Friday, November 22, 2019

1969

I actually wanted to play piano. I remember being very small and at the house of some friends of my parents. They had a piano in their parlour, and I remember sitting on the bench, by myself, plunking out notes and realizing that I could play Mary Had A Little Lamb by ear. I was probably around 5 years old.

A few years later when I bugged my parents for a piano, they said it was too expensive.

Then a friend of mine, Kelly, got a guitar and some lessons. She showed me a song she was learning. I think she was miffed when she handed me her guitar and I was able to play by ear what she had been struggling to learn through sheet music. I pretty much fell in love with the guitar at that point, and since it was much more affordable than a piano, that's what my parents bought me. It was 1969, I was 12, and I was hooked.

The guitar came from Simpson Sears and cost less than $50, but I loved it. I had no idea what I was doing, other than that little instrumental that my friend Kelly showed me. Someone else showed me a couple of "cheat" chords, meaning that they weren't full chord shapes, but that was all I needed.  My parents also bought me a clarinet when I started to play in my elementary school band, but the guitar was really my first love.

I didn't know how to play the songs I liked on the radio, so I made up my own. That's how the songwriting began. I wrote about my house, I made up little melodies, whatever struck me. I remember my mother, who had been listening to me struggle with writing some words to one of those songs, suggested a line. I used it.

When she died a couple of years later, my father gave me the money she had in her savings account. With some of it, I bought the guitar you see in the picture above. I was about 15 in that shot, sitting in my back yard. I still have it, the old Yamaha classical. It's something I'll never let go of because it came from my mama.

Eventually I did learn to play more conventional chords and continued to play and write and sing. In junior high school, I started writing and performing with my friend Lynn. When I moved away from home, I spent a lot of time writing songs. I joined another group and we all lived together in a house we rented. We did mostly cover songs, but I also wrote a couple of songs for that band. Eventually we split up and I was on my own again, but I kept writing and performing on my own here and there while holding down a full time job. Music isn't a money making venture for most people! I worked at the Vancouver Public Library, first as a Library Assistant, and then as a computer technician (they called us computer "operators" in those days!). As the library system became automated, I ended up teaching a lot of the staff how to use a computer. I realized I had a knack for, and a love of, teaching.

When I moved to Victoria and got married, raising a family took me away from the performing aspect for a little while, but eventually I got back to it. And sometime in 1989, I woke up one day and realized that pretty much all of the money I made from part time work was going to daycare. I needed to do something that would allow me to work from home. Then it hit me; I could teach guitar! So I wrote a proposal to the City Of Victoria for their recreation department, and the next thing you know, I had about 20 students signed up for a beginner guitar class. That was the fall of 1989. And that's where my "learning to teach" began.

Teaching is a separate thing from "knowing". Many people think that because they know something, they can teach it. And some can, of course. But teaching is actually not so much about knowing, it's about communicating.The first and most important thing I learned was to SLOW DOWN. You don't just put something in front of a student and start playing it; you work on it in small bites, especially the things they haven't played before. And people learn in different ways, so part of the job is figuring out what is the best way to get an idea across.

Sometimes the biggest challenge is to help a student relax and just have fun! Adults, especially, can be really hard on themselves and have high expectations. Adults actually learn more quickly than kids, but kids are used to learning all the time, so they don't have the same demands of themselves. And they aren't as afraid of making mistakes! You've got to laugh at your mistakes. So my motto really should be SLOW DOWN and HAVE FUN!

The other day I realized that it has been 50 years since I first picked up a guitar, and 30 years since I started teaching. When I first plunked out the notes to Mary Had A Little Lamb on that parlour piano, little did I realize how music would become such a huge part of my life. Lucky me!

So thanks for the guitar, Mom and Dad.
I've put it to good use :-)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Festsuppe - And A Tribute

Sunday, Sept.22, 2019 Last Day Of Summer

Tomorrow is the first day of fall here in Victoria BC, and so begins what is normally a few months of grey and rain through the fall and winter into the spring.

One thing that makes me think of fall is Festsuppe, or "party soup" translated from Danish. My Danish mother always made it, and my Auntie Edie. I'm sure my grandmothers made it, and it has been passed down to myself and my cousins. The interesting thing I've discovered is that no two people seem to make it exactly the same, but I guess that's true of a lot of recipes over time. I make it maybe once or twice a year.

As you can see in the picture above, Festsuppe consists of (in my recipe anyway!) beef broth, chopped carrots and celery, meatballs and dumplings. It is hearty and such a wonderful meal to have on a grey, rainy day. My daughters request it sometimes for a Sunday dinner, but it would also make a great lunch time meal.

