One Year Later...

Is this thing on?

No, no of course it isn't. There's dust and cobwebs everywhere, and flipping on the light switch took some effort. Nobody's home. No one is writing. No one is reading. I ended my six-year run of daily consecutive blogging one year ago, never to return. It’s perfect. It’s symmetrical. I shouldn’t post again and break the clean ending.

It's funny how nature abhors a vacuum, how I found things to fill the time I once used to spend writing, how the days never seem long enough even with one less responsibility. Not much has changed. I haven't quit my job and moved out West to seek my fortune. Still single. Still working hard at the office and with various bands. Still alive.

More importantly, my dad is still alive. He finally went to a new cardiologist for a second opinion, after bypass surgery last Summer did nothing to relive his angina. He was annoyed that they kept him in the hospital for tests, growing more impatient as the week went on. The doctor confirmed he needed a new aortic valve, and that being 81-years-old was not a deterring factor. Newer treatments such as getting a stent were still in the trial stage and there was no guarantee they would help. Being in good health otherwise, a new valve could get him as much as another ten years. Doing nothing in the condition he was in, with chest pain on even mild exertion such as walking through the supermarket, was an indication that he'd die in 2 or 3 years without surgery. I make my decisions based on math, and the math was sound.

It was convenient that his hospital, one of the best heart hospitals in the nation, was within driving distance of my job. My boss was very understanding, and I was able to take long lunch breaks. I remember one afternoon when my dad dismissed an orderly while he finished his salad, then walked up and down the hall looking for his ride. The man of course moved on to the next patient who needed to be wheeled downstairs for testing. When I came back after work, no one had returned for my dad yet. “I canceled the test,” he told me. When a nurse came in, my mom and I asked if he could do that, and he chuckled that no, the patient can't just say he doesn't want a particular test. He wasn't staying at a spa where he could skip portions of his agenda.

The day he was finally supposed to have the operation, we found him standing in the door of his room, waving his arms in disgust. We knew immediately something was wrong. When we calmed him down, we learned that the test showed blockage in his carotid artery, which we knew about. But it was apparently too serious for them to proceed with heart surgery, lest a blood clot be loosed upon his brain and he have a stroke. I got a nurse to patch me through to the cardiologist, who explained this to me, and that a vascular surgeon was on his way down for a consultation. The procedure, called a carotid endarectomy, had only a 1% risk of serious complications. He'd simply make an incision in my dad's neck, scoop all the gunk out of his artery, and sew him back up. Chances are that last year when the other surgeon opted to only do a single bypass, he was afraid of the stroke risk. They never gave us a satisfactory explanation, only that they didn't think the valve condition was that serious. And when my dad went for follow-up visits they told him his results were fine and shrugged when he said he still had symptoms. Thank God he finally found a doctor who'd listen and diagnose him properly.

I went back to the office since I'd likely need the following Monday off for the big surgery. My father had the carotid surgery late on that Friday night, the same day we had the consultation with the surgeon. I work late when I have a print deadline; these guys stay late when they need to save lives. There's a little perspective. I arrived after work to find my mom distraught in the lobby, because the anesthesiologist, a weasely Jason Schwartzman-looking mofo had took her by the arm, told her my dad could die, and rattled off all the potential complications with no bedside manner. I did my best to reassure her, and we spent a very long three hours in the surgical waiting area.

Of course he came through with flying colors and only a sore throat. When we went to see him, a nurse was spending one-on-one monitoring time to make sure he didn't roll over or yank out any tubes. He was angry and uncomfortable, and when the anesthesiologist stopped by to check on things, he shouted “That guy gave me too much dope!” The doc just smirked, checked something off on a chart, and wandered off to play some quirky character in an independent film. My dad went on to spend a long weekend in the ICU before the big day on Monday morning. Having been through surgery once myself, I envy the fact that for him it was over in an instant. My mom and I endured the longest six-and-a-half hours of our life while we waited. At least he had an anesthesiologist with a good bedside manner this time, who reassured us before they went in that he'd be monitoring my dad the whole time, and rattled off the risks like the boilerplate “this probably won't happen but I have to tell you all this in case it does” script he's obligated to read from, instead of the melodramatic “He could DIE!” that the other jerk threw at my mom. With Game of Thrones adapted for television and A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the series finally seeing print, I had the motivation to finally finish reading book four, A Feast for Crows. It was hard to focus in the waiting room though. At one point we went downstairs and sat outside. I wandered and found the chapel where I prayed. Hard. I had a sketchbook with me, as drawing was one of the things I finally started doing again in 2011, but even that was difficult under the circumstances.

After six hours we asked the receptionist if there was any news. We knew the procedure involved removing the heart to work on it while my dad was kept alive by a heart-lung machine. We knew it was his second surgery, and she pointed out that re-ops do take longer. She said she'd let us know when she heard something, but the computer showed he was still in surgery. After that, every time she answered the phone we thought it was about my dad. When the woman blew her nose during one call, my mom thought she was crying over bad news. I pointed out that if the receptionist in a cardiac surgical unit teared up every time someone didn't make it, she was probably in the wrong field.

Eventually the surgeon called, and I took the call. He spoke quickly, assuring me that all went well, although there was some bleeding in the catheter. I pointed out that my dad had an enlarged prostate and maybe that caused some problem. Everything went well with the valve though, and he even bypassed a circumflex artery that was 100% blocked. The next few weeks proved very exhausting and interesting. It was an entire day before the breathing tube could be removed, and when we finally could talk to my dad, he was often confused from the medication. Once he got angry when I didn't see the carnival he was seeing. “You're trying to make a fool out of me! There's a clown. Right. There. Inflating a balloon.” His hallucinations had some basis in reality, as an oxygen tank and a helium tank could look the same. I could always figure out the real-world equivalent of what he was perceiving. When those hallucinations improved and he starting seeming normal, we then had to deal with his doubts. “I'm dead and in the ground,” he'd tell us. Once when I was at work, he chided my mom about her demeanor in light of his death: “You don't seem very upset.” It took a while to convince him that it wasn't all a dream, that he wasn't dead and seeing things on his way out.

