See books written by Paul Pakusch at https://www.amazon.com/author/paulpakusch

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Some Ways to Remember John Lennon

Guest Blog by Burt Stein

originally written in 2015

A bit of necessary background:  This story should have appeared in Freetime Magazine of Rochester, in late December 1980.  What kept it from reaching completion then was a combination of shock, anger, and a case of writer’s block that wouldn’t quit.  But I still regret that my days at Freetime ended (though amicably) on such a bitter historical note. 
John Lennon was murdered 35 years ago on the night of December 8, and I think I’m finally ready to get (re-)started, even if nothing of that original attempt still exists except in my memory.  (“Just like starting over?”  Spot on.)  So this, at last, is dedicated to the Freetime staff I once knew, and the world that changed as never before when a madman killed a Beatle.

*** 

 “Listen, the snow is falling o'er town,
Listen, the snow is falling ev'rywhere.
Between empire state building
And between trafalgar square.
Listen, the snow is falling o'er town.

“Listen, the snow is falling o'er town,
Listen, the snow is falling ev'rywhere.
Between your bed and mine,
Between your head and my mind.
Listen, the snow is falling o'er town.”

                                 —Yoko Ono (1971)

Sunday, December 14, 1980:  At 12:01:01 PM, a single snowflake softly fell over midtown Manhattan—but, though it heralded many more, hardly an ordinary snowflake.  With the sight of it through our office window, there came the feeling that a cosmic circle was closing upon itself.

*** 

It was a time when jobs were precious (though not nearly as much so as today); Jimmy Carter was entering the twilight of his single term as President of the United States (for many critical reasons, largest of all his continued failure to secure the freedom of 52 Americans then being held hostage in Iran); Bruce Springsteen and Debbie Harry were receiving maximum exposure on Top 40 radio; and in New York City, there still existed map points such as the Biltmore Hotel, Reuben’s Delicatessen, and the famously sleazy old 42nd Street from Sixth Avenue on up.

Meanwhile …

Tidbit by exciting tidbit, the news began to spread as summer 1980 yielded to autumn:  After a somewhat cloudy five-year hiatus, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had been signed to Geffen Records and were once more up to something musically, hunkered down at the Hit Factory studio in New York City.

Double Fantasy, then the first new studio album from Lennon and Ono in those five years, was released on November 17, 1980.   Though each passing year makes this harder to recall, we were thereby blessed with nearly 22 days in which to happily experience that album’s original 14 tracks as the newest creations of two living artists.

Apart from this-must-be-uptempo “(Just Like) Starting Over” (which, as the first 45 to represent the collection, had already been released on October 24 of that year), the first such LP track I remember hearing on the radio (via soft rock WTFM, 103.5, New York) was “Watching the Wheels”—piano at its core, and somewhat more mellow than the Lennon sound we had come to expect, but a nod and a wink in seeming celebration of Lennon’s more recent role as father and househusband (“No longer riding on the merry-go-round/I just had to let it go”).

One other standout track among Lennon’s half of the Double Fantasy songs was the nod to his young son Sean that was “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, awash in steel drums with a whisper of mandolin, and clearly inspired by his nautically perilous yet musically rewarding ocean voyage from Rhode Island to Bermuda that June.  It also contained—in hindsight—the most poignant lines found anywhere on the album:  “Before you cross the street/Take my hand/Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…”

This excerpt from “A Rare Glimpse of John Lennon, Sailor” by John Clarke Jr. (©2010, 2012 Paste Media Group) tells us much more about that journey, including its most pivotal creative moments:

“…Lennon arrived on the island June 11 relaxed, re-energized and inspired.  He stayed for two months—writing, recording and staying up all night working on his new songs, and visiting clubs and shops in downtown Hamilton.  On a trip to the Botanical Gardens with his son, Sean, they spotted a freesia hybrid flower called Double Fantasy and thus the album title was born.  Another time, having drinks with two local journalists, Lennon came up with the lyrics for ‘Watching the Wheels’.  On the club’s walls flashed projections of turning wheels while one of the journalists lamented to Lennon that he should be writing great songs—not shut in a New York apartment, no longer part of the ‘big time’.  During his stay, he also wrote ‘I’m Losing You’, ‘Beautiful Boy’ and an early version of ‘Woman’.  During that last summer vacation of his life, Lennon was also inspired to write ‘Borrowed Time’ after listening to Bob Marley and the Wailers’ album ‘Burnin’ ’.  In one of his less-poetic moments, he later described this productive time as ‘a diarrhea of creativity’.”

And Yoko Ono?  Back when she first hit the radar as an Apple Records artist at the dawn of the 1970s, we had no way of guessing that her own out-there vocal style would someday become a building block of New Wave music.  By 1980, that genre’s time had begun, and Ono’s equally apportioned contributions to Double Fantasy (most notably “Kiss Kiss Kiss” and “Give Me Something”)—plus a breakthrough 45 all her own, then still under wraps—proved to fit snugly under the New Wave umbrella.  But the full celebration of her own musical triumph would have to wait a while. 
***

Deeper within the history of Double Fantasy lie the contents of a bootleg CD titled John Lennon: Free as a Bird/The Dakota Beatle Demos.  These 22 acoustic tracks, recorded both figuratively and literally in-house, are without exception both eternally haunting—often giving us an open window into Lennon’s state of mind during those final years—and still more instructive as to the evolution of the Lennon songs that ultimately became one-half of Double Fantasy.  Most beautiful among these is “India” (a.k.a. “India India”, if you prefer):  “I’ve got to follow my heart/Wherever it takes me/I’ve got to follow my heart/Whenever it calls to me/I’ve got to follow my heart and my heart is going home”.