In some versions, cubed beef or lamb is used instead of the meatballs. Some also include potatoes, rice, onions, leeks, tomatoes, even chili powder. I won't try to cover all of the possibilities here because there are too many. It is not only a Danish tradition, but it is also made in other northern European countries like Norway and Germany. The version I make is actually what I consider my Blended Family version. I make some of it according to a recipe in an old Danish cookbook, similar to what my mother made, but the dumplings are a recipe that my stepsister and brother remember THEIR Grandmother making. Her dumplings were more dense and chewy, which I liked, so I continue to make it that way.

When my mother Fanny passed away in 1972, one of the things I always remember was how my Auntie Edie made a batch of Festsuppe and then drove all the way from Coquitlam to Richmond (a couple of hours' drive at the time), just to deliver it to my Dad and I. It was the perfect comfort food for us at the time.

It just so happened that I decided to make Festsuppe today for our family Sunday dinner. I was probably in the middle of making the meatball part of it at around 4:30pm or so. Only an hour or so later, I learned that my dear old Auntie Edie passed away at that same time. She was 94 and had been not doing well for several weeks. I last saw her on Labour Day when I found out that her health was failing. She remembered me and she mentioned my Dad, her favourite brother, who we all miss so much. I knew at the time that it would probably be the last time I saw her.

How appropriate that today I would end up making the very meal that she brought to comfort me and my father in our time of grief. One day I will write more about my wonderful aunt, but for now, I will leave it at that. I miss you already, my dear Auntie Edie.


Love you always,
Irene






Sunday, July 7, 2019

What's In A Name: Searching For Johannes Jokumsen

A few weeks ago, I visited Ellis Island in New York, where some of my Danish relatives had passed through on their way to a "new land" in the early 1900's. My mother's side of the family, the Corfixsens, only stayed in New York for a few years, long enough for my Uncle Roy, Aunt May and Uncle Ernest to be born there, before going all the way back to Denmark. When you think of it, travelling across the Atlantic in the early 1900's must have been a HUGE undertaking, let alone doing it twice! I can't imagine why, but back to Denmark they went.

[Update: I have since learned from my Danish cousin that my Grandmother Corfixsen was only 16 when she traveled New York the first time by herself, beating my Grandfather's record! She met my Grandfather there, although I don't know his story, yet! They got married, had three children, and because my Grandmother missed her family in Denmark so much, they traveled back.]

My Grandfather on my father's side, Johannes Jokumsen, who I knew as John Jackson, traveled through Ellis Island New York too, all by his lonesome at the tender age of 17. His adventure began when an aunt and uncle who lived in Kalispel, Montana  suggested that my great-grandparents send their "smartest" kid to be educated in the U.S. Out of 12 children, my grandfather was considered to be that kid. I imagine his aunt and uncle must have been well off, because they sent the money for the fare for my Grandfather's trip to America.

He came aboard the steamship Hellig Olav, or the "Holy Oly" as the ship was nicknamed, because it was, as my Dad put it, a bit of a "rust bucket". And that's what was especially remarkable about my grandfather's trip. It was April 15th, 1912 when another, much more famous ship, the Titanic, met its end in the chilly Atlantic.

On April 18th, 1912, three days later, my grandfather saw the Titanic's lifeboats in New York Harbour as the Hellig Olav sailed in. Imagine that! Needless to say, I have great respect for the Holy Oly!

Here is a copy of the ship's record for Grandad:


You can see that they misspelled his last name, Jokumsen, as Jocumsen. This was a very common occurrence on Ellis Island. Can you imagine having to try to come up with English spellings for all of the foreign names? It must have been a nightmare!

Once my grandfather was processed, he managed to find his way to the train that took him to Kalispel. He had no money for food for the train trip, all he had was a bag of apples to sustain him. Nevertheless, he arrived safely at his destination.

But the adventure, 6 weeks on a boat by himself across the Atlantic to a foreign country, was all in vain.

My grandfather, as it turned out, didn't get along with his aunt and uncle. So he stayed long enough to work to pay them back the fare, and then left on his own again, back on the train. But instead of going back to Denmark, he became a kind of a hobo, jumping from train to train, travelling through the states, working long enough somewhere to save a few pennies, and then off again.

Eventually he crossed the border into Canada. We figure it might have been because he was about to be drafted into the U.S. army, and being a pacifist, Grandad was not going to fight for any country! After some time in Canada, he went back to Denmark, much to the surprise of his parents, who had not heard from him in all that time and thought he must be dead. In Denmark, Grandad met and married my Grandmother, Else, and somehow convinced her to come back to Canada with him, where they started a whole new adventure together. But that's for another story!

