Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Cardiac Status Update


Back on the first of August in 2018 I began a nightmarish journey with my heart. No, not some bullshit romance but the flesh and blood organ occupying the center of my chest. In the ungodly late hours of that hot and humid night my heart decided to go into ventricular tachycardia.

Stupid me didn't realize I was in deep poo-poo trouble and it took a nurse working the night shift as well to discover why I felt like crap. By that time my heart rate was pushing way over 250 beats per minute.

After this nurse pushed me down on a stretcher she and her crew rushed me to the Emergency Department where a team of scared doctors and nurses worked to prevent me from slipping in ventricular fibrillation. That's pretty much when the heart says, “fuck it, I'm done.”

Some drug whose name I have forgotten got my irate ticker back under control, for that moment. But that was just the first of several close calls with ventricular tachycardia (VT).

 The surgical treatment for that condition is called cardiac ablation where truly talented doctors insert a catheter into my groin and feed it up to my heart. At the end of the catheter is either an electrical probe which burns short circuiting heart cells or a device that can freeze them dead.

All told I had four ablations with the last one performed down at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston. See, I had a particularly nasty set of short circuiting heart cells with a couple in extremely difficult spots to reach. The doctor at MUSC was going to crack open my chest to a certain degree to reach those troubling buggers but unforeseen difficulties forced him to try another approach.

Well, he nailed those bastards and with the help of a cardiac resynchronization device (CRT) implanted in my chest, I'm almost completely normal. My heart behaves, mostly, but I have to be watched and monitored on a regular basis.

Well, last Friday I got a call from one of my cardiologists and I have a nifty new issue. My CRT started detecting my heart going into atrial fibrillation, which brings its own set of problems for my continued existence on this pale blue dot.

So this Thursday I've got to report to the hospital up here in Columbia for a session of cardioconversion. Electrodes will be placed on my chest and, after they knock my ass out, I will receive shocks to my heart to restore proper operation.

Supposedly, it should take more than twenty minutes where they will then wake my ass up and send me home. There is a possibility of an overnight stay for observation and I truly hope I can avoid that bullshit.

So if you were wondering why I didn't get anything posted Sunday, that's pretty much the reason. I still did a few must-do chores like using my new John Deere riding lawnmower to cut the weeds in my yard. So I'm not a complete bed-ridden loser.

Mostly, I feel fine but I do sweat like a nervous pig when I do most any activity. I will be taking Friday off from work and being totally lazy over the weekend so I should have something to post during that time. If I wanted to get stupid I could do a review of the Snyder cut of Justice League. A four-hour long remake of the absolute worst film I ever paid money to see.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

MIddle Weekend Adventures


There was once a time when the serving in the Army National Guard was fun. But that was largely before my first enlistment in 1984 when the “old timers” would tell stories about massive weekends barbecues deep in the woods of Fort Jackson. Those parties were only topped by the ones that supposedly occurred during the two-week summer camps. Raging poker games in the barracks and quite illegal beer and food runs off post in army vehicles had become only whispered legends by the time I was a private (E-1) fresh out of basic training.

By 1984 the entire Army National Guard was entering another stage of its evolution. During the Vietnam era the National Guard was more of a joke being a much desired refuge for rich and well connected kids wanting to avoid the dangers of those distant jungles. After Vietnam the National Guard languished in a benign, apathetic limbo where the only thing worse than the insufficient training and discipline among the soldiers was the broken and out of date equipment they were issued.

When I finally joined in 1984, Ronny Raygun had already set in motion the changes that would totally remake the National Guard into the professional force it is today.

I stayed a weekend warrior for two years before going active duty in 1986 and during that time I caught an echo of the easy going style of the Old Guard. By that time weekend drills in the local armory were well organized with the required maintenance on equipment being performed as well as professional training classes being held. But still, there was an underlying understanding that we were not active duty troops and that at the end of the day our family and civilian jobs took first priority.

