Saturday, January 7, 2012

Guest author: Ty Johnston

Ty Johnston grew up in central Kentucky, then spent nearly 20 years roaming various Appalachian states as a newspaper editor before deciding it was time to get serious about his fiction writing. Now he spends his days writing or reading or traveling with his wife, their beagle and house rabbit. His novels include City of Rogues, Ghosts of the Asylum, and More Than Kin. In early December 2011, he experienced an extended stay in a hospital. What follows he wrote his first night in the hospital


As I type this, it is nearly 4:30 in the morning in the hospital where I am propped up in a bed. Thank goodness for netbooks, right? And thank goodness I’m still here to write.

Six years ago I was diagnosed with heart disease. There are multiple names that go along with my condition, most of them long and including words like cardio or cardiac and congestive, but it boils down to my own heart stumbles in its rhythm from time to time because it is enlarged and I had a virus a few years back. There are a half dozen lesser problems and symptoms with my heart, none of them having to do with blockages of the arteries. In other words, it’s not likely (though not impossible) I would have a traditional heart attack. Still, my heart could give out on me, or it could skip a few beats and then I would be up the creek without a paddle.

A little more than a year ago, I had an operation which implanted an internal defibrillator device into my chest right above my heart. You know what a defibrillator is, don’t you? If nowhere else, you’ve probably seen them in movies or on TV. Those things with electric paddles some doctor uses to shock a patient back to life, those are a defibrillator (though most of the ones you see on TV or in movies are kind of old fashioned at this point ... but they look dramatic on the screen). Well, I have a miniature defibrillator in my chest. It is there to give me a jolt if my heart should get out of whack. All in hopes of keeping me alive, at least long enough to get me to the hospital.

Well, the day before I am writing this, I was out in the woods behind my house doing a little work. We have several old barns and smaller buildings, and I was cleaning one of them out. I swear, I was doing nothing overly strenuous, just tossing some items out of one of the buildings.

Then my defibrillator went off. And it went off again. And again. Eventually, it was a total of six times before it stopped.

That is not a good sign.

Imagine an invisible god with a giant of a war hammer slamming that mighty weapon into your chest. Repeatedly. That’s kind of what it is like. Coffee has nothing on waking you up like a good old shock from the internal defibrillator.

This was the first time my defibrillator had ever gone off other than when it was tested after my initial surgery. An invisible blow cracked against my chest and I reeled, my eyes watering. I thought I was having a heart attack. I thought I was dying.

But I was still conscious, and still on my feet. I started moving toward the house, walking quickly but not running. I didn’t want to put any more stress on my heart than was already there. Maybe thirty seconds had passed when the next volt hit me and I yelled involuntarily.

You know how athletes shout out during a tennis match? That’s what I sounded like, and I couldn’t help myself.

At the door to the house, I could already hear my wife inside yelling for me. She had heard me outside and knew something was wrong.

I reached for the doorknob, and got zapped again.

I yanked the door open, stepped into the house and yelled something like, “Honey, call 9-1-1, my chest insert is going off!”

And I got slammed yet again.

By this point, I was sure I was dying. I was positive I had but moments to live, that my heart was going to give out any time now or that the next jolt from the defibrillator would just end me (though I knew in the back of my mind the defibrillator is supposed to do just the opposite, jolt me to keep me alive).

My wife showed up, not quite panicked, and our beagle was at her feet running circles.

I moved toward the nearest chair. As my wife grabbed a phone and started calling, I was blasted again.

Then again.

As I sit here typing, more than 14 hours since being zapped, I still keep expecting to get shocked at any moment. Yes, I’m suffering anxiety. And this after I talked to a half dozen cardiologists, had an untold number of tests done on me, been stuck with a hundred needles, and had and still have at this moment a dozen wires trailing from one point or another of my body. Now that I think about it, none of that probably helps my anxiety.

I have more tests coming later in the morning and over the next few days, but right now the consensus seems to be there was not an “event” that sparked my defibrillator, that it went to work because my heart rate had risen a little too high. The cardiologists have tinkered with my device (not directly, but through the magic of a computer and a wand of sorts that can literally control my heart – now that’s scary!), and have told me the device is not likely to go off again unless I have a major problem.

None of which makes me feel better.

