Sunday, March 30, 2008

ATTN Mozilla: We need Adblock IRL

DESPITE THE AIR OF LUDDISM I may have expressed in my last post, I do actually use the Web. I browse in Firefox near-exclusively. At work I sometimes view Web pages on which I'm working in other browsers to make sure they function across platforms, and there are still a few atavistic islands of Firefox incompatibility in the Netiverse that force me into Safari. The Firefox feature that made me an instant convert is the Adblock plug-in. No words can express the liberation that simple clump of code has represented in my Web access. Coworkers have gasped when I've shown them the difference between blocked and unblocked commercial and informational sites. Net ads damage my Slack—that ability, according to SubGenius guru "Bob" Dobbs, not merely to not give a shit, but to give a shit freely.

I find myself wishing for a version for real life to remove annoyances. I might need a version of the reveal-o-sunglasses Rowdy Roddy Piper was given in the documentary They Live, which exposed to him the alien invaders among us and their insidious propaganda. Or I might go the cyberpunk route and get custom optics. Better yet — like adding Flashblock to Firefox along with Adblock to screen out memory-wasting animations and sounds — a full rig would eliminate useless sounds as well.

Imagine being able to look at a cellphone user and have both him and his useless chatter disappear, not only then but every time you run into him on the train. Contemplate how awesome not hearing your cube-neighbor choke like a tubercular chain-smoker every three minutes would be. Ex-boyfriend still haunting your old favorite bookstore, coffeeshop, or bar after you've given him the boot? Gone.

Given the enduring legal hassles of homicide, and the leaden pace of the bird flu's advance, we ought to fund a cyberimplant wing of Mozilla pronto and get this gear on the street where it's needed.

You Are Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake

I'VE NEARLY COMPLETED TWO ISSUES of my publication at work as a solo act. Granted I have help from the remote managing editor (ME) as backup, but because she splits her time among three total pubs, I can only claim some of her attention. (Never mind that ours is the top biller, and therefore ought to command more than a third of the ME's time, but as I've written, that will change soon.)

Being virtually independent has taught me a couple of things in battlefield email and task management. I admit I flounder now and again. It's probably self-inflicted. I had to break myself of a bad list habit, in which I accreted item after item on successive sheets of note paper — taped together like some unending pact with an infernal Power — and inevitably failed to remove more than I added. I was doing nothing more than creating a massive excuse for inaction, and I eventually tore it up in a liberating orgy of confetti creation. (Only the building's sprinkler system kept me from torching it.)

I've been reading key articles on the site on email management, and I have dipped into The Four-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, for tips on taming the attention-annihilating effects of a boss who communicates near-exclusively via scores of emails. Former Secretary of State Rumsfeld was infamous for (among other reasons best judged by some future Nuremberg trial) blitzing his minions with innumerable notes, a practice dubbed snowflaking. (I personally understand the use of snowflake in the Fight Club sense to "contextualize" a child or other person who believes themselves to be a unique creation; I suspect the same applies to these decillions of Rums-mails.) This is what the ME does, and the email chime is a gateway drug to inspiring in me a wicked fit of netsurfing through the blog feeds. I just give up on getting back on track and fuck around with the Internet for 5 minutes.

This is wrong. If I'm so goddamn important to the success of this pub that they are retaining me rather than moving my job to Central City or cutting me entirely, then I ought to be judged wise enough to govern access to my attention . . . especially when allowing an all-access pass to it trashes my attempts to concentrate solely on single tasks and push them to completion.

Likewise the Internet. What is there, really, out there that commands my aimless browsing attention? I find myself doing this when I come home from work and, fatally, on weekends. Rather than pushing myself into some productive activity, I'll linger to look at feeds and links, and poof! another 15 irreplaceable minutes of my life are gone.

Email. Blogs. Social networking. The whole Internet. Both tools. Not miracles. Not wholly, or in contemplation of any of its Hydra-like nodes, worth every superlative casually lobbed at it. Neither should claim any more attention over your day than is necessary to ask or answer a targeted question that you pose for yourself or are pitched. Are you really going to preside over your 90th birthday and tell the shining faces lining your banquet table that you are grateful for the 230 unread posts you had on this date in your Bloglines account, the thousands of undeleted and useless emails you accumulated at each work and home address, the faceless Facebook "friends" you stacked like lumber in your vital years?

