Mar 07


My cardiac health continues to improve. I had another appointment with my cardiologist on February 22, and he was quite pleased with my progress. The only change he made was to add one more medication that might further strengthen and support my heart. It’s basically an experiment to see if it helps, and to find out how well I tolerate it. (I can answer the second question now: after two weeks, I have noticed no side effects at all. But then, I have felt no side effects from any of my cardiac medications, and I’m on half a dozen of them now.) He also said that I will probably be ready to stop wearing a defibrillator fairly soon. My next cardiology appointment isn’t until April 26, so I assume I’ll be using it until then. It’s no great hardship.

But I did have a health setback in recent days that had nothing to do with my heart. It wasn’t life-threatening, either, but it sure was unpleasant and inconvenient. I had a flareup of lower back pain. This seems to happen to me about once a decade, or maybe a little more often, and it typically isn’t the result of a back injury. It just happens, for no apparent reason. And it doesn’t seem to be related to my age or my weight, because I can recall having one of these flareups when I was in college, at a time when I was still young and slim.

The discomfort built up rapidly over a couple of days, starting around Tuesday of last week (March 1). By Wednesday morning I was experiencing quite a bit of intermittent pain, but I was still functional. I had planned to take my old desktop computer to the Kramden Institute and donate it, something that I could only do on a Wednesday evening unless I wanted to take time off during a work day. So I was determined to complete that errand despite the pain. Picking up the computer and carrying it down the stairs to my car was not too bad, and driving was fine. When one of the Kramden volunteers offered to come out to my car and bring in the computer, I was happy to accept.

But things got worse that evening. The Kramden building is right next door to a Golden Corral restaurant, and I took the opportunity to eat supper there. I was doing OK during the meal, even though a buffet requires you to get up and move around much more than any other kind of restaurant. After the meal, I visited the men’s room and went into one of the stalls. When it was time to leave, I found the process of standing up, restoring my clothing to normal, and so forth to be agonizing. After washing my hands, I made my way slowly and painfully out to the parking lot. My gait was so stiff and slow that I thought I must look like Frankenstein’s monster shambling through the restaurant, but no one seemed to notice.

Once I got into my car, I was more or less comfortable. (Sitting or lying down doesn’t hurt. But standing and walking do.) I had planned to stop at a Walmart Neighborhood Market that was on my way home to pick up a couple of grocery items, and I decided to go through with it. I probably should have skipped that, but I was too stubborn. I managed to hobble through the store and collect the items I needed, leaning heavily on my shopping cart for support. As I approached the self-checkout, two of the employees saw that I was in distress and asked if I was all right. I explained what was happening and, after I scanned, bagged, and paid for my groceries, one of them offered to escort me to my car. I accepted with thanks, and managed to reach my car without incident. She put the groceries into the car for me and took care of returning the cart.

When I got home, I had to face the ordeal of climbing the stairs to my apartment. Since being discharged from the hospital, I had grown accustomed to traversing those stairs easily and effortlessly. Now it was like climbing a mountain again — not because of shortness of breath and fatigue, as it was in December, but just because it hurt so much. But I made it to the top, unlocked my door, and staggered inside. After putting away the groceries, I took my evening medication, added some pain reliever, and went to bed early.

Thursday morning was the low point. Getting out of bed took about half an hour and involved a great deal of pain. I found myself thinking that I might actually have to call 911 if I couldn’t even walk. But I wasn’t going to do that if I could avoid it. After using the shelving unit near my bed to slowly, gradually pull myself upright, I found that I could manage a shuffling walk. My first concern was, of course, to get to the bathroom. Second on my list was to make it to the door of my apartment and unbolt it, because if I did have to call 911, I wanted to make sure the EMTs could get in.

I was able to do both of those things, get some breakfast, and start my work day. Working was actually not a problem, because I do that sitting down, and sitting didn’t hurt. But the longer I sat in my comfy office chair, the more it would hurt when I stood up. So I made a point of getting up at least once per hour and hobbling around the apartment — going to the bathroom, getting another cup of coffee, or something like that. Standing and walking was still pretty awful.

In the past, I have dealt with these flareups by taking large doses of ibuprofen. It relieves the pain, but it also reduces the inflammation that’s causing the pain, and by using that medication, I have typically been able to clear up the problem in a few days. But now that option was off the table. When I left the hospital, my instructions had included a ban on ibuprofen or any of the other NSAIDs, like naproxen sodium. The only pain reliever available to me was acetaminophen, which I find to be less effective for pain, and worthless against inflammation. So on that Thursday morning, I called Cary Cardiology and spoke to a nurse. I described what I was experiencing and asked them to either give me permission to use ibuprofen or offer me an alternative medication that would do something about the inflammation.

