Monday, December 28, 2015

Lubbock is paralyzed—not with fear, but with snow

They say that we had a similar storm back in 1983. Well, I'm not so sure as I remember a few times that Judy and I would take out the cross-country skis and terrorize the local parks instead of going to work. But still: For a place like Lubbock, that was a monster of storm that hit us yesterday and last night.
In the days before we got hit, we were bombarded with all kind of hyperbole. Why, one could have thought that the apocalypse was imminent! Fortunately I do not watch local news and their clownish weather experts, so I was spared the worst. Nevertheless, there was quite a bit of anticipation: So when is it gonna hit? How bad is it gonna be?
On Saturday night, Tom and Trish were over for a belated Christmas feast with one of my patented Kamado-prepped turkeys. Joining us for the fun was Janet from down the street, and of course the imminent End of the World was part of the evening's conversation. The afternoon was OK, a bit nippier than the week before when we had hit spring-like temperatures, but certainly not really nasty or worse.
All of that changed abruptly when, at 21:30 hours, the sounds of the wind, which had increased in strength for quite some time, were joined by the loud clatter of falling ice. The front had arrived! Freezing rain and sleet were driving at 30+ mph from the north, pelting my garage door with the first round of ammunition. Needless to say, the guests soon left.
The wind howled all night, and in the morning things were white in those areas where the precipitation had had a chance to actually settle down. You know, in Lubbock rain and snow don't fall vertically; they follow horizontal patterns! Still, it was all a bit disappointing: All that doomsday talk for that? Janet and I shared a cup of forenoon hot tea and lambasted the quack forecasters.
And then it started snowing! The wind never stopped, but suddenly we had white-out conditions, almost out of nowhere. TXDoT had warned of "blizzard conditions" in its advisories, and that's what we had on our hands for the next 14 hours or so. I have never experienced such violent precipitation, with spindrift and falling snow indistinguishable. It snowed and snowed, and it blew and blew, and thus was born what the illustrious Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, our hometown newspaper, labeled Winter Storm Goliath.
I don't know whether the "Storm from '15" will truly enter the folklore of the South Plains, but when I awoke this morning I was stunned by the drifts in my yard. Sure, if you have lived all your life in Billings, Montana, or Buffalo, New York, then you rightfully chuckle and ask, "What storm?" But this is Texas, on the same latitude as Morocco, and we just aren't used to something like this. So give us our one day in the news!
For my part, I had already pulled out my cross-country boots last night in anticipation of a romp through the park. So, after breakfast and under a brilliant blue sky, I stepped into the bindings and headed for the park. On the way I paid a visit to Janet who chronicled the occasion by taking a pic of me in full regalia. Later we subjected her dachshund, Chase, to his first taste of snow.
It was an amusing excursion, I have to say. It is just mind-boggling how many pick-up owners as well as drivers of normal cars manage to pull out of their driveways and—get stranded! Believe or not, the drifts were not just in the backyards—duh! I spotted the first F150 just down the street from me, with the driver frantically gunning the engine in hopes of getting traction. Or some other hope. As I said, it was entertaining.
A few folks were out to clear their driveways, and a few friendly comments were thrown one way and the other. Everybody (except the bubba drivers) seemed to be happy. It felt like Sunday, even though it was Monday. Who cares? Lubbock was closed and remained so for the rest of the day. No newspaper or mail delivery, no open convenience stores, a shuttered mall, Mickey D. dark and forlorn, not an open restaurant in sight. At Bed Bath and Beyond, I saw Lubbock's tallest drift, probably five feet tall.
I skied for a little more than two hours, over to Quaker on one side, then to Slide on the other, both of them major thoroughfares. There were few signs of snow removal (they use front-end loaders and graders for this purpose here), and traffic was less than light, almost non-existent. I stopped by Smitty and Lori's place down by the park, and they hadn't ventured out yet to assess how deep the drift were around his truck. Here is the photographic evidence.
The only part of Lubbock's population that seemed unfazed were the Canada geese that populate our parks in the winter. The lake was frozen over so that they could march happily in the sun. It was a veritable Winter Wonderland.
In the afternoon I took a walk over to the post office to drop off a small package with some eBay stuff. It was about 3 o'clock, and traffic hadn't increased one bit. The Loop seemed to be snow free, with the few trucks and cars that were on the road going way too fast, in my opinion. But if you own a truck, your civic duty seems to be to show everyone in the world how large your dick is and how loudly you can roar your engine. You gotta love Texas! And you gotta love the innovative park jobs that F150 drivers come up with.
The melting process will start in earnest tomorrow, and that's when things will become messy and really dangerous. Lubbock will awaken from its paralysis, and life will once again normalize. But I am sure we'll talk about the Blizzard of 2015 for quite a while.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Winding toward Christmas in an unexpected way

Munich airport Christmas market, November 22
The last time I updated the blog I was still glowing from the wonderful time we had had in Spain and Portugal—and right now I am still glowing from some of the light fevers that hit me in the days after my second ablation less than a week ago.

Things can change rather quickly.

