Sunday, September 28, 2008

unanticipating the unexpected

we're waiting.

we have many plans queued up over the next few months, plans we'd like to set in motion sooner rather than later. that's what people do, isn't it? make plans, then go about making them happen.

things don't always go as might make the case that the unexpected happens far more frequently. still, we have a responsibility to anticipate and act, or react, as best we can. to do otherwise is an abdication -- and it sets a bad example for the children and other primates.

but sometimes variables out of our control make us hesitate, if only to see what might happen next. did that saber-tooth see me? i think i'll stand really still. does that bus driver see me? i think i'll go back to the curb. is the economy about to tank? i think i'll hold off buying those groceries.

sometimes, you might reasonably conclude, doing nothing is a good plan.

so, we've been waiting.

and then something happens to make us question that premise.

an acquaintance of mine is a flight paramedic with the maryland state police. last night one of their medevac helecopters crashed, killing four people. i scanned through the article, dreading that i might see his name among the victims.

he wasn't on board.

i'm not sure how to react. on one hand, i'm hugely relieved -- but that seems inappropriate when four others are gone. and when it might just as easily have been my friend.

so i sit here, hovering over the keyboard, trying to sort out these contradictions, trying to tie the threads together in a more profound manner than "carpe diem before it's too late, y'all."

but the longer i sit here, the more it seems that no resolution is forthcoming. there's no epiphany, no moment of clarity. just a jumble of divergent paths and mutually exclusive options.

i'm waiting for it to make sense.

i might wait a long time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

price versus value

washington mutual has failed.

it's been seized by federal regulators.

it's the largest bank failure in u.s. history.

it's based here in seattle.

i bet a bunch of boats go up for sale soon, whatta ya think?

as noted previously, i've been plotting to acquire a boat. it's cheaper than a vacation home, it has great family memories potential, and it always has a water view.

win. win.

in the last few days, however, it's not seemed like such a great idea. the economy is collapsing around us, we're told, and who knows if we'll be able to pay our many bills this winter -- let alone pay for a vulgar extravagance.

an acquaintance of mine insists, however, that the current economic climate presents an excellent opportunity. while others are panicking, we will be resolute. while others flail, we will embody zen. while others are selling, we will buy.

sounds good in the abstract, don't it?

trouble is, the spaceneedls aren't among the haves and the have-mores. we are working-class fools. we are, of necessity, a two-income family. if things go sideways, we go south. figuratively, and maybe literally. grandpa don lives in phoenix, after all. maybe he'd take us in.

i'm overreacting, surely. as of today, the missus and i remain employed, in a field that should be less volatile than some. we try to spend less than we bring in. usually.

we try to value things that don't have a price tag attached to them.

there's not much need for boats in phoenix.

(besides, with credit tightening and banks going under...who'd float us a loan?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

you say good-bye, i say hello...

bye-bye, life
bye-bye, happiness
hello, loneliness
i think i'm gonna die
i think i'm gonna die

bye-bye, love
bye-bye, sweet caress
hello, emptiness
i feel like i could die
bye-bye my life, goodbye
bye-bye my life, goodbye

"it's showtime, folks."
-- joe gideon, all that jazz

it occurred to me, as i lay there with a tube up my nose and IV ports in both arms and a pulse oximeter on my finger, that maybe i had miscalculated.

maybe, i thought, i'm not in such good shape after all.

and for a few moments, i was scared.

i didn't want mrs. spaceneedl to see it, however, so i did my best joe gideon impersonation.

"i wanted to stay at work, dear, but my heart just wasn't in it."


i spent some time in the emergency department this week. it seemed prudent, as i thought i might've been having a heart attack.

it wasn't an acute pain, more of a constant pressure in the middle of my chest. it felt like i was forgetting to breathe, but i'd take a deep breath, and the feeling stayed the same.

it wasn't anything i've ever felt before. which was a little worrisome. not worrisome enough to say or do anything, however. through the day, into the evening, into bed. the occasional shift in position, and a deep, sighing breath.

"what's the matter, dear, you seem restless," mrs. spaceneedl finally said.

"mmm, i don't know. i've had this pressure in my chest all day, and it won't go away."


she works for a company that makes defibrillators and other cardiac-care products. i'm sure she'd be deeply embarrassed if her husband succumbed to some sort of coronary event.

"i'm sure it's nothing," i said. "let's go to sleep."

i'm sure she found that comforting.

i might as well have said, "sleep well, sweets. i may be dead in the morning -- is the insurance paid up?"

i slept like a stone. not long before the alarm went off, she reached over and put her hand on my chest.