The nurse talked to my cardiologist and called me back. They couldn’t let me use ibuprofen; in combination with one of my other medications, it could cause bleeding. And they don’t prescribe pain medications. She recommended that I call my primary care physician about that. So I did, talked to a nurse there, and she spoke to my physician, who prescribed cyclobenzeprine hydrochloride. It’s a muscle relaxant, not a pain reliever, but it seemed like a good idea to me, because I could tell my pain was being caused by muscle spasms in my lower back.

At my request, the prescription was sent to the pharmacy at the same Walmart Neighborhood Market where I had stopped for groceries the night before. But how would I get it? I was in no shape to navigate the stairs again. Up until this point, I hadn’t told any of my family what was happening, but it was clearly time to enlist someone to help. I called Ruth, and she immediately agreed to pick up the prescription and bring it to me when she got off work. When she arrived, she also took out my trash and insisted on preparing my supper and serving it to me. When she left, she took with her a package that needed to be dropped off at a FedEx store. (I am very grateful that she lives so close and is so willing to help when I need it.) After her departure, I took my muscle relaxant, ate supper, and went to bed early again.

On Friday morning, I didn’t notice any significant improvement. Getting out of bed was still an ordeal. But as the day progressed, I could tell the pain was gradually lessening. I continued taking the new medicine. With the arrival of Friday evening came the weekend, and I resolved to spend it resting and healing as much as I could. I spent Saturday and Sunday quietly at home, taking several naps during the day. Each time I slept, I woke up with less pain. By Monday morning, I was moving around the apartment much more easily. It still hurt, but in a more tolerable way.

It’s now Monday evening, and I’m nearly back to normal. There’s still a lot of stiffness when I get out of bed or stand up from a chair, and I’m still walking slowly and carefully, with some moaning and groaning. But I’m definitely on the mend. The Walmart pharmacy notified me that a refill of one of my prescriptions is ready, and I plan to go and pick it up myself tomorrow evening. That will be my first time venturing out of my apartment since last Wednesday, but I’m sure I’ll be up to it by then.

On Thursday evening, March 10, I am scheduled to have dinner with Bob and Miles. I don’t think I’ll have any difficulty keeping that appointment. I may not feel like going walking after dinner, but the meal itself, and the trip there and back, won’t be a problem.

It seems that I’ve weathered another storm. But it sure would be nice to have calm weather for a while.

Feb 11


I thought I should write a brief post about the days immediately after my catheterization. The temptation to make the title a pun was too much for me to resist, I’m afraid. (It’s a play on “aftermath,” you see. Sorry.)

In my previous post, I mentioned that my post-procedure instructions included some restrictions, like not driving, avoiding stairs, and not lifting more than five pounds. The ban on driving was in case I was still impaired by the anaesthesia (I wasn’t, as far as I could tell), but all the other restrictions were intended to prevent me from causing the spot where they inserted the catheter (referred to with the charming term “puncture site”) to bleed. The instructions also included warnings not to strain during bowel movements or engage in sexual activity. (That last one wasn’t really a problem for a divorced man who isn’t in a relationship and is not looking for one.)

In addition, I was told that the morning after the procedure, I was to remove the dressing from the puncture site and then shower, gently washing the site with soap and water. I didn’t exactly obey that instruction. I did not have to go anywhere or see anyone on Tuesday (the day after the procedure), and I was doing my best to take it as easy. So I chose to leave the site alone. I left the dressing on, and I didn’t shower.

But I had a dental appointment on Wednesday morning, and plans to meet Bob and Miles for dinner that evening. A shower was mandatory. I carefully peeled off the dressing and examined it. Not a speck of blood on the gauze — clearly, there had been no post-procedure bleeding. So far, so good.

But before getting in the shower, I wanted to take a look at the puncture site to see how well it was healing. I couldn’t find it! I had been expecting a puncture something like the one you get when you donate blood, but clearly it had been smaller than that. And in the two days since, it had apparently closed completely. I am not limber enough to bend double and take a close look at my own groin, but I couldn’t see it in the bathroom mirror, and my attempts to snap a picture of it with my phone were unsuccessful. So I shrugged and got in the shower.

