A Shunt in Your Wicked Heart

In the doctor’s office, they call it a “communication” in the heart or sometimes a “shunt.” When I asked if that was another way of saying a “hole,” the doctor laughed and said, “Sure, if you want to call it a hole, it’s a hole.”

What we’re talking about is called a “patent foramen ovale (PFO)”—pronounced foh-RAY-mun oh-VAY-lee—a hole in the heart that didn’t close the way it should have after birth. It’s a small opening between the upper heart chambers, or the atria. It’s normally present during gestation in the womb but closes up during infancy—except when it doesn’t. Then it’s called a patent—or open—foramen ovale. That’s what I’ve got, and it turns out to be the cause of most of my shortness of breath when I’m exerting myself. What’s happening is that some of the blood that should be getting pumped to my lungs for fresh air is getting shunted instead to the left side of my heart and sent back out to the rest of my body. And then my saturation O2 drops.

We learned this during some recent tests: one where they did an echocardiogram while injecting micro-bubbles into a vein, and another where they ran catheters into my arteries to measure various parameters, while having me pump away on an exercise bike until I was gasping. They gathered lots of good data, I was assured. They thought I might have pulmonary hypertension, but I don’t.

What does this mean about the pulmonary fibrosis? Well, I still have it; that hasn’t changed, alas. But it’s milder than my breathing needs would indicate. The accusing finger points at my heart for that.

The good news is, this is something they can probably fix. First, though, I have to get scheduled for another test, to get clearer images of the shunt. If that goes as expected, then I’ll be, er, shunted to cardiology for the next phase.

Stay tuned. It should be exciting.

This is a railway shunt. Not really what we’re talking about.

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023 — Part 4

We’re in the final throes. We leave Monday morning, and it takes at least a day to clean up and put everything away. Myriad small repairs underway. The wooden door just got its fourth and last coat of polyurethane. Looks pretty good, if I say so myself.

Allysen is taking a crack at sanding the surface of one of four giant mahogany disks cut from the tree that went down in Hurricane Maria. These will make great table tops, if they can be smoothed from the uneven cuts and finished adequately. (I’m amazed anyone was able to slice these things at all.) Dunno if it’s doable or not, but they’re quite beautiful pieces of wood.

You know how I said I was reserving time in this trip for writing and enjoying the tropical environment? That proved to be mostly a lie—at least the time for writing. There was just too much to do, and no one else to do it. At least the pauses between tasks, looking out over the hill, were restorative.

Last night we finally got together with our dear friends and neighbors Frances and Che. Frances is recovering from a medical procedure, but she looked great. Che’s English can be hard to understand, but there was one thing he said that I got: “If there’s anything you need, anything at all, you’ve got it. We are family.” Pause to make sure I understood. “We are family.”


That seems like a good place to wrap this season’s run of The Ponce Chronicles. Probably the next time you hear from me, I’ll be back in Boston.

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023 — Part 3

Yesterday was Allysen’s birthday! We celebrated by…er…spending the day waiting to see a doctor at the “urgent” care clinic in downtown Ponce. In a freak accident, Allysen somehow scratched her eye with her thumbnail and was in considerable pain. After waiting four hours to be seen, we were told “We’re not really equipped to treat eyes,” which would have been nice to know at the start. But we came away with a prescription for some eyedrops, and they seem to be doing the trick. She’s feeling much better today and was able to do her regular work at the computer.

We did celebrate in more proper style with a nice dinner at Vistas rooftop restaurant, overlooking the city.

This was Crystal’s last day here, so I drove her to Mercedita Airport at the obligatory 4 a.m. hour to catch the JetBlue flight out. Before leaving, Crystal singlehandedly painted an entire bedroom for us! Bless you, Crystal. (For readers who do not know Crystal, she was the one who first introduced me to Allysen back in the day, when she—Crystal—was a housemate of mine in Cambridge.)

I know I said I would do no sanding, because lungs. But we had a half-sanded varnished door which had to be finished or it would be ruined by the elements, and I absolutely was not going to let Allysen keep sanding it with a possibly scratched retina. So I extended my O2 hose, donned an N95 mask, and finished it with a power sander. I was covered with dust, but my airways remained clean under the N95, and now it’s finished. Sanded, I mean. We still have to polyurethane it.

Too much remains to be done to leave on our original date, which was tomorrow. So I changed our flights, and we are staying until next Monday. Wish us luck!

Here’s another shot of the pony that sometimes comes up to our back fence, munching on an offering of greens. We don’t know his real name, so I call him Horsie.

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023 — Part 2

Work continues apace, here in Ponce. Our friend Crystal flew out from California to join us, and she’s been painting up a storm in one of the bedrooms. I have been working on a multitude of nagging repairs. Allysen has been project-managing, while holding down her regular job, no mean feat.