"i'm still alive, dear."

we laughed. and i felt fine. the symptoms had gone away overnight. so i got up, went through my routine, and went to work. no muss, no fuss. until about 8:15, when the pressure came back.

huh. this isn't right. maybe i'll call the missus and get a second opinion.

she asked an electrophysiologist colleague what he thought -- he thought i should go to the emergency room, immediately. and while i'm loath to go to the hospital for any reason, i found his sense of urgency persuasive. so i drove myself to the hospital.

this isn't fair, i thought en route. i take care of myself. i eat right most of the time, i exercise semi-frequently. i have no family history of heart disease, and i have next to no lifestyle-related risk factors.

shoot, maybe i'm dying of boredom.

shortly thereafter i was in a hospital bed, wired up like a christmas tree. they injected me with this and that, took blood, took a series of x-rays, ran me through a CT scanner. nurses and doctors came and went, and reported on my status. somewhere in between, the symptoms subsided.

a few hours later, the tests showed no sign of a heart attack. but to confirm, they scheduled further tests with a cardiologist.

the next morning i got up early and hung out with the staff of dr. somebody-or-other. first came an injection of contrast dye, followed by a resting echocardiogram. next was a treadmill session, designed to ramp up the heart rate and potentially recreate any symptoms. i ran through the end of the test, at an 18% incline, so they just called it off and injected more contrast for another echocardiogram.

the results weren't immediately available, but the nurse said if i did that well on the treadmill, chances of suffering a heart attack were low.

yesterday, the cardiologist called. my heart showed no sign of injury, she said. no ischemia, no arrhythmia. an ejection fraction of 57%, which is "very good."

so i had a bundle of symptoms, but no diagnosis. which is disconcerting. i also have the best confirmation of cardiac health that insurance can buy. which is reassuring.

i think i'm fine, therefore i am.*

and because i think i'm fine, later today i'm going to take my clean bill of health out for a spin. which is to say, i'm going to go for a run down to elliott bay marina. i'm going to soak up the warm, sunny day, and look at the boats.

because i should, while i still can.

* * * * *

* if this turns out to be my last post...well, you'll know i was wrong.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

100 things to ponder before you die

illus | gibran

`100 Things' co-author dies in LA

"This life is a short journey. How can you make sure you fill it with the most fun and that you visit all the coolest places on earth before you pack those bags for the very last time?"
-- author dave freeman

irony is a bitch sometimes.

the guy who had 100 things on his must-do list only did half of them. he had big travel plans in place, but didn't plan on departing this earthly plane so soon.

mr. freeman's early exit probably has family and friends wondering how something so senseless could happen to someone so young, with so much joie de vivre.

me, i wonder if there isn't more to life than filling it with the "most fun" and the "coolest places." those can be wondrous parts of a larger whole, don't get me wrong. it's impossible not to ponder your mortality while diving during a thunderstorm off grand cayman island. it's humbling to stand in the presence of greatness at the wright brothers memorial.

but you know there are billions of people who manage to lead meaningful lives without ever leaving their own little corner of the world.

take a hard look at our raison d'etre, and you might epiphanize that an all-out, ends-of-the-Earth (or end-of-the-block) search is warranted.

but...a search for what?

that's the beauty part. no right or wrong answers. it's your search. when you find it, you know.

some find this ambiguity frustrating. "i don't know what i'm looking for, let alone where to look for it."

"what if i don't recognize whatever it is when i see it?"

"even if i do recognize it, what do i do then?"

no one can presume to know the answers -- or even the list of questions. it's a meandering, lifelong google search, with billions of pages of results to sift through.

[note: a google search of "meaning of life" returned 25,300,000 results. ready? go!]

come to think of it, i have a few queries of my own.

in no particular order...

what really happened to the dinosaurs? and why hasn't the same thing happened to john mccain?

since time is constant, why does it accelerate as we get older? conversely, what's taking jan. 20, 2009 so long to get here?

i used to laugh a lot more than i do now. why?

if we all agree teachers, firefighters and police are so important, why do we pay them so little? similarly, why are professional athletes paid so much?

why do you kids have to act so childish all the time? why do you adults have to act so childish all the time?

from an evolutionary perspective, why are the foods that taste the best generally the worst for us?

would you prefer to be smarter, or better looking? which would most benefit your income?

why is that cat sleeping on my side of the bed?

this is not 100 things to ponder. this list may not even rise to your standard of "ponder-worthy." they may simply be ponderous.

that's part of the deal. you have your list. i have mine. the one thing absolutely have in commone is that we're gonna die.

it's the search that matters. time to get busy.