Glad That’s Over!

Last week I wrote about my impending ablation to hopefully correct a heart arrhythmia. Phew! Glad that’s behind me!

But as NOT fun as it was, what was absolutely GREAT was the number of people who let me know they were praying for me and rooting for good results. So today, I just want to say THANK YOU. We still have to wait three months to know if this thing really worked, but I’m optimistic.

I also want to thank the incredible medical professionals who did everything they could to make a pretty traumatic experience less so. Just a few of them include:

  • Pam – She did my labs on Monday. She became a phlebotomist because her daughter was born with a disorder that required LOTS of blood tests. Pam saw how all too often it was painful and decided she could do better. And she did–my stick didn’t hurt at all!
  • Todd – As I settled on the table for my procedure my hair was bothering me. Todd tucked it away in one of those green caps even though I was OUT about 10 seconds later. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there to tend to my hair, but I sure appreciated it!
  • Manny – He was the orderly who figured out how to turn off the bedside lights that were shining in my eyes. He also brought cups of water and just about anything else I needed.
  • Maggie May & Kayla – My nurses. They did super fun things like remove my sutures and help me pee. Nurses are the BEST people in the world!
  • Kayla – Yes, I had two Kaylas. She did my final echocardiogram to determine if I could go home. While she wasn’t allowed to tell me what she saw on her screen, the smile she gave me as she left made me think I’d be sleeping in my own bed that night–and I was!
  • And, of course, Dr. Lappe – He did the procedure and handled a few curve balls my heart threw him. Then he told me I looked far too well to be in the hospital and gave me confidence that I’m going to come through all of this just fine.

These are stressful, strange days we’re living in. Even more so for folks in the medical field. I am SO deeply grateful for each and every person who’s walked alongside me thus far. Thank you.

Bless My Appalachian Heart

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my challenges dealing with atrial fibrillation. Well, since then, the issue has gotten worse. And so, in the midst of the country being in various types of quarantine, I’m going into the hospital today (just for one night) to see if we can’t fix this thing once and for all!

Family photo
Grandma Burla would be telling me to be thankful for my health! Wish she were still her to bless my heart.

I’m having a procedure called a catheter ablation. An amazing doctor will use a catheter to slip inside my heart and ZAP it. Don’t worry, he does this all the time.

And, in a weird way, this is turning out to be a great time to do this. In my part of the country we’ve been fortunate to see only a handful of COVID-19 cases. With so many procedures and appointments cancelled, the heart ward is actually pretty quiet. And, since I’m already working from home, the recovery time will have less impact on my job.

Win, win–right?

Still, we’re talking my heart here. So if you’re the praying sort, I sure would appreciate your prayers that all goes well, the procedure works, and I recover quickly. And while you’re at it–maybe say a prayer for anyone else who has to be in the hospital these days . . .

How many times has an Appalachian granny, aunt, or momma said, “If you have your health, you have everything.” I rolled my eyes when I was a kid. Now, I think, we can ALL agree that grandma was right.

Proverbs 3:7-8 – Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

What I Hope We Learn About Sacrifice

I’ve aimed to keep my coronavirus-related posts on the light-hearted side. There’s plenty of gloom and doom without my adding to it. I rarely watch the news anymore and just go to a few, trusted sources for my updates.

One of those is the Worldometer. This is a nifty site that simply provides raw data without people chiming in to comment on what it means. What a relief! I’d been checking their coronavirus page periodically, when I decided to check out the other world data. I thought it would be a fun exercise.

I was wrong.

There IS some fun information:

  • Babies born this year (well over 33 million already)
  • Bicycles produced this year (more than 36 million–guess all those new babies will have bicycles)
  • Books published this year (nearly 650,000 already–phew!)
  • Emails sent in ONE day (nearly 140 BILLION by lunchtime on a Saturday)

But then I scrolled down to categories like food, water, and health. And suddenly the not quite 30,000 deaths (as of 3/28/2020) from coronavirus took on a new reality when I considered the following:

  • 16,300+ people died of hunger on Saturday alone
  • 200,000+ people have died from water-bourne illnesses this year
  • 116,500+ have died of the flu this year
  • 1.2 million have died as a result of smoking
  • 600,000 from alcohol-related causes
  • 257,000+ have committed suicide
  • 323,500+ have been killed in car accidents
  • And there have been 10.2 million abortions in the first three months of 2020

I am in no way suggesting that we take coronavirus lightly. I’m glad we’re finally taking the spread of disease seriously. I’ve been a serious hand-washer for years. But I look at what we’ve been willing to sacrifice to save lives and I have to wonder, why has it taken us so long?

We’re willing to work remotely, teach our children at home, stop going to church, nearly shut down our economy, and completely alter the way we live. And I’m sure this is saving lives. But what are we willing to sacrifice to feed the 842 million people who are currently undernourished? To supply clean water for the 802 million people who don’t have access to it? To support and help the millions of women who feel their only option is abortion? (I’m not trying to start a pro-life or pro-choice argument here–I hope we can ALL agree that helping women never to have to make such a decision is a GOOD thing.)

