The AB-180, 1997 Prototype

From reading Sheryl Recinos’s harrowing memoir of surviving on the streets as an under-age runaway, to Stephen Westaby’s memoir of his most wrenching heart cases.

Sheryl Recinos ended up a doctor (amazing), but that part is not in her memoir, Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood. (Maybe there will be a sequel? Self hopes so)

Stephen Westaby’s memoir, on the other hand, describes his work as a member of the team that produces the first artificial heart.

Ch. 7, Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table

It took the team five years to produce a spinning blood pump the size of a bicycle bell, weighing just half a pound . . . First called the AB-180, it was intended to support the circulation for up to six months . . . It was so simple that one of the technicians attached a prototype pump to his garden hose and drained his fish pond with it.

The first English “guinea pig” for the AB-180 was a 21-year-old woman who had contracted “viral myocarditis, a viral illness like a cold, but when it involves the heart, it can be fatal . . . a desperate situation for a vivacious young woman who had been normal the week before.”

As self told Dearest Mum many years ago: Dying has nothing to do with age.

Look at self’s older sister, dead of streptococcal pneumonia at 34.

Look at Dearly Departed Sister-in-Law Ying, who died at 38 of leukemia which had been diagnosed less than a year before.

In Westaby’s memoir, Julie’s “leg was already blue — pouring out lactic acid.”

Self was the person who received her sister’s autopsy from Lenox Hill Hospital. Her parents couldn’t bear to read it, so self did. It listed her sister’s cause of death as sepsis. Blood poisoning. 11 days earlier she had presented at Lenox Hill’s emergency room, complaining of a bad cough.

As Westaby writes, “most patients with viral myocarditis get over it.”

As most patients with streptococcal pneumonia, what self’s sister contracted, probably do.

Self can tell you she never, ever expected her sister to die that year. That it happened so close to Christmas made all subsequent Christmases into depressing occasions. In fact, a Christmas present her sister had mailed from New York arrived in California three days after she had passed.

11 days. That’s all it took to move a healthy young woman, a mother of three, to illness and then death. That was time enough, though, for self to fly to New York. Time enough for her parents to fly in from the Philippines.

In Westaby’s book, “the doctors scrubbed with haste. What was more important now? Survival or sterility?” He grabs a scalpel and runs the blade “straight through, hard onto the bone.” He runs “the saw up the sternum.” As Julie’s “heart was stopping, I kept moving . . . ” He gathers Julie’s “flickering little ventricles” into his fist and hand-pumps.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

SAMMIE (Street Name: Lizard): HINDSIGHT, p. 204

A little over halfway through Sheryl Recinos’s memoir Hindsight: Coming of Age in the Streets of Hollywood. Self is totally enthralled by this world (Admittedly, knowing how it all turns out in the end makes the hard times bearable).

Sheryl set out from North Carolina with two other waifs, Sammie and Hunter, and somehow they make it to Los Angeles and ARE ALL STILL ALIVE. They drift in and out of each other’s paths, making no attempt to stay in touch, but somehow they bump into each other. It’s a really, really casual friendship, but somehow self feels better when the narrator is with these other two.

Sammie and Sheryl spend the day at the beach.

  • Night had come, and we’d been quiet companions for most of the day. Sammie had gotten up to explore a few times, and I could see her looking at a display of sterling silver jewelry across the promenade. She wasn’t good at shoplifting, so I secretly hoped she wouldn’t try.

So, she can’t wait to read the rest of this book, which is sort of Jack Kerouac-y, but infinitely more interesting.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Scarecrow

Somehow, the 13-year-old narrator of Hindsight manages to make a friend, a boy named Scarecrow. They meet at the shelter.

“Let’s go get pancakes,” she tells him.

His eyes widened. “You have money?” he asked.

I nodded. “Just a little,” I lied.

As night falls, Scarecrow takes the narrator to his “squat” — “over a small fence” and then through “a large, empty apartment complex” to the parking garage and “a storage closet . . . on the wall.”

“Do you like me?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I answered. I was in uncharted territory and sinking fast.

He tried to kiss me, but I started to cry.

So instead, he held me in his arms, and asked me what had happened. He somehow knew.

This story is almost unbearably sad, but the narrator’s friendship with Scarecrow has an innocence. Scarecrow takes the narrator on a tour of Hollywood: his favorite breakfast place, Tommy’s (“They make breakfast all hours of the day. Pancake special: $1.99”) and Mann Chinese Theatre. It’s a very sweet interlude.

