Counting Blessings: The Seventh Anniversary of My Heart Transplant

In November of 2009 I was clearly dying of an enlarged heart (atrial fibrillation being the main culprit).  I’d been on the heart transplant list for ten months, and I was told by my doctors at The Ohio State University Ross Heart Hospital that if I was lucky enough to get a heart it would likely not happen until sometime in 2010. 

It is one thing intellectually to think you are getting a heart transplant in 2010, and quite another to have a morning phone call (I was working at the computer) on Nov. 23, 2009, in which the pleasant female voice announced: "Mr. Whaley, we have a heart for you." This was the most startling sentence I have ever heard in my life! My old heart started beating very fast indeed.

As I’ve detailed elsewhere (see Related Posts below), thereafter things happened very quickly.  By midnight I had a new 27-year old heart, and eight days later I was home!  The whole experience was like science fiction, and these days, seven years later, I am in good health, and, as the rest of this post demonstrates, happily doing many things.

This year, and particularly the late summer and the fall, have brought me an amazing combination of wonderful events, so the seventh anniversary of my transplant is a fine moment to contemplate them and realize how marvelous life can sometimes be.  [At the end of this post is a little list of bad things that crept into the mix, but that unpleasantness can wait.]

1.  Becoming a Life Master at Bridge

I learned to play bridge when I was a junior in high school, and first played in minor tournaments in college.  When I married Charleyne Adolay in 1971 she and I began playing in local duplicate clubs and many tournaments, joining the American Contract Bridge League, and beginning to pile up “Master Points,” which are awarded for doing well at the tables.  One gets black points fairly easily, but to earn red points you must play and place well in sizeable tournaments, and—hardest of all—for gold points (of which you need at least 25) you must play in very important tournaments. 

Through the years (but very little when I was actively teaching law), I accumulated points, and they came fairly rapidly once I retired from full-time teaching in 2004.  By this past spring I had over 350 ACBL points, and the only thing that kept me from attaining the valued rank of “Life Master” (which all serious players hope for) was .36 gold points.  That’s a very small amount.  A win in big tournaments earns at least l.75 gold points, but try as I might in tournament after tournament this year, I couldn’t acquire that stupid tiny amount of gold points.  However, my steady partner, Lewis Rakocy, and I went to a Regional Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, on Friday, September 29th, and managed to come in third in a large field of players, earning 3.78 gold points, and—just like that—I became a Life Master, with a certificate from the ACBL to prove it.

Years ago my older cousin Judy Calley, who I did not then know well, sent me an unexpected email stating “I’ve finally become a Life Master and I know that you’re the only member of the family who will know what that means!”  I congratulated her heartily, and Judy was the first person I called last month when I managed the same feat.

I know this means nothing to people who don’t play bridge, but, damn it, after all those years it felt great.  They say that it costs a bridge player about $10,000 in gas, hotel bills, tournament fees, meals, etc. to become a Life Master, and that seems about right.  It was long and expensive road to travel, but well worth the journey.

2.  Becoming a Professional Actor

I did a good deal of acting when I was young (school plays, college, community theater), but mostly avoiding it when I was teaching.  Following my retirement twelve years ago I went back to acting and directing in around twenty shows.  Things increased in 2013 when I married David Vargo, who has been a professional actor all his life (and a graphic arts designer to pay the bills), and he and I have been in four shows together.

Most recently he auditioned for a part in a play that CATCO, Columbus’s major professional theatrical company, was putting on this fall: “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.”  On a lark I went to the audition with him, and, to my surprise, was called back for more (along with David, of course, but he’s so good every company in town wants him), and, to my amazement landed a part in the production!  CATCO is an Equity company, meaning that it follows the union rules for paying actors and treating them well (defined breaks during rehearsals, mandatory time periods for meals, etc.).  My paychecks were not large, but I treasured every one of them. 

The play is not fiction.  Through trial transcripts, biographies, newspaper articles, etc., it accurately tells the story of what happened to poor Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the great English dramatist, as his homosexuality ran afoul of the law and he was eventually condemned to prison for two years at hard labor.  In the play I had small roles, playing the Judge in all three trials, and—get ready for it—appearing as Queen Victoria reading aloud the “gross indecency” statute as she signed it into law.  When it was pointed out to her that as currently worded it would only prohibit male conduct, she famously replied “Women don’t do such things!”  To play this role I had to shave off the mustache I’d grown when I turned 40.

It was a marvelous experience (I’d never been in drag before!), and thrilling to see how very professional everyone was from the director, the stage manager, the various artists who created the set, the sound, the lighting, and the costumes, to the other eight actors, all of whom were splendid.  During rehearsal I worried I wasn’t in the same class as all these talented people—though David (who had a large part) assured me I was fine—but I calmed down after being told by the sound designer as we passed backstage one day, “Queen Victoria rocks!”

