My new motto/goal: Save electricity. Burn calories. Take the stairs.
I work on the fifth floor of an office building. Taking the stairs isn't all that difficult. No worse than living on the top floor of a residence hall at university. I did it then.
Friday, April 28, 2006
My new motto/goal: Save electricity. Burn calories. Take the stairs.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
I was flipping through the channels and saw an old coworker on television. It happens to me every once in a while, and it gives me a thrill.
I used to work with "actor/comedian/host" Mike Siegel way back when he was a sports editor at the newspaper. He was doing comedy gigs, and every once in a while he would have to shush everyone nearby in the newsroom because he was trying to do a radio interview on the phone.
I look at his website, and it doesn't mention his newspaper days anywhere. I wonder why? But looking at his resume/bio, it's obvious he's as hard working now as he was then. He's currently hosting three different shows: "If Walls Could Talk" and "What You Get for the Money" on HGTV/Fine Living, and "TBS Movie Extra" on TBS. He also had a role in the movie "Traffic", which I have yet to see. (Note: Add "Traffic" to the to-be-rented list).
In the early 90s, Mike and I worked together on a package of business stories about Glamour Shots, those stores in the mall that will do your hair and makeup and take pictures. We both went and got the "makeover" and had our "before" and "after" photos published. His before photo is very nice. Mine is hideous. (It turns out they forgot to do his beforehand and scrambled at the end.) I've always had this fear that the photo package would someday show up on one of those "before they were famous" segments about Mike. It may yet happen. (Before you ask, my clip of it is buried deep in a box somewhere. Hard to locate. You'll have to go to microfiche.)
Acting for non-actors is over. If you haven't noticed yet, I really enjoyed the class (see Forte for comedy? and Surprisingly fun) . The exercises, while scary at times, were entertaining, and the people were a blast. (I'd even met one of them many years before when I was a reporter and he worked for one of my school districts.)
The whole experience certainly was a confidence booster. In fact, the instructor told me at the end of the class tonight that I was good and ought to consider going for auditions. I'm not so sure I'm up for that -- it wasn't my goal in taking the class in the first place -- but I might take the class again in the fall. Anyone want to take it with me? I highly recommend it.
There are no big stories to tell from tonight's class, but here's a new tongue-twister: Listless Mr. Smith dismissed his Christmas mistress. Try to say that one without sounding like a hissing snake.
Now that the class is over, and it's almost May, I need to start looking for a new challenge that pushes me. It might be time to learn how to drive a manual transmission. (Honey, did you read that? I might be ready to learn how to drive your car...)
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
I love my car. It's cute. It's curvy. And it's yellow. But I don't love its gas mileage.
Lately, I've been finding myself fantasizing about another car. Cute and fast, and small but roomy.
The Mini Cooper. I've even gone so far as to visit the manufacturer's web site, which is a big deal, because, really, I'm not all that interested in cars.
But why the Mini? I'm not sure. I just know that in 1980, we went to visit family in Australia. I remember arriving in Adelaide and being picked up at the airport by my cousin. Four full-size people (I was really tall for sixth grade!) climbed into a Mini to drive home. We had out-of-state license plates (Queensland, perhaps?), and people in other cars looked at us like we were crazy. Surprisingly, the ride wasn't uncomfortable. I remember the car being called a "Morris Mini", which appears to be even smaller than the Mini Cooper.
When I was looking at the Mini USA website, I had a moment of serendipity. The description of the storage space in the "boot" says this: "The Low Down: Plenty of room to hold all the luggage you should ever really need or a week's camping gear ... or your Bernese Mtn. Dog and his bag of food or whatever else you want to bring along for the ride."
It was almost as if the site were talking directly to me. LOL. How about two Bernese Mountain Dogs? (See my Muses)
Went Mario Kart Racing with my nephews at GameWorks a few weeks ago. The game had a cool feature where it took your picture as your racing character.
I raced as Yoshi, my older nephew raced as (I think) Bowser, and my younger nephew as Mario. My sister took the pics. (Not bad for a picture of a picture!)
Who won? Bowser, I'm pretty sure. Yoshi was a close second, though.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
I've been using Sitemeter to track visits to this site. It's been interesting to see who stops in.
All I see is the domain name (such as Comcast or Wideopenwest, etc), how long you were here, how many pages you viewed, what page you came in on, what page you left for, and what you may have searched on Google (or elsewhere) to find me.
