, propped on a retro chair. The chair and the furniture in the house are from the previous, not the original owner. We think the house was built in the 1920s because of the newspaper still pasted to one of the walls upstairs.

Newspaper--and horsehair when available--was typically used for insulation. These papers aren't dated but have ads for flapper hats, including this one of a kimono called a "coolie coat". In silk.

Walls upstairs have been knocked out so that there are only two large bare rooms and we can see the original boards which are frankly gorgeous. Also the darling stairway.

The stairs are a little on the tiny side, treadwise, but people used to be smaller. The stairs aren't as narrow as in the house R has been working on for the last few years. It's still not finished but eventually it will be. We don't get there often because it's a 9-hr drive from Montreal. This new old house is 2 1/2 hrs farther. R is looking ahead to retirement when the distance from Montreal won't be such a hindrance. 

Here's a map of the Gaspé peninsula in relation to eastern Canada. West of the Gaspé across the water lies Newfoundland. The name Gaspé comes from the Mi'kmaq Gesgapegiag which means Land's End.
Below that, a closer view. The new old house is the red dot. Purple X marks the old old house. 

The distance between the two houses is 150 k but it takes two and half hours to drive because along that stretch are mountains and the road twists and winds with steep climbs and drops onto open water. A real-life rollercoaster ride.

The new old house is on a thin perimeter of land next to Parc Forillon, a national park. Here's the view from an upstairs window and a view from the backyard.

This will be R's third derelict old house. But the previous two have been/are still being made comfortable to our liking. Our liking is simple. We don't need heated floor tiles in the bathroom. A functioning bathroom is sufficient.

With this new old house, we weren't sure whether there was ever plumbing until R was looking at the pics I took and he noticed that my shot of cat prints had a pipe that might lead to a well. ???

This, on the back of the house, would clearly need to be torn away--but again R is optimistic. Look at all that wood!

I also have to admit that I'm not sure about the stability of a house which is propped up on beams and stones. Although the house has been standing in the face of Maritime gales since the time of flapper hats, so...

Some people worry about old houses and ghosts. In the last old house there were Satanic paintings on the dormer ceiling in one of the bedrooms. There can certainly be a sense of unquiet presence in house that's stood empty and neglected for years. In our old house in Montreal, I was convinced there was a dead body under a grave-sized heap of gravel in the dirt cellar and I made R dig to the bottom to assure me there wasn't.
If there are ghosts in this house, I guess they announced themselves to my camera. Looks sort of welcoming, no?

For me, these old houses are writing related, whether as a place to hole up to write or a place to write about. And maybe one day (if we solve the plumbing) other writers will brave the twisting, climbing road through the Chic Choc Mountains and come stay there too.