I'm not letting any of that shit, nor their evangelical champions, drive me back into the fucking hospital.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Old Order Changeth

TIME FOR SOME CATCH-UP. On St. Patrick's Day, I got a call at work from someone I'll call "N from the Central City office." His name was vaguely familiar to me; I soon realized during our ensuing chat that he'd been a guest speaker at a company conference in our parts 2 months ago. I didn't realize this at first, though, so I politely returned his greetings and listened to his introduction as managing editor of a number of our other publications. He then told me that he was calling to discuss the move of my own magazine's staff, and the managing-editor responsibilities, to Central City and his desk, respectively.

Flash back to a week prior. The graphic designer who works with our art director asked, after dropping off some materials from the previous issue, why the three open positions on the magazine staff were listed on the company site as being in Central City. Too many to be a mistake, we agreed. I thought perhaps one of the execs out there would participate in the interview process, though this seemed odd; with the managing editor being a remotely based person, I imagined the bemused candidate sitting in the HR conference room with two speakerphones jabbering at him or her. I filed away the hiring datum and proceeded with my week.

Now I knew why the listing was for Central City.

N was quick to assure me — and did so repeatedly through the call — that they wanted to keep me on the staff, that he looked forward to working with me in getting up to speed with the book, and that I was to remain in New Jersey. (Damn right I am, I mentally replied.)

Once I got over my initial shock, we actually had a very pleasant half-hour conversation regarding the status of the magazine, what makes us different from the competition, and what I do month to month. Conveniently, I had been working on the employee self-assessment of my performance review before he'd called, so I had a fine list of my duties right in front of me.

The biggest change, clearly, would be that my current managing editor, with whom my three former coworkers had had beefs of varying degrees that led them to other shores, would cede almost all involvement, and all control, over the magazine. I assume the staff evaporation was the primary reason for the shift.

I assume the decision to hire in Central City, rather than in this area, has to do with cost. After my by-no-means-unique flirtation with stress earlier this month, I surrendered all desire to take my departed boss's old job. Had I lobbied for that, perhaps they might have considered placing new staff in my office, so I could train them directly. My hatred of training, however, was one of the biggest reasons I didn't advocate for the slot, and after my trip to the hospital, I decided I wanted no part of the rest of the responsibilities and burdens such a position would entail.

I don't say the following out of self-deprecation, but from a business standpoint: I am surprised they didn't make some sort of push to have me move there, or eliminate me altogether and just hire another person. Perhaps they believe I know more about the "street" aspect of running the magazine than my current boss. I'd disagree with this. Maybe they feel they've reached the end of their string with her involvement on the book, and they'd rather have a subordinate employee act as trainer for a new manager while feeling more secure that he wasn't cut or impelled to pack a U-Haul. Or perhaps they will put the pressure on me to move after N feels comfortable enough, and has enough of a magazine staff there, to do so.

This new staff arrangement makes me the remote editor, oddly enough, which is one of the gripes that my former mates had registered about my current/their former manager. I have extensive experience working with coworkers in remote shops, collaborative online workflow, and the like, but the pressure will be on to support their choice to retain an out-of-house person in a more expensive area of the country. My work can be done anywhere. It will be my task, as long as this position offers me challenges, growth, and writing opportunities of interest, to show them that what I do cannot be done by anyone else.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

FDA Rejects the Ancient Art of Kanly (and Off-Label Drug Marketing)

I CAN'T BE THE ONLY science fiction reader who did a double-take upon reading this item, by Elizabeth Olson, from the New York Times website's Suits personality-graball column:
The former chief of a small California biotechnology company had criminal charges brought against him last week for his suspected role in promoting a drug that prosecutors said was not approved to treat a fatal lung disease.

The company’s former executive, W. Scott Harkonen, a medical doctor who headed Intermune until June 2003, was indicted on wire fraud and other charges over the marketing and selling of the drug Actimmune, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration only to treat two rare childhood diseases.

