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Bang, Zoom!

A Sign of the Times — courtesy of Stephan Pastis and “Pearls Before Swine” …

Coronavirus (29): Medical Procedures in the Age of COVID … And I’m Still Alive!

When you walk into my urologist’s office, there’s this sign at the appointment desk. It reads:

This too shall pass.
It might pass like a kidney stone.
But it will pass.


I can’t think of a more fitting description of this past year. Or of my medical experiences throughout 2020—a number that has become an adjective unto itself. As in: “Oh no! Please don’t tell me this is gonna be another 2020 moment!” Though let me hasten to add—for those of you who have said to me, “I can’t wait for 2020 to end! Bring on 2021!”—please don’t rush your precious lives away. After all, 2021 might be better; then again, it might make 2020 look like a picnic by comparison. So count your blessings!

Back on March 28, 2020, in the seventh of what is now 29 installments in my Coronavirus series—29, in keeping with my friend, Thomas L. Knapp‘s “Prime Number Obsession” (that “all sets should consist of a prime number of items”)—I wrote:

As many of you know, I have had a lifelong bout with a serious congenital intestinal disorder, which required life-saving intestinal by-pass surgery in 1974, when I was 14 years old, and which has necessitated 60+ surgical procedures since, to deal with increasingly difficult and complex side-effects from the condition. Have no fear! I intend to be here for a long time to come.

But the Coronavirus outbreak has affected me and my family on a very personal level. I was due to undergo a procedure to pulverize a rather stubborn and large kidney stone on March 13th, but it had to be postponed to March 30th, due to technical difficulties with the lithotripsy machine at the hospital. But by that point, since the procedure was considered “elective” surgery, it was canceled indefinitely. My only hope is that the stone, floating around and growing in size within my left kidney since the summer of 2018, will continue to defy the rules of gravity and stay put—because there is nothing… NOTHING… on earth that I have ever experienced to rival the pain of a lodged kidney stone. And I am a person who has a pretty high threshold for pain tolerance. Nevertheless, on a scale from 1 to 10, the pain level of a lodged kidney stone is about a 13. It’s like giving birth to the Planet Jupiter through a pinhole. Way back in 1995, I suffered agonizing, excruciating pain from a single stone fragment that got lodged in my ureter after a lithotripsy procedure. I was hospitalized for a full week, with routine morphine shots that might as well have been infusions of simple tap water. I had to endure the placement of a stent in me, which stayed there for about a month, before it was removed with the help of nothing but a local anesthetic. I cannot imagine that anything conjured up by medieval torturers could have been worse than that experience; my screams must have cleared out the urologist’s office.

But that was 1995. And this is 2020. And if I can help it, I’m going to will that kidney stone to stay put, so that what is currently considered “elective” surgery doesn’t necessitate an emergency procedure that would require me to go anywhere near a hospital—at a time when the hospitals in NYC are being overloaded by Coronavirus cases. I had two endoscopic surgical procedures scheduled in April, and they too are being postponed, regardless of my wishes, inclinations, or the dictates of my passion.

Since that time, I’ve received countless emails, Facebook messages, texts, and phone calls—from relatives, friends, and colleagues wondering how I’m doing! I’ve kept in touch with many people as often as I can, but decided to write this post so that I can point to it as a way detailing my most recent medical adventures. I do this not merely as a “public service” to describe medical procedures in the age of COVID, but also as a cathartic exercise for myself, and, most importantly, as a way of updating and thanking every person who has expressed their concern and support over these many months.

Though my hometown’s grief has been palpable, the fact is that the hospitalization, infection, and death rates have been crushed throughout New York state (despite a very recent uptick in case numbers in areas of New York City). Fortunately, elective surgeries began again in late June. 

Given this reality, I consulted with each of my doctors and it was determined that I undergo my pre-op testing in July so that I’d complete all three of my (planned) procedures within the first three weeks of August—before the possibility of any substantial uptick in novel coronavirus cases.

But the medical protocols have changed substantially since March and April when I was initially scheduled for these procedures. Three of the most important changes emerged directly from the new realities in which we live:

First, no significant medical procedure goes forth without a COVID screening within 72 hours of the appointment followed by a self-quarantine. You must wear a mask to any facility right up to the point that you are wheeled into the operating room. Since mid-March, I have been used to wearing a mask and social distancing where necessary—though distancing is not possible when doctors are getting intimate with you, so-to-speak.

Second, every procedure is scheduled in such a way as to create an environment in which waiting rooms consist of only one, two, maybe three people awaiting their appointments. And appointments are scheduled so far apart such that every operating room is thoroughly disinfected—they typically are, of course … but not like this. One would be hard pressed to find a visible speck of dust let alone any misbehaving microbe under microscopic analysis.

And finally: Nobody is allowed to accompany you into the waiting room. My sister—who has driven me to virtually every medical procedure throughout my entire life, who has sat with me right up to the point I was taken into the operating room only to greet me in recovery—had to find a place to park her car outside the facility (good luck with that!), and be on call once I emerged from the recovery room to be released from the medical facility. Aware of the emotional strain this might create in patients, medical staff rose to the occasion with the utmost care, compassion, and empathy they could possibly offer, despite—or perhaps because of—the many months they dealt with some of the most horrific conditions any of them had ever witnessed in their entire professional lives. I can’t thank them enough.

