theferrett: (Meazel)

For Gini’s birthday, we went out to one of the nicest restaurants in town – Pier W, an elegant restaurant that juts out over the lake.  It was raining, but that gave us a beautiful view of Cleveland’s choppy waters, looking big as an ocean, admiring the slate-gray sky and the way water fell into water.

I could tell we were getting better because we began to tell stories.

The thing few people tell you is that after the heart attack, there’s trauma to be unknotted. I almost died; Gini waited for me to die.  The weeks afterwards had a weird, plastic feel, as though I was living in a bubble.  The pain went away, but this strange uncertainty didn’t waver, this sense that something had changed and we could not quite name it.  We were afraid to trust the future.

And horrific fights resulted, because when you’ve had a heart attack, you must have lifestyle changes, and every bite becomes a matter of literal life and death.  Gini and I had the most vicious battle we’ve had in almost seven years over, of all things, seven bites of a chocolate ganache.  But she’s traumatized and terrified, and I’m frustrated and furious at this narrower, healthier world, and so the adjustments were inevitable.

And after we found what seemed like a new fit, we retreated. We’ve been cuddling a lot, going on dates just by ourselves, not feeling like socializing. Gini’s 55th birthday should have been cause for a raucous party, but all we wanted to do was spend time with each other – not even with our daughter Erin, just relishing this slow time in each other’s arms.

Over heart-healthy tuna and scallops, we began to tell stories of the surgery, smiling.

She told me the absurdity of waiting around for me to heal, of rushing home to try to be with me in time for the catheter, what the mood was when I was out of the operating room and everyone went out for Mexican.  I told her how strange it was, waiting in the ER, feeling perfectly fine and yet being told I could pop off at any moment.

Slowly, lovingly, we began to probe those experiences for the silliest and scariest bits, transforming raw terror into anecdote.

It’s how we heal, here at La Casa McJuddMetz; we take our lowest moments and refuse to let them define us.  Instead, we haul the boogeyman out from under the bed and dress him in jester’s clothing, turning this too-human fear into a way of entertaining people at parties.  And why not?  Our fears are, in many ways, what defines as humans, these terribly silly moments where we were mortified but might have been amusing with time or another angle.  Comedy is pain, pain is comedy, spinning one effortlessly into the other.

Over wine by a very beautiful landscape, we began to laugh. To place the events that unmanned us into as something firmly in the past, an experience that was once now but is currently over, a thing that so affrighted us back then but is not all that relevant to today.  To give these moments their respect, but not to allow them to drive us any more.

We drank wine, and felt the normality seeping back in, and watched the sea.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I went to a party last night, and every conversation went something like this:

“Hey, Fred!  How are you – ”

“Ferrett!  You look so good!  Oh my God, it’s so good to see you!”

“I know!  I’m standing!  So what’s new with – ”

“We were so worried about you.  How are you feeling?  You okay to be out here like this?”

“Yes, of course, I wouldn’t have come otherwise.  But on Facebook, I saw you were – ”

“I am so glad you’re okay!”

At which point I sighed and gave into the flow, realizing that I would have to tell an accelerated version of How I Discovered I Was Having A Heart Attack before we could proceed with the conversation.  Which, given the quick pace of party conversations in a place suffused with distractions, often meant telling my tale was all the time I got to talk with some very wonderful people.

(And I hate just telling tales.  I mean, I know my stories.  I come to hear yours.)

So as Gini drove me home, I said, “It will be nice when I can attend a party and the first thing I have to talk about is not my heart.”  Because it’s a story I’ve told many times before, and will doubtlessly tell many times after, and it’s not even a fun story.

But still.  It’s an annoyance, but a beautiful annoyance.  Because it’s an expression of people caring about me, and wanting to know how I am, and looking after me.  They all held such love for me in that moment, and this wasn’t about me – I was finally strong enough to reassure them, because they were scared, and didn’t want to lose me, and now I’m here and they want to touch me and hug me and ensure that I’m going to stay with them for a bit longer.

So yes. I’ll talk about my heart as many times as I need to.  Because their concern is an outpouring of love, and I’d be churlish not to respond.

