Out of Rhythm

As I write the first part of this post, it’s December 5th, 2020, and I ain’t in rhythm. Right now the electrical currents in my heart are zinging about helter-skelter, dancing to the beat of a drunk drummer.

This is a heart arrhythmia event, and it can go on for hours, even days. I get them just about every day, nowadays. I think they began when I was a teenager, or at least that’s my story. I can’t prove it, but I’ll use any excuse to vindicate my life-long laziness.

But I may be running out of excuses. Some damned doctor has decided I need heart surgery. And if this surgery is successful, I’ll have to get off my shiftless ass and start doing more chores around the house. Fuck.

My last cardiologist was more than willing to do nothing. But he and I got into it and I got feisty and found a new heart doctor. It’s my pride, you see. I don’t like to lose.

My new sawbones is an electrophysiologist (EP), and EPs specialize in heart arrhythmias. The surgery he’s planning is called a cryoablation. This crazy son-of-a-bitch plans to run a thin catheter from my groin, through my blood vessels, up to my heart, and freeze the hell out of the supercharged areas that he believes are short-circuiting my ticker. Talk about a cold-hearted thing to do.

I only hope he won’t make a mistake and freeze my balls off in the process.

And hopefully this will put an end to my nuisance heart condition, that has been diagnosed as Atrial Fibrillation (Afib). Except that I won’t have an excuse to be lazy anymore.

Arrhythmia events feel so unusual, that they are hard for me to describe, and hard to remember how to describe. So if the cryoablation is successful, I fear I may forget altogether what an arrhythmia event feels like, or how to identify it, should this mutherfucker pop up its evil head again.

And so this post is about describing, to the best of my ability, what Afib feels like. I’ll use it for reference, in case my frozen arrhythmia ever thaws out and revives, like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Presently, I feel weak and shaky. And I feel congested, as if I have a bag of dry sand in my chest. It’s the kind of stifling sensation you can get in your lungs when driving down a dirt road, inhaling the dust.

But because I feel shaky, let’s make it a bumpy dirt road.

Another analogy is feeling as if I’ve just run a marathon. I’ve never run a marathon in my life, but my heart has, so I think I know what it feels like. My chest feels raw during an arrhythmia event, and my limbs feel weak, as if I might collapse.

Most of my episodes begin gradually. Afib sneaks up like a slow-acting toxin. In fact sometimes when an event is coming on, I’ve worried that my wife has poisoned my dinner. But I don’t dare accuse her anymore. I’m tired of those dirty looks she gives me, and her threats to never cook a meal again.

When I tell people how I feel at these times, they sometimes act like amateur physicians and diagnose me with hypoglycemia. They advise that I should eat something. But when eating doesn’t help, I realize that these folks are practicing medicine without a license. That’s why they’re wrong. About as wrong as most licensed doctors, who are also piss-poor at diagnosing Afib.

Afib events are uncomfortable and damned tiring. But they are rarely fatal. Which is too bad. There are many times in my life when I’ve wished I was dead, rather than continue to feel this way.

But no, this damned heart condition is only fatal when it leads to a massive stroke, or heart attack from tachycardia. I think my grandfather had Afib. He had a massive stroke when he was 77, that left him partially paralyzed, and with the mentality of a blubbering fool. That’s how merciless Afib can be. But when he was 82 it finally it had mercy on him and took him out of this world, with another massive stroke.

Despite popular belief, it’s common to have an Afib event without a racing pulse. In fact, that’s how my events almost always occur. With no tachycardia. But if you get the racing pulse, you’d better check into an emergency room quick, before your heart gives up from working too hard, and takes an eternal nap.

Some people have Afib events and never even notice them. They’re the asymptomatic ones. Lucky bastards. But also unlucky, because if they don’t know they have this heart condition, they won’t take the anticoagulant medication that prevents massive strokes. They’re walking time bombs, and might be in for a big, unpleasant surprise, someday down the road. The same kind of surprise my grandpa had.