So here’s how it all went down over the past 2+ months by way of a mini-diary of events:

July 25: Pre-operative tests: EKG, chest X-rays, bloodwork. Even a consultation with both my neurologist and my cardiologist. I receive a SARS CoV 2 (COVID-19) antibody test. Results: Negative. I am approved for all upcoming procedures.

July 31: SARS CoV 2 (COVID-19) nasal swab test. Negative. Scheduled for first procedure on August 4, 2020. Onward!

August 3: Tropical Storm Warning issued for Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Isaias will be roaring up the East Coast, with high sustained winds that eventually knock down or split thousands of trees throughout the New York City metropolitan area. Power outages are widespread; one person is killed in Queens. Leaving my Brooklyn apartment on the morning of August 4, torrential rain coming down, trees swirling to the right and left of us on the parkway, I turn to my sister while she’s driving into Manhattan and say: “You gotta be kidding me! Just getting to a hospital provides us with yet another 2020 Moment!”

August 4: Colonoscopy, with a double polypectomy, while under Propofol. Clip, clip here, clip, clip there, and a couple of Tra La Las [YouTube link]. Done!

August 5: Esaphago-gastro-duodenoscopy, while under Propofol. Buzz, buzz, buzz, chirp, chirp, chirp, and a couple of La Di Das [YouTube link].  Done!

August 10: ENT appointment. Don’t ask! Done!

August 12: KUB (Kidney-Ureters-Bladder) X-rays. My, my, how things have changed since March! X-ray reveals a Death Star-sized stone inside my left kidney, and a Junior Death Star-sized stone right next to it! And the news is reporting an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn… exactly where I will be going for my pre-op COVID test and lithotripsy. WTF!

August 13: Lower- and upper-endoscopic biopsy results: All negative. I speak to the administrator at my urologist’s office and ask her: “Are you sure that nothing will interfere with my lithotripsy on the 17th?” “Well… maybe a locust invasion? I mean, who knows what can happen in four days,” she says, reassuringly.

August 14: SARS CoV 2 (COVID-19) nasal swab test. Negative. Onward!

August 17: My surgeon tells me that he doesn’t know if he can destroy both stones, so he’ll aim for Death Star, Sr., because it is, well, Mucho Senior. Sonic blasts proceed, while under Propofol +++ —Boom, Boom, Clap! Boom, Boom, Clap! Boom, Boom, Clap! [YouTube link]. Miraculously, post-op tests indicate that the lithotripsy was so dialectically powerful that it transcends “either-or” and embraces “both-and”: The surgeon succeeds in pulverizing both Senior and Junior due to their close proximity. Fragments remain. But all are passable! Done!

Or not.

“You thought you had three procedures and you’d be finished. Oops!” Purgative preps for each of the three previous procedures result in internal bleeding. I see my colorectal surgeon on September 1 and schedule an infrared radiation coagulation procedure to seal three wounds: two on the right, one on the left. Nothing political implied here, though the surgeon jokes that anytime he has a political disagreement with somebody, he extends to them an invitation to meet him in his examination room, where they are usually put in a position that makes them very agreeable.

September 8: I become very agreeable. The light saber battle begins [YouTube link]. Without Propofol or any other (even local) anesthesia. Don’t ask, don’t tell! Given my intestinal preconditions, recovery is—and continues to be—agonizing. But to paraphrase Master Yoda: “More doctors, see I must.”

September 10: I visit my new dentist (because my old dentist has retired post-COVID), and she finds me in otherwise good dental health, except for a partially impacted wisdom tooth that “bears watching.” I’ll see her for a follow-up in six months! I schedule a dental cleaning on September 26. Done! And Done!

September 24: Flu shot. Done!

September 29: Follow-up with colorectal surgeon; the two wounds on the right have healed; the one on the left requires additional recovery time. Two out of three ain’t bad [YouTube link]. Given my chronic intestinal condition, this, like all things related to it, “bears watching.” Will return for a check-up in six months. On the way home, I stop at my optometrist’s office and get my glasses adjusted. Done! And done!

October 6 (today): Routine visit to my cardiologist. Done!

All I can say is: There has indeed been a noticeable uptick in six hotspots in New York City (primarily in Queens and Brooklyn—including my own neighborhood). I am very happy that all these medical procedures and appointments are now in the rearview mirror. I remain COVID free—and intend to stay that way.

Back on May 6, 2020, I posted a pic of myself to reassure folks that I was alive (self-administered haircut and all). Today, I post another pic documenting that I’m Still Alive (albeit with a haircut provided by my own barber!).

Throughout this period, I refused to allow anything to interfere with my projects. And that includes rooting for my New York Yankees, who, miraculously, took a game from the Tampa Bay Rays last night in the opening game of the American League Division Series, 9-3!

