Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Room with a View

I need to catch up on my advent windows. It's easy to fall behind and skip days. Or to enter them out of chronological order. For instance, I will now begin with two days ago, pay a visit to the day before that, then maybe vault back to yesterday, which has its own square of confusion. As for today, I'll probably deal with that tomorrow.

So: December 5th

Room 357A, Stanton Building, Mt. Auburn Hospital

There are two windows. The superficial one is the outside view from my hospital bed: a shingled roof with a large chimney that has its own roof and chimney, and arrayed beyond it, a line of treetops, bare maples and modest conifers. One of the conifers I can see just the top of is a bona fide Christmas tree that is being strung with lights by a man on a crane, making this view, ironically, a traditional advent calendar image.

The window that explains that window and why I am in a hospital bed and a hospital johnny to begin with, is looking into my inside. It is a computer screen image of my coronary artery, which is now easier to see through following the journey of a catheter tube that traveled there by way of an artery in my groin, and inserted an artery expander called a stent so the blood could flow through more easily.

Another pair of windows over the past few months would have shown that artery clogged by plaque; and concurrently shown me walking up a hill or on a straightaway, feeling an annoying pain of protest in my chest, joined by a sympathetic pain in my left arm. Out of shape, I told myself at first, and besides, the pain wasn't consistent. Sometimes I walked uphill pain-free. On a treadmill it went away or didn't come on at all. A stress test in October was normal. The EKG concurred. But the heart persisted in calling for more oxygen than it was getting through its plaqued artery, passing on the cost to the consumer.

Finally a cardiologist translated the message correctly, leading to the angiogram (checking the arteries) which led to the angioplasty (a word I had previously made fun of as Angie O'Plasty), delivering the aforementioned stent by artery-expanding balloon, which it eventually dawned on me, may have—probably did—save my life. By whom I mean the team of doctors and nurses at Mt. Auburn Hospital in the Cardiology Dept, helmed by the stalwart, patient, good-humored, Dr. Michael A. Kjelsberg, and on the third floor, Dr. Kumar, and nurses named Lizzie, Felicia, Katie, Melissa, Jenny, Nick, Maria, and others.

Windows beget windows. I winced when I was routinely referred to as having "coronary disease." I already have a disease—Parkinson's, and I'm still slowly coming to terms with that. Heart disease is what my dad had. I'd long since ceded that territory to him, the rheumatic fever he'd had as a boy, the subsequent heart operation in the Fifties, the second operation in 1961, his death that July at age 48. His trouble was heart valves and a technology that was not yet capable of repairing or replacing them. I had trespassed on his territory, but I felt I didn't fully belong there. The repair was too quick, the issue barely raised when it was fixed. I was way luckier. Was it okay to move on, maybe after writing this dutiful account in a far corner of the blogosphere?

It's easy, and misleading, to focus on the problem rather than the solution. The fact is, I had had coronary disease, past critical mass, for the past 3+ months. This week the good guys, the posse, came to the rescue. I got the stent; a new statin, Lipitor, with more cholesterol-countering punch than the last one; more reason for consistent exercise and a smarter diet; and a reliable medical team in the wings. 

My windows have gotten a lot clearer.

December 4th

The day before the angioplasty, on my way to see Dr. Kjelsberg, I was waved into a crowded elevator in the hospital by a short, brash, talkative, woman who punched in my floor and mused aloud to the group that she was old enough to remember when elevators had operators, who called out floors and let the people in and out. I remember that, I chimed in, picturing a host of mostly men in uniform, often wizened, short, outrageous, of diverse nationalities, cheery or bitter, part of a loose semi-military army of doormen, bellhops, conductors, and even gas station attendants, variously khakied, epauletted, and peak-capped, in the 1940s and 50s. "I remember when there was music piped in, too," I added, to which she responded, "That I could do without," and noted, "It was always that guy...Chuck Mangione," and she proceeded to do a cheesy flugelhorn rendition of some forgotten '70s tune.

It occurred to me later, when I was sifting the day for an advent revelation, that I could do a lot worse than an opening elevator door with that woman ushering in the deep folklore of elevator operators, and perhaps there was an old video on-line of some elevator captain in some hotel or department store, circa 1948. And it turns out from the videos I did find that the popular culture has an abiding fascination with the elevator operator. Maybe it's the lyric-worthy rhyme of "elevator operator" or the quaint idea that elevator riders are, or were, passengers in a bona fide transportation device, called a car, and in need of a driver who merely pushed buttons. Didn't they even wear white gloves?

So here's a small sampling of some short elevator operator videos in honor of the bygone panjandrum of the lift who still clings to a scrap of dignity in the cultural jetsam, and even in a few actual elevators.

"Elevator Operator", a doo-wop hit for the Rays

— An LA Times feature about Ruben Pardo, a veteran elevator operator in an Art Deco office building on Wilshire Blvd.

— James Bianco's song, "Elevator Operator," animated by Caroline Attia Larivi√©re, about a bored secretary with dreams of an upward career move

—Vimeo by Dave Budge about Joan, an elevator operator in a Melbourne office building.

Little Richard's inimitable take on the up-and-down of the elevator operator

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