In the meantime, a young girl I didn’t know came up to me last night and said, “I painted my nails for you!” and it was all I could do to choke out a heartfelt thank you before I teared up.  She wandered away, happy to have been of service, but it’s the little things that mean much.  Oh so much.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

After my surgery, I received many wonderful gifts.  And I still plan on thanking the folks responsible for those things, for they were each treasures; on days when I felt like I wanted to give up, I’d get a card or a drawing or a video, and suddenly I was reminded why life was worth living.  And that was beautiful, and I can’t let it go unpassed.

But there’s one gift that arrived afresh today: Friend Fruit.

You see, when I fell sick, my online critique group was deeply concerned for me.  Which was sweet; we’d all done Viable Paradise together, we’d somehow kept in touch and kept critiquing the shit out of each other.  I’d read their novels, their stories, pumped the fist at their publications.

And being creative writers, they devised a thoughtful gift to keep me around: a subscription to the Fruit of the Month club.  First month: oranges.

Friend fruit!

The thing is, I still don’t like fruit all that much.  But every morning, when I woke up, I thought, “My friends want me to eat healthy.”  And so I ate an orange, which I labelled “friend fruit.”  My family shared in my fruit, and together we ate well, and that made me happy.

Yesterday, the second shipment of friend fruit arrived: grapefruits.  I’ve never had grapefruits.  I don’t know whether I’ll like them.  But I do know that I’ll smile as I eat them, because it was a gift given by some thoughtful buddies of mine.  And that makes these fruit all the sweeter.

So thank you, Lara, George, Miranda, George, Sean, Christian, and Eric.  I’m gonna eat some grapefruit today.  For you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Week Nine into recovery from the heart surgery, and I’m edging normal.  My sleep habits are still all over the place, and my energy levels are inconsistent, but at this point there isn’t really anything I can’t do, just things that are painful to do.  (Like sneezing.  Oh my God, sneezing.)

And now that I’m mostly back, my brain is trying to rewrite history.

Take getting out of bed, for example.  I can get up in a matter of seconds, with only a twinge of pain.  And every time I do, I think, Oh, this is easy.  The only reason it was so hard before is because I was scared.

Or when I power-walk three miles in forty-five minutes and get off the treadmill, sweating, only to think: You could have done that before.  You were just reluctant to go full-out.

And I was reluctant to go full-out, my friends, but that’s because my chest was still freshly broken and my lungs could only suck in half the air they could today.  Yet I do not want to face that terror.  I do not want to ever know that I was that weak.  So I keep retconning history, making it so that the reason I didn’t get out of bed and tapdance is just that I was too timid to really take this new body out for a spin.

It’s ridiculous.  But I think that instinct to rearrange life is at the heart of a lot of bad politics, the kind of instinct that goes, “Shit, life is scary and uncertain, and even if you work smart and hard there’s still a chance that you could fail.  So… let’s rearrange life to be more predictable!  Let’s make it so that every person who has a lot of money got there because of their tremendous smarts and aptitude, and all the poor people are there because they are lazy!  That’s a much nicer rule, and it ensures that the money I have is because of all my effort.”

You see that a lot, that re-attributing things to willpower and gumption because, shit, the idea that you could lose for reasons that had nothing to do with you are terrifying.  Just like the way I look at myself two months ago, laid low by genetic factors I had zero control over, saved by medicine I barely understand, under the complete control of my nurses and doctors and the medicines pumped into my veins.

No.  Better to think that I was just reluctant back then.  I could have been my old self at any time.  That’s much more comforting, and it means if I’m ever there again all I have to do is kick my heels.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

As I lurch back into real life, my job has once again taken a large precedence – and since basically, we changed our entire web architecture while I was asleep, catching up has been a bit of a nightmare.

Which means that I’m behind on a lot.  I still need to write thank-you notes for many of the lovely sentiments and gifts received during my surgery.  And my suicide post attracted a lot of well thought-out, very personal responses that don’t deserve to lie fallow.  But I have a Nayad coming in this weekend to visit, and work presses today, and so I shan’t for a bit.

But I wanted to let you know that I feel very very guilty about it.  And responses are coming.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I’ve lost thirty pounds, and when people see me they’re kind of startled.  “Whoah!” they say.  “You look good!”

At which point I have several contradictory reactions going off like fireworks in my head.