However, the anticoagulants can give you a big surprise also, and right in your wallet. I take Eliquis. There is no generic version available, so I’m stuck with the expensive brand name. A 90-day supply of Eliquis costs about $1,500, without insurance. Thankfully, my current insurance cuts this expense down to about $500.

When I have an event I just want to lay down and sink to the center of the Earth. I want the universe to fold up around me and take me away to an unconscious place where I can rest in total comfort. A place with no weakness and no shakiness.

But when I lay down, the symptoms don’t go away with bedrest. They are only somewhat ameliorated. It beats being on one’s feet, trying to get chores accomplished, but it sure ain’t like a vacation at Sandals.

When I do the opposite of rest, and force myself to be active during an event, I run the risk of getting a splitting headache. I don’t know how the heart connects itself to the forehead, but a strong relationship seems to exist. It sometimes smacks me in the head, and keeps smacking me in the head, as if to tell me I’m a dummkopf for not resting.

When I walk during an event, I stagger like a drunk. That’s because I relax all my limbs, like a ragdoll. It saves energy. But it also makes me appear intoxicated. And my speech slurs and I mumble a lot, as articulate speech requires too much effort.

When I was in the military, my CO’s ordered me to be drug-tested several times, after I was observed in ragdoll form, probably having an arrhythmia event. And so I offered up jars of pure piss, of the finest amber, to military labs, which exonerated me every time. And which no doubt left my CO’s in a pissy mood, for being so wrong.

And speaking of piss, Afib makes me a piss-poor conversationalist. Animation and repartee go right out the window when I’m in an event, and I possess all the charm of a cinder block. You might as well be in the company of a zombie.

I won’t miss having Afib, even though I want to remember what it feels like. It seems impossible that my decades of heart arrhythmia hell may soon come to an end. If indeed, my problem really is arrhythmia, and not laziness. I could just be a lazy bastard, you know.

And maybe the cryoablation surgery won’t cure me. Ablations are successful 70 to 80% of the time, which means 20 to 30% of patients are left shit-out-of-luck. They often have to undergo additional ablations, for any chance of success.

It takes three months to know if the surgery is successful. But I hope one day in the not-too-distant future, my ragdoll days will be over. I hope these events will become a thing of the past, and that my heart will start behaving itself, so I can get back into the rhythm of things.

Today it’s January 11th, 2021, as I’m posting this. Tomorrow I’m going in for the surgery, so this blog will be idle for a little while. I’m taking at least a few days off from blogging, up to a week, depending on how I feel.

Perhaps forever, if I croak in the middle of the operation. That can happen, but it’s rare. Sometimes doctors have butterfingers, and sometimes they get in a hurry and make mistakes. But who can blame them for not wanting to miss Happy Hour?

I have a post scheduled for a week after my surgery, with a simple message that reads, “I’m dead.” But if I survive I’ll unschedule it. Goddamn, I hope I remember.

But either way, it’s been nice knowing all the people who follow my blog. I hope to see everyone again on the other side. And I mean within the next week, on the other side of the surgery.

Until then, so long for now.

Stolen Quote: Flowers

Gracie comes home from the hospital after visiting a sick friend.

George: “Where did you get the flowers?”

Gracie: “I went to visit Mable.”

George: “Yeah, so?”

Gracie: “WELL, you told me to take her flowers!”

~ George Burns & Gracie Allen

If you want a job done right, do it yourself.

Chapter 13: Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

The forecast had called for mild, clement weather, with temperatures in the 70’s for the Amargosa Valley. But then a strong, Mojave breeze seized the region. The November wind was howling nearly gale force when I arrived at Ash Meadows. It would continue this way all day, and the temperature would never rise above 67.

But I wasn’t going to let that deter me. I surveyed the blowing dust ahead, steeled my determination, and pressed the gas. Within a hundred yards, my car left the pavement and vibrated over a dirt road, toward the Visitors Center about a mile away.

