Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Soggy in Chicago

Way cool light show through
the O'Hare Airport Tunnel.

Okay, so after a while, I'm going to have to take a break from these Chicago posts. Well, actually, I don't plan on going back unless some things change with the transplant clinic. Oh, I want it known and understood that I absolutely, unequivocally, love and appreciate and love the surgeons who gave me a chance to live free of diabetes and extend my life. They ROCK!

But at the appointment I had on June 10th, a day before I left to come home to Spokane, Washington, I was made to promise cooperation with the requirements set forth by the head surgeon in order to release me to go home. I did.
So on Thursday, July 21st, I traveled out to Chicago, saved money by taking the train from O'Hare to the city, (of which the air conditioning was broken and we were all dying of heat stroke) messed up my connection, and was left at Wall and Randolf St., two miles from the apartment I was staying at. And ... the temperature was 99 with a heat index of 115 degrees.

I was in travel clothes which included my jeans, had a heavy backpack to tow, and once again luggage to pull. I can do this. The exercise will be good after being on a plane. So here I was, roaming the streets of Chicago lugging luggage--again.

After the first mile, I was sweating so bad the water dripping from my face and hair blurred the GPS on my phone. I had to keep stopping to wipe the sweat from my glasses. I came upon a Baskin and Robbins and stopped for a scoop of ice cream and a respite in air-conditioning. I can't make the other mile. What to do now?

My watch displayed 4:50 PM. I called Lenee--the angel a couple of posts back. "It's perfect timing," she announced. I get off work in a few minutes and pick you up and bring you to the apartment. But I can't stay--have to get my daughter to soccer practice."

"That's fine with me. I'll wait on the corner."

Sweaty, armed with a backpack and suitcase, and dressed inclemently in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, I leaned on the corner pole. I'm pathetic.

Lenee arrived and dropped me off. I took a shower and changed into fresh clothes to settle down for the night. The complex had dinner to purchase from area restaurants that came on Tuesday and Thursday. I got pot roast and veges and called John to let him know all was well.

Again I appreciated a free place to stay, but this time was really tough. The apartment brought back scenes of lonely days and nights, the couch a reminder of how many days post surgery I laid on it weak and sick, and the memory of paramedics collecting me onto a stretcher when I had semi-passed out from a 104.5 fever. No worries--only a few days to stay here. I didn't fall asleep until 3:00 AM.

Friday morning, I got up early and had to catch the bus at 8:20 AM. I was exhausted but had to go get blood work for the afternoon appointment. I took the train back so I could stop at Starbucks and get an ice coffee--a large ice coffee. The train conductor announced there was a dangerous storm moving in with hail and dangerous lightening.

We arrived at the Clinton St. Station and I made my way down the gray, dirty steps to the street. I saw the storm getting close but figured I had time to get coffee and walk the four blocks to the apartment. Not. I waited on a short line and by the time I was handed my Venti, Iced Latte, 2% Milk, SF Vanilla, the storm had arrived.

A few buildings shielded me for a while but then the fierce rain pounded my unprotected self. I watched people's umbrellas fly away and did my best to run for the building. Once inside, the extreme air conditioning froze my clothing creating a pocket of cold air between my shirt and me. "I would have made it if I hadn't stopped for Starbucks," I joked out loud to the people standing in the lobby. No one looked at me or smiled. Such fuddy duds.

When I got up to the apartment, I laid my clothes on chairs to dry and took another shower. I had a few hours before leaving for my 1:15 PM appointment.

Next post: Oh why, Oh why, did I fly to the city, oh why, oh why, did I go?

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pulling a New York Look


After my testing the first day, I had to find another hotel. The Marriott was not a friendly place--price wise. A couple I had met at a Christian writer's conference a while back, had offered to help me and give me a place to stay. They did live more than an hour south of the city, but I called them that first day and they said they could come get me by 4:00 PM-ish.

When it was 4:00, I called them to check on where to meet and was disappointed to find out they changed their mind at the last minute. Oh wow ... now what?

