Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Valley So Low

April 25, 2016: Municipal Court in Mesa, AZ

Yesterday we made yet another drive down to the Valley, this time to deal with more legal issues arising from Mark's pre-prison days. Not exactly how I wanted to use the no-school Monday of my three-day weekend, but it was necessary, and at least I didn't have to take the day off work and get a sub.

Mark is doing awesome, by the way. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of his release from prison, and he has been a model citizen. He has stayed close to home and family, while actively avoiding the old friends with whom he always used to find trouble; he successfully completed both his parole and a court-ordered course on addiction; he contributes to our home both financially and by helping out around the house; and he's been employed at Denny's for almost eleven months now, where his employers and co-workers truly appreciate and like him for the hard-working, dependable, good-natured person he is. Mark has also been working steadily over the past ten months to pay the fines and fees he accrued during his years of questionable decision-making. It will probably take him several years to meet those obligations, but I hope they'll serve as a reminder whenever temptation rears its ugly head.

Nice to look a block up the road from the courthouse and see the Mesa Temple.

And now, having returned from this most recent Valley visit, where we dealt with the latest costly issues stemming from Mark's not-so-wise choices from five years ago (like ancient parking tickets and a five-year-old warrant that, thankfully, the judge quashed), we hope that the surprises are over and he can focus on paying off his "debt to society."

March 31, 2016: Biltmore Cardiology in Phoenix.

Our last visit to the Phoenix area was less than four weeks ago, on the last day of March, but I never found time to share the pictures I took on our drive home. That trip, too, was made to deal with business for Mark, but this time the need was medical in nature.

I'm glad to report that Mark was finally able to have the spinal injections he needed to ease the pain in his lower back from spinal stenosis, and it seems to have helped decrease the pain a lot. He's very happy with the results, and we hope it gives him many months of pain-free activity.

Mark worked out in physical therapy for a few months,
but he saw only minimal pain relief in his back.

The problems with Mark's atrial fibrillation haven't been as easy to resolve, however. Twice he has been to the hospital to have his heart shocked back into a normal rhythm, and twice it hasn't worked. The first try didn't work at all. The second try seemed to work, but within a few days his heart reverted back to A-fib. Our cardiologist, Dr. Ata, recommended that Mark consider having an ablation done. Otherwise, he would be looking at a lifetime of blood thinners and their potential side effects, as well as a gradual worsening of his heart health. Mark is too young at age 47 to resign himself to that, Dr. Ata told us.

Mark wasn't too thrilled with the idea of having the inside of his heart burned, though, and who could blame him? I told the doctor that we'd need to get more information before Mark could feel comfortable enough to make such a big decision. So Dr. Ata contacted Dr. Bahu, a cardiologist in Phoenix who specializes in ablations. Dr. Bahu actually called me (how often does that happen?) to discuss the issue, and then we made an appointment to drive down and visit with him on March 31st.

As Dr. Bahu explained it to us, the electrical impulse that makes the heart beat originates in just one area of the heart. Sometimes, however, those electrical impulses begin originating in multiple places, which throws off the regular heartbeat, leading to arrhythmia. In Mark's case, it's probably due to years of severe sleep apnea, in which you stop breathing during your sleep (according to his sleep study, Mark stopped breathing more than once every minute). Now that it's been diagnosed, the apnea problem has been corrected by Mark sleeping with a breathing mask attached to a bi-pap machine and an oxygen concentrator.

After our meeting with Dr. Bahu, Mark agreed that an ablation was his best option, and his procedure is currently scheduled for late June. Apparently this is considered a fairly low-risk procedure with a success rate of about 90%. It involves threading a catheter through the groin to an upper chamber (atrium) of the heart. Then the doctor locates the problem spots (anywhere from about 20 to 60 of them) and burns a very small area of cells (about 1/5 inch) for each one, using radiofrequency energy similar to microwave heat, so that it can no longer carry those misdirected electrical impulses. Dr. Bahu anticipates that Mark has closer to 60 problem areas, based on how resistant his heart has been to treatment.

