Learning How To Build A Better Boat

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Me and Cole circa 2005

A few days ago I finished writing about my aortic valve replacement surgery. For those who have read all the episodes and followed me through the approximately three months that led up to my December 17th open heart surgery, you may have figured out that it was the single biggest life changing event that I have ever had to deal with, both physically and emotionally! Even that is a gross understatement, to say the least!

For those of you that may not have read the seven part story that I have posted up on this website, you may want to spend a few minutes to check it out!

This morning I took time to re-read my work on the multi episodes involving my aortic valve replacement surgery. By doing so those posts triggered some new and different emotions within yours truly!

After further review, and much more contemplation, I have come to realize that my perspectives on many things have changed dramatically since December 17, 2019.

Over the last five years leading up to my open heart surgery, I was spending more and more time alone, for reasons that I will not delve into for this post. I wasn’t lonely, but I really didn’t mind being alone. More time than I would like to, but I was ok with staying home.

I have my brother and sister-in-law living just a couple of blocks away, but generally I spent most of my time by myself. For the four months of June-October I would spend the that traveling from Yuma up to Fresno, Sonoma, Coos Bay Oregon, back to Santa Rosa, over to Chico, to Las Vegas, and then back to Yuma caravanning with them in our motorhomes. I did that from 2011-2019 and had a fantastic time with family and friends.

The summer of 2019 kind of was a watermark summer. That is when I knew that I would be having my aortic valve replaced come the Fall. That summer was a time for me to begin my internal investigation of not what I was, but who I am!

Those two concepts, what I am and who I am, are totally different concepts and require a much different personal investigation. For most of my first 60 years I was really more focused on what I was. I spent most of my time focused my airline career and pursuing the almighty dollar bills. That is until May 16, 2010. On that evening an event occurred that would define my life up to at least this writing. After level off at 36,000 feet on my JFK-LAX leg back to my domicile my world lit up……..literally. My windshield caught on fire! The fire was within 36 inches of my face. Stick you arm out in front of you and at the tip of your index fire was a raging inferno! If you will follow the above link you will read my detailed accounting of that evening’s nightmare!

From that flight on May 16, 2010, until my surgery on December 17, 2019, there was a moving target in the medical crosshairs and that moving target was my heart!

As I have chronicled in my seven part series leading up to my aortic valve replacement surgery, it was, to use an ol Paul McCartney song title, “a long and winding road”!

Over the last four months recovering from open heart surgery, which has gone extremely well so far, I have had time to think about many things. There has been some subtle as well as some not so subtle things change with my persona.

I have always been a somewhat emotional guy, in that I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. I could get my feelings hurt easily, but I would not necessarily let you know that. I was somewhat stubborn when it came to some things, but I wouldn’t necessarily dig my heals in and let everyone know that I was raising “The Bullshit Flag”!

Since my surgery, however, some of those things have changed. I now realize that my time on this Earth is well past the halfway point, or even well past the two-thirds point, and I need to look out for myself. It is not so much as being self-centered as it is realizing that, at 69 years old, there is more of my life in the rear view mirror than there is left out the front window! That, my friends, is a tough pill for me to swallow! I say that because I have always thought of my self as a young man, after all I am the youngest of five children.

As previously mentioned, in the last four months things have changed and I have found that I have little to zero tolerance for falsehoods, prevarications, obfuscations, bloviations, fallacies, hyperbole, deceit, lies, or just plain bullshit!!!

Sorry Mom, but I gotta call it the way that I see it!

Whereas I used to just hold it all in and fume about it at a latter time, I now walk smartly over to the flag pole and zip up the ol Bullshit Flag as fast as I can hoist it up! To put it another way, I really cannot stand for someone to insult my intelligence!

One of my new slogans that sums up the way that I feel these days is: “Don’t Piss On My Leg And Tell Me It Is Raining”!

