Wednesday, June 30, 2021

I grew to hate Winter

Winter has been my least-favourite season (to be nice) for decades. I’ve written about that several times before, but it was all dredged up by a FB Memory served up to me a few days ago. The photo (at left) and its caption made me think about winter, of course, but also far more. I wrote a long post, but eventually killed it in favour of something more banal (I liked the photo well, enough, and I always like an opportunity to compare/contrast things like weather for my American whānau). This post is what I wanted to say that day.

Three years ago, Auckland was hit with hail, which I blogged about at the time. That “hail” was kind of an insult to the word from my perspective as a native of the USA’s Midwest, but it was was kind of typical of what I’ve seen in New Zealand. In fact, I can only remember one time we got some serious hail (back in 2015), and it’s a good thing that one time is it. So is the fact we don’t get snow in the northern parts of New Zealand (not counting the odd dusting in some spots—nothing sticks around). I still hate Winter as much as I did when I left Chicago (mere days after the area’s first snowfall of 1995…), but at least winters here are nothing like what I left behind. That’s definitely a very good thing.

While Northern Illinois winters eventually made me grow to hate Winter as a season, I actually don’t like the much, much milder Winters in northern New Zealand, either. They’re milder, yes, but, in general, Hamilton Winters are colder than my Auckland Winters were (in general) and cold temperatures are what I dislike the most. But yeah, at least there’s no snow.

The photo above is a much more melancholy scene for me now than it was at the time—after all, that hail was about as bad as what we got anywhere we lived, and ir wasn’t especially unique. Thing is, that Winter turned out to be second to last one Nigel and I ever had together. The following year, some three days before the September Equinox, he’d be dead and I’d be a widower. And it’s felt like Winter ever since.

Winters always have nice days, even beautiful ones, with sunshine and sometimes warmth. But there are also days that will push you over and remind you that it’s still Winter—cold, dreary, damp, maybe even windswept and barren, or maybe just wet, or even very wet, and sometimes with hail that pelts you and hurts you as it falls.

Profound grief is exactly like that: Some days can be warm and sunny, but inevitably the cold and damp and wet will return. The presence of one doesn’t prevent the other from reappearing, nor is either one permanent. But the Winter that is grief will sometimes push you over and remind you that it’s still Winter, that the warmth and renewal of Spring is still a long way off.

I’m lucky in that I have mostly okay days—not necessarily sunny and warm (though I have those, too), but also not always cold and damp and wet. I know, or maybe hope, that my own Spring will eventually arrive, but I’m always aware that it’s really still Winter. Right now, that metaphorical Winter is having a decent patch (the physical one, not so much…). And that’s good enough.

A three year old photo made me think about all that. Because it’s winter, literally and figuratively, it’s easy to do.


As it happens, there was another day of hail in 2018, in September of that year, a couple days before the 2018 September Equinox. Nigel died less than a year later.

An alarming project

A motion sensor sensing me.
I recently completed another project around the house, one that has actually been on my list for many, many years. It was one Nigel was supposed to do, but never got round to. That’s not the just reason I needed to do the project: It was also the reason I needed to do the project.

When Nigel and I moved back to Auckland’s North Shore in 2006, we bought a house that had a traditional wired alarm system. It was purchased by a previous owner—along with an expensive monitoring contract that we were obligated to assume or else to pay to have the alarm system removed. It was a gold-plated system, neighbourhood folklore had it, because the guy who installed it was a cop who, for very mysterious reasons, had had threats that made him want to install the system.

I have no idea how useful the alarm system was to the former owners (who didn’t live there all that long), but we never used it except when Nigel and I left for the weekend with the dogs. However, we soon reached the point where we could cancel the alarm monitoring contract, and after that point the alarm wasn’t usable.

Sometime after that, I first asked Nigel about finding us a system that didn’t need monitoring, but I didn’t pursue it. After we moved to our last house in early 2017, I again asked Nigel to look into a system. That was because the living area of the house was up a floor from the ground level, and someone could, theoretically, get inside the house and none of us—including the dogs—would even know until they were in.

Nigel was busy with his own projects and then, of course, he was gone. I did nothing about it while I stayed in that house, but I planned on taking care of it once I moved to my new house.

The reason I was doing it at all wasn’t just, as I suggested above, because Nigel never did, and was now gone, but because he wasn’t here anymore. After I moved to this house I realised I was entirely responsible for everything in my life, including, in this case, security. It wasn’t that I previously thought that Nigel would protect us all, or that he and I could fight off an intruder, it was merely that if there was ever a threat, I wouldn’t be facing it alone. Now, I am.

So, off and on, I started researching wireless alarm systems and found one that had good reviews, both for how it works and for the simplicity of installation. As luck would have it, it was offered as an online-only special by a NZ electronics retailer, and the price was very good. So, I ordered the basic system and an additional motion sensor.

Then things got complicated.

It was the better part of a week before I had time to begin the installation, the day after I’d read all the instructions for the various bits. I started by installing the door sensor for the front door and, only after I’d done that did I notice there weren’t any batteries included in the box, as there were supposed to be. I then checked everything else: All the mounting screws were also missing, as was the wall mounting bracket for the sensor that came with the basic set. Did I mention that this was after I’d already installed one of the door sensors?

I used the online contact form to ask them what to do, and I got a reply the next day. Meanwhile, I looked at the website of the computer (etc) chain I’ve talked about in the past, and noticed they’d matched the other store’s price—and beaten it by one dollar. If they’d done that earlier, I wouldn’t have had to set up an account with the other store.

Nearly two weeks passed and there was no update from the store. So, impatient/sick of waiting, I emailed them:
“I've decided to make do with the product as is, such as, I bought my own batteries, and I'll find a work-around for the motion sensor. However, it would be a good idea to make the distributor/manufacturer of this product aware there were missing parts so they can check their processes so it doesn't happen again to someone else.”
They replied:
“I have sent an email to our relevant team to inform them about your concern. Kindly wait for an update within 1-2 days. Rest assured that we will get back to you at the soonest possible time.”
That was on June 24—six days ago—and there’s been no response. I’m not in any way surprised, and I don’t really care anymore, but their lack of concern for a customer does make me question the wisdom of ordering anything from them in the future.

To fix the problem, I bought new batteries for the two door sensors and the motion detector, but the additional motion detector I bought came with a battery, as well as its wall mount. I finished installing the other door sensor and the motion detector, but when I went to put in the supplied battery, it was dead. I was again not surprised. Fortunately, I had plenty of batteries I bought for the security cameras (about which, more in a minute), so I used one of them. It worked perfectly.

A couple days later, I went to install another add-on motion sensor, the penultimate device in my system. I’d ordered it from the website of the computer (etc) chain (because I was ordering other things, and because the original store had since marked them as “not available online”). When I went through the things in the box, I noticed something: The battery had a tight rigid plastic shrink-wrap on it. I checked the battery I thought was dead, removed the shrink wrap, and it was fine. Oops. Good thing I didn’t complain about getting a dead battery—though if I had, I’d still be waiting for a reply, apparently.

