The Day Of Reckoning

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Kindergarden photo 1956

When we last gathered here I was relaying the story of my surgery being postponed because I had developed a UTI and the surgeon delayed the surgery so that I could get over that infection. What a huge emotional letdown that was, but it was much better that way than what could have been the alternative.

It is now the morning of December 16th and it is time, once again, to head over to La Jolla a day ahead of my scheduled aortic valve replacement surgery. This time Edie cannot come along because she had some medical appointments that she could not miss. No, this time it was just Jim and yours truly in my hot rod heading westbound through the desert to the Pacific Ocean! The other two brothers, with spouses with spouses in tow, and Jason (Jeremy was sick and I told him to stay home) were also heading to La Jolla to try this surgery support thing one more time.

This time, just like a finely choreographed dance movement, the four cars all arrived at the hotel within a few minutes of each other for checkin. We all took a few minutes to greet and hug each other. It sure made me feel a little more at ease to have my immediate family, once again, there for moral support.

We signed in at the front desk, exchanged pleasantries with the hotel owner, Maureen, unloaded our baggage into our respective rooms, and met back at the hotel office. Once we were all present, we headed down, once again to the taco joint, Puestos. It was a unanimous vote! Everyone was excited to get some more of those fabulous tacos there.

Following dinner we all adjourned to our respective rooms in preparation for my surgery in the morning at 8am. I pulled out the letters that I had written to my brothers and my son that were in envelopes. I instructed Jason to hand these out to my brothers for them to read while I was in surgery. He, Jason, also had a letter from me as well. I had decided a week prior to going to La Jolla for the first attempt at surgery that I wanted to express to each of my loved ones my inner most feelings, just in case the outcome of this surgery was less than the desired results.

In between this trip to San Diego and the last attempt at surgery I had completed the Power of Attorney forms so that Jason could make all the necessary decisions, if needed. I handed them to him in our hotel room and gave him a few instructions. I don’t think that it fully sunk into his head what this Power of Attorney means! It will strike him when they roll me down that long hallway for surgery, I will bet!

Prior to lights out in my room I receive a phone call from a phone number not listed in my phone and I debated on whether to answer that call. But it was an 858 area code and that was the area code for La Jolla. So I thought that I should take this call and not let it go to voice mail. I am very glad that I took the call because it was from my surgeon, Dr. Tyner. When I heard his voice I knew that something was up. He said that there was an opening in the surgery schedule slightly earlier in the morning and he would like for the surgery to occur during that time slot. Could I get to the hospital at 5am for a 7am surgery? I replied in the affirmative that I could be there at that time. So now I have three less hours of time til the show gets on the road. I notified everyone that I must be at the hospital at 5am, so we all set our alarms appropriately so that we could caravan over to Scripps.

So now it is time to go lights out and get some all important sleep before the big show happens bright and early in the morning!

The 3am wakeup call and alarm arrived within a blink of an eye, my friend! My routine began with shaving and taking a shower with this extremely strong ant-bacterial soap, just like the one I took just prior to climbing in the rack and grabbing some really valuable shut-eye.

I was trying to be a quiet as I could be so that Jason could sleep til I woke him up for the drive to the hospital. As I stepped into the shower a million thoughts ran through my mind. First and foremost was the thought of “yep this thing is really gonna happen”! Then I started thinking about what was really going to take place in that surgery room in about three hours. My heart began racing at supersonic speeds, my knees began to quiver, my mind was racing like a top fuel dragster, and the emotional flood gate opened up big time! Once again, my hair was on fire and I was having a hard time keeping it together in the shower. Thank God I was all by myself in there and nobody could see or hear what I was dealing with! I have to appear to have it together this morning and be fearless. Don’t let Jason and my brothers know that I am scared SHITLESS!! Put on your Pilot’s face Captain Blowdri…….do not let them see you sweat!

I was thinking just please just tell me when it’s over!

I drove the car with Jim and Jason along over to Scripps, which was quick and uneventful. THANK GOD!

Walking into the hospital I had another round of knees quivering and again the emotional rollercoaster had just left the loading station! As I rounded the corner and saw the receptionists desk where I needed to sign in, the emotional rollercoaster reached that first high peak, was now rocketing downhill, and my mind was having a hard time staying fixated on the paperwork that I was filling out!

As I finished the paperwork and walked over to where my family was seated the emotional rollercoaster subsided, at least temporarily.

Within about ten (10) minutes of completing the paperwork I was called back to begin the surgery prep. When that happened the ol body became overrun with the jitters. It was getting closer to a reality, this open heart surgery thing.

It took about 15-20 minutes to get me all prepped up for surgery. I stripped down to the ol birthday suit and slipped on that designer hospital gown that conveniently gives everyone a nice view of the ol flat saggy butt! At this point I really could care that, if I moved too quickly, I would be photographing the entire nurses station this morning. The unmistaken fact is that, unless they all had binoculars or a telescope they couldn’t see a thing. As George Costanza from Seinfeld so aptly put it……shrinkage was in affect this morning!

My brothers came in to talk with me and lend their support and express their love. Jerry and Sue came in and we prayed for my surgery to be successful and for my quick and complete recovery. When Jason came in I could tell in his eyes that he had grabbed the gravity of this event and appeared to be moved. Again, I expressed a few of my thoughts and requests to him. I told him to deliver the letters to the brothers once they rolled me down the hallway.

