So many of my blogs start this way these days, and I am
sorry about that. I dislike being repetitive, but I am truly unsure where to
start on this one since so much has
happened since I last wrote. A lot of
this happened almost a year ago and so will be shared in only the vaguest way
here, and again, I’m sorry about that as some of this deserves more than a
The last few years have been a bit rough on my family, with
so many loved and cherished family members dying with little or no advanced
warning. God help us, but my generation is now the oldest remaining in my
family, and we had all come to realize that the only time that we bothered to
go through the effort to see each other was when there was a death in the
family. First my mother, and then followed not long after by her husband. We
finally decided that we had had enough of meeting with death in the air and it
was time to have a family reunion that did not involve a loss. After much
debate, we agreed to gather our family from all over the continent on a lake in
Northern California in July. We had no way to know that we would be too late
for several that we all adored. . .
First, we lost my niece – my big sisters daughter Sunshine.
Sunshine was special to me in so many ways. I was “the baby” in our little
family, and so Sunshine was the first person that ever “looked up” to me and
maybe found something admirable in me. I adored that little girl and to this
day would not hesitate to trade places with her if it were possible to bring
her back. I received that call from my
sister at about 3AM, and by about 6 AM I was in my truck and headed out driving
from Texas to Arizona where the family gathered around my sister.
Only a few short months after that, I received another call.
This time, it was my sister-in-law; my brother’s wife. With no warning and no
serious illness that we were aware of, my sister-in-law just died on Halloween
night. They were handing out candy when she told my brother that she didn’t
feel well and was going to go take a nap. He found her dead in bed shortly
after. Once again the family gathered with death hanging in the air around us.
Just to add a little more pain to the day, my sister’s home burnt to the ground
while we were at the funeral.
Also attending that funeral was my Aunt Sandy, the mother of
my cousin Scott. Scott was so close to us growing up that we more or less
considered ourselves brothers; we were pretty much inseparable and were often
into trouble together. I took one look at my aunt and knew instantly that I’d
never see her alive again. The vibrant woman that I had grown up with was gone,
replaced by a heart breaking thin and frail woman in a wheel chair. I hugged
her every chance that I got that day because I knew it would be the last time
that I saw her, and I was sadly correct as she died only a month or so later.
So here we were, people that were smart enough to have
realized that we needed to plan an event that allowed our family to get
together just to enjoy each other and we had been too late. Please don’t bother
offering condolences. While I appreciate the compassion that prompts them, they
pretty much just open the wound again. I only tell you all of this to put
everything into context.
Along about May or June, I started to notice that I was unusually
short of breath anytime I did anything at all strenuous, and an ever increasing
pain in the center of my chest started to grow to the point where it could no
longer be ignored. I mentioned my growing concern to my wife, and being the
Army veteran that she is, she assured me it was probably because I had allowed
myself to get fat and out of shape, and encouraged me to get up off of my ass
and do some exercise. I was pretty sure that this was more than my being out of
shape as I’d been out of shape before in my life and it was a totally different
feeling, but I still had to agree that it was a reasonable conclusion and so I
made an effort to get more physical exercise.
Each time, the pain in the center of my chest would get ever worse as I
worked up a head of steam, and the pain would only decline when I would stop
jogging. I went to the doctor several times, they took several EKG’s and
declared me normal at the conclusion of each one. This appeared to bolster my
wife’s theory that I was just out of shape and so I’d go home and try to jog
again, only to be forced to stop due to the pain. Eventually someone got the
bright idea to do a cardiac stress test where they have you work out a bit on a
treadmill and then do a fancy type of x-ray that lets them see how your heart
is reacting to it. I had been afraid that this would be like taking your car to
the mechanic and having it show no signs of the problem you took it there for,
and so was oddly pleased when my chest began to hurt almost immediately after I
started walking on the treadmill. At the conclusion of the test, the doctor
approaches me with an odd smile on his face.
“Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” He says.
“Okay, do tell?”
“The good news is that you are not crazy, and it’s not all
in your head. The bad news is that you do have a heart problem.”
“Awesome.” I groaned.
So yeah, like a day later I am in the Austin Heart Hospital
with a widget inserted through my wrist that allowed them to snake a device
through my veins all of the way from my wrist to my heart where they inserted a
heart stent to open a blocked vein. I woke up part way through this process to
have the doctor point to a video screen and show me where he was installing the
heart stent, and then also show me a branching vein that was mostly closed. He
explained that installing stents into the branching vein was a bit more complex
and would have to be done in a separate procedure at a later date. You should have seen the look on his face
later that evening in my hospital room when I flat out refused to come back in
a few days to have the other heart stent installed.
“I’m not sure that you understand the gravity of the situation,”
says the surgeon.