Washing the area with soap and water didn’t provoke any discomfort. I wasn’t terribly surprised, because I had experienced no pain whatsoever during or after the catheterization. No soreness or tenderness, nothing at all. This is typical for me; in the past, following surgical procedures, I have had little or no post-operative pain. My gallbladder surgery, for instance, had left me with four new holes in my abdomen, which didn’t hurt at all. They were little holes, but so is a paper cut, and those hurt like hell. Surgical incisions don’t, not for me. I don’t know why.

The instructions said to put a Band-Aid on the puncture site after washing and drying it. But with only the vaguest idea where it might be, that seemed pointless. I didn’t bother.

After having avoided driving on Tuesday, I did an unusual amount of it on Wednesday. First I went to Apex and back (12 minutes each way) for my dental appointment. Then, in the afternoon, I drove to Fuquay-Varina and back (half an hour each way) to pick up a new work computer. And in the evening, I went to the restaurant and back for dinner (about ten minutes each way). I had no trouble at all driving.

In short, I recovered quickly and easily. My only problem is that, between missing a whole day of work for the procedure, and most of Wednesday morning for a dental appointment, I am short on hours for this week. Which is why I will be working on Saturday. But things are finally calming down. After a steady barrage of medical tests and appointments during all of January and the first half of February, I don’t have another one scheduled until March 7. And after that, nothing until late April. That will probably change, since I was told that Dr. Desai would want to see me again about two weeks after the catheterization. But things are definitely getting back to normal.

One more thing that I forgot to mention in an earlier post: The primary measure of heart function is ejection fraction (EF), which measures the percentage of blood inside the heart that is pushed out when it beats. A healthy heart typically has an EF of 50-65%. When I was admitted to the hospital on December 29, my ejection fraction was in the 20-30% range. (That’s why I was diagnosed with heart failure.) Shortly before the catheterization, Dr. Desai told me that the MRI on January 24 had measured my EF in the 40-50% range. So it’s not quite back up to normal, but it’s improved a great deal. My heart is getting stronger. He was very pleased, and so am I.

Feb 08


When I revived this blog, I had thought that I would use it to tell the story of my heart failure experience in chronological order. But it’s taking too long for me to do that, and I don’t think it makes sense to delay updates on recent events just because I haven’t finished describing earlier ones. So today’s post is about what happened today. I’ll catch up on the earlier events when I can.

Today, February 7, I had a heart catheterization at WakeMed Cary Hospital, where I was an inpatient a month ago. This was a procedure scheduled by my cardiologist, Dr. Desai, to look for blockages in my coronary arteries. If any blockages existed, that could be the cause of my heart failure. Procedures for doing this vary, but in my case, the catheter was inserted into my femoral artery in my groin, and then maneuvered through blood vessels to the heart, where it was used to examine the blood flow in the coronary arteries. X-ray imaging is use to track the location of the catheter and aid its navigation. The catheter can also release small amounts of a radiocontrast agent, also known as an x-ray dye, which makes the blood flow visible to the x-ray cameras for a few seconds. By analyzing this imagery, the catheterization team can determine whether blood is flowing normally in a particular location, or is restricted by a blockage.

My preparation for this procedure required me to stop taking Xarelto, the anticoagulant (or “blood thinner”) that I normally take to treat the deep vein thrombosis in my lower legs. I was instructed to stop the Xarelto two days before the catheterization. I was also told not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of the procedure. Other than that, I just had to show up at the appointed time, which in this case was 8:00 a.m. I was not allowed to drive myself to or from the hospital, so Ruth agreed to provide transportation. I would be there all day, so she wasn’t required to wait at the hospital while the procedure was happening.

After I checked in, answered a few questions, and signed some consent forms, I was taken to a room in Observation. I went through the familiar process of changing into a hospital gown and putting my clothes and other belongings into a plastic bag for storage until I was ready to reclaim them. (This was part of the preliminaries for my gallbladder and eye surgeries, as well as every colonoscopy I have had, so I know the drill.) Intravenous lines were installed in my right arm and left hand. (I didn’t ask why they needed two of them.) Then I was taken to the “cath lab,” which the equipment required for the procedure. In particular, it has an manueverable x-ray camera that can move around the patient’s body to get the best images of the catheter’s current location.

