Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Heart Valve Breakthrough

According to the New York Times, the University of Michigan medical center performed aoertic heart valve replacement surgery by using a catheter through a groin.

The valve and the related materials were manufactured by Edwards Life Sciences , the same people who provided me with my heart valve.

The New York Times article put this unqualified good news in the most hedged light. Sure, the operation now may be of the last resort kind, and sure it still may be better to let them go ahead and cut you open. However, I have more reason for optimism now. As I hoped, it appears that when they have to replace my heart valve, the procedure will be as easy as a angioplasty.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Personal Update

I expected to have "The Stroke -- Part 2" up by January 31, which was the second anniversary of my hospital stay, but the truth is that I haven't even started it yet.

I sent "The Stroke --- Part 1" to a lot of people who didn't know I was sick in the first place (Big ego guy that I am, I thought everybody knew).

So although I will at some point tell everybody the entire story, I do need to skip to the end and tell everyone that I am working full-time, and seem to have suffered only minimal damage from the stroke, for reasons that I will speculate on when I finally finish the piece.

In the meantime, the reading of my play on General Grant went pretty well last Sunday night, although there are rewrites to be done. I also scheduled a public reading of a chapter of my novel --- "The Last Audition" for the end of February. We are renovating the co-op, and I have a full-time job. So my plate is pretty full.

I have lost 9.4 pounds so far during my 6 weeks on Weight Watchers. The hardest thing so far is getting enough exercise in this New York winter.

I find that my slow pace is a typical WW experience. You always think you ought to be moving faster, but you never do. If you think you are going too slowly, you tend to gain all the weight back -- at least on WW.

Friday, January 28, 2005

How Do You Know If Someone Is Having A Stroke -- Preview of "My Stroke -- Part 2"

My sister sent this to me. It was an e-mail she got. She says she verified it a little. So I pass it on.

"The SAS test

"Symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify.
Unfortunately, the lack of awareness can spell disaster. The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

*Ask the individual to smile.

*Ask him or her to raise both arms.

*Ask the person to speak a simple sentence.

"If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

"After discovering that a group of non-medical volunteers could identify facial weakness, arm weakness and speech problems, researchers urged the general public to learn the three questions. They presented their conclusions at the American Stroke Association's annual meeting last February. Widespread use of this test could result in a prompt diagnosis and treatment of the stroke and prevent possible brain damage.

"A cardiologist stated that if everyone who gets this e-mail sends it to 10 people, you can bet at least one life will be saved. Tell as many people as possible about this. It could save their lives!"

Thanks, Sis. What little I know about other people's strokes tells me that it has to be good advice.

I have to tell you that when I had my stroke, I raised my arms to get into my coat, got into a cab, and gave the cabbie a set of directions in complete sentences. Don't remember if I smiled or not. As I have already told you, I had my stroke on January 23, and by the end of "My Stroke -- Part 1," it was 5 days later, we had diagnosed my stroke, I was still going to work, and no one had thought to ask me to lift my arms.

Why things happened that way will be revealed in "My Stroke -- Part 2" Coming soon (I hope).

Sunday, January 23, 2005

My Stroke -- Part I

On Thursday evening, January 23, 2003, 6:10 p.m., in my 44th year, one week shy of a 7-year stretch of uninterrupted paid employment, I had a stroke while I was sitting in my office.

I had just received a bit of bad news from my ear-nose-throat doctor. I had failed the vertigo test I had taken on Tuesday. He had taken the liberty of scheduling an MRI for me the following Tuesday. I got off the phone, and started having one of my dizzy spellls.

I had been having these dizzy spells a lot recently, and I had gotten use to having them in my office, which was after all, a public place. I would get dizzy. The room would be swirling around me. I would sit down, focus on a particular spot, it didn't matter which, so long as I focussed on a fixed spot. In about thirty, sometime sixty seconds, the room would stop spinning. I would get up, have a glass of water, collect myself, and go on about my day.

This time, it was different. In the middle of the room spinning, my face burned up, the way it might if I instantaneously caught a fever, and then my stomach burned up, the way it might if I were not a human being, but a Franklin Stove. The whole event took 10 seconds. Suddenly, I had a splitting headache, and my vision blurred.

I knew something different was happening. I actually thought I might have had a stroke. As a precaution, I took a cab home to Forest Hills, even though it wasn't even 7 p.m. yet. I knew if I took a subway home I would feel worse, and I didn't want to take the risk of feeling worse on a stalled subway. I knew that couldn't possibly feel any worse without going into a hospital. However, if I felt the same, I thought I could take care of the matter myself. All the way home in the cab, I kept thinking of hospitals that I might stop at. None came to mind. My condition did not seem to be deteriorating. The cabbie stopped in front of my door. I gave the driver a 30% tip.

I convinced myself that I had another migraine headache, that I had another stress headache, that I had another sinus headache. Throughout my legal career, I would have a handful of these a year. Headaches that would prevent me from seeing clearly. I would take some aspirin, some Motrin, some pain killers, and sleep it off. It was about 8 p.m. I went to sleep and slept through the night.

