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Saturday, May 21, 2016

H, I, J, K, L, M, N, Oh Pee!

The toilet seat was cold, but I was so happy, I didn't care. There was someone in the stall next to me who seemed a little odd, but I still didn't care. Ahhhh....

When we first moved into our house 28 years ago, the only bathroom had swirly silver, pink and purple wallpaper, a purple shag carpet and a chandelier. I'm not exaggerating. The bathtub and toilet were pink, of course, and the whole room reminded me of a psychedelic 70's drug trip.

Not that I've ever been on one of those.

Two weeks ago, the only thing that remained from the original bathroom was the pink bathtub. Over the years we had pretty much changed everything else except for that tub.

Yep, even the tub surround, which we put it to replace old tiles years ago, was pink.

Pink, pink, pink.

You'll see it to the left. I mean, it was okay. All I had to do every so often was to replace the cocking around the tub. But the sliding doors were starting to rust and there were some places I could never get clean enough.

We knew for quite awhile that we were going to get the bathroom updated, but the kitchen came first and that was a much bigger process and larger expense.

This spring we finally bit the bullet and got a quote. We've only ever had one bathroom, so we also got a quote on putting a second one in on the top floor of the house. My husband had been talking about that almost ever since we moved into the house. There's a little area that used to be part of the attic that would be perfect. We even had a skylight put in and a bathroom fan installed in anticipation. But that was years ago.

The quote for the second bathroom was a bit rich for us, so we decided to get the plumbing roughed in and maybe over time we'll finish it off. Or not.

A couple of weeks ago, it all began. The first day wasn't too bad, mostly just the plumber figuring out how he was going to do everything. The second day, all hell broke loose. There were two plumbers, and two bathroom techs running around, up and down the stairs, doing the demo on the tub and sink, and I had 13 students coming and going throughout the day. Drills were squealing, hammers pounding (and never in time with the song the students and I were playing!), and of course, there was no running water and no functioning toilet.

My nightmare is always the thought of having no bathroom. I've almost always worked at home and if for any reason the water is turned off or the toilet not functioning, I'm pretty much out of luck. My husband goes off to work and everything is normal for him, and I'm left at home, needing to pee. All day.

I swear it's psychological too. Like when you can't have something, you really want it. When you know you haven't got access to a bathroom, that's when you really have to go. I walked all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge once, needing to pee the whole way. I couldn't enjoy the experience because getting to a bathroom was my one and only obsession. The Brooklyn Bridge for pete's sake!

And when, as a woman, you come to a certain age, well, it gets even more critical. And it's unbelievably irritating when your husband is always checking on that. "You sure you don't need to pee first?" "When was the last time you peed?" "Use the bathroom now, because it's going to be awhile."

I so utterly resent that.

There were a couple of times over the first week where I snuck in when I knew the toilet WAS working and the guys were off doing something else. Other than that, I would either walk (or drive, if I was desperate) to the public washroom by the tennis courts a few blocks away from here. That goodness for that!

One of my students offered to let me borrow their porta-potty. I almost took her up on that. And then, I thought, with some trepidation, if I got really desperate there's always the kitty litter box. Um, okay, no.

In the end, I managed okay. Just a little suffering for a good cause...a new bathroom. It took about two weeks in total, replacing the tub, sink and flooring, re-plastering and re-painting. Before and after pics below :-).

We basically just replaced the basin of the sink, kept the existing cupboards and even the tap, which was fairly new.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Heart Of The Matter Part 3

An electrophysiology lab.
I became aware of a shuffling around, movement and background noise. It felt like I was in the middle of a dream.

"Irene," whispered a nurse.

My eyes fluttered open. Oh, yeah, now I remember. It's over.

The day began for me at about 5:30am when I woke up a little earlier than I needed to, but who could blame me? This would be the day of my catheter ablation, the procedure that would hopefully end my episodes of atrial flutter. I've never had a "procedure" or surgery before so this was going to be a whole new experience.

My husband and I wearily drove to the hospital, which is only 10 minutes away from our house, parked the car and wandered in to admission.