I was given a sedative and local anaesthesia in the groin area, and the catheter was inserted. I had expected to the sedation to make me groggy or sleepy, but I remained conscious and alert during the whole experience, although I was very relaxed. The local anaesthetic was administered so expertly that I wasn’t even sure when it happened; I didn’t feel a needle. Perhaps they used a topical numbing agent on the skin first? Anyway, the entire process didn’t demand anything of me other than being relaxed and keeping still. At one point I was asked to take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds. That was my only participation.

I knew that if blockages were found, the plan was to correct them with stents, which would probably be installed by the catheter as part of the same procedure. But I didn’t have any blockages, so no stents were needed. After the procedure was complete, I was taken back to my room for recovery and observation. The main concern was to make sure that I didn’t start bleeding at the site where the catheter had been inserted. I was required to lie on my back and rest for several hours. By this point it was 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., and I was pretty hungry, not having had breakfast. A nurse brought me a turkey sandwich and some graham crackers, which I was able to eat while flat on my back. She also helped me drink some ginger ale through a straw. After that I dozed. I wasn’t able to sleep very well, because I normally sleep on my back, and my neck wasn’t really comfortable despite some fiddling with the pillow. But I just had to put up with it for a few hours, so I drifted in and out while I waited for the required time to pass.

Some time between 2:30 and 3:00, I was allowed to sit up in bed, then stand and walk to the bathroom. Then a nurse took me for a brief walk in the hallway while she observed me to make sure I was moving well. When it was clear that my balance was good and I wasn’t dizzy or lightheaded, she took me back to my room and canceled my Fall Risk status (which is automatic for anyone undergoing anaesthesia). After that, a lunch tray was brought in and placed on the overbed table, and I ate lunch while sitting on the side of the bed. (It was the same kind of meal that I had been served while I was an inpatient a month ago, so I felt a bit of nostalgia as I ate.) Another nurse went over my discharge instructions, and then left me alone to change into my clothes and get ready to leave.

I sent Ruth a text message to let her know that I was ready for pickup. Both of my IVs were removed. A wheelchair had been parked outside the door of my room, so I sat in it and reviewed my printed discharge instructions while I waited. The main point of them was to avoid straining the insertion site and causing it to bleed. I was told to avoid going up and down stairs for 24 hours, which would mean that after getting home, I would be confined to my apartment for a day or so, which would be no hardship for me. (Since I work from home, I sometimes don’t leave the apartment for several days at a time.) I was not to drive or operate machinery for 24 hours as well. The main limitation was that I shouldn’t lift anything heavier than five pounds for three days.

When Ruth arrived, a nurse wheeled me out to the curb where her car was waiting. I explained the restrictions to her, and mentioned that a prescription had also been sent to the Harris Teeter pharmacy that I sometimes use. She agreed to take me there to pick it up, and to get a few grocery items as well (since I wouldn’t be able to go grocery shopping for a while.) Then she took me home and carried the groceries up the stairs for me, since they definitely weighed more than five pounds. After making sure that I felt fine, Ruth left.

I did feel fine. I wasn’t in any pain, and not dizzy or lightheaded. But I was kind of tired, so after a light supper, I took a nap for several hours. But I wanted to get this entry written and posted today, so here I am finishing it up at half past midnight.

I don’t have any blockages in the blood vessels serving my heart. That is both good and bad news. It’s good because blockages are certainly not a good thing, and you’re better off without them. But it’s bad news in the sense that we still don’t know what caused my heart failure. We’ve eliminated blockages as a possible cause, though. So that’s progress.

I’m progressing in other ways. Dr. Desai told me that my heart function is continuing to improve. And he surprised me by telling me to stop taking furosemide, the diuretic that I’ve been on for over a month, and which enabled me to lose forty pounds of excess fluid, restoring my breathing to normal and allowing me to resume my normal life. When I was an inpatient, I was being given furosemide intravenously, so I don’t know what the dosage was. But I was given a prescription for the oral form of it when I was discharged. At first, I was taking one tablet twice a day. At my first follow-up appointment, Dr. Desai reduced it to one tablet per day, and at my second, he cut it again to half a tablet. Now he’s stopping it altogether. It seems that my heart is functioning well enough that my body can eliminate excess fluid without it the diuretic. I continue to weigh myself every day, and if I see a weight gain of 2-3 pounds or more per day over a two-day period, or five pounds in a week, I am to call his office. (He’ll probably put me back on furosemide if that happens.)

I was told that Dr. Desai will want to see me again in a couple of weeks. I expect that we’ll talk about what comes next. In the meantime, I’m going back to work. I took all of Monday off for the catheterization, so I have some catching up to do.