A few people have found me by searching for "haley hughes", although it seems like I'm not the "haley hughes" they're looking for. Several people found me through blog searches for "PBWiki". A few came in on more obscure searches, such as the person looking for "split the sheet" plus "marriage" on Google. That search found me because I had a page that mentioned an acting class tongue twister and my parents marriage. It made me curious, though, what the connection might be between the two. I did the search myself and didn't come up with anything. Let me know if you do.
Several people visit because they hit the "Next Blog" button (see the upper right corner of this page to find the button). It's an interesting exercise that I do sometimes myself, just to see what comes up. These random hits only seem to happen right after I publish a new entry.
When I see someone visit who spends a little while and actually looks at several pages, I figure it's someone I know. It's fun to then try to figure out who it might be. If it's you, don't be shy about posting comments. It's nice to know that people are out there.
When I entered RWA's Golden Heart contest this year, I warned myself that this was a crapshoot and that I should not expect to do well in the contest.
But, when the scores arrived back four months later, I'd forgotten all the warnings I'd given myself. The scores stung.
This happens to people in this contest every year. When the scores get returned, the message boards seem to be flooded with people trying to make sense of the five single numbers they were given.
Other contests have score sheets and score each category of judging (setting, use of dialogue, etc) based on if the entry is ready for a publisher's desk. The feedback is meant to be constructive and to help the person grow as a writer.
The Golden Heart scoring is totally different. Five judges are given the same manuscript and told to give a score from 1-9. There are no guidelines on how to arrive at the score, except for the general "excellence in romantic fiction". The judges do not have to justify how the scores were derived.
Here are some excerpts from the Frequently Asked Questions for Golden Heart Judges page on the RWA website.
As a judge, you determine what each score means based on your enjoyment as a reader of romance and your skill as a writer. Due to different interpretations, we are unable to give definitions beside each number. Someone's stupendous is another person's outstanding.I wish RWA would send this page to all Golden Heart entrants, regardless of whether or not they are judging. It helps to keep the scores in perspective.
Ask yourself instead, did I enjoy what I read of this book? Then give your score accordingly.
Because, basically, the score tells me nothing about the quality of my work. It tells me about the reading tastes of the judges. If the judges in the paranormal category only want to read about vampires or futuristic off-planet worlds, they may not score my little historical time-travel novel highly.
Ultimately, no judges' opinions matter. It's the publishers who have the power to buy my book. The Golden Heart is just another tool to reach an editor's notice.
A musician friend was raving about MySpace.com. He was spending time there and found it addictive. I've been reading a lot about it in the news, too. So I checked it out. Registered. Hung around for a while.
Except for the artists promoting their music, it feels like a giant meatmarket.
Tattoo a big L to my forehead because I'm a loser. Or I'm too old. Or something.
I just don't get the appeal.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
I'm not a finalist in the Show Me The Spark contest. Still waiting for my scores.
I did get my Golden Heart scores. No more shall be said. I take that back. I'll say one thing: Ugh.
Tallying the finalists on the Windy City contest. Should know more in another week.
How's that for exciting?
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Friday night was the Booksellers and Librarians Appreciation Dinner hosted by Windy City Romance Writers. We do it every year. It's a great networking opportunity for published authors to get to know area booksellers and librarians better, and for unpublished to make future contacts.
I can't say that I was out there talking myself up. I need to work on that.
It was a nice crowd, and a good opportunity to get to know some of the other Windy City writers better.
I took the plunge and created a PBWiki site for the co-authored writing project. (It's private. Password protected. No, I'm not sharing the url! LOL)
I've been playing with the software, trying to figure it out. There is a bit of a learning curve, but it definitely feels like something that you need to just jump into the sandbox and play with. Setting up pages, deleting pages, linking to pages, formatting text correctly, uploading pictures and files.
Not sure my co-writers will have the patience for learning it -- not when their energy could be used for writing. (Note to self...)
Grace did post something to the site. She's the one who's done the bulk of the work so far.
I think Destiny is too busy at her day job to have even seen my email to her about it yet.
I still believe the site will be best utilized by us for sharing background material, and keeping track of that background material when we go to write future projects in the same universe. (Oh, we will!)
Don't plan to ever make the site public, though. Not when the intention is to get the work published in a traditional format.
See A place to collaborate below for more information.
I'm playing with something new. Found it through a link on Yahoo. It's called the PBWiki.
Have you ever visited Wikipedia? It's an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit and contribute to. Wikipedia runs on a type of software called a wiki.