At some point, although I'm not exactly sure when, Grandad decided to simplify things and began calling himself John Jackson. He didn't bother to go through a legal process to change his name at the time because, well, nobody did! My father, my grandparent's first born, was also named John, although they referred to him by his middle name, Arvid in the early years of his life. Dad's birth certificate had his parent's legal name, Jokumsen on it, but my Dad was known all of his life as John Jackson too. This only became a nightmare the first time he tried to get a Canadian passport. He had to go through quite a process to get his name legally changed to Jackson, but eventually it was all settled.

His father, my grandfather Johannes Jokumsen, who became John Jackson, after a good life, died in Vancouver in 1985 at almost 90 years of age.

In the early 2000's, I decided to check out the Ellis Island website, where they had the ship's records of just about every immigrant who had passed through. At first I couldn't find Grandad's record but after several different spelling attempts, I did, and ordered a copy of it to give it to his son, my Dad, as a gift for his 80th birthday.

In 2008, I visited Ellis Island for the first time on a trip to New York with my husband and daughter. Outside the Ellis Island museum is something called The American Immigrant Wall of Honor, where you can find the names of all of the immigrants who came through. I searched for Grandad's name when we were there, but couldn't find it. I convinced myself that it must have been because of the misspelling of his name and vowed that one day I'd go back and check  again.

So when my husband and I and our good friends flew to New York just a few weeks ago, one of the first things I did was to book a tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. On our second day in New York we set out for Battery Park to find the boat, for a rain-soaked trip to Liberty Island. After hanging out in the Liberty Museum, trying to dry out just a little, we got on another boat to Ellis Island and the Ellis Island Museum.





Entering the main building, I was overwhelmed to see the place that my grandfather landed at only 17 years of age, along with so many other immigrants.

The main building is beautiful now, but back when my Grandfather came through, it was full of benches crammed with people waiting to be processed . There were approximately 12 million immigrants who came through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.










Eventually, I found a postcard of the Hellig Olav on a wall in the museum. There were postcards from many of the ships that brought people over the Atlantic to the U.S. over the years.

In doing some research online, I found some other old photos of the Hellig Olav:

A crowded deck, immigrants on their way across the Atlantic.


Third class promenade deck.
Third class cabin 




Third class dining room.
But the most important part of the visit for me was to find my grandfather's name on the American  Immigrant Wall Of Honor. It was still raining, when my friend and I went outside to the wall and I started looking. I did find a Fred and Anna Jochumsen, a similar spelling of the name, but, alas, no Johannes Jokumsen or Jocumsen. 



Then I found out that the wall wasn't meant to be a complete collection of names, but just a sampling of those who passed through. Of course, that makes sense. It's a huge wall, but still not large enough to fit 12 million names. In the end, I did find this name:


...and that was enough for me. The likelihood is that I will not go back to Ellis Island again, but it was emotional for me to be in the place where my Grandfather's adventure began. You start thinking about the "what if's". What if he had actually gotten along with his aunt and uncle and stayed in the U.S. for his education? What if he ended up in the U.S. Army?

And what if he hadn't actually been the smartest kid? What would he have done with his life?

Grandad, I thank you for sending me on my own adventure to find Johannes. In the end, by being in the same place that you were, and understanding what it must have been like for you to go through that, I think I may have succeeded.

~ IJ


Monday, May 20, 2019

Three Reasons To Golf. Or Fore.


Our carts are ready for us to tee off
The other night, eight of us sat at the table in Bill Mattick's Restaurant in Cordova Bay, waiting for dinner.

My three friends, myself, and our husbands had just finished the "nine-ing" and now we were dining. For any of you who don't know much about golf, 9 'n Dine is where you play nine holes of golf and then eat after. It's something my friends and I do weekly, usually early on Friday evenings during the nicer months of the year. Quite often we'll have our first game in March or April and the last one by early October. We are what you might describe as "fair weather golfers" :-)

Every now and then we'll ask our husbands to join us, sometimes on special occasions like the Easter weekend or someone's birthday. But we don't actually golf with our husbands during those rounds...we keep our usual foursome and they golf with each other. Believe me, it's better that way.

So the other night when one of my friend's husband asked her what was the best part of her game that night, she said "Being with my friends." She might have been joking because she didn't think she had a great game, but she was also speaking the truth. Sure, we want to play well. But a big part of it is the social aspect. And the other truth is, we are nothing but supportive of each other when we get out there.

"Great shot!"

"Perfect putt!"

"Wow! Well done!"