All of the internal devices and sensors are now set-up and working perfectly, so that part’s complete (there are more parts than I talked about, but they didn't have stories).. However, there’s one more piece left to install: The video doorbell I also got on special. It came with super-strong sticky stuff to attach it, or I can use screws. The problem is that the doorframe is all metal, and we’ve had very wintry weather lately—too cold to trust the sticky stuff to stick to a cold doorframe. I may use screws instead, but I can wait a little while to decide, until it’s a bit warmer (and while I look for the appropriately-sized screws for metal that I must have around here somewhere…).

Which, indirectly brings me back to the security video camera system I’ve been planning to install outside of the house. I planned on using the cameras I have because I have them (thanks to Nigel), and that fact in itself is actually one of the reasons for the delay.

The camera system has a regular (audio) doorbell that’s wireless, but their video doorbell was wired-only (at least, that was all that’s available here in New Zealand). The alarm system has cameras available, though they’re expensive. On balance, it makes more sense to use the cameras I already have, and if they don’t work for some reason I can always get add-on cameras for the alarm system.

I don’t know that any of this stuff is actually “necessary” in the sense of preventing crime, however, it’ll make me feel a bit more secure now that I’m on my own, and feeling safe IS necessary, I think, and that's reason enough to go through all this. I'd feel safer still if Nigel was here with me, but that's something I can't change. Best to focus on what I can do.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

House watching

The photo above is of a new house being built across the back fence of my property. I took the photo on Saturday, but none of that was there the day before. It’s been a very slow build, but this is probably the most dramatic thing yet.

The section (property) behind me was vacant and showed no signs of development until only a few months ago when a young guy (mid 20s-ish, I think) was running a digger. I assumed he worked for the company that would build the house until my sister-in law happened to be over one weekend day when the guy was working, and talked to him. He was there with a young blonde woman, and after talking to him we found out that they’d bought the section many months earlier, but there were delays in getting building consent and permits for the house itself, so while he waited for the city council to finish the process, he was getting started on what he could do: The retaining walls along the side boundary of their property. It took him a couple weeks to finish the retaining walls, since he only worked late afternoons and on weekends.

And then things stopped.

Many weeks passed, and a digger was out there again: They were clearing the land to put in the slab foundation. At some point in that time period the water and drainage pipes were laid, and then they laid the polystyrene underfloor insulation and wire mesh reinforcing. The concrete was poured quite some time later—maybe as much as a week or two later. I think the whole foundation process may have taken three to four weeks (I really wish I’d paid more attention to the timing…).

After the foundation slab was poured, nothing more happened for weeks and weeks. This past Saturday morning, I woke up and thought I heard some voices from time to time, and the tap-tap of a nail gun, but it wasn’t steady or loud, so it didn’t really bother me. At the time, I thought my next door neighbours were doing something. When I opened the blinds above my bed, though, I saw a house frame where nothing had existed the day before.

In New Zealand, wall sections are assembled off-site and put in place as nearly complete length walls (some in-filling work is done on site). Builders then secure the wall sections to the foundations and to adjoining wall sections. That’s what I heard going on this past Saturday morning.

The next day, Sunday, I heard an occasional nail gun tap-tap, and later on I looked out the window again and realised he and another guy were putting in temporary cross-bracing inside the skeletal house, a complex-looking jumble of wood in what will be rooms. That’s done to keep the house frame square and true while the roof trusses are being put in place. Today, they were back putting in the top plate (which goes on top of the wall sections in the photo), the thing that the roof trusses will actually sit on.

Roof trusses in New Zealand must be manufactured—builders aren’t allowed to build them on site. The government made that regulation many years ago (sometime after 1995) to ensure that all new houses had strong and secure roofs. At some point, a crane truck will come and lift the trusses up onto the frame so builders can secure the trusses to the house frame.

After the roof is done, builders can finish framing it and add the roofing material, as well as cladding the exterior of the house and installing windows. That will usher in what’s always the longest part of house building: All the inside work—well, normally that's the longest part, but each phase of this one has already taken far longer than normal, so who knows?

House building fascinates me, and always has. I watched the house next door being built, and the one behind me is slightly less easy to watch. At least it’s clear it’s a one-storey.

One thing this made me realise was that I could see where their windows were going to be, and that meant I could see where they might be able to look toward my house. It gave me an idea: I took a bunch of photos looking out all the windows toward the two new houses (the existing one to the side of mine, and the one being built behind mine). My goal was to see what I looked at what so that I can more precisely plan where to put in tall plants to give me a nicer view than looking at someone else’s house and also preserving my privacy.

At the very least, it’s been entertaining.


"Building zone"
– My 2020 post about the new house being built next door to mine.

Monday, June 28, 2021

One word: Plastics

The New Zealand Government has announced plans to begin phasing out what they call “problem plastics”, things like non-recyclable plastic and consumer single-use plastics. This has been anticipated since July 1, 2019, when single-use plastic bags were banned. It’s a good and important thing to do.

From late in 2022, some 18 months from now, PVC meat trays, polystyrene (aka styrofoam) takeaway packaging, EPS grocery packaging, degradable plastic products (eg, oxo and photo degradable), plastic drink stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton swabs will all be banned.

In mid 2023, some two years from now, the government will also ban single-use plastic items: Supermarket produce bags, plastic tableware (cutlery, plates and bowls), drink straws, and non compostable fruit labels.

The reality is that New Zealand is already a long way along the road toward moving away from such things, and just as happened with the ban on single-use plastic shopping bags, this will provide the final push. Everyone knew this was coming at some point, so I don’t have any sympathy for corporations and industries that are whining about not having “enough time” to find alternatives.

I’ve already heard some of the complaints from corporations. For example, supermarket chains say that two years isn’t enough time to eliminate plastic produce bags, something they’ve been trying to eliminate for at least a year already. Paper is one obvious alternative, but maybe they can think a little more creatively? How about selling cheap branded mesh bags to consumers (I talked about my own mesh produce bags back in June of 2016). After all, they already sell cheap branded reusable shopping bags. They could embrace this as an opportunity to embrace environmental and social responsibility.

The non-compostable stickers on fresh produce annoy me to no end, so I have zero sympathy for the moaners in the industry. They’re a relatively recent development, and I can’t think of any benefit that consumers get from them. Instead, they provide a way for producers to brand fresh produce for marketing purposes and, at least theoretically, provide some tracking information. When I was a kid, I remember oranges had the brand printed on the peel, something that obviously won’t work for all produce (like apples), but, then, why do they even use labels at all? Consumers hate them. I think they should just drop them altogether, but if they insist on having them for some bizarre reason, then the labels must be home compostable because a lot of people compost at home and commercially-compostable things don’t usually degrade.

Other products already had non-plastic alternatives corporations moved away from. For example, when I was young, the stems of cotton swabs were made of paper, not plastic. We had paper plates, and then better paper plates (because the originals weren’t very good for BBQs where people put their food on their laps). Drink straws always used to be made of paper (I remember some were waxed paper), and, in fact, paper straws are all you can buy at a supermarket right now.

A lot of companies have been experimenting with alternatives, like disposable cutlery, and even plates, made from wood. Washable, reusable steel drinking straws are cheap and available everywhere (I don’t personally have any; I don’t use straws often and have way too many paper ones to use first). I’m sure there are plenty of creative people in search of opportunities who can come up with a lot more alternatives to single-use plastic products—and now they’ll have the incentive thanks to the announced timeline for banning such plastics.