First is, how feeble am I supposed to be?  Because, yeah, big ol’ heart operation two months ago, I was very frail, and here I am feeling half-decent again and now someone’s reminded me that I’m convalescent.  Which isn’t their fault.  I’m often the first youngish person they’ve known to have a bypass surgery, and so their expectations are low, and to see me popped up and walking about again is a pleasant surprise for them.  Still, I wonder what I looked like in their mind.  Maybe in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask, clutching a cane in trembling hands.

Then: I don’t want to look good.  All this increased health?  The result of near-terminal illness.  I stand straighter, because my chest hurts when I slouch – a habit that makes me look taller, thinner, and also makes me feel stiff and Frankensteinish.  My weight is because a) I’m eating much better, b) exercising more, and c) have zero appetite because when they cut your fucking chest open like a crab, it takes a few months to feel hungry again.  I eat out of obligation for about four out of five meals, and will often forget if Gini doesn’t mention it.

So I’m not really looking better.  It’s just that my injuries take on societally-acceptable forms.

Then: this is bullshit.  Fucking weight-obsessed society revomiting.  Because when people say “You look good,” nine times out of ten that means “You’ve lost weight,” as nobody ever compliments someone on gaining a few pounds in strategic locations.  Maybe it’s the new hat, or the snazzy mustache, but I can’t help but think if “You look good” wasn’t such a synonym for “You looked bloated and pudgy before, but now your whale-like figure is approaching a societally-acceptable shape,” then everyone would be a lot happier.  And I hate, hate, buying into that idea that “good” is “skinnier.”

Then I go, “Oh, really?” and go into the bathroom and preen, as my new mustache looks good on my slimmer face, and my clothes fit better, and with this newer, more in-shape body, aren’t I just dapper.  How nice.

It’s nice looking good, it really is, once you force past the wave of revulsion.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

This story starts out with me picking at a blister.  So if that’s too much for you, stop now.

But the blister had been swelling on my stomach for three days, just underneath my ribcage and to the right of my belly button, and it was starting to really hurt.  So I picked at it, and…

…a stitch popped out, like a meerkat poking its head out of a hole.  I pulled at it gently, since my body is full of dissolvable stitches, and most of them have degenerated to the point where they pull away like wet cotton.

But no.  This one was rooted deep in my belly; I could press down on the wound and see the stitch sliding back and forth in it, maybe three-quarters of an inch revealed, like a pillar being revealed as the tide went out.  “Oh, just yank it out,” said Gini, reaching over to give it a good hard tug.

“No!” I yelped, slapping her hand away.  And in bending over, the stitch slipped back into my body.  And, sliding around under the skin, created another blister.

By the time I finally managed to pick it out of my body three days later, I was ready.  I asked Gini to get me a pair of small scissors so I could at least cut the offending portion out – and when I did, I realized something chilling:

This wasn’t a stitch.

It was copper fucking wire.  Clad in white plastic insulation.

“Uh, Gini,” I said.  “I think that’s the wire they used to tie my ribs together after they cracked my chest open.”

Which didn’t make much sense, as I knew they had to use a lot of strength to seal my shattered chest back into place, and this wire was the size of – well, a small thread.  But by the time I could investigate, the remaining bit had retreated into my body.

Gini, worrying that my insides were now wormed through with pointy bits of sharp copper wire, perforating my liver, instructed me to call the doctors.  So I did.  They were quite jolly.

“Oh, that’s not related to your ribs,” they said.  “That’s a wire that leads to your heart.”

What?”

“It’s the wire that we use to hook you up to a pacemaker during surgery, just in case something goes wrong.  But the pericardium seals up quickly, and taking it out risks small bleeding.  So we leave it in you.  But you’ve lost thirty pounds since the operation, so it’s not a surprise it’s coming out.”

I remembered Gini, about to yank real hard on the wire, and felt sick.

“So… what would have happened if someone had pulled on it really hard?” I asked, envisioning something very much like this.

“It would have come out.  Probably had a little internal bleeding.  Nothing serious.”

“No, no, nothing serious at all about someone removing a wire attached to my still-beating heart,” I muttered.

“Say, when you cut the wire, did you sterilize the scissors? Because if that portion of the wire is back in your body again, we’re going to have to put you on a course of antibiotics….”

