Saturday, October 31, 2020

It’s still seven years married

Seven years ago today Nigel and I were legally married. It was the happiest day we had together, which makes today quite sad. There was a time we both thought marriage would be impossible, until it was it possible. And we were so happy—before the marriage and after, but to be able to be married was very special to us both. It’s a happy memory.

But, it IS just a memory now. I can’t change that, no matter how much I want to, no matter how hard I wish for it, demand it, or dream about it. What’s done is done, and I can’t change that.

There’s one more thing that hasn’t changed, and I’ve been very clear about it from the beginning of this grief journey: As far as I’m concerned, Nigel and I are still married, even though, obviously, we aren’t anymore in a legal or corporeal sense. When I get some form that demands my marital status, like a NZ government form, for example, I have to put “Widow/Widower”. That’s what I am now, and I know that. However, aside from that, when it comes up I’ll sometimes refer to Nigel as “my late husband”, which is a common enough thing to do, but to me it’s not just making clear that he’s died—I’m also declaring that he was my husband, and, more subtly, I’m really saying that, to me, he still is my husband.

Actually, I often still say us, our, and we, in the present tense, which is mostly out of a decades-long habit. Sometimes I remember to use the past tense, or use the pronouns for me alone. That much is evolving, but it’s still part of the fact that, in my mind, I think of us as an us, even though we’re no longer together physically.

Today has been another a mixed emotions day. Memories of marrying my Nigel are still very happy ones, but the fact he’s no longer here makes me indescribably sad. I’m happy we found each other, and sad that it ended. Still we were together, we were married, and, in a sense, we still are.

I’ll close this year with what I said last year, because it’s still true, too:
So, sad and with mixed (and often conflicting) feelings, all I can think of to say is what I would have said to Nigel if he was still alive: Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. I love you.
And, I do. I said that seven years ago today, too.

Mixed feelings day (2019)
Fifth Anniversary (2018)
Fourth Anniversary (2017)
Third Anniversary (2016)
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)

To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more

Unexpected health (journey) change

Yesterday I had an unexpected positive development in my health journey, and it came at a welcome time. There haven’t been all that many times I’ve been able to say that.

Last week, I wrote about my visit to a cardiologist to, among other things, “evaluate where I’m at, and what can be done about it”. I wanted to look at new drugs to deal with the terrible fatigue I feel all the time, and I wanted to do that in part because I realised it might be years before I got the procedure that could fix the problem so I can go off the drugs.

That was last week. This week is quite different.

Yesterday I got a letter from the DHB (District Health Board) informing me that they'd received a request (from the cardiologist) to put me on the waiting list for the procedure, and now I am. The procedure, they say, should be done “within 120 days”. That’s a pretty big change from last week when it was, basically, “who knows?”.

This is an exciting development. However, it’s possible that it may happen the end of next month, at the same time I’m supposed to be going away for a mini-holiday. I’ll deal with that if it happens, but, basically, there’s no way I’m going to skip having the procedure as soon as it’s offered. Of course.

That’s the awesome news, the unexpected positive development, that arrived just yesterday, and it was a very welcome change: Up until then, I’d felt very sorry for myself, indeed. It turns out that the drug change may have been a mistake.

I said last week that the cardiologist gave me a new prescription for a drug to help control my heart rate (Felodipine), which he prescribed in the hope that it wouldn’t make me as tired as the one I’ve been on (Diltiazem). So far, it hasn’t turned out like that.

The drug has left me feeling more tired than I felt under the old drug. Another side effect I felt was pain in the muscles of my arms, legs, and back, any of which might feel very sore, as if from heavy overuse, when I did any sort of physical activity—even washing the dishes at the kitchen sink. This all came together Thursday when I tried to vacuum the house, and only got part way through the open-plan lounge, kitchen, dining area, and my upper arms ached terribly, plus I was utterly exhausted. I had to sit down for around a half hour to recover.

The most uncomfortable thing, though, is that it’s given me palpitations, another side effect, which made me feel like I was having a panic attack. Very unpleasant.

I’d decided to talk to my doctor about changing back to my old drug, but, to be honest, I hesitated because I have a three-month supply, and dumping it would be a terrible waste. On the other hand, I thought to myself, if I’m feeling worse, I should change back, regardless. There’s one further complicating factor: I know the side effects are usually short term, and, in fact, I’ve already moved past one: The first couple days I got headaches (the first day was the worst for that, and I felt truly awful that day—the worst I’ve felt in the entire four years of this journey), but those headaches have gone away. Maybe the other side effects will get better, too? In any case, there’s no rush.

As I said last week, the blood thinner drug I was also due to change “is another matter entirely”. I planned on waiting until I ran out of my current drug, Dabigatran. At the same time, though, I was worried about the new blood thinner, Rivaroxaban, “because it apparently has more incidents of uncontrolled bleeding”. I still haven’t decided whether I’m willing to take the risk, but I still have a lot the current drug left, so there’s no rush to decide.

What this means is that my Health Journey is finally moving forward again. That’s the part that’s most important.

Important note: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Another anniversary

Today is the seventh anniversary of when Nigel and I got married. I’ll have more to say about that later today, but, for now, here’s what I said on my personal Facebook today:
Here we are again. Seven years ago today, Nigel and I were legally married, and this is now the second marriage anniversary since Nigel died. This year it’s no easier than it was last year, because even though we had several other days marking us becoming an *us*, this one was special. Marriage was something neither of us thought would actually be possible, until it was (and thank you, New Zealand!). Marriage was important to us both, not just as a concept, nor just for the legal protection it gave to our family—although all of that mattered—but also because it was a way to build a fortress around us, one in which we could be safe and secure and just get on with life.

We loved each other deeply, and that day seven years ago we committed to each other in front of a government official and gained official government recognition of our love and commitment to each other. It was possibly the most consequential day in our lives together, but it was definitely one of the happiest.