In fact, in November the government will launch a $50 million Plastics Innovation Fund to “help support projects that reimagine how we make, use and dispose of plastics”. Environment Minister David Parker said, “We need to back New Zealanders to innovate, find solutions and then scale them up.” (Full disclosure: I know and worked with David Parker when I was a volunteer in the Labour Party).

What all of this is about is making New Zealand cleaner and greener, with a circular economy in which nothing is wasted if we can prevent it. “We want to be part of global solutions to tackle the impacts of plastic pollution,” Parker said. For years now, I’ve been trying to do my part, as I’ve discussed on this blog. New Zealand, too, is trying to do its part. Cynics say our efforts are too small to make any difference, but the retort to that is simple: It’s always better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.

This is a very good move.

The image up top is a NZ Labour Party social media ad promoting the announcement. I just like the look of it.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The stories of change our photos show us

The photos we take are a great way to recall events, memories, even things we acquired or merely wanted to acquire. When they’re associated with loss, that can be bittersweet, but it can also give us a chance to kind of take stock of where we’re at, to notice how we pass through our lives. To be a part of our own life, rather than just travel through it. That happened to me today.

Three years ago today, I shared the photo above on Instagram and my personal Facebook. A few days later, I also shared the Instagram post here on this blog. The reason for it was simple: We’d been having trouble with Leo running along the fence and barking a lot at one neighbour’s dog, and that’s why we tried using a clicker to train him to stop doing that. I said in the caption to the photo that Leo “learned VERY quickly and now comes running inside with one click, two at most.” It didn’t last.

Mere days after we started using it, Leo stopped responding to the clicker. As a result, we couldn’t let any of the dogs go outside at ground level unless one of us was there with them—and by “them” I really mean “him”, Leo—he ruined it for all of them.

Then, different neighbours, ones over the fence from the one whose dog Leo barked at, complained because, they said, Leo “always” barked at the wife when she went out to hang the washing on the line (though I was pretty sure he was actually barking at their dog who went outside with her, but never barked back).

One evening, after the dogs were only allowed to go out on the deck upstairs, the guy from that same house yelled at Leo across the yard, because Leo was out on the deck barking at the new housing development nearby and visible from our deck. At the time, nothing was built except for the streets, and young’uns used to drive in there, park, and drink. Leo heard them and didn’t approve. Nigel was asleep at the time and never heard Leo, which was a little unusual. I was working in my office, which was at the opposite side of the house and at ground level, but I eventually heard him, and got to him just in time to hear the guy shouting at Leo. I brought him inside and blocked the dog door so he couldn’t go right back outside to bark some more—because I knew he would.

The next morning, I told Nigel what had happened, and that became the turning point: Nigel decided he wanted to move somewhere more rural, where neighbours weren’t as close or numerous (there were six properties bordering ours). He wanted the dogs to be able to bark if they wanted to, and he wanted to have a small wind turbine to (at least partially) power our house. None of that was possible where we were living.

We looked at one house in person (and many others online), but didn’t pursue it to strongly. We were busy with life. In the meantime, we started barricading the dog door at night so none of them could go out. Because I was always stayed up later than Nigel, I could let the dogs out one last time. They all coped. It took care of the problem, and for a time we thought about staying put and doing up the house (like my painting project in early 2019, for example).

The idea of moving never went away completely, though, and as late as May 2019, Nigel was telling me what he wanted me to do to get ready for us to sell-up and buy a new place (he made a to-do list for me—a common thing he did). Four months later, Nigel was gone.

Now, three years after the photo of Leo and the clicker, I’m living in a different house in a city that was on our “some day” list, with solar power, but with only two of the dogs, without Sunny or our cat Bella, but, and, most importantly of all, without my Nigel. In other words, everything has changed.

Leo is much better now, and he comes inside when I call him or whistle for him (there’s a particular whistle I use), though sometimes I have to add, “want some?” Clearly he’s trained me, too. My new house has “only” four properties bordering the section, though one of them only shares about one metre of boundary with me (that house was built by the same company that built mine, and it was the first adjoining property with a finished house; there’s now one more).

There’s one more thing that’s also changed: The people I sold our old house to in March, 2020, just sold it, and the new owners moved in yesterday. I know that because the next door neighbours, who we became friends with (and I still am), texted me. I looked at the real estate photos online (of course!) and they didn’t change anything inside the house. All they did was remove the grapefruit tree (which Nigel and I wanted to do, but we ran out of time) and they also took out the raised garden bed. Both of those were in my photos in our brief time in that house (the grapefruit tree was part of a photo series I did in 2017, and the raised garden bed was part of a notorious incident I blogged about in May of 2018). I’m actually kind of glad they sold the house—it puts more emotional/existential distance between me and it.

So, yeah, pretty much nothing is the same as it was three years ago when I first shared the photo, including me. That fact isn’t all good, obviously, but it also isn’t all bad. After all, I don’t need to use that clicker with Leo any more..

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook this morning.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Lower power

It’s now been two entire months since the solar electricity system was installed, and one full month with the device to heat the hot water using only solar power. The results at this point are—interesting. There haven’t been any surprises, good or bad, so it’s been “interesting” mainly because I simply didn’t really know what to expect. The main headline, though, is that the system has saved me some money and, because of that, I’m treading more lightly on the planet.

I saw my June bill on Wednesday, though I didn’t get the official bill by email until the next day. This has puzzled me ever since I switched power companies, as I talked about last month. The electric company I used to have didn’t email a bill at all—it was only available to download, and that online-only version had “ONLINE BILL” on it (though in reasonably sized type size). That also struck me as odd. But, more about those companies later.

Right now, the important thing is that over the four months I've been with the new company, I've saved $38.45 over what I spent with the old company over the same two months last year, and all of that is due to the solar power system. That doesn’t sound like much, however, if I look at only the two months since the solar power was installed, it’s a much different story: I’ve saved exactly $100 over what I spent those two months last year. That ain’t nothing.

In June, I saved a bit less than half as much as I did in May because it's now full-on winter. There have been very few totally sunny days this billing month (third week to third week), and a lot of cool and cloudy/rainy days (and that, in a nutshell, is winter where I live). On some particularly dark and cloudy days, there were times I generated maybe a couple hundred watts (as opposed to somewhere around 3,000 – 3,500 watts, give or take, on bright sunny days). That’s still enough to offset basic use, like when my fridge turns on, but not much else.

That all matters because my electricity use is higher in winter than in summer: I run my two heat pumps 24/7, and the hot water cylinder needs to run a bit more because it’s located in a cupboard in the garage, which isn’t heated. And therein lies another reason I didn’t save nearly as much money this past month as I did the month before: I was running out of hot water.

Back in May, just before that month’s meter reading, I had a device installed to heat my water with solar power only. Things didn’t quite go as I thought.

There was a particularly cold snap earlier this month, and when I took my shower one morning, the water was what I’d call “very warm”: Not cool or merely warm, but definitely not hot, either. At the time, I thought I’d bumped the mixer somehow, and accidentally turned down the amount of hot water I was getting—it’s a bit finicky—but I didn’t bother trying to adjust it (because it’s a bit finicky).

The same thing happened the next morning, and later that evening I was washing a few dishes and noticed the “hot” water was merely warm. I realised immediately what the problem was: Because the days had been so dark and dreary, and the temperatures low, I wasn’t generating enough electricity to heat the hot water enough.