Most haunting, bar none, is “Dear John”:  “…Don’t be hard on yourself/Give yourself a break/Life wasn’t meant to be run/The race is over/You’ve won”.  At one point during this track, Lennon interpolated a portion of the “September ... November” refrain from “September Song” by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson (itself most famously recorded by Jimmy Durante)—and regrettably, if not altogether unexpectedly, when this Lennon home demo was later released legally as part of a Capitol compilation CD, his nod to Durante (or Weill) was conspicuously absent from the track, no doubt for legal/budget reasons.  (Accept no substitutes.)  

*** 
 “No friends and yet no enemies
Absolutely free
No rats aboard the magic ship
Of perfect harmony”
                      —John Lennon (1980)

And so to the inevitable question:  Where were you and how did you hear the news on the night of December 8, 1980, after a bastard named Chapman went into combat crouch, and our world came crashing down?

For me, the word arrived through disconnected fragments via Vin Scelsa on WNEW-FM (102.7), then the undisputed album rock powerhouse of NYC.

Here’s the way I recall the rest of that evening in my Brooklyn apartment, though some of the finer points may have grown hazy for me over the years:  First, there was a recorded police dispatcher’s call for cars to proceed to the Dakota apartment building—which, suddenly dropped in among the usual hourly “wheel” of records/commercials/Scelsa’s random observations, at first sounded to me like a sick joke packaged by somebody behind the scenes at ‘NEW.  Several more uninterrupted minutes of music followed before Scelsa returned to the microphone, at which point he was noticeably straining to compose himself while sifting through a stack of just-received wire reports from diverse sources.
 
Then, more music still, which quickly morphed into a string of Lennon and Beatles tunes—as, standing still near my home stereo system, I felt my stomach begin to churn.
Scelsa finally returned as “Watching the Wheels” faded into a rare bubble of silence; seconds later, while trying in vain to camouflage his emotions, he made the confirmed announcement that Lennon had been shot dead at the entrance to his home.  More silence.  Scelsa’s only comment:  “And I am at a loss for words.  I think for the first time in my career on the radio, I don’t have anything to say.”


Another pause, followed by the opening notes of “Let It Be” … that song itself then quickly interrupted by an NBC News Hotline Report.
At that point, not yet in deep shock but getting there, I switched off the stereo and moved to the TV set in the other room.  On WABC, Channel 7, was the ever-reliable “Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell”—and I was just in time to hear Cosell, having been handed another wire report, provide the most chillingly surreal media moment of the entire night.


And that was all for the radio and television at my place … all I could do was slump into my favorite chair and go numb. 

***
Sunday, December 14, 1980:  As on many Sunday mornings then, I was doing some very welcome overtime as a proofreader/typesetter at a long-gone shop called Type Systems, on East 38th Street in Manhattan.  On site too was a novice proofreader (Type Systems knew her as—yes—Nancy); we both stayed until about 12:15 PM.  While neither of us had been able to get over to Central Park that week, we knew well of the ongoing daylight and candlelight vigil there by an uncounted number of Lennon’s most devoted fans.
And we had the radio on, once more tuned to WNEW.  It was announced that morning that there would be a moment of silence at 12:00:00 PM, to be immediately followed by the live debut performance by David Sanborn of a new jazz composition dedicated to the memory of Lennon and of his singular career.
At 11:59:59 AM, we both put down our blue pencils and closed our folders.
At 12:00:00 Noon, ‘NEW went silent.
At 12:01:00, Sanborn began to play.
And at precisely 12:01:01, outside Type Systems’ picture window, that first snowflake appeared.
Transfixed for the moment, we stayed tuned until Sanborn’s closing notes faded, then got our coats, shut down the equipment and locked up the office.
And as we parted company down on 38th, with the snow now falling steadily, I said to Nancy with more than a small quiver in my voice, “Get home safely.”
“You too, thanks,” she replied, sounding much the same.  

*** 
 “Between tokyo and paris,
Between london and dallas,
Between your love and mine.
Listen, the snow is falling ev'rywhere.


Snowfling, snowfall, snowfall,
Listen, listen,
Listen, baby,
Listen.”

                       —Yoko Ono (1971) 

----------------------
Paul Pakusch, guest blog today by Burt Stein
www.SunnySideof50.com
To subscribe to a daily e-mail of this blog, enter your e-mail address in the upper right

Sunny Side of 50 is sponsored by
Paul Pakusch Travel, www.paulpakusch.com
Upstate Wedding Bells, www.UpstateWeddingBells.com 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Paul Pakusch Travel

I'd like to take this opportunity to re-introduce myself as a travel agent.  I was previously a home-based travel agent for about 6 years.  I specialized in cruises and Disney, along with doing some other land-based travel packages.  At the time I gave it up, it was because some situations had come up on some trips that I had no control over; people's flights were cancelled, and in one case, an item was left on a cruise ship and the client called me and asked for help.  Even though I wasn't responsible for any of that, it left me feeling somewhat responsible.

This past summer, I decided to give it another shot.  As many people know, travel is my passion and I love to share it as much as possible.  True, I get some perks as a travel agent, but I also truly enjoy seeing what other people share of their travel experiences.  I enjoy seeing what I can come up with that will make them happy.

I restarted this venture by attempting to organize a group cruise out of New Orleans in April, 2020.  That trip is happening; we have a small but excited group of people looking forward to starting the party the night before the cruise in New Orleans, then sailing the Norwegian Getaway along the Mississippi River to Cozumel, Honduras, Belize and Costa Maya.  (There's still plenty of opportunity to join us, if you want!)