Then we made our way up to the 3rd floor of the Diagnosis and Treatment Centre, CSS, or Cardiac Short Stay unit. There was a long row of chairs for patients and their family or friends to wait, and we appeared to be the first. Slowly more patients trickled in over the next hour and a half. Occasionally a nurse would come out of the ward and call a name. "Oh, you're in the first wave, you're lucky!" they would say to everyone else. Somehow I knew I wasn't in the "first wave". Oh well. What else did I have to do?

Eventually my name was called and I met my nurse, Crystal. She checked my height and weight (crap...why do they always have to weigh you?), and then led us over to my bed for the day. Bed number 9.

The ward had about 20 beds in all and they were filling up with people, mostly elderly males, I noted, all in various states of preparedness. A couple of them were being wheeled in an out of another area, which I eventually learned was the hallway leading to the operating rooms, and the electrophysiology lab, where I would have my procedure. The nurses were buzzing about, getting patients ready as my husband and I awkwardly sat down on bed number 9. Crystal the nurse came up and asked me some questions and not long after one of the surgeons came out to speak with me about a study that they are doing regarding atrial flutter, and would I be interested in being a part of the study? Sure, I said, and he left me with some papers to read.

Eventually it was time to get into my dressing gown. I was also provided with these odd little things to put on my feet. They were a little like cloth hospital caps, but for your feet. Bright blue. And darned if I could find the hole to put my foot in. All this hospital stuff was completely new for me.

My husband stayed a lot longer than the 15 minutes he was allotted, but they didn't seem to mind. We chatted and every now and then could hear the shaver going. Yep, there goes another one, we'd say. They shave you. Eventually he was told it was time to leave, so we kissed goodbye and I was on my own.

I was hooked up to a heart monitor, given a little pill for potential reflux, had my blood pressure and temperature checked, and then an older nurse came in to put in an IV. I don't have very prominent veins, so he had to muck around a bit to find something useful. Eventually he inserted the IV on the top of my hand, not the most comfortable place, but another nurse later said he did a great job. I was hooked up to a bag of saline solution on a portable unit that I could wheel around with me if I needed to use the washroom. And then I settled in and waited. And waited.

My nurse Crystal brought me magazines. But House and Home isn't really my thing, and although Canadian Living was a little more interesting, it was filled with all of these delicious recipes, and I wasn't allowed to eat. You know?

There were mostly two types of procedures going on that day -- some were receiving heart stents which meant going through the veins in their wrists to insert the stents (I know, amazing, right?), and then some of us were having ablations, where they go up through the groin into the veins leading up into the heart chambers and freeze the cells that are causing the problem. That's also amazing. As I said before in an earlier post about it, years ago you'd be diagnosed with a "heart condition" and left to live with it. Now they do these incredible but simple procedures that, in my case, have a 95% cure rate.

The patients receiving stents were wheeled in and then out of the operating rooms, their arm in a sling and a blanket around their shoulders. There were a lot of those. I was kind of looking forward to the wheel chair, mostly because I wanted to get this over with.

The patient who was having an ablation procedure just before me was scheduled to be finished by 11 or 11:30am, and my procedure would take about 2 to 2.5 hours. My husband had scheduled his return to around 3pm. As it turned out, they told me that there had been complications, so the patient before me was going to take a little longer. So I waited some more. I entertained myself by listening to the conversations going on around me. There was a retired doctor on one side of me, and an elderly lady on the other. I couldn't see them, but I got to know a little about both of them by the conversations they were having with others.

Finally, at about 2pm, one of the cardiologists came and said they were getting ready for me. I asked if I was going to get to go in one of those chairs and he said "Nah, you're young, you can walk!" Damn! Crystal the nurse convinced me to call my husband and let him know I was going in so he could adjust when he returned. A male attendant eventually came over to my bed and had me put on a cap. "You don't think I'm the only one who has to wear a hat, do you?" he laughed. I wonder how many times he's said that line?

As it turned out, because my surgery was to be in the groin, I got wheeled into the hallway on my old bed #9. I have to say that as I lay waiting in that hall just outside the electrophysiology lab, that was the only time I felt a little apprehensive. Up to that moment, I felt pretty calm and relaxed. A nurse came out and introduced herself and helped me out of the bed and we walked into the operating theatre.