PBWiki (peanut butter wiki) allows anyone to create their own wiki website. It can be opened up so that anyone can edit it, or it can be password protected so only a select few can. Even more, it can be open to the public to view, or password protected so only people you invite can view it.
It's promoted with the idea that it can be used for collaborations: friends collaborating on a vacation, a family collaborating on a genealogy, colleagues collaborating on a work project.
On the website tour, it even shows the example of writers collaborating on a story.
I wonder if my cowriters on a certain project would be interested in trying to use it? Not to publish the story online, but as a password-protected tool to collect our background information and rough scenes.
I wonder if my family might want to try using it to plan our reunion in Australia next year?
I'll have to investigate further.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Someone in my acting class last night said the most unexpected thing. In front of the class, she said, and the rest of the class agreed: "You have a forte for comedy."
Let me put this in context.
This was the beginning of our fourth session of class. We'd each been handed a recipe for a food item. Mine was apple oatmeal muffins. Based on the recipe, we each had to go up and improvise a scene. Some people pretended to be teaching a cooking class, one pretended to be teaching an American culture class, one did a commercial and a few of us did television shows.
I went last, and I improvised a show called "Cooking Disasters with Haley: Where instructions are optional and ingredients are dictated by what's in the pantry". I went on to do things like substitute baking soda for baking powder, and use old eggs, questionable milk and rancid smelling oil. I forgot to preheat the oven and didn't have muffin tins, so used a loaf pan instead. When the "muffins" failed the tooth-pick test, I served them anyway -- with a spoon.
As I sat down, one of the women, Paula, said to the class: "I don't know, Haley. When you started this class, you said it was because you had anxiety. Well, I don't see that. You've come out of your shell, and you certainly have a forte for comedy."
Comedy? Really? Me?
When the rest of the class agreed, I smiled, gave a nervous laugh and explained that I was a quivering mass inside. (I was. I had a cold sweat going, my pulse was racing and I was thrilled to be sitting down again.)
Later on in the class, we did another improvisation exercise. This time we planned a skit together (there were six of us). We were to pretend to be a group of 7-year-olds on a field trip to the Art Institute. There, a docent would lead us on a tour, and an older patron would complain about our noise, etc.
Every once in a while, the teacher likes to shake up the improvisations by giving one of the actors secret instructions. She gave me instructions that I was to "vandalize" one of the paintings.
So, during the improv, I complained that art was boring, asked when we could eat lunch, wandered away from the group, tried to touch everything, figited when told to sit down, and when no one was paying attention, started to draw a flower on one of the impressionist paintings. I was trying to make it look "better". The skit ended when the alarms went off and we were escorted from the room.
Surprisingly, everyone told me that I'd successfully "transformed" myself into the character and that I made a very believable mischievous child.
So, I had two successes of the night that I never expected.
There's only one class left. I'm not sure that I'll pursue acting anymore, nor audition for anything, but I've enjoyed myself and certainly gotten a boost out of it.
And some stories to tell.
I have a forte for comedy? No one will ever believe it.
If, as they say, God spanked the town
For being over frisky,
Why did He burn the churches down
And save Hotaling's whiskey?
So goes the poem by Charles Kellogg Field written shortly after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. According to the Anchor Brewing Company, which has produced a special whiskey to mark the occasion:
After the disaster, several clergymen asserted that the catastrophe had been divine retribution, visited upon the City by the Bay for its wicked ways. Thanks in no small part to the pluck, resolve, and ingenuity of its staff, however, A.P. Hotaling & Co.'s Jackson Street whiskey warehouse survived. And so, "while millions of dollars worth of normally non-inflammable material was reduced to ashes," as the Argonaut would later report, thousands of "barrels of highly inflammable whisky were preserved intact in the heart of the tremendous holocaust."
Yesterday marked 100 years since the San Francisco Earthquake.
I miss San Francisco. The mountains. The ocean. The bay. The nightlife. The history. The hills. The people. I could go on and on. There's so much to love about the city.
It's been fun reading and watching all the coverage of the 100-year anniversary of the quake. I wish I'd made plans to be there. I would have loved to be on Market Street at Lotta's Fountain at 5:12 a.m. yesterday.
To read some excellent and extensive coverage of the anniversary of the earthquake, go to the Great Quake page on SFGate.com.
(Aside to Mom and my sister: Can I add a bottle of the Hotaling's whiskey to my birthday list? It would look nice in the bar...)
