Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Aug '09

As Seen On TV

Here are a few links to videos about my heart valve problem and the repair procedure:

YouTube has been slow lately. If these don’t play smoothly, hit Pause, go away for a couple minutes, then hit Play.

I’m off to walk Serena. Remember, in my condition, I’m not supposed to be able to go up a flight of stairs. I don’t think there are any stairs along our path so I should be okay.

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Aug '09

Of Hot Dogs and Angiograms

A little followup to my “news” from yesterday… My appointment was at 10:30. With all the extra discussion with my doctor and the subsequent blood draw for surgery I didn’t get out of the office until 12:30ish. I was hungry. Where does one go for lunch after being told by your cardiologist, “I’m sorry, you need to have heart surgery?” Why you go for a hot dog, of course! It just so happens (or maybe it’s by design) that Matt’s Gourmet Hot Dogs is a mere 0.7 miles from Eastside Cardiology. Gotta luv it.

Chicago Dog EKG 

I called Valerie again, hoping that she had recovered from my previous call (she told me that she cried) and we arranged a date at Matt’s. I now know how much she loves me if she’s willing to sit with me and discuss heart surgery while eating a hot dog!  She brought Serena, we got a table outside, and we each had a classic Chicago dog while Serena nibbled on a naked weenie. I told her, in depth, what the doctor said. We discussed the whole relocation mess we’re in. There was a lot of silence and staring and petting of Serena. We’ll figure it out and get through it. I love Valerie more than anything. The Chicago dog was very good — I won’t tell Dr. Maidan.

My angiogram (so the surgeon will have a detailed map of my heart) is scheduled for 7:00am on Thursday, September 3rd. I haven’t heard any more about additional untrasound tests or about the surgery. I’ll blog it as I learn it…

Aug '09


Here are a few other titles for this post: 

“Say What?”
“Just when you thought it was safe”
“Houston, we have a problem”
“Whoda Thunk?”
“Not so fast”
“Wow, I didn’t see that coming”
“You can’t always get what to wa-ant” (apologies to the Rolling Stones)
“What a mess”
“What now?”
“You’re serious?”
“The best laid plans of mice and men so often go astray”
“We were going to stop in Spokane, anyway”
“It’s only heart surgery”

Are you sitting down? The short story is that our cross-country driving trip is off and instead I’m going to have heart surgery ASAP in Spokane. No joke.

First a bit of background. When I was 24 and living in Johnson City, TN, I went for my first real physical outside of little Edinburg, PA. The doctor comes in, does his pleasantries, puts his stethoscope on my chest, listens, listens again, moves it around, says “hmmm,” listens some more, stands back and says, “do you know you have a heart murmur?” Never had a clue. He then asks if I would mind if his interns could listen because “it’s pretty pronounced.” A few minutes later in walk several interns, same age as me, who proceed to listen to my chest as the doctor explains what they should listen for. Fast forward to nearly every visit with a new doctor I’ve had since. Same scenario, though not always with interns. I’m told it’s nothing to worry about, that it sounds like a leaky Mitral Valve, that 5% of the people have it, and since I’m not having any symptoms (shortness of breath, dizziness, etc) that I’m fine.

Now, on a parallel track I’ve also had marginally high blood pressure — 140/90ish. I’ve never done anything for it. Doctors have always said to watch it and if it ever got higher we’d address it. Three years ago it started to creep up to 150/95ish and I had a couple instances of heart palpitation. Two years ago I went for a physical. After the nurse took my BP and the doctor (and a couple interns) listened to my heart he told me that I needed to see a cardiologist, that my high BP, my murmur, and my palpitations were likely related. Valerie had been trying to get me to go for a while so this was the push I needed.

I month later I go see a cardiologist, Rubin Maidan. After a short listen to my heart he schedules me for a stress test, electrocardiogram (EKC), and an echocardiogram. A week later I’m on the table, and on the treadmill, and on the table again while the doctor and his technician watch the EKG and the images of my heart on the screen in normal and stressed conditions. The diagnosis: MVP (Mitral Valve Prolapse with regurgitation), a very leaky mitral valve with maybe 30% regurgitation and an enlarged heart. Translation: the heart valve between the left atrium and left ventricle goes past its normal closed position and 30% of the blood flows back through. My heart has to work harder to compensate so it’s enlarging and my blood pressure is increasing. My enlarged heart is also stretching out the electrical pathways and that could be causing my occasional atrial fibrillation (A-fib). Several times during the test they ask me if I have any shortness of breath or light headedness. Nope. I do my 12 minutes on the treadmill no problem. Pretty good for a guy whose heart is only operating at 70%. I’m now on a yearly test schedule to see if my heart gets worse over time.