The solution that night was to use the “boost” setting on the new device to briefly use electricity from the grid to heat the hot water so I could do the dishes. Then, before I went to bed I set the device to automatically use grid electricity early each morning to heat the water so I can have a hot shower. That’s worked, however, at a cost: I’m using more power from the gird than I did the previous month, mostly to heat the hot water, and because my hot water heater is no longer on the controlled rate for hot water heaters, the electricity its using is more expensive, too (the controlled rate is roughly 1/3 lower than the ordinary rate).

Needing to use grid electricity for heat and hot water, then, combined with lots of very cloudy days, meant that any saving I might otherwise have seen from solar power generation were eaten up by the power I bought. I think—hope?—that the situation will be exactly the opposite in summer.

One final note on cost v. savings: In March and April, before the solar panels were installed, I spent $61.55 more than I did with the old company during those same two months in 2020—and that covered the period during Lockdown, when I never left the house. Even so, the savings I’ve made over the past two months erased that and gave me that $38.45 savings over the whole four months to date.

The comparisons of what what I’ve been billed by the old company and the current one may soon become complicated—or maybe less so? I recently got an email from the new electricity company telling me they've “conditionally sold its retail business” to—drumroll!—the company I switched from. I have absolutely not idea how that will affect my power bills in the future, but right now there’s no change, and there’s unlikely to be any change until the companies begin to merge operations, assuming they do that and don’t keep my current company as a stand-alone brand.

I don't actually mind the change because Nigel and I chose that former company some 15 years ago, and we were always satisfied with our service and charges. Also, that company I'm being switched back to generates 100% of its electricity from renewable sources (mainly hydro and geothermal, but they're adding wind, too), which, given my values, is a very good thing. I do think this turn of events is funny, though.

At the moment, I’m still saving money, despite the dull, dreary, cool, winter weather, which is nice. I’m also still sending electricity out to the grid, though much less of it. On balance, then, I’m giving more than I take, and that’s exactly the position I wanted to be in.

I won’t worry about the economics of all this in the future until it actually gets here. For now, though, it’s all still a powerful experience.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Trying to do business

Sometimes, New Zealand businesses make it difficult to "buy local". Even though some NZ businesses are still struggling due to Covid, there are companies are making mistakes or putting up other barriers that making it hard to choose a New Zealand business. Including chemists.

Earlier this month, I changed pharmacies to one much closer to my house than the one I was using, which was close to my doctor. That matters because I've been getting all the prescriptions one month at a time because I knew I'd (eventually) see a cardiologist who may change prescriptions, and I didn't want to have the deleted drugs destroyed.

I took my prescriptions to the pharmacy at Te Awa at The Base, the shopping mall closest to my house. It was the same NZ owned chain as the one I had been going to, but, being in a mall, it had much better hours. A huge time-saver—I thought.

On Tuesday, I rang to organise the next month's supply, and the phone diverted to their location at another mall, Chartwell, which is on the other side of the city from me. It went there because the one at Te Awa closed last week, something they must've known was coming when I took my prescription there. They said nothing, of course. Chartwell is much farther away than the chemist by my doctor, but the whole point of changing chemists was so that I could have one close to my house. I go to Chartwell maybe a couple times a year, normally, so it's certainly not the sort of place I'd be at every month.

Once a customer gives a prescription to a particular chemist, it can't be moved to a different pharmacy, so I’d need get a new prescription from my doctor. To get around the inconvenience, the pharmacy arranged to give me the next two months all at once (which is fine because I now know that I'm seeing the cardiologist at the end of August).

Since I had to go over to Chartwell, I organised to have lunch with some family who work in the area. I realised that this was the first time I'd been at Chartwell itself this year (though I’ve been in the area for lunch). I picked up my prescriptions and they made me sign a form indicating I was collecting all my pills at once because of “Distance”. While I was there, I also looked in a bookshop at the mall, but didn’t buy any (I want to downsize my library before I buy any more books). There really wasn’t anything else I wanted to look at there. The lunch and the company, were great, of course, and that kind of made up for the inconvenience in picking up my prescriptions.

As for the future, my choices are somewhat limited. I could go back to the chemist by the doctor, since I need to go there every 3-6 months, anyway (I’m leaning toward this option). Or, find a small independent NZ-owned chemist closer to my house and hope they survive. Finally, I could pick the nearby locations of Australian owned chains Chemist Warehouse and Countdown. I really don't like going to Chemist Warehouse (it creeps me out for some reason—I have no idea why, but I think it could be because it’s dark and the aisles are narrow, so it feels closed-in). Countdown, on the other hand, is one of my local supermarkets, so I could plan a shopping trip there and get my prescriptions/repeat, too.

I’m leaning toward going back to the chemist I used to go to because it’s NZ-owned, and I can also keep (and use) my "rewards points" (which are small, but not insignificant). However, it feels a bit like I was being driven toward Australian companies, something that, if it happens enough, will make things even worse for NZ companies—put another way, they're hastening their own demise.

In sum, then, I made this particular change because I wanted to make my life easier, while also avoiding the unnecessary destruction of medicines, and also to keep doing business with a New Zealand company. But, apparently, no good deed ever goes unpunished (Ferengi "Rules of Acquisition" Number 285, among many, many other places…).

Still, it’s not like I have to get that chemist by my doctor on horseback. I’ll survive.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Things get wrecked

Anyone who’s ever had a furbaby knows that things will get damaged or destroyed. Sometimes it’s on purpose, like Leo’s most recent toy rampage, and other times it’s accidental. I now have an example of the latter, something that also points to a larger problem.

Friday night, Leo was playing with his toy ball next to my chair. I didn’t think anything of it, since he’s done it before, until I looked down: I could see the charging cable I use for my iPad (sometimes my phone) was broken (photo up top). Because Leo’s hasn’t chewed on any cables since he was a puppy, my best guess is that Leo accidentally broke it while he was playing, either by forcefully pawing at the ball (he does that all the time), or maybe trying to pick up the ball in his mouth and getting the cable caught. At the very least, I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble with such cables, no furbabies required.

I got out the cable I used for a couple years or so, but the end that plugs into my device is breaking where it bends at the connection, so I taped it up tor reinforce it until I can replace it:

These cables are notorious for their relatively short lives: The end points of the cables, especially where it plugs into a device, have always been weak points that tend to break—and it’s been that way as long as Apple has made mobile devices. You’d think that Apple would’ve come up with something better by now, but, no. To add further insult, Apple charges rather a lot for replacement cables. Fortunately, other companies make the cables and sell them for lower prices (so far, I’ve only bought one cable that turned out to not be compatible with Apple products).

In August last year, the cable I was using (and am again…) started looking as if it was going to break soon, so that’s when I decided to replace it. I ordered one from an Australian seller (because the genuine Apple ones I found in NZ were twice the price). The cable, the seller said, was made in the same factory as Apple’s own cables, and it was certified compatible. It worked flawlessly, and seemed to be similar quality to Apple cables—which means that it was just as likely to break.

These cables can’t be repaired: The ends are moulded onto the wires, and those wires are extremely fine gauge. Throwaway society, in other words.