“Oh no, I understand it and I thank you for your concern
doc, but tomorrow I start my first vacation in over a decade. It’s not just a
vacation either; it’s a family reunion that was setup specifically because we
were sick of only seeing each other when someone dies! It’s been planned for over a year and I will not miss it, and I do not intend to be the one that dies just days before it
So the doc argued with me, my wife argued with me, and I assured
them both that they should save their breath because I wasn’t coming back until
after my vacation. Eventually everyone calmed down and with a stern warning
from the doctor not to exert myself, we headed for home. A day later, and we
packed up a rental car and headed out for two weeks of road tripping across the
better part of half of the continental United States. Many years ago, we had
taken a vacation to visit my family in California and we had made it a point to
stop at almost everything of interest between Texas and California. We had thoroughly
enjoyed that trip and so we decided to do much the same on this trip. And thus
began an epic and whirl-wind journey . . .
The first place of note that we stopped at was the grave of Billy the
. Much to my surprise, neither one of my children had any idea who the
heck Billy the Kid was, and so they were a tad less than thrilled about it. Still,
it was along the way, and so we stopped.
Our next stop was the Painted Desert and Petrified
. For those of you that have never heard of it, the Petrified Forest
is a large stretch of desert that once was forest, and it is littered with the
now fossilized remains of trees. Some of these fossils are the size of pebbles,
and some are quite large portions of the original trees. Considering that my
son has expressed an interest in becoming a paleontologist, I thought that this
would be a really cool experience for him.
Moving on, we stopped at Meteor Crater
in Arizona. Everyone in
the car started laughing when I played the theme song to “2001: A Space Odyssey
” as we were
making our way up the long drive to the crater. Space and earth science are
both two of my favorite subjects and so I spent a good part of the drive
pontificating on and on about how the large hill that we were approaching was
not made by your typical geologic event, but by the impact of a meteor. I’m
pretty sure that I failed to excite either child. What can I say, it was a tough
We hadn’t really intended to stop at the Grand Canyon
as we figured that
it would take too long, and we did have a reunion to get to, but the more I
thought about it as we were passing all of the exits for it, the more I just
couldn’t bear the thought of taking my children right past one of the biggest
wonders of the world and not stopping.
Everyone thinks that they have a concept of
what the Grand Canyon is, but trust me, you don’t have a clue unless you have
seen it. All of the photos and videos in the world just cannot give you a
proper sense of the scale of the thing, nor a proper appreciation of it. It’s
something that you really must behold with your own senses.
Next, we headed out across Death Valley to Big Pine
California and had a bit more adventure along the way than we had anticipated.
I really don’t recall a year later the exact route that we took, but I think it
that we took through the mountains and then down into Big Pine. Now the
fun came into this when after driving for hours without another car in sight,
you find yourself on the top of a HUGE mountain, at midnight, the road turns
into dirt, and then becomes an endless series of sharp switchbacks with cliffs
on the side. It really
interesting when you realize that you are down to less than a quarter of a tank
of fuel, haven’t seen a human being or building in three hours, and you are
starting to think that you may have screwed up really
bad. We did have a moment of levity though when we reached
the crest of the mountain. Both children were asleep in the back and so I
whispered to my wife that I was going to stop the SUV for a moment, shut it all
off, and then just stand outside in the peace and quiet, hundreds of miles from
any other human being, their lights, and their noise. For some reason, the
thought of one truly quiet moment really appealed to me, so I pulled to the
side, turned the car off, stepped out, and closed the door behind me. After a
brief moment, the interior lights went out and I prepared to soak in some peace
of mind. I was to be disappointed though, because suddenly there was a knocking
on the window behind me. I chose to ignore it.
“Daddy . . .” says my daughter, knocking on the window
again. I hear my wife shushing her and trying to quietly explain that she needs
to be silent for a moment, but of course there isn’t another sound for hundreds
of miles so this is all very loud and more than a little annoying given that it
is ruining the very purpose of my stopping. Still, in a moment the quiet begins
to settle and my heart rate slows, and I anticipate the first truly quiet
moment that I have had since I was a teenager . . . Nope. With all of the subtlety of a freight
train, the peace is utterly destroyed when the car horn starts to blow over and
over, with the lights flashing in sync. Apparently my wife had locked the door
when I got out, and when my daughter tried to open the damned thing, it set off
the alarm. I’ve gotta admit that I was absolutely furious for a good five minutes,
but ultimately we all laughed like hell at the absurdity of the thing. Now
fully awake, adrenaline coursing through my veins, we made our way down the
scary scary dirt road switch backs into Big Pine.
By now we had been on the road for something like three
days, and so we were a little less than bright eyed and bushy tailed the next
morning when we headed out to Yosemite
Yosemite was an absolutely incredible thing to experience. I cannot do it
justice with words, and certainly cannot compete with others who have already
tried to do so, so I will pretty much leave it at that. Absolutely incredible
place to visit and drive through, and I strongly advise you to check it out if
you ever have the chance. After many more hours of driving, we at last found
ourselves at the lake in Northern California that we had all agreed upon for
The whole concept of the reunion had been to get together
without a death being the focal point, but of course that was out the window as
we lost three cherished members of our family mere months before. We still
tried to make the most of it though, and tried not to dwell on those that were
missing. All in all, we spent a very pleasant week there and I was glad that my
younger children were finally getting the chance to meet people from my side of
the family. The bad news is that the grueling schedule of the prior week began
to take its toll on me and I grew tired pretty quickly every day. I don’t
advise getting heart stents installed and then heading out the next day on a
cross country road trip. It grew awkward a couple of times when I had to beg
off early, because I had made it a point to not tell anyone about my heart
problems as I thought that my sister had had quite enough on her plate lately
and didn’t need the worry.
