Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Cardiac Ablation

I never expected to have a heart problem. I am not overweight, don't smoke, have excellent cholesterol numbers, and hit the gym most days. I'm even one of those annoying people who has given up caffeine for herbal tea. Yet on February 15th, I passed out on my kitchen floor. I've decided to share what happened in case someone else out there may need to see a cardiologist.

It all started in December during a routine gynecological exam. The doctor pressed the stethoscope to my chest, got a puzzled look on her face, and suggested I see my internist for an EKG. "Okay, sure," I mumbled. I figured it was nothing and decided to wait until after the holidays. A couple of weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night with heart palpitations. I chalked it up to my thyroid medication. After all I never expected to have a heart condition.

About a week went by, and I got into a routine argument with my teenaged son. It was silly, about nothing really, but for the first time I experienced chest pains. I sat down and took a couple of deep breaths. That finally got my attention, and I scheduled an EKG for two days later.

My EKG was abnormal. It showed that my heart was taking an extra beat. Alarmed, my internist sent me to see a cardiologist...that very same day. I had an echo cardiogram which was normal, then blood work which showed no problem. The cardiologist suggested a stress test and from those results made his diagnosis. I had an idiopathic right ventricular outflow tract tachycardia. I'd never even heard of it and asked him to write it down for me. Dr. Syad told me we don't know for sure what causes this condition, but it's more prevalent in women than men, and often presents itself during a woman's 40's or 50's. I fit both of those criteria.

Dr. Syad prescribed a beta blocker called Metoprolol and said we had about a 60% chance that my heartbeat could be regulated with medication. I tried the drug for two weeks and returned for an EKG. Unfortunately, it hadn't helped at all. Dr. Syad decided to change my medication to Flecainide and increase the dosage. If that didn't help then I would be scheduled for an ablation.

Forty-five minutes after taking Flecainide, I felt dizzy. My son hadn't left for school yet and I screamed for him. With his music blaring, I was afraid he hadn't heard me. So I stood up...big mistake. I don't remember exactly what happened next, but when I opened my eyes, my son was standing over me and I was lying on the kitchen floor.

Somehow Alex scooped me up, got me into his car, and drove me to the emergency room at Tampa General.

When the hospital contacted Dr. Syad, he called in a specialist called an electrophysiologist. Enter someone better than any fake doctor on Grey's Anatomy: Dr. Christian Perzanowski. I liked him immediately, but even better, I had confidence that he could help me. Though Dr. Perzanowski calls himself "a lowly electrician for the heart," he specializes in ablations and has performed over 800 of them.

Dr. Perzanowski told me he often sees my condition in women who have had infertility problems. I shared with him that though I hadn't experienced infertility, one of my babies had died from sudden infant death syndrome. It seems this condition is associated with a broken heart.

Dr. Perzanowski performed a cardiac ablation on me. During the procedure, a long, thin flexible tube was put into a blood vessel in my groin, then guided into my heart through the blood vessel. Dr. Perzanowski found two small broken places very close together. He "zapped" the spots with an electrical current.

When Dr. Perzanowski uttered the words "two spots, very close together," tears flooded my eyes. What I hadn't told him was that my heart had been broken twice. Once when my son died, and again when my only sister was killed in an automobile accident. Of course my heart had two broken places. It made perfect sense.

I'm now back home and learning to trust my heart again. Any twinge in my chest is cause for alarm. It will take me a while to relax and move past this episode. I'm nervous, but that seems perfectly natural.

Friday, February 10, 2012

MARCEL MARCEAU MASTER OF MIME - An Interview with Gloria Spielman

Gloria Spielman is a children’s author whose latest book Marcel Marceau Master of Mime was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Silver Medalist, and a Sydney Taylor Book Awards, Notable Book.

Gloria, congratulations on the success of Marcel Marceau!

Thank you Shannon and thank you for inviting me to talk to you.

Shannon: I think one of the hardest parts about writing a picture book biography is determining a focus. How did you decide which parts of Marcel’s life to include in your book?

Gloria: A picture book biography can be either a birth to death story, which is what we usually think of as a biography. But it doesn’t have to be. It can also capture a period in the subject’s life like or even an event, like Mordicai Gerstein’s, book The Man who walked between the Towers about Phillipe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers. Master of Mime followed Marcel from childhood till the end of his life.