For the past six months, I have been taking baby steps to restarting this business. I wanted to get everything set correctly.  I got my travel agent credentials through CLIA, the Cruise Line International Association and got a DBA for my business name, Paul Pakusch Travel.  In the months following, I established relationships with a number of cruise lines and earned my credentials as a Disney Specialist.  As for vacation packages, I was very picky.  I wanted to be able to offer my clients a way to get help if things don't go as planned while on a trip.  Obviously, I can't be available to someone 24 hours a day.  So, it was important to me that people have an emergency phone number they can call.

I found the answer in GoGo Worldwide Vacations.  It has been a leading travel wholesaler for over 65 years, offering competitive rates on travel packages.  Most important to me, it offers emergency services to help you on your way when travel plans go awry.

You have to go through a travel agent in order to book a vacation package through GoGo Worldwide Vacations.  You can see some of their offers at www.gogowwv.com.  If you were interested in booking with them, I would only ask that you allow me to book your trip. I have booked some of my own upcoming trips through GoGo. If nothing else, see how what I can find you through GoGo compares whatever else you might find elsewhere. I can find some additional travel packages through Apple Vacations as well.

I have established relationships with major cruise lines, allowing me to book with them.  As a Disney Specialist, I can help you plan a trip to Disney, too.  As always, there is no fee whatsoever for most of the travel I book for you.  I get paid a commission by the travel supplier to do their work for you.

While most people were out shopping on Black Friday, I was spending the afternoon finding some great travel deals.  Stacey and I have four major trips scheduled for the next year, and I look forward to working with friends and clients, booking travel packages for them.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.  You can see my website at travel.paulpakusch.com.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

"Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays"

Originally written in 2015

I think the ongoing "debate" of "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" is one of the most pointless arguments and does nothing more than anger people when it should be a time of thanks and joy. I use both terms, sometimes interchangeably, and I have done so all my life. There are a lot of holidays between November and January 1. Sometimes under certain circumstances, it's just more convenient to wish Happy Holidays for the whole season (or "seasons greetings," how come no one seems to have a problem with that?). On a specific date, it makes more sense to give a greeting for the day. What matters is that people are friendly, civil and cordial. If you don't like the way someone greeted you, then it's your problem. That's how I feel about it.

I also think that officially renaming a Christmas Tree to a Holiday Tree is ridiculous.  If you want to call your own personal tree a Holiday Tree, that's fine but leave other people out of it. The Christian practice of bringing trees into homes was started in the 16th century in Germany and it was associated with Christmas. It became popular outside of Germany in the second half of the 19th century; a pretty short time in historical terms. Its name implies exactly what it was meant to be; a tree for Christmas. Historically, it's also been called a Yule Tree, so I would consider that acceptable. I would never expect this to be renamed, much as I wouldn't expect artifacts or symbols of any other religion to be renamed.

Christmas is a convoluted holiday. Its origins are pre-Christ, based on pagan and other winter celebrations, both relgious .and non-religious There is evidence that December 25 is nowhere near Christ's actual birth date, and the tale of Santa bringing gifts, or the modern custom of exchanging gifts, has nothing to do with Jesus being born. You could even argue that Christians "stole" the previous celebrations and turned them into their own holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Many traditions that we now have around Christmas were borrowed from other, older winter celebrations, such as Italian Saturnalia and the Norse Yule season.  In early America, it was more of a raucous holiday and even outlawed in Boston for several decades, for religious reasons!  It was also common for gangs to riot during the Christmas season.  That began to change in the early 1800's, thanks to writings by Washington Irving and Charles Dickens, who envisioned a more peaceful and family-oriented holiday. Today, around the whole world, Christmas is celebrated for different reasons and with different traditions. Obviously, here in the U.S., it's a combination of a religious holiday, federal holiday (since 1870), giant marketing scheme, and a day for family, big meals, and exchanging gifts. The U.S. is a free country. Some see Christmas as a religious day and some as a secular holiday. No one should limit how or even if other people observe the holiday, or how they should greet each other for the season or the day. Thus I object to any attempts to officially rename a Christmas tree, much as I object to people having a hissy-fit over how a friendly greeting is given.

Here is a great article about the history of Christmas:

http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

----------------------
Paul Pakusch
www.SunnySideof50.com
To subscribe to a daily e-mail of this blog, enter your e-mail address in the upper right

Sunny Side of 50 is sponsored by
Paul Pakusch Travel, www.paulpakusch.com
Upstate Wedding Bells, www.UpstateWeddingBells.com 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Thoughts on U.S. Media


 I worked in the media for 38 years, 32 of it being at a TV station. What you see on the news is completely driven by marketing. Everything you watch on TV or do on the internet is researched, including the fact that I am typing this post and you are reading it. It goes back into what they will put out as "news" because they want you to read their channel or watch their channel. Fox leans right because they cater to the right wing, which is their target audience for advertisers; CNN and the big three networks tend to be more neutral and MSNBC tends to lean left; again, targeting those groups for their advertisers. 

Source:


Controversy gets a lot of viewers. Everyone is up in arms about Trump, whether for him or against him, so any bit of drama he stirs up, pro or con, is going to get coverage. Here in the U.S., we constantly bicker about national politics. You see it all the time in your daily social media feed. Americans don't argue about Canadian politics; it's a sad fact that most Americans don't care. So, since stories about Canadian politics aren't going to attract viewers, they don't bother broadcasting them.

In the past 6 years, I have visited approximately 15 countries around Europe. Those people can tell you what's going on in America, but most Americans couldn't tell you what's going on in those countries. It's a sad fact that Americans are very self-centered. I was a bystander to a conversation about that two years ago while on a cruise. The Europeans I overheard were talking about how Americans are self-centered. When they suddenly realized my presence, they apologized to me for saying that. I told them it was OK they said that because it's true. I told them I was not offended.