It’s a national wildlife refuge, not a national park (except the 40 acres around Devils Hole), so I didn’t expect amenities like paved roads, food kiosks, or public transportation. Nor did I want those things. They attract crowds, and I hate crowds when I’m trying to enjoy nature.

Although it’s a wildlife “refuge,” hunting is allowed, ironically. At Ash Meadows you can deploy a shotgun and bird dog to bag quail, geese, ducks, coots, moorhen, snipe, dove, cottontail, jackrabbits, and jackalopes. But at least no fishing is allowed, so the fish have a true refuge here, safe from humans.

The Visitors Center surprised me. It was a huge, modern building, and promised things like maps, souvenir shopping, and public restrooms. But it was closed, due to Covid. But that was okay, because I had procured a map at a rack near the entrance. And I have little use for souvenirs.

Behind the Visitors Center was a boardwalk, leading toward a patch of green in the distance. The wind flung my hat off, and I had to chase it down. I waved a white flag of surrender to the breeze and walked my hat back to my car for safekeeping. Then off to the boardwalk I returned, struggling against the near-gale, with bald pate exposed to the skin-cancerous sun.

The Visitors Center in the distance, with the boardwalk and alkali meadow in the foreground.

This was the Crystal Spring hike. A 0.9 mile loop, according to the sign. During the first of this walk I was surrounded by a low-shrubbed, beige desert, sprinkled with salt. An informational sign revealed that this was a rare alkali meadow, due to the presence of salts. As such, it was a unique kind of meadow that harbored rare plants.

It’s one of the starkest sort of landscapes you might ever witness. Takes a bit of getting used to, to find the beauty in it. But it’s there. After all, how often do you see a white-covered landscape, where the white is salt, and not snow?

Beyond the alkali meadow lies Crystal Spring. According to the informational sign, the bottom of the spring is 15 feet deep, and every minute, 2,800 gallons of fresh water flows into this spring from the earth below. It comes from limestone bedrock, that has been collecting water for thousands of years, in an aquifer. “Fossil water,” they call it, due to its age. The water is 87 degrees, year-round. The Amargosa pupfish swims in this water, having evolved and adapted to the unusually warm temperature.

Crystal Spring.

There were informational signs at every one of the three featured hikes at this refuge, by the way. The signs were well-maintained and educated the visitor about this unusual environ. All three hikes are short boardwalk strolls, and make for easy walking. And the boardwalks were in good repair. In fact I was impressed with how well-maintained I found nearly everything at Ash Meadows. And there were pit-toilet style restrooms available at every trailhead (Except the Visitors Center, which likely has more modern restrooms. However, like I said, it was closed).

Crystal Spring overflows into a creek that eventually trickles into the Crystal Reservoir. This is a man-made reservoir, constructed by farmers back in the 1960s. It makes for a surprisingly large lake that visitors are allowed to swim, and even boat on. But today there were no boats, due to the high winds and swollen waves sweeping over the water’s surface.

Crystal Reservoir.

I made it back to my car without blowing away, and proceeded to Devils Hole. This was a 3.6 mile drive from the Visitors Center, over a fairly bumpy dirt road. Devils Hole is both impressive and a letdown. It’s a short, five-minute walk from where you park, but you can’t go down into the hole itself and get close to the water.

The water is where the famous and extremely rare Devils Hole pupfish reside. Tourists can’t be trusted to get near that water, or who knows what foreign objects they might throw in there, that would disturb the fish. So you are relegated to an observation platform, high above and away from the Devils Hole opening, with a cage-like structure that prevents any tossing of anything into the home of the pupfish.

Devils Hole, through the cage. Notice the devil horns that form the top of the pool of water?

You can’t see any pupfish from that distance, unless maybe with binoculars. Which I did not bring. Nor can you hear them barking, if indeed pupfish bark. But I did feel amazed, knowing I was staring at a hole in the ground that had been there for 60,000 years, and where one of the world’s rarest fish evolved. How that resilient fish managed to stick it out in this confined, isolated hole in the ground for this long, is truly one of the wonders of this world.

