Sunday, February 19, 2012

Worry - Zero to Sixty

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) changes everything.  Even how we worry.  Like they measure acceleration in cars, we SCA survivors can go from zero anxiety to catastrophe in seconds flat.  Sometimes, I think I have forgotten how to worry "in between", in moderation.  It is worry-free or it is the Apocalypse.  Or the SCA version of Apocalypse - hearts stopping without warning or implanted defibrillators (ICD's) shocking the crap out of us, also without warning.

I remind myself almost daily of Mark Twain's admonition that 90% of what he worried about most in his life never actually happened; I try to use his insight and wit to moderate the fear that accompanies post- SCA worry, but I fail more often than I like to admit.

Worrying in the post-SCA life is like the anxiety one feels in the first ragged months after death of a loved one.  Particularly in our youth, before we become skilled at grief.   (never mastery, of course, but there are some skills to be had there).  You know, when you get a late night phone call before the loved one's death, you may have a moment's disorientation, a spot of worry, more spots of annoyance at the interruption, the thought "this better be good".  Then, in the aftermath of the loved one's death, we are so acutely aware that it's possible that someone we love will die; that our people can actually die.  We hear the late night call, and the first thought is someone's death.   In my experience, happily, that level of worry dissipates as the months and then years pass after the loved one's death.

But now I think I may have to accept that the post-SCA zero-to-catastrophe worry is here to stay.  It's been a couple years, and it has not changed.  When I have a sensation in my chest (or really, almost anywhere), my first thought - icy, icy thought - is that it's the ICD and it's going to fire.  Or if the sensation is more of a sensitivity, my first thought - more iciness, is that something is wrong, either with my ICD or with the heart. (there are stories published seemingly constantly about quality issues with ICD's.  I skip most of them).

I have a "blog friend" in the Netherlands; I love hers - "Thoughts of Wonder".  (her link:  She is younger than I am, is raising young children, and has no business having to deal with this SCA nonsense.  Not that any of us should, but certainly not a young mom in her early 30's.  It is even more wrong.

So my friend, Marije, put up a new post "Not So Lovely Days".   A normal person, a pre-SCA me, would have thought she simply had a bad day.  But no, this is post-SCA and it's zero to sixty.  Me and Skippy the defibrillator immediately thought she had arrested again.  Or had a defibrillator shock.  Or something else horrible.  Just from reading those four words "Not So Lovely Days".  My worry is misplaced, in keeping with Mark Twain's 90% maxim -  I'm happy to say Marije was merely dealing with a household of people large and small who are suffering through colds or flu.  It only takes a minute; the anxiety disappears.  But I know it'll be back on another day; I know it's become a fixture.

So there it is again. Our hearts don't work like normal people hearts; something has gone off the rails there, whether we want to admit it or not.  And we no longer worry like normal people.   Zero to 60 in nothing flat.  I need a slower car.  I'm gonna get me a slower car.

(the photo above is my first car.  How it got to the front lawn of the apartment building and why I left it there - well, that is a long, old story for another day).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Whales, NatGeo, Me

I saw whales last week.  Many, many, many whales.  Grey ones (moms and babies), humpbacks, one gigantic blue whale.  And Orcas. And birds I'd never heard of.  Even the birds I was familiar with seemed more magnificent.  I was in the Sea of Cortez on a National Geographic ship.    This is a nerd cruise, not a Carnival Cruise. (If you ever see me on a Carnival-type cruise, you'll know I am being punished for doing something horrid).

This boat housed 55 passengers, a smallish staff/crew, augmented by PhD types on board to educate and help us.  Biologists, a botanist, a couple professional photographers.  There was a small contingent of Yale alums and they brought along their very own academic; I believe his area is biology of fish evolution. Seriously.  He tried to tell a joke one night about the expression "drink like a fish"; one of those excruciatingly awkward moments where someone realizes that outside his normal circle, he really just is not a funny man.  Interesting, yes. Funny - no.

So no, there were no musical acts made up of near would-be has-been almost stars. Well, one evening a couple local fishermen with guitars came on board and played a bit.  Seriously.  There was no casino and no bingo - instead, we had lectures on wetlands, whale migration, John Steinbeck's book "A Log of Sea of Cortez" (by someone who had actually known Steinbeck).  Like I said - this was nerd heaven.

The area is spectacular; the colors are beautiful, the air is unbroken.  Mountains, sand dunes, water,  cacti - somehow they look like they are created with pastels.  I don't remember ever wishing I could paint, but on the first morning, watching the sun come up, I had that wish.

One day, as it turned towards evening, I stopped in the lounge/bar to grab my afternoon cup of tea before heading to the deck for an hour with the Steve Jobs biography --- and I realized - on a 'normal' cruise, at 6PM, the bar would be full of people heading into, or deep into,  cocktail hour.  Here, on this boat, the lounge had maybe 10 people, all spread out in ones and twos, each reading a book.  Nerd heaven.

I learned that I loved seeing the migration and calving of the greys just as much as I thought I would. I learned I love sleeping on a boat.  Some people got very ill our first two sort-of rough nights, but I loved it.  I love dawn on a boat. I saw my first "green flash".  I snorkeled with sea lions (the adults can be big and scary, the babies are like puppies - bumping your head, your butt, chewing on your fins -- you laugh right through the snorkel).
Mexico is still Mexico.  Navigational markers made out of trash line an important channel.  Wonderful meals of local fish I have never heard of.  And the country is still a poor, dirty mess.

I had never done "group travel" before;  it's for people who like their travel safe and controlled.  There is little risk of things going seriously off the rails.  (Unlike my normal style -  two sisters hanging out at the Moscow train station at midnight to catch the overnight train to St. Petersburg... a little nervewracking, but fun.  We like risk).

Oh, and I love the airport scanners.  We don't have them  yet in little Wilmington, NC, but in LA, I get to breeze right through.  Skippy the implanted defibrillator (ICD) won't go through a metal detector, so most travel still involves the charming TSA pat-down.  But not in big, shiny LAX -  I think we with ICD's may be the only people who relish those scanners, but we do.

I loved the trip.  The next travel will probably be back to some scary sister trip (I'm trying to talk one of them into going to Israel).  But this was wonderful.  A lifelong dream - waking up surrounded by grey whales.  Whale after whale after whale; inches away.

Life is short.