Capitalist American media is primarily focused on getting stories that evoke emotion in order to gain or keep viewers. Of all the meetings I ever attended during my years at the TV station, I never once heard anyone say, "We need to influence our viewers to believe this or that." It was always, "What can we air that will evoke emotion?"

So, if you want thorough news coverage, find a source that does not depend on advertising dollars.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rock Band "The Dean's List"

I first saw The Dean's List at the Shortsville Firemen's Carnival in 2017. Not only did I enjoy the band, but it became a night of special meaning to me because my friendship with Stacey was just forming at the time.  She and our friend Judy and I "danced barefoot in the mud" to The Dean's List for almost two hours straight.

Since then, we have seen The Dean's List many times, most prominently when we hired them to play at our wedding! I've considered them to be "danceable rock," but they bill themselves as "playing your classic/modern rock favorites." They generally play in an area covering Auburn, Sodus Point, Penn Yan, Rochester, and anywhere in between.

The lineup for the past few years has consisted of:

Tim Potter - Guitar and Vocals
Scott Jennings - Lead Guitar/Vocals
Joe Carr - Bass/Vocals
Jeff Sitter - Drums
Mark Hillis - Lead Vocals

Mark, Joe, and Tim, were working on projects together and had challenges finding reliable players to fill the final slots in the lineup. They enlisted Scott, who had played extensively with Tim in the mid/late 90’s into the early 2000’s. They completed the lineup with Jeff, a relative newcomer to the scene.

Jeff said he started taking drum lessons about 11 years ago when he was 40. His 11-year old son had been taking lessons for about a month, and Jeff said he "couldn't stand it" and had to start taking lessons, himself. He said an interest turned into an obsession. The Dean's List is his fifth band; others didn't pan out.



The Dean's List Website is https://thedeanslistmusic.com/

--------------------------------------------------------------
Paul Pakusch
www.SunnySideof50.com
To subscribe to a daily e-mail of this blog, enter your e-mail address in the upper right

Sunny Side of 50 is sponsored by
Paul Pakusch Travel, www.paulpakusch.com

Upstate Wedding Bells, www.UpstateWeddingBells.com 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

How Mary Survived Multiple Cardiac Arrests, Part 2

The original blog was written by Mary and Paul Pakusch in 2012.  Much has happened since then and Mary agreed to write about it. 

Here is the link to Part 1, which covers the original cardiac arrests, a description of what a cardiac arrest is, how it affects Mary, and includes the years 2006-2012.

http://www.sunnysideof50.com/2015/12/how-mary-survived-two-cardiac-arrests.html

Here is her story from 2012 to now.

By Mary Pakusch

September  2019

Although Paul and I have been divorced for a couple of years now, we still get along. Paul recently asked me if I was interested in writing more about my cardiac arrest experiences since he published his original blog about it several years ago. At the time I had written about my initial cardiac arrest and the 2nd one I had 1 1/2 years later. In the following 11 years or so, I’ve gone into v-fib and needed to be shocked approximately 18 more times. It’s hard to keep count. 

Paul actually gave me some notes to help job my memory. The past few years have been traumatic, and sometimes it’s hard to remember all the details. 

After my 2nd SCA, I don’t believe I had another one for quite a few years. I know I wasn’t allowed to drive indefinitely after that one, and I think that lasted about 4 years before I was given permission by my cardiologist to drive again. I remember at least one year of Paul driving me to work and picking me up every day. I spent about 10 hours a day at work because of his schedule and availability. That actually worked out, though, because it decreased greatly the amount of work I had to bring home. I also had a year of a colleague from work picking me up every day. It was so wonderful that she did it, but stressful for me because I felt like such a burden. I don’t remember how I got home those days. I feel like maybe a couple of teachers and maybe Paul shared that job. 

The next time I remember having a cardiac arrest was in May 2014. That year had been a particularly stressful one for me at school.  I was teaching in a 5th grade classroom most of the day, and then I was split between a 3rd grade classroom and working with a kindergarten student the rest of the day. I also belonged to a new committee that was taking me out of the classroom a few times a month. I vividly remember walking down the hall with the 3rd grade teacher I worked with a few months before I had the SCA and telling him, “If I’m going to have another cardiac arrest, it’s going to be this year!” I didn’t realize how true that would be. 

Anyway, that same year the fifth grade teacher I worked with was newly married and his wife got pregnant. In May he was out for a week when the baby was born. It was at this time that school got even more stressful for me. My students had been complaining a lot about bullying going on with some of the other kids and one day I had had enough. I had a class meeting and got very stern about what the consequences would be if it continued. Then I stopped at my principal’s office on my way out for the day and asked her if she would be wiling to stop by and talk to the kids the next day. Driving home I felt very bad heart palpitations. I didn’t think too much of it as I knew it had been a stressful day. That night I had 4 or 5 SCA’s while I was sleeping. My cardiologist said I almost had one while I was driving home, but it self-corrected by itself so I didn’t know my heart had gotten that out of rhythm. 

I remember feeling very dizzy during the night. It never occurred to me that it could have anything to do with my heart. I was trying to lay in positions that wouldn’t make me feel so dizzy. Then, toward daylight I had another episode of dizziness and felt a hard thump in my chest. That was the first time it occurred to me I might have gotten shocked. I woke up Paul and told him what happened. I sat up and at this point I thought it was the only shock I had had. Paul was concerned because I was talking about going to work since I now felt fine. I was in denial and didn’t want to believe it was actually a shock I had experienced. Finally I decided to call in to work and wait until the doctor’s office was open so I could transmit the data from my ICD over the phone line. When I did, they called back and said I had actually had 5 shocks overnight.  I had slept through 3, passed out for 1, and felt that last one. They wanted me to get to the hospital and call an ambulance since I could get shocked again. I can’t remember the details, but I think Paul left work and got home before the ambulance was ready to take me out. At the time I joked the scariest part was being brought down the 5 or so stairs that led to the front door. They kind of tipped me a little on the stretcher and one of the guys got yelled at for it. I think he was new. 

