I hope this doesn’t come across as a “pity party”

I would rather have a pita party with maybe some falafel or kebabs or something of that nature.  However, food has nothing to do with this.  In fact, I think I’m writing this because I’m stressed and perhaps writing it will be therapeutic.  Because I need some therapy.  Now.

I was/am so excited about going back to China and teaching at the Teacher’s College.  I was/am so excited about Shujie getting to teach there.  I was/am going to meet new people in a different part of the country (Inner Mongolia).  I was/am going to teach supposedly “smarter” kids.  The classes are about 12 people (so I’ve been told).  We’ve shipped things to Baotou from Jurong and they’ve arrived.  They’re sitting in the apartment that is waiting for us.

A two-month “vacation” to Toronto wasn’t the smartest of plans.  I love seeing family and living with my sister’s family during this time has been pretty easy-going.  I don’t think we’ve stressed each other out and I can’t say enough about how comfortable everyone in this family has made us.  We’re lucky, that’s the least I can say.

So now it’s August 2nd.  We have a flight back to China on August 25th that arrives the evening of the 26th.  School starts on August 27th.  I used to be good at planning but I dropped the ball on this one.  My papers that I need to get a visa are winging their way to me as I write.

Yes, I was/am psyched about the coming year.  It’s a true joy to have a job that you actually look forward to going to, knowing that you’ll have some laughter, learn from others, and pass on some knowledge to a few.  Usually just a very few since I no longer have any illusions about being a teacher.

Being in Toronto this summer gave us an opportunity to go to the doctor, free of charge.  (Thanks socialized medicine).  Shujie got some standard woman-like tests and saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist and there was nothing serious so that was good.  She’s happy that she got taken care of.  It’s not that she doesn’t trust Chinese doctors, I think that she doesn’t trust Chinese doctors as much as Canadian doctors.

Me, being me, and having had a great year last year with no illnesses at all, came to the attention of the “supreme being” who said, “whoa Nellie, what’s this?  Martin hasn’t been sick in a year, how did that happen?”  Yes, no strokes, no heart attacks, not even a common cold.  So it might be time to pay the piper.

My blood work was a mess.  I was shocked and decided the blood lab were idiots (how could my condition, which was stable, change so much).  My doctor of the moment (who is my cousin) didn’t have time to discuss anything with me since he thought I’d only need 15 minutes of his time and I had the temerity to have this boatload of problems.  He said I should go see a kidney doctor (forget what they’re called) since my levels were so elevated.  I guess that’s not good for someone who has suffered acute renal failure in the past.  But I saw the kidney doctor last August before I left and all was fine.

He also said something about my ECG (heart test) but that just blew by me on the rush to get me out the door.  He gave me a requisition to go get a stress test.  I went upstairs in the building and made an appointment for the next week.

For those who don’t know what a stress test is, it is not how stressed you are.  Basically you walk on a treadmill while they increase the speed until you can’t take anymore.  They do ultrasounds and have you monitored to judge how much stress your heart can take.

I had an uncle who in 1992 had a stress test at a downtown Toronto hospital.  He then left the hospital to go home and dropped dead on the street.  Then someone robbed him, as he lay there dead.  I guess he shouldn’t have had that stress test.

In 2001 I was scheduled for a stress test at my doctor’s in Texas.  Before the test they do an ultrasound to be sure you don’t drop dead during the test and that you’re up to it.  They saw something, called the doctor, and he said, “no test”.  I went to the cardiologist who did an arterial angiogram and came to me with the results as I was coming out of the anesthetic.  The upshot of that was I had quadruple heart bypass surgery and had my aortic valve replaced by a mechanical valve the next day.  Seriously, I’m lucky.  I’ve had a boatload of sicknesses in my life and I don’t look sick and I’m still kicking.  So I look at it as my good fortune rather than, “whoa is me, why does this happen to me?”  If not me, who else?  I can handle it (and there has been a lot of it i.e. cancer, carotid endarterectomy  (that’s a biggie), quadruple bypass, valve replacement, acute renal failure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, pneumonia, and maybe others).

I’m not complaining.  It’s kind of like a family joke (and I hope it’s more than me who is laughing).  It’s like, “what’s next”?  That’s why this past year was such a shock with nothing bad happening.