I knew that there were cables that were reinforced in various ways, and that’s what I decided to replace my cable with. Here are two different approaches (brand names removed because the point isn’t the specific cables):

The cable on the left has aluminium mesh protecting the cable (I don’t think Leo could bite through it…), and the ends are somewhat more robustly designed than Apple’s (or similar), but it’s still a potential weak spot. The cable on the right is nylon mesh (like rope), but has stronger moulded connections, a bit like a cord used by something that might be plugged-in and unplugged many times, like a table lamp, might have. Since my main problem has been with the end where it connects to my device, I’m going to try the one on the right (it’s also available locally, and on special at the moment). However, I could get a three pack of the other one for roughly the same price from that Australian seller, so I may end up getting those, too, so I have better replacements than a cable I taped up.

None of this would be necessary if Apple (and probably other manufacturers) provided better-designed cables. There’s not enough metal in any one dead cable to justify the cost of getting it out, so most of these cables must end up in the rubbish. It’s so unnecessary.

This particular tale is just a snapshot of modern life: A dog playing with a toy, as has happened since forever, accidentally broke a cable that is far, far too easy to break and to wear out. This obviously isn’t a particularly big challenge for me to overcome, but it’s one example among dozens—probably hundreds—of small but incredibly annoying challenges that companies foist upon us because it’s cheaper to make poorly-designed products that we have to replace far too soon, giving them no incentive to produce well-designed products that last.

Things need to change. Things get wrecked all the time, and plenty of times that’s unavoidable. But bad design and companies’ complete lack of concern about promoting a throwaway culture wrecks things, too.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Caution is warranted

When I said a mere 10 days ago that “this health journey has certainly not been straightforward,” that wasn’t an understatement: Things are, in some ways, less settled now than they were even then. Right now, “moving forward” means using caution.

A week ago tomorrow, I began the new plan that my doctor and I were moving to, which meant I’d take one 60mg tablet of Diltiazem twice daily, something I described in detail in that post 10 days ago. Since then, problems have popped up that may or may not be significant.

I couldn’t sleep Sunday night. At the time, it seemed like my mind wouldn't stop racing, and that was making me feel amped, like I’d had too much coffee (I hadn’t; I never drink coffee, decaf or otherwise, at night). After about an hour and a half or so of lying there awake, I turned on my light and played with my phone for a bit in an effort to get my mind to quiet down. When I turned the light out a half hour or so later, I dozed on and off, but the feeling never went away entirely. Monday, of course, was a washout, though I felt fine. I also slept well-enough Monday night.

Tuesday evening, I had my pill, and within an hour I felt extremely anxious. I took my blood pressure, which was basically normal for me. I decided to go to bed. First I used the KardiaMobile device I talked about the other day. The first result said “Possible AFib”, so I lay down, rested, and took it again. This time it said “Unclassified”, a reading I’ve been getting from time to time since April (before that, it was always “Normal”).

The first thing to be said about this is the obvious and rational thing: I’m well aware that, at best, these readings are indicative only. The descriptions the App puts on ECG readings are determined by AI, not real humans, and so, they have a huge possibility of being incorrect. I’ve known that all along, but it didn’t matter in the moment because this was exactly the thing I was terrified would happen: I’d have some sort of tachycardia or AFib event without Nigel there to help me work through what was happening and, if necessary, to drive me to get help. At one point, I was afraid I was going to die, and I considered calling an ambulance.

My rational mind regained control, and I realised I was panicking, not looking at the available evidence. The ECG reading aside, my vitals were normal: My blood pressure was okay, but, more importantly, my heart rate at the time was a completely normal resting rate (for me), and that meant it was highly improbable that it was either AFib or tachycardia. I calmed down and went to sleep.

The next morning, Wednesday, I woke up and felt fine. I started my day, fed myself and the dogs, then took my morning pills. As I was sitting playing my morning round of “Words With Friends” on my iPad, I again started to feel anxious and unwell. I took another ECG reading and it said “Unclassified” again. I lay down and slept for a bit, and when I woke up I took it again, and it was classified as “Possible Afib”.

I rang my sister in law about something else, and talked to her about what was going on (she’s a nurse), and that helped me formulate a plan.

Since I wasn’t in any pain, didn’t have shortness of breath or anything, I said that I didn’t feel I was in any immediate danger. So, based on what my sister in law and I discussed, I made an appointment with the cardiologist I saw privately back on October. I’m still waiting for a follow-up with the cardiology department at Waikato Hospital, and it’s likely I’ll be waiting for quite some time yet. Even so, the earliest I could get a private appointment was August 31. There's more to all that, too.

In mid-May, the Waikato DHB (District Health Board) was hit with a ransomware attack, which meant there were no computer resources available until some started to be restored over the past week. The worst part of that is that radiation therapy for cancer patients was unavailable, and they had to be sent to other parts of the country (there was also a plan to send them to Australia, but that turned out not to be necessary; those services have now been restored). But this meant that all outpatient appointments were cancelled, and no appointments for new ones were issued, so there is likely to be a backlog of many, many weeks. That most likely includes my cardiology follow-up, which is another of my motivations for getting a private appointment: Ten and a half weeks is likely to be faster than waiting for the public system (I also think that at least part of the reason it’ll take so long to see the cardiologist privately is precisely because people couldn’t be seen in the public system).

I made an appointment to see my doctor yesterday, so Wednesday afternoon I quickly went out to get my blood drawn for my routine tests (important information for the doctors). I also sent a copy of the ECG reports to my doctor and the cardiologist. My doctor sent me a message saying, “Your ECG readings look like sinus rhythm with extrabeats (ectopics) rather than AF”. Sinus rhythm is normal, and ectopic heartbeats are extra or skipped heartbeats in otherwise normal rhythm. There may or may not be a cause, but it’s usually not life-threatening (unless, possibly, it’s associated with some other condition).

The problem here is that I have a history of heart rhythm problems, and it’ll be necessary to find out if it’s that or just ectopics. To do that, my doctor is asking the cardiologist to arrange a special monitor that records my heart rhythm for a week, apparently recording whenever I push a button so it can get a reading whenever I feel unwell, and during the actual event.

In the meantime, I’m continuing on with my medication as I described ten days ago, but I decided to do a couple extra things, too: I’m avoiding alcohol, which can aggravate AFib as well as cause ectopic heartbeats, and I’m also severely limiting caffeine (there’s no conclusive evidence that it affects AFib, but it has been linked to ectopics).

If I do all that, and otherwise look after myself as I’ve been doing (like taking my prescriptions on time and not missing doses), it may be enough to stop this. Or, maybe not. If it doesn’t the monitor might show what’s going on, or, at least, determine if it’s just ectopics rather than a bigger rhythm problem—or maybe a different, non-heart problem.

Aside from all this, but related to it, is that the results of my blood tests were all good. My cholesterol is the best it’s been in ten years of monitoring (which I know because I have a spreadsheet of all the results over the past ten years—of course). My iron levels, liver function, kidney function—all are good. What I was particularly glad to see is that the thyroid level that had been high while I was on the potentially dangerous drug amiodarone had returned to normal (I was taken off the drug after my procedure last December).

All of which means this health journey isn’t over yet. My desire to feel less tired all the time will be unfulfilled for now, because until we know more about what’s going on, keeping my heart rate slowed is prudent. Changing my anticoagulant/blood thinner will be deferred even longer. I’m okay with all that, though, because I want to find out what’s happening first.

Ten days ago, I said that I didn’t know “how likely it is that this attempt could end in a setback.” Technically, this isn’t a set-back as such, it’s more like slowing things down a bit.