All in all, it was truly the thrill of a lifetime to appear in the fifteen performances CATCO produced, and to do my part to make sure the audience enjoyed this vital story.  David and I threw the cast party and it went on merrily into the night, with the Whaley martini being distributed liberally to all the thespians.

3.  Rewriting Seven Textbooks in One Year

When the Great Recession hit in 2008 the legal profession took a major blow.  Law firms not only stopped hiring, they started letting people go, and it became almost impossible for most law graduates to find a job.  As a consequence law school enrollments dropped, and lesser law schools all over the country began closing their doors.  Major schools—and Ohio State is one—also had to cut back.  Our enrollment dropped from 220 per class to something like 175 now.  I have seven textbooks (called “casebooks” in legal education) used across the country (five of them have coauthors these days, who I've added, book by book, as I’ve aged).  I was startled when my royalty checks dropped dramatically in amount (two-thirds!) as the recession broke the back of the legal market. 

Students in law schools responded by not buying new editions of the casebooks.  Instead they did a variety of things to save money.  They would buy the used old edition and then go on the internet to add whatever new cases the author had added, counting on lectures to fill in the remaining blanks.  Another tactic was to have five students buy one copy of the new edition of the book and then scan it for everyone.  Some students would stand in the bookstores and compare the new editions with the old editions and buy the new one only if it appeared to be a major revision.  All of this is understandable.  Casebooks are very expensive—most of my books cost over $200 each (though rented or electronic versions are, of course, cheaper).

My publisher contacted me by phone, email, and even a personal visit from Boston over a year ago with the proposition that I (along with my coauthors) should in one year write new editions of all seven books with this goal in mind: to make them as different, at least in appearance, as possible from the old editions.  Perhaps stupidly, I agreed and there were monthly deadlines set up over the past year for the submission of new manuscripts.  To make these as different as possible from the prior edition, the chapters were renamed, renumbered, and given new material to begin each chapter, thus making it almost impossible to compare with older editions.

As to whether this will improve the market or not remains to be seen, but I had poorly thought out how much work was involved in rewriting seven books in so short a period.  Because these books, with one exception, were all originally books that I wrote more or less alone, they are my babies, and my input was vital to the rewrites.  Of course there were also changes in the law in each of these areas (commercial law or its components), and I was running around frantically, much like a mother mysteriously giving birth every month and a half or so until she had produced seven babies.

[Click to enlarge]

I am proud that they are all now done and available for adoption nationwide.  If you want one yourself (and no home should be without at least one), go to Amazon and type in my name.

4.  I’ve Written a Play

In my youth I wrote a number of very bad plays which I ought to pitch before someone reads them—I keep them in a cabinet in the office closet.  None were ever performed (except some skits for law school talent shows in which the faculty made fun of themselves).  For some reason it didn’t occur to me to go back to playwriting when I returned to acting and directing in 2004.

I don’t believe in ghosts or anything supernatural, but I do love ghost stories, and have always had a fondness for plays involving ghosts.  A  year or two ago I toyed with the idea of writing a full length play that would be a comedy about ghosts haunting their old house and interacting with the new buyers, or something along that line, but nothing came of it immediately.

In 2011 the Columbus Dispatch published a column about two soldiers, one on each side of the Civil War, who became friends as the war ended and lived together here in Ohio just south of Columbus, running a farm that raised turkeys.  They were called the “Turkey Men” by their neighbors, and they lived until the 1920s, being buried next to each other in a local cemetery.  The columnist thought of this as an example of how good friendships could arise between former enemies, but I sent him an email suggesting he’d overlooked another possibility: they were lovers.  He did not reply; being an older gentleman he was undoubtedly both shocked and offended at the new direction I had aimed his tale.  I wrote a blog post about this called “The Presumption of Heterosexuality” [see Related Posts below], and then forgot about it.

Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio 1865

But in 2014 it occurred to me that my ghosts might be these Civil War soldiers, still around and haunting their old turkey farmhouse in 2016.  The idea amused me enough to write two or three pages of Act One, but then I put it down and did nothing more.

In September of this year, my mind having apparently mulled it over without me being aware of it, I suddenly sat down at the computer, pulled up that aborted file, and began typing furiously.  Within five days the first draft of the play was completed: two acts, five characters, one set.  It all had come pouring out of me at a rapid rate.  (The same thing had, in various forms, occurred when I wrote my two novels: “Imaginary Friend” and “Corbin Milk,” both of which have done quite well for self-published works—see Amazon).