It was during the two-week annual training where the most hints of the Old Guard could be found during that time. Those two summer camps before I went active duty the first week would be spent in the field sleeping in leaky tents and vehicles along with playing at our various military occupational specialties. The second week had us in the barracks still largely playing soldier during the day but sleeping in hot and miserable barracks at night. Yeah, the hot and miserable barracks were an improvement from sleeping in the field. That is if you could sleep during the raging poker games that went on most the night and breathe the thick secondhand smoke from all the burning cigarettes.

Concerning those poker games, I have to mention that many of the wives of these guys had apparently been told that their husbands did not receive that much in pay for those two weeks. This was cover for many returning home almost broke after having lost it gambling. Now between the first week in the field and the second week in the barracks was the middle weekend. I remember it as a time when all discipline evaporated and the troops did what they wanted. Some just drank themselves into a weekend stupor with what money they had on hand. We're literally talking about whole mountains of empty beer cans at the start of the second week.

Not wanting to deal with clouds of cigarette smoke and Olympic-level drinking, I got in my car and hauled ass to a friends' house or went back home. Understand, I'm not passing judgment on those guys staying in the barracks. By the mid-1980s when I joined, all the rich and well connected Vietnam draft dodgers had returned to full civilian life. That just left the lower-middle class guys who worked rotating shifts during the rest of the year at Georgetown County's two major employers, the steel mill and the paper mill. The middle weekend of summer camp was in many ways their only vacation away from the demands of their jobs and families. I just didn't want to endure the smell of stale beer and breathe their second-hand smoke.

Of course, I went active duty army in 1986 and didn't have to deal with annual summer camps again until I returned to the National Guard in 1990.

When I returned to the National Guard in 1990 a great deal had changed. The Old Guard with its laid back attitude along with its lack of discipline was a bad memory. Even the more responsible but reasonable National Guard that existed when I joined in 1986 had evolved into an excessively gung-ho organization that was beginning to look upon its members civilian jobs as impediments to the mission. This was a situation that would only get worse over time.

What had also changed was the middle weekend. My first couple of summer camps back after leaving active duty had me traveling to some interesting posts with small groups, so I couldn't complain too much. The training was actually fun and I was still single and interested in having a good time. By the time of my first summer camp with the rest of my unit though, the whole basis of how things went had changed.

Not only did my unit still spend the first week out in the field playing soldier, but the second week as well. We would return to the rear area to stay in the barracks for the middle weekend. But even then the officers and NCO's weren't going to allow anything like the freewheeling antics that were once normal occurrences.

As a former active duty soldier I completely agreed with those changes. My problem came when the senior NCO's started making noises that they were going to no longer allow us to leave the post during the middle weekend. I'll put it to you frankly, there isn't any army base my National Guard unit frequented for summer camp that I would want to be stuck at for a weekend.

By 1996 I was married and had a son and as you might expect, the idea of being forced to hang around at the barracks during the middle weekend was supreme bullshit. That year my unit was doing summer camp at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Now understand, Stewart is amazingly close to beaches but as a new dad I wanted to be with my son.

It took a little persuasion, but my first sergeant decided to let me go leave Fort Stewart and go see my son. It was going to be an easy trip for me since all I had to do was hit I-95 and drive up to Manning, South Carolina where I would meet my son and wife at her parents' house. So that Friday afternoon at the beginning of the middle weekend, I got in my 1988 Ford Escort and hauled ass heading north.

I love my wife and kid by one of the sacrifices I had to make for them was selling my 1984 Chevrolet Camaro and getting the Escort. My Camaro had class and style, and been the reason I had scored as well as I did with the ladies back at Fort Carson. But as a family man, my Camaro pretty much sucked for driving your kid and wife around.

So we got a used four-door escort hatchback with four-cylinder engine and a crappy radio. It was dependable, it had cargo space, and I could fit a baby seat in the back. Surprisingly enough my Camaro turned out to have better gas mileage that the Escort but my wife didn't find that interesting.