On my first trip to Home Depot, in the evening, I was driving down Las Americas Avenue and found myself looking straight ahead at a breathtaking view of the crescent moon and two planets. The first chance I got to take a picture was in the parking lot at Home Depot. Not great resolution, but here’s the moon with Jupiter (above and to the right) and Venus (below).

We took most of Friday off to drive into the mountains to a coffee plantation and café. Unfortunately, they were no longer giving tours of the plantation, but we had a nice lunch including coffee from beans grown right on site. And the drive along the winding mountain roads was exciting, as always. At a stop for gas, I learned of the existence of something called Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey. I did not buy a bottle to try, but I sort of wish I had.

Here’s the three of us in front of a water wheel at the coffee plantation.

And here, from the café, you can see some coffee trees growing on the hillside.

Sunday we took off to the beach, which is about an hour’s drive west from Ponce. There’s  a lovely secluded stretch away from the main public beach, which Allysen’s parents discovered decades ago, and is still the preferred place to go. We couldn’t see much evidence of it, but we were in the part of the island hardest hit by the earthquakes a few years ago. The epicenter was not too far offshore from where we were.

Because my meds require me to be very careful about sun exposure, I didn’t spend much time in the water, but here’s the splendid view I had from under a shade tree. That’s Allysen and Crystal cavorting in the Caribbean. Lunch afterward at a nearby hotel got me my first tostones of the trip—excellent.

Today…back to work!

The Ponce Chronicles, Winter 2023—Part 1

Here in Ponce, Puerto Rico, folks have been busy for a while. Allysen and Jayce came down in late January, and Allysen’s brother and a friend joined them, and a little later, their wives. I stayed in Boston with McDuff for that part. When I came down on February 14, everyone except Allysen had gone home, and I caught the baton in midair. Lots to do! (In case you missed the previous installments, this is work on the house that Allysen’s parents built in the 1970s and ultimately retired to.) If you look really closely at the picture above, you can see Allysen in the living room, working away at her job. And here she is, having just heard some horses go by on the hill above.

Some important stuff was already done. Andrew and his friend Paul replaced the two skylights that had blown off in Hurricane Fiona, and the bent gate was fixed, and Allysen and Jayce between them scraped and painted the stairs down from the parking pad. All of which was work I was delighted to miss! Because of my pulmonary fibrosis (can you hear the O2 machine puffing in the background?), I am officially off the “strenuous and hazardous” work details, meaning no heaving lifting, sawing, painting, etc. Nothing with dust or chemicals in the air.

That’s left me with a bunch of smaller jobs, like drilling into concrete to reattach a door to the tool shed (masked!), figuring out how to cover up a counter gap left from the earthquake a couple of years ago, figuring out how to put mosquito screen over various odd-shaped openings around the skylights where you have to attach to concrete, figuring out how to replace the broken cover over the pool pump equipment. But no deck building! No, no, no, not this year, and not any year ever again. Oh, and figuring out where and how to store the backup generators that somehow got stashed in a really inappropriate place.

Part of “figuring out” things is figuring out how to buy what you need. There’s Home Depot and Costco, of course, but they don’t have a lot of what we need. Take storage for the generators. The obvious solution is a small shed, and we even agreed on where one could go. But the two stores I just mentioned don’t have the right size. Amazon, of course, has everything, including exactly what we need. But most Amazon merchants won’t ship to Puerto Rico. Why? I don’t know. I’ve probably complained about this before, so I will spare you the rant.

Still, we’re making progress. We have vowed to spend some quality time on this trip actually enjoying the island where Allysen spent several years growing up, and we even have plans of where we want to go.

I am reserving more time to myself, to work on the book. So far, though, I have not found my way through the quicksand that has impeded my progress with the story. (If you are tempted to ping me and ask, “When is the next book going to be done?” please don’t. When I have something to report on that, I will report it.)

Meanwhile, I have seen only one (!) stray cat and no dogs, and that makes me a little sad. But we do have the occasional hummingbird, and a very sweet horse that wanders into the yard just below us, and that always brightens our day. And the trinitaria behind the house are beautiful!

 

Lost Carver Masterwork Discovered!

Title: The Mysterious Midnight Ride. Completion date: circa 1961. Age of the author: ~12. Circumstances of discovery: cleaning office.

Mysterious Midnight Ride, cover illustration

Here it is, folks. You’ve been clamoring for the archivists to uncover this work (seriously, a few of you have), and now it’s before you. My first story set to paper, when I was in 6th grade. My co-conspirator in this was my childhood best friend, Mike, now better known as classical music composer R. Michael Daugherty. I say co-conspirator rather than coauthor, because while we devised the story together, we each wrote our own version. I wonder if his has survived. I seem to recall that he wrote in the first person; mine is in third person. That’s about all I remember about it.