I miss Nigel today as much as I did last year, and, even now, there are days I wonder how I can possibly go on without him. It turns out that fortress we built together was stronger than we knew, and it still protects me. This anniversary reminds me of that, and that’s a very good thing.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Memories of impending memories

Today Facebook served up yet another "Memory" (image above), one that I knew was coming, of course. In fact, I talked about it when another "Memory" popped up back in September. The thing is, what all this refers to is, in fact, a happy memory, but, obviously, tinged with sadness. Then, two days later, there's another one.

What I said today on Facebook sums up what I'm thinking/feeling:
The anniversary tomorrow, and another very important anniversary two days later, makes me sad. I knew this would happen, of course, so I was “prepared” to feel bad over the next few days, but, knowing a bad patch is coming never makes it any easier to get through. I knew that, too.

Most people won’t say that they’re going through a bad patch like I just did. Here’s something you can do to help: If someone pisses you off over the next few days, please take a moment to think about how they may be going through a really bad patch. Even if you’re wrong, kindness to others is always the right thing to do, but if you’re right, it could make a huge difference to someone in pain.
This past Saturday, a week before the anniversary of the day we got married, I shared another "Memory" on my personal Facebook (image below), I didn't share it here, though I'd planned to, mainly because I was a bit preoccupied by my change in prescription, mainly because I didn't feel well that day because of it. But the fact that seven years ago I posted three different times about us getting married is a small indicator of how excited I was at the time. It's also a reason why I'm so sad about the anniversary now.

The next few days won't be good or easy, but: One day at a time. That's been my mantra for more than 13 months now, and for good reason—it works. But I'd so much rather go back to that one day…

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Finding the tools

Adjustment to an unexpectedly solo life isn’t just about figuring out how to do things on my own, it’s also about figuring out how to do things on my own. Confused? Welcome to my world. The important thing is that figuring out how to do something before I can figure out how I want to do something. In other words, it’s about finding the tools to cope with all the challenges of this new life, many of them unanticipated.

I was reminded of that today when I found some tools—literal, actual tools: Two needle-nose pliers that Nigel put into a case he used when fixing family members’ computers and related techie projects. He hadn’t used the case in years, mostly because the repairs had become much less work, and rarer, for himself and for family members. So, he forgot all about those pliers.

This was so very Nigel: He’d forget where he’d put a tool and he’d often buy a new one. This is how he ended up with two soldering irons, both of which I’ve found but don’t know how to use. Yet. I also have another pair of needle-nose pliers (somewhere…), and maybe a fourth somewhere else (because I haven’t yet opened dozens and dozens of boxes).

When I moved into this house, I had our small toolbox with some tools in it. But I haven’t found all our tools yet, or our “main” toolbox. Over time, as I’ve found tools I put them in what is now a small and overflowing tool box. I also did a Nigel: I bought a set of screwdrivers because I needed some for projects I was doing, but the ones we already had are still in a box—somewhere. The new ones came in a rack I can mount on the wall—that alone makes it justifiable, right?

This talk about tools is kind of a metaphor. There are things I can’t do, or do correctly, because I don’t have the tools. In some cases, I may not know how to do the thing, in others I don’t have actual tools to do the thing. When we’re talking about literal tools, the first I can find out easily enough, the second may be harder because I have to either find them or buy them.

When we’re talking more figuratively, it turns out there are a LOT of things that newly widowed folks have to figure out, everything from changing banking, utilities, and insurance, etc., and to more personal things, like the healthcare issues I wrote about on Saturday. Those personal things are the hardest. Before I can do a thing, I have to figure out how to do it—the first set of tools I need to find. Then, I need to do the thing, and that often means other tools—training, advice, that sort of thing.

So, literal and figurative tools aren’t really that different.

Since Nigel died, I’ve learned how much I have to learn, and I now know how much I don’t know. It goes with the territory. But I’m slowly finding my way through all this, finding the tools I need. I just don’t usually unexpectedly find doubles of tools I need.

The photo above is of the two needle-nose pliers I found. The ones on top are the ones Nigel had when I arrived in New Zealand. The ones below are the second ones he bought, probably when he couldn’t find the others. The tip of the beak of the bottom one was snapped off at some point, but I have no idea when or how. Some things will remain a mystery.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Rice and Sunny

Today I cooked rice in a pot, not in the rice cooker, for the first time in literally decades. I wasn’t sure I’d remember how to do it, but I had a strong motivation: Sunny.

Sunny hasn’t been doing well for many weeks now, and it’s pretty much the same as I described it back in July: Sometimes she’s good, other times she’s not. She has inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, and not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome, IBS). She has trouble absorbing nutrients, and so, needs a lot of fibre (to help slow down her bowels) plus protein for nutrition. Her diet’s also supposed to be low-fat, apart from some “good fats”.

The problem is that because she can’t absorb nutrients well she’s been wasting away: She’s all fur and bones. Basically, she's been in a slow downward spiral for the past several months. So, naturally, I turned to Dr. Google (out of a bit of desperation, really).

The advice from veterinarians was, in addition to the dietary advice I already knew, to feed her several small meals a day, rather than one or two big ones, and to give her dog probiotics, which I’ve been doing for awhile now, and it’s seemed to help a bit. Rice, they said, was particularly good for her. So, I made the rice for her midday small meal.

I haven’t made rice in a pot before because of the ease of a rice cooker, but it means I can make less than the rice cooker does which is important: Cooked rice can’t be kept very long. I knew that Sunny loves rice, but one site said to make it with equal parts water and chicken stock, and I knew she’d especially like that because she likes it when I put chicken stock on her food.

It turned out that she loved it and ate the equivalent of maybe a cup and a half or so. That made me very happy. For dinner I’ll also give her some chicken (for dogs), which I know she also likes.

If this new regimen works, she can put on weight and, eventually, get to a healthier state. If it doesn’t work, it’ll just give her a better quality of life as she continues to decline slowly. I owe it to her to try.

I have no illusions about any of this. She’s 12 and IBD isn’t curable. There really aren’t any drugs, apart from steroids when she had an acute attack, so diet is really the only arrow in the quiver. It may not work at all, or not well enough. But if it does work, she’ll get a longer life. I’m watching closely, but right now, despite everything, she’s bright, focused/present, cheerful (except when her IBD is acute), and loving. As long as that continues, so will my fight for her.