This left me with only a few hours to find a hotel at the last minute again. President Obama was still in town. (I think he owes me $100.00 which was the extra charge for the Marriott!) The social services department tried to help me, but the hotels were all expensive. I was left with the housing I rejected the first dark, night, in the dreaded ghetto.

So I booked it for the next three days and trudged to the apartment building with my luggage. I followed my phone's GPS but found myself on an abandoned street in front of the old Cook County Hospital. It's walls were cracked and aged and it's appearance scary like an old murder film. I was cautious and kept looking around me. I saw one guy but didn't want to ask him directions; I looked like a tourist and it was dangerous to let on I was vulnerable. I know--I grew up in New York.

I found the building and recognized it from the night before. I had keys this time and after navigating the entrance, took the squeaky, smelly elevator to the third floor. At least I'm safe and can open the windows on the third floor.

Hangin' in the Hood
Once in, the room was clean but barren. The building was old and neighborhood right next to a country prison and the freeway with many abandoned buildings. My footsteps on the tile floor echoed until I opened the window to let some air in. The noise was deafening: sirens, traffic, honking, people yelling, fire trucks, ambulances...non-stop day and night. I kept the windows shut.

There was no where to walk to and get take-out food or groceries. I had some protein bars and the only thing in the snack machine on the ground floor was chips and cookies. Dinner that night was not fit for a diabetic trying to get a pancreas transplant.

The intersection across from the apartment
I was there three days and nights, keeping a chair wedged under the door knob whenever I was in the room with the door locked. Oh, I made it okay. But the environment was not healthy nor safe as I found out on day two.

After my testing on the second day, I found out there was a hospital a mile down the street with a cafeteria. I walked down to see if I could get a salad and some protein for dinner. I got an awesome salad and sadly, the only protein was typically gross hospital meatloaf. But it was better than chips and cookies.

While walking back, a man jumped out from an indented doorway and went to grab me. "Hey sweet sister. What ya' got for me?" And he didn't mean my salad and meatloaf. Two things saved me--A protective angel from God and my New York attitude.

I turned and looked at him with the most threatening New York look I could. And not the fake kind you imitate in the mirror. This look was, "I'm not in the mood and don't mess with me." And it worked. He backed off into his pitiful doorway hiding place and waited for the next victim.

Here's the doorway. The faces
have been blurred to protect the innocent (?)...

I walked the short distance to my apartment, face contorted with anger, and locked myself in my room. The salad was great but the meatloaf ended up in the garbage.

I vowed not to stay in that apartment again. Especially after I learned that POP, POP, POP were gun shots from gang battles nearby!

The next time I was in Chicago for the wait for a pancreas, a taxi cab drove me to my new residence in the city after I was kicked out of an assisted living home and had gone from hotel to hotel. (More later!) I watch the driver's route on my phone's GPS to be sure he's not taking me for a ride. Great to have technology.

When he didn't get off the right exit I started to panic a bit."Why did you pass the exit?"

"Oh, that exit," he pointed to. "I know another way around it. I'm a white cab driver in a white taxi. I don't drive through that neighborhood."

"That's where I stayed last time."

"And you're alive to tell it?"

I sat back against the vinyl seat, a bit disturbed but proud to have survived!

(Since then, everyone I talk to in Chicago is amazed I stayed there! Ha...they don't know the power of a crazed New York Italian!)

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stories from the Ghetto, Urrr...I mean City


It's such a pretty city...
Chicago was, well, an interesting city. When I traveled out there in April to have pancreas pre-transplant testing, the hospital provided a housing assistant to help me find affordable "housing." Their motives were sincere--their evaluation of someone like me staying somewhere like that was far from sane. And I had no idea what I was getting into.

The instructions for where to go were vague and I had never been downtown alone. While on the plane, I was thrilled to have WIFI for a sale rate of $5.00 for the flight. A sweet, dear friend from Arizona has a niece in the Chicago area and connected me to her on Facebook. Because I hooked up with her from the plane, we were able to exchange phone numbers and with short notice, she offered to pick me up from the airport and take me to the apartment complex. Thank GOD!