It was quite the set up. There was a tall wall of monitors beside the table I was made to lie down on. One of the nurses chatted calmly with me while the other started covering me with large rectangular stickers connected to wires all over my chest, sides and back. Then the anaesthesiologist came up to me and introduced himself.  "Have you ever had a general anaesthetic before?" "Nope, never." "No?" he seemed surprised. I guess someone my age is pretty likely to have had it at least once. "Do you ever get motion sickness?" he asked. "Sometimes." I replied. "Okay, well I'm going to give you a little something to help that first."

I felt a cold solution go into my hand. I asked the nurse "What if I changed my mind right now? Has anyone ever done that?" She looked at me for a second and realized I was just joking. "It has happened," she said "but usually it's in the ward while they're waiting for surgery." The other nurse piped up "It's your right, it's your body, so you can absolutely change your mind any time you want."

"But this is going to help you with your symptoms, you're going to feel a lot better after this" said the other nurse. She seemed to be trying to convince me that I was doing the right thing. I was starting to wonder if they thought I was going to run. Nope, not me, I was in for the long haul.

One of the nurses started to bring a mask to my face. "Breathe normally, this is just oxygen" she said. I was looking forward to counting backwards. Would I get to 99? 98? But they didn't ask me to count. And suddenly I felt a rush of very calm all through my body. Was that it? Then I felt a dark cloud start to block the sun. No, this is it, I thought. And I was out cold.

When I awoke I had to spend 4 more hours lying flat, keeping my right leg absolutely still and my head down. After that, it was another hour-and-a-half of slowly sitting up, then sitting with my legs on the floor, then taking short walks around the ward with my husband or my daughter supporting me.

It had been a long day, I was a little stiff and sore, my throat bothered me from the tube that had apparently been there during my surgery, but other than that, I was fine.

It's now two days since my surgery and other than a few restrictions, I'm pretty much back to my old self. Which is amazing to me. I've had a few very minor palpitations, but they feel somehow different and certainly less severe than what I'm used to, and I was told to expect that over the first month post-op. And the chances are very good that I will never have to go through hours and hours of heart flutter again. I was told that I may have some atrial fibrillation in future, but we'll deal with that if and when the time comes.

Mostly I am grateful for the wonders of medicine, and a medical system that can fix me without my having to take out a bank loan. And tomorrow I'm going golfing. Well, not entirely. I can only ride around in the cart and putt. But I'm going golfing!!


Saturday, April 16, 2016

There's A Sucker Born Every Minute

I consider myself to be a fairly astute person, especially when it comes to the web. When Facebook posts look suspicious, I usually check them out to see for myself. And a lot of them are scams or, at the very least, misinformation. I try not to embarrass the Facebook friend posting them, though occasionally I've been unable to resist temptation. But I've always thought of myself as smarter than that.

And then, one day...

I'd been looking at my tired, 58-year-old face in the mirror and wondering if there wouldn't be something I could do to perk my skin up a little. The facial I had at the spa this year was wonderful, but it only lasts about a day. So when the ad for this amazing Retinolla cream showed up in my Facebook feed, I got curious and clicked.

It was only $7.95 for each little jar, one was a moisturiser, the other an eye cream. For $16, how could I go wrong? I thought it was worth checking out.

I filled in my info on the website, and a few days later, I received my little package. What the heck? If I liked it, I would get some more.

A couple of weeks later I was checking my bank account online and to my horror, noticed an almost $400 charge on my credit card. Whaaat?? When I saw it was the company that sold me the Retinolla, I was furious! I looked everywhere for some way to contact them and finally found a phone number, buried in an email they sent. I called right away. "You are the 3rd person in line to talk to one of our representatives," the automated answer said. I waited, my furore rising even more.

When a live person finally came on the line, it was all I could do to keep myself from screaming at her. What the hell is this $400 charge on my Visa? I paid for your product! Why are you charging me again, and why $400?? I was beside myself by this time.