Last summer I have the test again. Over the previous 12 months I logged 5 instances of A-fib. The doctor thinks that’s acceptable — but if they go longer than 24 hours, I need to go to the ER. My heart looks unchanged. Blood pressure is down a bit. That’s good and is probably due to me walking every day and taking Lycopene. I will probably, eventually, maybe need to get the valve fixed in my lifetime, but for now it’s unchanged. Come back next year.

Over the last year I’ve only had 3 episodes of A-fib, though one was nearly 24 hours (see 20th Anniversary). My blood pressure is great at 120/70ish. I feel fine. I briskly walk with Serena at least 45 minutes a day. Last week we hiked around Cougar Mountain. Did I mention that I feel fine? Today’s test should be routine. Valerie didn’t come because I was so sure I was fine. We leave on Sunday for our 6+ week roadtrip to Asheville. Ha Ha Ha. Curveball.

The technician, the same one I’ve had the last two times, isn’t her usual chatty self. While she’s doing the ultrasound she asks me repeatedly if I’m ever short of breath or dizzy. Nope. I ask her what she sees (as we know, she’s not allowed to say). She says that she needs to go outside to log her measurements, get the doctor, and that she’ll be right back. They come in and Dr. Maidan asks me if I’m ever short of breath or dizzy. No, again. He and the tech peer over the screen and start talking medicaleeze. I hear “maxed out”, “new jet”, “increase over last year by a centimeter.” Hmmm. I get on the treadmill and begin to walk. Every minute or so it increases in speed and elevation so that by 10 minutes I’m jogging up hill at a pretty good clip. The goal is 12 minutes — which I easily did the last two years. As the minutes tick by I’m doing fine. The doctor comes in and out. I can carry on a (slightly winded) conversation. The nurse takes my BP three times. It’s fine. My heart rate hits 186 at 12 minutes and the technician reminds me that I did 12 minutes last year and wants to know if I want to try for more. At this point I think I have an idea where things are going, I need to man up and prove that I’m healthy, so I say “sure, lets go” and I run full out, up hill, for another minute and a half. Then I quickly jump off the treadmill onto the exam table where she does an ultrasound of my stressed heart.

Dr. Maiden comes back in to look at the screen where the tech has placed non-stressed and stressed images of my heart. There are two view angles for each and they are running in an endless loop of a few beats. He toggles between that view and one with color doppler (think weather radar) that shows blood flow direction, red one way and blue the other. After a minute or so he swivels the stool around, clasps his hands, looks me in the eye and says, “I’m sorry, but it’s time. You need to have your valve fixed. Your heart has enlarge 1cm over the last year. It’s now the same size at rest as it is when stressed. A second  area of regurgitation has formed because the original one has maxed out. I recommend doing this sooner than later. One year would be too long, six months too long, three months max, one month better.” Yikes! 

We discuss the fact that I feel fine. That I can do 13+ minutes on the treadmill. He tells me that most patients with my level of valve failure can’t climb a flight of stairs. My heart is compensating but it’s reached the point where it can’t compensate any more. And, my lower blood pressure may be the result of my heart not being able to keep up. It’s possible, after I get the valve fixed, that I’ll have high blood pressure again.

We talk about the valve repair surgery. He recommends getting it done in Spokane. A Dr. Leland Siwek there does it robotically through 4 dime-sized incisions. He’s done several hundred repairs this way. In hicksville Seattle they still do it the old fashioned way by sawing and cracking your chest open. Apparently, Dr. Siwek is pretty well know for this surgery. Dr. Maiden will send my info to Dr. Siwek. I need to schedule an angiogram to get a detailed map of my heart. And, I may need additional tests, but we need to hear from Dr. Siwek to see if he wants them.

So, I don’t know when this will all happen. But, it will happen soon, probably in September. We, obviously aren’t leaving on our road trip to Asheville on Sunday. We don’t know what this means for selling our house. It does mean that no matter what we won’t start construction this fall — but that wasn’t happening until we sell the house, anyway. It’s all quite the Curveball.

More coming as I learn it.

P.S. Here’s a video that talks all about the valve problem and the robotic surgery.