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
On Saturday we planned to go shopping at the Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora. What we didn't take into account was that it was a gorgeous mid-70 degree day in the middle of what for many was a long Easter weekend.
The outlet mall parking lot was full. I mean, we drove around for at least 15 minutes and could not find a single open space anywhere. Sure, there were people coming and going, but there were so many cars looking for spaces, finding a place to park was going to be a matter of patience, luck and perseverance.
Since we were starving, we left to get lunch.
When we returned to the outlet mall two hours later, the parking situation was even worse. Not only were the lots full, but now a row of cars was parked along the entire perimeter drive and down some of the feeder drives. It was crazy. I've never seen Woodfield nearly as bad.
After another 15 minutes of looking, we decided we'd rather spend our money elsewhere, so drove off to the Fox Valley mall area in nearby Naperville and hit the Crate & Barrel outlet there.
How can any mall ever get built with such inadequate parking?
Saturday, April 15, 2006
My mother, my sister and I turned today into a day to pamper ourselves, enjoy each other's company and remember Dad.
The day started with a trip to the cemetery. The headstone was finally in, and none of us had seen it yet. Mom brought some of their special recipe Manhattan mix to christen the stone.
The cemetery where Dad is buried is small and old. It has headstones dating to the late 1820s, during which time the area was still officially Indian territory. It's in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and has so much more character than any of the large cemeteries where my grandparents are buried. I couldn't be happier with the choice. What makes it even better is my sister's in-laws have a large collection of plots there.
Hoping we were done shedding tears for the day, we moved on to a local spa for pedicures, manicures and makeup sessions. After lunch along the Fox River and an afternoon spent shopping, the three of us met up with my husband and my sister's family for dinner and a toast to Dad.
Whenever someone asked us what the occasion was, our reply was that it was just a girls/ladies/women's day out. No one needed to know the particulars but us.
All in all, it was a nice family day. Too bad the occasion sucked.
Friends still in the newspaper industry are going through tough times with reorganizations and staff down-sizing.
In January, Hollinger International announced that it was cutting about 300 jobs in the Chicago Sun-Times group, which includes many suburban community newspapers. From what I hear, many of those staff cutbacks are taking place now through voluntary acceptance of "packages" and attrition.
What's happening with Hollinger is part of a larger industry-wide trend. Last month, BBC Online ran a story about decreasing circulation among newspapers titled "Dead trees with print on them."
"It's not a romantic image, but it's increasingly appropriate. The familiar cliche, dead trees with print on them, describes a product that is increasingly unattractive in the United States. Newspaper circulation has been falling here since 1988, but it got significantly worse last year."
Shortly after I graduated from journalism school back in 1991, I remember visiting my former news professor. He asked me what I thought the future of newspapers and the Internet might be. I was working at a community paper that published twice a week, and didn't have Internet access myself. At the time, I remember thinking that major print media might someday be in trouble, but community journalism had its niche in newsprint. There were very few options for people to get their local news.
But now I think about that question, and it seems to me that the future of all "newspapers" is the Internet, with print production being the niche commodity.
I look at my own reading habits. I hardly ever pick up a newspaper, unless I'm traveling or eating alone in a restaurant, but everyday I read the headlines online. I like to check out the BBC, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, and if I'm feeling particularly frisky, My Yahoo Headlines, Aljazeera or Google News. I can stay conversant on news topics looking at these sites, especially if I look at the "most emailed" or "most popular stories" pages.
Supplemented with straight news on the radio and the mock television news shows "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report", I feel well informed.
But a part of me still loves old-fashioned newspapers. I remember the feeling of running back to the press area late at night and watching my paper come off the presses. Being able to pick it up and say "I made this." So tangible. So permanent seeming.
Newspapers will never be dead trees with print on them to me.
Friday, April 14, 2006
A friend of mine, Don M.F.H., did a "Shout out for my homiez" on his blog a few months ago, and now I feel the need to reciprocate.
A shout-out for friends who need to update their personal sites WAY MORE OFTEN:
A shout-out for friends promoting their careers:
Stan Emmert (looking for a graphic artist or a personal trainer, or to discover some new music?)A shout-out for romance-author friends:
Don Hammontree (looking to discover some new music?)
Jerilyn Willin (looking for an organizational consultant or career coaching?)
Greater Heights Learning (in the Chicago suburbs and need a tutor?)
