Monthly Archives: August 2014

Well, I think I’ll go and rent me a movie right now;

Go and get something I ain’t never seen.

And on the discount rack, I see Deliverance,

And I’m watchin’ it now and they’ve got to that scene

Where they meet the hillbillies and they’re big and they’re mean?

And who’s that crawlin’ ?round on his knees?

It’s Ned Beatty! (Beatty!) Ned Bea-yay-yay!

Ned Beatty had the hardest part

?Cause redneck love leaves emotional scars.

I guess he didn’t read the script too far;

Ned Beatty had the hardest part!

(with apologies to Steve Goodie).

Ah, sweet mysteries of life. Whenever you’re tried and troubled and you need a helping hand, just think back to Deliverance and Ned Beatty and you’ll feel better. I mean seriously, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

It looks like this years blog will not be “adventures in Kurdistan”. I was so looking forward to it and so was Shujie. All our bags were packed and we were ready to go and then reality sticks in it’s ugly head. My cardiologist told me the end of July that all was manageable and he’ll see me next year. Then I got congestive heart failure so they’ve reevaluated me and I’ve graduated to having a 2nd open heart surgery. My goal in like is to have 4 of them, so I’ll be half way there.

They want to replace my mitral valve. They can’t replace my aortic valve because they did that 13 hears ago. A 2nd open heart surgery is more dangerous than a first and they put the average death rate at 5-10%. I think it’s really much closer to 5% and the surgeon I have is less than that. I’m willing to take the chance so I can walk up a couple of flights of stairs, go for short walks without being winded, and maybe even play volleyball. I hate volleyball but if you can’t do it, you want to.

It will be a couple of months until the surgery because they have to do all this other stuff to see if I have other problems (I hope I don’t disappoint them) and to make sure my body can take it. My doctor says things are never going to get better so it’s best to do this surgery now in my youth where my chances for a decent life are greater.

We feel bad about not going to Kurdistan (maybe the only people in the world who feel bad about not going to Kurdistan), but I like teaching in new countries and Shujie had a job that she might have enjoyed. We will never know. Now she has to get a job here to support us because I’m out of the work game for several months and I really don’t have marketable skills anymore. I have marketable skills over the ocean, but not here.

So the plan now is for Shujie to be the family breadwinner and me to do my sick act. I think I have it down pat now.

So we’re here at my mom’s and the live-in’s until Shujie is gainfully employed When that happens we’ll get a place to live and some wheels. Who knows how long that will take but we all do what we have to do.

I feel bad giving the school last-minute notice but if it wasn’t for all this crap we’d be there now. It’s a wasted year (fun-wise). Open heart surgery isn’t a walk in the park but there are plenty of worse things. I feel bad for Shujie and my mom. I get to be sick (that’s easy), but watching a sick person is much more difficult. So following in the footsteps of my Jewish forebears, I can have something to feel guilty about. Good for me.

I’m guessing the operation will be around October after they’ve done all the tests. This is Canada and socialized medicine. Everyone gets taken care of but not at the speed they would like. I’ll be able to do a chapter in my new book comparing open heart surgery in Texas to open heart surgery in Toronto. I’m sure it will be fascinating reading.

That’s it for now and as I know more I’ll share more for the 5 or 6 who read this. It’s been a long trip from the Korean blog days to hear, but I’ve been told my life is never boring.

So time marches on and we’ll see what happens. I’m not too worried, just bored thinking about the coming year. At least when you’re a kid you get neat gifts at the hospital. I’ll get those last minute things people see at the gift shop. It could be worse. It could always be worse.


I always thought (thanks TV!) that when they said “congestive heart failure” that was something people died of. Maybe they do but the word ‘failure’ in the title fools you. It means in this case “not working normally”.

We went to the Dominican Republic from August 1th to August 8th. Our plane left 3 hours late to get there and 3 ½ hours late coming back to Toronto. We got into Toronto close to 5:30AM. Oh joy.

It was okay. I always wanted to try an “all-inclusive” so now I’ve tried it and I never have to go again. Shujie liked it because she got to dance with other girls for one to 1 ½ hours every evening after dinner.

The food was eh. We don’t drink a lot. It was hot. We went on some trips (expensive) and I personally should have spent the extra money to go to Alaska or to at least go to New York. Shujie was happy with this place so it’s good she enjoyed it. I shouldn’t always get my way.