Shortly after I got those items off of my chest to Jason the surgical nurses came into my room and announced to me and Jason that “it is showtime”! I wanted to crawl out of that bed and slither out of that hospital, but I also knew that I have to have this procedure done if I want to live to a ripe old age. Jason squeezed my hand, gave me a kiss on the forehead, and told me that he loved me. It was extremely difficult for me to keep it together as they rolled me out of the room! I kept thinking don’t let him see that you are falling apart. You are the dad, be tough, be strong!

The ride down that hallway to the OR seemed to take an eternity. It was enough time for me to see my entire 68 years run by in my head. Along the route there was a left turn, then a right turn, and then we stopped in front a set of double doors. I think that this is where “the show” will be happening.

One of the nurses hit the button that opens up those doors to reveal this well lit, high tech, surgical room where I will spend the next 5 or 6 hours this morning. It was a busy hub of activity with 5 or 6 surgical nurses at their workstations preparing for my surgery. Once my two bed chauffeurs got me transferred onto that extremely narrow and highly uncomfortable surgical table, the process for me began.

The two that brought me into the surgery room began to attach all kinds of electric probes to my upper torso. They were very professional, but had a great sense of humor. I think that they could feel that I was petrified. So, they kept up the levity as they were doing their job.

Then something happened that I have never seen before. I have had a few surgeries in my day but this team was really unique. One by one each of the surgical team stopped what they were doing, walked over next to me, put their hand on my shoulder, introduced themselves to me, and explained their role in the surgery. The very last one to come over was the guy who was behind the big machine to my right. His name was Matt and he had the single largest impact on me.

He said, “Mr. Hammack my name is Matt. Do you see that big machine over there? That is the heart/lung machine and I will own you for the next 5 or 6 hours. I promise you that I will take very good care of you!”

WOW!!! That blew me completely away. I was astounded!

Now that the introductions were made they all went back to their workstations. I could tell that the preparations were rapidly coming to a conclusion. The anesthetist had arrived on scene and talked and comforted me as well. He said that he was giving me some thing to relax me a little. My two bed jockeys asked me if I would like to listen to some music while they were finishing up prepping me? Quickly I remember Dr. Tyner stating that he doesn’t allow any “noise” during the surgery. I said that I would like to listen to some music. I was asked what would be my pleasure? I replied do you have any Eagles tunes? Like magic my absolute favorite Eagles tune comes over the sound system…….. Hotel California!!!

How did they know?

Somewhere about halfway through this 6:36 classic rock and roll tune, before the Don Felder/Joe Walsh classic guitar solo, the anesthetist said to me, Good Night Mr. Hammack! With that announcement the curtain was beginning to fall and I didn’t get to hear the best part of the song……the guitar solo!

As my body began to tingle and I knew that the light switch was about to be thrown, my last thoughts before I greased on another landing in “Happy Valley ” was……..

Just let me know when this is over!

This saga continues.

The Reality Sets In

Leon Hammack

As you remember, I left off the last installment where my cardiologist scheduled me to go downstairs and get my pre-surgery chest x-ray in preparation for my impending open heart surgery. Additionally, Dr. Adams told me that she would get in touch with Dr. Tyner’s office to arrange a pre-surgery consult with him, as well as inform Tyner that I would like to get on the surgery schedule for November 21st.

As I stepped into the elevator to go down to the first floor and check in with the imaging department, my whole being was in unbelievable turmoil! My hands were trembling, my heart was racing, my brain was desperately trying to keep my emotions in check, and my legs were as weak, rubbery, wobbly, and very unstable like a jar of SMUCKER’S strawberry jelly! I was thinking to myself the bad dream that I have had now for the past thirteen (13) years is finally coming to fruition! Even though I had the whole summer of 2019 to think about this surgery and prepare myself for it, I was woefully ill-prepared emotionally for what I was beginning to experience.

H-O-L-Y C-R-A-P!!!

The elevator door opened, I stepped into the lobby of the imaging center, marched over to the receptionist, announced my name, and she told me to take a seat, they would call me back. So I followed those simple instructions, dutifully stepped over to a vacant seat, parked my nervous and quivering body into one of the extremely uncomfortable chairs that are always in the waiting rooms of medical offices.

Within just a few minutes I was beckoned to follow this imaging person back to the waiting x-ray room. The chest x-ray took all of about 5 minutes to accomplish and I was set free to go as I came.

The three hour drive from La Jolla to Yuma seemed to have taken forever, when in fact it is just a three hour drive!

As I started up the ol Sequoia in the underground parking lot, backed out of my parking slot, drove out of the medical facility, jumped on the interstate for the drive back to Yuma, my body and heart were having an all out war for control of my brain! In racing terms I was having the dreaded helmet fire! Another description of this event would be that my hair was on fire! What was worse is that I couldn’t call 911 to put out the flames, because the flash point for this fire is deep inside my scull!

I really don’t remember much of the drive. I don’t remember driving through the city on I-5 and then heading out East on I-8, through and over the mountains that separate the towns of El Cajon and Lakeside from the Imperial Valley. Nor do I remember much about the drive through the Imperial Valley and on over to Yuma. I obviously was trying to cope with, and put into perspective, the events that were now beginning to sequentially fall into place.

What I do remember of that lonely drive back home was me thinking about all the things that were about to unfold. The reality that I was less than four weeks from having the open heart surgery that I have been thinking about off and on for the past thirteen (13) years. But those thoughts were always that it was way far off into the future, not in the here and now.