About about two hours later I'm driving north on I-95 with the pedal to the floor doing about sixty miles and hour. The radio has lost all reception so I'm listening to the one cassette tape the player had destroyed and getting pretty tired Kenny Rodgers crone about his damn card game. Yes, I had a Kenny Rodgers tape in my car, it's a long story in its own right but understand I'm not a fan. The cassette player seemed to have its own idea of good music so I went along with its choices.

At some point after I passed the I-26 interchange the terrain around me opens up enough to allow me to see some sky. To the west I see clouds, some dark and heavy but nothing unusual for South Carolina. The weather that day for the entire state was sickeningly hot and soul-sucking humid but at least the AC on the Escort was a real winner.

The drone of the road and Kenny's whining about some woman leaving her family with a crop in the field caused me to zone out for a few minutes. What suddenly pulled me back to consciousness was a totally unexpected flash of lightning and the corresponding boom of thunder after that. Once I gathered my meager wits and wiggled my butt in the seat a little to make sure I hadn't shit my pants I looked over to my left and saw what was happening.

In the space of a few minutes that party cloudy day had completely changed. To the west of me a huge chunk of the sky had gone completely black, with the lightning flashing it looked like someone had opened the gates of Hell. Instinctively, I switched over to the radio and almost immediately heard the blaring noise of a weather alert.

At first all I heard was the Weather Service's robotic voice saying that a tornado warning was in effect for numerous counties along I-95. Yeah, no shit I thought to myself as the wind began trying to push my car off the road.

Mr. Robot was soon replaced with a panicked human voice saying this storm was throwing softball-sized hail and that if you were between certain mile markers on I-95 that you should seek shelter absolutely right now. Now I've never been good with math but right after I heard his words I saw a mile marker sign and realized I was smack in the middle of where he said all shit was about to fly.

Low and behold that was when the funnel cloud became visible on the left side of I-95. After a momentary scan of surroundings, I realized I was the only car on the road. Yeah, all the other smart people had probably heard the weather report on their dependable car radios and found shelter. I had somehow hit the one bleak and undeveloped section of I-95 in the whole damn state.

So, I said fuck it, gripped the steering wheel harder and ignored the funnel cloud and the growing sound of a train. No, I didn't look back on the funnel cloud so I don't know for certain if it had touched down and became a full tornado.

The rain went from a few drops to torrential and the booming of thunder made me feel like I was driving through an artillery barrage. Luckily, I somehow stayed on the road and didn't hit any fool who decided to stop in the middle of the interstate.

The sound of the train faded away but the rain never really letup. I did find the exit for Manning and successfully navigated the county roads to my in-laws house. These roads are seriously in the boonies to the point visitors traveling in that area might want to stay alert for any banjo playing.

Much to the chagrin of my dad-in-law, I pulled into his driveway before nightfall and was greeted by my smiling wife and young son. Weather reports did say that a tornado had touched down near that area but it was impossible for me to know for sure if the funnel cloud I saw was it.

The rest of the weekend was great with me having lots of time with my family. When I returned to Fort Stewart Sunday evening I found out that commanding officer had restricted everyone to the barracks just minutes after I left. His stated reasoning was to keep accountability and prevent needless accidents during annual training.

This decision by the CO pissed off the first sergeant and with me walking around with a huge shit-eating grin because I got laid and saw my kid over the weekend didn't help with his disposition. So much that I caught a bunch of crappy duties during that second week in the field.

I didn't care, outrunning a tornado was probably one of the funnest things I ever did during summer camp.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Nomad Feet: Brookgreen Gardens

My daughter is currently on spring break and needed to get out of the house. So, we hit Brookgreen Gardens down on the the coast near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. This sculpture is at the entrance of the gardens on Highway 17 and they do not make it easy to photograph. There is a sign at the front saying no parking and no stopping. Which makes sense because traffic is always heavy in that area. My daughter had to scramble around cars to get this shot.  
This is "Narcissus" by Adolph Alexander Weinman 1870-1952

We picked a near perfect day for our road trip. The temperature was around 70 degrees and the humidity was non-existent. The only slight problem was that Spring had only just begun to pop. Not much was in bloom and the staff was still getting things ready for summer. If you go to Brookgreen Gardens during the summer months drink a lot of water!