I had let my sister know that seeing the giant redwoods was
on my bucket list of things to do before I died, and so I was delighted to find
that a trip had been planned for everyone to go for a hike through them. Oh.
My. God. Seeing these huge and ancient trees was one of the most awe inspiring
things that I have ever done. I’m sure that it’s a personal preference thing
based upon opinion, but I think I’d even place seeing them above seeing the Grand
Canyon. It’s almost a religious experience to see something that huge and that old that is still
After about a week hanging out at the lake with my extended
family, we headed for home – via Salmon Idaho. . .
My wifes mother had suffered a serious stroke a couple of
years ago and wasn’t doing so hot, so we were making it a point to visit her as
it was a somewhat feasible thing to do on our road trip. Things didn’t go as
well as one might have hoped though, as her mom ended up having to be taken to
the hospital that night by ambulance. We stayed a day or two, visiting her off
and on in the hospital. It was a bit awkward though, as the stroke had left her
unable to speak. At last the day came when we had no choice and had to head
back home as the children would have to go back to school and I had to get my
ass back to get some more heart stents installed. We had intended to pass
through Yellowstone on the way home, but my mother-in-law being in the
hospital, combined with my own exhaustion pretty much ruled that out. The
remainder of the drive home was no frills, no landmarks, and only stopping to
get a good nights sleep in hotels. My
mother-in-law died a couple of weeks after we got home . . .
This time they had to install the heart stents through a
large vein in my groin, and yes, this was just about as much fun as you might
imagine. They ended up having to install four more heart stents, and due to a
few relatively minor complications, I ended up spending three days in the
hospital recovering. When it finally came time to start the checking out
process, I received a visit from quite a few people of differing specialties. One
of them was in their rehab program and she handed me an arm load of material
and strongly advised me to join their program. It turns out that it requires
three visits a week to exercise while they monitor your heart, and so I
declined. When she politely objected, I had to explain that I travel for my
living and would have to quite in order to participate in a program that
required me to be there three times a week. I wasn’t terribly surprised when
she implied that I might need to evaluate my priorities – work or life? I
assured her of two relevant things:
1 – If I lost my job, I wouldn’t be able to afford the rehab
2 – I’d rather shuffle off of this mortal coil, giving my
wife and children the life insurance, than to lose my job and see them
My priorities are in the right place, they just aren’t where
she expected them to be.
Three days later my happy ass was on an airplane to go
provide a week of training to John Deere. Remember I told you that the heart
stents were installed through a large vein in my groin area? Yeah, that ended
up scaring the holy living shit outta me, because while I was at John Deere,
the entire inside of one thigh turned a nice dark shade of red/blue all of the
way down to my knee. I called the hospital in a complete panic but was assured
that it was almost certainly just normal results of blood that had already
leaked during the procedure. It would have been just grand if they had warned
me in advance that this might happen. All of this was now months ago and I am
fully recovered, but at the time it was scary as hell.
I have made many trips for work since then, but very few as
Kim. I’m just too tired all of the time, and frankly everything has sort of
taken its toll on me. I feel old and I look like it too. I’m actually kind of
stunned at how much I have aged in the last year. I’ve seen that happen to
others but never anticipated it happening to me, and I have to say that I am
not delighted with it.
My last trip was to New Jersey this week. Fortunately the
weather had improved from the prior week, because I had been scared to death
that it was going to be in the negative teens for my trip. In the end, it
turned out to be quite nice while I was there, so I really can’t complain. My
company has recently reached an agreement with United Airlines, and so I once
again find myself flying the one airline that I absolutely hate. Many years
ago, they destroyed a $1,500 guitar of mine and refused to accept responsibility
for it. It’s case was undamaged, but the guitar inside was shattered, leading
me to the conclusion that the guitar was taken from its case, damaged, then put
back, but United didn’t see it that way. The only thing they offered was $50
off of my next United flight. I told them that they could keep their money because
I would never step foot on another United Airlines aircraft again. A few years
later, my company tried to make me fly on them again and I was still so angry
that I told them they had a choice to make – United Airlines or me, because if
you try and force me to fly on United again, I quit. Apparently they valued me,
because the threat was not put to the test.
Welp, I’m older now so it wont be so easy to
find a comparable job, and I have a wonderful heart condition that requires
expensive drugs and doctors, so I’m no longer willing to threaten to quit. Yep
- my happy ass flew United Airlines again for the first time in over a decade.
When I landed in Philadelphia, I apparently managed to make
my way to the baggage area for the wrong concourse, and once you leave the
secure area, the only way to get to the other concourse was outside. I didn’t even have the energy to get pissed
off when I was making my way down the sidewalk and some asshole yells “You’re a
dude!” clear across the street to me.
Thanks man, because I had no freaking idea what I am and really needed
you to clarify it for me. Thanks so much. . .