With some serious trepidation, playing all the parts myself, I read the play aloud to David (who knows a lot about plays and is not slow to voice his opinion), and, to my surprise, he was delighted by it.  With his encouragement I wrote another draft and have been shopping it around among playwright friends, who have been very generous with their advice on how to alter it and get it produced.  They’ve suggested various playwriting competitions both in Ohio and around the country, and so that is the next step.

My play is called “The Turkey Men” and it is both a comedy and a social commentary because the two ghosts have to deal with visitors who are performing a religious conversion on a 16 year old lesbian whose parents hired them to turn her straight, and who are using what they think to be an abandoned house for this purpose.

I don’t know what will happen to “The Turkey Men,” but it was great fun to write.

5.  Becoming an Ordained Minister  [See photo at the top of this post]

Now this is an odd one.  At a meeting of the Freethinkers Book Club, Nathan Weller, its president, mentioned that he and his finance were looking for a nonreligious officiant at their upcoming wedding.  I casually said I’d been thinking about doing that sort of thing, and within the blink of an eye it was a done deal!  I applied online to the Universal Life Church to become one of their ministers (which costs $25 and included a handsome certificate).  Their "Monastery" has only two tenets: (1) Do only that which is right, and (2) All should be free to worship as they see fit.  I had no problem agreeing with those precepts.  Next I had to register with the State of Ohio ($10), and then was ready to go.  Nathan and his bride, Karla Norquist, wrote the ceremony with some minor input from me, and the wedding was held on a Monday afternoon, October 17th at a country venue on the north side of Columbus. Everything went off splendidly, and the happy, handsome couple and their guests had a lovely wedding and reception. 

[Click to enlarge]

For my part it was fulfilling to be part of the legal creation of their relationship (I am a lawyer, after all), and my loud voice was useful in a windy environment to make sure the important words were heard by those assembled.  I don’t know whether I’ll ever have another “gig,” but the whole experience was, in its own way, thrilling.  My husband, thinking it wonderfully funny that his atheist husband is a minister, has been clowning around claiming (in a mock southern drawl) that he is now a “minister’s wife”!  Hmm.

6.  Wondrous Events

            a.  The Cubs Won the World Series!  As readers of this blog may know, I’m a rabid Chicago Cubs fan and have rooted for them since I was a 25 year old lawyer in Chicago, going frequently to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.  Like all such hapless fans I have endured the fabled misery they’ve caused since they last won the World Series in 1908.  [I’ve written blog posts about this before (see below).]

But this year my beloved Cubs had the best record in baseball with a young team that didn’t feel the heavy hand of the past, and advanced their way through the playoffs like champions crowned from the start (if willing to take a few breaks in the middle).  The Cleveland Indians had a terrific pitching staff, one of the best in history, and in the World Series forced the Cubs to win the last three games in a row in order to prevail (which was only possible because the Indians had to rotate their pitchers too quickly).  When Kris Bryant on third threw the final out to Anthony Rizzo at first base, the curse of the goat (look it up) was over, and the Cubs and their fans were reborn—able to hold up their heads and say, “We’re Cubs fans!  Beat that!”

My Cubs Shirt Is Not Popular in Ohio

b.  Ohio State Beat Michigan in The Game in Double Overtime.  Enough said (if you know the history of this fabled rivalry).  The despicable coach of That Team Up North blamed the officials for not helping him overcome the interceptions and fumble of his quarterback, but to hell with his whining.  The twelve people in our living room watching the game were able to get the calls right, and the world wobbled a little because of our celebration in Dublin, Ohio.

            c.  All the Usual Good Things.  My wonderful husband, David Vargo, and I celebrated our third anniversary as a married couple, November 9th,  by going to The Refectory, a wonderful restaurant here in Columbus, eating a meal that flowed soothingly over our taste buds, and then reveling in a romance that is about to be four years old—the very definition of the word “love.”

            My son Clayton called and told us stories of the vacation he and his wife Maria just took to Croatia, making us think about going ourselves.  He, a composer in his spare time, has written an octet and sent it to me.  He plans to enter it in competitions, hoping to have it performed.  I am very proud of him.

6.  Horrible Happenings

Life is never just one untroubled day after another.  Here are the two major downsides for the same period.

            a.  Diabetes.  As I explained in a prior post (see below), in late August I had an operation on my pancreas to remove a cyst.  This went off without a hitch, and the cyst, happily, was not cancerous (pancreatic cancer is fatal even from one infected cell).  While in the hospital I was told for the first time that there was a 70 to 80% chance I would become diabetic as a result of the operation!  This was shocking and, frankly, it made me furious that it wasn’t disclosed prior to the operation.  My guess is that I would have still made the choice to let them cut me open, but not having all the facts when I had to make the decision is inexcusable.