Herewith, I present you with The Mysterious Midnight Ride, complete and unexpurgated!

Reunited!

My laptop and my Android tablet, left behind over a month ago at the LAX security checkpoint, have come home! Welcome, you prodigal devices! Let us feast and celebrate. You will always have a home here.

Kudos to the LAX Lost and Found department, the L.A. Airport Police who actually do the work to reunite 5-7000 items with their owners every month, and the shipping company that handles mailing the items home. Eridani and Tabula Nova were very well packaged and sent out promptly after I paid the quite reasonable $35 for Priority Mail. Hey, kudos to the USPS, as well!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, all.

 

Revenge of the Squirrels?

I can’t prove it’s the squirrels. But the lights in the tree in front of our house mysteriously stopped working last week. I say mysteriously, because they all went out at once. Sure, you say, the power went off, or a fuse blew, or a wire broke. Maybe. But the power is not out. I isolated the first string from the bottom, and it no longer works. But even with it cut out, neither do the rest of the lights. I isolated the second string from the bottom, and it no longer works. But neither do the rest of the lights. Whaat? At that point I got cold and stopped trying. I laid out a little circle of (different) lights on the ground under the tree, just to have something.

I cannot prove this was the work of squirrels. But they have the means, and the motive. (Sharp teeth, and we forcibly evicted their people from the property last year.) Coincidence?

As Kahn said to Kirk, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I think the squirrels have been watching too much Star Trek.

Captain Jack (2010 – 2022)

We are in shock and mourning. Our beloved border-collie mix, Captain Jack, has left us. Just two weeks ago, he was joyfully chasing a younger dog round and round at a friend’s house, totally exhausting us just watching. However, three days ago, he abruptly went into a precipitous decline—not eating, having difficulty walking, and even standing. I realized with a start that he had lost weight, which I hadn’t noticed. Despite long sessions in two different animal hospitals, the cause remains uncertain. But probably it was a return of the cancer that almost took him a year ago. Here he is, enjoying a last review of the property during a brief rally toward the end.

Many of you will remember that he had radical cancer surgery on his jaw a year ago, resulting in a new lease on life, though one with his tongue hanging out for lack of a place to park it. He enjoyed that year, and we are deeply grateful to have enjoyed it with him.

The timing was uncanny. He abruptly showed serious symptoms on the very day Allysen and Jayce were flying back from Puerto Rico. I was at the hospital with him the very hours that they were in a plane coming home. We are all devastated, but grateful that the whole family could be here to say goodbye. A lovely vet named Dr. Johnson, who makes euthanasia house calls, came to our home to ease his way. Many thanks to her, and to Jackie and the other dog walkers, and to our regular vet Dr. Parker, and to Jack’s oncologist Dr. Cronin, and many others who helped make his life the amazing life that it was. I have owned (and said goodbye to) many dogs, but never one about whom so many people have come to me to say, “I love this dog; what a great dog; he was the highlight of my day.” We already miss him terribly.

Still with us is Lady McDuff, aka Duff-Duff, aka Septima, aka Nugget, aka Possum. She was Allysen’s mom’s dog and is now ours, and she has found her own way into our hearts. Here she is with Jack in happier times. No doubt she is mourning in her own way.

Speaking of Annoying Noises

posted in: personal news 1

About four days ago, I was in the basement and heard a chirping beep—just like the sound a smoke alarm makes to alert you to a low battery; you know, the one that makes you scratch your head and say, “Am I hearing things? What was that?” Except in this case the sound was not coming from any of the smoke detectors, at least none that I could find. Eventually I became convinced that it was coming from above the ceiling sheetrock, and further convinced that some contractor had put up sheetrock over a smoke detector. Then I became convinced that it was coming from a big junction box for our ductless mini-split system. Connor was convinced it was coming from another device, but that didn’t sound right to me. It started making increasingly shrill sounds at intervals.

I finally texted Plumber Mike, asking if it could be from the ductless system, and he said, Maybe. He and his assistant came by today to check it out. They searched and searched, going through all the same suspicions I had. But it was not coming from the ductless system, or the other. Finally they found it:

It’s a battery-powered leak detector that used to be attached to one of our old water heaters. At some point it must have gotten kicked off, and someone carelessly put it up on a shelf. A high shelf, well out of sight. Where it sat until its batteries ran low, and its trilling could confound the allegedly wise.

The batteries are out now, and it is in the trash. Sanity, for the moment, is restored.

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