Archive for March, 2014

A different kind of March Madness

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

We took a break this week from our “House of Cardio” and discussions of Steve’s upcoming bypass surgery to talk about the other “C” word that has consumed our household for the past four months: College.

The news of acceptance or rejection at the schools Jennifer has applied to are arriving, in addition to the financial award letters.  So allow me to rant a little about the current state of higher education.

One of the schools that Jennifer applied to and was accepted at is Chapman University in Orange County. This is the school that her sister. Valerie goes to and will be graduating from at the end of May.

Inside the glossy envelope covered with photos of smiling students – smiling because they haven’t had to start making payments on their student loans yet – was a letter on ivory linen paper with gold embossing telling Jennifer that she had been selected as a Chancellor Scholar and as a result, would be receiving a scholarship of $20,000 a year.

Wow! Twenty grand a year – that sounds great! Jennifer flips through the brochure and sees a block of numbers with the tuition and room and board costs totaling $30,000. Jennifer does some quick math in her head (all the math she ever needed, she learned in third grade not Calculus) and figures that the she only needs to come up with $10,000 a year to make up the difference. That’s doable. She can work part time and borrow about $30,000 in student loans – which is pretty much the average amount of debt that most students graduate with today.

The only problem is that in Jennifer’s haste in reading the numbers, she didn’t notice that $30,000 is the cost to attend Chapman per semester, not per year. So she really needs to make up a difference of $40,000 times four years. There is no way that Steve and I will support her borrowing $160,000 for an undergraduate degree.

The interesting thing is that because her sister goes to Chapman, I was able to pull out the same brochure that Valerie got four years ago and compare the numbers. What I discovered is that tuition has gone up by $8,000 and room and board has gone up by $2,000.

Valerie was able to go to Chapman because she got a bigger scholarship, tuition/room and board was $10,000 less and she also got a Cal Grant. That all said, she’ll still graduate with enough student loan debt to make my stomach sink every time I think about it.

How can an undergraduate education be worth $60,000 a year? That means a three unit class costs $7,500. Unless they are teaching 18 year-olds how to spin straw into gold in English 101, that’s just a ridiculous amount. Colleges have gotten so greedy and we’re all so willing to borrow to see that our children get a college degree. Our family included.

If you’re still with me at this point, you must be thinking, “What about doing two years at the JC?” Our thoughts exactly.

House of Cardio

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Now that the angiogram showed that the blood cells in Steve’s heart have to take a number before they can make their way through his narrowed ventricles, we spent last week coming to grips with the fact that bypass surgery is in Steve’s future…his very near future.

When we were talking with the cardiologist immediately following the angiogram about scheduling his surgery, my thought was to find out how long we could delay it. Could it wait until after graduation – we have both a college and high school graduation in our family this May – but do it before his life insurance policy expires in September? (That’s a joke; we’re finding a good dose of gallows humor is creeping into our discussions about this.)

But after talking further, we arrived at the decision that the sooner the surgery could be scheduled, the better. He’s sort of a walking time bomb; he doesn’t want to be exploding at an inopportune time like when Jennifer Lynn’s name is called and she walks to the podium to get her diploma.

So the doctor’s scheduler got back to him with a date of April 18 which in terms of being able to prepare and work around client assignments and major events is the perfect date. Thank you God!

The 18th also happens to be Good Friday, which will certainly have an additional significance in our household. Given that he’ll still be in the hospital on Sunday getting used to his squeaky clean arteries, I’m guessing that ham probably won’t be on the menu for Easter dinner.

Bypassing the stent

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Last week I wrote about Steve going in for a pre-birthday angiogram and possibly coming home with a souvenir from his overnight stay in the hospital in the form of a stent. Or another possible scenario from the angiogram was that the cardiologist wouldn’t find enough of a blockage to warrant a stent, and Steve would be discharged the same day. He could go on his merry way. No big deal.Angiogram1

So on Thursday morning, when I got a call from the nurse just a couple of hours after I had dropped Steve off at the hospital telling me that I could pick him up at noon, I was all chipper, figuring that his quick discharge meant that his arteries were given the all clear sign. “He’s had dentist appointments that lasted longer than the angiogram,” I thought. “No reason for me to have worried.”

When I arrived at the hospital, Steve was dressed and sitting in a wheelchair (standard hospital procedure) chit-chatting with the cardiologist. I don’t remember the doctor’s exact words, but it was something along the lines of “there’s more work to be done.”

It turns out that the angiogram showed that Steve’s arteries look less like the Novato Narrows and a lot more like the entire Los Angeles freeway system at 5:00 on a Friday afternoon before a three day weekend. Clogs and slowdowns all over the place.

The doctor started tossing out numbers – 80 percent, 100 percent – the kind of scores you want to hear from your daughter if she is telling you how she did on a recent math test…but not so much when it’s the cardiologist talking about the percentage of blockage of in your husband’s arteries.

While I struggled to make sense of all this, I heard the doctor say that she wanted to perform quintruple triple-toe loop salchow half-pipe bypass surgery on Steve.  At least that’s what I thought I heard in my stunned state of mind. Quadruple…quintuplet…anything bigger than a double and it all blends together.

“And by the way,” she added, “you might want to consider having that done REALLY soon.“

Wow, I didn’t see that coming.

All this information was delivered very casually by the doctor – as if she was giving the barista at Starbucks her order. “Sure, make it a venti bypass operation.”

However in retrospect, I can see that the doctor was actually being very kind. If she had told me to sit down because she had some “very serious news to give me,” it would have prompted panic. Instead, her almost cheery, matter-of-fact, “we do this kind of operation ALL the time” attitude kept me from freaking out as I imagined the thoracic surgeon firing up a chainsaw to cut into Steve’s chest.

We’ve had a few days to come to grips with the prospect of Steve’s surgery. Now the question is just when to do it; the recovery period is six to eight weeks and he won’t be able to drive for a month. Definitely a bummer.  He’ll talk to the scheduler in the doctor’s office on Monday. In the meantime, we’ll celebrate his birthday and be thankful that we can look forward to celebrating many, many more birthdays together.

Birthday wish

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Steve’s birthday is next Sunday but he might get an early birthday present in the form of a stent. He is checking into the hospital on Thursday and depending on if his arteries look like Highway 101 at the Atherton exit where five lines narrow into two lanes, he may come home on Friday with a teeny, tiny, chain link fence tube in his heart. The plan is that this little piece of metal will keep his blood flowing at the speed limit…so to speak.

However, if the blockage in his heart isn’t severe enough to warrant doing a stent, Steve will be released the same day. But we’re assuming that he probably will be one of the half million people every year who get stents, so he’ll spend the night in the hospital.

I’m sure I’m not unique in this, but the thought of my husband in a hospital bed is kind of scary. Steve and I have been married almost 30 years and we have been extremely blessed by consistently good health. I really can’t remember a day that he has been sick; the only malady that he suffers from regularly is really awful allergies between May and July…but so does everyone else in Sonoma County.

So as health concerns often do, Steve being in the hospital and facing having a stent, reminds me that we are not invincible. Even though we have been very fortunate and haven’t had to come to terms with it, we are vulnerable to disease and aging. But while that is true, there is also a lot of hope to be found in him having the procedure. Everyone we have mentioned this to, who knows someone who has had a stent, says how much better they felt after the surgery – more energy and no chest pain.

Steve says he really does look forward to just plain feeling better – and maybe even going back to running now and then if his knees hold out. I want that for him too. I plan to celebrate many, many more birthdays with him.