And, as always, I still hope for the best.

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, June 14, 2021

A surprising thing

People may think that after 20 months on this grief journey, there wouldn’t be much that surprises me anymore, but, actually, there are plenty. People have an amazing capacity for kindness and support, and today I saw another example of that, one that was both unexpected and also the most unusual.

I’ve known writer Matt Burlingame for many, many years now, and he’s one of the nicest and kindest people I’ve met through podcasting. Nigel heard me talk about him, and finally met Matt through Pride 48. These overlapping circles have now become complete: Matt has included Nigel in the Dedications page of his new gay romance, Last Romance (that page is the image in this post). The Kindle edition of the book will be released on July 1. This act of remembrance really touched me.

When Matt first shared the image above with me, I cried when I saw Nigel’s name. It wasn’t long or loud, but it was enough to make Leo look up at me to see what was going on. The thing is, Nigel read a lot of gay romance novels, beginning many years ago. He began with Kindle editions, then, later, he switched to audiobooks from Audible. I told Nigel he should read some of Matt’s books, but I have no idea whether he ever did. Regardless, he would have been touched to be remembered—I can see him with that little smile he’d get when he was pleased about something, but didn’t want to look pleased about it. He was always intensely modest. But I also know he’d be happy that this made me smile—and remember him, too.

I think it’s awesome whenever people remember those we’ve lost. There’s a common myth, I think—one I’ve talked about before—that grieving people don’t want people to talk about the lost loved one, but I’ve never met anyone for whom that’s actually true. If anything, they want the opposite: They definitely want their loved one’s name to be spoken, to hear happy memories and funny stories, especially things they may not have heard before. I certainly want to hear Nigel talked about, for him to be remembered.

There’s a quote that’s attributed to anonymous artist Banksy: “They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” I have no idea whether he actually said that, and there are other versions around, along with an anonymous version from a different angle: “He who is remembered, never truly dies”.

The point here is that as long as a person is remembered, they’re still with us. That’s another reason why it’s so important to speak the names of those we’ve lost, especially while there are still those who remember them from first hand experience.

Sure, a reader of a Dedication page won’t know who, specifically, this Nigel listed there was, but they will know that Matt thought enough of that Nigel person, and those he left behind, to speak his name in print. Same for the others also remembered. For me, and probably others, that means the world.

Obviously a gay romance novel isn’t for everyone, but he’s written a variety of things over the years (you can check out Matt’s author page on Amazon to see some examples). But you don’t have to into the genre to appreciate when a kind person does something that touches someone else, and Matt’s inclusion of Nigel in his new book’s Dedication page did exactly that.

Thanks, Matt.

The things I do

The hardest thing about suddenly living alone is learning to live alone. It’s not merely about keeping our own company, though that can be a challenge for some people. Instead, it’s about having to take sole responsibility for absolutely everything, every day, and that gets exhausting. Theoretically, that should get easier over time, but it certainly isn’t easy at the start. For some of us, monitoring our own health can add another burden to the mix.

For more than twenty months I’ve been re-learning how to live alone. It’s not just that for 24 years I lived with Nigel, but also that for more than a decade before that I lived with one or more people, whether flatmates or with a partner. Its been some 35 years since I was alone all the time, so I’m not even remotely used to it. Add to that how important Nigel was in my life, and that’s a recipe for disaster right there.

Some people think about the opportunities I have, to decorate the house however I want, to choose what to buy for it, what to discard, all of that, without having to consult anyone else is a great. The reality is very different: Having to consider Nigel when making a decision about something wasn’t a burden, so I had nothing to be liberated from. All of which makes my situation now seem unreal to me. So, I get to choose how the house is decorated and equipped—big deal. Supposedly “good” things like that are far outweighed by the bad.

Like health, for example.

Since 2016, I’ve had a string of health issues, beginning with that cardiac stent and continuing right through to two bouts of tachycardia (one requiring hospitalisation) and one bout of atrial fibrillation (which also required hospitalisation). Every step of the way, Nigel was there for me. As I put it a month after Nigel died, while I was still living alone in our house in Auckland:
[I]t scares the crap out of me that I might have another afib incident while living here, all alone, and have no choice other than to call an ambulance, no matter how difficult that would be (dealing with the dogs, for example). Nigel took care of me when I had an afib incident and helped keep me from freaking out. That’s all gone now, and I have to rely on myself, and that’s frankly terrifying.
My anxiety was eased a little bit when I drew up a Will, but that mostly just took care of my fear that I might die from a broken heart, as I talked about at the time. The anxiety about possible health problems persisted well after I moved to Hamilton, and the major reason for that was the fact I was alone and needed to figure out how to monitor myself, and to try to make up for the fact that Nigel was no longer there to notice subtle changes I wouldn’t see.

Not very long after I moved, I ordered the six-lead version of a device called KardiaMobile, which performs a basic ECG and detects atrial fibrillation (afib), tachycardia (unusually fast heart rate), and bradycardia (unusually slow heart rate). When I first saw the cardiologist way back in June 2018, he recommended the device, adding “it’s rather expensive though—around $400.”

For a variety of reasons, especially that I just didn’t get around to it, I didn’t order one. Then the new Apple Watch later came out, and it had the ability to monitor not just heart rate, but also detect afib. Unfortunately, at the time that function was only licensed in the USA, and so, it made no sense to get a new watch which didn’t even have the afib detection capability in New Zealand.

More time passed, and after Nigel died I remembered the device. The sole importer into New Zealand was out of stock—though their price was far less than $400. After I moved to Hamilton, I looked again, and they had it, but I’d also stumbled across the fact that there was a newer version that was the equivalent of a six-lead ECG, while the NZ distributor only carried the 2-lead version. So, I ordered the 6-lead version from a supplier in the USA (also under $400)—just as Covid-19 was starting to take off. It arrived at my door the day before NZ Lockdown began.

When the device arrived, I took it out of the shipping box and left it on the table for a few days in case it had any virus on it (at the time, it never occurred to me to wipe down the shrink-wrapped box with alcohol, something I did once I was able to order-in things again). A photo of the still shrink-wrapped box is up top; the photo below shows my device out of its box.

The first time I used the device, it found no irregular rhythms, which is what I would’ve expected, but it also showed me that I had it set-up, and was using it, correctly. After that, I used it whenever I felt “odd” (often after taking my blood pressure), and each time it was normal. The reassurance was more valuable to me than I can possibly express.

After I had the cryoablation procedure in December last year, I used the KardiaMobile frequently (and randomly), just to make sure I haven’t had tachycardia or afib. That’s been reassuring, too, because it showed that going off the dangerous drug didn’t put me into afib.

I’m now using it periodically to make sure the change to my heart rhythm drug (which I talked about last week) doesn’t cause problems. It’s important to note it’s highly improbable there will be any problems at the moment because the daily dosage is the same; problems, if there are any, wouldn’t be likely to happen until I start reducing the daily dosage.

This was the best I could do to monitor my health in a way that was somewhat like the close observations of me Nigel would’ve made, though his would have been based on him seeing changes in my behaviour or bearing that I wouldn’t see, and mine was based on, basically, clinical data. It’s the best I can do.