Did I miss one of my friends? Oops. Let me know and I'll happily update.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
I wrote last month that my scary goal for March (and April) was to take a five-week "acting for non-actors" class through my local community college. I thought it might teach me some techniques to help with my anxiety over public speaking.
Just like the presentations class I took in February, the common refrain for avoiding anxiety was to "be prepared and know your material." Beyond that, we've worked on lessons in observation, memorization, enunciation and improvisation. (I do like those "ion" words!) We've also worked on breathing, using the senses, body language, emotional recall and understanding stage direction.
One of my favorite exercises in the class is saying tongue-twisters to practice enunciation and projection. Try to say "unique New York" or "mixed biscuits" five times fast. If you want to be particularly tricky, try some of these:
"I split the sheet,Or, the one I had the most trouble with: "The Leith Police dismisseth us". Dismisseth is just not a word meant to be spoken aloud...
the sheet I split,
upon the slitted sheet I sit."
"Whether the weather be cold
or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not."
What surprised me about the class is that I don't mind the improvisation exercises. Think of the television show Whose Line is it Anyway? but lower your expectations A LOT. One, two or a group of us will go in front of the class and be presented with a situation, and then we have to make up the scene as we go.
I can't boast that I'm overly entertaining (although I do hear laughter at times) but I don't think I suck, either. I think improvisation is sort of like, as an author, writing a scene of dialogue. It's a matter of turning off the internal editor and just going with the thoughts that pop into your head. And, when you go blank, letting your partner take the lead for a little while, then you work off of what he or she has said.
I confess, I have many moments of "I can't do this. I suck at this." but I've gotten through those moments and actually found it enjoyable. Sometimes I have to refrain from volunteering for every exercise. There are nine of us. I need to let the others have a chance!
Another exercise that I liked, we did on the first day of class. We played a game to practice both our listening skills and our memorization skills. We turned our backs to the class, then took turns introducing ourselves and saying one thing about ourselves. What did we notice about the people? What did we remember about the people?
Then, facing the class, going clockwise, we took turns introducing ourselves again, this time with a different piece of information. But there was a twist: when it came to be our turn, before introducing ourselves, we had to say what the people in front of us had said. When it was my turn, I had to remember that Jackie liked Jazz, Natalie liked art, Anna had a dog named Gibson and Joe liked to golf. There were only seven of us in class that night, so it wasn't that difficult. But, since I'm horrible at remembering people's names, I liked the practice. I was interesting, too, to learn about the devices people used to remember the names. Me? Maybe the reason I suck at remembering names is that I rely on straight memorization, instead of associating people with other people, words or situations.
Now there are two classes left. Looking at the syllabus, it looks like we'll be working on character development next week, and vocal interpretation in two weeks. Be on the lookout for future reports.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
The father of one of my best friends went into the hospital yesterday with a heart attack. The timing couldn't have struck me worse, as this week it's one year since my own Dad went into the hospital with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm and died.
It isn't just the fact that it's one year since Dad died, but the heart attack that my friend's father had is eerily similiar to the heart attack that my Dad had about 10 years ago: It was quickly identified as a heart attack, and within an hour was being treated in the Cath Lab using angioplasty.
My Dad made a full recovery from the heart attack, and
When we talked on the phone last night, my friend and I had that empathetic moment: I was feeling for you today. No, I was feeling for you. We didn't go deeper with the discussion. I don't think either of us particularly wanted to cry at that moment.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
This week is the one-year anniversary of when my Dad went into the hospital with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm and ultimately died.
Ironically, just about two months previously, I'd sent my Dad an email with a New York Times article "Aneurysm Tests Urged in Older Men Who Smoked" explaining how men over 65 who'd ever smoked should be screened for aneurysms. He'd printed out the article, I think (I hope) with the intention of bringing it up at his next doctor's visit.
I didn't remember that I'd sent the email to my Dad until my sister found it in his email inbox days after he'd died. I'd prefaced it with "Just thinking about you, Dad. :) Love, Haley". We were all a little spooked at finding it.
I won't reprint the whole article, since it's still available without fee on the New York Times website, but I will excerpt from it. It was originally published Feb. 1, 2005.
The task force estimated that for every 500 men who meet its criteria and are screened, one death would be prevented over five years. In comparison, the only test for colorectal cancer that was evaluated in a randomized controlled trial, the fecal occult blood test, requires that 1,374 people be screened to prevent one death over five years.