So now I’m on Keflex again, and inside me is a copper wire threaded through to my heart.  If I lose more weight again, it might re-emerge, and then I can tug on it like a bell clapper – a route for me to poke my internal organs directly.  Which is a thought that fills me with pure ick.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The sickbeard, vanquished.
Before.

The sickbeard, vanquished.
After.

I’m still frail in some ways. I need drugs to sleep. I can’t lift heavy things. I can’t… oh, you know the drill.

But I went to my barber, and he fixed up my face, and today I feel born anew. It is a glorious feeling. You can see it in my smile.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’ve been a drummer on and off throughout my life.  It’s damn good exercise.  It’s why my arms were always in decent shape; a half hour smashing skins, and you do have acceptable biceps, even on an otherwise pudgy body.  My calves and biceps were always a draw, even if I didn’t want to show you my belly.

So when I heard that the doctor had given me the okay to drum, I was a little concerned.  Thanks to all my ribs still healing, I can’t lift anything over eight pounds – and my chest still clicks in disconcerting ways as the bones settle into place.  (This is normal, by the way, if both painful and intensely weird.)  So did my doctor understand drumming?  Would I lift my arms high to smash those cymbals and tear something vital?

But drumming today was a fucking revelation.

The song I chose to start with was Taio Cruz’s Dynamite, mainly because it was a) mid-tempo, and b) symptomatic of a new start.  And I played, gingerly at first, until I realized that this was all in my wrists, biceps, and shoulders.  I could hit.  And hit hard.  Hard enough to send the cymbals shuddering, fill the basement with the full-on slap of the snare.

And I did that for twenty-five minutes.  Straight.

And walked upstairs.

What you don’t understand was that the last time I drummed, I did it for half an hour – and then, so exhausted, I had to sit down on the La-Z-Boy and recuperate for half an hour.  I attributed this to being out of shape.  To hating exercise.

What I did not attribute it to was a heart pumping 1% of its total capacity.

But in retrospect, my last attempt to get into shape was failing ridiculously for weird reasons.  I used to be able to run a 5k with relative ease.  But in California, after six weeks of hard training on the stationary bicycle, I went for a jog with Gini – and I barely made a mile before collapsing, wheezing, propping myself up by a stop sign.  At the time, I thought, jeez, I guess bicycling uses really different muscles than jogging.  Still, I was baffled because I was able to do half an hour’s workout on the bicycle, why were my lungs failing me so badly now?

Now I know: I was dying.

And now I know: I’ve been upgraded.  I worked out, hard, for nearly half an hour, after having no aerobic exercise for six weeks.  And I didn’t breathe that hard.  And when I was done, rather than having to collapse into a chair, I practically jogged the fuck upstairs.

I didn’t have heart surgery.

I got a fucking upgrade.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So yesterday was a nice, bold return to work and progress until the evening struck.  Then I cried for three hours straight.

I’m battling a lot of emotions right now, because that ventilator was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me, and the feelings of isolation and powerlessness are still hitting in weird ways. I woke up, completely helpless, with no one I knew around me to comfort me, and that’s a loneliness I didn’t know I could experience.  I’d always thought Gini would be there for me, and she was in that technical sense, but in reality I was in druggy blackness, manhandled by paramedics, and with no one to explain what was happening.

That’s backfiring in weird ways.  I’m terrified all the time now that Gini will leave if I’m not brave enough.  If I cry.  If I need her help for just one more thing.  And she won’t, I think,  but there’s that animal terror of coming to, paralyzed, confused, choking, and then I just want to cling to someone and never let them go.  And the lid slipped a bit on that last night and it was literally three hours of tears, including a low-grade sobbing throughout a family viewing of Hotel Impossible, which is really not a show that produces mourning.

Any reference to any character being alone now will cause sniffles, including shows like King of the Hill.  (The Bill Dauterive episodes are weepfests.)  I’m just sort of feeling terrified like this whole life I’m living now is a sham, and any moment they’ll pull the curtain away and I’ll be back in bed.  I double-dosed on Ativan last night and still was trembling until I fell asleep.