Genetic optimist that I am, I thought I might beat those odds, but, alas, I was wrong.  I am now a diabetic and will be for the rest of my life.  [Here insert several forceful, short, and explosive words I learned in the Navy but will refrain from putting in this blog post.]  As a result I’m testing my blood sugar four times a day by sticking pins in my fingers, and injecting myself with insulin regularly. 

Happily there is a new inhalable insulin that allows me to avoid some of these injections; unhappily, it’s expensive and not covered by insurance.  I have a snort of it through a little pipe ten minutes before I eat.  In restaurants this means I take a deep inhalation on that pipe immediately after ordering, hoping that the other customers won’t think I’m snorting up and call the police.  So far there have been so such incidents.

            b.  Crashes.  In mid-November I carelessly opened an attachment on an email and promptly had my desktop computer crash.  Everyone reading this knows the horror of that feeling: your computer is suddenly nothing more than a large paperweight and all your data may well be lost!  Not only that, you are, for days, without a computer, and the withdrawal symptoms are terrible.  I tried using David’s computer, but it’s a Mac and he had to sit at my shoulder and do most of the work moving things around.

On Wednesday, November 16th, I was taking the computer to the repair shop around 4 p.m. and was in fairly heavy traffic on Henderson Road, a major street, in the middle lane planning to turn left when I got to the bottom of the hill, when the traffic slowed to a stop.  As I was stopping I was hit from behind by the car in back of me.  I managed to stop before striking the car at my front, and then got out to see what had happened.  There were two moving lanes on either side of our vehicles, the lanes moving in opposite directions.

What had happened was that a man in a third car had plowed into the back of the car behind me, striking it very hard (35 mph. was the estimate) without braking, causing that car to then hit mine.  In the middle car was a nice man named Michael and his ten year old son.  While Michael was getting the boy to safety on the side of the road, I went back to the car that had hit us.  The driver was a man in his fifties, woozy and dealing with an inflated air bag.  I asked him if he was all right, and he said yes, but his eyes were not focused.  I helped him from his car, and he had all the looseness of a lump of cooked spaghetti, leaning heavily on me as we crossed the lanes and made it to safety.  I then went back and stood behind the vehicles flagging down traffic to keep it from plowing into our cars, all the while worrying I was about to die if some coming driver was paying more attention to texting than the road.

A very experienced cop arrived.  I told him I thought the man in the last car was injured, but the cop, looking at him, waived that away with his hand.  “He’s soused,” he flatly declared, and, turning to the man, asked him, “How many drinks have you had?”  To this the flippant reply was, “Not enough.”  This led to his arrest, and much else:  my car was drivable (the middle car was not—in the picture notice the trunk lid is up) but I missed getting my computer to the shop before it closed.  Michael and I have received subpoenas to testify at the criminal pre-trial hearing in a week, my car is in the shop being repaired, and life has been a mess without a car and a computer.  I trust it will all be straightened out soon, and we’re all thankful no one was injured.

            c.  The Election.  Far worse than having diabetes inflicted unexpectedly is realizing that Donald John Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.  I could write a large number of paragraphs about the shock of the election (having already written a large number of posts pre-election explaining why he couldn’t possibly win), but I’m just not up the task.  I’m still in mourning and refuse to display my suffering for all to see.  (Little sob here.)

7.  Conclusion

As readers of this blog know, I judge everything in life by what I call the “Death Bed Test.”  Under this measurement assume you are very, very old and lying on your death bed with enough time to comprehensively review your life.  You think over all the things you did in your many years on this planet.  Some things make you slap your head and exclaim, “How could I have been so stupid?”  But others will bring a broad smile to your face as you announce, “Oh, that was good!  That was a great time!

All in all, this past summer and fall are firmly in the latter category.

Seven years after my enlarged heart was cut from my chest, and the strong healthy heart of a stranger was inserted, tests in the past week show I’m in great physical shape, so I’m a happy man.  On my death bed I will surely be smiling when remembering all the good things that happened in the fall of 2016.

Related Posts:
A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010;

“The World’s Greatest Game [Bridge] Needs You,” June 6, 2011;

“The Emperor Caligula, Gross Indecency, and the Killing of Oscar Wilde,” October 21, 2016;

“The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual,” October 2, 2011;

“My Sad Tale of Being a Chicago Cubs Fan,” May 27, 2015;

“On Being a Gay Sports Fan,” March 3, 2012;   

“Give Me Back My Spleen and Other Adventures From Surgery,” August 31, 2016;

“President Preposterous: Donald Takes the Helm,” November 14, 2016;

“Calm Yourself: What Trump Can and Cannot Do About LGBT Rights,” November 16, 2016;

“The Death Bed Test,” July 27, 2010;


Popular posts from this blog

How To Write an Effective Legal Threat Letter

The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver

Mortgage Foreclosures, Missing Promissory Notes, and the Uniform Commercial Code: A New Article