So yesterday I went for my stress test.  They hooked me up and did the baseline ultrasound.  It seemed to me like it was taking a long time for this ultrasound.  Then they call the doctor in and he has a look.  He asks them to take pictures in some area and goes away.  He then comes back, takes a look, and cancels the test.  This is not a good sign.  I know my arteries are good (they were last year).  My 4 main arteries come courtesy of my leg and the last angiogram I had the doctor was shocked at the condition of them.  That’s shocked as in they are in great shape and didn’t look 10 years old.

So I’m puzzled and perplexed.  The doctor said I should have an ECG right then and then he would talk to me.  He’s a very nice man and he took the time to examine me and talk to me when I had no appointment with him.  He gave me a good feeling like I was with a good person who cared about doing a good job and making me as comfortable as possible.

When I went in to see him, it seems like that there is something weird going on with my mitral valve.  The mitral valve is the other heart valve (remember my aortic is mechanical).  Maybe it’s narrowed too much.  There is a lot of calcium buildup by the opening (that’s not good).  However, he said he can’t be sure from the ultrasound and I have another test on August 15th where they put me under, stick a tube down my throat, and get a good and clear look at things.

I’m not sure I understood everything I was told but it sounds to me like there are 1 of 2 solutions to this situation.  The good solution is that the mitral valve is working fine.  It’s a normal size, nothing is blocking it, and it’s opening and closing, as it should.  That would be nice and I’m on my way to China.

The other possibility would be the opening to the valve is too narrow, or there is too much calcium in the area.  Either of those basically mean open-heart surgery (been there, done that).  Maybe I get a new mitral valve to match my aortic valve.  Maybe they cut me open and just clean the area.  I don’t know and it doesn’t help to guess.  All I can do is stress about it.  And of course once someone mentions something like, “is your breathing okay”, then you start to think about it and wonder that maybe I am suffering from a shortness of breath.  What’s weird about shortness of breath is that it happens slowly so you don’t really notice it.  It becomes a way of life.  But I’ve lost all perspective on it and am lost as to how I really am.

If I need open-heart surgery they either make an incision under the heart and “dig in”, or they make an incision in the middle and break the breastbone open.  Now, I’ve had the incision and the broken breastbone.  My breastbone is held together by what looks like a bunch of wire hangers.  It is kind of funny looking in an x-ray.  I think when they put me back together in 2001; they shouldn’t have used staples to close my chest up, but rather a zipper.  Then they could just unzip me this time and work away.  I guess it’s tough to plan for the future.

So I’m here in purgatory.  I want to go back to China and have fun.  I have no job here and no place to live.  My mother doesn’t need the stress of me going through surgery again (although she’s a pro at it).  My wife talks about getting some minimum-paying job at a Chinese grocery or restaurant, which depresses me.  There are lots of Chinese people with graduate degrees working at minimum paying jobs over here.  I want her to be a teacher.  I think she’ll love it and she’ll be good at it.

Where will I live?  I don’t want to impose on anyone.  I just want to live a life.  I’m not asking for tons of money (I work in China, I make no money).  I just want to enjoy life and I’ve positioned myself in a place where I do enjoy my day-to-day life and have fun and adventure.

I know I shouldn’t worry about it until the test but of course that is easier said than done.  I’m very stressed.  I swear I feel like crying when I think about it.  If I need surgery then China goes on hold.  Then I’m like a kid at Christmas time that has had all his toys taken away from him.  I think that’s not a bad analogy for a Jewish kid who never had Christmas.

I can’t stop thinking about it.  I never complain about being sick.  I never feel sorry for myself.  But how about this one time just giving me a pass on heart surgery.  Let me enjoy life and not be an inconvenience to anyone.  As an atheist I don’t know who I talk to about this.  I guess this is it, talking to myself.

If I’ve had all these things happen to me before I’m 56, then shouldn’t I get a pass for the rest of the way?  These things I get happen to people 60 and above.  Maybe it will be nothing and I’ve worried for nothing.  However, my track record isn’t exactly the best when it comes to medical issues.

Do I feel better after writing all this down?  Maybe a smidgen.  Not a lot.  What will be, will be.  If I don’t go to China this year, it won’t be the end of the world.  I will endure.  Whatever happens, I’m still a lucky guy.  (Have I convinced myself yet?)  Yes, I really am.  But just like Cyndi Lauper, I just want to have fun.

1 comment
  1. Rob C said:

    Martin, I’m sorry to hear that you are having health issues. I hope they turn out to be the best case scenario. You found something you seem to love to do and I hope you get to do it. I envy you for that.Be strong and be well.


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