Prosecutors said Intermune, based in Brisbane, Calif., was illegally marketing the drug to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The drug had $141 million in sales in 2003. Three years later, it agreed to pay $36.9 million to settle federal claims that it sold Actimmune for unapproved uses.

The company noted in a statement that “the government is bringing charges against a former employee” — not against the company or its current employees or directors.

Mr. Harkonen, 56, is now chief executive of CoMentis, a research firm in South San Francisco, Calif., developing drugs to combat Alzheimer’s disease.

His lawyer, James J. Brosnahan, issued a statement saying that “Dr. Harkonen is innocent of the charges brought against him.”
No word on whether the Doc will have to surrender his considerable spice holdings on Arrakis, but that's for the rest of the Landsraad to decide.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Nielsen Nightmare

IT OCCURRED TO ME TODAY, while vacuuming the living room, that it's been at least 2 weeks since I last watched television in my home. Though I've watched early-morning financial news and crap on the Food Network while at the gym, and TiVo'd America's Test Kitchen eps at my parents' on Sundays, the postwork viewing habits I'd long maintained had evaporated.

For a long time, my evening ritual was to make dinner with the first Simpsons episode on Fox running in the background, then watch the second one, and then Seinfeld, while eating. After eight, I'd switch over to the computer or book and listen to WFMU until bedtime. Sometime before FOX eliminated the double dose of Springfield, I decided I had nothing more to learn from the show, and stopped watching, tuning into Jeopardy! instead as my pre-Jerry viewing. Then one of the crap VHF channels began airing reruns of Family Guy, a show I only began watching during its unlikely but successful return to air after cancellation. For a while, I would tune in at 7:30 to see some of the older episodes, ignoring the distractions of different voice-acting styles, cheaper animation, and heavy censorship to fill in my gaps.

Now, however, that network seems to have fallen into a rut of Family Guys already rerun a million times on Sunday nights between blocks of fresh eps. (I'd written off new eps of The Simpsons as a viewing priority even before the mediocre movie came out.) I don't have cable, and the only other air-signal channel I watch at all is 13, our local PBS station. And most of the good stuff they air is released on DVD . . . not unlike nearly all of pay-TV's nonsports content.

As I wound up the cord on the vacuum, I thought about whether I'd even take this TV with me in the next move. (Not for another year at least; the lease renewal is sitting on my desk here, and I'd like to remain within 15 minutes of my current job, and within walking distance of a transit nexus should I need to change jobs in the next 12 months.) The set itself — what I suppose in 10 years we'll call an old-style tube model — is a bit fucked. A purple tinge has been creeping from the bottom left corner for the past 2 years or so. I've had this thing since my move here in 1999, and it was a gift from my parents, so it owes me squat.

With the pointless ballyhoo of digital broadcasting edging every closer, I assume that past some point next year, my choices will be to piss away some money on a digital tuner, or to get cable. In my review of the offerings on my parents' cable lineup during my Sunday visits, I gotta say, there's not many reasons to pay Cablevision any more than I already am for the broadband account. Getting a Netflix account, tapping the DVD burner in my parents' TiVo, or using iTunes can fill in any gaps. Between that realization, and the lack of any broadcast shows in which I'm interested, why even have the TV set at all?

I'd say about half of the movies I've rented in the past few months, and all of the TiVo DVDs I've bummed off my parents, I've watched on my 17" PowerBook with studio-quality headphones for the audio. (My DVD player, about the same vintage as the TV, can't read most TiVo-burned discs.) I've already mentally committed to jumping to the big MacBook when this slab on which I'm typing eventually merges with the infinite. According to, the maximum 17" offers 1080-resolution HD video. Not a bad reason to begin hoarding my pennies, though I am hoping this current Mac makes it to its 5-year anniversary in November at minimum before it, too, begins the death spiral my TV is cutting.