And in terms of my work: I have reviewed, corrected, and submitted to Penn State Press the first set of page proofs for the December 2020 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, the finale to our twentieth anniversary volume, which will be the largest single issue in the history of the journal, for which I have also contributed a 30+ page essay that should raise some eyebrows. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am expecting to sign off on the second set of corrected proofs later this week.

As I said back in March: This “Kid from Brooklyn” intends “to be here for a long time to come.”

Alice Barker: Dancing the Harlem Renaissance

I came upon this piece on YouTube, and found it truly touching. From the description:

Alice Barker was a chorus line dancer during the Harlem Renaissance of the the 1930s and 40s. She danced at clubs such as The Apollo, Cotton Club, The Zanzibar Club, and on Broadway—with legends including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Although she danced in numerous movies, commercials and TV shows, she had never seen any of them, and all of her photographs and memorabilia had been lost over the years. After years of searching we found three “Soundies” Alice appeared in and were finally able to show them to her—she had never seen herself in motion in her life!

You can learn more about Alice at the little website we’ve set up for her: All of Alice’s films from this video are collected here. For more info about the dancers of the Harlem Renaissance, we recommend the lovely documentary “Been Rich All My Life”—several of the women in the film danced with Alice back in the day! A little more about the who’s who here: “We” are friends of Alice who searched for the films and made this video. I’m David Shuff, a volunteer who visits the home with my therapy dog Katie, and have known Alice for 8 years. The woman in the video is Gail Campbell, a recreation therapist (and an amazing one at that!). She never gave up on finding Alice’s films, and uncovered the first piece of the puzzle that lead to us finding them—which was Alicia Thompson; a historian of black female performers who had been looking for Alice for years. … She told us that Alice was in films called ‘soundies’. Using that clue I found jazz historian Mark Cantor and he was able to send us three of Alice’s soundies from his collection. Shortly afterwards Alicia got us a few more films. This video was filmed on cellphones (and almost as an afterthought!) by my friends Darin Tatum and Tom Hunt.

Alice passed away peacefully on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016. She spent the last day of her life in good spirits, enjoying listening to music and having her mail read to her. Thank you to all the thousands of fans who sent in cards, flowers, and art. You truly gave her deep joy and meaning in the last years of her life!

Notablog and Home Page: Born Again!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Notablog, which began on 26 July 2002, has been “born again,” with its own domain name: https://notablog.net.

And it gives me just as much pleasure to announce that my home page, which debuted way back in the early 1990s, has also been born again, with its own domain name: https://chrismatthewsciabarra.com.

The “new” Notablog is not quite a blank slate. It does include a monthly index to the 3,058 entries that I wrote between 26 July 2002 through 26 July 2020. That index can be found here.

The home page has not changed much, though a link to my Facebook profile is now included. But if you check around the site — which has not yet received any face-lift — you’ll find much more content, especially in the Essays section, which now includes links to over 150 essays.

These moves were necessary, given that New York University, which so generously provided me with space on its i4 server for nearly thirty years, is finally retiring that ancient server. My thanks especially to Jodi Goldberg for all her support and to Lec Maj and the NYU Web Team as well.

But it was time to make that move [YouTube link… you didn’t think you were going to escape one of those music links, did you? The more things change … 🙂 ].

I want to thank, especially, my dear friend Peter Saint-Andre, for his work, guidance, and support, throughout this period of transition. I couldn’t have done it without him (and a few dozen calls to Tech Support folks with regard to domain and hosting services)!

Just one reminder to folks about the name “Notablog.” As I stated way back on 15 February 2005:

“Some readers have wondered why I continue to call this site ‘Not a Blog,’ even though it seems to become more blog-like with each passing week. Well, it’s going to stay ‘Not a Blog’—though from now on it will appear with closed spaces between the words: ‘Notablog.’ That phrase can just as easily be viewed as an acronym for ‘None Of The Above Blog’ … or ‘Nota Blog’ … recalling the Latin phrase ‘Nota Bene,’ featuring entries on topics of which one might take particular notice.”

Either way, I’m breathing a great sigh of relief that this project is finally Ready for Prime Time. The content will grow on this new incarnation of Notablog, even as you’ll still have access to all the entries and comments from years past.

Enjoy!

Happy Eighteenth Anniversary to Notablog!

Yesterday, I celebrated my 1,800th entry in “My Favorite Songs” with the Sonny Rollins tune, “Oleo,” part of this year’s Jazz Edition of my annual Summer Music Festival.

Today, the numbers “1” and “8” show up again: I am celebrating the 18th anniversary of the beginning of Notablog!

It was on this date in 2002 that I made my very first post, which announced the publication of an installment in the New York Daily News series, “Big Town Classic Characters: New Yorkers of the American Imagination,” entitled “From ‘The Fountainhead’: Howard Roark,” which was subsequently re-published by The Atlas Society. Since then, I’ve posted 3,057 entries on subjects from politics, culture, and social science methodology to sex, sports, film, and music.

I’d like to express my thanks to all my readers for your continued interest in my work. Watch this space for upcoming information on the migration of Notablog and my home page to new domains. That’s going to happen very, very soon… we’re talkin’ soon … because New York University is finally retiring its ancient i4 server, in which my current blog and home page are stored. Much more to come …