A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1997

by Richard Grayson

Friday, October 24, 1997

8 PM. Dad was better today, complaining about his night nurse and saying he felt good enough to go home already. The cardiogram showed no damage to his heart.

Despite that, and despite the fact that his heartbeat was regular all night, they’re not even going to let him out of CCU until at least Sunday, and after that, they’ll need to do stress tests and other tests to measure his progress. Mom said it will be the end of next week at the earliest when he’ll be released.

Aunt Sydelle did get hysterical when I called her. She was crying and moaning, but after I gave her the cardiologist’s number, she felt reassured and seemed to be relaxing a litter. Jonathan said she was even encouraging when she phoned him later.

I fell asleep at 8 PM last night and slept well for the first night in a week. I’d decided to use Dad’s heart attack as an excuse to avoid teaching at FAU today, so I phoned Rebecca and she said she’d cancel my class.

So I didn’t bother to shave before teaching my 8 AM class at Nova; I just threw on some clothes and got back into a t-shirt and boxers when I returned home at 9:15 AM.

The reason I needed to stay home was that Mike Murphy from the Orlando Sentinel wanted me by a phone in case his editor had any questions about my column, which is going into the paper on Sunday. But Mike called at 11:30 AM to say he had no questions for me.

I exercised and replied to Josh in an e-mail. Josh may be paranoid, but he’s always good to someone when something bad happens to them. He just can’t deal with good things happening to friends, so I’ve learned not to tell him about my publications or any other good fortune that happens to me or others.

I spoke to Teresa for a long time yesterday, and she, of course, was wonderful, as was Alice, who phoned me after she called Mom this morning. Gosh, it’s good to have friends; I just wish I had someone like that here in Florida, but you can’t get as close to someone in two weeks as you can over decades, and I’ve got to accept that.

I went to the hospital after lunch. Mom and Jonathan were sitting with Dad; Marc had been there last night. They left after half an hour, and I stayed and started reading Dad some of my students’ essays and the Woody Allen piece, “On Slang Origins,” from our text.

It’s amazing how quickly one accepts what just a few days ago was unthinkable, that Dad has had a heart attack. Yet everything seems the same. When I wrote that Dad’s heart attack would change our family irrevocably, I may have underestimated his ability to recover even though my suspicion even while he was critical was that he would be back to normal soon.

I guess I now have a better idea of what to expect when I have my first MI someday. Now my family history has changed when I go report it to my own doctors.

Tonight, after I got home, did laundry and had dinner, Mom called to say that someone left a message from the New York Times letters department.

I expect they’re pissed because my charges against Bork weren’t totally accurate, though it will be interesting to see them refuted tomorrow or Sunday. Will Bork himself respond to my letter?

The virulence of homophobia can be seen in the Sixth Circuit’s upholding of Cincinnati’s anti-gay law despite what seemed like a clear Supreme Court message to reconsider it in light of Romer. The conservative appellate judges distinguished Romer and went back to the language of “special rights.”

Sunday, October 26, 1997

7 PM. I slept well, although I was awakened in the early morning hours by a dull pain in my right shoulder, which still aches now; it’s sort of what I’ve heard bursitis feels like. (I remember once taking Grandpa Nat to a doctor in Brooklyn who gave him a shot in the shoulder for his bursitis.)

At 11:30 AM, after eating lunch (it was really an hour later to my body, which doesn’t know from the end of daylight savings time), I drove to Aventura to pick up Aunt Sydelle. It’s hard to believe, but this was my first time in Dade County since I arrived in South Florida nearly three months ago.

Sydelle showed me the work they’re doing on her terrace, which is driving her crazy because of the noise of drilling. Some of the building’s terraces were found to be unsafe and liable to collapse unless they were completely rebuilt, and now she has to pay for new tiles.

She was an incredibly nervous passenger, warning me about going too fast even while I was doing the speed limit and getting anxious every time I changed lanes. On the other hand, she was very grateful and seemed to view my taking her from Aventura to Coral Springs and back as a Lindbergh-like accomplishment.

Dad was still in CCU today; apparently they’d been unable to find a regular room for him, though he viewed the doctor’s promise to move him as someone trying to humor him.

The way Dad tells it, you’d think it was all a conspiracy to keep him tethered to his heart-monitoring devices, and he had “half a mind to pull out the wires” and leave the hospital on his own.

Meanwhile, he’s still having irregular heartbeats, a situation I can see from his monitor when he stands up or gets excited, both of which happens frequently, sometimes simultaneously.

By now I can see that nothing is going to change, least of all Dad’s excitability, and I predict that he’ll have a second heart attack. If this one had been worse, perhaps it would have persuaded him to change.

Mom, Jonathan and Sydelle say a man can’t change his personality, but I disagree. Attitudes and behavior may not be easy things to change, but if it means the alternative is premature death, most people will change.