The only upcoming reasons to retain the TV are football and the political spectacle approaching in the fall. Football I can watch at the gym or over at my parents', and I usually can't stay up late enough on Mondays to watch the air signal for that anyway. (The cable-only NFL Network can go fuck itself.) As regards Decision '08, it's not as much Election Night I worry about missing — I've already deemed a combination of radio and Net coverage to be superior to a repeat of watching Dan Rather run through three lifetimes worth of folksy sayings. Any relevant bits of "wisdom," spectactles, dramatic suicides, etc., will be retained by the news sites and thus be streamable. But I did briefly think the tube might be worth retaining for the debates between Sens. McCain and Obama. (Heh.) Then I remember how much seeing McCain makes me want to throw my crockery across the room, and I figure, if he's not gonna pay my Pottery Barn bill, why should I rack one up?

As for the spot occupied by the TV? I'm thinking another couch. Make my living room into a talk show set. I get more out of talking with the people I know, and occasionally playing the odd board or card game with them, than the shit the entertainment industry shovels onto the airwaves and co-ax, and I always feel bad making my Christmas party guests sit on folding chairs. I'd probably have to get rid of one of my bookshelves and its books (I suspect some of you just shuddered at that thought). There are quite a number of tomes there that I haven't touched in years, though, and if a library, or the patron of one of its book sales, can benefit from it, why leave the knowledge frozen on the shelf? I painlessly handed off five books to the local library this morning, and in the unlikely situation that I buy a new book in the next several months (can't beat interlibrary loan and note-taking for most of the books I've impulse-wanted in the recent past), I will remove an existing book to make space.

However it goes, I don't intend to become that Onion area man who constantly mentions that he has no televison.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Follow-Up From Hospital Hilarity

I SUPPOSE THE LACK OF follow-up on that last post is a bit of a cliffhanger. Fear not, I am actually alive, and will now detail the events of the past week-and-change.

I awoke on Monday feeling well and headed to work as usual. I felt a little nervous once I got there, though, but without any of the problems I'd had the previous week, and notably without any chest pains. My first task in the office was to send an email to my boss, the managing editor (ME) of the publication; her boss; and another exec who has been checking in on my sanity (which, by the way, my ME's boss had not done once since I became the last man standing in the department . . . not that I need daily handholding, but some sort of support would've been nice).

In this email, I briefly stated what had happened, what had led up to it, and the emergency department doctor's conclusion that the chest pains and breathing difficulty were stress related. I told them point-blank that nothing was more important to me than my health, that I was not going to let the drop in staffing make me sick, and that I would do whatever I needed to do to stop it from happening again. I avoided the "woe is me" script — that's not professional — and just laid out, in a positive but firm tone, that I just didn't think the job was the same as it had been when I started, and that I would do as much as I could, within the the parameters of health and ability, to manage things in this new version of the position as best I could.

My next email was to human resources and was far briefer. I asked the junior member of the department (she's in the office more frequently; her boss splits duties between two facilities). I asked what the conditions were for claiming COBRA benefits. I said that I knew it was available to those who'd been laid off, but I wanted to know if it was obtainable under all conditions of employment separation, including voluntary departure.

I didn't write this second one to scare anyone or to set an ultimatum. I just wanted to make sure I had a way out. Never mind the recession in progress. At that moment, one of the few reasons I had to return to work was subsidized health insurance. I needed to know that I could leave if things got worse, so I wouldn't feel bound to a damaging job and suffer long term because of it, which I've seen happen to family and friends.

I don't know how these two parties subsequently got in touch with each other. The ME may have contacted HR out of fear that I might quit. HR may have alerted my bosses when I asked a question that addressed that same possibility. Either way, the notes set off an alarm, and I soon received visits from all parties (the ME via email). The senior HR person in particular came down to answer my COBRA question, but also to determine what was wrong on my side. I kept things brief with her, as this person has a poor "beside manner" (there's a reason I sent my query to the junior HR person). But I did tell her that if it came down to my health or the job, my health was always going to win. She asked that I give them a chance to restaff the department before making any sort of hasty decision.

I also let the designer and artist know the score, because if I had any sort of relapse, their progress with the current issue would be severely screwed. The artist was sympathetic; as I've mentioned, he had a bad reaction to stress a couple of months back. The management could go to hell when it came to my health — these are the people who laid folks off back in December and gave them 20 minutes to leave the building. But I didn't want to leave the art crew in the lurch.