When we flub a shot, which is often enough, we laugh at ourselves. We never tell each other how to do it better. I don't even keep score, although a couple of the ladies do. Sometimes I will count the shots in my head if I think I've done well on a hole, but the rest of it isn't important. I know, I know, I know. Some of you will think "Why bother playing if you don't keep score?" I'll probably never be able to explain it to you.

We talk, and we laugh. A lot. The guys are quieter and just slightly more competitive. That's all I'm saying.


The photo to the left is the approach to the 2nd hole at Cordova Bay Golf Course. Which is the other reason why I love it so much. It's beautiful out there. To the left under that grove of trees, are the goats. Yes, they have goats. My only hope is that they don't call out when I flub my shot. "Baaaaaa(d)!!!"  
I have favourite things about each hole. I won't bore you with all of them. But, for instance, the 7th hole has a beautiful little pond where you'll always see lots of ducks, and up above, a huge tree where you can often find an eagle or two, as you see in this pic. The pond is also what we refer to as a "ball magnet". I have, in fact, donated many balls to that pond.

Keeping an eagle eye out.
Along with the eagles, the course is home to plenty of deer, lots of ducks, robins, red-winged blackbirds, the occasional Great Blue Heron, even owls, although I've never actually seen one. But I do hear an owl quite often as I'm teeing off on the 8th hole. It's a very comforting sound to me. Cordova Bay Golf boasts 75 species of birds and they are a certified Audubon Sanctuary, protecting the environment as well as preserving the game of golf.

Cordova Bay Golf is a certified Audubon Sanctuary

On certain holes, especially the first hole here on the left, when you look out past the trees to the east, you can see Mount Baker in all her glory, glistening white in the late afternoon sun. At Cordova Bay, they grow a lot of their own vegetables in big fields or small plots, and still manage to keep the deer from nibbling on them. Not an easy feat.

The gardens are immaculately kept with lots of native species, and the staff are a lot of fun. I sound like a bloody commercial! But I love the place...we all do.

The 5th hole ladies' tee

Golf courses are becoming fewer and further between these days here where I live. At least two local 9 hole courses that we have often played, have shut down in the last couple of years. From what I have researched, golf has always been a waxing or waning thing, so it's not the end yet. And although the primary clientele appear to be middle-aged and older, I do often see young people at the course too, so that's a positive sign. I convinced one of my daughters to take it up and she did for a short while. I hope she'll play again some day, maybe when she finds other people her age who like golf.


I remember seeing an elderly gentleman once playing the course with only one arm. He used an electric cart, and he could hit a tee shot straighter and further than I could ever hope to. With one arm.

I vow to keep playing golf with my friends until, for whatever reason, I can't anymore.

Oh, and my friend Crystal would remind me about the glass of wine at the end. That's the other reason I love golf. Because there's wine at the end.



Thursday, March 7, 2019

Heart Of The Matter - The Last Chapter?

The following is hopefully the last in my series: The Heart Of The Matter. (Warning: potentially embarrassing details ahead! For me, I mean.)

Well.

Hit by a truck comes close. Okay, I've never been hit by a truck, and my apologies in making that comparison to those who actually have. But the other day when I came out of the anesthesia after a cryo-ablation to treat my atrial fibrillation, something certainly hit me. I told myself when I first got to the Cardiac Short Stay unit at Royal Jubilee Hospital, that I should be prepared for things to be different from my last procedure. I was right.

I was lucky this time, however, that I was the very first patient taken in at 7 a.m., compared to last time when I had to wait pretty much all day for my procedure. Being first meant a flurry of activity to get me prepped before they took me to the electrophisiology lab. My husband was not allowed in with me this time. But since I was first, there wouldn't have been much time to hang out anyway. I got out of my clothes and into the gown. And those weird booties. Who invented those?

Once I was in the bed, I was told that the blood tests that had been taken on Friday showed high potassium levels, and high INR levels. High INR means that your blood doesn't coagulate, or clot, quickly enough. Not really a good thing.

The high potassium I could explain. I was taking a potassium supplement. I quickly learned from the nurse that this was not a great idea. Stupidly, I didn't consult with anyone before taking them. I read something on an A-Fib forum that potassium could be helpful, and I went by that. But potassium, when it's at high levels in your body, can actually CREATE arrhythmia!

Idiot. No more potassium. Trust the doctor.

The high INR levels I couldn't explain. I was on a blood thinner, but it shouldn't have made the levels so high. So they took blood tests again. Fortunately, the new reading was much lower and within range. The only explanation, they said, was a glitch in the original findings. So thank goodness for that!

A technician came in and gave me an EKG. Then there was the shave and the washing part, which I will spare you.

