Travel (mis) Adventures

Sometimes I think I am living under a travel curse–at least for that last trip. I haven’t been happy about flying since they first made me take off my shoes. The TSA doesn’t understand how important shoes are to old ladies, especially on hard floors. So I’ve been taking the train or bus–no security, no problems. Having more time than anything else I bought a ticket on the Megabus to go to New York the day before I had to be there. I chose Megabus over Greyhound Express because they had an 11am departure, in addition to the ghastly early and not-quite-overnight trips. On December 15 I made a reservation to go to New York on January 4 at 11am. I got to the departure point about 10:30 with a few people in front of me and about 20 or 25 people finally lined up after me. It was a bitter cold day. The bus from Harrisburg arrived and passengers dispersed. The bus to Washington D.C. came and went. The bus to Philly came and went. About 11:10 a Megabus employee asked us which bus we were waiting for, then told us there was no 11am bus; we would have to wait until 12. Megabus, which does most of its business online, never notified us the schedule had changed. We walked off to find someplace warm and came back a half hour later. The employee told us we could call and complain, which I did, but never heard from Megabus again. Needless to say, except for this public complaint, they won’t hear from me again.

Coming back to Pittsburgh I flew with Robin. She could not have taken the bus and I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to do it again. She had a huge, heavy suitcase and a heavy backpack for her laptop and other technology. She isn’t supposed to lift anything over 5 lbs. and I probably can’t lift much over 10 lbs. We got lots of help. A skycap took care of the heavy suitcase and someone from the airline walked us over to security. We took a bunch of those trays and put our stuff into them: my coat and shoes, Robin’s coat and shoes, her backpack, her laptop, her jacket, my jacket, my suitcase, etc. Etc. because I know there were more than six trays. I started to move the trays toward the scanner and suddenly realized I would have to move everything to another table next to the first but not connected to it. So everything had to be lifted over. This was obviously a tour de force of design and efficiency. I finally got everything going through the machine, then a little nervous about having it piling up on the other side without me, I walked through the metal detector and set it off.

I don’t know what did it. I had on my watch (plastic, but who knows what’s inside), my hearing aids (ditto), pants with a metal zipper, and of course, my pacemaker. I’ve walked through other times with same and no consequences, but I mentioned it and the TSA turned white. She literally did not know what to do with me. Finally, still in stocking feet, she patted me down. The advantage to being my age is that I’ve been to so many doctors and had so many other nasty experiences, I just didn’t care. The only really annoying part was being shoeless. She found nothing, but, surprise, something in my possessions set of an alarm somewhere. Another TSA (all female; a man would have been more fun) took me, shoeless, to another place and did another pat down. She discovered the dirty tissues in my pocket; the other one ignored them. They finally concluded I wasn’t a terrorist, then Robin and I got a ride of one of those electric carts over to the gate. We had help going down the jetway steps and up the plane steps with our stuff; by now just the coats, backpack and my carryon. In Pittsburgh we were met with a wheel chair. Neither of us needed it, so we piled all the stuff on, now including my suitcase, and walked with the attendant to the baggage claim where Steve met us. More about New York next time.

Start! Heart Walk

Sorry I've been so slow about this, Mage, but I was very tired afterward and also had some other work I had promised to do on Friday, then promptly forgot.

So, here it is: The event was held at Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. This is the first time I've ever been there.

Mostly it was held in the parking lot and the area near one of the entrances. They let us go in to what is known as the Great Hall, but the stands and the field were securely locked up.


Vendors with heart related products had booths, along with a few hospital groups. There are only a few hospitals around here. Most of them are UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). 


I had the feeling most of the people attending had some kind of relationship with the vendors or the hospitals. I don't think the American Heart Association did a very good job of publicizing the event. They were able to use the stadium because this was the Steeler's bye week. Every news broadcast talked about the Steelers not playing this weekend; it seems to me they could have mentioned the Heart Walk in connection with it.

The event began at 10 am with lots of milling around and opportunities to visit vendors. Nothing really happened until 11.



That's the Steeler's mascot, Steely McBeam, scaring a small child.

Then there was a half hour of speeches and some warm up stuff geared to thin, healthy people of which there weren't too many around. Finally, the walk began, about 11:30.

I never found my cardio-rehab people, Robin was otherwise occupied, and I never saw a single person I knew. So I walked alone among hundreds of people.



It was a nice walk; half of it was on a pleasant trail next to the Allegheny River. But the day was unseasonably hot. It would have been much better if they had walked at 10 and had the speeches afterward. I completed the entire 3 miles, but the heat knocked me out.


This is a survivors hat that was given to me for surviving heart disease. I should have gotten another one for surviving the walk. My idea of a survivor is someone who had gone through the event and lives to tell about it. I think I've only survived the skirmishes; the battle won't be over until the afib wins.


Thank you again, Mage and Robin, for helping me raise money for the event. If anyone else wants to contribute, it will count towards my goal for the next 30 days. I dedicated my walk to Arvin's memory; it would be nice if I could reach my goal in his memory.