Jan 28

Side effects

A post about my time in the hospital is coming, but I haven’t had much time to work on it this week. In the meantime, I have a health update that has nothing to do with my heart issues. On Wednesday, January 26, I visited my local Harris Teeter pharmacy to pick up a prescription. While I was there, I took the opportunity to get my second dose of the shingles vaccine. (It’s normally given in two doses, 2-6 months apart, and I had received my first on September 11.) I was advised of the possibility of side effects, but I wasn’t concerned; I generally don’t have side effects from vaccines other than the inevitable sore arm.

But the next day, Thursday, I was feeling distinctly under the weather. I had two symptoms. First, I felt very tired all day. This wasn’t the kind of fatigue I was experiencing in December, because that was accompanied by shortness of breath, and I am breathing fine now. But it was debilitating. The other symptom was that I felt cold. My apartment can feel chilly in the winter months, but normally I address that by putting on more clothing: a long-sleeved pullover, warm slippers, or fingerless gloves if my hands are feeling cold. In this case, though, I felt cold no matter how much I bundled up, and my fingers were like icicles.

I looked up the known side effects of the vaccine, and these are pretty typical. They usually pass in two or three days at most. So this is just a temporary inconvenience. But I wasn’t very productive on Thursday. Toward the end of the day, the effects began to ease. I stopped feeling cold, but I was still very tired, and I ended up going to bed early because I just didn’t have the energy to do anything else.

If this is the price I have to pay for the vaccine, it’s acceptable. I have talked with people who had shingles, and it sounds truly awful. The main symptom is excruciating pain. I am willing to put up with feeling sick for a day or two if it enables me to avoid that.

On Friday morning, I felt fine. So the side effects only lasted for one day.

Jan 23

Heart failure: Decline and ER

I promised to use this blog to provide updates on my health — specifically, the ongoing testing and treatment for my congestive heart failure. I expect to have some new information soon, but in the meantime, I want to write a summary of how I got here.

I can’t point to a specific point at which my troubles began, but over the course of 2021, I gradually began to notice some ill effects. Mostly, I was losing stamina and becoming short of breath more often. I chalked this up to my obesity and advancing age, but that didn’t really explain what was happening. My weight wasn’t changing significantly, and I wasn’t aging at an accelerating rate, but I found myself getting tired more easily and having trouble with physical exertion because of shortness of breath. This wasn’t happening all the time, but Bob and Ben can confirm that when I tried to go on long walks with them, I would have to stop and rest frequently, and I still couldn’t keep it up for very long.

It was depressing. I felt like I was getting old prematurely. Things that had been a normal part of my life became more and more difficult. Doing laundry, for example. My apartment is on the third floor, and the laundry room is on the first. Carrying a basket of laundry up and down those stairs hadn’t been a big deal a couple of years ago, but now it was becoming an exhausting ordeal. Even climbing the stairs without a burden was tiring. During the pandemic, I had become more reclusive, going out rarely and relying on grocery and takeout food delivery. At first, that had been more of a convenience; now it was a necessity, because leaving my apartment was a challenge that I was reluctant to face.

Around the beginning of December 2021, the deterioration seemed to accelerate. My weight had been slowly decreasing in November — not a lot, but definitely moving in the right direction. In December, it started increasing, and at a disturbing rate. Between late November and late December I gained 15 pounds. I couldn’t figure out why. I hadn’t gone on an eating binge; in fact, I had cut some things our of my diet to reduce my caloric intake. It didn’t make sense.

Since being diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (basically, the formation of blood clots) in 2019, I had experienced some edema (swelling due to fluid retention) in my lower legs and feet. This tended to come and go over time. Sometimes there would be no noticeable swelling at all. But in late 2021, the swelling was as bad as it had ever been. And I noticed that my abdomen seemed to be bloating as well. The shortness of breath and fatigue got worse. On recent attempts at long walks, I had been able to walk or speak, but not both at once. I simply couldn’t get enough air for that. And I was tired all the time now, with no energy for anything but basic activities.

I noticed that breathing was more difficult in some positions than in others. It was easiest when I was sitting or standing upright, and most difficult when I was lying down. This made sleeping a challenge. I have an ordinary flat bed, not the kind that can raise the head so that you’re sitting rather than lying. (If I owned a recliner, I would have tried sleeping in it.) I had to carefully control my breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth) and focus on relaxing in order to fall asleep. And I still wasn’t sleeping very much or very well.