She spoke English well, but had an accent. I wasn't sure what country the number was from, but I knew it wasn't North America. She calmly explained that I had passed the 14 day limit on the product and was being charged the full amount. The full amount? No where did it say there was another charge coming. Oh well, yes it does on our website. Right. The conversation continued until she finally told me that they could give me a small refund on the product. By this time, I knew I was beat and I accepted. I felt like such a complete and total sucker. We will cancel your account, she said.


Yes, that's right. So let me tell you how this works:

When you do a Google search for Retinolla, the ad comes up at the top of your results. Today's price was even better than what I "paid"!

Only $4.95 for the kit! What a bargain!

When you go to the website, it's full of the usual "before and after" pictures. But of course there's a VERY LIMITED supply of the product and a countdown clock, so you know you'd better hurry and buy it NOW! I filled in my info and credit card, etc. They wanted to sell me more...on $7.95 for this too! It was hard to see how to bypass and go straight to the checkout, but I finally figured it out before they suckered me into buying more.

That attempt to trick me into buying more should have been my first warning sign, but I must have been brain dead that day. The other thing I didn't do was read the fine print. Another huge mistake.

Because if I had read it, I would have seen this:

"Risk-free trial offer: By ordering our special trial Retinolla Beauty Kit, you agree to enroll in our AutoRefill Program. You will be charged applicable shipping and handling fees upon placing the order and will then have 14 days to try our products and return them if you are not completely satisfied. If you choose to keep the kit, you will be charged the full cost of C$179.95. We will then automatically send you a replenishment of the products you have ordered according to our common replenishment guidelines (normally, every 30 calendar days). Your card will be charged C$129.87 accordingly upon dispatch of the replenishment package. AutoRefill can be cancelled at any time by simply logging into your account."

Only the font was this small. And buried in between all kinds of other "info" that you probably wouldn't bother reading at the bottom of the page. Well, at least I didn't. That's also where you find out that the company is in Prague.

I did some research and found lots of complaints from others out there too. You think you're spending a few bucks, and then you're charged more. At least I wasn't alone in my stupidity. In the UK, for instance, they actually advertised it as a "free sample". So people were shocked to be charged anything at all. The clue would have been when you had to enter your credit card info for something that was "free". But because they were advertising the $7.95, I was not suspicious entering my credit card.

The auto-refill really got to me though. I had no idea I was creating an "account", I thought I was simply putting in my address for delivery purposes. They know what they're doing, these scammers.

When they sent me the email cancelling my account and offering the small refund, I had to promise I wouldn't take any legal action. Yeah. There you go.

In the end, two little jars of this stuff (and they are little), cost me $256.

I was utterly embarrassed at myself because I thought I was smarter than that. In fact, I really had to think about posting this at the risk of embarrassing myself even more. But I think it's important to give fair warning to any of you out there who are the least bit tempted to purchase something on line.

Read the small print, they always tell you.


Oh, and I still look 58.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Heart of the Matter - Part Two

A prospective guitar student had left a phone message that he was interested in some lessons, so I called him back. Much to my surprise, when I called, a woman answered instead, and for some dumb reason, I didn't say anything and just hung up thinking I had dialed the wrong number.

Minutes later, the guy called me back and when I said hello I could hear a woman crying in the background. He started to yell at me, telling me never to call him again. I was completely confused until I heard the woman crying out "Who is she? Why do you always do this to me?" Suddenly it occurred to me that she thought I was his mistress or something. I tried to explain why I had hung up, but he just kept yelling at me. My heart started pounding, I didn't know what to do, I was freaking out.

And then I woke up.

Who knows where the dream came from, but the pounding of my heart part, that was real. Oh no, not this again.

The palpitations occur every couple of days, sometimes just for a second or two, sometimes for an hour or so. But the "big" one hits me every couple of months. And this was a big one. The palpitations become more severe, and then it turns into the flutter. Atrial Flutter. My heart races sometimes up to twice its normal speed, sometimes for hours.  The other night, I calculated it was about six hours...from 1:30am when I woke up with it, until about 7:30am.

Some of you might remember a blog post I wrote a couple of years back called The Heart of the Matter, about my experience in the emergency ward. That was a particularly bad episode of atrial flutter, but at the time I didn't know what it was. Since then, I've become quite educated about it.