I went to Strong Hospital for some reason. Maybe my doctor was working at the hospital that day. I’m not sure. I was in the ER for quite awhile. Paul came to stay with me. While I was there I felt fine, but I ended up having another shock. I  sat up on the cot to plug in my phone when I felt the dizziness come on. By then I had learned to recognize the feeling. I remember starting to lay down. Something I hadn’t mentioned before is that every time I get shocked I have really crazy dreams or experiences that are hard to explain. I see all kinds of colors and I sometimes feel like I’m spinning, but not in a bad way. Then I feel like I’m falling, somewhat like a feather, not a sudden drop. When I was in the ER I felt like I was falling forever. When I finally landed I opened my eyes and saw many concerned people looking over me. I said out loud, “I’m back…” They kept asking if I was ok. By then I was fine, like I always am after I get shocked. Then I saw Paul sitting in a chair across the hall. They had gotten him out of the way. He looked extremely distressed. I don’t know who was more worried about who at that point. But he came over and saw that I was fine. 

I believe this hospital stay lasted several days. They needed to figure out why I had what they termed a “V-fib storm,” especially after all those years with nothing happening. Through questioning me, we figured out I had started a new medication for anxiety about 5 days before that. Since I had been so stressed at work I had asked my doctor for something to help. I so wish I remembered now what it was called. Little did I know that it had a known side effect of causing heat palpitations and people with heart rhythm problems shouldn’t take it. I was furious with my doctor because she should have known that. While I was in the hospital my doctor wanted to try a different medication for my heart, but it could have bad side effects so they usually keep a person in the hospital for a few days to monitor them when it’s first started. I think one of the days I was there the monitor I was hooked up to went off because I had a run of v-tach, but my heart got back into rhythm on it’s own, so I wasn’t shocked. Then the doctor wanted me to get a treadmill test. I had thought I was going home, but instead I was told they were going to keep me another day to do that test. I was very nervous because the only other time I did one I felt very uncomfortable. Nothing bad had happened, but it was scary to me. While I was waiting to be brought down for the test I was getting more and more anxious. I could feel heart palpitations. Someone finally came with a wheelchair to get me. I told her I was very anxious and felt like something bad could happen. She was supportive, but there was nothing she could do. Then when I got to the room, the technician started putting my leads on. I told him also that I felt like something was going to happen. He said not to worry. If it did, I was in the right spot. We walked over to the treadmill and there was a bed right beside it. I got extremely dizzy and remember saying something “here we go” and trying to sit on the bed before I passed out. The next thing I knew I woke up in the same room surrounded by hospital staff. Later, my cardiologist said, “Well, I guess we got the information  we needed.” I didn’t know what she meant at first, but figured out since that we now knew for sure that anxiety and stress were a huge component to my heart issues. She also felt the medication they were monitoring me for was not a good one. I don’t know if it could have induced those 2 events, or if it just wasn’t working and it was a med that they try to avoid if possible. 

It was a relief when I finally got to leave the hospital, but I was back to not being able to drive. This time it was for 6 months. I think because we knew the medication had caused my v-fib storm, the doctor felt safe letting me drive after 6 months of being incident free. Paul and I had to cancel an Alaskan cruise we had scheduled for August. My anxiety at this point was quite high. I struggled for a couple of months just leaving home to go to the store. My family was very supportive. I think I went back to work the 2nd week after school started. I had some restrictions, but overall I was ready. 

The next time I had a SCA was February 2016. I had decided to leave Paul and it was the day I moved out of the house. I was moving to a 3rd floor apartment in Henrietta, about 20 minutes away. I had gotten a moving company. Because of the circumstance I didn’t feel comfortable asking my daughters to help me move and no one offered, so I was pretty much on my own. Paul had actually offered to help, but that would have been awkward and mean for me to accept. I actually asked him if he could be not home until I was gone. I got my van loaded with the stuff I didn’t want the movers to take. Once they had the truck loaded up they wanted to follow me to the new apartment. We drove all the way there and while they got ready to unload the truck I walked upstairs to open the apartment. I carried a lamp up with me because it was easy and I figured I shouldn’t waste the trip not carrying anything. When I got there I walked in and set down the lamp in a corner. Then I turned around and felt that familiar dizziness. I woke up in the middle of the living room floor with no idea at all of where I was or how I got there. Since it was a brand new empty apartment there were no clues like familiar furniture. Just as I started to feel panicky, I noticed the ceiling light in the dining area. For some reason that was enough to remind me of where I was. By then I heard the movers downstairs. They were working on figuring out how to get the couch upstairs. I crawled over to the wall and leaned against it. When they walked in they asked where I wanted it. I didn’t want to tell them what just happened because I didn’t want them to feel like they shouldn’t take the time to unload my stuff. So I just said I almost passed out and needed some water. One of the guys went down to my van to get my water bottles out for me. They seemed relatively unconcerned, so I let them keep working. In the meantime I called Melissa, who was at work nearby. She immediately left work and came to the apartment. After the movers were done I called the doctor’s answering service since it was a Saturday.  When I told the doctor on call what happened they said as long as I felt ok I should be fine, but if it happened again I should go to the ER. 