Pretty soon it was time for me to put on the little blue hat and walk to the electrophysiology lab. There were two young male nurses (why did they have to be young and male?) who took my arms and lead me into the lab, one of them holding the back of my hospital gown together as we walked, saying to the other "Don't peek! Don't peek!" Yeah, he actually said that. Like there was anything worth seeing anyway. Groan.

I've described the electrophysiology lab before, but it is basically a very high tech room with numerous machines and a wall of various monitors. I was handed off to two other nurses and I got up on the edge of the gurney. One of the nurses, (another male) started placing large, rectangular stickers that would be hooked up to different monitors and machines, all over my back and sides and chest. By this time, there was no point in assuming even the slightest modesty. All was revealed.

He warned me that the stickers were cold. In fact, the whole room was kept cold because of all of the equipment. He said that some male patients actually scream when he puts the stickers on them. I laughed. Men.

"You aren't even flinching!" he said with great respect.

With a gazillion stickers and patches all over me, it was time to lie down. The anesthesiologist came into the room and I was hooked up to an IV. She told me that she was going to give me something to relax me. The other nurse placed an oxygen mask on my face. I felt the medication go in, and then I felt a little stoned. And then I felt REALLY stoned. I guess I wasss ajkkru kfja bbbbbbb  ....................

Two seconds later, I heard my name, I opened my eyes, and realized I was being wheeled back to my spot in bed #3. I had actually been out for about three hours. My chest was burning and sore, my mouth was dried out and my throat felt like someone had stuck a tree branch down it.

And then it was five hours of lying flat and barely moving. No lifting your head, no moving your legs. It used to be that they kept you flat for 3 to 4 hours, but it was discovered that the extra hour made for fewer "bleeds" as they called them. Stopping the bleeding is everything.

The five hours of lying flat is really eight when you add onto that the length of the procedure. Time enough for your back to get pretty sore. Every half hour, my nurse Ruth would cheerily come in and lift off the 20 pound weight that was kept on the incision, check out the "area", check my vitals and tell me I was doing great. I would ask for another swallow of ginger ale...I've never had such a dry mouth in my life!

I wanted to keep track of the time so I could tell when the five hours was up, and I knew that my blood pressure monitor went on automatically every half hour, so that's how I attempted to calculate it. I thought I was so clever. Near the end of my bed rest, I discovered there was a clock hanging from the ceiling just a few beds away. Duh.

They tried to get me to eat, first offering me a cookie and then a sandwich. I honestly had no appetite whatsoever, but they weren't going to let me out of there without eating something, so I tried the sandwich. Egg salad, kind of bland, on whole wheat. Eating dry bread while flat on your back is a different experience. The crust wasn't going down too well. I should've gone for the cookie.

Then, joy of joys, I was allowed to sit up. Slowly. And, finally, I was unhooked from the monitors and the IV, and allowed to walk around the ward, but only at a snail's pace. I made my way straight to the bathroom, of course. It had been awhile.

On my return, I passed the nurse's station. There were three or four nurses there, and one of them said I should check my "area". So I whipped up my gown and showed them. One of them giggled. "Oh!" exclaimed another. They all smiled at me. Maybe it was the lingering effects of the anesthesia, maybe I just didn't care anymore. It wasn't until their reaction that I realized that I had just exposed myelf in front of everyone. Including other patients.

I was encouraged to keep walking. Movement is good. Not long after, my husband returned to take me home, and we met with the doctor who did my procedure. He described everything they did, told me that it all went well, and that while they were up inside my heart, they also checked the ablation they performed on my atrial flutter almost three years ago, and found that it was in good shape.

I was given a lot of instructions and more prescriptions, I got dressed, and my husband and I walked (well, I waddled) out of the unit and down to the front entrance of the hospital. He got the car and we drove to the pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled.

A plethora of pills, information and instructions...


I was home by 7pm. Not bad for a day's work.

So. What did I learn from this latest experience?

1. Surgical procedures can take a lot out of you.
2. The nurse holding your ginger ale for you to drink from is your best friend.
3. Don't take supplements without asking your doctor. Idiot.
4. Lying flat for 5 hours gets you to thinking. A lot. About how lucky you are that it's only 5 hours.
5. I have no more dignity left. Yep. Nope.

I'm now at day 4 post-op. Still a little slow and sore, but really happy it's all done.
No a-fib yet :-)

IJ

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Heart Of The Matter Part 4

Yesterday, like a lot of days in the past year or two, I had that old familiar feeling, like a fish flopping around in my chest off and on for a big part of my day. It often makes me dizzy, tired, and sometimes affects what I can and cannot do physically in the day. There is no pain, but I often feel a sense of anxiety, and I have to remind myself that I'm not actually anxious, it's just my heart flopping around as if I am. Then again, because I know that it can potentially knock me down for awhile, I do get anxious, especially if I am out and about trying to accomplish something.