The other side of that discussion is that I have found that I have noticed that it doesn’t take much to get the damn to break and my emotions will find a way to escape through my tear ducts. It is quite embarrassing, but I can’t control that aspect of my life right now!

Now at my advanced age, 69 yrs old, I have to learn how to deal with this new hand that I was dealt in this game of life!

The one thing that I have always done, but I am putting even more emphasis on it now, is to tell my loved ones how much that do love them. Whether it is my kids, my grandkids, my brothers, my extended family, or just my longtime friends. I always tell them that I love them when we part. I want them to know that I really appreciate them being a part of my life, whether it has been for six days or 69 years!

What I don’t know is how much time is granted to me since my open heart surgery, but I do know that I want to enjoy every minute of whatever time is left!

Referring back a few paragraphs when I mentioned that there are two concepts that people have to struggle with as they grow up and old, what you are and who you are.

After 69 years I now know WHAT I am! I am a retired airline pilot, a dad, a grandfather, and a brother.

But now I am in the process of discovering WHO I am! In this journey that has already embarked, as of December 17, 2019, I am trying to take it all in and to decipher what I see. As this journey meanders through life’s highways and byways, I will need the help of each and everyone of you who are in my life presently to interact with me, to share the ups and downs of my life, to keep me grounded, and most of all, to actively join in my journey and meet me at the destination!

My view on life used to be that it was the destination that counted, not the journey. But I have found that idea to be woefully inadequate of a description! Life is, in fact, about both the journey and the destination, my friends!

Will you join me in my journey to my destination? It should be one heck of a party as we proceed!

TIL NEXT TIME, KEEP THE SHINY SIDE UP!

Wiggle Your Toes!

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Mile High Nationals about 1999

When the last episode ended my anesthetist had opened up the flood gate for “the happy juice” to flow through my IV. Additionally, I was about to grease another landing on in “Happy Valley”, the body tingling began, and then the lights went out!

ADIOS DUDE!

Those six hours that I was out and on the heart/lung machine seemed to only be seconds before I was coming out from under the influence of “the happy juice”!

As I was slowly coming out of the deep comatose of anesthesia I was having intermittent breathing issues. I could feel the breathing tube down my throat and ending at the bottom of my right lung. It felt like I had a glob of phlegm, a goober, some may call it a loogie, that would temporarily block the bottom of the breathing tube so that I couldn’t breathe! I was beginning to panic. In a few minutes, or so it felt like, the breathing tube was being slowly removed!

HALLELUJAH!!!!

Somewhere in this same time frame, while I was ever so slowly resurfacing, I heard my nurse tell me to wiggle my toes. I responded by trying to wiggle my toes. I thought that I could visualize a figure that resembled Jason near the foot of my bed. In fact, it was both Jason and Jim in the room! God, that was such a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that they were in the room with me.

As I found out later that night or maybe the next morning, Jason told me that he wormed his way into the ICU long before access was granted to the family. Apparently Jason was watching nurses, and other authorized individuals, come and go through that door and timed it perfectly when someone came out. He grabbed the door and held it open so that he and Jim could slip into my ICU cubicle. The ICU nurse was not happy with Jason, but allowed both of them to stay in my area for a few minutes to satisfy their concern!

As the effect of the general anesthesia was wearing off, I was thinking to myself, I made it! I don’t know how long that surgery took, but I made it! I am really alive! The emotions gushed all over me! I made it, I made it, I made it! They had fixed my heart and gotten me jump-started!

I AM ALIVE!

I guess that I am just lucky that way!

Soon I was able to keep my eyes open intermittently and my family was being allowed to come in to be with me while I was coming back to life.

I am not sure how long it took before all of my family was able to come in to visit me, but it sure felt good to be able to see them. I am sure that I probably wasn’t making great sense when conversing with them, but at least I was talking to them.

The worst was over and in the rearview mirror!

TIL NEXT TIME, KEEP THE SHINY SIDE UP!

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.

Time To Put On The Big Boy Panties!

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(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!