Let's first of all say it out loud: I am doing well, the fevers are gone, and I hope to recover perfectly this time around (even thought that's what we thought after the first heart ablation this summer as well). While writing this I am sitting in the backyard of my friends Martha and Alan in Temple, with Osler the Doberman and Clifford, Chewbacca's look-alike, lending me company. I am recovering well on a 74-degree day in central Texas, looking forward to driving back up to Lubbock tomorrow and reclaiming my house after an absence of the better part of one-and-a-half months.

After our time on the Iberian peninsula, I spent another week with Sabine in Freising. For her, the daily grind had started up again but I had elected to stick around for a few extra days. Coming back to Germany from the south was a shocking experience, literally: When we arrived, the Munich airport's Christmas market was going full throttle and it snowed! So much for eternal summer. It didn't get much better until I finally got back to Lubbock, late on Sunday, November 29. It was cold, but at least there was sunshine.

The schedule called for a week in Lubbock, enough time to take care of the bills, some eBay stuff, the occasional bike ride, and of course the WTCA Christmas Party. Also thrown into the mix was a visit with my cardiologist, to check the old ticker. Well, the news wasn't so hot: There was a flutter back in the heart, something we thought we had nixed with the first laser procedure back in late July. Shit.
Approaching Cancun
When things had looked happier and healthier, I had booked a flight to Cancun for December 8, to spend a week down in Playa del Carmen. But suddenly the heart issues came to the forefront, and on Monday the 7th telephone calls and e-mails started to take over. Add to that a bike frame that I had sold on eBay and that FedEx could not track, and you can start to imagine how I spent my last three hours in the Admiral's Club in DFW on the way to Mexico. Dr. Horton at St. David's Hospital had a cancellation for an ablation the following week, the frame was spotted, then not, and suddenly I was on a 757 to Cancun, with a racing heart, not knowing how all this was going to play out.

The first two days in Mexico were not about relaxing and just listening to the waves but rather shooting e-mails back and forth. Finally, I had it all in the bag: I was going to leave the all-inclusive a day early, get back to Lubbock in time to drive down to Austin, and stay with friends before and after the procedure. The hotel was easy to work with and refunded the cancelled day, American Airlines (and my old friend Jose in the DFW Admiral's Club who had proactively booked for me a second flight back to the US) didn't charge me any fees since I had paid for my travel with miles, and my old friend Micki in Austin immediately stepped up to take me to the hospital and then pick me up again. Things started to fall in place, and I actually was able to enjoy some of my time in Mexico. I had taken the Ritchey along, but I rode less than 50 miles—that's how shitty I felt. Sometimes things happen fast.
Bubbly fun at the all-inclusive
To show you how much in flux everything had been: I was not notified of the time when I should report to St. David's until about 7 a.m. on the day of the procedure—be there at 9:30 a.m, it said. That's the nature of cancellations, I suppose. But I was in good hands, starting from the time that I arrived at Micki and her husband, Kent's, home in Oak Hill, just outside of Austin, until now, here in Temple. My procedure took place on Wednesday, December 16 (at noon on the 14th I had still listened to the waves of the Caribbean). I was released 24 hours later, a bit groggy still, but in better cardiac health than before. Doc Horton found two areas that were transmitting erroneous electrical impulses in the area that he had burned during the first procedure. After this initial laser blast I was given more adrenaline to make the system fire on all cylinders, and after a 20-miunte wait (is that why I felt as if a truck had hit me?) he found two other spots in a different part of the heart (both known to emit such impulses) that were active, and he burned the hell out of them, too. My cardiac nurse said that altogether he used 32 minutes of burn time for these four areas, which to her showed that he was very thorough; overall, I was knocked out for more than two-and-a-half hours.

Sounds pretty gruesome, doesn't it? It sure is a good thing that they know how to put us out of our misery and then bring us back without too much of a hangover. As I said, 24 hours later I left the hospital and spent the next two days with Micki and Kent before driving on Saturday morning up to Martha and Alan in Temple. I've been taking it easy and have been napping and sleeping a lot, but I also have gone for walks and have tried (upon doctor's orders) to not be totally inactive. This morning I woke up after the best sleep so far, without body aches and the feeling that I may have been running a slight, low-grade fever. No need to get cocky or in a rush—there's still a lot of recovery to come, but I think the worst is over.

The official prognosis is that this time all rogue transmitters have been obliterated, but we thought so the first time around, too. Judging from some of the Facebook comments, few people have just one ablation to get it all fixed—some have three or even five. I hope I won't be one of them. Dr. Horton is considered to be the best in the business, and if one has had four ablations this is where one goes to get it fixed once and for all. So, let's keep our fingers crossed.

My plans for the remainder of the month have changed a bit in that I cancelled a flight to surprise Sabine over Christmas. I'll be in Lubbock, taking things easy and not getting in a rush to do anything. In a few days I'll start an easy exercise program again, but it will all be soave e piano. Tom and Trish have invited me to have Christmas dinner with them, and I am sure that I will enjoy more reading and movie watching time by myself. And then it will be 2016, and my heart will be like that of a 21-year-old!
Christmas in Micki and Kent's neighborhood
Things will be just fine, thanks to my wonderful friends and docs. I owe them all a lot!