Melissa had Spencer came over and they spent a few hours with me. I felt perfectly normal. I had wanted to go to MCH to visit George, so they left and I took a nap. I decided if I felt normal after the nap then I would drive the 4 miles to see him. I did. Around midnight I came back to the apartment. I walked up the stairs and into the apartment. Standing at the dining room table I started to feel that dizziness again. I had just enough time to step away from the table and onto the carpet before I passed out. When I woke up I crawled to my chair and immediately called 911. I think I also sent out a text to the 3 girls and Paul letting them know I was going to Strong. When the ambulance arrived they evaluated me and tried to decide the best way to get me down 3 sets of stairs. They ended up putting me in a special chair and carrying me down. That was one of the scariest experiences of my life! I had no control. They kept telling me to keep my hands in even if I felt like I needed to grab the rail, or the chair could tip. They were very slow and careful, but I was terrified the whole time. 

Paul ended up meeting me at the hospital. I was grateful, but it was also awkward since I literally had just left him that morning. He stayed with me in the ER for a few hours and then decided to leave. Finally a few hours later they put me in a room. My doctor increased my medication and I was back to square one as far as not being able to drive. I was more upset than ever before because now I was living alone and didn’t have people around who could drive me places. My daughters were very supportive and helpful, but I also have to admit to cheating a little. George was only a few miles down the road, so I decided I could drive that distance. I just avoided the expressway and going any distance further than that. Luckily Uber came out around that time. I used it to get to my therapy appointments. 

One of the worst parts about this hospital stay was my general lack of visitors. Paul actually came to see me and stayed awhile. We had a great talk. I don’t think any of the girls came, and when it was time for me to go home no one was available. I felt very lonely. I knew I had upset them by choosing to leave Paul and I didn’t want to push anyone at that point. I ended up posting on FB that I didn’t know yet how I was getting home. Luckily one of my friends at work saw it and offered to get me. She drove me home and then stayed with me for awhile. I think Melissa came over after that and spent some time with me.

I think I was ok for awhile after this incident. I was actually almost a year before my next cardiac arrest. I was working in a 5th grade classroom that year. I had moved up again with my small group of students. I loved the teacher I was working with, but we had one student and his mother that was causing a huge amount of stress for us. I told the teacher and the school counselor that I worried they would be the cause of me having another cardiac arrest. 

Christmas vacation came. After a relaxing week off, I went back to an already busy day on January 3, 2017. I had a CSE meeting for one of my students. I knew it was going to be a battle with the school district to continue services for him as he entered middle school the following school year. I had to plan for a sub to replace me during that meeting. Then, the difficult student I had gave me a hard time about doing some of his work first thing in the morning. So when the class went to art class I was going to make a modified homework assignment for him. I walked the whole class to the opposite end of the building where the art room was, walked all the way back to my classroom, and then grabbed some materials and went up to the office area where the copy machine was in a small room. When I walked in, another teacher from the 5th grade team was using the copier, so I put my things on a table and leaned over to write something down. I felt that familiar dizziness and stepped backward so I wouldn’t hit the table. It was a very small space. 

I woke up facing the ceiling, and again not really knowing where I was. I started to recognize the few things I could see, such as the recycling box near me. Then it came back that I was at school. By then Mike, the other teacher, had jumped over me to yell for the nurse. Her office is across the hall from where I collapsed. She was by my side on her knees. The principal and the special education coordinator for the school district was standing at the door. There were several more people out in the hall. I told the nurse I was fine, but that I had been shocked. I think they had already asked the secretary to call an ambulance, and they had put the school on lock down so no students would come by and see me like that. The nurse wouldn’t let me get up, even to sit. My co-teacher then came into the room where I was. I was so relieved to see her. We had gotten very close in the first few months of school. She later told me the special ed coordinator was giving her a hard time about coming in. 

I gave someone I think Melissa’s phone number because I knew she would be the most likely to be available. My co-teacher asked the principal if she could come with me to the hospital until someone from my family got there. He agreed. I wanted to cry, I was happy she cared that much about me. Sadly, getting onto a gurney and being put into an ambulance had become old hat, so I didn’t feel nervous about any of that. I just couldn’t believe it was happening again. One of my fears was that I would collapse at school. I was thankful, though, that it was while the kids were out of the classroom. It would have been traumatizing for them to see me collapse like that. 

This hospital stay was relatively short, I think. It’s hard to keep details straight.  The one thing I know for sure, though, is that the doctor was concerned enough to decide we needed to try something other than just medication. We discussed the possibility of surgery. She had been talking to several different specialists and found a doctor that could do a left sympathetic denervation. That meant they had to deflate my left lung for the procedure, and then cut a nerve chain in my spine that led to my heart, I think. It is responsible for the fight or flight response. It hadn’t been used a lot for my condition, but the times it was, it was successful. I was scheduled for the surgery in May. Obviously I was out of work again for the rest of the year. I had planned on retiring at the end of that school year, so it turned out that was my last day of teaching ever. Not exactly the way I had planned on ending my teaching career. 

This is where I am a little foggy about the time frame. I think it was about a month later that I had another incident. Technically I didn’t get shocked, but at first I thought I did. My heart went into v-tach and I passed out. It got out of the bad rhythm on its own, but I didn’t know that. This was the day I learned how dangerous cheating on the driving was. I had driven the short distance to MCH. I always parked in the back and walked along a path past the “smoking hut” where a lot of residents hung out. I had just walked past them carrying a cup holder with 3 coffees from Tim Horton’s when I got dizzy and passed out. I woke up face first on the sidewalk with coffee spilled everywhere. My pants were ripped and my knee was bleeding. I knew immediately what had happened. I looked back to the hut and no one seemed to have noticed. I tried to holler that I needed help but no one heard me. I figured my only option was to walk the rest of the way into the building and get help there. When I got to the door one of the residents I knew was coming out. I asked him to get me security. He was in a wheelchair, so he wheeled down the hall toward  the security office on the other side of the building. I sat on a bench in the entrance-way hoping I wouldn’t have another shock. No one else was around for several minutes. Finally an aide I knew walked through. I stopped him and asked him to call security for me. There was a phone nearby. They got there quickly and when they found out what happened, they called a code blue. Now I was surrounded by all kinds of people. I asked someone to get George. In the meantime an ambulance was called. They had me on the gurney by the time George got downstairs. The first thing he said was that he had a bad feeling it was me when he heard the code blue for the lobby. He knew I would be arriving around that time. 