I would, from time to time, think about going through this pre-surgery routine, how I would greet and deal with the news that it was time “to get ‘er done”. I thought that I would have everything all in check, that I would be this rock steady, even keeled old man that people would say ” man, he has got this all under control”!

SURPRISE!!!!!

It just ain’t happening that way, brother!

The fear of the unknown will bite you directly in the ass, my friends! It will take total control of your life and put a whoppin’ on you! (More to come about that idea in another installment.)

So now I have approximately three weeks to prepare for the absolute biggest, scariest, event in my life, of which I have very little to absolutely no control over!!! Let that wash all over your body for a while and see if your hair catches on fire as mine did for the whole three hour drive home! I am sure that I appeared Zombie-like to other drivers as I navigated my way home! Because I was totally overwhelmed by what was beginning to happen in my life.

Some of the drive home I felt nervous and scared because I live alone, I knew that I was going have to take care of myself during this recovery process. There were some of those gut wrenching emotions rattling around inside of me that somehow wiggled and worked their way through my head and escaped through my eyes, which made it very difficult to see as I drove home.

Some of the drive home I was consumed self pity. I mean how could this damn thing happen to me…….why me Lord? I have always felt like I was a healthy dude most of my life, now things are just taking a healthy DUMP! I have zip, nada, zero control of this, and I have always been in solid control of my life! Well, dude that is not the case for me now! I am in the passenger seat along for this whirlwind ride that is about to commence!

As quickly as those self pity thoughts came into my head they vanquished. Replacing those thoughts, for a time, was the idea that I am so lucky that my abnormal aortic valve (I had a bicuspid aortic valve) was discovered and that I am having it replaced before it could fail completely and kill me! What a lucky dude I am!!!

Then, I would think yeah right I am going have my chest split wide open, my sternum sawed in two pieces, put on life support (a heart and lung machine), have my heart cut open, have my aortic valve removed and replaced with a bovine tissue sewed in its place, and then put back together. Oh damn I sure am lucky!!!!! (Does the sarcasm flow through here?)

The other prevailing thought on that drive was that I really need to get all my affairs in order, assign a power of attorney with Jason being in charge……..just in case……….you know just in case… you know what may happen. There goes the emotions erupting everywhere again!!!

I was a babbling fool by the time I arrived at my home that evening! But I got it together, at least til bedtime.

I am much too young to feel this damn old!

There will be more to follow shortly!

TIL NEXT TIME, KEEP THE SHINY SIDE UP!

Fast Forward To Scripps 2018

Leon Hammack

From my visit with Dr. Jeff Tyner in the Fall of 2015 through the Spring of 2018, everything seemed to move along swimmingly, or so I thought.

In the Spring of 2018 my cardiologist in Yuma, I relocated my cardiologist from Fresno to the city where I was living, relayed to me that there appears to be some indications in the latest echocardiogram that warrant a closer look. He wanted to send me to the local hospital for testing. I had decided that I was about to fire him because he appeared to be practicing in the 1950’s! So with new curiosity I decided that I would take all of my tests over to Dr. Tyner at Scripps La Jolla to have him take a close look at these echos.

It was really good to re-establish contact with Dr. Tyner and to get his expertise again on my tests. After he scrutinized the different material that I brought to his office, he concluded that he could tell that the aortic valve is beginning to degrade, but not enough to schedule surgery yet.

Whew!!!! I am buying more time!

He informed me that instead of making the trip over to La Jolla when I was tested again, I could just have my cardiologist send them to him for his review. That is when I relayed to Tyner that I was about to fire my cardiologist and I want to establish a cardiologist within the Scripps campus. I asked him if he had any recommendations? (I had already done my research and had a list of five doctors I was considering.) He paused a moment and asked me if it mattered if the cardiologist was male or female? I replied that it did not. I just want the best cardiologist here!

He then said that was good and that he will work on getting me an appointment with Christina. I looked into my notebook and found. Dr. Christina Adams and asked if that was the doctor that he had in mind? He nodded affirmatively and replied that he was pleased that I had done my homework!

In about 3 weeks I got an appointment with Dr. Adams, so I hopped in my car and headed over to La Jolla for the consult with her. She is a very pleasant, extremely competent, and kind physician. She went over all of my meds, she looked at Dr. Tyner’s comments, and she came up with the plan. As she walked me out of the office towards the front door, she reassured me not to worry about my aortic valve. She continued saying just let her and Dr. Tyner worry about those medical needs! As I walked out to my car, I told myself that is exactly what I need to do.

Six months later, November 20, 2018, I returned to her office for and echocardiogram, consult, and review of the echo. After the completion of the echo I had about and hour till I saw. Dr. Adams so I grabbed a little light lunch in the basement cafeteria. Up in the office, Dr. Adams enters the room, we again run through my meds, and she talks a bit about my aortic valve. She indicated that the valve regurgitation has worsened and things are beginning to degrade, but leave the worrying to her and Dr. Tyner. She further added to enjoy the upcoming holidays with my family, and that she would see me in 6 months, in May.

In May I return to Scripps for another echocardiogram and consult with Dr. Adams. This time there was something different about Dr. Adams and how she entered the room. It was at this time that she indicated to me that surgery is just on the horizon. The aortic regurgitation. has worsened and the ventricle wall has began to thicken. That really knocked that crap out of my happy-go-lucky attitude that I was exhibiting! My stomach immediately knotted up and began twisting like wringing out a bath towel! After I gulped once or twice I asked her does that mean that I need the surgery ASAP? Her reply was that I didn’t need to cancel my annual summer RV trip to Oregon. However, I need to be keenly aware of any chest pain, swelling of the ankles, and or shortness of breath. If any one of those conditions presents itself, load up the ol RV, get on back home, and give her a call!