"This is huge," said Dr. Frank A. Lederle of the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who reviewed the clinical trial data for the task force. "A major test for a major disease - it just doesn't come along very often."
Almost no one is screened now for abdominal aortic aneurysms, vascular surgeons say. Medical researchers suspect the true death rate is higher than 9,000 a year because often the swift deaths are attributed to a heart attack or stroke.
"If it ruptures, you're dead," Dr. Lederle said. Most bleed to death so quickly that they never make it to the hospital. And half of those who do make it to the hospital do not survive.
The review of the trial data on abdominal aortic aneurysms, along with the task force's recommendations, is published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a small weakened area of the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart and winds down along the spinal cord to the abdomen. Over the years, the weak spot slowly balloons and eventually bursts. There are no symptoms as the aneurysm grows. But once it reaches five and a half centimeters, or a little over two inches, in diameter, it may burst at any moment. That is the time to repair it, medical researchers say, explaining that smaller aneurysms posed too little danger to be worth the risk of operating on them.
Now for something extremely personal. It's been a year, but I still remember the details clearly. The second Tuesday in April. Last year it was the 12th. This year it's the 11th.
Regardless, it was the second Tuesday in April, about 5:30 p.m. when Mom called me at work last year to say that Dad was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital, and she was following. She was frazzled and my cell number was all she could remember. He had an aneurysm in his stomach, she said, and they were going to operate ASAP.
I didn't ask for more details. I told her to be safe, concentrate on her driving, and get to the hospital. I would call my sister.
My instinct said it was bad. Aneurysms are bad. Really bad. Right?
After a quick call to my husband, I got my sister on her cell phone. She was on the train, just coming into her station. Only about 10 minutes from the hospital where my Dad was headed. I told her what I knew. I tried to stress the urgency that somebody needed to get to the hospital right away to be with Mom, without transmitting too much of my own panic. My sister went right to the hospital.
I didn't cry until I told my boss. In the elevator on the way down, I saw two of my co-workers. I could barely hold my composure. I had an hour drive home, including a stop to pick up the dogs. I had appointments to cancel. I was worried, but knew there probably wasn't much information. I cried again on the expressway.
Picking up the dogs at their day-care was good therapy. They were so happy to see me.
Then my sister called. She'd arrived at the hospital and quickly found my Mom. Dad had been getting an ultrasound. He was flat on his back. His blood pressure was extremely, dangerously low. Internal bleeding. He was in a lot of pain. He managed to wave and mouth a quick "I love you" to my Mom before they wheeled him away for surgery. Doctors were giving him a 50/50 chance to survive the surgery.
A 50/50 chance? Strangely, that made me feel better. It was a better chance than my instinct had been telling me. But I remember it shocked my husband. He hadn't realized it was so serious.
For about seven hours, we sat in the tiny surgical waiting room. We saw others come and go. We ate dinner. We watched television. We exchanged as much inane gossip as we could. It was all about diversionary tactics at that time. In the wee hours of the morning the surgeon came to talk with us.
Dad had survived. He was strong. They would keep him sedated tonight and tomorrow he should wake up.
The aneurysm had been an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The major artery in the body, the aorta, had formed a bubble and then burst where it traveled through the abdominal cavity, right before it split into two branches to become the femoral arteries in the legs. They had taken out the Y section and replaced it with synthetic tubing. The problem had been that Dad had vascular disease. He'd quit smoking more than 10 years prior, but those years of smoking had damaged his arteries, causing them to lose their elasticity. As they'd tried to sew the artery to the synthetic tubing, the artery would just flake away, disintegrating.
He'd lost A LOT of blood, and that was why his blood pressure had gone so incredibly low. The circulation to his legs had been compromised, as had his kidneys. We'd have to wait and see what kind of permanent damage had been sustained.
At about 4 a.m. we finally got to see him in his ICU bed. His eyes were fluttering and he was trying to move. We tried to reassure him, told him to rest. With an "I love you" and a "goodbye" we went home to get some sleep.
My husband and I slept in a little bit, then picked up lunch for everyone and brought it to the hospital. Going to work was out of the question. Fortunately, our employers were understanding.
There was a lot more waiting involved, this time in the ICU. Dad didn't wake up. I worried about his legs, which were looking a little black to me. His potassium levels were high. His body was bloated with fluids. Toward afternoon, the doctors decided he needed dialysis. I canceled more appointments and stayed with my Mom into the evening. My previous optimism was starting to flee.