P.S.S. Another video from Cleveland Clinic about mitral valve repair using robotics.

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Aug '09

Road Trip!

We’ve set a date to begin our cross-country adventure — Sunday, August 30. The plan is to go from Woodinville to Martinsville (IN) to Edinburg (PA) to Asheville while on the way visiting Yellowstone, Mt. RushmoreBadlands, and the Corn Palace. Once in Asheville, we’ll probably stay through the mid-October leaf change. (Yep, that’s right, over 6 weeks!) What the heck, we could use an adventure! It’ll give me an opportunity to be outside of my comfort zone. Valerie? She’s ready to go—yesterday. Serena? “Ride? Ride? Did someone say Ride?”


If the house sells while we’re gone, we’ll drive or fly back to pack it up and move out. If it doesn’t sell, we’ll gussie up Camp Bell and put it on the market, pack up our stuff to move, then drive back. We don’t know what will happen but we’ll take that road when we get to it. Ha Ha, Get it? Take that road…

I had originally planned to make it a 4-day, 3-night, drive from here to Indiana but was swayed to appreciate the journey rather than the destination so we’re going to take extra time to see a few of the sights along the way. Rather than take the shorter northern route through Montana and North Dakota (nothing to see there) we’re going to drop south and drive through Yellowstone. From there we’ll pick up I-90 and head east through the Black Hills where Mt. Rushmore is. Further east in South Dakota is Badlands National Park. We can drop off of I-90, drive through the park, then pop back onto I-90 again. Further east in Mitchell, South Dakota, is the Corn Palace. Saundra’s in-laws said that if we’re going by, we should stop. It’s a huge building decorated each year with murals made from over 275,000 ears of corn in 13 different varieties and colors. If we have time we’ll also check out the largest ball of twineRock City, and Wally World J.

We’re making our “Do it before we leave” and “Take it with us” lists. Those require some thought for a 6+ week trip. It’ll be a busy week then next Sunday, the road trip begins. Wally World here we come!

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Aug '09

Cougar Mountain Hike

On Monday, Valerie and Serena, Jolie and Pepper, and I did a 4 mile walk around Cougar Mountain near Issaquah. It was perfect weather and Cougar mountain was a good, easy, hike for us and the dogs.

 Cougar Mountain Hike noyougonoyougo1 

From the Anti-Aircraft Peak Trailhead we made a clockwise loop – Shangri La Trail, Protector Trail, Clay Pit Road (stopped at the Clay Pit), Mine Shaft Trail (stopped at the mine shaft where they used to mine coal), East Fork Trail, Fred’s Railroad Trail, By Pass Trail, Coyote Creek Trail (stopped at the former Nike Missile Launch Site), Lost Beagle Trail, and Shangri La Trail back to the parking lot. Click on the map to see our highlighted route.

Nike Missile

If you’ve read this far you’re probably thinking, “Anti-Aircraft? Nike Missile? Huh?” Well, in the 1950′s, the government built a ring of Nike Missile launchers around Seattle to protect it from Russian bombers. Many of the hills on the eastside had missile sites on them. There’s one just a few miles from our house in Redmond. Cougar Mountain has one, too. These weren’t ICBM nuclear silo missiles, they were anti-aircraft missiles (see picture, below). Fifty years later, there’s not much left of the facilities. Redmond’s has a few remaining barrack buildings. This one on Cougar Mountain has a single large-outhouse size concrete building and a few parking-lot size concrete pads. This site and the surrounding area is now a King County Park. It’s interesting to know that Seattle was at one time targeted by the Russians and that there was a ring of anti-aircraft missiles around the city to protect it. Who knew?


For more info…   Cold War Relics          Issaquah History

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Aug '09

(Some) Real Estate Agents are Rude, Inconsiderate, A-Holes!

If you’ve been following our blog you know how much work we’ve done to prep our house and to stage it for show. When we get a call from an agent asking to show our house we have a checklist of things to do to get it ready. If we haven’t had a showing for a few days that checklist is a bit longer and takes more time to complete because we have to vacuum the carpets, sweep the decks, put away more stuff, etc. Typically we’re given a window of about an hour when the agent expects to be here so once the house is show-ready we need to disappear for about two hours – 30 minutes on each side of that window. That might mean a trip to the dog park or to the local restaurant with outdoor seating so that we can take Serena. Sum total, we need to stop our life for three+ hours. That’s okay, we want to sell the house, so we’ll do what it takes to help make it happen.