The biggest hurdle turned out to be the prostate. He had to keep the catheter in, and was constantly passing blood. He couldn't start improving until he could walk, and he couldn't walk until the bleeding stopped and the catheter was removed. Eventually a urologist had to put him through a third surgery, one that would correct the problem. The good news was that when he finally got to go home, he'd be leaving with all his ailments resolved. No more chest pains. No more getting up to go to the bathroom every hour at night. I used car analogies to reason with the former mechanic and to joke with him. “It's like when you bring a car in for an oil change and they find all this other stuff to fix!”

Through it all, I managed to stay on top of my deadlines, and I'm pretty sure my boss lightened my load a bit because a few assignments I was expecting seemed to land on other art directors. I played plenty of feasts, one which took a week, and on one of the nights we phoned the hospital so all the guys could wish my dad a speedy recovery before we serenaded him with the theme from Rocky. It got to a point where the security guard in the hospital parking lot recognized me and asked why I didn't just get a monthly visitor's pass. I didn't expect my dad to spend over 30 days in there, nor did any of us. But with that last surgery, and him finally walking up and down the halls, he was finally cleared to go home. We were assisted by one of the hospital volunteers, a retired old man who was part of a vast staff of people in their 70s up to their 90s who stayed active. My dad's had follow-up visits with all his doctors, and has even been going for therapy and walking on a treadmill. He's been tired, but that's improved, and his legs and back have been sore, but that's improved too. Through it all, he's had NO chest pain. A few days ago he and my mom celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary, so hopefully his extended “sentence” gets him at least another 9 years so they see 50.

While my dad is starting to become familiar with treadmills, I haven't stopped. I run 4-7 miles a day and still manage to be about 10-15 pounds overweight. I skipped my annual race this year, initially because I thought I'd have a feast that day. I wasn't hired for that gig this year, but it all worked out since my dad was hospitalized then anyway. And as I mentioned, I did start sketching again back in January, pushing forward despite being incredibly rusty. For a while I managed 5 or 6 a week, but that has dwindled to once a week. I have no intention of stopping completely though, and will stick with it whenever I have time and/or inspiration. Here are a few of my favorites from this year:

There's no way I could recap all the movies and television shows I've watched this past year. Thor was decent, but Captain America was the surprise of the year. My expectations were the exact opposite for these movies, and I was pleasantly surprised by the latter. I also had a longer wait, and my work buddies were very understanding while my dad was hospitalized, waiting until we could all see it together. It was worth the wait. As of this week, The Avengers' trailer has blown me away. I can't stop watching this thing. I wish it was 2012 NOW. It's everything I read when I was in high school brought to life on the big screen with RDJ of course killing it with the best lines and Joss Whedon's sense of humor and understanding of group dynamics shining through. I expect that will be the biggest draw at this weekend's NYComiccon, with Whedon and some of the cast in attendance, though I doubt I'll get through the crowds to that panel.

In the past few weeks I found out two good friends, one from college and another from high school, had gotten married. I knew the guy from college was engaged, but he e-mailed our crew after four months of marriage with a “by the way I'm married”. It was another week before we learned when he was married, and I realized we saw the bride and groom at a barbecue a week later, where none of us noticed the rings. At a party this past weekend, he laughed at how we admired his watch for like an hour that day and never spotted what was on his finger. When they get some money saved, they'll probably have a larger recommitment ceremony with all their friends and family. My other buddy from high school called to invite me to his wedding, and mentioned that technically he married her a year ago when they bought their place in Brooklyn. The duo run a couple of successful clothing stores which cater mostly to young lawyers with high salaries who don't think a few hundred dollars is a lot for a dress shirt if it looks good and fits. My fashion sense tends to be more Target, but I'm still happy for their success. As long as I've known this guy, he's been the epitome of someone who lives life. Whatever he wanted to do, he's done, without concern of risks or what people thought, and in that he's found success. When he wanted to live in Japan he did it. When he wanted to live in Austria he did that. And when he wanted to stop working for other people and start working for himself, he did that too. He's also a huge karaoke fan while his wife is also a dancer, so it was ridiculously entertaining to see him serenade everyone with a cover of Mr. Loverman while his wife and the bridesmaids did a choreographed dance. And this was all between the ceremony and their first dance. It was everything I would have expected from his wedding and more. The only way it could have been better would be if he got Weird Al to perform, which he told me was something he was seriously considering before deciding that'd be too expensive.

So, that's been my year in a nutshell(help, help I'm in a nutshell). I'm not about to start blogging again, although I did feel the urge this week and an anniversary was as good an excuse as any to post again. Drop me a comment if you meander back this way; I'd love to know what's been going on in your world. I've found a few of you(or vice versa) on a certain social network, so maybe we'll connect again in that all-encompassing realm if not this one. 2011 had its share of trials and detours, and in a Summer that included three major operations for my dad, an earthquake in Virginia that I felt on Long Island, and a hurricane a week later that knocked a tree through a neighbor's house but left us unscathed other than a week without power, I can honestly say this hasn't been a bad year, because everything worked out okay.

I can't wait to see what happens next. Who knows? I might even come back to write about it....