Cardiologist again

For many years I largely ignored the state of my health. Yes, I went for checkups. No, there was never any concern. Them days are gone forever. I was supposed to go to the cardiologist at the beginning of May for another pacemaker check, a stress echo test and whatever. They were supposed to call me with an appointment for the test. This week, since I hadn't heard from them for a couple of months, I called and suddenly found myself with an appointment for all of it this morning.

My pacemaker is doing fine. My afib is much decreased (I knew that). The stress test was abnormal, for the second time with this doctor and another time with the previous doctor. So he recommended I go in for a catheterization and possibly the insertion of a stent. I'm not too unhappy about this, although I think I'm really allergic to doctors and hospitals. But I've been very unusually tired lately. I hope, if they find I need a stent, it will help. I'm scheduled for a week and a half from now. In the meantime, I have to take more blood tests, stop the coumadin, start taking Plavix and get mentally prepared. I'll keep you posted.

BTW, my Adobe fix didn't work. I called last night and spoke to someone in India who gave me a similar but slightly different fix. It didn't work either. I'll try again tonight. This is really annoying.

A tale of two doctors–NOT a healthcare rant

One of the most difficult things, when you move to a new city, is finding new doctors. In New Jersey I had five doctors in eight years; some years I didn't go to a doctor. When I got to Pittsburgh Steve recommended a geriatric practice, and I've been very satisfied with them. Fast forward to my heart problem, which I am still trying to manage. I was in the ER in what I thought was probably the best hospital in the 'burgh, (it was the hospital of choice for the recent former mayor,) hooked up to several beeping machines and my heart did it's thing, stopping for eight seconds. Within minutes I had a cardiologist, a diagnosis, a surgeon and a few hours later, a pacemaker. I left the hospital with instructions to return to the cardiologist's, Dr. C1, office and medications. The pacemaker keeps my heart from going too slow or stopping; the meds keep it from going too fast. Shortly thereafter I went to China and Japan reassured that everything would be OK.

Unfortunately, it was not, although I got through the entire trip without any problems. In the year since, I've been told I may have some blockage, which was not a surprise, and I have afib–atrial fibrillation, not a good thing. Dr. C1 gave me a bunch of scenarios and and then assumed I rejected all of them. I was just confused. After a couple of visits, which added to my confusion, I asked Robin to come with me to an appointment; she concurred–he was not being clear about what I should do. I had the feeling I needed to make the decisions–I don't know enough to do it. I like Dr. C1. He's charming and has a great bedside manner. But I needed more guidance. I got a referral from my primary care doc and another, very strong recommendation, from a doctor friend and went for a second opinion.

To some extent this was prompted by a bad experience I had on one of my walks. I set off for a two to three mile walk. By the time I did the first mile I was having a bad time with afib. I went into Trader Joe's and got a drink and bought something I needed–I don't remember what. Then I went into Mellon Park and sat for about twenty minutes. The afib didn't abate, but I began to feel somewhat better and finished walking back home. I would have been happy to take the bus, but there wasn't one. I didn't like this at all, and it made me begin thinking about what else I could do for myself. I'm not ready to slow down.

The new cardiologist, Dr. C2, asked for copies of my records. My PCP's office sent the records. When I called the C1 office they wanted a letter to release the records. I immediately sent it, noting clearly that I was looking for a second opinion. A few days later I received a letter from Dr. C1 saying goodbye and wishing me luck. Somehow it seemed to exemplify all of my problems with him.

Dr. C2 is now my cardiologist. He has no charm and seems to have the personality of a drill sergeant. But he is a model of clarity and has let me know exactly what he expects and what I can expect. Tomorrow I go for another stress test to investigate the possible blockage. He's got me on Coumadin, which I was resisting with Dr. C1. (Did you know that stuff is rat poison?) I'll keep you posted on what happens next.

Big booboo

I screwed up big time today. My calendar said I had a 9:45 appointment for a pacemaker clinic. I went to the cardiologist's office only to find I was supposed to show up last week. The nurses were very kind, didn't scold me and got the Medtronics technician to come in just for me. Everything's fine, but I'm not happy. As I have aged I have tried extra hard to be organized and keep track of things. I don't know how I made this mistake. I vaguely recall getting a letter telling me about the appointment, which I probably discarded after I made the note in the calendar. I always feel like I'm drowning in paper so I try not to hang on to everything. But I'd love to see that paper. Also, they always call me if I'm not on time for my pacemaker phone check, but they never called about the clinic. I guess I just have to forget about it, but it really bothers me.

Blogging, tachycardia and root canals

As part of my blogging class I found I had to clarify my ideas about why I blog and make it part of my fourth class lecture. I began blogging almost four years ago in Live Journal, when I found I was going to move from New Jersey to Pittsburgh. It is a record of my feelings and the events leading up to my move. After I was settled in Pittsburgh I began this blog to record my adjustment to and exploration of the city. I saw the blog as a way to express myself and to combat the feeling I am invisible that I've had since I was in my fifties. Today I see the blog as a way to show what it's like to be 70 something. Next month I will be 75.