We’ve had three showings this week (that’s a good thing!) but one was late, one was a complete no show, and last night’s showing was an hour late! No calls, no apologies, just rudeness. Now, our data point for a buyer’s agent is Shelle, our EXCELLENT agent in North Carolina. We spent several days with her looking at dozens of houses. She had each day planned out with a driving route and a schedule. If we began to run early or late she worked the phone to check if the adjusted times were okay with the sellers. Sometimes she fit in extra houses or stopped for a snack to get us back on schedule. She was courteous, considerate, and completely understanding of what the sellers were going through and trying not to inconvenience them. Not so, here, with these bozos. Imagine doing all the prep, leaving the house, coming back two hours later and finding that the agent wasn’t even there!

Yesterday we spent the afternoon hiking Cougar Mountain. While there we got a call from an agent wanting to show the house between 6:00 and 7:00. We had completely staged the house before we left because we were going to be gone all day. Cool. The house would be ready. We got home around 4:30, a bit tired from the hike. We didn’t touch anything. Man we needed showers. Valerie made brownies to make the house smell good. Since we had time we dusted and swept a bit more. At 5:45 we left the house and went to Canyon’s to sit outside and have chips and beer. We blew two hours and got home at 7:45 — allowing enough time in case they got there at 7:00 and took a while to look at the house.

Lately I’ve been setting the keybox in a known position so I can tell if it’s been used. The box was untouched! They weren’t here! Another no show! After some cussing and swearing I begin un-prepping the house and Valerie goes upstairs to take a shower. It’s now 8:00. I realize that I have the agent’s number in my cell phone and decide to call her up and ask ”What the hell!?” I get her voicemail and leave a message. Five minutes later she calls back and says, “We’re running really late but we’re just around the corner and will be there in a couple minutes.” At that moment Valerie is coming down the stairs, hair dripping wet, carrying a load of laundry. I’m thinking “You rude, inconsiderate, a-hole. You couldn’t have called and told me that?” But, since she’s representing a potential buyer I instead politely say, “Gee. We just got home. Can you give use ten minutes?” We undo all our un-prepping, re-prep, jump in the car, and as we back out of the driveway, they pull in. This time, we drive around Woodinville for 30 minutes. We get back to the house at 8:45. They’re gone. A short visit means they probably aren’t interested. Valerie un-preps the house and I take a shower. Our agents will call her to find out what they thought of the house. I’m not allowed to call her and that’s probably a good thing.

It’s two weeks until we leave town. Then all those agents can be late or not show up all they want. We won’t care.

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Aug '09

It’s a Fine Line Between a Showing and a Viewing

I was typing up an email to our Realtors to let them know we had a couple showings this week. It was early and my brain wasn’t 100% and instead of using the word “showing” I used the word “viewing” as in “We had a viewing at the house, yesterday.” 

Gotta love the subtlties of the English language. Showing. Viewing. They’re so similar and innocent by themselves. But, when used in a sentence, one word means that people came to look at your house. The other word means that people came to look at a dead body at your house. How did that ever come to be? I did catch the error and corrected it before sending the email. I wonder if they would have noticed?

P.S. We did have two showings this week. We haven’t gotten feedback from them yet.

Aug '09

News Flash! It’s Raining in Seattle!

Normally, rain in Seattle is not news — but this year it is. We typically have dry summers but this year we are experiencing the driest summer on record (at least 60 years)! Since May 20th we’ve only had ¼” of rain and that came down on July 13th. Otherwise there were a couple days with unmeasurable mist and that’s it. Throw in our week of 90° and 100° days, the dead lawns and the trees starting to drop their leaves, and we’re like San Antonio!

But, last night it rained and it’s supposed to continue for much of today. We might get ½” when it’s all over. After that it’s predicted to be back to our normal dry August. For now, though, it’s raining in Seattle!

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Aug '09

A Man, a Plan, a Canal, Panama

“A Man, a plan, a canal, Panama” is a cute little palindrome (spells the same thing forwards and backwards) that I remember from my childhood. It’s appropriate, today, because we now have a plan that covers either going forward, moving to Asheville and building our dream home, or going backward, moving our stuff at Camp Bell back to Woodinville and living happily ever after.