I proceeded with the day's tasks as swiftly as I could, only feeling any jitters near the end of the day. As I'd racked up an extra hour on the previous Friday, I cut out at 4:00. As before, once I left, my breathing returned to normal. I wondered if this would fade, given continued lack of new symptoms.

What I really wanted to hear was my primary care physician's opinion, which came Tuesday night. Aside from a little tension in my chest (no pain) Tuesday morning, I had no recurrence of bad feelings. After reviewing the report from the hospital, the doc agreed that it was stress, that two quick twinges with no other cardiac symptoms or markers in the tests were not life threatening, and that (most important to me) I could go back to the gym. I headed from there to my parents' house to share the good news, then returned home and hit the hay in anticipation of a morning trip to my health club.

I stuck to 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer the next day, which passed without incident and felt great. No problems at work; in fact, we got the damn issue that had been causing all the problems on press. I returned on Thursday morning for my first resistance training since the day I first had the pain, then instead of going to work, headed down to Jersey City to help on the phones during the WFMU Fundraising Marathon. Fun and relaxation amid a sparkling, springlike day. With the issue gone, Friday at work was far calmer, and I basically just put my desk back in some sort of order before diving into a weekend of utter slothfulness (aside from two problem-free trips to the gym).

It's taken me some time to get back into the swing of things with my workout. Not keeping up with it while I awaited the official word to return was quite a disruption, and losing the hour on Saturday night fucked me up for two days. After back-to-back gym visits over the weekend, I couldn't get my ass out the door Monday or Tuesday mornings. It'll probably take a couple of weeks to get back to where I was before all of this bullshit hit, but at least the progressively warmer mornings and earlier sunlight we'll get over the course of March will grease the rails. (Good thing, too; with gas prices surging, walking to the gym is my better option.)

We've moved fully into producing the April issue. I've felt fine at work so far, trying to use the lessons of the March issue to avoid its pitfalls. I have reached out to people to get them involved as early as possible, so the burden of production and scheduling can be shared. I divided the labor of editing and producing copy with my boss early this time, so we don't have to make these sorts of decisions as one deadline after another collapses under the weight of reality. Above all, I've tried to structure things so my own sanity is the factor that isn't in danger of collapsing.

So that's where things stand. I am looking toward summer, however, specifically the beginning of June, for my triumphant return to Las Vegas. I've already told the ME I plan that chunk of time off, and there's a plane waiting for me to buy a seat. Once that's done (and now is better than later, what with oil prices forcing airlines to bump up prices), the only major decision is which hotel will host my bilious carcass.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Saturday in the Hospital with Schizohedron

AFTER FEELING A SECOND TWINGE of pain in my chest in three days, I ended up spending the better part of Saturday's daylight hours in the emergency department of my somewhat local hospital. I have thus far been asymptomatic, and I have been spending no small amount of the time since then contemplating my job, the likely source of these pains. Details follow.

During the past week, I have been struggling to get the March issue of our magazine out the door. I've fortunately had to spend less time dampening the managing editor's (hereinafter ME) expectations of an earlier onpress date than on the February issue. Despite this improvement, this is the first issue I've had to do completely alone since the departure of the other senior editor. All we have is the ME, two designers, and myself.

The ME was in my office two days last week, which saved me some PDF-swapping time via email. After she left, on both Wednesday and Thursday I felt the same shortness of breath and uneasiness I felt when the other senior editor gave notice. I had managed to keep up with daily exercise, but as has been the case recently, my sleep schedule and my dinners have been subpar. I did notice that, once I went home — hell, once I got into the car at 5:00 — the short-breath and spacey feelings disappeared.

It was on Thursday that I got a frightening and different symptom. I'd completed a full workout that morning with no breathing problems or irregular heartbeat/pulse. Sure enough, by the time I sat down at work, my breath became shallow. It wasn't due to exhaustion, or tight clothing, or heavy physical labor. It was starting right at the head of the day. I did my best to handle the various departments of the magazine one at a time, but because the assembly of the features had been so slipshod, I found myself having to break away from forward progress (ever my mantra) and fix problems. And it was amid this juggling act that I felt a twinge of pain in my center-left chest.