I’ve searched my own heart. And I’m afraid my reason for giving more attention to coronavirus than to any of these other issues is that I’m not going to catch hunger, or lack of access to water. I’m not planning to start smoking cigarettes or drinking until I have cirrhosis. I’m not going to infect someone I love with an unplanned pregnancy by failing to wash my hands or keep my distance.

Friends. This is not a light-hearted moment. This is me pondering what I’m willing to sacrifice even after this pandemic is over. When we’re back to hugging and shaking hands. When the economy has recovered. When the kids are back in school and we’re having too many meetings at work will I pause to consider the pandemics that aren’t quite so obvious? And if–when–I do, what sacrifices will I make?

Appalachian Thursday – Covid Cuisine

Once again, Appalachia is ahead of the curve.

You’uns come get some beans and cornbread!

Last week, when people began taking this whole coronavirus business more seriously (aka panicking a wee bit), the grocery stores were hit hard. There were the usual suspects–milk and bread–but folks also started buying staples like they were planning to set up a basement shelter to wait out the apocalypse.

As I did my own shopping I noted a dearth of canned goods–especially tomatoes for some reason. And the dried bean section, typically overlooked and under-utilized, was down to a few bags of limas and some lentils.

Which inspired a friend of mine to predict that in six months or so the food pantries are going to be overwhelmed with dried bean donations. Unless you live in West Virginia where the state dish is beans and cornbread (or should be!).

My parents, my grandparents, and many folks still living in WV today wouldn’t need to run to the store to stock up in an emergency. When I was a kid, our cellar was full of canned fruit and vegetables (green beans, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and oh the jellies!). There was also a bin of potatoes. A chest freezer was full of venison and pork. We had chickens for eggs and the occasional Sunday fryer. Daisy gave us milk, cream, and butter.

Don’t get me wrong. We certainly shopped at Krogers. It’s not like we were grinding our own flour or raising sugar cane. But we certainly wouldn’t have gone hungry for a long time!

Which brings me back to all those beans and what you should do with them. Mom would have soaked them overnight and cooked them low and slow on the back burner of the stove all day. But I have a trick for PERFECT beans every time.

Dump your one pound bag of dried beans in a slow cooker and add 4-5 cups of water. Throw in a ham hock or a few strips of bacon and I like to add a couple of bay leaves. Turn the cooker on low and after about six hours make sure the water is still covering the beans. If it’s getting low, add enough to cover. You can give it a stir if you like. After eight hours the beans should be perfectly soft and creamy. Add salt and LOTS of pepper. Serve alongside (or over!) some hot, buttered cornbread.

There now. That’ll hold you a long time!

My Antidote to the World These Days

I’ve pretty much given up watching the news. Or reading it. I have a few, trusted sources I check in with–but not too often.

Instead, I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s poetry. It’s been my go-to antidote for all sorts of challenges over the years (following a healthy dose of Scripture and prayer!).

Here’s the one that spoke to me most deeply:

FEBRUARY 2, 1968

In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.
-Wendell Berry

I think it’s high time we all sowed some clover. Where will you sow yours?

Appalachian Thursday – WV COVID-19 National Champions

Being a native of West Virginia, I’m used to my home state coming last on way too many lists. But with just two cases of coronavirus in the state as of today, it’s nice to see the Mountain State at the bottom of the list.

Which has given rise to some pretty hilarious Facebook posts and a t-shirt I just may have to buy (see photo). Of course, if you’ve read my blog for long, you may recall that 1863 is the year West Virginia split from Virginia to become its own state in a, well, interesting way. So yeah, social distancing before it was a thing.

I’m still trying to find the version that says, “You stay in your holler and I’ll stay in mine,” on the back.

Of course, there have been some interesting theories about the low incidence of the disease in my home state:

  • They just weren’t testing anyone.
  • They weren’t reporting cases.
  • No one was getting tested (stubborn Mountaineers!).
  • The virus actually swept through last year undetected giving the population immunity.
  • And my favorite – People who grow up close to the land, eating wild game and gardens stuff while living a rustic, rural life are simply less susceptible.

In the end, I don’t think it matters why there have been fewer cases in West Virginia. We can be pretty certain by now that no population is immune. But West Virginians are pretty good at finding the humor even in a pandemic. And joy is something we can hold on to.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

The Cure for the Coronavirus Crankies

Man, who knew we could have such strong opinions about toilet paper and washing our hands? And boy howdy, we’re sharing those opinions. And I think it’s safe to say we’re all a little cranky right now.

On Sunday, I took a sneezing fit. Which, thankfully, is NOT a symptom of Covid-19. It is, however, a symptom of something else . . . are you ready?

It’s a symptom of SPRING!

Which is GREAT news on several fronts. First, warm weather will allegedly knock this virus back. It’s less a fan of heat and humidity than I am. Second, it’s SPRING! And who doesn’t love spring?

