As you may recall, in April I made a deal with the cardiologist who had brought me back from near death in a hospital procedure room the previous December — and two months later also got me out of a-fib. He agreed to let me go off amiodorone. Amiodorone is the med that was keeping a-fib at bay but also making me feel like a stumbling zombie. In exchange, I was to check my heart rate every morning before I got out of bed. Any number between 60 and 100 beats a minute was good to go. Over 100 beats? The a-fib was back! What then? Call the cardiologist and get ready for another cardioversion. (Allegedly a day procedure the second time.)
To check your heart rate these days, you don’t have to count your pulse beats against a stop-watch the old-fashioned way. Now there’s the oximeter, a gadget just about the size it looks in the picture (on a desk-top) and named for the first of its two functions: determining the oxygen level in your blood. As a pulmonary fibrosis patient, Bill had two of them, one on each floor of the house. He kept sticking a finger in one or the other just about every fifteen minutes, hoping I suppose that if he did it often enough the disappointing top number on the little screen might go up. It never did. [If you’re really curious, 95-99 is excellent, 90-95 is okay, below 90 means trouble.]
My feeling about many of Bill’s medically flavored devices was that some of them might come in handy when I got older, one way or another. As the oximeter did — because it also measures heart beats per minute. You press the bottom two sides together to open the top enough to insert a forefinger. Then you press the button near the top so the oximeter lights up and goes to work. Presto! Two numbers appear in red on the lighted screen — top one for oxygen saturation, bottom one for beats per minute.
Awful as amiodorone was for me, I was nonetheless dismayed at the price of my freedom from it. “But if I have to call you and hurry to the hospital — that means I’m chained to Princeton for life!”
“Where would you go?” asked the cardiologist. He’s a dear man, and works very hard, and really cares about his patients. But he’s only 57 and perhaps feels that old-old people don’t mind rocking away their remaining years on a porch. (Especially in Princeton.) I cast about wildly for a destination. “Well, Florida?” I began. (Actually I dislike Florida. Heat, hurricanes, huge highways everywhere — and flat as a pancake.). “I have a son and grandchildren in Florida.”
Florida was apparently all right with the cardiologist. I could still call him from Florida and fly home. A day or two in a-fib might not matter too much with all the other medication I was still taking. “And suppose I want to fly to Europe?” (I think big.) At this he looked dubious. “Where in Europe?”
I had no immediate plans; that wasn’t the point. I wanted him to give me back freedom, as much freedom as I could manage at my age. So I improvised: “Maybe London, Paris, the south of France? Places where I can speak the language? (This was stretching it; my unused French has eroded badly with the years, but the cardiologist didn’t know that.) “Or Israel!” I declared. “Bill’s favorite niece lives in Israel. I might want to go there!”
The cardiologist brightened up. “Good hospitals in Israel,” he declared. “If you revert, have the Israeli hospital doctor call me; we’ll take it from there. But don’t forget to buy trip cancellation insurance.”
An imprimatur! I could get out of Princeton (nice as it may be) and go somewhere else. No crossing oceans yet. First I have to learn to be an old old person in an airport. But make hay while the sun shines, say I, because who knows how long it’s going to shine? So tomorrow I’m off to (what a surprise!) Florida — for a short visit to my two pre-adolescent grandchildren who live there with their mom and dad, my younger son. I haven’t seen these grandchildren for a year and a half. School has begun for them already, but we’ll have afternoons and early evenings together, and there will be time with their parents during the day. Philadelphia to Tampa-St. Pete is only a three-hour flight. I fully expect to survive it.
And I’m not going alone of course. Guess what cute little black thing is coming with me? Back in about ten days.