Last Thursday we lowered the price of our house 5% and held open houses Saturday and Sunday. Three couples came by on Saturday and two couples on Sunday. That’s better than zero couples, but not by much. One couple was here for over an hour and had mild interest though the wife didn’t like that our master bedroom doesn’t have a soaking tub. Our agent, Dana, said she tried to sell the steam shower (steam, hand spray, overhead rainshower, body jets, and two seats) but wasn’t sure if the wife was sold. We also continue to be vexed because we only have three bedrooms.  We need to find that childless couple, the family with only one kid, or the family with two kids and no out-of-town relatives.

So, what’s the plan? On or about September 1, we (and that includes Serena) will be taking a cross-country road trip to Asheville by way of Indiana and Pennsylvania. We’ll visit family then head to Camp Bell and spend several weeks painting and repairing our fixer-upper. We have to do that work whether we live in it for a year or sell it immediately, so we might as well do it now. Meanwhile, back in Woodinville, we’ll keep the price of our house where it’s at and give our Realtors until September 30 to sell it. If it sells, we’ll fly back to Seattle, pack up our stuff, and move it to Asheville. If it doesn’t sell, we’ll pack up Camp Bell, drive back to Seattle, put Camp Bell and the property up for sale, AND NEVER EVER CONTEMPLATE BUILDING OR MOVING EVER EVER AGAIN!

Why the deadline? Well, once a house is on the market for more than a few weeks at the same price it becomes stale. All the people in the buying pool who may have been interested have looked at it—and decided that they don’t want it. The only potential for selling is by having a new buyer enter the pool or by lowering the price. The former is slim pickin’s and the latter, well, we are already below my pain threshold on price so we aren’t going any lower. Our house couldn’t be built for what it’s selling for. With several houses in our price range having been on the market for over a year, the prospects aren’t good. If our house doesn’t sell by September 30, it’s not going to sell. If it doesn’t sell, we can’t build a house in Asheville.

Bottom line…Our Architect is on hold and will not finalize the plans or take it to permit. Our selected Builder has been told not to wait for us and to proceed with building other houses, that if/when we’re ready to build we’ll get in line. And, we’ll prepare for a cross country road trip and for mothballing our house for the month of September.

Now I need to work on a palindrome with Asheville and Woodinville in it. Hmmm.

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Aug '09

The TV is Fixed!

I finally got around to fixing our big screen TV. See here for the original story…It turns out that the problem was, as I suspected, one of the two STK392-110 Convergence Amplifier ICs.

It took me a good hour yesterday morning to disassemble the TV and remove the High Voltage circuit board. There always seemed to be just one more screw or connector. I was hoping that the act of me tearing the TV apart and scattering its innards across the family room floor would prompt a real estate agent to call wanting to show the house in the next hour—but, alas, it didn’t happen.

High Voltage / Convergence Board

This morning Luis brought over his soldering supplies (mine are at Camp Bell). It took me another hour to unsolder the 18 pins, remove the part, clean up the holes, solder in the new part, and put everything back together. Press the power button and TaDaaa! it’s fixed. No more blue shadows.


If I had two new chips I would have replaced both as I suspect the other will eventually fail. But, I only had the extra one from Al’s previous repair. If we end up staying and keeping the TV it will be a cinch to replace the other IC now that I know where all the screws and connectors are. If someone else owns the TV someday, they can deal with the $400+ repair job ($5 part and $395 labor).

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Aug '09

Who is this “No One” Everyone is Talking About?

In the last ten months, in our zip code, at our house’s price point ($75K below and $25K above) there has been exactly ONE house sold.  There are currently eighteen other “similar” houses for sale.  In real estate terms that means there is a 190 month supply — in theory, at the current sell rate, if nothing changes, it will take 16 years to sell all these houses. That sounds crazy, but I believe it since no one is looking at our house. If no one is looking at it, no one is going to buy it. I sure would like to meet Mr. or Mrs. No One and make a deal!

If you’ve done everything you can to sell your house and it hasn’t sold in two months, how do you make your house the next one sold so that you don’t have to wait 16 years? You lower your price so that it’s the best deal out there among all those other eighteen houses. And if that doesn’t work in a couple weeks (and it’ll be obvious by how many people come by, or don’t come by, to look at it) you declare defeat.

That’s the plan. New price on Thursday. Open house Saturday and Sunday. We’ll give it until the end of August. If it doesn’t sell we’ll try to unwind this adventure in moving and I’ll learn to appreciate what I have (Valerie already does).

P.S. We selected a builder, but we’ll postpone signing or not signing a contract until the end of August.

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