Well, the summer of 2019 went extremely smooth!

Once I returned back home, got all my stuff offloaded from the RV and put away in my house, it was time to go back to Scripps in San Diego for yet another echocardiogram and consult with Dr. Adams.

This visit was an eye opener! After reviewing the echo she again asked me when was the best time to do the aortic valve replacement surgery? I had all summer to think about the answer that I gave her. After I found my tongue, grabbed my chin from the floor, I looked at her and told her November 21st. My heart was dieseling, my stomach was knotted up, and I had a hard time controlling my emotions as my words came out!

She said to me since you are going to need a chest x-ray pre-surgery, and it was within 30 days of my surgery date choice, would I be willing to go down and get that done since I am already in San Diego? I thought that was a good idea. She called down and reserved an appointment for me. Additionally, she told me that she would arrange a pre-surgery consult with Dr. Tyner.

All of the sudden I realized that I am not bulletproof anymore,

I don’t go all in but I’ll take the gamble
And I don’t burn both ends of the candle anymore
I take the corners, slower and steady
This chip on my shoulder, it ain’t so heavy anymore

We still fly like gypsies
Just a little closer to the ground
And we still love our whiskey
But now it’s just a little watered down

More to come!

TIL NEXT TIME, KEEP THE SHINY SIDE UP!

I Was Born That Way!

Cole's 5th B'Day 081
Cole and I on his 5th B’day 2007.

Just about at the time that this photo was taken of me and Cole back in 2006 is when I went to see a cardiologist about my blood pressure. During an FAA physical in the spring of 2006 it was noted by that FAA doctor that my blood pressure had begun to creep ever so slightly upward, and that this doctor had heard a murmur while listening to my heart. He advised me to go to my primary doctor and get it checked out. This also coincided with me leaving Denver and moving back to my hometown of Fresno, CA.

Once that I got moved in and established back in Fresno I sought out a cardiologist, Dr. John Nelson, who had saved my brother’s life after having a massive heart attack a few years previous to this time. So once I got into to see Dr. Nelson he began to delved into why my BP (blood pressure) was creeping up, and what was the origins of my murmur.

Through the Summer and into the Fall of 2006 my doctor set me up for several tests, one of which he wanted me to do was and angiogram. I immediately squashed that idea because I did not want that on my medical record to go with high blood pressure and I was also diagnosed as a borderline diabetic. My health appeared to be taking a tumble and I didn’t want the FAA to ground me because of these early heath warnings.

So Dr. Nelson began his best impression of Monty Hall! We bantered back and forth trying to make a deal about different types of tests he thought would be beneficial in nailing down my particular issues. After much discussion he asked me if I would agree to do a 64 Slice. He said that at that time it was a very cutting edge test. Unfortunately, he informed me that more than likely my insurance would not pay for it. I asked him what it entailed? With a name like 64 Slice it sure sounded very invasive to me and my guard was already way up!

He informed me that it was a type a CAT scan, and he thought that it may help in nailing down the origins of my heart murmur. It would enable him to see my heart with a much higher resolution. He said to be me, “if I can get you in for free will you do it”? “You will have to go to San Francisco to get this done”. Long story short, within a couple of weeks I was driving up to SF to have my 64 Slice!

After reviewing the results of the 64 Slice, Dr. Nelson noted that there appears to be an issue with my aortic valve and he had just one more suggestion. He wanted me to submit to a TEE. I asked him what the heck was a TEE? He informed me that it was a trans esophageal echogram. There was an idea that my aortic valve was bicuspid, two leaflets, versus the normal tricuspid or three leaflets. I was informed that the aortic valve lies right next to the esophagus and they (the doctors) can have a real good look to see if my aortic valve was bicuspid or not from the TEE.

After accomplishing the TEE is was proven that I have an abnormal aortic valve, bicuspid. It was something that I was born with, but took 55 years for it to rear its ugly head! At that time Dr. Nelson informed me that, in time, I would have to have my aortic valve replaced. So it was decided that my cardiologist was going to keep a close watch on my bicuspid aortic valve.

For the next four years everything seemed to remained status quo. My aortic valve regurgitation, aka murmur, remained in check and did not grow any more severe. My heart appeared to be operating perfectly normal, with that one exception of a murmur.

However, on the evening of May 16, 2010 there was an event that was going to change everything!

For those not family or close friends, and are not familiar to what happened that night, you must read the above link to understand what a traumatic event can have on your heart!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

TIL NEXT TIME, KEEP THE SHINY SIDE UP!

Time To Put On The Big Boy Panties!

Cole's 5th B'Day 081

(Cole and yours truly at his 5th birthday party circa 2007)

Again I lead with that quote from A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times”!

That phrase has such an apropos feeling and meaning to me these days. The reason why it resonates with me is because my adult life has truly been some of the best of times in my life, as well as some most trying and troubling times in my life.

How else could I describe the last forty six years, since college graduation? How could a poor boy from Fresno, CA, have such great experiences during his working career? (That is fodder for another story yet to come.)