But you’re right, determining a focus is a tricky thing. How do you capture a life in 1,500 words and 32 pages? Every word counts and every incident has to propel the story forward and capture its essence. The right opening determines the focus so getting that right is important. I look out for a seminal event which can be a springboard to follow the person through his life. I tend to think in pictures so if an event creates a picture in my head, it gets shortlisted. This is, after all, a picture book. So, the book opens with Marcel dressing up as his childhood hero and the man he called his creative father, silent movie star, Charlie Chaplin.

What’s the most interesting story about Marcel Marceau that didn’t make the cut?

Gloria: There were two. I’m not sure which was more interesting. One incident that didn’t make the cut happened in 1967. Marcel finally met his artistic hero, Charlie Chaplin by chance at the airport in Paris. Marcel began to imitate Chaplin and Chaplin, joined in, right there in the middle of the airport. It connected beautifully to the book’s opening, and would have made a lovely illustration but I couldn’t get it to fit into the flow of the story, so out it went.

I came across another anecdote in an article by James Kirkup in the British newspaper, The Independent. He writes about Marcel being stopped by the police, during the war, who asked to see his papers. Marcel was on the wanted list and his papers were perfect fakes. Kirkup writes, “The narks kept examining his papers and looking at his face, while he stared back at them without batting an eyelid, showing no trace of fear. The men were baffled, and let him go. It was an early demonstration of the powers of mime.” Since this was the only place I’d found this incident mentioned, I couldn’t really include it.

This is your second picture book biography. What attracts you to the genre? Who’s your next subject?

Gloria: I do enjoy writing picture book biographies but it wasn’t a case of ‘I’d love to write a picture book biography. Who shall I write about? After, Janusz Korczak’s Children came out people started asking ‘So, who are you going to write about next?’ I realized I’d got the taste for picture book biographies and began to think of writing another one. I’m getting the same question again. I would love to write about an unsung hero next time. I have an idea or two that I’m looking into. People are fascinating and I love writing about their lives.

Shannon: How can teachers use your book in the classroom?

Gloria: I’m actually working on a guide for teachers and also developing presentations for schools. I will have both up on my site as soon as they are ready.

Shannon: Many writers say they have no trouble coming up with ideas, yet this is one of the most common questions they get asked. Why do you think people are so fascinated about where writers get their ideas?

Gloria: The whole process does seem rather mysterious and quite unfathomable to people who don’t have ideas constantly distracting them and demanding attention. I’ve written tons of educational material for learners of English as a Foreign Language, and the question I’m asked the most is definitely ‘How do you know what to write about?’ The gut-reaction answer is, “I don’t know. I just do.” Ideas are everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and mind to see them and ask “What if …?” ‘What if Columbus had never discovered America?” “What if we lived in a society where everyone was perfect?” The ‘what if’ question is the germ of many if not most ideas. But the idea is just the seed. But no one asks the really important question. How do you turn an idea into a book? That’s the hard part. Ideas are dandy, but it’s the hard work that follows that turns it into a story.

What do you enjoy most about writing? What do you find most challenging?

Gloria: Very many things. Here’s one. I’m never bored and there’s no such thing as nothing to do. Not ever. An overly long line at the post office? You never know what snippet of overheard conversation will spark an idea. A long train journey? Uninterrupted time with my laptop. Waiting for a bus? An opportunity to daydream and hopefully let the subconscious figure out what should happen next in your story.

The challenges? Again, there are many. Here are two: First, to force myself to stop and take care of important things like washing-up, folding the laundry or the shopping. Then once, started on the important thing, to then force myself to stay there until it’s finished because without fail, a ‘brilliant’ idea pops into the head and disappears forever if you wait until the dishes are done to jot it down. Two, it’s the conundrum, where and how to find time and peace and quiet.

What are you working on now?

Gloria: Many things and I’m excited about them all. I’ll mention the two I have a soft spot for. There’s an adult novel, set in the old London Library of my childhood and deals with getting your voice heard while living on the margins of your society. Another is a humorous YA with a teenage boy on a quest for a father, new families, his genetic inheritance and worries about his unusually small feet. I am also looking for a home for three unpublished picture books.

For more information check the Association of Jewish Libraries Blog.

Or The Sydney Taylor website.