Obviously, this has been extremely hard on me, too. It’s been painful watching her decline and feeling powerless to help, and there have been days I was certain she was on her way out, only to have her bounce back. Other times she’s seemed to be getting healthier, only to suddenly have a bad spell again. It’s been a wild roller coaster for her, and for my emotions.

Despite all that, I keep trying: I give her food she likes, and I feed her by hand when she gets freaked out by her brothers hovering nearby. I make sure a door is open in case she needs to run outside quickly, and at night I leap out of bed if she asks to go out (which she rarely does). And now I’m trying different methods for feeding her because what I’d been doing clearly wasn’t enough. It may not work, but I need to try.

Nigel used to call her his special girl, and they had a real bond. Like me, he wouldn’t want her to suffer—but he also wouldn’t give up on her if there was a chance for her. Nigel and I were completely alike in how we reacted to and treated our furbabies, so I know he’d be completely with me on what I’m doing. Knowing that actually helps.

I can’t possibly know how this will play out, whether she’ll improve or continue declining. She’s already lasted far longer than I expected her to, and that’s encouraging. Come what may, she and I are in this together. She’s my special girl, too, after all—special enough to cook rice for after all those decades.

The photo above is of the rice when I was done, after I fluffed it with a fork (it's a large pot full so I get two meals out of it for her and some for me, too; it was quite nice). It turned out better than it has in years, though, sadly, that was more good luck than good planning (I winged it, mostly). I had a rice cooker in Chicago, then when I came to New Zealand Nigel cooked rice in the microwave, so I did, too. Then we got a rice cooker, and that was that. Until today.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

My fear factor

Gotta admit: Today I’m particularly trepidatious, because I’m finally starting one of my new prescriptions. It’s not the drug itself—I was on it before—but, instead, the fact I’m doing this alone. I’ve had to face a lot of things alone over the past year, some more difficult than others, but this one? Yeah, it ain’t pretty.

On Tuesday of last week, I had a private appointment with a cardiologist to evaluate where I’m at, and what can be done about it. Among other things, he wrote a new prescription for a drug to help control my heart rate (Felodipine), one which, hopefully, won’t make me as tired as the one I’ve been on (Diltiazem). That’s the drug I started today. I’ll wait until later to start new the blood-thinner.

As I said in the post last week, Felodipine was the first drug they gave me to control my blood pressure, and I tolerated it very well, so I doubt I’ll have any problems tolerating it now. That’s not what worries me: It’s the “what iffs”.

Over the past five years (the past three especially), I’ve had a lot of prescription changes. That always gave me a certain amount of uneasiness because it’s impossible to know upfront if there will be any side effects and, if so, how bad they’ll be. However, I always had Nigel to be my backup eyes and ears to notice any changes I might not (such as behaviour, flushing, etc.). I always used to start new drugs on a Saturday (sometimes a Friday) because Nigel would be home over the weekend and could help me if I had difficulties, as unlikely as they may have been. He made me feel more secure and safe, and that was worth a helluva lot.

That’s gone now, and this is the first prescription change I’ve had without him. If something goes catastrophically wrong, it’s probable that no one would know for, perhaps, days. To be absolutely clear, it’s highly unlikely that anything could go that wrong. Instead, the actual possible risks are ones I can be aware of and easily deal with—but it would be so much easier on me, less scary, less stressful, and, obviously, much more reassuring, if Nigel was with me.

So, I chose to do the next-best that I could do: I started the new pill today, a Saturday, because the family is off work for the holiday weekend. If I do start feeling unwell, or just get scared for whatever reason, I have people I can call on without interrupting their work (because I know me: Them being at work would keep me from reaching out, which was also true even with Nigel). As I said, I certainly don’t expect anything to go wrong since it didn’t before, however, there’s one thing that’s more possible: The new drug may fail to control my heart rate and I could end up in tachycardia again, the first time in 17 months—and Nigel looked after me that time.

I have devices to monitor my heart rate and heart rhythm. My heart rhythm is controlled by a different drug (Amiodarone) that isn’t changing, but that doesn’t mean that afib couldn’t be triggered if I end up in tachycardia. And that’s what I’m actually worried about.

I put off starting this new drug mostly because of that, but also because I have the better part of two months of the old drug left, and the only thing that can happen to it is to take it back to the pharmacy for destruction—they can’t reuse it in any way. That’s such a waste. As an aside, there’s a common belief that the drugs we return can be sent to developing countries, but that’s not true, mainly because they have no way of knowing if the patient kept the drugs stored correctly, and, if not, the drugs might be useless or worse (and, I realised only recently, it’s also a wee bit colonialist to assume that drugs that are no longer deemed safe for us would be okay for a developing country). Because of that, too, I waited until today. It’s also the reason that I planned on waiting even longer, however, the possibility that I may feel better finally outweighed my resistance to wasting prescription medicine.

The other drug, the blood thinner, is another matter entirely. My current drug (Dabigatran) has unpleasant side effects, but doesn’t otherwise impact my life in any way. I can keep using what I have until I run out, and then switch. This way, too, I’ll know for sure if one drug or the other is causing side effects, because when I change multiple drugs all at once, how I can possibly know which one is causing a problem? That much, at least, was my plan all along (and the cardiologist suggested it for that very reason).

I’m worried about the new blood thinner (Rivaroxaban) because it apparently has more incidents of uncontrolled bleeding. That scares me. Between now and the time I run out of Dabigatran, I have to think about whether I’m willing to take the risk. But that’s not today.

Today I’m anxious because I just switched to a drug that may not control my heart rate and I could end up in tachycardia again, and, possibly, have an afib incident. That would mean hospital again. I could be sarcastic and say that it would mean I’d only need one more hospitalisation to collect the whole set and win the prize of getting on the waiting list for the procedure I need, but, even as irreverent as I am, I can’t see the humour in this situation. I’m actually changing drugs only to give me a better quality of life in case I’m on these drugs for years to come, and that’s a worthy goal. But it doesn’t take the fear and worry away. At all. Nigel could always do that, though.

Today—especially—I miss him so damn much.