More importantly, I am now dealing with the culmination of what has gone on for the last thirteen years. Back in 2006 I began to develop blood pressure issues, as well as discovering that I had a heart murmur. After several tests to figure out why I have a murmur, it was discovered that I have a bicuspid aortic valve that would have to replaced in due time, something that I was obviously born with back in 1951.

Well, that due time for replacement has now arrived! My cardiologist relayed that information to me back in May, before I left the heat for the cool Oregon Coast for the summer months. She told me that when I returned back home at the end of the summer it would be time to start getting prepared for this open heart surgery. So during the summer I began scouring my winter schedule to see when would be the ideal time to devote to the open heart surgery and the requisite recovery time.

I decided that I would try to schedule this surgery to happen shortly after the end of the NASCAR racing season, I run a fantasy league and also do some photography work at the West Coast venues, as well. So after mulling over the schedule and the time off between the 2020 start up, I decided that I would try to get on the schedule for a surgery around November 21st. So my surgeon worked with me and I got on the surgery schedule for the afore mentioned date. Everything was rolling right along swimmingly until I arrived at the hospital the day previous to the surgery to do the pre-op blood work, etc. After I got to the hotel that afternoon upon completion of that blood work I received a phone call from my surgeon’s office stating that the surgery was cancelled due to a perceived infection found in my blood work.

DAMN!!!!

My family was all there, checked into the hotel, and now it was not going to happen. I had plenty of time to get all prepared, to get my heart and mind ready for this monumental event in my life. I had many “talks with myself” in the four months leading up to the surgery date. And once I arrived in San Diego I had finally gotten my head right for the open heart surgery, or so I thought!

Can we say total letdown?

Thursday morning it was time to load up the car and return back to Yuma. Friday I got in to see my primary physician to review the surgeon’s blood work, get prescribed some high powered antibiotics, and get established on them ASAP in order to get back on the surgery schedule ASAP.

I have now competed the required blood work to make sure that the infection has vacated this ol body! Now the surgery is scheduled for Dec 17th.

With the new surgery date comes the emotional rollercoaster that plagued me leading up to the previous surgery date. Even though this surgery, aortic valve replacement, has become a very common surgery performed at the prestigious hospitals, it still contains risks. Those risks are stroke, heart attack, and possibly death during the surgery!

Try dealing with that thought and signing the document that you understand the risks of this surgery! That will put a huge lump in your throat and an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach!

Once again , with all the pre-op things checked off it is time to search all of of drawers thoroughly to find my “Big Boy Panties”. Then I need to run them though the washer and dryer, pull those bad boys on, and be prepared to wither the revival of the emotional rollercoaster that I know will be coming to visit me from time to tome over the next ten days! There may be more to come prior to my surgery, or the next installment may be during my long recovery period. It just depends on how creative I feel both before and after this surgery.

TIL NEXT TIME, ROGER, WILCO, OVER AND OUT!

I Have A Broken Heart, No Really!

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It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times! Isn’t that how The Tale of Two Cities begins? Well it is very apropos in my tale as well.

It was the Spring of 2006, I was 55 years old, when my life took a hard left turn, quite unexpectedly. I was taking my bi-annual FAA physical when the doctor was listening to my heart and suddenly looked up at me and asked me a question, that appeared quite out of the blue!

The doctor asked me “how long have you had this heart murmur?” I was completely stunned by his question. My eloquent retort to the doctor went something like this. “What murmur, I don’t have no stinkin’ murmur”!

The doctor then sat down beside me and explained what a heart murmur was and that, yes indeed, you do have a heart murmur. He then explained to me what to listen for through his stethoscope as he positioned that on my ears and over my heart.

I heard just exactly what he had heard! I did in fact have a murmur at 55 years old. How could that be? How could this just now show up? I have physicals yearly for twenty years, and for the last ten years a physical every six months.

In addition to the heart murmur, the doctor had detected that my blood pressure was creeping up. He suggested that I see my doctor regarding all this news. I was getting ready to move back to my hometown, Fresno, in just a few weeks so I thought that once I was all moved in I would contact a cardiologist. I decided I would make an appointment with the cardiologist that saved my older brother’s life a decade previous.

I was caught completely off guard. My first 55 years had been a cake walk.

Now, all of the sudden, “Houston we have a problem!”

After getting into to see Dr. John Nelson, he began to prescribe some medication that he thought would get my blood pressure down. Then he got down to brass tacks to try to find what the cause of my heart murmur to be. After an echocardiogram the doctor was beginning to get a feel for the culprit. Dr Nelson told me that the echo seems to point to a bicuspid aortic valve as the problem, but it wasn’t conclusive. He wanted for me to have and angiogram and that would help to flush out the answer. I had heard about that procedure and that you are awake when it is performed. My answer was “no Happy Valley, no angiogram!”

He didn’t like my response. So he sat back down and mulled over another plan. He asked me would I be interested in getting a 64-Slice? After he explained that it was non intrusive and that it was, in effect, a very strong xray, a Cat Scan type of procedure. At that time it was very leading edge. He would like to get me into this new test program in San Francisco that was cutting edge at the time and give him a better look at my aortic valve via that scan. He was pretty sure that my insurance would not cover the expense, but that he could get me enrolled for free,

I agreed that if it wasn’t going to cost me a thing, and that there was no adverse conditions or pain, I would do it.

It took several weeks to get my schedule and the facility’s schedule worked out. But, we made it work and soon I was off to downtown San Francisco for my 64-Slice.