My husband and I brought lunch again. Dad was no longer in the ICU. The circulation in his legs was compromised again and the doctors suspected a clot in the artery repair. They were going to attempt to fix it in the Cath Lab using angioplasty.
We sat in yet a different waiting room. My sister ran into my Mom and Dad's regular doctor in the hospital. He was surprised to hear what was happening. No one had notified him. He prescribed some medicine for my Mom to help her cope. It helped.
The angioplasty wasn't working. They couldn't get to the blockage from his groin nor from his arm. We were brought into the Cath lab where we could sit with him for a while before they went back in to take care of things surgically. We were there for a few hours. Dad was sedated again, but this time it seemed different. His eyes weren't moving like they had been before. We held his hand. We talked with the technicians. We waited.
In the evening, Dad went back into surgery. We sat and waited in the tiny surgical waiting room again. Same routine. We watched television. We counted the people who came and went. Again, in the wee hours, surgery was over. Dad had survived. They were trying to stabilize him. We should go to the ICU waiting room and they'd let us visit him soon.
We waited and waited outside ICU. We started a list of all the procedures Dad had performed. He would want to know when he woke up. He was like that. "Doctor Dad" would want all the medical details. Still we waited. I sent my husband home. We felt optimistic again.
Finally they let us in to see him. They couldn't get him stabilized. He was even more bloated with fluids. His blood pressure was extremely low, his pulse was racing. When I noticed the crash cart parked outside his room, I called my husband and told him to come back.
We sent my sister home with a promise that we'd call if anything changed. She had small kids and needed to be there for them. Mom slept in the hallway outside Dad's ICU room. My husband and I slept on the floor in the ICU waiting room.
When I woke up, something was different. The doctors and nurses, who'd been so chatty the night before, were more quiet. Dad's blood pressure was still really low, but his pulse wasn't racing so bad. I called my sister to tell her that, basically, nothing had changed.
When I got back to Dad's room, Mom was crying. What had happened? They'd just told her that Dad wasn't improving and it was time to make some DECISIONS. They wanted to have THE TALK.
I called my sister back. She was in the shower. I told her husband what was happening. What should he tell her? Whatever it took to get her here safely ASAP.
There were basically three options, but they all seemed to have the same result. They could operate again even though Dad wasn't strong enough, they could continue to treat him as is, or they could do nothing.
Without an answer, the crash cart was opened. The nurse started administering drugs. The situation was degrading quickly.
This was the point where I realized that we all deal with trauma in our own ways. We were in a religious hospital, but we could find no comfort in religion. Mom wanted her regular doctor there. She wanted to hear the options from him, because she knew him and trusted him. She wanted to hear from HIM that doing nothing and letting my Dad die was the right choice, was the ONLY choice. It was her decision to make, but she felt paralyzed without that consultation.
My sister comforted my Mom. I explained to the nurses what was happening and what my Mother needed, then I went in and held my Dad's hand.
My Mom's doctor was located. It took him awhile, but he came to the hospital. The nurses were about at the point of needing to use the paddles when he came in, got the assessment from the doctors, and calmly explained that based on the information he was presented with, Mom needed to let Dad go. Mom kept calling it "pulling the plug," but in my view it was more a matter of choosing not to give treatment.
Then were were all in the room with Dad. The respirator was still pumping, but they turned off the other monitors and let us be with him. There was nothing special that happened that told us he had passed. The sedation had long since worn off, but he had never awakened. Dad just laid there in the bed like he had all night, and then the nurse came in and told us that his heart had stopped. They'd been monitoring from their station.
Then we left so they could clean up Dad. They pulled out all the tubes. Tried to make him look presentable. But after all the trauma he'd been through, the fluids he'd retained, he didn't really look like the man I'd known my whole life. The nurses were able to help Mom clip a lock of Dad's hair. We said our goodbyes.
We were empty, and exhausted.
Dad was working as a manager of an income tax preparation office at the time of his death. Ironically, he died on tax day, April 15.
At Dad's service, some of the people most grief-stricken were the people from his tax preparation office. Just like for us, to them, his death was too sudden. They had seen him on Tuesday before he went into the hospital. They knew he wasn't feeling well and had said "goodbye" as he'd gone home sick. (Doctors speculated that the rupture might have started as a slow bleed, causing Dad back pain and nausea at first.)