Important note: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Thirteen months

Thirteen months ago today, Nigel died. Thirteen months isn’t exactly the sort of thing most people would note, but this comes just after the end of what was a very difficult time for me, some six weeks centred around the anniversary of Nigel’s death. I knew it would be a bad time and I was as prepared for that as I could be. It turned out that it was also a time of growth. Same as the previous thirteen months.

The six weeks beginning in late August through September began, really, with the first of Nigel’s birthdays since he died, then a few weeks later the first anniversary of his death, though that was a few days after the first 52 weeks were up. Around that time, Facebook served up a “Memory” about something I never talked about here, the Facebook post where I talked about how serious his condition was for the first time. That “Memory” also made me remember the day Nigel left our house for the last time.

However, it wasn’t all unrelentingly bad. Facebook also served up a very happy “Memory” about the day Nigel and I went to file the forms and pay the fee for our marriage. I wouldn’t have remembered that without Facebook’s prompting. Then, at the start of this month another “Memory” made me realise that last year I’d completely missed one of the “firsts” that happened after Nigel died, something that led to decidedly positive realisations.

In fact, despite some very, very bad times, despite times it seemed I couldn’t stop crying, and my stomach literally ached from all that crying, and despite how desperately sad and lonely I felt much of that time, there were days I felt, basically, okay. Not many, but it’s the quality of those okay days, not the quantity, that matters on this journey.

I recently took an entirely new step on my journey. Lately, I’ve been wishing I knew a bunch of other gay widowers so I could just vent with people who understand exactly what I’m going through, and so I could give them a safe place to vent, too. The thing about profound grief is that nearly all of us have dark thoughts, and they pass, but it would alarm other, non-grieving, people if we said them out loud. So, my alternative was to say nothing to anyone, ever.

The recent change was that I suddenly realised that there had to be Facebook groups for gay widowers, since there seems to be groups for absolutely everything else. I found two and joined them—and it turned out to be the single best thing I’ve done for myself since this forced journey began.

The thing that makes it so powerful is that it provides what I was looking for: A safe place to say whatever’s on our minds and to share our experience with others, especially those who are at an earlier stage than we are. It also provides a glimpse of what our futures may be—or not (grief is an entirely individual thing). We can say those dark thoughts out loud to people who thoroughly understand what we’re thinking and feeling, but who won’t judge us for having them, let alone saying them out loud. Because what we mainly need is a place to say stuff out loud—to vent—so we can let it go and move on.

I’ve also seen people say the same sorts of things that I’ve said in these posts, offered the same sort of advice I’ve shared, too. That sort of affirmation is reassuring, and incredibly comforting: My reactions and advice about this journey, and even the earned wisdom, are more “universal” than I knew.

These posts also prepared me for the groups: Because of them, I’m used to being open and honest, and willing to share my experience and earned wisdom. I always said that part of the reason I’ve done these posts is that someone may one day run across them and find comfort and realise they’re not crazy and that they’re definitely not alone. We each need to find that in a place and in a way that works for us, including things like some random guy’s blog or Facebook groups.

So, the time since last August has been particularly difficult for me overall, with some brighter spots, and some good things that came from it. None of that changes the fact that this journey is horrible, of course, and that pretty much describes the entirely of the past thirteen months. It will for some time yet, too.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

This one was for Nigel

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I just dropped off my ballot for the US Federal elections. It cost me NZ$50 to send by international courier because I can’t trust the US Postal Service to be able to deliver it, and it was important to me that I fulfilled a personal mission: When Nigel knew his cancer was terminal, he said to me, “I just hope I live long enough to see that bastard voted out of the White House.” He didn’t, of course, so I made it my personal mission to vote this year despite all the obstacles, to do my small bit to get the result we both wanted. As I completed the transaction, I thought to myself, “this one’s for you, Nigel.” That would’ve put a big grin on his face. Mine, too, actually.

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Today I sent my US General Election ballot by International Courier. As I said in the caption to my Instagram post today (above, or follow the link), it was a bit of a personal mission: This one was for Nigel.

I vote in general elections every two years, and it’s a duty I always take very seriously. This year I haven’t been in to it, mainly because of losing Nigel, but he’s also the reason I wanted to be sure to vote.

Nigel didn’t make me promise much before he died, but one thing I promised myself was that I’d vote in honour of him. In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether I voted or not: Illinois is solidly Blue and Joe Biden will win it handily. And, as we all know, the popular vote nationwide doesn’t determine who is elected president. However, in 2016 the current occupant of the White House lost the nationwide popular vote by just under 3 million votes, and what if this year it was 13 million? If the nationwide popular vote for Biden is big enough, it will make an Electoral College victory more likely. It would also be very satisfying to see the Republican candidate hit with a large and humiliating rejection by voters, and it’s in that sense my vote actually does matter.

I marked my ballot using the same pen I used to vote in the New Zealand General Election. Also, just as I wore a red shirt to vote in the NZ election (red is the colour of the New Zealand Labour Party), today I wore a blue shirt (blue, of course, being associated with the USA’s Democratic Party). On both days I wore Nigel’s bracelet to bring him with me. It was the first time I voted in a US election “with” him (in previous years, he was at work).

My vote won’t actually matter in the big picture, but it was important to me, and has been all along because I needed to reject the current regime in the only way open to me. But my main motivation was that I promised myself I’d go out of my way, if necessary, to do it for Nigel (and spending $50 to send my ballot qualifies as going out of my way, in my opinion). That’s another promise to Nigel kept, the only one I made to myself on his behalf.

Obviously I have no idea what will happen next month (or beyond…), but I at least know that I did my part to make Nigel’s desire to see “that bastard voted out of the White House” come true, even though he didn’t live to see it. And that’s why this one was for Nigel.

The important part at left, the whole thing at right.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Maybe this time

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I met with a cardiologist and it’s promising. Yes, that’s happened before. Maybe this time it really will lead to something better.

This morning, I had my private appointment with the cardiologist, and I’m happy with the result. He’s going to try to get me on the waiting list for the cryoablation, and, in the meantime, he’s changing my drugs to ones that, hopefully, won’t make me so !*#$%&@ tired all the time. He’s also changing my blood thinner to one that doesn’t have the gastrointestinal side effects of the one I’m on now. In short, it went exactly as I’d hoped, because regardless of when the procedure is done, I still need to change medication now so that I can have some life in my life until then.