I don’t remember much about the hospital stay except that the doctor was getting concerned about the frequency of my episodes. She did some more adjusting of medications. I think that’s when I started taking the Nadolol, which messed me up badly. It caused me to get dizzy and out of breath when I walked. I was still taking the huge dosage of Metoprolol so I was already tired all the time. This made it so bad that I couldn’t get through a day without taking a one to three hour nap. I was out of work for the rest of the school year for sure. I still visited George, but I used Uber to come and go. 

So I had my surgery in May and seemed to feel great through the rest of the month and June. I had a chance to go to school and say goodbye to my students, and I had a retirement party. Saying goodbye to the kids was the hardest part. I had that group since they were in 3rd grade. They would be leaving to go to middle school soon. One little girl put her arms around me and we both just cried and cried. One little boy I was close to refused to talk to me. I know he was angry I had “left” them. 

By July I felt the surgery and medications were doing the job. At that point George’s son had moved in with me temporarily. We rarely saw each other, but he was using the empty 2nd bedroom I had, and paying me a little bit of rent. One night I went to MCH to visit George and I stayed until close to midnight again. I took the Uber home and came upstairs. Matt was already in bed. I walked over to the living room light to turn it on when I suddenly felt really dizzy. I panicked and hurried to my chair. Just as I sat down I passed out and got shocked. When I woke up and figured out what happened I sat there for several minutes trying to decide what to do. I knew I should call 911, but I needed to go to the bathroom. I decided that was my priority for the moment. After I went, as I started to wash my hands, I passed out again. I hit my shoulder on the sink, leaving a painful bruise. I was just figuring out again where I was when I felt a sharp hard pain in my chest. I said out loud, “What was that?! Why does it hurt so much?!” Then it hit me I had just been shocked a 3rd time in about 5 minutes. I was terrified and afraid to stand up. I crawled out of the bathroom and knocked on Matt’s bedroom door. I told him I had been shocked and I needed him. He popped out of bed immediately and came out to the living room. I crawled up into my chair and passed out once again. Matt witnessed my 4 shock of the night. I asked him to call 911 for me. By then I was shaking badly. I also had him give me my night heart pills. That may have prevented me from having any more shocks that night. 

When the ambulance came I told Matt he didn’t have to come with, but he wanted to. I had to take the ride on a chair down the stairs again, but this time they did a better job and it was much steadier. Matt met me at the hospital and waited until we knew someone else was coming. We joked around some about my 9 lives, etc. At least he kept my spirits up. This was my worst experience psychologically. I had so hoped the surgery had worked, and being aware of 4 shocks in about 10 minutes was terrifying. 

It was this experience that caused me extreme anxiety that affected my daily life. I was afraid to get up and walk across the living room, let alone go anywhere. I still visited George, but I had Matt bring me in a wheelchair. The Nadolol was really bothering me on top of the anxiety. My life became very limited. Obviously the doctor was concerned as well. She talked about me having an ablation, which is essentially burning off a small part of the heart. It was the part she believed was causing it to go into a bad rhythm. She had me wear a halter monitor for 48 hours to track the palpitations. This would help her determine which part of my heart she needed to ablate. The results were interesting. I had about 4, 000 palpitations a day. Although heart palpitations in most people are harmless, the doctor had already determined that they can lead to a cardiac arrest for me. All I could think of was that I had about 8,000 opportunities for a cardiac arrest in two days. I can’t remember who said it, but someone later told me to think about it as 8,000 times I didn’t have a cardiac arrest. When I went in for my results, the doctor asked me what I do after 5:00 in the evening. I responded that’s when I go visit George. I thought she would say my palpitations got worse ( I immediately got it in my head I might have to cut back on my visits), but instead she said that’s when they seemed to calm down. Going to visit George was actually relaxing me! That was good news. 

So the decision was made that I would have an ablation done. For some reason that I no longer remember, it didn’t happen until early November. I moved to a new apartment on November 1 and I believe it was within a week that I had that procedure. Although they gave me anesthesia, it was the twilight kind. That means I was in and out of consciousness. I have had heart procedures done that way before, so I wasn’t nervous about it. It’s actually kind of cool! The only bad thing was that I ended up going into v-fib during the procedure and getting shocked. I was awake for that and didn’t enjoy it at all. I remember asking if I had just been shocked. They felt bad I was awake for it. Being shocked wasn’t supposed to happen during that procedure. 

I think I went home the next day. It was a relief to know I now had 2 procedures and all the medication backing me up so I wouldn’t need anymore shocks. Then about a week later, mid November 2017, I brought my clothes down to the laundry room. When I got back I sat in my chair and then felt that familiar dizziness. Sure enough, I was shocked again. Back to the hospital. I cried. I cried more than ever before, even in the ER. This wasn’t supposed to be happening anymore. 