It has been almost three years since I had an ablation to fix my atrial flutter. For those of you unfamiliar with those terms, atrial flutter is a heart condition where the heart beats rapidly because of some rogue cells that throw the electrical circuit out of whack. An ablation is a procedure where a catheter is inserted into the groin and up into the heart to essentially cauterize the area around the cells that are causing that issue. I wrote about my last procedure here, if you'd like to read more about it.

The good news is that I have had no re-occurrence of atrial flutter. The bad news is that in the last year-and-a-half, I have developed atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, which is actually a more common heart ailment. In simple terms, atrial fibrillation is more or less the same as atrial flutter, except that it occurs in a different part of the heart, the left atrium. (Note: I have had several people correct me in saying that the two are not the same. What I actually meant was that they are both arrhythmias and feel similar - IJ)

Having this condition has led me to educate myself as much as possible to understand what it is I'm dealing with and what, if anything, I can do to curtail it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it used to be that people would simply suffer through"spells" of heart problems and that was about all they could do. How far we have come! I'm lucky to live in an age where my a-fib can be controlled either by medication or by a catheter ablation.

What I learned more recently is that an ablation is not a "cure". For some people, a-fib never returns, for others, it stops the a-fib for a period of time and then they might have to have another one. For a few people, ablation simply does not work. The ablation I had for my atrial flutter three years ago has so far prevented it from returning, which I am grateful for.

When I started to get bouts of a-fib, sometimes lasting 8 or 10 hours, back in December 2017, I made an appointment with my GP to get a referral to my electrophysiologist again. The electrophysiologist is a doctor who specializes in your heart's electrical system and he is the one who performed my last ablation. But getting in to see him wasn't so simple to do. He had left instructions with my GP that if I was to start experiencing a-fib, I was to go on medication first. This started a whole series of events that I really didn't want to have to deal with. The medication he recommended, Sotalol, was not available because there were shortages in Canada. So I had to go on another medication, Bisoprolol,  at first. It was initially prescribed as a "pill in the pocket", which meant I only took it when I experienced a-fib. I was only allowed to take so much, but I could add another pill if it wasn't working in an hour or two, and then try another. It never really worked, but I went through weeks of experimenting with that before the Sotalol finally became available.

Whenever you start a new medication, you have to go on a low dose first, and then report back to the doctor in a couple of weeks to increase the dose, and then report back...well, you get the idea. Obviously, you have to introduce it slowly to see what effects, if any, it has on your body. So it was another few months of experimenting with dosages. Sotalol is an anti-arrhythmic drug, which essentially slows the heart down and attempts to control its rhythm. I am probably over-simplifying its description, but that is the gist of it. And it comes with side effects, of course. The main one for me was basically feeling tired and out of breath at any exertion. Your metabolism goes down to about zero. I could barely manage to get up a hill that I included on my daily walks. Eventually, I started using a treadmill instead. Sometimes I'd be fine, other times I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Over time, my body has adjusted to the side effects, but I still have had bouts of a-fib, just not as long and intense. I could take more medication for that, but it's the last thing I want to do! I remember the number of meds my stepmother had to take every day for her heart issues. It was mind numbing.

No. My intention, as soon as I started having a-fib, was to get another ablation. I guess I just had to go through the protocol to get there. My GP finally gave me a referral to the electrophysiologist, but before I could meet him again, I had to have an echo cardiograph and a 24-hour holter monitor.

A holter monitor is basically a portable EKG that you wear for a period of time, to record your heart activity. You have to press a little button any time you feel a palpitation or anything like it. The thing is that every time I've worn a holter monitor, I've had no a-fib! It's terribly frustrating. My mindset was that I had to prove I was having a-fib so that I could get that darn ablation! So I bought myself something called a Kardia, which is a little unit that you put your fingers on every time you have symptoms. It sends the readings to an app on your phone and you can save the readings or print them out. You can even email the readings to your doctor. I saved a whole bunch of readings that I took over months and then printed them out when I was finally off to see the electrophysiologist. He thanked me for doing that and said it was very helpful. Finally things were going my way!

The Kardia monitor 

It has taken me 15 months to get to the point of getting a date for my procedure. Tomorrow it will finally be done. Yesterday I took my last dose of Sotalol. Today I take my last dose of a blood thinner called Xarelto because, well, you don't want to be bleeding profusely when they make that little cut!