I stopped what I was doing and tried not to panic. It had lasted for just two seconds tops. Imagine someone poking you in the sternum, only feeling it a few inches below your skin. Quick, with no lingering pain afterwards. Though I knew them in rough outline, I checked the symptoms of heart attack on WebMD. I had none of them, save the preexisting breathing problems, which I was fairly sure could be ascribed to stress; and feeling warmer than usual, which was due to the heat in the office and my department facing the western sun. Of course, merely looking these symptoms up was enough to make me more panicky.

I did not go home, but finished out the day, keeping most of my attention on the contents of my ribcage. True to recent form, my breathing began to return to normal once I was backing out of my spot and tuning NPR onto the car radio.

Friday brought fewer ridiculous interruptions and reasons to extinguish long-smoldering fires. No chest pain at all. Deeper breathing. Same push to get pages out the door, but I had more time to sit there and do proofreading, which I find calming. I had skipped my gym trip to get a little more sleep. I actually stayed at work an hour later to compensate for the distracted quality of work I'd done Thursday after my weird chest twinge.

I arose early on Saturday and headed through melting slush to the gym for my scheduled cardiovascular session. About 25 minutes through a 30-minute elliptical workout, I felt another twinge in my chest, exactly the same as the one Thursday. Again, no follow-up pain, nor any of the other heart attack markers. Still, chest pain is chest pain, especially for a fat person, and I halted my workout (being somehow with-it enough to note my pulse at the time on the console: 120) and left the gym.

I called my primary-care physician, figuring I'd start there in absence of any other symptoms and let him tell me if he wanted to see me at the office or go straight to the ED. The nurse told me she'd message the doctor (they were on a shorter Saturday staff) and let me know what the verdict was. I then passed one of my tenser half hours, thinking not as much about what medical fate might await me, but how my parents would react to the news. I had no desire to send either of them into a panic, though I know they would surely react far worse if I were found dead rather than merely being hospitalized for observation.

Though I tried to hold off on eating in case they wanted a fasting blood test, at about the 30-minute mark I could hold out no longer, and I mixed a protein shake with some flaxseed just for extra omega-3 oomph. With perfect comic timing, the nurse called just as I was settling into it, to tell me to drive to my local ED for admission.

It was then that I called home to report the news. Mom took it well, but insisted that my father drive me over. Not a bad idea, if the medical advice already had ruled out an ambulance trip. If things suddenly got worse, at least I wouldn't be behind the wheel. (Though the dying act of ramming a cellphone-using driver has appeal.)

He arrived shortly thereafter and ferried me to the hospital where my doc has rights. There was some brief confusion over who might be the patient after I reported chest pains — myself or my dad — but once they realized it was me, I was wheeled right in via wheelchair to give a nurse my history. Still no recurrence of pain, and notably, no shortness of breath — hell, not even while I was stepping along merrily at the gym earlier that day. I do have a tiny bit of fitness, even under the lard. (See what gym attendance and eating whole-grain mulch and mackerel capsules gets you.)

From there, I half-stripped for a technician who festooned me with EKG leads. If your computer monitor has a million Post-Its on it, you know how I felt. After he printed out a nice cardiac seismograph for the record, I was then given the infamous ass-open hospital robe (my second recent chance to model one), wheeled over for a chest X-ray, and then returned to the ED waiting area while my bed was being readied.

This took very little time, which was possibly as much a factor of my hitting the joint early in the day as the report of chest pains. Soon I was in bed, with an RN taking more history and attaching a few more leads so they could get an extended read on my ticker. During this, I happened to receive the compliment that I have very nice, long eyelashes. I guess she wanted to calm me down. Honestly, I don't see it when I look at them, but other women have made this observation. As all of them have either been involved or otherwise out of reach, including our RN in question, it can only go so far. Still, nice to hear while being wired up like string art. I look forward to an exciting career as an eyelash model.