It was a very simple, interesting, and basically a non-invasive procedure. It was like an enhanced x-ray with contrast. That was a very important piece of the puzzle to gather in order to make the proper diagnosis for me.

Having gathered the info from the 64-Slice, there was just one more test or piece of evidence required to nail down the reason for the murmur. Dr. Nelson suggested that I have a TEE (Transesophageal echocardiogram). I agreed to have that procedure at the hospital with Dr. Sandhu (you may hear more about this doctor later in this series, he was a trip)! I found out that the aortic valve lies right next to your esophagus, and this procedure allows a very up close and personal look at the aortic valve.

In a few days following the TEE Dr. Nelson concluded that I have a bicuspid aortic valve (two folds or flaps), normally the aortic valve is tricuspid or three fold or flaps. My bicuspid aortic valve is genetic. As Lady Gaga sang, “I was Born That Way”! It is genetic, in that, I received this from either my mom’s genes or my dad’s genes!

The results of the TEE gave Dr. Nelson the vital piece of knowledge to fully understand and diagnose what was to come down the road!

Now realize that this all happened in the time frame of late 2006 and the Spring of 2007.

What lies ahead for me will be eye opening and life changing!

This post will the first part of a several part series that I am in the process of writing to bring you up to date as to what is currently happening to me……… open heart surgery in the next six weeks.

TIL NEXT TIME, ROGER, WILCO, OVER AND OUT!

Zeeva Marlene Hammack

Mother's Day 022

It has been almost ten months since you answered that call from God that one day we all must answer. One would think that in that amount of time the pain of losing you would have healed somewhat. But that is not necessarily true. There is still a whole in my heart where your memory now lives. You have left a lasting impression on those that you touched, Sis.

You made your mark on our family and you made your mark with your friends and coworkers, as well! Little did you know that both the Fresno Fire Department and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department would send representatives from their respective agencies to honor you at your celebration of life!

Today would have been your 75th birthday, September 15, 1944, and all the good memories of you, my big sister, have flooded my brain and flooded my heart this weekend. All those memories have made me laugh uncontrollably and have made me cry sorrowfully today! Your loss has been very profound.

I miss you every single day.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIS!

Below is the video that I made for my sister’s celebration of life. It is a good reflection of her 74 years on this Earth.

A Day Trip To Carmel-By-The-Sea

Carmel-By-The-Sea
Every time that I make a trip to Fresno lately to visit with my two sons and my two grandkids, while staying with my eldest son Jason, we (Jason and I) strike off on one of his famous or infamous day trips!  This visit to Fresno was no exception to what has now become the rule.

Last Saturday we rose up early and got things together, packed up what we thought was necessary for our 2 1/2 hour drive over to Carmel-By-The-Sea for an afternoon of sightseeing.  This particular trip, Jason explained to me, would be specifically pointed towards visiting many of the art galleries that are there.

Now it is at this point that I must do some “splainin”!

First and foremost, for those that know me well know that there is not one single artistic bone located anywhere in, on, nor around the physical composition that makes up my being!  I may appreciate some art, but I am not anywhere close to being an art critique nor, an art connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination!

I may have the art or gift of gab, or as one of my dearly departed college friends, Jerry Noblett, so aptly put it back during one of our shared college classes, and I will paraphrase it for you. When he saw the A that I received for one of our essay tests in Business Law and his B, his response was something that I have never forgotten.

Jerry’s explanation was something like “Leon you are so full of BS that you just BS’ed your way into that A!  I can’t believe that we said the same thing in our essay answers, but you really greased him up with your BS!” Eureka, I think that we have a winner!

I have digressed, but I think that you get my point about my art knowledge!

Anyway, we arrived at Carmel around 10:30 am on Saturday.  By the time we found a place to park his car it was about 11 am.

As we began our stroll around Carmel-By-The-Sea our first stop was to try to find a place to eat, since breakfast was wearing very thin with both of us.  After all, it was going take a lot of calorie intact to fuel our walk around Carmel!  After a few Google searches and reading of a few menus, Jason mentioned that he knew a good little Italian restaurant, Pepe’s Little Napoli Bistro Italiano on the corner of Delores and 7th.  So we headed over to scope it out and decided this was the place for lunch.

Lunch was outstanding and very affordable for Carmel!  We each ordered up differing pizzas with an appetizer of their “World Famous” garlic bread. It all was very tasty, and I would suggest this place if you are ever in town.

When lunch  was finished we sat out on our mission of visiting as many art galleries as we could Saturday.  There was a lot of people out and about walking up and down the sidewalks of Carmel.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect afternoon, clear, sunny, and temps in the mid 60’s, HELLO!

So my tour guide, read Jason The Latent Tie Dye Hippie and All Around Edgy Dude, takes out his handy dandy cell and directs us to our first art gallery.  As we walked in and began to look around at the collection hanging on the walls of the gallery the owner/manager/curator greeted us and welcomed us into the establishment.  Within the first few sentences the question was asked, “are you an artist?”  Now this person surely must have been kidding when she asked that question!

When looking at this duo one could see an elderly gentleman, a child of the 60’s, yours truly, dressed in a pair of cargo pants, long sleeved Daytona Speedway T-Shirt and a jacket from Gold Beach, Oregon.  I must say that I was looking very nondescript, but very cool I might add, that day. I kind of blended into the nondescript, but cool, crowd!  However, standing next to me was a much younger, bearded 40-something man, who had just swapped out his Birkenstocks for a pair of hiking boots before we left his car, wearing a pair of cargo pants and a self designed and styled Tie Dye hoodie sweatshirt.