One of the biggest scams ever perpetrated by Disney films was to portray Zeus here as a loving family man happily married to his wife Hera. In the Disney animated movie Heracles they do just that and it's a laugh riot for anyone with a vague notion of his extramarital proclivities.  

A nice relaxing pathway.

One of the few flowers I saw in bloom. Sorry I don't know the species

I believe this sculpture is of Artemis.

Wise words.

A beautiful setting.

No trip down to the coast would be complete if I didn't stop and visit Pawleys Island. Got to admit, I was disappointed because there wasn't any breeze on the beach.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Life of Gebelein Man


One of my enduring curiosities is trying to relate to the people who lived and died in the distant past. There's no limit to my fascination having read books and articles along with viewing numerous documentaries on human development. The only problem I have with this interest is that I have to sort through a near unlimited supply of pseudo-scientific crap about ancient civilization like Atlantis. Or the misnamed History Channel's pushing of the idea “ancient aliens” hanging out with the Egyptians or Sumerians or any other culture that built great structures or pushed the bounds of human creativity.

Luckily, I stumbled upon a podcast that is now in the middle of a series detailing the development of humanity from the deepest parts of prehistory to the collapse of the the Bronze Age civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. That podcast is called Tides of History and it is hosted my a guy named Patrick Wyman. The most recent episode dealt with predynastic Egypt and the rise of the Pharaohs.

My post isn't about how incredibly more complicated the unification of Egypt appears to have been. In that episode Wyman details how unification of that ancient land wasn't a given. That even after the traditional history of Narmer ( or Menes) conquering Lower Egypt things were still in flux. Truthfully, I won't relate anymore of the overall episode because I need to listen to it again.

What I want to concentrate on is the discovery of the six Gebelein predynastic mummies. And one in particular who carried the nickname of “Ginger” until recently.

Dated to around 3400 BC, the hot sands and heat of Egypt naturally mummified these six individuals. Excavated at the end of the ninetieth century by Wallis Budge, these bodies were the first complete predynastic bodies to be discovered. These bodies were found in foetal positions lying on their left sides along with a few grave goods like pots, the remains of wicker baskets, along with pieces of linen.

Two were identified as male, one female, with the other two undetermined genders. But it is the one nicknamed “Ginger” because of his red hair that fascinated me. Because of 3D medical imaging, Ginger, now just called Gebelein Man was between 18 and 20 and in good health when he died. His cause of death was from a copper or stone blade penetrating his left shoulder blade that shattered the rib beneath sending bone fragments into the surrounding muscle and lung. It is generally believed Gebelein Man was taken by surprise because there is no evidence of defensive wounds.

There are many situational possibilities concerning the reasons for his death. Gebelein Man could have been a foot soldier of some petty king or warlord that made up predynastic Egypt. Or Gebelein Man could have been the victim of his own ambitions involved in criminal activity that ran afoul of the local authorities or another, bigger crime lord.

Here is where my fascination ramps up to high gear. From what little we're certain of the circumstances of Gebelein Man's death isn't all that different the untold number of souls that ave died all through history, even up to present. It is all too common for an unnamed soldier to die for the glory of some transient leader or political entity that itself will disappear far sooner than later. And how many millions have died through the ages working every legal and illegal angle to make a buck?

While the possible commonalities of Gebelein Man's death are all too familiar, his world, life, beliefs were as alien to us as they come. There is no way Gebelein Man had any true concept of the world beyond his small village on just a section of the Nile River. While in excellent health, his life was always libel to be cut short from any number of diseases that could sudden strike. As for his beliefs, time has wiped away his culture and the society that fostered it. Remember, he lived long before the pyramids were built and Egypt was united.

So it's the juxtaposition of those two differing elements of Gebelein Man's existence that fill me with wonder. The fact that we have his well preserved remains makes him more than some abstract idea floating in the sea of time. He was completely as human as anyone alive today. Ultimately, his life should remind all of us that our own existence is tenuous at best.