Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Jimmy Buffett is Gone

The memory of the first time I heard a Jimmy Buffett song is more than a bit hazy to be dependable. It’s more akin to a form or document that has been photocopied so many times the letters are barely readable and any illustrations are a fuzzy gray mess. I guess that’s a testament to life in general as the years come and go.

Even back in the ancient history of what I believe was the early 1970s Jimmy’s music was an introduction to the idea to not take life too seriously. Somehow though both of the songs I instantly associate with Buffett--Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise--were not released until the late 1970s. Somehow I have a clear memory of listening to Cheeseburger in Paradise while riding in my dad's GMC truck, a vehicle he junked in 1974. (I guess this is my own little piece of the Mandala Effect?)

Buffett’s influence on my life hit a high point in the 1990s with the release of several albums. Barometer Soup, Fruitcakes, and Banana Wind are my favorites although I would be hard pressed to name an album of his I didn’t like at all.

The biggest thing that drew me to Buffett was his stated rejection of the “in crowd.” Striking out on my own and going against the conventional wisdom of what the majority of folks think or do is the base of my personality. All things considered, that mindset has had its advantages and disadvantages.

Most of the time Jimmy reveled in going against the flow. During one concert he spent more than a few minutes explaining how he had never won any awards for his music but that didn’t matter with fans like Parrot Heads.

I knew Jimmy’s outsider nature was going to change the minute I saw the segment 60 Minutes did on him back in the 1990s. My in-laws, who despised the man because of the absolute worthless bum dating their daughter seemed to copy every aspect of his songs, changed their opinion on him after seeing that segment. While I understood Jimmy was never poor, the 60 Minutes segment made it abundantly clear his great-great grandchildren would never go without living off his wealth. Of course, my in-laws were at first shocked that the king of beach bums was actually rich and from then on didn’t talk trash about my music. They still didn't think much of me and actively tried to get their daughter to break up with me.

At some points Jimmy’s outsider and likable and easy going attitude caught the attention of aging baby-boomers looking to recapture something of their youth and of course, land developers who are usually one of the lowest forms of life. By the early twenty-first century the baby-boomers were finally sick of the rat race to which they had so faithful pursed but they did have enough money and time to try and copy Jimmy’s laid back, beach bum lifestyle.

The land developers got in on the act by building resorts, neighborhood subdivisions, and even retirement communities all under the Margaritaville banner. While initially fascinated by the idea of experiencing what advertisers described as a perpetual pool party where beer and boobs are plentiful the concept to me quickly turned sour. Not the beer and boobs part, but the astronomical buy in required to become part of the in-crowd, which was filled with financially mobile upper middle class types types and not the humble outsiders, goofballs, and hippy refugees.

So with Jimmy hanging out with billionaires and attending those mysterious Eyes Wide Shut-like gatherings I became somewhat ambivalent to the man. He had changed and so had I, part of me was saddened but by that time I was mature enough for it not to overly bother me. Kind of like the period in life when you find out Santa and the Easter Bunny are just your mom and dad pulling a fast one.

Still, when Jimmy passed I truthfully couldn’t grasp that he was gone. He was such an icon that even after I sort of left him behind because he sold out to The Man, it was like a piece of me was gone.

If you never lived in the coastal regions of the southeast up until the late 1980s you can never imagine the ramshackle and arrogantly shabby way most people lived. It was freewheeling and loose with little economic distinction between the people who lived there. It was fish fries, oyster roasts, music playing, and people having fun on the beach not thinking about their investments and whether or not they would renew the lease on their BMW or Lexus. Most of all during the old days their was an attitude of inclusiveness, anyone one could join the group as long as they liked the music and brought along some beer.

That was Jimmy Buffett in my mind, everyone was invited and no one was too poor or weird.

The coastal regions are now dominated by high priced subdivisions where the property taxes and insurance costs have forced most of the longtime locals to move inland. I have to also mention the fucking king-of-the-world attitudes many of the new residents have about their beachfront properties. Many of them somehow believe they own all the land from their actual property line down to the ocean itself. It’s not hard to find videos online of some asshole dude or screeching Karen threatening to call the police and rain down legal hellfire on the dirty peasants that dare to invade their property and spoil their view.

Maybe it’s not fair to lump Jimmy Buffett in with those changes but his venture into real estate developments aimed strictly at the privileged upper class still stinks like a dead fish left in the sun. Still I will miss the man and everything he gave me in the way of music, a couple of really good books, and the beach bum attitude of fun and no worries.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Heart Transplant 101

 My little rant about fear last week felt good so I think I’ll throw another post out into the void.

So what have I been doing during my silent period? Well, generally dealing with my chronic heart issues. For those who don’t know way back in August of 2018 my heart suddenly went into ventricular tachycardia while at work. This occurred literally around midnight with my heart rate reaching over two-hundred beats per minute.