On the night of Dad's death, when my sister and brother-in-law told my two nephews that their Papa had died, a long, mournful wail from my 5-year-old nephew wound its way upstairs. A short while later, he came upstairs and tackled Mom in a great hug. The two of them sat on the floor and had a good cry together.
At Dad's graveside service, we read a poem written by my other nephew, who was in third grade at the time. He'd written the poem for Dad while he was still in the hospital. It had a sincerity that touched us all.
A poem for you
I wish you were here...
to see what's held in store.
You have to behave
or you'll be sore
Your daughters are
waiting for you
And so is your wife, too
So we're a family
We can't be broke apart
If I lose you
You'll always be in my heart.
Hope you like it
I've written in the past about how I'm not a big fan of public speaking, but when Dad died, I felt I needed to say something during the service, to help people understand Dad like I'd known him.
It might be the emotions of the past week, but I can honestly say that I can't think of a negative memory about my Dad at the moment.
Dad was a kind man with a gentle soul. He was an inclusive person who was genuinely interested in people and had a live and let-live attitude.
He and my Mom had a great marriage for 40 years, and the almost 36 years that I had with him aren't nearly enough. He was a great dad to Heather and me, and a great Papa to the boys. Family was important to Dad and he would travel anywhere for a family function. He'd be disappointed to not be here today.
He was also one of those rare people who got to work in a job and industry he loved. He spent almost 40 years at United Airlines -- my parents met there -- and if you could have taken away the stresses of his job, he would have stayed there forever.
As a person, he wore many special hats.
There was Dad the Chair Tester. There wasn't a rocking chair made that could withstand him. He broke unbreakable chairs and would eventually end up with a direct line to the parts department. There had to always be at least two rocking chairs in the house, because one was always broken.
There was Dr. Dad. As a kid, he was the person we went to with our cuts and scrapes and illnesses. He didn't like dealing with the normal bodily functions, but give him anything extraordinary, and he was your man.
There was Mr. Fix It Dad. When anything broke in any of our houses, he was the first person any of us thought of. Electrical, plumbing, drywall, tile, he knew it all, or was willing to help us figure it out. He was always patient, and he would always pitch in if we asked.
Finally, there was Travel Agent Dad. All of us in the family and many of his friends have used Dad's Travel Agency at some point in time. Our United Airlines benefits required us to fly standby. Our family vacations didn't have itineraries, they had Plans A, B and C. I remember flying to Australia once, and I could swear the route was something like Chicago to Des Moines to Denver to L.A. to Fiji to New Zealand to Sydney and finally to Melbourne. He loved the strategy. He would get a gleam in his eyes, practically rub his hands together in anticipation, and with a deep laugh declare that "There's more than one way to skin the kitty cat."
But it wasn't just flying. He loved all sorts of travel -- driving trips, cruises. Part of the big adventure was in the journey itself.
Well, now Dad has embarked on the biggest journey of his life. I can only hope that wherever he stops, there's a sturdy rocking chair and a V.O. Manhattan on the rocks waiting for him.
It's that theme of journeys that has brought me the most comfort during the past year. And there are two songs that reflect that theme that I've enjoyed listening to, even though sometimes they bring tears to my eyes.
The first song is the incredibly pretty Green Day track with the unfortunate title "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)":
Another turning point
A fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist
Directs you where to go
So make the best of this test
And don't ask why
It's not a question
But a lesson learned in time
It's something unpredictable
But in the end it's right
I hope you had the time of your life
So take the photographs
And still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf of
Good health and good time
Tattoos of memories
And dead skin on trial
For what it's worth
It was worth all the while
It's something unpredictable
But in the end it's right
I hope you had the time of your life
The other song is the Johnny Cash version of "We'll Meet Again":
We'll meet again,
don't know where,
don't know when,
but I know we'll meet again
some sunny day!
Keep smiling through,
just like you always do,
'till the blue skies drive
the dark clouds far away!
So, will you please say hello
to the folks that I know?
Tell them I won't be long!
They'll be happy to know
that as you saw me go,
I was singin' this song:
We'll meet again,
don't know where,
don't know when,
but I know we'll meet again
some sunny day!
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
I ran across this story about a California company's quest to bioengineer real mythical creatures. It sounds like something out of a Michael Crichton book.
"Here be dragons: With luck, you may soon be able to buy a mythological pet"
Near the end is a link to another story about a previous idea the founder of the company had, which involved engineering fish with real gold in their scales. I guess the weight of the gold made it impossible for them to keep afloat.