Isn’t it quite obvious who may be the artistic person and who isn’t?

So when that question was asked I would just stick my finger out and point to the bearded 40-something person with the Tie Dye hoodie accompanying me and let them know that it wasn’t me that was an artist! But to a tee, everyone of the people that we talked to in these art galleries was very friendly, courteous, and very engaging.  Many of the galleries were very interesting and entertaining for this old non-artist dude.  But there were about four or five galleries out of the thirteen that we visited Saturday that really captured my attention.

The Dr. Sues art gallery was really cool!  Charles Schultz granted a license to a gentleman that had worked with him over the years to continue with Schultz’ work.  The only stipulation was that this gentleman could not duplicate his work.  He could use all of the characters but had to use the characters differently than Shultz had done.  That gallery was cool and really brought me back to some of my youth with Linus, Lucy, Charley Brown and many, many more Shultz characters! Again, the gallery owner gave us a little history lesson on this gallery, the works that were being shown and he was very friendly, as well.

We entered another gallery that was full of paintings that were focused on the pop culture of the last 50 years.  There were many great paintings that took me back in time in this gallery.  However, there was one painting that struck me in a most unusual way.  It was kind of freaky!

As I turned the corner and entered another room in the gallery I was struck by this piece that was full of images of The Beatles.  Some likenesses from the Magical Mystery Tour album, some from the Abbey Road album and some from Sgt. Peppers.  As I gazed upon this painting, all of the sudden inside my head there was the music of George Harrison playing.  The song playing was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”!  It was just freaky crazy, my friend!

Down the street and around the corner there were two galleries that were full of bronze sculptures.  The first gallery, The Bennet Gallery, was all the works of the twin Bennet brothers and some of their children’s work.  It was very fascinating to look at all the various pieces on display.  Again, talking to the curator/manager/owner of this gallery, and answering the repeated question as to which one of us was an artist, led to a very pleasant surprise! After talking to this lady for quite sometime, she revealed that one of the twin brothers was her late husband and that her daughter was also one of the producers of these bronze images!

Later in the afternoon we entered another gallery featuring more bronze sculptures.  The lady in charge took us around and explained many of the show pieces on display.  She fired up a video showing the artist at work with his models, etc.  She seemed very knowledgable.  And  after answering “the question of the day” once again, she and Jason connected, as he did with every single person that we talked with on Saturday.  So as the conversation led itself to the question, Jason asked her how she knew so much about the artist and his works.  She confessed that the reason that she knew so much about the artist was that it was her father!

BAM!

We actually visited 13 of the 70-plus art galleries in Carmel on Saturday.

As the sun was getting low on the horizon, our feet and legs were getting tired, this 66 year old body was starting to feel fatigued, as we were walking back to the car I peered though the glass at one last shop.  It sparked my interest and in turn I got Jason’s attention.  I said to him let’s go into just one more.  He looked at me sort of incredulously, like he couldn’t believe that I was really interested in going into another art gallery!  I repeated what I said and he concurred.

Once inside he figured out my interest.  I was busted!  It was a gallery of race cars and airplanes!  I was in my element, race cars and airplanes.  I really thought that I had died and gone to Heaven!

The quality of the paintings were unbelievable.  The attention to detail was second to none.  It was so meticulous that it appeared photographic like in detail!  I learned that this artist was an engineer by trade.  He had worked in the auto industry designing automotive stuff.  His education, training, and background definitely came through in his attention to automotive detail, as well as aviation detail!

There was a painting of Michael Schumaker in his Ferrari, Mario Andretti in Formula 5000 car, Jim Clark in the Lotus that he brought to the Indy 500 in 1963, Ayrton Senna in his McLaren, a two ship of F-14 Tomcats orbiting over the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor with the point of view from a third aircraft in the formation, as well as many more fantastic paintings too many to mention!

Once again the gallery person was eager to engage both of us in conversation.  She was eager to explain the art work, give us background about the artist and answer our questions.  Once I got my fill of this gallery it was time to find Jay’s car and head over to the beach for a few minutes before we pack up and return to the valley.

The navigator, aka My Latent Tie Dye Hippie and All Around Edgy Dude, got us over to the beach just south of Pebble Beach Gold Club to check out the Pacific Ocean, the dropping sun, and the sandy beach.  It was a beautiful ending to a really fun day in this magical Central California Coast town!

Now for the 2 1/2 hour drive back to Fresno.  Jason and I talked about many things and that made the time go by very fast.

However, once we got back to his apartment and I began to unwind, I knew it was time for this old man to hit the rack.  As I slipped into bed and was laying there waiting to fall asleep, there were many thoughts that ran through my brain.

I thought about some of the things that I did with my dad in his later years.  I thought about bringing my parents to NYC for their first time and giving them “the grand tour of NYC”, which included taking them to Broadway for a show.  I thought about the only time that my dad ever went flying with me.  There were many more thoughts and memories of my dad that flashed through my brain before I fell asleep.

Those memories are priceless and aren’t for sale!

I wonder someday, when Jason reaches my age, if he will look back on our “day trip to Carmel”, or our other day trips, or maybe his trip out to Honolulu with me flying the B-767 with the same fond memories?  I surely hope so.

TIL NEXT TIME MY FRIEND, ROGER, WILCO, OVER AND OUT!