My next stop was a four-mile drive to Point of Rocks. This is a 2/3 mile boardwalk hike that leads to Kings Pool. Kings Pool is another warm, artesian spring. In ancient times, natives believed this body of water possessed special powers, and they gathered here for celebrations and other solemn occasions.

The waters of Kings Pool are crystal clear, with a hint of turquoise. The contrast of this pool, against the surrounding barren desert, is stark. Like Crystal Pool, Kings Pool overflows into a stream that meanders away toward Carson Slough.

The turquoise waters of Kings Pool are thought to possess special powers.

I could tell just by casual observation that one hell of a lot of restoration work had been completed at Ash Meadows, over the past 36 years that it has been a national wildlife refuge. But much more work remains. The Carson Slough is still mostly straight, due to the modifications made by Spring Meadows, Inc. Restoring it to its former, windy, twisty watercourse where it can create the kind of swampland that once attracted large flocks of migratory birds, remains a project for the future.

If such restoration was left to nature, it would take many thousands of years. The human hand destroyed this watercourse, so the human hand must be employed to bring it back to its former self in any of our lifetimes.

But there was one restoration project that had been completed, that I wanted to see next. And that was Jack Longstreet’s restored cabin. It had been destroyed by a flash flood in 1984. But fortunately, there were enough extant photos of it that it was able to be restored, in 2006, to look very much like Longstreet’s original design.

The drive to his cabin and Longstreet Spring was 3.4 miles, one-way, from the Visitors Center. The road was bumpy and I dared not damage the suspension of my precious car by driving faster than 10 to 15 miles per hour, even though the speed limit sign allowed 35 mph.

I parked at the trailhead, and only had to walk about 3 minutes to reach the cabin and spring. Visitors can step inside and get the same view through the door and windows that ol’ Jack must have enjoyed more than a century ago.

A view of the Funeral Mountains, that Jack Longstreet enjoyed, through his cabin window.

One bonus to my excursion this day, was that there was hardly anybody else at Ash Meadows. This must have been due to a number of factors including: Hardly anybody knows about this wildlife refuge; it was the middle of the week; the wind was blowing hard as a cheap whore; and Covid. I met nobody on the trails, and only passed by three vehicles on the dirt roads, the entire time I was there.

I spent about six hours at Ash Meadows, enjoying the hikes and scenery, in spite of the powerful, cool wind. Once I exited and found paved road, the drive back to Longstreet Casino was an easy 10 minutes. But by the time I got back I had a splitting headache, probably from the effects of both the wind, and my frickin’ heart rhythm going out of whack, due to all my physical activity.

But it was worth it. I love nature, and I’ve fallen in love with Ash Meadows. I only hope this beautiful jewel of the desert will soon be completely restored to all of its former glory.

The migratory birds are anxiously waiting.

This has been the final installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Thanks for reading! Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

Stolen Quote: Never

I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others. ~ Thomas Jefferson

I agree. I believe tolerance of all citizens, regardless of their religious, political or other beliefs, or of their smartass remarks, is vital for everyone’s pursuit of happiness. [Photo is of a women being prepared for a stoning. Probably an “honor” killing.]

Chapter 12: New City

In 1980, Spring Meadows, Inc sold their water rights and land in Ash Meadows to Preferred Equities, Inc (PEI). The good news about this was that PEI planned to put a stop to all the agriculture that had so extensively damaged this wetland. But the bad news came when PEI announced a development project, called New City. The plan was to build a small city on top of Ash Meadows.

Environmentalists were aghast. This was the largest oasis in the Mojave Desert, and now it was going to be destroyed completely. They immediately established a Nature Conservancy, and fought back to preserve Ash Meadows, so it could be restored to its natural state.

But the executives of PEI seemed determined. They launched a public relations campaign, promoting the proposed development. They spelled out all the practical reasons why this New City would be so beneficial to the Amargosa Valley.