So, I took a dose of the best medicine there is for crankiness. Thistle and I went for a walk and picked some flowers. Here’s what’s blooming in my neighborhood:

  • Weeping cherry
  • Trout lilies
  • Daffodils
  • Flowering quince
  • Hyacinths (they took over from the crocuses)
  • Lenten roses
  • Forsythia
  • Violets
  • Dandelions and several other weedy blooming things . . .


And voila. I feel MUCH better.

Appalachian Thursday – Bloodstoppers

Ever get a cut that just won’t stop bleeding? Or a nose bleed that goes on and on? Or maybe your dog cut his paw and you can’t figure out how to get the blood to stop! I know . . . yuck.

But there are some Appalachian remedies/superstitions that could be just the ticket next time you need some first aid.

  1. Cobwebs – Yeah, double yuck! But seriously, packing a wound with spider webs was common practice. Allegedly, cobwebs have lots of vitamin K which causes blood to clot–could be some truth to this!
  2. Tea leaves – With this one, it’s thought the tannins in black tea may help with clotting. Wrap leaves in cheesecloth and apply to the cut (or just use a teabag). A good remedy if you have a cut in your mouth!
  3. Sugar or honey – Now, it’s true that sugar and honey will hinder the growth of bacteria in a wound. Not so sure about it stopping blood, though.

And then there were the bloodstoppers. These were people thought to have an ability to stop bleeding–often by reciting Ezekiel 16:6 – And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.

Some bloodstoppers could recited it once. Some repeated it three times. Some added the injured person’s name. There are a few other variations as well–a woman in Missouri was said to recite, “Upon Christ’s grave three roses bloom, stop, blood, stop!” to great effect.

I think I’ll try cobwebs first. Although the notion of bloodstoppers reminds me of Francine River’s The Sin Eater. Hmmmm. Future story material?

Learning to Trust my Heart

I don’t much trust my heart these days. And I really, really want to! I have a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. It stinks. What happens is, for no discernible reason, my heart rate will jump from 60 to 160. While I’m sitting still. Or standing. Or even sleeping.

It’s exhausting. And incredibly uncomfortable. I take medication that’s helped me stay in rhythm for a while now. But lately, it hasn’t been working so well. Which is why I don’t trust my heart not to suddenly take off running without my permission.

I’m thinking my new life verse just might be Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Oh yes, it feels deceitful, indeed, and I definitely don’t understand it. And while there may be a cure (a procedure called ablation), that’s going to be a bit of a process for me.

Which is why I’m sitting around these days not trusting my heart. But here’s what I DO trust. God. He made my heart. He watches over it. He can touch it. He can heal it. And when I’m having an episode and I’m cranky and tired and so very frustrated by my weakness–He walks through it with me. Without judging. Which is a good thing because sometimes I yell at Him. I shake my fist and suggest that if He wants to teach me something surely He can just TELL me what He wants me to know. And if there’s nothing for me to learn from this then FIX it NOW please.

James said this great thing in chapter one verse five: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. I love that “without finding fault” part. No, “haven’t you got this yet?” or “seriously–you don’t understand?” or “I made you smarter than that.”

I’ve been asking for a lot of wisdom lately. And it’s coming. In drips and drops. When my heart is in rhythm and when it’s not. I still don’t feel particularly wise, but I do feel a smidge smarter simply for realizing I need to ask.

So God, if drawing me into conversation is what you had in mind all along, I’d sure like the chance to continue this chat with a trustworthy heart.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Appalachian Thursday – WV Schools for the Deaf & Blind

When I decided to write a story about a deaf boy who discovers a dead body (The Right Kind of Fool–Nov. 3, 2020), I knew I wanted him to know sign language. But how would a 13-year-old boy in West Virginia learn sign language? Just a little research solved the problem!

The creation of the WV Schools for the Deaf and Blind was approved by the state legislature on March 3, 1870 (150 years ago this week!). The town of Romney in the eastern panhandle offered a building and 20 acres of land. In September of 1870, the schools were opened with 25 deaf and 5 blind students. Today, the school includes 16 buildings on 79 acres and is approaching 5,000 children served.

So often my home state has a reputation for being backwards or behind-the-times, but here we have an example of West Virginians making it a priority to educate deaf and blind children a century and a half ago. I was delighted to know I could send Loyal off to school, confident that he would be able to communicate effectively.

Of course, it’s still a challenge to write a character who can’t hear. He reads lips, but just a little more research there taught me lip reading is neither easy nor foolproof. And while Loyal teaches those around him a handful of signs (his mother is skilled), oh, the roadblocks when you effectively speak a different language!

I learned the rudiments of sign language in second grade thanks to Mrs. Lashley who taught us the alphabet and to sign “Do You Hear What I Hear,” for the Christmas pageant. I still can’t listen to that song without wanting to do the sign for “shepherd boy!”

Do you know any sign language?

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