Unfortunately, they return to the shelter for breakfast the next day and someone reports them. Scarecrow’s 19 and the narrator’s only 13. They’re both arrested and the narrator is taken to a facility in a police car.

UGH. She’s put into an orange jumpsuit and told, “You’re a 601.” She’s put in a cell and the guards are tall, beefy women.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

13 and a Runaway

Self is absolutely riveted by this story about a 13-year-old runaway. She has a bipolar mother, an abusive father (who’s already gotten her committed once and keeps threatening to do it again), and an indifferent stepmother. Plus, her only other sibling at home has gradually withdrawn.

She catches a bus from her home in North Carolina to LA. As the bus winds its way through her hometown, she spots her mother’s car, heading in the opposite direction. Her mother, her frail, bi-polar mother, is looking for her. The narrator can’t get the look on her mother’s face out of her head.

Hindsight, p. 52:

“I needed to forget the look . . . I needed never to find out that my mom baked a plate of cookies and left them on the table, window open, so that I might smell them and come inside.”

This mother story makes self tear up.

And then, on p. 54, the 13-year-old is in Los Angeles.

“An older African-American woman walked up to me, perhaps seeing me in a way that no one else had ever truly seen me.”

That African American woman’s kindness saved the narrator’s life. She directed the narrator to a youth shelter.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Global Dickens

Self spent the morning at the Charles Dickens Museum on 48 Doughty Street, checking out the house where Dickens and his wife spent probably the two happiest years of their marriage. The house offers fascinating glimpses of the man’s domestic life, and the audio tour is highly recommended. She came away with a small fridge magnet showing her favorite painting of Dickens: he sits in his study, surrounded by a cloud of his inventions.

She saw a very distressed copy of David Copperfield and read that this copy “travelled with Robert Falcon Scott and his men to Antarctica in 1910. When half of Scott’s men were stranded in an ice cave for 7 months, they read to each other every night for comfort and entertainment. After 60 nights they finished David Copperfield and, as one of the men wrote, they were very sorry to part with him.”

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Dickens also exists in manga form!

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Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Long Day; Thirsting for Henry Tilney

It’s been a long day walking around Prague. Finally back in the hotel, self finds herself thirsting for Henry Tilney. A wine bar across the street says:

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Henry Tilney, p. 246:

  • If the effect of his behaviour does not justify him with you, we had better not seek after the cause.

The wisdom of a 23-year-old man! He is so kind to our heroine.

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Stay tuned.

Catherine Morland: Northanger Abbey, p. 26

With more than usual eagerness did Catherine hasten to the Pump-room the next day, secure within herself of seeing Mr. Tilney there before the morning were over, and ready to meet him with a smile: — but no smile was demanded — Mr. Tilney did not appear.

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Jane Austen Centre, Bath, May 2017

Too. Funny.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Northanger Abbey, p. 24

This is a 2nd reading, and great is her reward, as she really lingers over the story now, and sometimes even bursts into laughter in public, so much so that, this afternoon, an American woman in a party of four just had to break briefly from her companions and ask self what it was she was reading that made her laugh so much. When self showed her the book cover, she seemed a little taken aback.

Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney have just met. Tilney is a clergyman. Not as exciting as being a Captain in HRM’s navy, but Tilney is way more flirty thatn Captain Wentworth, and Catherine is much livelier than Anne Elliot (perhaps because she is 18 and not a spinster of 27!) therefore twice as much fun.

They danced again; and, when the assembly closed, parted, on the lady’s side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance. Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most; for if it be true, as a celebrated writer has maintained, that no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman’s love is declared, it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Reading in Fowey

Finished Persuasion, on to Northanger Abbey:

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It’s been a very stimulating week at the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature. Hopefully self can do this again.

She bought her copy of Northanger Abbey from Bookends, which is a sweet, sweet corner bookstore in Fowey.

From the Introduction is by P. D. James:

  • Catherine’s days are spent in thinking about Henry Tilney, when and how they may next meet, and looking out eagerly for any glimpses of him. She is deeply in love, a love which is reciprocated, though more mildly, by Henry, whose affection is based on her obvious love for him. He introduces her to his sister Eleanor and the two young women immediately like each other and become friends.

Stay tuned.

 

Sir Walter Elliott!

Persuasion, p. 213:

  • Morning visits are never fair by women at her time of life, who make themselves up so little. If she would only wear rouge, she would not be afraid of being seen; but last time I called, I observed the blinds were down immediately.

Stay tuned.

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