The two together—Nigel’s observations and my clinical data—would have been a formidable force, but that’s not possible now. Even so, I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that whenever I’ve used the device I’ve thought about Nigel, as if he was there helping me, and also comforting and reassuring me. The device has pretty dramatically reduced my anxiety and worry about what “could” happen, and the fact that Nigel’s not here to help me. To me, then, this purchase was among the best-spent few hundred dollars of my entire life.

I’m still learning to live alone, how to take sole responsibility for absolutely everything, every day. It can be exhausting, but at least I found a way to monitor my own health, and that’s definitely taken a burden out of the mix. It may not sound like all that much, but it’s one of things I do to deal with the additional responsibilities and burdens I now have in my solo life. And, so far it works.

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.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Rainfall in my life

Into each life some rain must fall, as Longfellow put it. This week brought a deluge to my life, and I considered building an ark. Metaphorical arks for those floods in life aren’t necessarily easy to come by, though, but maybe we can nevertheless find ourselves on dry land.

Earlier this month, I stopped getting emails on my private account. At first I didn’t think much about it—email traffic ebbs and flows, after all, and it coincided with the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend. A few days later, it became clear something was wrong.

I thought that there must be a problem with the email service provider, so I logged into the account. I eventually found a link to check the DNS, the service that translates a website domain into the numeric Internet address that computers can access. It found there were errors.

I next logged into Nigel’s account with the company he bought the domain from, and I had a terrible time navigating the site, but eventually saw the domain wasn’t listed in his account. I checked his past orders and found the invoice from when he renewed the domain for five years. That five years was up on June 2.

This points to the part of this story that maybe could be considered my fault.

A month or so after Nigel died, I did something that broke my email. As I worked to fix it (and I did), I checked his domain account at the time and saw that same receipt. I don’t know whether it was “widow brain” (it probably was) or something else, but at the time I saw it as dated “2019”, when it really said “2016”. So, the domain expired in 2021, not the 2024 I thought it was. I should have been more observant.

The domain service provider also should’ve sent out a reminder email before it expired. But I’ve been monitoring Nigel’s email account since he died in case there was anything important, and there was never any warning email from the domain provider. I even logged into Nigel’s account online to double check they hadn’t sent a reminder at the very last minute. They hadn’t. The domain company absolutely should have sent a warning email (like the company I use for most of my domains does).

Finally, Nigel himself bears some perfectly human responsibility: He didn’t have the domain registration set to automatically renew so he wouldn’t have to remember (I have auto-renew on all mine for that very reason). Sure, in hindsight it’s obvious he should’ve done that, but when he last renewed it, he had no reason to think he’d be dead three years later. Besides, the payment method he’d probably have used was cancelled after he died, so it wouldn’t have worked, anyway.

Add it all up, and there were several missed opportunities, many of which were unavoidable, but only one—lack of preemptive support from the domain company—makes me grumpy. But how can I be angry at anyone when it was mostly a perfect storm in which everything went wrong? Besides, their customer support people did spend an hour and a half on the phone with me trying to help—it was just too late for them to do anything (it’s now in the hands if the domain registrar—yet another company involved in this, and one we had no direct connection to).

I was upset about all this because Nigel got the domain in the first place so we wouldn’t have to keep changing everything using an email address every time we changed Internet Service Providers, something we did several times over the years. Over time, that domain became a kind of metaphor for the family Nigel and I had, so losing it feels a bit like losing our family yet again.

All hope is not completely lost. Some IT professionals are trying to regain it for me. If they don’t succeed, then the last backup is that I have it on “back order” for when it’s publicly available again—in 90 days. All of that may fail, though, so I’m coming to terms with the fact I may never get it back, and I need to deal with the implications of that.

Yesterday and today I spent many, many hours changing the email address used for my various online accounts one way or another. There were dozens and dozens of them. I think I finally finished—I hope? It was every bit as awful as it was back in 2017 when I went through a similar process, and also not by choice, actually.

This isn’t all bad: Changing my email address in various accounts led me to delete lots of dead sites from my password manager (and to better organise the ones left). It also means an end to the perpetual stream of spam emails—the cockroaches of the Internet—going to Nigel’s email account. I’ve slowly unsubscribed his address from newsletters, stores, etc., and the last few left will pretty much take care of themselves now that his email address doesn’t work.

That’s the best light I can put on all this, I’m afraid. Still, maybe it’s all for the best. Maybe it was time to tidy up the last lingering details. I haven’t done it before now because it, too, feels like losing our family yet again, so slow and steady was a gentler way for me to proceed, and so, the only way I could proceed.

“Into each life some rain must fall, some days must be dark and dreary”. I think I’ve had more than my fair share of such days lately, but I still believe—hope—that “behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Leo’s toy rampage

One thing that Leo has in common with Jake (when he was Leo’s age) is that he tears new soft toys open so he can pull out all the guts. Then he chews the carcass. And chews it. And chews it until it’s destroyed.

This past Saturday, I bought some new soft toys while I was at The Base (it was a special stop, actually). The top photo in the montage at left shows the two toys I bought. The bottom row shows Leo chewing the toy next to a pile of guts that he’d already pulled out—that photo was maybe an hour after the top one. The bottom right photo is what the pig looked like the next day (and still does).

The toy was unusual (among soft toys I usually buy) because the arms and legs were ropes with knots at the ends, which made it good for tug of war. Theoretically. In reality, Leo managed to untie one of the arms within a few minutes. I re-tied the knot.

The next day, Sunday, I noticed he’d untied a knot again, and had also managed to start to unravel the braided rope. So, I re-wound the rope and re-tied the knot. The bottom right photo shows the no longer braided arm. It’s no longer knotted, either. Leo’s clearly very industrious.

Leo had a really good time playing with (destroying) the toy. In the midst of the initial destruction, on Saturday, he looked up at me at one point and had what seemed like a look like pure joy on hos face. I don’t know if it was or not, but he sure looked happy—very happy. Kind of made up for all the guts picking up I had to do—several times.

When Jake was young, he had soft toy bunnies, something I talked about, with a photo, back in 2008. He had them for years, and when Sunny came along they sometimes shared the bunnies. Jake eventually lost interest, and over time, Sunny became mostly interested in using the toys to play tug of way (I bet she would’ve liked the rope-armed toys I bought last Saturday). Sunny played tug of war with Leo for a time, even after her teeth were removed (before her surgery, I posted a photo of Sunny and Leo playing tug of war with the last of those bunnies, something I found in a box when I was unpacking here in the new house). Jake took no notice.

Leo’s now the only one still playing with (destroying) a soft toy. I have no idea when or whether he’ll stop or not. The fact that Jake didn’t continue doesn’t necessarily mean Leo won’t. Right now, though, he’s clearly enjoying them. He’s also entertaining me. Win/win.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 356 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 356, “Eine schwierige Zeit” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Trying again

This health journey has certainly not been straightforward. There have been many changes to the prescriptions they gave me, including dosage of some drugs as well as changing others completely. There have also been a couple procedures along the way. Not all of the changes went exactly as planned or smoothly. Like now. Still, the overall trend is still moving forward.

I saw my doctor the end of May, as I do every six months, in order to renew my prescriptions. I again talked with him about how tired I feel all the time, and I added that I know that it could be months before I get an appointment with the cardiologists to review my prescriptions, and two of them I’m particularly anxious to get rid of. We’re working to change one.