I want to be on record as someone who remains active, curious and interested in the world around me. I also want, to some extent, to write about the problems that have come with age, not as a qvetch, but as a matter of fact. What I did not write about all week is the echo cardiogram.

I was doing fine with the stress test until the last full minute when they increased the speed and elevation of the treadmill and got my heart rate over 120 or maybe it was 140. Dr. G said my heart rate recovered quickly, was back down to 100 by the time they got me back on the machine. He thinks the pictures showed a possible blockage. This is a separate problem from the tachycardia part of the reason for my pacemaker. So we're back to the medication my insurance didn't want to cover. The substituted medication wasn't controlling my heart rate. Dr. G thought the original stuff would also be be useful for the blockage.

It seems that the generic version of this stuff has been back ordered for several months. I had a three month supply before I went to Asia and was able to renew it in January, so hadn't realized it wasn't available. We finally got the insurance to cover the name brand stuff. It's an old drug, not very expensive. I was ready to pay for it myself if necessary.

I'm not happy about the idea of getting a stent, the next step, and I'd like to see if I can have a cat scan or some other non-invasive test to find out what's really going on. My next appointment will be in June, time to see if the meds do anything.

My hard won medication is doing well: I haven't had another bout of tachycardia since I began taking it. I had three or four episodes in the ten days I took the other stuff. But getting older you fall apart bit by bit. Now it's a tooth. I've been very lucky with my teeth: they are still all my own, even though drilled, filled, filled again and a few root canaled. There is something wrong with the last root canal and my dentist suggested gum surgery would be the easiest option. I am appalled.

Traveling again–Just a little trip

Traveling with my toy again; on the train; just to New York.
This is my first trip since I returned from Japan and I really wasn't prepared
for it. I had a very hard time packing last night. I still haven't found a
couple of the things I put away before I sublet my apartment, including the bag for
toiletries I always took with me that has now become useless on airplanes.
I'm sure I didn't toss it, but I have no idea what I did with it.

 The last time I was on this train, almost a year ago, I
spent the entire trip contemplating my mortality. This was just before the
pacemaker, and I had no idea what was wrong. I am finding I have a little
trepidation about repeat visits to the places where I was sick. I'm sitting on
the other side of the train, looking left into the train; that seems to make it easier. Not too much deja

 Another place I was sick, but never talked about it, was San
Francisco. I don't think we are going again this year. I'd like to, but I also
have mixed feelings about it.

 BTW, the doctor changed one of my meds. He wanted to just
double it, but would have had to get authorization from the insurance company,
so he changed to something comparable—both generic. Would someone please
explain to me why the insurance company needs to bless my medications? I don't
blame the doctor for not wanting to mess with them, but of course, it leaves me
wondering whether the new stuff will do the job as well as the other one. The
good part is that I can easily reach the doctor by cell phone and get a new
perscription filled wherever I happen to be—one of the few blessings of having
the same services all over the country. 

 Yesterday, as I never spoke to Robin all day, I thought
about how cell phones have changed our leave-taking. Going away was a big deal.
Everyone got together to say goodby, sometimes making a going away party. Then
that phony long distance call on arrival, assuring the folks at home you made
it. Today I can call her from the train, or from New York, or wherever. My cell
phone is actually a New Jersey number: so is hers. We never bothered to change
it. Before I left I forwarded my home phone to my cell—a long distance call
each time. All of these are services are payed for on a monthly basis, whether I
use them or not, so essentially free. What a different world this is. What I
really want now is a satellite internet service, so I could surf the web from
the train. It's out there—I just can't afford it.

Pacemaker update

I was sure there was nothing wrong. All my life, whenever I went to a doctor with a complaint there was nothing wrong. I fully expected my buzzing to be in the same category. So, I was shocked when they called me Monday morning and told me they weren't certain but it looked like something was wrong with the pacemaker and I should come to the office this morning. I spent a very uncomfortable two days; being more open to suggestion than I care to admit. I was very tired and couldn't bring myself to walk more than about a mile and a half each day. I blamed it on the dog, who spent another weekend with me and kept me up half the night on Sunday, but I wasn't sure. And I was worried that if it was the pacemaker, I might have to have surgery to replace it.

The pacemaker technician comes with a machine that reads signals from the pacemaker. It's quite amazing; she knows when I've had trouble down to date and time. The pacemaker was good; it was doing its job. My heart was not behaving properly: too many incidents of fast heartbeat. Some of my medications will be changed, or increased. I have to go back for an echo cardiogram, but evidently that's not urgent. They wanted me to come for it on Monday, but agreed to put it off until I return from New York.

I'm finding it very hard to believe I really have heart disease. When I first got the pacemaker the doctor said I could easily live another twenty years and the pacemaker should not make any difference in my life. I chose to believe that, but I'm beginning to wonder.