The new drug to help control my heart rate will be Felodipine, which was actually the first drug I was put on for blood pressure control back in 2016. It will replace Diltiazem, a drug which I was put on back in June 2018 to try and prevent tachycardia without using beta blockers. I was exhausted, so they reduced the dosage of my statin. Then, I was hospitalised for afib in September of that year, and they increased the dosage of Dilitiazem. In May of last year, I was hospitalised again for afib, and that meant having my heart rebooted. They decreased the dose of Dilitiazem and added a new one, a potentially dangerous drug called Amiodarone. That’s what I’ve been on ever since.

The cardiologist asked me about my typical resting pulse rate, and how high it gets when I’m active, and I told him it was in the 60s or low 70s at rest, but didn’t go much above 100 even when I was doing something vigorous. He asked if I thought that’s why I was tired, and I was pretty emphatic in saying yes, because it’s been my suspicion for a long time. The Felodipine shouldn’t slow me down as much. Well, that’s the hope, anyway.

The current drug cocktail leaves me feeling extremely tired all the time, so much so that I can’t even do ordinary stuff around the house: There’s just no gas in the tanks. On the other hand, it’s also kept me out of afib for some 17 months, the longest streak without it by far.

So, I may possibly have increased energy levels, but what I’m afraid of is that it may not control my heart rhythm and I may end up in afib. However, if I end up in hospital, I may get the procedure faster, so there’s that, I suppose.

The other change is that removing the anti-clot drug Dabigatran, which they also put me on back in September 2018. The new drug is Rivaroxaban, a drug also used, among other things, to prevent strokes in people with afib. It has fewer side effects, in particular, the gastrointestinal side effects that I’ve dealt with for two years. However, the new drug has a higher risk of bleeding, which is concerning. In a perfect world, I (hopefully…) wouldn’t need to be on it as long as I’ve been on Dabigatran, and the less time I’m on it, the less the risk. Rivaroxaban’s also taken only once per day, unlike the other, which is twice a day.

I’ll fill the prescription for both and start them in a week or so (because otherwise the drugs I currently have would need to be thrown away, and I hate that kind of waste). After all, I’m changing not because they aren’t working, but because they’re keeping me tired all the time.

Today I wore Nigel’s bracelet because he’d have gone with me if he was still alive, and that was my way of bringing him with me, something I especially do at times when, like today, I need him the most. I know he’d be happy, and also proud of me, that I keep pushing this. I know he’d be pushing on my behalf, moving mountains, if need be. That was him.

Huge thanks to my sister-in-law for going with me today. It was great to have someone who understands medical stuff (she’s a nurse), but it was even more important to have someone there as an advocate and support. Here in New Zealand it’s quite common for people to have what’s usually called “whānau support” at meetings like that—basically, a trusted friend or family member goes with you. I’m so lucky that I have such an awesome and supportive whānau.

As before (many times over now…), I hope that today’s cardiologist appointment really will lead to something better this time. Maybe. Hope is strong, but not necessarily rational. I’ll probably know either way soon enough.

This post is a greatly expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook earlier today.

Important note: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A good weekend, despite it all

The past weekend I had another adventure, advanced one small aspect of finishing the house, and had social time, too. It was a good weekend, all things considered, and a welcome diversion.

It’s fair to say that the past six weeks have not been my best (a topic all on its own), so good times have been especially welcome lately, which is what made this past weekend so good. As usual, it started on Friday.

I had some of the family around for dinner on Friday night, and I decided to make beef stew using what my mother called, “THE Family Stew Recipe” when she wrote it out and sent it to me while I was in university. It was the recipe that my mother used to teach my siblings and me to cook, and I’ve made it many times over the years, mostly because I really like it, and also because of the family connection. It was nice to share a bit of my personal heritage from the USA with family here in New Zealand.

However, my mother didn’t write down the dumpling recipe, so I had to find (and adapt) one in a classic American cookbook. I picked the one that sounded the most similar to what my mother made, tweaked it a bit, and the results were perfect.

The next day, my cousin-in-law and I went to the “New Zealand Motorhome, Caravan, & Leisure Show”. She has a motorhome (camper), and because shows always have show specials, it’d be worth checking out because of that alone. The show specials were among the draws for me, along with the fact that the stuff they put in caravans and motorhomes, especially small stoves, fridges, and the like, are often used in small houses and tiny homes, something that fascinates me. It fascinated Nigel, too, but mainly because he was interested in being self-sustaining and, as much as possible, “off-grid” (apart from the Internet, of course).

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to go was because the show is held at an events centre called Mystery Creek, which is just beyond Hamilton. I’d heard about it ever since I came to New Zealand mainly because of an annual event ordinarily known as Field Days, which bills itself as the largest agricultural show in the Southern Hemisphere, and it probably is. The show has stuff for the farming sector, of course, but also those with much smaller land on which they want to grow a bit or maybe farm some animals. Because I saw it on TV every year (except this year, due to Covid-19), I wanted to see Mystery Creek (but not Field Days, really) for myself.

I assumed I might find a thing or two to buy, but wasn’t expecting much, really. We saw a booth for a company that, among other things, sold supplies for the brand of BBQ we both had. I’ve long wanted a pizza stone for the BBQ I have because I love pizza, because a covered BBQ can make a great pizza oven, and have I mentioned that I love pizza? Nigel and I never bought one, though not for any particular reason. However, they are expensive, with the chain retailer distributing the brand charging $79.95. The people at the show were selling it at a markdown from their normal price, and in the end I ended up paying a much more reasonable $44—which was savings enough to pay for both our tickets to the show, plus a coffee, too (though I didn’t buy one).

I was happy with my purchase, and thought that would probably be it. I picked up some tourist brochures for parts of New Zealand I haven’t yet been to, mainly because I’d like to see more of New Zealand, even if overseas tourism becomes possible again (something that’s unlikely to be practical even after it eventually becomes possible).