Tomorrow I will check into the hospital at 7am, change into a hospital gown, have an EKG, get a needle inserted attached to a saline solution and lie around in bed until it's my turn for the procedure. They'll knock me out for the three or four hours it takes to do all of the "burns". Then I'll wake up, but have to lie flat on my back for another 3 or 4 hours to make sure the bleeding has stopped. Eventually, they'll let me walk around a bit before I go home. I might have a little bit of a burning sensation around my heart for a couple of days. I'll feel the effects of the tube that was down my throat during the procedure, and I'll probably be a little tired for a day or two. But that's it.

Catheter ablation procedure

When you think about it, it's a very small inconvenience for something that will hopefully take away that flopping fish in my chest for awhile. Over the last couple of years, I've "met" many a-fib sufferers online in forums who hesitate to have this procedure done. I understand that anything that involves doing something to your heart can be scary. I'm a little apprehensive, but not scared. I hope that if any of you who are reading this and are suffering from a-fib or atrial flutter, believe me when I say that as intimidating as a catheter ablation sounds, it is a very safe and effective procedure.

I can tell you that when my heart goes into NSR or normal sinus rhythm after a bout of a-fib, it feels something like a calm, glassy, peaceful ocean after a hurricane. I'm looking forward to a lot of that!

Wish me luck!
IJ





Wednesday, February 13, 2019

It Was The Best Of Signs...

We live on an island. Vancouver Island. It's a beautiful place to live with a very moderate climate, but in the winter it can be kind of grey and glum. Which is why we have, on many occasions, chosen to visit another island. Hawaii. Simple enough, eh?

I prepared myself by packing a week early, painting my toenails, and loading up movies on my digital paraphernalia. Don't forget your passport! Remember your meds. Put the garbage out. Water the plants. Whoops. Too much cream left in the fridge...it's going to go bad before we get back. Oh well, it's only cream. Hawaii here we come!

We were flying out on Sunday afternoon, with our first flight out of Victoria to Vancouver, a two hour turnaround and then the six hour flight to Kailua/Kona that evening. My daughter drove us to the airport. On that drive were the first signs of snowflakes, not a very common sight here in Victoria, but then, so what? What's a few flakes?

She dropped us off, we said our goodbyes, and we walked right to security where there was a short line up. The security guy was in a good mood, joking as he helped us throw our suitcases and backpacks into the bins. My husband went through security and immediately set the alarm off. It's always his belt. He forgets to take off his belt.

After a full body scan, he was cleared and we began the long "hurry up and wait" for our flight. Outside the big windows in the departure area, it was starting to look a little more ominous. The snow had picked up and was accumulating quickly. We kept checking our flight time, but it continued to say "on time". A flight came in. That was a good sign. Always look for the good signs. Eventually, an announcement came on saying that our flight was delayed about 20 minutes. I walked up to the Westjet agent and she assured me that we would make it in time for our Kona flight. So we sat some more. The weather worsened by the minute. I looked up the gate we needed to be at when we arrived in Vancouver. It was a long walk. Maybe they'll be delayed too. But so far, that flight was indicated as on time.

I took a picture outside the airport window and posted it on Facebook with the caption "Yeah, we're not going anywhere anytime soon!" And sure enough, within about a half hour of the taking of this photo, the flight was cancelled. It's a smaller airport with mostly smaller planes and the manpower and equipment could not keep up with the snowfall. Add that to the fact that Victoria rarely gets more than a sprinkle of snow at a time, and you've got a calamity.

Our hearts sank.

After the initial shock, I called our daughter and asked if she could come back and pick us up. It was getting dark and she had never driven in snow like this before, so she hesitated. But like a trooper, she said she'd come, so we parked ourselves by the arrivals section of the airport to look out for her. My husband was on the phone calling Westjet to see if we could re-schedule our flights for the next day, and I ended up on the phone with our daughter, talking her through the drive through snow storm. By this time, it was completely dark and there were white out conditions on the highway. She was driving ever-so-slowly and watching as people abandoned their cars on the side of the road. She got lost approaching the airport because she wasn't able to see the road signs. But she finally made it.

By this time, they had actually shut down part of the highway because a whole slew of cars without snow tires were unable to negotiate one of the bigger hills, and were stuck there, creating a mass traffic jam. So before we got too far along, we were diverted by police off the highway and onto a back road route. Most people were driving slow and steady, but the ones who had no idea what they were doing made it worse for everyone else. We had four wheel drive but even that was a bare advantage. Spinning tires, stuck trucks, buses that couldn't negotiate corners, they were all there, one after the other, after the other. It took us close to two hours to get home in what would have normally been a half hour trip, if that.

At home we determined that it would be better the next day.