Apparently, for Dad, who actually said today that he’d rather be dead than be in the Coronary Care Unit, changing isn’t an option. Maybe the cardiologist put a scare in him by saying Dad might need an angiogram.

Late in the day, the nurse let Dad disconnect the “plug” that connects his wires to the monitor.

Tuesday, October 28, 1997

8:30 PM. They’re moving Dad to Florida Medical Center in Lauderdale Lakes tomorrow to perform an angiogram and possible angioplasty.

Mom phoned me this morning, upset because the cardiologist called to tell her that they had to stop Dad’s stress test and that he probably needed either angioplasty or a bypass. She was annoyed when I told her not to get upset.

I guess she and Dad, so good at denial, heard only what they wanted to hear, the part about his going home tomorrow and not the qualifier “if the stress test is okay.”

I just got home a little while ago, and I called Mom, but I don’t think it’s necessary for me to go to the hospital tomorrow and wait around. While I know that Dad could die from the procedure, I’d rather be working than sitting around waiting.

This afternoon I saw Dad, but that was before the cardiologist told him the news. We were asked not to tell him about being transferred and the angiogram, but Dad didn’t look or feel well today.

He said that before last night he felt fine – “it was as if the heart attack happened to someone else” – but around midnight, he awoke with aches in his back and he started to get a little scared.

Eventually, hours later, he fell back asleep, but he still felt achy. He realized the cardiologist had curtailed the stress test but wasn’t sure why. Naturally Dad is very nervous, and I suppose anyone would feel the same way.

On the other hand, if there’s a problem they can fix with angioplasty or bypass surgery, they should do it, no? What alternative is there? Myself, I’m trying not to stress out, and probably my heavy teaching schedule helps me cope even though it wears me out.

My coming out in class at FAU last night (“I’m gay and I don’t think that” is the way I did it) was stressful, but I feel better about myself. Although I’m sure some students were freaked out, nobody said anything, though I could see that religious West Indian woman sort of rolled her eyes.

We were going over Audre Lorde’s essay was “The Transformation of Silence into Speech and Action,” a precise look at the silences that kill us little by little, day by day. (I wish I had spoken more to Audre when we both taught at John Jay.) God knows, I have a long way to go before I can deal with all the truths of my life. But I don’t want the ease that denial brings because it’s a false sense of security.

My class at Nova tonight went all right, though I still haven’t been as focused as I want to be.

I e-mailed Josh, Alice and Teresa and spoke to Alice and Teresa this afternoon. In a way, I’m glad Dad isn’t just coming home tomorrow because that would be as if nothing had changed. I’m certain Dad would have had another heart attack within months or the next few years.

I’m concerned that he might die tomorrow, or later, if he needs surgery, but there’s absolutely nothing I can do that will change anything; I’m not a cardiologist.

After being so warm and humid yesterday, today’s dry, cool weather was a relief. I still haven’t read most of the Times, but if I don’t read the paper at all, so what? At least Dad’s illness has helped make me less compulsive.

Wednesday, October 29, 1997

4 PM. Dad is undergoing a balloon (or laser, I suppose) angioplasty right now. Marc called me about 40 minutes ago after Mom phoned him.

The doctor had come down from doing the angiogram and said they found blockages as well as damage sustained from the heart attack and said that he could offer no guarantees for the procedure.

Of course, angioplasty can result in a lot of complications, like the stroke Ronna’s grandmother had, and it takes quite a while to recuperate.

At best, Dad may be an invalid or someone who has to watch himself very carefully. I suspect Dad will soon begin to look his age, and that if he survives, he’ll be more like an old man.

I also don’t imagine he will live that many more years even if he does feel better. This has to change his life if he makes it; he can now divide his life into pre-and post-heart attack times.

Although I’m quite nervous, I intend to teach my FAU class in Boca, if only to show the same United States of Poetry video that I showed this morning in Creative Writing.

On second thought, maybe I should go up there to just cancel the class.

In my Nova class at 8 AM, I had them write while I had conferences with half a dozen students about their first drafts; I still have another half-dozen to grade tomorrow.

Despite everything, I’ve been functioning all right today, doing all my usual routines: reading the New York Times, going online, exercising to Body Electric at 6 AM.

Although I printed out the assignment for Saturday’s class this morning, I’ve still got all their papers to grade and another chapter in the Business, Government and Society text to read.

This Wednesday, like last, will probably be a long day. Jonathan and Mom have been at the Florida Medical Center since morning when Dad was transported there, and Marc’s been home watching China.

Maybe I’d better lie down now, close my eyes and try to rest while I can.


4:30 PM. Having dawdled in my resolve to lie down, I was just about to close my eyes when Marc called to say that the procedure was over. I’m surprised add how quickly it went.