The more common form of this malady is Atrial Fibrillation, or a-fib as sufferers like to call it. A-fib is an abnormal beating of the heart, very much like palpitations, that also goes on for long periods. There are a lot of causes, some people live with it for many years, others go on medications, and yet others get a procedure called a catheter ablation, which I will describe later.

I get a-fib too, and most of the time it's relatively mild. But when I get the flutters, I'm down and out for as long as its around. If I stand up, I get dizzy because my heart isn't pumping properly, so I have to lie in bed and wait it out. I'm lucky, because eventually it stops on its own. The longest I've had it for is 11 hours, usually it's somewhere between 5 and 7 hours. But some with this condition have to go into emergency every time it happens to have their heart slowed down intravenously because it won't stop. That's what happened to me on my first emergency visit.

Palpitations never used to bother me because I read somewhere that they were normal, and certainly a normal part of menopause. But I remember an incident about four years ago when I went to visit my Dad in the care facility. He was in pretty bad shape that day, and I was more than a little stressed. That's when the palpitations started, and this time they didn't stop for several hours. That's the first time I was alarmed enough to realize something else was wrong. But when they went away, I didn't experience them again for awhile and just forgot about it.

Then it happened again a few more times, enough for me to ask my doctor about it. Not long after is when I had my emergency visit and was referred to a cardiologist.

It took about four months to get in to see the cardiologist the first time. I was told it could take up to a year, so I was prepared to wait, and I assumed that there were probably a lot of people out there with conditions worse than mine who would naturally be first in line. When I finally got in to see him, the cardiologist described what I had. "First of all, it won't kill you!" he said, adding that it was probably caused by my high blood pressure, which had been unchecked for years, and told me that I had to go on blood thinners right away because of the possibility of a stroke. He said that I could also go on beta blockers to slow my heart down, or have a catheter ablation performed. At the time, I guess I was a bit overwhelmed, so I took his prescription for the blood thinner and told him I needed to think about it.

I've been lucky because I've always been a healthy person, so the whole notion of a heart condition threw me a little! The cardiologist sent some literature home with me, so I read all about it. My high blood pressure did some damage over the years, and as a result, a few little cells begin to beat out of time with the rest of the heart every now and then, causing the feeling of palpitations. It's like a short circuit that upsets the normal rhythm of the heart.

At first I thought I could live with it or maybe just take the beta blockers. Once I found out that beta blockers would make me FATTER THAN I ALREADY AM because they slow down your heart and also your metabolism, I gave up that idea. And after a few more episodes, I decided maybe the catheter ablation would be the way to go.

My doctor sent in a requisition for another visit to the cardiologist, and a couple of days later, the cardiologist office called just to check on some tests I'd had. And then I hunkered down and waited. And waited. It was almost a year after that, when I had two really bad episodes only two weeks apart, that I decided to check up on my appointment. And wouldn't you know? I was not on the waiting list. They had my doctor's request, but somehow I got lost in the shuffle. $*@#!

Two months after that, I finally got my second appointment and I cut right to the chase. Was I a candidate for this ablation procedure? Yes I was, he said. Thank goodness.

A catheter ablation is day surgery and involves inserting a catheter through a vein in your groin, all the way up into your heart. They search for the cells that are misfiring and basically just freeze or burn them. It takes 3 to 4 hours, has a 95% success rate for atrial flutter and will also reduce my incidences of a-fib by about 50%. My surgery is schedule for May 18th.

I ended my first blog about this with a list of things I've learned. Well, I've learned so much more since then! Here's my new list:

1. Don't go anywhere near beta blockers.
2. Don't assume they're going to call you when they say they are. Holy crap, I've had to follow up on EVERYTHING so far!
3. Beta blockers are bad.
4. Wine did not cause my condition. Thank GOD.
5. I'm lucky that my heart can be fixed, thank goodness for my otherwise good health!
6. Beta bad.
7. Not every surgery has an 18 month waiting period. Yay!
8. I will be able to drive a car AND use my driver on the links 48 hours after surgery, but no heavy lifting. Who wants to be my caddy?? :-)
9. I'm forever grateful for a medical system that doesn't charge me a small fortune to be repaired.

Stay tuned for Part Three, my post-surgery analysis.