Why, it would bring good-paying jobs to the area. And they pointed out that where water is, life is. It would be a retirement community, where folks who had worked hard all their lives could live the good life, until the end of their lives, in a desert paradise with a warm, sunny climate.

There would be houses, golf courses, shopping centers, paved streets, and sidewalks for exercising the legs. Every house would have a well-watered, beautiful green lawn. And there would be enough water for swimming pools in every backyard, and an artificial lake for fishing and boating.

The vision of PEI was similar to the vision of those who transformed California’s arid Coachella Valley into the verdant country club cities of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Palm Desert.

Their vision of New City gave little consideration to all the many unique species of plants and animals at Ash Meadows, that would very likely go extinct. Because that would be impractical. The practical thing was what all that water could do for human beans.

But the newly-established Nature Conservancy pushed back. They pressed the government to stop the development. And a legal war ensued.

PEI began its tractor work, in spite of the public outcry. They sent in bulldozers, and managed to clear some of the land for new roads and buildings. But that was about as far as they got. As the legal battles heated up, further development was halted.

Finally a reprieve came for all the wildlife in Ash Meadows, and all the people who love nature. In 1984, the U.S. government negotiated the purchase of Ash Meadows from PEI. It was to become a national wildlife refuge.

This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the final installation, entitled, Chapter 13: Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

Chapter 11: For Peat’s Sake

The Carson Slough once drained Ash Meadows like the Mississippi drains the Midwest. It wound about on a curvy, tortuous course, forming oxbows and overflow areas, which in turn created marshlands. This caused Ash Meadows to be the largest wetland in Southern Nevada, at 5,600 acres.

Tens of thousands of migratory birds stopped, rested, and refueled at these wetlands, every year for eons. And over those eons, these wetlands also created tons and tons of peat.

Peat forms in swamps, bogs, marshes, fens, and other wetlands, where water doesn’t drain efficiently away. The stagnant water deprives dead plants of oxygen, and this keeps them from decomposing completely.

Suppose you put a dead guy named Pete in a hermetically sealed, plastic bag. Oxygen would not be able to reach his corpse, and poor old Pete would never decay properly. That’s what peat is.

Sphagnum moss is one of the most common components of peat, which anyone can appreciate. After all, moss is one of the most common plants we see growing in swamps. But any plant will do, as long is it can’t completely deteriorate, due to a lack of oxygen.

Because peat consists of old, dead, non-decayed plants, it makes an excellent fuel. Human beans have been harvesting peat for hundreds of years, and burning it just like coal. In fact, peat is often the first stage in the formation of coal.

Back in the 1960’s a rancher drained the Carson Slough for the purpose of getting to all the peat that had formed for millennia. He mined the peat and sold it to those who wanted to burn it for fuel. And this is how one of the greatest, lushest, wetlands in the American West was destroyed, for peat’s sake.

After he’d mined all the peat out, he sold his now desiccated land to Spring Meadows, Inc. They filled in the empty peat bottoms, by bulldozing nearby sand dunes into them. They then used their bulldozers to straighten out Carson Slough, converting the ancient winding streams into straight, concrete ditches. And they also constructed several reservoirs in Ash Meadows, called Crystal Reservoir and Peterson Reservoir.

Spring Meadows, Inc used this newly-created irrigation system for large-scale ranching and farming. But in the process, they reversed hundreds of thousands of years of wetland formation, by straightening out Carson Slough and its adjoining tributaries. Now very little wetland remained for migratory birds that relied upon this oasis on their journeys south and north.

Today, only a small fraction of the birds that once frequented this area, bother to stop by. The ecological devastation is mind-numbing, and we are left with only our imaginations, when we wonder how Ash Meadows appeared for most of its long life.

This riparian stream that drains Kings Pool, hints of the vast swampland that once covered 5,600 acres of Ash Meadows.