And then. We were going through the last pavilion, and there was a booth for Vegepod (I have not been compensated in any way to mention them by name; it'd be too confusing not to), which is a line of raised garden beds. Naturally, they had show specials, some 20% off, as I recall, but the the thing that pushed me over the line to buy is that they were offering free delivery, which is important to me because it wouldn’t fit into my car. So, saving a delivery fee and getting a good price was enough for me, and I bought the medium sized one (1 metre by 1 metre) on a trolley (rather than the cheaper stand, so I can move it if I want to, and because it makes it a few centimetres higher).

I’d been looking into raised garden beds (enough, apparently, that I constantly get ads for them on Facebook…), but could never find one that seemed quite right. I wanted it to be high enough to sit on so that I wouldn’t have to bend over (a concession to my ageing back), but that meant it had to be strong, probably made of wood. That, in turn, meant it needed to made of macrocarpa, a wood naturally resistant to rot (because treated timber can leach chemicals into the soil, and so, into any food grown in the planter boxes). Such a timber garden bed would have cost around $600-$700. The raised planter and trolley I bought costs considerably less.

I’d been intrigued by these raised planters since I first heard about them, and even priced them a few months ago at one of the more expensive garden centres, where the price was quite high. I then basically forgot about them—but I never completely. The main thing that intrigued me, apart from how well they handle water, is that it’s basically at waist height—no bending of any kind will be required. My back will thank me. It will be delivered later this week.

My cousin-in-law and I (joined by some other family members) are going to a home show here in Hamilton a few weeks from now, and there I hope to get some show specials on things I want to do to the house. I expect that will lead to several blog posts.

We made one small mistake going to the show: We didn’t buy tickets online ahead of time. The photo up top is of the queue waiting to buy tickets. At one point a staff person walked along the queue telling people they could still buy online and skip the queue. An older (than me…) man told her it was too hard for him, and she replied, “I have faith in you!” which I thought was a brilliant way to head off him asking her to help him, something that’s always a fraught experience.

My cousin-in-law pulled out her phone, bought us tickets, and then just had to show the QR code to the ticket taker at the entrance. Nothing about it was clear or easy, to be honest, but it worked, and that’s the main thing.

The next day I picked up Nigel’s mum and we went to my brother- and sister-in-law’s house to join them for dinner and a bit of rugby on TV (Nigel’s mum and I got there during the halfway point; neither of us cared all that much about seeing the game).

There was nothing particularly unusual about what I got up to this weekend—all of it was the kind of stuff I’ve done before and will do again. This weekend’s adventure advanced one small aspect of finishing the house, and I had social time, too, all of which made it a good weekend. Because of everything else, it was an especially welcome diversion. I’ll take it—and do it again.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Vote like a boss

The New Zealand Electoral Commission has always advertised to promote the NZ elections, from registration through to actual voting. This year is no different, but this year they’re trying to motivate younger voters to turn out to vote.

The ad above, “Vote Like A Boss”, is part of that effort to reach younger voters. It features Kiwi humour, and the attempt to help young people see that they can determine who is elected—they can be the boss. The ad is in reasonably heavy rotation on New Zealand TV at the moment.

The most common ads during election season ar the more general, and once voting opens, the ads encourage voting. Right now, there are two such ads in heavy rotation.

First up: “Vote now in the General Election and referendums”:

I’ve seen this ad on TV the most of the two in the series. The voice track in the ad was also recorded in Te Reo Māori and in Mandarin This ads can be seen on the Electoral Commission’s YouTube Channel.

Next is “Vote now in the referendums on End of Life Choice and cannabis”:

Like the ad above, this ad is also recorded in Te Reo. This ad originally started running at the start of the Advance Voting period.

There may be more, different ads before the NZ General Election on Saturday, October 17, but these are likely to continue running right up until then. While these particular ads are new for this year’s election, they run such ads every year.

We politics nerds look forward to the ads every election season—of course. But the important thing is that such ads are run at all: We need to encourage people to vote so the results have full legitimacy. It’s important—and a lot of work for some TV ads.

Monday, October 05, 2020

More NZ Labour ads

The New Zealand Labour Party has started running a new ad on TV, but at the moment the only version online—and, therefore, shareable—is on Facebook (above). Those can be a problem sometimes, so if it doesn’t work, follow the Facebook link instead.

However, when I went to YouTube to try and find the video of the new ad, I realised there are two more ads I hadn’t shared yet. Both were released about a week after the first one that I shared. They’re still on TV, along with the new one.

The first ad is “Our plan creates jobs, backs business, and grows trade”:

The other ad is “We're rolling out a plan that keeps people safe & builds the economy”:

All the ads repeat similar themes, and each are good at quickly presenting their case. In general terms, I think the newest one is the most effective mainly because it’s more like the ads people are watching for pretty much everything else, and because it’s different from the ads other parties are running, nearly all of which, like Labour's previous ads, have the party leader talking to the camera. I like that Labour has mixed it up a bit. Also, the stop sign changing from "stop" to "go" is a particularly effective visual device. 

The New Zealand General Election will be held on Saturday, October 17, but voting began this past Saturday, October 3. Voter turnout so far is trending ahead of last year (though it’s only been two days; that link goes to stats that will be updated daily). Tonight I heard that Elections NZ is expecting 60% of the vote to be cast before Election Day. I think they may be right.

Disclosures: I’m a supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on more than 40 years closely following election campaigns, as well as my personal values.

Moving on mowing

The back lawn as it looked after
I mowed it this past Saturday.
It’s fair to say that looking after a house is a lot of work. There’s the usual stuff—keeping the place clean and tidy, taking the rubbish out, etc.—and there are also inevitably repairs and maintenance. People with some land around their house also have to look after it. This can take some getting used to.

Nigel and I always had property that needed to be looked after, and sometimes I did a better job of that than other times. We had two houses with lawns, and we had a lawn mowing service take care of both. In our last house, I was lobbying Nigel for us to get a mower, but he balked at the idea, mostly out of a legitimate concern that I might not do it often enough. My main reason for wanting to do that was that I knew the regular exercise would be good for me, but it was also partly because it cost us to have it mowed every time, and I realised that in the long run we’d do better mowing it ourselves. Nigel pointed out how long it would take us to reach the break-even point, especially because we both wanted a battery-powered model rather than a traditional petrol one. It didn’t help that our neighbours had a lot of problems with the one they bought. So, we never got one.