I’m told this is normal. Depression and disruption come in the wake of these things. Still, I hate crying so much that I wish it was anything else; I feel weak enough without my body betraying me again. My reaction to crying is sexist, and programmed, and completely stupid, but my own tears make me feel genderless and weak and pitiable.

I have an appointment with my therapist later this week.  Today, I’m staring at code, trying to make sense of it through a brain-haze of last night’s double-dosage, and the variables are just dropping out of my mind.  Things will improve.  But I don’t want that moment of blackness to become an axiom of my life, because I’ve got enough bad things embedded in my memory and I don’t need a trigger pull that huge this late in life.

But that waking up was the greatest terror I’ve ever felt.  Not knowing what was happening.  Not knowing where anyone was.  Not knowing how to get help, or how to get my body to respond.  And that trauma has saturated my psyche in ways that are subtle and hard to track down.  They’re fine threads woven through my mind that I only notice when something plucks at them.

I’ll be fine. I’m doing what I always do: documenting.  Maybe others have been through this and they won’t feel quite as alone or weird when they see it.  Maybe I’m the freak, and it’s just a personal quirk.  Either way, I lay it at your feet, and expose myself, and hopefully this cold wind whipping through will carry something away from me.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I have decided, as of today, that I am 51% healed.

This is correct in that I am literally over the hump.  There will be bad days and inconveniences, I’m sure, but I am coming back to work and I am coming back to writing and I’m coming back to life.  I can smooch my wife and girlfriend, write chapters, text jovially, and walk without too much trembling.

So yeah.  It’s only better from now on.  Eventually I’ll get back to normal, but I am as of this moment more normal than not.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I walk slow as a man because as a kid, I always slowed down for my Uncle Tommy.

Tommy had a cane, and was tender, so he moved at a slow shuffle.  His blood didn’t clot well, so at the age of seven I knew how to spell his disease: “hemophilia.”  His blood poured into the spaces in his joints, ate his cartilage, so by the time he was thirty, if you put your ear to his shoulder, you could hear his bones rubbing directly against each other.  They sounded like crackers being crumbled.

So Tommy, near-crippled with arthritis, walked slow.  Never weakly – the man had an unstoppable willpower, when he aimed it – but slow.  So even as a young kid, I matched his pace.  Why would I want to go anywhere and not have Tommy with me?  Tommy, with his cool music and his love of videogames and his sense of style?

Tommy never let it stop him, but he was in constant anguish.  You could tell by his grunts when he got up.  By the sea of amber pill bottles by his couch.  By the way he pursed his lips whenever he changed direction.  He moved slow because moving fast would have been unbearable, yet staying still would have been unacceptable.  He found time to smile between flashes of pain.

Now I’m walking slow for a different reason.  My breastbone was cut in two, split like a chicken breast.  My lungs are still re-inflating from the surgery.  I can manage a slow shuffle, occasionally speeding up to a brisk walk for about twenty feet, and then I’m in agony.

It comforts me to know that I’m walking in Tommy’s shoes.

I never got that whole Catholic thing of taking comfort in Christ’s suffering; not that I don’t admire Christ, for I do deeply, but the man was hurt because of idiots and I could never really get behind that.  Christ’s wounds seemed extravagant, a hot patch for a human flaw, and being glad that he was hurt seemed petty to me.

But Tommy is gone now, taken by pancreatic cancer.  (Not the HIV he lived with for twenty years, not the hepatitis he also caught from his thousands of blood transfusions, but cancer.  It took three layered diseases to take my Tommy out, I think proudly.)

He’s dead.  But I’m walking his path.  This painful shuffle, this balancing of walking to the bathroom versus using the urine container, this constant reminder of smallness…. Tommy did that.  Yet through all of that, he was kind to me, understanding, found the time to counsel me through some pretty fucked-up teenaged years, to play Centipede down at the arcade, to crack beers and share terrible jokes.

I wear my Tommy-ness like a cloak, now.  He’s gone, but somehow I understand him more, deepening my knowledge of what he was like, and that is a payment that’s almost worth the effort.  With every step, I know Tommy was there before me.  With every pill, I know Tommy felt this weariness.  With every frustration, I know Tommy felt it and more, and so I too can bear it.

I’m not a cripple when I walk with Tommy, for Tommy was not a cripple.  He was a strong man carrying some heavy burdens.

And so am I.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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