Stupid me didn’t understand what was happening so for about half an hour I walked around trying to “shake it off.” Luckily for me I work at a hospital so I eventually went to one of the nurses in surgical recovery and had my blood pressure taken. It was normal, but when she felt my pulse I was forced to lay down on a gurney and was quickly wheeled down to the ER.

That began a several month long adventure that included several stays in the cardiac intensive care units of two hospitals, four cardiac ablations, and the discovery that I have a genetic mutation of the heart muscle.

After the fourth cardiac ablation, which was my first down at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston(MUSC) I got my life back. And with a few exceptions due to a couple of bouts of atrial fibrillation that required their own ablations, I’ve been doing great for someone with my condition.

That began to change in April of this year. Seemingly out of nowhere I had about two-minutes of tachycardia that my pacemaker/defibrillator, actually it’s a CRT-D, was able to get under control. A small period of panic ensued but after several phone calls down to MUSC everything seemed back under control.

Well, I had another episode of tachycardia again in August, which was again quelled by my CRT-D. While this episode was about the same length and severity as the one in April it raised a lot of red flags for my docs down in Charleston. After a checkup down there in September, a special test was scheduled for the first of October to determine what exactly was going on. It was supposed to be outpatient with me going home that same day. No, that’s not how things unfolded.

The test was scheduled for the first Tuesday in October but that Sunday I went into a prolonged but “gentle” episode of tachycardia. My wife rushed me to local hospital where I quickly informed them that I needed to be sent down to Charleston. Namely for because the test but also because that hospital had first shot at treating my condition and failed.

Probably happy to be rid of my sarcastic ass, they loaded my up into an ambulance and sent me to down to MUSC. That ride is a whole other story in itself but I will not delve down that rabbit hole right now.

To sum up the first week of my October hospital stay is easy. By the time I arrived down in Charleston my heart was mostly behaving itself again. I had the test as scheduled on Tuesday and it was inconclusive. I was discharged mid-morning that Thursday and sent home because the docs saw nothing to fix at that moment.

The very next day, Friday, my heart went to absolute shit by mid-morning. I was having near constant episodes of light tachycardia with my CRT-D pacing me out of them. I say “light tachycardia” because my heart rate never exceeded one-hundred fifty beats per minute. But what did scare me was when my CRT-D paced me out of the episode it literally felt like a kick in the chest.

Yes, I should have headed back down to some ER immediately but since my heart had spent the previous week acting all normal I held off until mid-afternoon. It was around one o’ clock in the afternoon when I finally started making some phone calls to the docs in Charleston.

Like the ambulance ride earlier that week, that’s a story all by itself. Boiling it down to the fundamental points the MUSC nurse that called me back around four o’ clock said it would be best if I came back down to their ER.

I went okay, told my lovely bride to saddle up and were driving south after I packed a small Go-bag. The entire drive down I was going into tachycardia with my CRT-D kicking me in the chest to bring the heart back under control. Truthfully, I expected the tachycardia to suddenly stop at some point, but it didn’t and I walked to the ER reception desk and was greeted by the nurse manning it highly skeptical to my claim.

That was until she hooked me up to an EKG and saw the tachycardia happening in real time. Needless to say I was quickly rushed back to the exam rooms where about five separate nurses and two ER doctors were freaking out. A quick scan of my previous history strongly suggested that if the tachycardia wasn’t brought under some control it would only get worse.

Shit got so weird that night in the ER the maker of my CRT-D’s telemetry people called MUSC saying they had recorded over seventy episodes of tachycardia that day and wanted them to get in touch with me.

Speeding up the story telling a good bit, I was admitted again where I was the guinea pig on a bunch of other medical tests and had copious amounts of blood drawn for fifteen days. It was soon determined that another ablations to control the tachycardia was not an option. My heart had been scarred up pretty badly in my previous procedures, just a normal side-effect of zapping bad cells that wanted to short circuit.

So, once again jumping over a lot of detail, I was informed a few days later my only real option was a heart transplant. Since my root problem was a genetic defect in my heart cells and since I had about all the ablations my heart could take I agreed. That is not before I suffered through about thirty hours of abject terror thinking about what I would have to endure.

After thinking about it and numerous talks with swarms of truly awesome physicians, I realized a heart transplant was my only option if I wanted to continue breathing. The alternative being a slow slide to oblivion as my heart went full short circuit. Not necessarily a painful demise, but it would be highly unpleasant.

Okay here are some of the details that I skimmed over:

  • My heart is under control right now due to the new drug they have me on. It’s called amiodarone, and it was called by one of the docs the “best drug they have and the worst.” The side effects can be severe in both the short term and the long term. Adding to my equation is that I’m on the maximum dose of four-hundred mg.