When I woke up the next morning, I was feeling just as bad, but no worse than the night before. I called in sick, and continued to take pain killers and sleep.

By Saturday morning, the headache had gone away, but the vision had not cleared up. My father had flown up from Florida for the day to see my brother, and my sister had driven in from Philadelphia to join him. My wife and I were supposed to have dinner with my father and my sister that evening. So me and my blurred vision and my wife drove from Forest Hills out to Massapequa that evening for dinner at the Nautilus Diner. I never mentioned how I was feeling. Neither my father nor my sister said that I looked ill, that I looked like someone with blurred vision. I certainly did not mention it.

Incidentally, the careful reader may ask why I did not join my father and my sister for their visit with my brother, or why my brother did not join us for dinner. But that is for another chapter.

On Sunday, Laura and I drove around Forest Hills running errands, and on Sunday night, I watched the Super Bowl -- Tampa Bay blew out Oakland. I watched the football game on my 27" TV screen which I once thought was the largest TV nature could possibly make, and which I now considered a pathetic symbol of how badly I played the game of capitalism.

On Monday morning, eyes still blurred, I went to work. We were unusually quiet for January, and I was really just doing glorified filing and paralegal work. I noticed for the first time that you can adjust the computer to increase the type face of things you are looking at on the Internet. By lunch time, I realized that maybe I ought to see an eye doctor. Now. So I told everyone I needed to see a doctor in Forest Hills, and I would come back when I was done. I don't think I came back to work that Monday, but I would have to look at the time records.

After my conventional eye exam, the eye doctor introduced me to the field of vision game, which I have since played many times. In this game, you sit in front of a video screen, focusing on a central light while lights flash around the central light. When you see a light flash you are supposed to press a button. This is all a way of testing your peripheral vision, and whether or not you had any blind spots in your vision. Apparently I had a nice blind spot. The entire upper left quadrant, especially of my left eye.

As a practical matter, I had no idea what the eye doctor was talking about. I did not feel as if I had a blind spot. However, when we stopped playing computer games, and went back to the old fashioned games of how many fingers am I holding up, even I could see that my peripheral vision was not what it was supposed to be.

The eye doctor was the first person to say the "s" word out loud. I told him that I had an MRI scheduled for the next evening. He told me to send him a copy of the results.

I worked 11-6 on Tuesday, again with blurry vision. I think this is one of the days I took the bus to work. I live in Forest Hills, and I generally take the subway to work. In order to get to the subway, I have to go uphill (which is why they call it Forest Hills). There had been some days recently where I just didn't think I could make it up that hill. I figured I had just gotten too fat. I was on Weight Watchers, and had lost 20 pounds in a month, although I wasn't following the Weight Watchers program very well. I was lighter than I had been in at least 5 years. However, I figured that I was also 5 years older, I was 44, and even with the 20 pounds off, I was now too old and too fat to climb the hill every day. Therefore, some times, not all the time, I took the express bus to work. There was a stop right in front of my house and let me off on 57th and 6th. I work at Carnegie Hall Towers, which is 57th and 7th. The trip was twice as expensive and took three times as long, but I didn't have to climb the hill to get to the subway, or climb up the stairs when I was leaving the subway.

Anyway, I worked 11-6 that day, and then went to take the MRI. They put you in this pneumonic tube. What does pneumonic mean? They put cotton in your ears. And they slide you into the area where they are taking the reading. The tube felt a little small, and I think it was designed to feel a little small.

Then a voice comes through some sort of intercom: "OK, this one is for two minutes". And you begin to hear these wild industrial sounds all around your head. You think you are going to start shaking, but it is always just a little below that level. One thing's for sure. This is a lot more than two minutes. And the next one was more than 5 minutes. And the next one, they didn't tell me how long it was. And I didn't know where the other side of this intercom was. During that 10 minute one, did they even stay in the room with me? Were they anywhere nearby? If I began to shake and bake, if the MRI machine broke, would they be around to stop it? I was just scared.

When it was all over, the technician called my ear-nose-and throat doctor. The technician told both of us that I had suffered a stroke. Since I have recovered so nicely, there are some people out there who assume that I am just engaging in a sort of soldier's exaggeration of my injuries. They assume that I had a "TIA," a transient ischemic attack, a mini-stroke. Looking back, I had at least two of those as well, one in 1996 and another in 1999. I can tell you the difference between those one-hour incidents, and what was happening to me now. I could also show you the pictures, which I keep in the house. I had a real live adult-size stroke.

They wanted to put me in the hospital. I wasn't going to the hospital. I had one more task at work to take care of before I was going into any hospitals. I also had to go home and watch the State of the Union Address. Somehow or other, I was able to convince the ENT doctor that I didn't have to go to the hospital. I promised the ENT guy that I would see his neurologist the following afternoon. I went home, by cab again, and watched the State of the Union. It seemed important at the time. I can't remember anything about it now.

The next day, I went to work, told a couple of people, well I don't think I told anyone I had a stroke, but I did tell a couple of people that I had been failing medical tests, and more doctors wanted to see me. Months later, after I went back to work, people told me that I had looked awful the entire month of January. I don't remember anyone saying that to me at the time.