This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 12: New City. Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

Chapter 10: Devils Hole

Another beautiful monument to impracticality, besides Marta Becket, is Devils Hole, at Ash Meadows.

About a half million years ago, great caverns formed in the Spring Mountains, next to Ash Meadows. Warm groundwater filled the caverns, and about 60,000 years ago a small hole opened up and exposed the groundwater to the sun and fresh air. Human beans have recently named it Devils Hole.

Devils Hole is a cave that branches into the caverns at least 430 feet deep. But nobody knows how much deeper it goes, because the bottom of the caverns has never been mapped.

Soon after Devils Hole opened up, one of the world’s rarest fish evolved. It’s called the Devils Hole pupfish. The water of Devils Hole remains very warm the year round, at 92 degrees Fahrenheit. And the water is low on oxygen. But somehow, this strange fish managed to evolve and adapt under such extreme conditions.

The Devils Hole Pupfish, feeding off algae. This is a public domain photo, as I was not allowed to dive into Devils Hole and snap a photo, myself.

Devils Hole is the only place on Earth that this species of pupfish can be found. The fish is blue in color, and about 1.2 inches in length. Its population fluctuates between 100 and 500 little fishies, depending on the seasonal availability of algae, which it eats, and the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.

In 1952, President Harry Truman designated and declared 40 acres of land that surround Devils Hole and its pupfish, to be part of the nearby Death Valley National Monument (now a national park). It can feel strange standing there, knowing that you are in the same national park whose main boundary lies 10 crow’s flight miles away.

Devils Hole is a 5-minute walk from this trailhead. It’s contained in a fenced-off area at the base of the mountain, to the left.

In 1967, the Devils Hole pupfish was included on the very first official listing of endangered species. And what was endangering this fish was declining water levels. This pupfish lives just above a shallow rock shelf near the cave entrance. And it must have this shallow area, for feeding and spawning. This is where the sun shines, and where the algae grows.

But nearby wells were dropping the underground water levels, putting it in danger of losing the shallow rock shelf it needs. The pupfish cannot survive in the deep, dark recesses of the caverns. If levels were to drop so low that it’s forced down to those depths, it will die off and go extinct.

So a fight began, between farmers and others with large wells, who wanted to keep pumping massive quantities of water out of the ground, and the pupfish lovers, who love pupfish. The Justice Department took the side of the pupfish lovers, and filed a complaint, and in 1976 the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

And the high court ruled in favor of the pupfish. Now, when water levels decline, all groundwater pumping in the Amargosa Valley must cease and cannot resume until the water has risen enough to satisfy this poor, defenseless piscine.

Yeah, it’s impractical. And none of us will probably ever see a Devils Hole pupfish in our entire lives. Not even those few of us who visit Devils Hole, since it must be viewed from a high platform, far above the water’s surface. This height makes it nearly impossible to detect their tiny swimming bodies. I know. I was there, and I sure couldn’t spot them. I probably should have brought binoculars.

The viewing platform, high above Devils Hole, prevents tourists from throwing stuff into the water, or otherwise disturbing the fish. To get a good photo of Devils Hole, I had to position my camera lens as best I could between the wire slats. I think the solar panels power the equipment used, for monitoring the water in Devils Hole, and for powering a nearby weather station.

And yet somehow it feels reassuring to me that we still have this rare fish. I find it fascinating that this unique species is still swimming around in that tiny hole in the ground, as it’s swam for the past 60,000 years.

The government spends a lot of money monitoring the water level and water quality of Devils Hole, in order to keep the pupfish alive. It’s a damned impractical way to spend our tax dollars. And yet I’m glad it’s being done. I hope the pupfish continues to survive in Devils Hole for many more generations to come.

Devils Hole. This is the best zoom shot I could get of the rocky shelf where the pupfish lives and eats. If you strain hard, you can imagine that you’re actually seeing the teeny-tiny little pupfish. The equipment at the right measures water level and water quality.

This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 11: For Peat’s Sake . Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

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