I decided to defy my limitations in order to go to a theater and see Spider-Man: No Way Home. I had been hearing very good things about it, and I was worried that the longer I waited, the greater the chance that I would encounter spoilers. A day or two in advance, I reserved a seat at a showing on Sunday, December 19. But on the morning of the showing, my left foot was so swollen that I didn’t think it would fit into a shoe. I requested a refund for the ticket, and I didn’t go.

By this point, just getting out of my chair and walking across my apartment would cause me to be out of breath. On those occasions when I couldn’t avoid going up or down the stairs, I would have to stop, rest, and catch my breath several times en route. It felt like I was slowly dying. When I turned 62 years old on December 20, I felt 30 or 40 years older than that.

It occurred to me that I might just be sick with an infectious disease. Shortness of breath and fatigue are among the symptoms of COVID-19 and flu. If that was the cause, then eventually I would recover from the disease and get back to normal. I had never thought I would actually hope I had COVID, but that’s how desperate I was. I called my primary medical practice and scheduled a COVID test.

The test took place on December 22. The physican assistant who administered it told me that I would have the results the next day. But I didn’t. When I called the lab company to ask, I was told that it could actually take up to three days. Of course, the third day after the test was Christmas, and it was in the middle of a long holiday weekend. I had planned to visit Mom in Rock Hill for Christmas, but that didn’t seem possible now. I canceled the trip and, for the first time in my life, spent Christmas alone. (Marie had Christmas dinner with friends, and she was kind enough to bring me several plastic containers of food, so I did have Christmas dinner.)

I called again on December 28, the first normal workday after the holiday, and was told that the lab company had no record of my ever having taken the test. Apparently, they had lost it. I would have to retested. I was stunned. But before I could schedule another test, I suddenly received an e-mail from the lab company with the results of the test. They didn’t say how this was possible when they had told me a day before that they couldn’t find it.

I read the results. I was negative for COVID, for both of this year’s strains of flu, and for respiratory syncytial virus. Good news, right? Not at all. In fact, I was frightened by the news. It meant that my symptoms were not going to go away on their own, because I wasn’t sick with a virus. Something else was causing my shortness of breath and fatigue. And at this point, my lung capacity was barely enough to keep me alive. If I did catch something that compromised it further, like COVID or flu, it would probably kill me.

I realized that I had run out of options. I had to go to the hospital. That evening, the night of December 29, I drove myself to WakeMed Cary and parked outside the entrance to the emergency department. Unfortunately, I had to park on the far side of the parking lot. It wasn’t a large parking lot, and had I been in good health, I could have walked to the entrance in a minute or two. But I wasn’t in good health, and I also had some things to carry. Knowing that I would probably be admitted, I had packed a gym bag with a few necessities. And I had the messenger bag that goes everywhere with me (basically my version of a purse). So I slung those bags on my person and started the trek to the entrance.

In my memory, that walk across the parking lot is the emotional low point. It seemed to take forever. I couldn’t move very fast, and I kept having to stop and catch my breath. Would I even make it to the door? Or would I collapse and die in the parking lot? That sounds melodramatic now, even to me. But it’s what was going through my head at the time.

Finally, I reached the entrance, approached the front desk, and explained (stopping frequently for breath) why I was there. Almost immediately, I was helped into a wheelchair and rolled into a sort of anteroom where I answered a bunch of questions from a nurse. Then a doctor checked my vital signs and reviewed what I had reported about my symptoms. On the basis of my difficulty breathing and the recent rapid weight gain, I was taken into a room in the emergency department for treatment.

In my next post, I’ll try to summarize my experience in the hospital and the events that followed.

Jan 16

Winter storm, January 2022

Barbara suggested that I revive this blog and use it to provide updates on my health to family and friends. That is an excellent idea, and I’ll be writing those updates as time permits. But right now, I want to use the blog to provide an update on my status and Mom’s in the current winter storm. (I started writing this as an e-mail, but I realized it would work better as a blog post.)

After Aunt Carol’s visitation, the other Berrys all were safely at home by Friday evening. But my plan was to drive Mom and Pete home on Friday, spend the weekend at her house, and then drive home on Sunday afternoon.

Well, Sunday is here, and ain’t nobody goin’ nowhere.

We drove back to Rock Hill as planned on Friday. Since the route took us through the Columbia area, we stopped at a Lizard’s Thicket for lunch. That was mostly because I never pass up a chance to eat at the Thicket, but also because I wanted to introduce Mom to it. I figured she would like it, and I was right. (She is now lamenting the lack of a Thicket in Rock Hill.) I had country fried steak, mac & cheese, squash casserole, lima beans, cornbread, and sweet tea. Everything was delicious, of course.