Let Us Live My Friends, Because:

Daytona from my seat
I take no responsibility for the passage below.  I came across this recently and it impressed me and moved me enough that I thought that I would pass it along to my family and friends.

Now that I have passed the golden age of 65 years old my mortality is more pressing and evident than it was it has been in years gone by.  I have been so consumed with life that I may not have done a great such a fantastic performance of being the best person that I could be in life, that I may not have been the best parent, grandparent, brother, or spouse that I could have been, and that I may have robbed my family and friends of some valuable daylight.

I hope that this passage will speak to you the way that I spoke to me!

On The Day I Die

On the die I day a lot will happen.

A lot will change.

The world will be busy.

On the day I die, all the important appointments I made will be left unattended.

The many plans I had yet to finish will remain forever undone.

The calendar that ruled so many of my days will now be irrelevant to me.

All the material things I so chased and guarded and treasured will be left in the hands of others to care for or to discard.

The words of my critics which so burdened me will cease to sting or capture anymore. They will be unable to touch me.

The arguments I believed I’d won here will not serve me or bring me any satisfaction or solace.   

All my noisy incoming notifications and texts and calls will go unanswered. Their great urgency will be quieted.

My many nagging regrets will all be resigned to the past, where they should have always been anyway.

Every superficial worry about my body that I ever labored over; about my waistline or hairline or frown lines, will fade away.

My carefully crafted image, the one I worked so hard to shape for others here, will be left to them to finish anyway.

The sterling reputation I once struggled so greatly to maintain will be of little concern for me anymore.

All the small and large anxieties that stole sleep from me each night will be rendered powerless.

The deep and towering mysteries about life and death that so consumed my mind will finally be clarified in a way that they could never be before while I lived.

These things will certainly all be true on the day that I die.

Yet for as much as will happen on that day, one more thing that will happen.

On the day I die, the few people who really know and truly love me will grieve deeply.

They will feel a void.

They will feel cheated.

They will not feel ready.

They will feel as though a part of them has died as well.

And on that day, more than anything in the world they will want more time with me.

I know this from those I love and grieve over.

And so knowing this, while I am still alive I’ll try to remember that my time with them is finite and fleeting and so very precious—and I’ll do my best not to waste a second of it.

I’ll try not to squander a priceless moment worrying about all the other things that will happen on the day I die, because many of those things are either not my concern or beyond my sphere of influence.

Friends, those other things have an insidious way of keeping you from living even as you live; vying for your attention, competing for your affections.

They rob you of the joy of this unrepeatable, uncontainable, ever-evaporating Now with those who love you and want only to share it with you.

Don’t miss the chance to dance with them while you can.

It’s easy to waste so much daylight in the days before you die.

Don’t let your life be stolen every day by all that you’ve been led to believe matters, because on the day you die, the fact is that much of it simply won’t.

Yes, you and I will die one day.

But before that day comes: let us live.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

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(Mom’s 93rd birthday, June 13, 2011)

As my alarm went off this morning, and I got dressed for my morning walk, I couldn’t understand why I felt so exhausted.  I also could not explain this tune that kept running through my head.

As I began my walk, the previous night’s restlessness began to unfold in my brain.

Even though I plug into my iPod during my walk, and I try to select some appropriate walking music, that tune was running around in my head from my night’s sleep, and it kept coming to the forefront of my thoughts.

You may recognize the song from the first line of the lyrics, and it goes like this.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high.

There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby”

As I continued on my walk that tune just was relentless inside my head. After a measurement of time that I could not quantify, I finally acquiesced to the music, found that song on my iPod, and selected it.  I have two different artists’ versions, but I knew which one of the artists I wanted to listen.

Years ago I bought the DVD/CD entitled “One More Car, One More Driver”, by Eric Clapton.  Clapton does an acoustical version of this song that is really so cool!  So I scrolled through the play lists, found this version, and selected it for my listening pleasure.

As the music played it became very clear to me that this song was placed into my head because I must have been dreaming about my Mom during the night.  After all, today is June 13th, and it would have been her 95th birthday.  Additionally, it is the first time I have had to celebrate her birthday without her!

Each time the song finished playing, I would push replay again, and again, and again.  I must have listened to this song a half dozen times this morning!  I was not sure how or why I was directed to play this particular song, but I was!

When I finished my walk I returned to my RV to get cleaned up for the day. My first order of business was to make a trip to the cemetery to visit my Mother’s grave.  After arriving at my Mom’s grave, that song reappeared inside of my head.  I could not get it out of my head!

Both of parent’s graves were slightly covered in pine needles.  Not having a wisk broom in my possession, and having that song running rampant in my head, I was trying desperately to wipe off the debris from the headstones, when I heard a familiar voice.  It was my nephew, who too, was there to visit my Mom, his grandmother’s grave on her birthday.

It was at this time, with this song blaring inside my brain, and all the emotions that I was feeling deep inside, the grief, and the sadness that still lingers within, that I figured out that this song was a message from my Mom!

After concluding all my errands of the day, groceries, and a doctor’s appointment, I returned to my RV.  Once again I found this song and played it once again.  And again it reaffirmed, in my mind, that it was, indeed, a message from my Mom!

So, I have embedded the Eric Clapton video version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.  Maybe you will go along with me in my analysis of my Wednesday night and Thursday morning!

Happy 95th Birthday Mom, I miss you very much!

Til we meet again, somewhere over the rainbow!