The ablation will take anywhere from two to four hours, and Mark will spend one night in the hospital for observation. Then we'll be able to return home, but he'll need to take a week off work to finish recovering. After that, we hope he'll be good as new!

Taking Bush Highway past Red Mountain, a prominent feature north of Mesa.

After our visit with the Phoenix cardiologist, we decided to stop for dinner at a Golden Corral Buffet before we left town to head back home. Crazy, I know, since I'm eating low-carb, but I kind of enjoyed having all those varieties of meats and vegetables (the non-starchy, non-breaded kinds, at least) to choose from.

After consulting an online map, it seemed the only Golden Corral even remotely along our route home was way up in northeast Mesa. To get there, we had to drive a portion of the Red Mountain Freeway that I'd never been on before, and it put us quite a bit east of the roads leading directly to the Beeline Highway route through Payson. However, it also put us right on Power Road, which becomes Bush Highway as it meanders along and over the Salt River, passing Saguaro Lake and finally meeting up with Beeline Highway.

Four Peaks in the distance, as viewed from Bush Highway.

It hit me that the last time I'd driven Bush Highway was way back in 1988-89, when Mark and I were dating. We used to tube down Salt River and hang out  at Saguaro, Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt Lakes for fishing (Mark), cliff diving (Mark), swimming (mostly Mark), and relaxing with a good book (me) in those days. I thought it would be fun to cruise that highway again for old time's sake. And it was. 

Scenery alongside Bush Highway.

We enjoyed our meal at Golden Corral, and I didn't cheat at all. I even enjoyed a dessert of strawberries-on-a-stick from the chocolate fountain, skipping the fountain and instead dipping them in a small bowl of sugar-free chocolate pudding. Then we headed up Power Road and into the desert wilderness.

Saguaro Lake as seen from Bush Highway.

I don't know if I ever really appreciated the beauty of the desert during the ten years I lived in Mesa, but on this day I did. So much of the stark landscape truly is magnificent. I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer my mountain home or my beloved California beaches but, nonetheless, I can recognize now the amazing beauty of a place I once saw as merely hot and desolate.

Saguaro Lake and its marina.

I'd forgotten how thickly the hills are covered in saguaro cactus. Not quite as dense as the saguaros in Saguaro National Park just outside Tucson, but I'd say a close second. And it certainly explains the name of the easternmost lake of the four-lake system that includes Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt Lakes. 

Saguaro Lake

We almost settled for seeing Saguaro Lake in the distance from the highway, but then we gave in and took the short turn-off leading down to the water's edge. We were only there for 15 minutes or so, but even for that short time there's just something peaceful and calming about being near water. 

Saguaro cacti cover the hills above the Saguaro Lake's parking lot.

Another familiar landmark in the distance visible from Bush Highway (and parts of Beeline Highway) is Four Peaks. Located in the Mazatzal Mountain Range, the highest of the four peaks of Four Peaks stands at an altitude of 7,657 feet. That's only about 500 feet higher than my house in the White Mountains further east.

Back in 1987, I explored the caves and mines in the wilds of Arizona with a group of geology enthusiasts, and one of the things we did was hike Four Peaks. We spent the night at a nearby campsite, and early the next morning we set off on a four-mile hike (the first mile was almost straight up) across the tops of the first three peaks to the fourth (the one on the far right in these photos), on which was located an abandoned amethyst mine. Not only did we have to haul in our mining equipment, but we also carried in buckets of water to clean up any specimens we found. Without doubt, the hardest hike I've ever undertaken. I still have the amethyst, hematite, and other minerals I collected there. One woman even found a perfect chunk of amethyst that she later sold to a jeweler for $4,000!

One last look at Four Peaks before turning off Bush Highway
and onto Beeline Highway toward Payson.

Eventually we reconnected with Beeline Highway and made our way home, but it was pleasant to relive a little piece of our history. In so many ways, I really have lived a rich life!

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