The big gift I came back with was “congestive heart failure”. I couldn’t sleep Saturday or Sunday night because I couldn’t lie down. It was too hard to breath. I slept a couple of hours sitting up on the couch. I went to the doctor on Monday and the doctor said, “congestive heart failure” which just means your heart isn’t working up to par. Now I’ve had shortness of breath for over a year but no one seemed to listen. Now they have an x-ray to back me up. As one doctor explained, “if you complain of shortness of breath and then whisk off to Kurdistan to work, how serious can it be”. I explained I don’t moan and groan about the problem. I state the facts and that’s that. It’s easier for the doctor if I come in and say, “woe is me, I’m in pain, I can’t (gasp, gasp) breath. I adjust to what the situation calls for, and muddle my way through. I can’t play dead even if I feel poorly.

I went to my doctor Monday afternoon and she had an x-ray taken and she said, “congestive heart failure”. She would increase my water pill (congestive heart failure can be caused by fluid in the lungs). The water in me builds up and causes problems. I’ve been taking a water pill for years, but it seems this time is was not a good guardian at the gate. She also said if it wasn’t better in the evening I should call 911, get an ambulance and go to the hospital. If I come in by ambulance I go to the front of the line. So I called the ambulance and spend Monday night until Tuesday afternoon in emergency. A cardiologist who spoke a mile a minute came in and basically told me they would bring everything down (I needed oxygen and my BP was extremely high) and then send me home. Hospitals cure the immediate problem but not the overall problem. That’s someone else’s problem. He said I was stuck and he didn’t believe there was any major relief in sight. I would have been happy to go back one week to my regular shortness of breath.

They stuck me in a room in the cardiac ward and they were filling me full of Lasix (reduces water in the body) and oxygen. I lost 10 lbs. between Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning. I got off the oxygen.

The hospital cardiologist comes in Wednesday morning singing a new tune. He believes my mitral valve needs replacement because of damage caused by radiation 32 years ago. Radiation is the gift that keeps on giving. Of course, that’s the cure for Hodgkin’s they were using at the time so I’m not upset about that. They did what they had to do with what they thought was the best method possible. Who knew I would turn out to be a physical mess after that? I believe my attitude (positive in spite of being me) and willing to be aware of my body talking to me has helped me.

I went on Thursday to my regular cardiologist with my hospital notes and now he thinks it could be the mitral valve (tests be damned). It requires looking at the problem, not as something “normal” having an episode, but as a former radiation patient having an episode. If you do that, things change. I was left with him to come back in 2 weeks. He’ll have my lungs checked to rule that out as a problem (it isn’t a problem) and then we’ll talk about what to do.

It sounded to me like my options would be to do nothing except play with medication. My breathing is worse now than it was 2 weeks ago when it was bad. If you want to play around, send me an email and I’ll play around in Kurdistan. I will not sit around here waiting and waiting.   The other option is to throw me in the hospital, do an arterial angiogram (instead of something that can be done in a day it takes 5 to 7 days for me because of one of the medications I take). I think that would just be to show the path to attack by and then have a surgeon come and see me before gutting me like a fish. Of course, I could be wrong. No one wants to do a 2nd heart surgery and we will weigh the risks and the benefits. I don’t really want to live in a world where it’s a killer to walk from the arrival gate in an airport to customs. And in spite of myself I’m an optimist.

So, if they want to take some sort of proactive steps, I’m here for that. If it’s sit and wait, I’m out of here where I can also sit and wait and have a job I kind of enjoy. Some will say, “oh Martin, you’ll be right here in Toronto if there is a problem”. True, but I really don’t care. Sometimes you balance life itself with quality of life. Sitting here with no job and no job prospects (except maybe as a Walmart greeter) doesn’t do anything for me. Besides I was in Walmart when I had my heart attack so Walmart is just a heart attack waiting to happen.

We’ll all talk on the 27th. I told the cardiologist I could see 100 different cardiologists and get 100 different opinions. He didn’t disagree. I have to hang my hat on one and that will be him. I’ll get his opinion and I realize now this is not entirely a science, but it is also an art. That sucks. So wait and see.

Shujie was supposed to go to Kurdistan on the 20th but with their permission we’ve pushed it back a week or so. Therefore if she goes, it means I’m going too. If further work is required on me, she’ll stay. She says she’ll get a job and an apartment if I’m hospitalized, however my fear is the cost of an apartment versus the lousy salary she’ll make as an older immigrant. However, we can’t worry about that today.

It comes down to health being number one and after that you make everything else fall in place. Who knows? We don’t and nobody does. I hate “wait and see”, but sometimes you have no choice.

I wish I were packing to head back to another year’s adventure. Somehow the blog’s title being “Adventures in a Toronto Hospital” doesn’t have the same ring as “Adventures in Erbil”