When I moved into my current house, I decided to get a lawn mower (a different battery-powered brand than our neighbours tried), as I wrote about at the time (I included a photo of the mower in a post some time later). Since then, this lawn mowing thing has mostly been as I hoped it would be, and not (often) as Nigel feared it would.

After moving in this house, I’m pretty sure that the only time I’ve closed the Exercise Ring on my watch was when I mowed the lawns—in fact, it’s so unusual that I mention it most times. So, I know it’s good for me. What I didn’t realise at the start was how therapeutic mowing a lawn is, inducing a kind of zen-like productive time that includes physical activity. I last mowed lawns when I was in my late teens or early 20s, so if I found it therapeutic back then, I’d long forgotten it.

I mentioned closing my Exercise Ring on Sept. 25.
However, my track record was not perfect, sometimes taking too long between mows of the lawns, the back lawn in particular (overall, it grows faster and thicker than the front lawn, though it’s patchy, too). This is what Nigel was afraid would happen, though I think he imagined the lawns looking far worse than they did here, though maybe they were exactly like he thought they'd look. In any case, and in my defence, winter is a difficult time to mow lawns in Hamilton with a lot of rain and occasional frosty cold snaps. On the other, other hand, I could and should have planned better for winter mowing. I know now; next winter should be better.

Mowing the lawns is such a basic thing, something other people do without even thinking about it. But, as I said, I haven’t done it in some four decades, so it’s almost new to me. I’ve found that I often don’t feel motivated to do it, but I always feel good once I get started and I have a huge sense of accomplishment when I’m done. That’s reason enough right there.

I still have to spray the lawns with a gypsum spray to help break up the and loosen the clay soil, and since it needs to be watered-in, I’m waiting for a rainy day, for a change. Then in a couple weeks I’ll spray the weed and feed which should help deal with most of the weeds as well as fertilise the actual lawn. I’ll even re-seed the areas that are still too empty.

Basically, I’m trying to get the lawns ready for summer, in case it’s a normal hot and dry one: Getting the lawns thicker and better able to absorb water will make them healthier overall.

To help get there, I’ve been mowing regularly, slowly lowering the height of the mower. I mowed the back lawn on Saturday (the front one didn’t need it), lowering the mower height from last the previous week. The end of this week, I plan on mowing both lawns (depending on the weather), lowering the level once more, then that should be the height I’ll use to mow the lawns roughly every other week (depending on weather and how fast it grows because of the weather).

By this time next year, my initial efforts at “terraforming” my property will all be complete, and my lawns should be looking really good. I hope. At any rate, I get something out of it and I’ll even hit the break-even point in a few months. I’d classify this as a success, and I know that Nigel would too, though maybe not out loud.

Looking after a house and yard is a lot of work, and this can take some getting used to. I’m well on the way to getting the hang of it.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Pōti ahau – I voted (2020)

Today I voted in New Zealand’s General Election, which closes on Saturday, October 17. Each year an increasing number of voters choose to vote early, and for me there was no reason for me not to do it today. It was a bright, sunny, warm Spring day, so what could be a better way to spend it than to vote?

I’d planned on voting sometime this coming week, when there are a lot of voting places open. I changed my mind when my niece posted on Facebook that she’d voted this morning, and I thought, “Why not?” I used to always wait to go with Nigel to vote, but that’s obviously no longer relevant. But I did wear Nigel’s bracelet today so that, in a way, I could bring him with me.

I checked the vote.nz website to find one open today, because not many are open on Sunday. The site lists the times and day as well as date voting places are open. There was one “just up the road”—a couple kilometres away, maybe. I drove over there only to find it was closed.

I can’t begin to describe how disappointed I was—“crushed” may be too strong a word, but not by much. I really did have my heart set on voting today.

So, as I closer to home, I pulled over and picked up my phone to find another possible voting place. Instead of using the site to find me a place, I instead looked at the map (which begins with all of NZ that I needed to enlarge). There was nothing near me, so I looked a bit further afield, looking for one in my Electorate (Hamilton has two) because I knew it would be easier for everyone, and because I wasn’t sure where the Electorate boundaries actually are. I remembered only later that there are a few voting places that serve both Electorates.

I set off with my GPS telling me where to go (though I actually knew most of the way there), and as I got near I saw the “Voting” sign on the road, and turned in. Siri was not happy with me and kept telling me to “return to the route”. I’m sure it was only my imagination that each instruction sounded a bit more annoyed than the one before. I should add that the address I entered (also from the Vote.NZ website) may not have been wrong because the voting place was in a park building, and the park may have had two entrances, for all I know (there’s a lot of Hamilton I don’t know).

I went in after scanning the QR code for the Covid-19 contact tracing App, and a friendly lady directed me on where to go to vote. I saw tape marks on the floor to tell people where to stand if there was a queue.

I entered the door to the actual room, which was empty except for the workers. There was another QR code, which, the helpful guy told me, was the same as the one I’d already scanned. They invited me to sanitise my hands, and if I didn’t bring my own pen. I could take one to use and then take home afterward. So, I did.

I went to the lady checking people in and chatted with her and the woman next to her (who was dealing with more complicated votes). I stood on the tape mark on the floor, and there were several behind me. The lady dealing with the more complicated votes had six chairs in a line in front of her (because it can be very time consuming), each chair meeting physical distancing requirements.

I asked the ladies how busy they’d been and they told me it had been steady today, but yesterday—the first day of voting—was more hectic. I was given my two voting papers (one for Party Vote and Electorate Vote, and the other for the two referenda). She also pointed to the ballot boxes and to the freestanding voting booths (they had two for people standing, and one lower one for people in wheelchairs).

I did my General Election paper first—two ticks Labour, of course), and then the referenda: I voted “Yes” on both. I triple-checked to make sure I hadn’t made any mistakes, then folded the voting papers back in half again, walked over to the ballot boxes, put my referendum paper in its box and my General Election voting paper in its ballot box.