When I spoke to my doctor she told me she thinks it happened because of everything my heart had been through the past couple of years, including the ablation. She said it needed time to settle down. Now it’s been almost 2 years and I haven’t had another shock. My fear is still there, though. It is just in the past 6 months or so that I’ve been able to work on getting out of the house, drive without feeling panic, walk any distance including going into a store. We have cut back on my medication, including taking me completely off the Nadolol. That made a huge difference right away. Just the other day I had my 2nd visit to Wegmans with my daughter and granddaughter. The first time we went we ate dinner and walked up and down a couple of aisles. This time we walked across the whole store and I did a small shopping trip. It was such a great feeling to be pushing a cart with my granddaughter in it! 

I still have some things to work on, but I have come a long way with my anxiety. I can only hope that I will never have to go through any of that again. I guess time will tell. 

I want to thank Paul for asking me to write this. It is interesting to think back to all of that. It makes me appreciate how far I’ve come. 

Paul: I want to thank Mary for writing this.  Although we are not married anymore, I still care very much for how she is doing.  She is the mother of our three children and grandmother of our grandchild plus our step-grandchild.  We have always wanted to share these experiences with others to educate people on what a cardiac arrest is.  Our divorce does not change that.  As for me, I am very happy in my new life with my new wife, Stacey.  Stacey is very supportive of these efforts, for which I am very thankful.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11/01 Tragedy, TV, Airplanes, and a Song

This blog is about my personal experiences related to September 11, 2001. It includes my perspective of the tragedy, my job at a TV station that was carrying coverage of the day, how it affected my role in aviation, and my part in a song dedicated to the heroes of 9/11.

It started for me a little after 9:00 that morning. I was driving to the local grocery store when I had WCMF radio on in the car. I heard them discussing a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. While it was obviously a horrific situation, my mind transported back to the 1940's when a military airplane crashed into the side of the Empire State Building. At that time, it punched a hole in the side of the building and rained some debris onto the sidewalk below. I did not even begin to imagine what this new event was creating. By the time I got to the grocery store, I had heard that the FAA was shutting down airspace around New York City. Still not comprehending the magnitude of what was happening, I started thinking about how this was going to affect flights across the country with cancellations and delays.

I continued with my shopping trip, all the while thinking about Air Traffic Control, the airspace, and airline flights. Obviously I was naive to what was really happening.

Once I got my groceries back out to the car, started the engine, and turned the radio back on, that's when I heard that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and still yet another plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. That's when I really became aware of what a horrible situation was developing.

Back in my house, I left the groceries in the car and ran in to turn on the TV. I was shocked at the amount of smoke I saw around the south end of Manhattan Island. There was so much smoke that I didn't even  recognize that one of the buildings had collapsed already. As I was watching, the phone rang. It was my mother. She asked me if I had seen the plane hit the building. I told her I did not. As we were talking, I kept my eye on the TV screen. Suddenly I saw the second tower collapse. My mother was also watching the TV and she saw it too. I was shocked at what was going on.

I am a licensed private pilot. At that time, I was the president of the Rochester Pilots Association. I don't remember who it was, put a reporter from a newspaper called me to ask me my opinion about airspace being shut down. I didn't know what to say. I told him that I was just learning of all of the events and didn't know what else to tell him. I still don't know who it was and if they used any of my comments in their story.

I continued watching TV coverage, and somewhere along the way I managed to get the rest of the groceries into the house. At that time, I worked in the control room of WHEC TV 10. I was scheduled to work at 3:00 that afternoon.

Once at work, I was asked to take over in master control and I sat there for the next nine hours straight until it was time for me to go home. My job was to keep coverage of the NBC television network on the air, write up all of the programs and commercials that we were missing, and do local special reports whenever the newsroom wanted them aired.

One of the notifications that we received from the NBC television network was, since nobody knew at that time who was behind these hijackings and attacks, NBC did not know if they would get knocked off the air. They advised all of their affiliate TV stations to be prepared to go to local programming if the NBC television network lost its signal or worse. We had videotapes of our regularly scheduled programs running on the tape machines, so we were ready to cut to regularly scheduled programming if needed. Otherwise, we continued with coverage.

A program log at a TV or a radio station is a pre-printed schedule of programs, commercials, and other content that is scheduled to go on the air. It is a master control operator's job to air these items and to write down the times that they aired. I took pictures of the program log that channel 10 had that day, and you can see some of the pages. The first one shows when the special report began, at 9:00, airing coverage of "world trade center fire." The second one shows when I signed on for duty at 3:00 PM. The third picture shows that we cut away from NBC coverage around 6:00 PM for a local news update. Otherwise, you can see some of the programs and commercials that were pre-empted at those times.






After nine hours of broadcasting repeated replays of planes crashing into buildings, and buildings collapsing, I went home and had images of buildings collapsing in my head as I was trying to get to sleep. It was not easy. I truly wondered what was happening to the United States.

At work, nearly nonstop coverage of the 9/11 events continued for the next few days and frequent coverage into the next few weeks.

The other role I had in my life at the time was that I was president of the Rochester Pilots Association. All flights in the United States were grounded for a couple of weeks until the government assessed the threat of further attacks by air. A reporter from R News in Rochester called me up and asked if we could do a story about small planes, like the kind I flew, being grounded. I met her and a news photographer at Ledgedale Airport in Brockport and here's the story.

https://www.facebook.com/paul.pakusch/videos/467714888091/

The following month, my good friend Tony Weschler called me up and asked me if I would play drums on a song that he was recording as a tribute to the heroes of 9/11. So I did. We recorded it with Eileen Alexander singing lead and Scott Meli playing guitar. The four of us enjoyed working together so much on this song that we decided to form a permanent band, which was named Intrigued, and stayed together until 2009. This was the silver lining on a horrible tragedy. It brought me out of retirement from playing drums and I have been playing drums ever since. Here is the song.


https://youtu.be/zL0GrZ0YoIY