The drug I can’t change at the moment is Dabigatran, a “powerful anticoagulant” doctors put me on when I was hospitalised back in September 2018. It has very unpleasant side effects, so when the cardiologist I saw back in October 2019 told me that they’d look to putting me on a milder drug after my ablation procedure, I was thrilled.

I mentioned all this to my doctor, who didn’t know what that “milder drug” might be (and neither do I). It turns out that dabigatran causes significantly less severe bleeding than the other two approved/fully-funded drugs. The first of those is Rivaroxaban, a drug I was prescribed back in October by the cardiologist I saw privately, but I never started it because the risk of severe bleeding frightened me too much. The other drug is Warfarin, which is usually prescribed for elderly patients (because it’s more easily “reversed” in the event of a severe bleed).

I’ve read some research that seems to show that low-dose aspirin isn’t appropriate for people with atrial fibrillation, but obviously they can’t be far enough down the research path yet to know if that includes people like me, whose afib has been treated with ablation. Which means I have no idea whether that’s an option or not.

All of that means that we really do need to wait until I see the cardiologist, since they’re specialists in the field. I may be somewhat less resistant to taking Rivaroxaban now than I was last year, because at the time I was very uneasy about going through any drug changes alone. I still am, actually.

So, one of the two drugs will have to remain as it is for now.

The other drug is Diltiazem, a drug used to slow my heart rate, and so, to keep me out of tachycardia and afib. I started taking the drug back in July 2018 when the first cardiologist I saw privately put me on it as an alternative to beta blockers, a class of drugs my body can’t tolerate (at all). The hope was that Diltiazem wouldn’t make me as tired as the beta blockers did, however, it only helped a little. Worse, though, a few months later I was back in hospital with tachycardia, and the doctors rejigged all my prescriptions, including the dosage of Diltiazem.

Despite changes, I’ve remained on Diltiazem all along, and I’ve become convinced that it’s the drug most likely to be the one making me feel tired—even exhausted—all the time. My doctor agrees with me.

The dose I’m currently on—120mg per day—is in a sustained-release capsule. My doctor was going to have me take one 30mg tablet twice a day (because they’re not sustained release), however, they don’t make that dosage any more, and 60mg is now the lowest dosage. So, for now, I’ll take one 60mg tablet twice a day (same dosage as now). Then, the doctor wants me to eliminate one tablet, when I feel ready, with an eye toward eventually stopping it altogether. When I picked up the prescription for the 60mg tablets, I asked the pharmacist if I could cut a tablet in half, and he said I could. I think I’d feel more comfortable dropping the dosage a little more slowly, so I’ll ask my doctor if the next step could be half of a 60mg tablet (30mg) twice a day, then eliminate one of those. It’s just I’ve been on the drug for nearly three years, and I’m a little leery of making a change too abruptly. At the moment, though, I’ll start the two tablets per day routine as soon as I finish all the remaining 120mg capsules, which will be the end of the week or so.

I feel good about the change I can make because I think it’ll help—and fervently hope it will change my life. If that sounds like I’m setting myself up for disappointment, the reality is that I always hope for the best possible outcome, but I don’t necessarily expect it. In this case, I just want to feel better, and if I feel even slightly better as a result, that’ll be a major improvement, and good enough—for now.

I made one other related change: I switched the chemist I go to, changing to a location of the same NZ-owned chain that’s closer to my house. Originally, I went to the chemist close to my doctor so that I could get my prescription and go fill it. However, it’s a 15-25 minute drive from home, depending on traffic, and I go every month to pick up the repeats (because I don’t want to have to destroy lots of drugs if my prescriptions are eventually changed; normally I’d get three months at once). The chemist I used to go to wasn’t just farther from my house, it also wasn’t open as much: They closed fairly early on Saturdays, and all day on Sundays and all public holidays. The one I’m going to now is maybe a 5-10 minute drive, and because it’s in Te Awa (the mall at The Base), it’s open seven days and on the public holidays that the mall is open (which is all but three and a half days). This is far more convenient for me.

I also use that particular chain rather than the two places that offer “free prescriptions” (meaning no $5 co-pay) because the cheap places are Australian-owned, and they’re driving smaller pharmacies out of business. Going to locations of that NZ-owned chain supports New Zealand business, but it has the advantages of being part of a chain (for example, it offers rewards points and specials) that small independents don't have. The chain’s stores are usually franchises, so they’re small NZ-owned businesses, just with a bigger company behind them, All of which puts them in a stronger position to survive foreign competition. Basically, it’s my pesky values in action again.

This, then, is another attempt at improving the way I feel, and so, what I can do each day. I don’t know that this attempt will be any more successful than previous ones, nor how likely it is that this attempt could end in a setback. But I have to try. Again.

That, and hope for the best.

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.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

I’ll take a good day

A little after three this afternoon, I went up to The Base, the big shopping area not far from my house. I needed to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy in the mall (which, you’ll remember from earlier adventures, is called Te Awa). I also wanted to go to Briscoe’s because I needed a new pizza cutter to replace my current one, which will break soon. I wanted to go to that store because they were having a sale, which I know Kiwis will find very hard to believe (the joke is that they have sales for nearly every second of every day).

I accomplished everything I wanted and negotiated many successful purchases (an obscure cultural reference…), but I was truly surprised that The Base was so mobbed. Today is Saturday of a three-day holiday weekend (Queen’s Birthday is Monday), but it’s hardly a big shopping weekend. Yet it was.

I parked farther away from the entrance to Te Awa than I’d planned, but the exercise was good for me—not “close the exercise ring on my watch” good, but pretty good. And, I didn’t freeze or get rained on, either/both of which can happen this time of year. So, it was all good. On the way home, I even tried out an alternative route for me to go when I go to pick up my mother-in-law, a way to avoid getting stuck waiting to turn during rush hour. The route is a little out of the way, but I think it’ll be better.

The thing is, I’d normally look at the clock, see 3pm and think, “I’ll go tomorrow”, but I didn’t. I’d normally think I couldn’t be bothered heading out and potentially facing crowds, but I did. And normally if I overcame all of that, the crowds would’ve worn me out and I would’ve been tired and subdued when dealing with store clerks, but I wasn’t. In fact, I was downright chipper. I have no idea why today was different than any other day, but it was. I’ll take it.

This is adapted from what I posted on my personal Facebook.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Leo is four

Today is Leo’s fourth birthday. This year is another first birthday without a family member, the third in a row: 2019 was his first birthday without his sister, Bella, last year, of course, was his first birthday since we lost his other daddy, and this year is his first birthday since we lost his sister, Sunny. Fortunately, he takes it all in his stride.

He still sniffs Sunny’s collar first thing nearly every morning. However, he and Jake seem to get along much better than they used to. At least, they don’t growl at each other, and I count that as a win.

Leo’s such a happy little guy, and he loves to sleep on my lap, something I’m especially glad of on this first day of winter. Sure, he still “barks at any person walking past the house (especially if they have a dog), and also at any truck driving past,” as I said last year, but he’s also still not likely to bark when I leave the house or when I return, something I also talked about last year.

The whole family loves him, and why wouldn’t they? Like I said last year, maybe that’s why he’s so happy all time.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Leo!


Leo is three
– 2020
Leo is two – 2019
Leo is one year old – 2018
Another new addition
All blog posts tagged “Leo” – All the posts I’ve talked about him