In 12-Step programs, they are constantly telling you about needing a "new pair of glasses" to get you to recovery. Clearly what I needed was a new set of ears.

To be continued.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Walk Don't Run

Lost 7.5 pounds in 4 weeks.

Walk Don't Run has been the way I have to do it.

I have been doing a lot of walking. If I try to run, I find that I stop doing any exercise at all. I think my cardiologist would like it if I sweated more, and I hope to get to it soon.

Confidential to those of you who know the difference between Flex and Core ---

I have doing well enough on Core. Not perfect, but well enough to lose 7.5 in 4 weeks. I am still not sure about this comfort zone business. If I try to switch back over to Flex, where the weight loss might be quicker for 2-3 weeks, I won't be able to sustain it, and I'll have the same bad results I had gaining the 20 pounds.(that is just me OF COURSE)

Finally, I am "counting" on Core. Writing down everything, even if most things are "zero" points. This way I have a record to look at. I can't stay on any food plan successfully without tracking. I am interested in other people's experiences about journals and weight loss.

Walk Don't Run.

Sunday will be the second anniversary of my stroke. I have unedited writing about the stroke that I am hoping to edit and share with you by then, but I also have revisions to make on the Ulysses Grant play. Public reading (not formal, actors with scripts sitting on folding chairs) --- 6:30 January 30, 2005.
Workshop Theatre , and I need to do that first. Then there is this nasty business of having to work for a living!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

A Non-Fan's Notes

I have been discussing football issues on B After The Fact and weight and recovery issues on Time After Surgery . Since this concerns both, I am running it on both sites.


I apologize to NoTrust. After the game, in the middle of the post-mortem phone call, I mentioned a fact that NoTrust has known since 1967 -- I am a Giants fan.

But I have a funny feeling that if the Giants lost a playoff game 20-17 on a missed field goal or two --- I wouldn't have felt much different. I know because when the Giants won a Super Bowl 20-17 on a missed field goal, I didn't feel much different.

This year my mid-life crisis reached drinking age. My mid-life crisis hit its full stride in November 1986, after my beloved Mets beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

After the World Series, I got so depressed, a form of the circus-has-just-left-town blues, that I promised that I would never get so worked up again over a television event -- which is after all what sporting events mostly are. I also made a series of life-altering changes, the most important I started taking acting lessons. Within a year, I left my Harvard Law School job. Within three years, I moved to California, my 200-pound body and my thick New York accent dreaming of some sort of sitcom glory that never came. If the circus-has-just-left-town, I would go looking for it.

I am back to practising law now, and I still do some acting from time to time, but in the words of the newly popular movie, after the 1986 World Series, my life blew Sideways, and has been like that for a long, long time.

I wouldn't blame everything that happened to me on fandom, just like you can't blame everything on the failure of a kicker to make 40-yard plus field goals in the other team's stadium, but it was a little extra thing that pushed matters over the edge.

It has taken a lot of work, but it seems that I have kept my promise to myself. As I get older, and find that most of the things I like to do can be found in my own home, I find that I watch more televised sporting events. I still get excited by my Mets, and can spend a lot of time following their activities. However, when I had a rehearsal for an acting class conflict with one of the Mets-Dodgers playoff games in 1988, an appointment that could have been broken as easily as a trip to Starbucks, I went to the rehearsal. When someone offered me theatre tickets the same night as the last Mets NLCS game in 2000, I went to the theatre.

So while I follow sports closely, and I still know, well not as much baseball trivia as a 14-year old, but way too much for a 46-year old, it appears that I have stopped being a fan. Some games can play in my mind for a long time, and I can listen to the stupidest sports call-in show for hour after hour. I read many books on baseball every year. I like to watch football a lot. And, according to my wife, I love few things in life, if anything, more than falling asleep in front of a baseball game, and then claiming the next day that I saw the whole thing. Certainly, if I can stay awake, I will stay awake, even past midnight on a working night, if I am enjoying the game enough.

I like it when any New York team wins. Life here is too hard, much harder than it is anywhere else. If we have four times the people as anywhere else, I don't know why the Yankees and Mets shouldn't be entitled to win every year. When any of the New York teams win, it makes for a more pleasant city. That good New York feeling is more important to me than whether the feeling is coming from the Yankees, Mets, Giants or Jets. That is an immediate tell. If I root for all four of those teams to win (although I root for the Mets hardest), I am too promiscuous to be a true fan.

I apologize to NoTrust, a true fan, for calling him with my its-only-a-game-mind during such an inopportune time.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I join the Weight Watchers e-Site

I don't know if throwing money at problems is the answer, but I did today. I joined Watchers e-site, and I left the following message

"Good morning guys. New to these message boards, but not to Weight Watchers. Lost some, gained some. Core seems the answer for me, but I am having a problem getting a solid week in. Sunday morning meeting, and then I'm normally good until about Thursday. My holiday season is basically over until New Years Eve, so I am hoping to get two good weeks in right here.

Look forward to seeing and hearing from many of you."

Just so you should know one ground rule. If anyone posts to this site in response, it will be posted.

If anyone responds on the Weight Watchers website, IT WILL BE ANONYMOUS!

More to follow