I then got a visit from an ED doctor. I told her the whole story from Thursday on. As I was otherwise asymptomatic, was showing a normal EKG and blood pressure, and had no other concurrent health risks (smoking, drinking, previous cardiac ailments) other than being obese, they didn't put in an IV. They did take a blood sample, which would reveal any enzymes or clotting irregularities that would indicate heart muscle or coronary artery damage. The results would take about 45 minutes, which I spent mostly resting my eyes. With noon having passed, I urged my dad to get something for himself at the cafeteria and to call my mother with an update to quell her nerves.

While lying there amid the usual hospital din, I thought back to a friend of mine who had been doubly stented about 4 years ago. His case was much different; in addition to being obese, he was an indiscriminate eater, a heavy smoker, and a past abuser of alcohol and drugs, plus he had been sustaining a load of stress far higher than mine. I also thought about a hugely obese person I'd seen at a restaurant while out with my parents last Wednesday. Easily 150 pounds more than me. And surely not alone in today's America. If I had gotten this far, while trying at this late date to amend my own dietary and activity deficiencies, before having what my instinct suggested was only a stress-related episode, how much time would that guy have?

I didn't consider my presence in the bed an injustice, as though someone of his weight ought to be there instead of me. At 5' 8'' and 227 lbs., I'm not exactly at my ideal weight either. This was a helpful warning sign, to let me know something was wrong. I knew there would be some next step based on the blood test and any other follow-up tests. And fit, slim people (or those striving for better fitness) are not immune to cardiac problems if they are genetically skewed to high cholesterol or heart irregularities. Both my father and his mother got pacemakers, for instance, so I assume at some point I'll get one too. Better to know this now, than be surprised and have to be wheeled into a hospital past the point when you can speak for yourself.

My dad returned shortly before the doctor did with the news that my blood test was normal. No sign of any heart damage. What they did find was an area of congestion and impairment at the very bottom of my left lung — though no thromboses, which was a huge relief. At the beginning of the year, I suffered for 2 weeks with a bad, productive cough that I only slowly shook off. To clear the lung out and forestall walking pneumonia, she prescribed a 5-day course of Zithromax. She also directed me to follow up ASAP with my own doctor, who might want to order a stress test or refer me to a cardiologist. She also left the go-ahead to resume strenuous exercise up to my doctor's judgment.

Shortly after this, I was given my release papers, along with a written diagnosis (Chest Pain—Unclear Etiology), and I walked out of the hospital under my own power, itself a victory. I spent the rest of the day reading at home, itching the welts where I'd lacerated and depilated myself while removing the EKG leads, and hitting the hay relatively early. I was worn out from all the excitement. Before doing so, I did call home to let my mom know that I was still feeling well, and that I'd be absenting myself from the plan to get Chinese food on Sunday. Mass consumption of animal grease didn't seem like the smartest course of action after visiting a hospital for a suspected cardiac event. (We compromised on meatloaf.)

So that is how things stand. Being locked up here was driving me nuts, so I just walked two blocks under glorious blue skies to get a bottle of Diet Coke. I forced myself down to a normal person's pace and not the double-time march my instinct, and my exercise-craving muscles, desired. I inhaled the cold air as deeply as I could, to stretch that afflicted section of lung, and made both the out and back journeys with no impairment or pain.

I suppose I'll also be forcing myself not to keep thinking about my heart these next few days, except when I'm actually at the doctor's office being checked again. A call over there is tomorrow's first order of business. The next: to inform my immediate coworkers, in language as temperate yet direct as I can muster, that I will be tending the needs of my own sweet ass first and foremost, ahead of all other work concerns. Already we've had one other person black out from stress due to the current staffing crunch. No more. The March issue will get out when it gets out. Writing my performance review is also not something I'm going to rush into, and I think I can safely say that any fantasies about taking my former boss's position can be safely cast aside. I do get a break from the madness this coming Thursday, when I have the privilege to volunteer during the WFMU 50th Anniversary Fundraising Marathon. Once again, this is assuming my health is sound. I am taking the next week on a hassle-optional basis. (Though dying on the hallowed grounds of FMU would be a stone groove, I'd like for it not to happen during my 30s.)

Until tomorrow, I will take it quite slowly, and look forward to returning to my regular exercise, and possibly a saner workplace, as the green fingers of spring enfold in comfort the sad brown bosom of the earth.