It was 9:30 PM and I was so grateful Lenee was willing to get me. It was out of her way to give me a ride. She had a picture of herself on Facebook and when I reached the luggage area I recognized her. I wanted her to just wait at the curb, which was easier, but she insisted on parking and coming in to get me.

What an amazing woman!

Once she drove me to the location of the "medical district housing," we both realized the area was part of a "ghetto" area in south Chicago. Not to call any area a ghetto, but it was not the right place for a short, stubby, white, Italian woman.

We drove front to back and couldn't figure out how to get in. I finally bypassed a resident coming out of the gated, iron, tall-fenced-with-sharp-pointy-tops, entrance area. I made my way inside, past an old guy sitting up against the wall smoking a but, and found a security guard--on his cell phone behind the counter, crouched down on the floor. I guess he wanted privacy.

"Oh no, ma'am, I ain't got no key." He fumbled to flip shut his cell phone.

"But I was told to come here and check in to room 314."

"I know nothin' about no key or no checkin' and the manager only works in the morning." He stood tall now, wanting to look like he was securing the premises.

I was glad Lenee insisted she wait until I got in. I walked to her car.

"I can't get the security guard to tell me what to do--he has no idea. And I don't like the looks of this place. I think I'd better find a hotel if you don't mind giving me a ride to one." Lenee and I both searched our cell phones for local hotels.

"Good thing I stayed," she assured me. "This is a bad part of town. You can't stay here."

Chicago. Now 10:00 PM on a Tuesday. President Obama was in town and so was the entire world--there was no room at the Inn for me. The only hotel with one room left was a Marriott. Lenee gave me a ride over and I assured her I would be okay. Because President Obama was in town and it was the last room, the Marriot charged me $279.00 for the night, before taxes and fees! BIG OUCH! But I had no other choice.

"I have something for you," she approached me with a gold, shiny box. "I was going to give this to a friend, but I knew I was supposed to give it to you tonight. I looked at the beautiful necklace and the words written on each charm: Faith, Hope, and Love.

We hugged tight and in less than an hour, I had a friend for life and an ANGEL to be with me in Chicago. Lenee saved my life that night. Could you see me lugging my backpack and carry on, late at night, in the well-known ghettos of Chicago? I don't think so.

So the cheap wireless on the flight, a dear friend from 20+ years ago in Arizona, her amazing niece, Facebook, cell phones with GPS, and God's protection, all worked out. 8^)

Never underestimate God or his angels!

Lenee - My Angel!
Tomorrow--the continued story as I find myself back at the ghetto for the next three days and find myself dodging an all out attack!

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Heart Like Mine - Six Year Anniversary Today

July 13, 2005 - Dr. Icenogle: "You need a heart today but it will be 9 months to a year before we get you one. And you don't have that long."

July 14, 2005 - Dr. Icenogle: "Sign on the dotted line." Me: "For what?" Dr. Icenogle: "You want a heart don't you?"

Six years ago today, I received a life saving--major life saving heart transplant from my angelic donor, Danielle. The story is so amazing and unbelievable. All transplants are miracles, but this on was so beyond medical standards that anyone looking from the outside can tell something very special happened.

Excerpt about Danielle from book one, A Heart Like Mine:
When Danielle was five years old, her dad was killed in a motorcycle accident, leaving Charlotte to raise three children on her own. They often had to visit the local food bank to get help with the family’s needs. Danielle was so touched by the acts of kindness, she insisted to her mom that when she grew up she would “help others like they were helping them.” As she grew, she did just that—gave whatever she had if someone she saw needed it. She gave away her coat to a friend and came home in the cold rain without it, her shoes were donated to a friend in need as she walked home barefoot, her lunch was often offered to another classmate who had nothing, and she always asked for extra snacks to hand out to those less fortunate.