We got back to Rock Hill without incident on Friday afternoon and unloaded our stuff from my car. We were both tired, so after a light supper, we both went to bed early. (I had thought I might try to get some work done Friday evening, but postponed that to the next day.)

It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I became aware of the predictions of a major winter storm on Sunday. At that point, I had two options. I could either cut my visit to Rock Hill short and head back to Cary on Saturday. Or I could stay in Rock Hill with the understanding that I would have to delay my return for a day or two. I chose the second option. I had originally planned to visit Rock Hill for Christmas weekend, but I had to cancel those plans because of my illness. This was my second chance to spend a weekend with Mom, and I wasn’t going to give it up if I didn’t have to.

Being forced to extend my stay in Rock Hill did not present much of a problem. I have my work laptop with me, so I can work from Mom’s house as easily as from anywhere else. I’m on multiple medications following my hospital stay, but I loaded up my pill minder last Wednesday before leaving home, so I have all the meds I need through the morning of Wednesday, January 19. As long as I get home by Wednesday evening, I won’t have to miss a dose of anything. I only packed clothes for four days, but Mom is doing laundry this morning and offered to toss in what was in my laundry bag, so that helps.

It also helps that Monday is a holiday for TE Connectivity, the company I work for. (I previously told Bob that it wasn’t but I had misread the list of holidays.) I still plan to do some work, but nobody will be expecting me to deliver anything or respond to e-mails until Tuesday.

On Saturday, we did some grocery shopping and made sure that we have everything we need to weather the storm. I found time to do some work. Then we went to El Cancun for dinner. Everything was delicious there as well, but you already know that if you’ve ever eaten there.

When we woke up Sunday morning, the ground was covered with sleet and snow.

So Mom and I are snowed in for a while, but we have everything we need. The biggest concern is the possibility of a power outage, but the house has two gas fireplaces with pilot lights (meaning that they don’t use electric igniters and will work without power). Even without electricity, we won’t freeze. As long as we do have power, I can work. And we have plenty of food. We’ll be fine.

Looking at the weather forecasts, I think I’ll be able to drive home on Tuesday or Wednesday. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy some extra time with Mom.

We lost power at 2:45 p.m. It was restored less than an hour and a half later, at 4:05 — not even long enough for the house to start feeling cold. Kudos to the Duke Energy repair crews for getting the power back on so quickly. Mom and I had a nice, quiet day, and I even got some work done.

The forecast says Monday will be clear and sunny, with temperatures above freezing from 10:00 a.m. until sunset. No precipitation, which means further power outages are unlikely. Some melting will probably occur, but what’s more important is that the clear and sunny weather will allow the SC Department of Transportation crews to clear the roads and apply salt and sand as needed. I may be able to drive home on Tuesday. We’ll see.

The roads were clear on Tuesday, and I was able to drive home without any difficulty.

May 02

Farewell, Mike

Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins died a few days ago at age 90. He was the command module pilot for the first lunar landing mission. In honor of his passing, here’s something that was posted on Twitter several years ago. The folks at @_Bands_FC saw a photo of the Apollo 11 crew and commented: “They looked like they could be coolest freeform jazz trio ever, so we made it into an album sleeve for them.” Here it is.

Dec 03


I just noticed that it’s December 3, which means that exactly thirty years ago, I was laid off by Millidyne Inc., my employer at the time. I’ve been laid off numerous times in my career (it’s just a fact of life for technical writers), but this particular layoff stands out in my mind because it holds the record for short notice — just three hours.

Millidyne was a small startup company in northern Raleigh, and I had been working there for a year. I had actually landed the job by responding to a Help Wanted ad in the newspaper, the only time that has ever happened to me. (In 1989, the Internet as we know it didn’t exist, and neither did job-hunting online. So reading the classified ads was actually useful.) During that year, I was the only full-time technical writer.

I was doing my work on an IBM PC running DOS, probably version 4.01. (Windows 3.0, the first version of Windows to achieve significant sales in the business market, wasn’t released until halfway through 1990.) It was my first job using a desktop publishing application (Ventura Publisher), and while I had used laser printers in previous jobs, they had always been shared with many other users. This was the first time I had a dedicated laser printer connected to my office computer. And since I was the sole custodian of it, I was also responsible for its care and feeding. I learned how to clear paper jams and replace toner cartridges (which involved ordering more cartridges and disposing of the used ones).