  • While I am fully on the heart transplant list I’m currently at Status Six. That means I’m home and can return to work under certain limitations.

  • During the testing I learned that any new heart I receive will have to be from someone of similar height, size, and blood type. Since I’m six foot-five inches and a pretty big guy I’m going to be waiting for a long time. Especially since I’m relatively healthy at this moment.

  • If the amiodarone becomes ineffective, or if I start showing signs of progressive health failure, I will have to return to the hospital and stay there until a heart becomes available. Some people on the transplant list have stayed in the hospital way over a year before getting a heart. These patients have used that time to learn a musical instrument, take online college courses, or even play video games. If I fall into that situation I’m going with then online learning.

  • Yes, people have died while on the list waiting for a heart.

  • Yes, I'm still scared but there’s nothing I can do but play the cards I’ve been dealt.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

A Question Of Faith in These Times

 About to commit the one heresy that should united all Star Wars fans. I’m talking the original, prequel, and those deluded souls who find something redeemable about Disney’s sequel trilogy. To crudely sum it all up, Star Wars is crap when it comes to representing science fiction.

While the stage for George’s saga takes place in a galaxy, I’ve always believed his creation had more in common with Lord of The Rings. Star Wars has wizards roaming space and battling evil but Gandalf and his kin were doing the same thing in Middle Earth trying to blunt Sauron and his minions. To me, Star Wars had no overarching philosophy beyond the bad guys being bad and that the good guys were too arrogant to see the Sith Lord in front of them.

The one philosophical nugget I found in George’s shaky story was something Master Yoda said in one of the prequels. Going something like, “Fears leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering...” then it drivels off taking a headfirst dive into the Dark Side.

Speaking just about the character, I’ve never liked the erratic and possibly senile non-Kermit green Muppet but his words do ring true. You would have to be an idiot not to see how our world is dominated by fear.

Prime example, the Israelis and Palestinians even now gleefully kill the others kids because they both live in fear. Now that doesn’t stop them from screaming up at the sky at god, or nearby Western journalist, asking why anyone would commit such horrible crimes against innocent children. Never once thinking about the kids of their enemies which laugh and play and have hopes and dreams of their own.

Not to leave the good old United States out of the equation our country is rife with fear. A lot of otherwise normal acting white folks live in abject fear of black men. Whether that fears manifests itself as the black boogeyman lurking in the shadows waiting to steal their precious possessions, “hard earned tax dollars”, or the virtue of their daughters to make a mixed-race baby, or all three it makes no difference. This fear rules their lives and destroys rational thought and simple compassion.

One sidebar, if someone should actually read this don’t get your panties in an uproar. I’m a white guy who lives in the southern United States and have firsthand experience living and working around such people.

Of course, living in fear crosses all the lines and classifications we humans had drawn for ourselves. Throw any three random people together, no matter what part of the planet they come from, and one of them is going to be treated like shit by the other two. It’s our nature as animals and any attempt for equality is a very recent idea we’re still not fully onboard with.

Where is all my verbal offal headed?

Recent events all around the world suggests to me we’re well on our way to nasty reckoning. This will sound weird but the optimistic side of me would like to think the lessons that were supposedly learned in the twentieth century have been forgotten. The realist side of me however knows that the dark side of centuries of fear and hate have only been hiding. That less than ideal economic factors along with apathy, and a number of societal fear-mongers have allowed our darker natures to crawl out from under their rocks.

Our species stupid divisions, general desire for power, and unthinking blood lust have us walking to the edge of an abyss our “leaders” either ignore or even promote. Personally I’m talking about the religious types that want the world to end because that means Jesus-man will take them up to Heaven where the streets leading to all the heavenly McMansions are paved with gold. Being fair and balanced, I don’t have any respect for those of the Islamic faith who revel in the same level of fundamentalist extremism. Needless to say, the same goes for anyone of the Jewish faith.

In my opinion, if your religious worldview holds the belief that killing other human beings is justified because they have violated your pious sensibilities, whether it involve what they believe about the nature of god or moral living, your faith is flawed beyond all hope.

Yes, I have less than a respectful view of the general mass of those professing a belief in the god of Abraham. There are numerous exceptions of people from the Christian, Islamic, or Jewish faith trying to live by some version of the Golden Rule. But far too much blood has been spilled over the centuries, and still being spilled, to overlook just because we are told to have faith.

 I'm sick of religious leaders that speak of faith, love, and charity but only promote fear and hate. If that's what god is I'm out. I'll take my chance on the universe and existence being some cosmic joke with no punchline. 

No, I'm not officially back. Just discouraged and disgusted.