As she got older, Danielle explained to her mom that she felt like she was put on the earth to give to those who were in need of help. When she got her driver’s license, she decided to become an organ donor. “Mom, if something were to happen to me,” she said, “why would I want my organs to be buried when someone’s life could be saved or helped by me being a donor?”

No one likes to talk about a subject as sensitive as dying, but it was important to Danielle that her family knew her wishes. Then the tragic day came when, as Charlotte put it, “I lost something very dear to me—my little princess.”

Danielle was an epileptic and had a seizure one day that caused her to slip and fall in the shower. She suffered a concussion and also hit her neck, cutting off blood flow to her brain from her carotid arteries in her neck. After three days in the hospital, all hope was lost that she ever would come back. When Charlotte was notified that the hospital called a code blue on Danielle, the code for eminent death, she was distraught. “Why God?” she asked. “Why are You doing this? Take me instead of her.”

Danielle’s brothers and the rest of her family all struggled with their loss. But Charlotte knew God had a purpose on earth for her daughter—her “princess.” She also knew that if Danielle’s organs had not been donated, there would have been no purpose to her death.

The holidays were always difficult for Charlotte, but after we talked for a few months, she agreed to meet my family and me on Easter weekend—almost three years after losing Danielle. It was an emotional and powerful meeting for both of us, Charlotte finding closure and me getting to know about the person whose heart was keeping me alive.

Charlotte said something only someone so close to the Lord could comprehend: “After getting to know you,” she explained through tears of relief, “I now know that my daughter’s purpose on earth was to be here so when you needed a new heart, she could give you hers.”

How could a mom say something like that after losing her daughter? Danielle was a Christian, and she demonstrated it by her giving and loving lifestyle. And Danielle is still who she is, and I am who I am, but part of me has a piece of Danielle that God holds in high esteem—her heart. I cannot be who I am without Danielle’s heart keeping me alive. “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). This verse is clipped onto the bulletin board in my kitchen, reminding me quite often of who I am in God’s eyes. No matter what I do wrong, whatever pain I suffer, whatever failures I despair over, I am exactly who God made me to be. And it was His plan that Danielle’s life would become part of mine.

I now have an extended family to which I am very connected. Besides the physical connection, there is an emotional connection and a spiritual connection.
This blog isn't a sales pitch. I know the story is about me--but not really just me. So many people and lives have been changed. I was at the doctor today and every time someone new hears my story, they are amazed and blown away at what has happened. Yet I sit here typing, feeling great, and living life!

The story is BIG. If you haven't purchased my first book in the Heart Like Mine Trilogy, you can purchase it from my website, online retailers, or my publisher. The E-book is on sale for $5.99 in preparation for book two being published soon.

My site:
E-book: On Sale: $5.99:

Pre-Order book two:

Danielle, my angel on earth.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Cindy in Chicago - No Mo'


So everyone noticed that Day Ten of Freedom was my last post for quite a while. The next day, I ended up with John in a Chicago taxi at 1:30 AM on my way to the ER with a high fever of 103. I spent five more days in the hospital with everyone trying to figure out what was wrong with me. It was just this mysterious fever that comes sometimes after a pancreas alone transplant. I was sent home on a Saturday since all they were doing was giving me fluid and Tylenol.

Sunday morning, the very next morning, I woke up with a fever of 104.5 Walked out to the kitchen to tell John he needed to get me to the ER and passed out. John had to call 911. I was in another four days before getting discharged. We took the train home and as we walked back to the apartment, I had to stop and hug every other tree!

There is so much more to tell. I've been home in Spokane an entire 4 weeks today and tomorrow will be only 8 weeks since the transplant. I'm finally, for 2 days now, able to stand and move without wanting to pass out. So much to tell. I'm going to start posting again.

For now, I had a great weekend this past July 9-10. Here's some pics. 8^)

A relaxing swim!


Resort style dinner outside on deck: corn crusted Tilapia, vegetables from the market cooked Mediterranean style, fresh cantaloupe, and Timothy's decaf coffee.

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