Like many small startup companies, Millidyne fell on hard times financially, and this led to a layoff of about 40% of the employees on December 3, 1990. At 9:00 a.m., every employee was handed a manila envelope by their manager. When you opened it, you found a letter inside. Some employees got a letter telling them that their jobs were being eliminated. The others got a letter announcing the downsizing of the company. I was in the first group, of course.

The laid-off employees were asked to leave the premises by noon — three hours notice.

I was asked to bundle up all of the documents I was working on and transfer them to my boss, who would have to take over the technical writing work. I don’t remember exactly what that entailed, but it probably involved handing him a stack of 5.25″ floppy disks, because that’s what we were using at that time. I do recall that three hours wasn’t enough time to get it done. Fortunately, they didn’t throw me out of the building at noon. I was allowed to remain long enough to complete the handoff process, which took until about 4:00 p.m.

Early December is a lousy time to lose your job. For my family, it wasn’t so bad, because Marie was still employed. We were able to pay our bills while I hunted for another job, and we had a more or less normal Christmas. But it was tough for some of my coworkers. Millidyne had planned to hold an offsite Christmas party for the employees. A committee of my coworkers had been planning it for months, arranging the location, the catering, the entertainment, and so forth. After the downsizing was announced, the party was canceled.

The announcement caught us by surprise, but of course it hadn’t happened suddenly. A layoff of that magnitude takes weeks or even months of planning. I don’t know why the executives of the company chose to keep the whole thing a secret until the last minute, but they knew the Christmas party would never happen. In order to keep the secret, they let the committee members carry on planning it until the morning of December 3, and then pulled the rug out from under them.

That seems cold to me. I guess they felt it was the best way to break the news, but I’m glad I didn’t have to help keep that secret.

As I recall, I was able to find another job pretty quickly in early 1991. I think that’s when I went back to IBM for my second term as an 18-month contractor. More than half of my career has been contract work, and one of the advantages of a contractor’s life is that you usually know about when your contract will end, and you can plan for it. (Not always. My job at Alcatel around the turn of the century was open-ended. It was technically a one-year contract, but they kept renewing it year after year . . . until they didn’t. Still, they kept me employed for five years, and I’m grateful for that.)

Most of the times I’ve been laid off, I was given a week or two of advance notice. Sometimes it’s been less than that; when Alcatel laid off my whole team, we had until the end of the day to clear out. Other times it’s been more; in 2002, IBM laid off a bunch of employees, and it gave us two months notice. But thirty years later, the three-hour notice I got from Millidyne is still the shortest.

It’s a very bad sign when a company lays off 40% of its people in one day. I figured that Millidyne was in deep financial trouble and would not last much longer. And I’m afraid that I was right. A year or two later, I ran into my ex-boss at a restaurant, and he told me that the company was gone.

Ironically, that same ex-boss had received the longest notice of a layoff that I have ever heard of. He had previously been a college professor, teaching courses for a specific degree program. The college eventually decided to eliminate that degree, which meant that his services would no longer be required. But although no new students would be allowed to enter that degree program, the ones already in it would be permitted to complete it. And some of them were freshmen. His teaching position would not be eliminated until the last of those students graduated. So he was given four years notice that he would lose his job.

I’m not sure I would want to know that far in advance.

Oct 20

Job titles

I’m starting a new job tomorrow, and I noticed with amusement that, at least on paper, I have been given a job title that makes no sense. I am a technical writer; I write and edit documentation for computers and software. And in most of the jobs I’ve held, my job title was Technical Writer or something similar. But not always.

When I was hired by IBM a couple of decades ago, I was given the title Staff Software Engineer. Of course, I wasn’t writing computer programs, and I wasn’t really an engineer of any sort. But that’s what the paperwork said.

My most recent job ended a couple of weeks ago, and my official title there was Engineering Planner II. I’m not even sure what that means, but I still wasn’t an engineer, and I wasn’t planning anything except my own work as a technical writer.

And now I have a new job, where my title (according to the paperwork I’ve seen so far) is Manufacturing Engineer. Needless to say, I will not be going anywhere near a factory floor. I’ll be writing technical documentation at my dinner table, since this is a remote job.

I have no explanation for any of this. It’s probably the result of administrative or HR issues that I know nothing about. In any event, I’m not complaining. They can call me whatever they want, as long as I get paid on time. But I think it’s funny.