When I sit and think about it (and I’ve had plenty of time today to do that), it has not been the fear of death that has bothered me so much as it has been fear of the lack of control. My defibrillator going off (six times!) is one of the most frightening events of my life, but what bothered me more than anything was that it kept happening and happening and happening and there didn’t seem to be a damn thing I could do about it.

Okay, if you’ve stuck with me this far (thank you), you might be wondering what this has to do with writing or books or fantasy, all things associated with me.

Well, here at  almost 5 in the morning, I’ve been feeling lonely for the last few hours. I sent my wife home because there is nothing she can do for me over night, and she needs to check on the beagle and our house rabbit. My mother was here earlier, but again, there wasn’t much she could do, so I sent her home as well.

I’ve been with no one but strangers (though nice strangers) for hours now. Normally that would not bother me, but I’m feeling especially freaked out today, so pardon me for not being the most manliest of men.

But sitting here feeling lonely, I remembered I have my Kindle with me in one of my bags (thanks for packing it, honey). Before writing this, I grabbed my Kindle and went to the main page. There I found a list of true friends.

And I no longer felt alone.

So, thank you Steven Erikson and Alexandre Dumas. Thank you John Milton and Geoffrey Chaucer. Thank you Edward C. Patterson and K.C. May. Thanks to all of you, and to others I’m too tired to list, for being there for me when I needed you.

12 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Dude, that is scary. I'm glad things have calmed down. I can imagine you are still pretty anxious though. Take care of yourself. you have a lot more stories to write, man!

KeVin K. said...

Glad you're still with us, Ty.
And a very good, very vivid account of a harrowing experience.

My wife is a cardio nurse with years of experience in the CVICU (the folks that handle patients out of heart surgery). Quick check with her confirms what you're describing is scary as hell for the person but not generally life-threatening. She says CVICU nurses have to remember that what's routine for them often looks like a cross between voodoo rites and alien abduction videos to patients. Particularly since "fresh hearts" are completely stoned for a day or two. She thinks the crew with you will confirm that as a general rule if there's no crash cart, things are good. A few dozen wires and tubes just means everything's being monitored and managed.

Ty Johnston said...

Charles, my anxiety has mostly gone away, though I'm hit with it from time to time. The big fear I'm still coping with is being alone for an extended period of time. I used to go for hour or two tramps through the miles of forest behind our place, by myself in regions where no cell phone reaches, and now I just can't find it in me to do that. Maybe in time.

Kevin, you pretty much covered what I've been told, that I'm relatively healthy and nothing too bad happened to me, though I was scared silly. My main cardiologist told me last week, "Look, you're not going to drop over dead from a heart attack." Those words alone made me feel a lot better. On another matter, I see you're in Wilmington. I've only driven through, but I have spent some time vacationing down in Oak Island a half hour or so south of you. I like Oak Island best during the off season because we'll have miles and miles of beach pretty much to ourselves other than the occasional fishing group. Great place to write.

Keith said...

Wow. Glad you made it through all right. Take care of yourself; you still have to write the Belgad books. :)

Liane Spicer said...

Hi again, Ty. Thank you for being our guest!

What an utterly terrifying experience. So glad to hear you're going to be all right; I imagine it's the not knowing that gets to ya.

Books, they never fail you. Can't live without them - in whatever format they come.

Ty Johnston said...

Liane, thank you so much for allowing me to guest post.

And Keith ... so are you tellin' me I have to finish the Belgad books before I kick the bucket? :-)

Lynn Emery said...

Glad to meet you, and that you're doing good (anxiety aside!). Get better. Looking forward to reading your books.

Paul R. McNamee said...

Scary. Glad you're getting back to your normal groove.

Jewel Amethyst said...

That was indeed a harrowing experience that you can draw from for futrue novels. Glad everything's under control. Hope you're out soon and back to your old hikes.

KeVin K. said...

Ty, Oak Island in the off season is perfect. South-facing beach gets sun all day. An acquaintance of mine has a tiny house on stilts, all 1950s tongue-in-groove paneling, overlooking the water. I've been considering killing him and assuming his identity just for the view.

Downloaded City of Rogues to my e-reader. Soon as I hit my current deadline I'm going to read it.

Ty Johnston said...

Kevin, hope you enjoy the novel.

And you do realize, don't you, that your idea of offing a friend for his beach house would make a great plot for novel?

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Glad the worst is over. Hope that writing this down helps ease the terror and perhaps provides some new writing ideas for the future? All good wishes for a speedy recovery and fruitful 2012.