The next morning, I was surprised to wake up in my home, until it hit me. Oh, yeah. We're not there. Yet. I looked for signs that it was going to happen. Flights had been taking off that morning. Good sign. Snow wouldn't start until later that afternoon. Another good sign. We could fly out before then.

We decided to drive ourselves this time and park at the airport to spare our daughter from another frightful experience. I checked the flight status every two minutes while we drove. Still on time. Still on time. Good sign. I realized I brought the wrong eye glasses. Oh, oh.

My husband drove up to the parking ticket machine. Struggling to press the button from the inside of the car, he swore and opened the door. The ticket got stuck. He had to use a pen to dig it out. When he finally got it, the gate wouldn't lift. Some more profanities (could've come from me) and I told him to press for another ticket. This time it came through properly and the gate lifted. Phew! Was that a good sign or a bad sign?

We sat in the same area of the departure lounge as we had the day before. We recognized a couple of other passengers who has returned as well. It hadn't snowed much during the morning and we were hopeful that this time the plane would actually get out. And it did.

Well, we left the gate. The plane was being de-iced and we were ready for take off as the snow picked up. I felt nervous about the length of time it was taking, but finally the propellers started up and the plane was readied. We sat. And sat. And then, to our and every other passenger's horror, the propellers wound down and came to a stop. Oh no.

The pilot came on the loudspeaker. The visibility was becoming so poor that they could not see the runway or the markers. But they were talking to "control" and were working out a solution.

We sat some more.

Every now and then the pilot would come on and say they were working on it. There was still hope.

They served us water and pretzels. Was that a good sign?


In all of the times the pilot came on the loudspeaker, not once did he say that the flight was cancelled. We clung to this. Finally, the pilot announced that a truck was going to tow us back to the gate, but we were still not cancelled. He said it would be warmer and more comfortable sitting in the lounge.

We started rolling. And then.

The truck pulling the plane got stuck, the pilot announced. On came the propellers again. Maybe we're going now? No. The pilot was just using the propellers to propel us (duh) back to the gate. We disembarked.

It wasn't until we were inside, sitting down in the lounge, that the announcement came that the flight was cancelled. Ugh.

So once again, we made our way out of the airport, this time to the parking lot. Most cars had been there awhile and were swamped in snow. We were mostly concerned about getting out of our stall.

The sad sight of my luggage waiting to be loaded back into the car.

We got word that the highway home was now almost completely shut down. By this time, there were 11 accidents all along it, so we had to take another route out of the airport. The back road was treacherous. Of the few who were on the road, or what we could see of it, most, like us, were driving at a snail's pace. Again, we came across a number of stuck vehicles, and people with shovels trying to dig them out. I kept my eye on Google Maps (thank heavens for Google Maps!) and saw where the highway had opened up again. Even the highway was bad, the plows not having had enough time to do a proper job. We slowly made our way back home.



From home we called Westjet again and I cancelled the rental car. There was still room on the next day's flights. Third time lucky? We took the chance and booked it.

The next morning,the weather was better, flights had been leaving and we were SURE this time would be it. Others told us to consider taking the ferry and public transport instead. We seriously considered all our options. In the end, because the weather was in our favour, we went with the flight. We counted 12 cars abandoned along the highway on our drive there. People were shoveling while they had the chance.

We joked with the security guy that this was our third and hopefully our last time through there. My husband remembered to take his belt off. I brought the right eye glasses. We sat in a different area of the departure lounge. This was a new day!

We spoke to others there who had also spend two or three days trying to get out. One man had no option but to leave, even knowing has connecting flight had left an hour before. We weren't the only ones with tragic travel tales. The monitor showed our flight as on time. Yay! Then I got an odd email that the flight was delayed 40 minutes. But the screens at the airport still said on time. We decided to go with that. Planes were coming and going, even though there was the occasional cancellation or delay. We were going to make it! I know my friends have been waiting to hear if we did or not. I'll give you a hint:

I painted my toenails for this??

Nope. We are at home. This time the flight got delayed in Vancouver. What was originally a 20 minute delay, turned to 40 minutes, then 50. The last I heard, the plane didn't get out of Victoria until 6 hours after it was scheduled. They couldn't get us another flight out until two days later, which would have meant our trip was half over by the time we got there. So with heavy hearts, we drove home one last time. I unpacked my backpack, but I haven't had the heart to unpack the suitcase. We might try to take a few days up island to a resort with sandy/snowy beaches and a cold, grey ocean view. At least it's something!

When we were driving home the last time, I saw an ambulance blazing by, sirens roaring, and thought to myself "Someone's having a worse day than me." You have to put it in perspective I guess.

But I don't recommend stepping in snow with bare feet.

Aloha,
IJ