I paused at that point because a woman had just entered the door, wearing a mask, and I waited until she moved toward the table with the lady before I moved to leave. I was again invited to sanitise my hands, and I did. I thanked everyone and left.

Once outside, I waited until some park visitors got into their car to leave so I could take my selfie (for my Instagram post, included above). As I walked back to my car, another one pulled into the parking area, and a couple got out, neither one was wearing a mask. Then, another car pulled in and three people got out, all of them wearing masks.

I didn’t wear a mask because we’re at Level One (the lowest level) and there’s currently no community transmission. More importantly, there hasn’t been any official advice to wear masks, and none of the staff working there were wearing masks, either. If the government advised us to wear a mask, I probably would have. However, the chance of getting infected there under our current reality is next to none, and, in any case, since I scanned the QR code, the government will be able to let me know in the infinitesimally small chance that someone with Covid-19 had been there.

Once I found a voting place, everything went very well. Everyone was really nice, and it was kind of cool having the place to myself for awhile. The lady who came in just before I left didn’t look very friendly, so I wondered if maybe she was frightened. I’ll never know, of course, but I do know that for some reason some people find the process stressful, and that’s probably even more true this year.

Going to vote is like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one—I absolutely love it. That’s why I was so disappointed when it looked like I’d have to wait after I’d already decided I wanted to vote today and had my heart set on it. I’m glad everything worked out.

We’ll get preliminary results of the General Election the evening of October 17, but the referenda votes will be counted after that, so we won’t hear the preliminary results for them until late in the month. Many years ago, probably the first one I could vote in, there were two referenda, too, but they chose to tally those and the referenda that night, which meant we didn’t know how the General Election turned out until very late that night. Clearly the elections people learned from that experience.

And that’s it for my NZ voting this year. I wish I could go do it again, but the next time will be three years from now. I’m sure I’ll get excited about that, too.

My ‘house’ is now bigger

Today was the date that Nigel and I chose to be our cat Bella’s birthday, since we had no idea what her actual birthday was. Today I shared the Facebook “Memory” of the last time I commemorated her "birthday" (pictured at left). Here’s the text of what I wrote:
Today is the second anniversary of what turned out to be the last “birthday” Bella had, because she was gone some four months later. I was aware this was coming up, mostly because I keep forgetting to delete it from my calendar, but it was also because I realised that I completely missed it last year: It was two weeks to the day since Nigel died, and my mind was rather preoccupied. That means that the “birthday” was actually the first ”anniversary” of anything that I faced without Nigel, and that’s something I only realised a few days ago.

Here’s the thing: The fact I forgot about it last year is understandable, but the fact that this year I realised the little factoid about me missing it last year means that I now have room in my head and in my emotional awareness for minor and peripheral stuff, and that’s clearly some sort of progress. This shows me that the mental and emotional “house” I live in is now bigger than it was last year, and while this particular memory may seem like a trivial thing, and it actually is, the implications are huge. Sometimes progress through major grief is marked by the tiniest of things like this, but it’s progress nevertheless. I’ll take it.
This one didn’t pop up because of the Facebook “Memory”, but it reminded me about it. I was interested in it not to commemorate her “birthday” as such, but for two other reasons. First, last year’s “birthday” was the first since both Bella and Nigel died. That means I was actually wrong when I said in my post about the anniversary of Nigel’s death that “From now onwards, every anniversary that comes up will be one that's already happened at least once since Nigel died”. Technically that was true—this anniversary happened last year, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time, so it’s as if it didn’t exist until today.

The other reason I shared this today was what I said on Facebook, that the fact I was aware of all this now demonstrated a bit of progress. And that’s the best reason of all to share a memory like this. Sometimes the tiniest bits of progress are among the most important.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Started out well, then got aggravating

Today started out well, then got aggravating by reminding me of my frustrations over lack of healthcare.

Yesterday my niece and grand niece stayed with me (and my grand niece is so adorable!). Then today I went out for lunch with them and some more of the family, and that, too, was awesome.

But then I went to some shops to pick up various stuff, and while I was in one store I got a call from Auckland Hospital wanting to make an appointment for an evaluation before the heart procedure is done. I told her, “that would be awesome, but I’ve now moved to Hamilton.” She said she’d let the cardiology team know.

There are two things about that. First, I told them that several months ago when they first contacted me about an assessment, so there’s some sort of problem with their record keeping, which is a bit of a worry. But the bigger issue is that it’s a reminder that the DHB I used to be in (Counties Manukau) was clearly *very* prepared to do the same procedure that my current DHB says I don’t meet the criteria for.

I’m seeing a private cardiologist later this month to make it happen, which will probably mean paying for it myself. We’ll see. The DHB said I’d qualify for the procedure if I’m hospitalised twice for afib, or if I show signs of heart failure. The whole point of having the procedure is to prevent both of those things happening. Obviously.

In American terms, this is like an insurance company that only pays for things to be done at particular hospitals (if they cover the procedure at all). That’s why I can’t pretend I still live in Auckland, especially since all my medical information shows my current address in Hamilton, so it’s not like they wouldn’t know.

I document all this because it frustrates the f*ck out of me, and because I’ve always been clear that no country, including New Zealand, is perfect. However, this is first time in nearly a quarter century living in New Zealand that I’ve had trouble getting a healthcare procedure, and it’s because I moved to an area with a grossly underfunded DHB. The quality of care I’ve received from nurses and doctors has been second to none—they are amazing people. These sorts of decisions are made by bureaucrats doing the best they can to stretch inadequate funding to care for those with the greatest need. I get that. But it shouldn’t have to be this way.

And that’s why I’d never support either the National Party or the Act “Party”, because they both promise to cut health spending by stealth. I’m not the only one who needs healthcare but can’t get it due to lack of funding, so there’s no way in hell I’d ever vote for parties committed to making things even worse for ordinary Kiwis like me.

This is personal for me. And frustrating.

A Small Anniversary
– A post in which I talked in more detail about my frustrations with my current DHB.

I originally posted this on my personal Facebook earlier this afternoon.