The cardiologist told Mom and Jonathan that everything went okay and that without complications, Dad can return home over the weekend. Of course, I’m still concerned.

Thursday, October 30, 1997

8 PM. I’ve just come back from my second visit of the day to the Florida Medical Center, where I sat with Dad in his room and we took a walk, just as we had this morning.

Dad is supposed to go home tomorrow. He looks well and said that he had only a moment of pain during the angioplasty: a feeling that he was going to have another heart attack when they blew up the balloon to flatten the plaque against the walls of the artery.

His one major blockage was in the main artery (left anterior?). There are two smaller blockages that they’ll treat with medication.

I’d read some accounts of angioplasty while on Lexis yesterday, so I knew that Dad would be awake during the procedure, watching the wires snake through the artery on a video monitor.

Last night I called Mom from the pay phone outside the FAU Humanities building, and she repeated Marc’s news that the angioplasty had gone well, though the doctor told her that there was a small chance it might close up again and they’d have to do it over.

What Dad complained about when she and Jonathan saw him in the CCU last evening was the catheter in his penis, which was causing him great discomfort.

When I arrived at the hospital at 11 AM today, Dad had already been moved to a regular room, and he said he’d had a bad night because of the catheter. It burned like hell when he urinated, and he felt relieved when the nurse finally removed it early this morning and unplugged him.

All he had was some medicine and a vial going into a vein in his hand and that little heart monitor in a pouch. Wearing a robe over a burgundy gown, Dad looked quite chipper, and the first thing he did was take a walk around the second floor.

He’d like to continue seeing Dr. Werner, the cardiologist on duty when he had the heart attack in Coral Springs; the guy really has been great.

But Dad has got an HMO for his supplemental Medicare coverage and he’ll have to go to a primary care provider and then yell and scream for an outside cardiologist if he doesn’t want to pay a fortune to see Dr. Werner.

Last evening I showed the United States of Poetry video because everyone in the class but Jackie, the religious West Indian, preferred that over watching interviews with Isaac Bashevis Singer and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Jackie – who on Monday made a point of telling us that she can’t take part in Halloween because her church forbids it and who even asked me to settle an argument with a fellow student about the Catholic church’s condemnation of premarital sex – is one Holy Roller.

I thought I’d put those folks behind me when I left Gainesville, but I guess they’re everywhere.

Before the end of class, I went over their next essay assignment – which I’d composed and printed out on the Mac in the classroom fifteen minutes before the session began.

Too tired to visit Dad after class, I drove back to Davie, stopping only at the post office to mail a batch of submissions of “Anything But Sympathy” to little magazines that had notices in Poets & Writers.

To unwind, I watched Ellen, which is actually funnier now that she’s openly lesbian, and fell asleep around 10:30 PM. I dreamed movie-like dreams, in which I was not so much a character experiencing a narrative but a viewer watching a film or a TV show.

Up at 5 AM, I turned on the new NPR Early Morning Edition – thank God WLRN’s pledge drive has ended – and although I closed my eyes and lay back down, I couldn’t get back to sleep and spent most of the next three hours eating breakfast, going online and reading.

After I exercised and dressed, I returned the videos to the public library, put gas in the car (the price war now has unleaded at only $1.14 a gallon), and stopped by to see Mom and collect the little mail I’d received over the past three days.

Yesterday at my house, I got the Columbia Journalism School catalog. After looking at it this afternoon, I’m debating whether to apply.

Their nine-month M.S. program looks like the kind of intense experience law school was, and I know I would enjoy it, but Columbia is so expensive and the application process is so tedious: recommendations, transcripts, essays, etc.

I guess I’ll probably apply to the journalism programs of, first, the University of Maryland, and then Arizona State. I have a strong feeling I won’t get into Berkeley.

The Maryland and Arizona State programs are closer to the “mass communications” model, which makes them less attractive because I didn’t major in mass communications for my B.A. (For a good reason: Brooklyn College and most other schools didn’t offer that major in 1969.)

All week I’ve been listening to Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Colored People as I drove around, and after six hours of tapes, I feel immersed in his memoir. While Gates is only a year older than I am, he sounds so much more mature. Even at 46, I barely feel out of post-adolescence.

I shaved off my beard and mustache today. The goatee looked all right, but I feel cleaner now. As Dad said this morning, all that grey/white hair on my chin looked a bit odd.

When I saw Dad again tonight, I was not only clean-shaven but wearing my glasses instead of contact lenses.

To write in the tiny print of this journal, I need to take off glasses or lenses, though I don’t yet need reading glasses. However, it’s getting impossible to read the New York Times with my contacts in; for some reason, I can see more clearly without my lenses.

I graded the Nova Language 1500 papers but not yet the papers from Saturday’s class. Nor did I read the Business, Government and Society text although I did find a relevant Bill Moyers video to show in class.