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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mall walking, paying bills and other mundane recovery stories

By Ted Slowik

Hi, all! It's been nearly five weeks since my near-fatal heart attack. I'm feeling great and hope to resume routine activities soon. I'll need clearance from a doctor to return to work. I'm having a low-level stress test on March 24, and I'm hoping that goes well.

I'm not cleared for strenuous exercise, so I've been doing a lot of walking. On nice days I walk around our neighborhood, but when it's very cold and windy during this never-ending winter I go to the mall in Joliet. You see a lot of people walking around the mall about an hour before it opens.

The first thing you notice about mall walkers is that they leave their coats on benches while they walk around. At first these pieces of outer wear seem abandoned, like their owners were taken up by some rapture. Then you realize they belong to the mall walkers.

There are many types of mall walkers: young and old, fast and slow, men and women. Some are overweight, some are infirm. Some walk with headphones, others swing their arms. We all walk around the perimeter of the mall. It takes about 20 minutes for me to complete a route.

I much prefer walking the neighborhood. It was good running into John Condron yesterday! Most of the snow has melted but the lake near our house is still frozen. It would be best to get out onto a trail in nature somewhere, but I feel I should stick close to home. I'm still wearing a defibrillator, after all. I work up a sweat after about 20 minutes, and walk for about 45 minutes a time two or three times a day. I lost a bunch of weight right after the heart attack, but that's leveled off. I haven't gained any back, but I've stopped losing.

I'm not a big TV watcher, maybe an hour or two a day is all I can take. I read and listen to music. My guitar teacher Kev Wright gave me the complete remastered works of The Beatles on CD (UK versions), and that's been very enjoyable. Dave Kent loaned me Pete Townshend's autobiography "Who I Am" and when I finish that I'm looking forward to reading Tom Hernandez's "Chocolate Cows & Purple Cheese and Other Tales From the Homefront."

Other than that, I've been keeping up with doctor's appointments, paying bills and doing other routine things. The bill from the hospital came the other day. I had my heart attack in the ER the night of Feb. 17 and was discharged four days later. They charged $98,480.56. That's just the hospital, mind you. They deeply discount (70 percent) the amount charged to the insurance company, which ends up paying a lot less. I'll end up paying several thousands of dollars in deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, though no complaints. I received excellent care and have good insurance.

Still, if you wanted to support the recovery effort I encourage you to contribute $5.94 by enjoying a digital download of the debut studio collection "Comfort Zone." Just search for "Ted Slowik" in the iTunes Store, or find it on Amazon or CD Baby. Thanks for the support.

I've been practicing guitar and singing, and recording demos of songs. Most were written in the past year, but a couple are older numbers, and I haven't written any new songs since the heart attack. Still sorting through all that I suppose.

I've accepted invitations from two good friends to do a couple low-key performances in coming weeks, so I encourage you to stop by and say "Hi!" if you can make it. Just to show I haven't lost my sense of humor I'm billing the shows as the "Not Dead Yet Tour." The first is at 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Saban's Place in Hodgkins, playing a 30-minute opening set for Clarence Goodman as he celebrates the release of his CD "Don't Fret."

The second is from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, April 12, with Tim Placher at 30 Buck in Joliet. It's always fun joining Tim for his piano bar performances and hanging out with his many friends. I hope to see you soon!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Seeing Warren Zevon perform was one of my happiest musical memories

By Ted Slowik

I've seen many great rock bands in concert over the years: Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and many others. The only time I was in the front row was when I saw Frank Zappa and Jerry Garcia on a double-bill at the UIC Pavilion on Aug. 18, 1984.

One of the more memorable concerts I attended was seeing Warren Zevon perform at the Holiday Star Theater in Merrilville, Ind. on Dec. 21, 1990.

I've always been a big Warren Zevon fan. Years ago I just dug his sound, the classic southern California hard rock production with members of the Eagles singing backing vocals on a number of songs and thick bass and drums and screaming guitars and intricate keyboard parts.

But over the years I began to appreciate Warren's songwriting. Besides his quirky recognizable hits "Werewolves of London" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money," Warren could write some truly beautiful songs, like "Searching For a Heart." After I read the posthumous biography, "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon" by his ex-wife Crystal, I gained a deeper appreciation for Warren's artistic sensibilities.

He certainly was capable of composing and recording music that would have been more commercial, sold more records and been played more often on the radio. But Warren struck me as the type of artist who wouldn't compromise his integrity. Nowadays I regard him as one of the most influential songwriters of all time.

Warren had a great sense of humor, but could seem a bit morbid at times. He certainly was aware of human mortality. With albums titles like "Life'll Kill Ya" and "My Ride's Here," he almost ironically foretold his premature demise in 2003 at age 56.

I only saw him once in concert, at Christmastime 1990. I went with a small group of friends to the Holiday Star Theater to see him. He had a full band. I remember it was incredibly loud. Our seats were in the fourth row, off to the side a bit. He opened by playing electric guitar on "Lawyers, Guns and Money."

When the band struck the opening chords, I jumped up our of my seat and did a big fist pump in the air. Warren turned and looked right at me. I was one of maybe four or five people standing up in the entire theater, like lone trees dotting a prairie landscape. He gazed at me for maybe only a few seconds, and before long I sat down, since it wasn't going to be the kind of show people stood for. But I think Warren appreciated that a few of us stood up and cheered his opener.

Warren loved writers, and befriended authors like Stephen King, Dave Barry and others who played in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. He became friends with "Tuesdays With Maurie" author Mitch Albom, and in 2002 they co-wrote the hockey song "Hit Somebody."

I never had the chance to meet Warren but I did meet Mitch during an author tour last year. He was friendly, funny and very down-to-earth. When I introduced myself the first thing he asked was if I'd seen the Seth MacFarlane movie "Ted," and when I said yes he said, "Oh, the things that came out of that teddy bear's mouth."

I knew then that Mitch was a good guy, just like I imagine Warren would be.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Meeting first responders to thank them for helping save my life

Jake Casanova, left, and Adam Las
By Ted Slowik

Today I met the paramedics who got me to the hospital when I had a heart attack on Feb. 17.

Paramedics Jake Casanova and Adam Las are the "C" shift crew for the Joliet Fire Department's Ambulance 6, which is based at a fire station 1.6 miles (or four minutes, according to Google Maps) from my house.

The reason minutes (and even seconds) matter is that when I had my heart attack, I flat-lined for six minutes. My heart stopped. Luckily I was in the emergency room when that happened, and there was a whole team of medical professionals on hand putting a tube down my throat to keep me breathing, pounding on my chest doing CPR, shocking my heart back to life with a defibrillator and eventually inserting a stent to clear the main left anterior descending (LAD) artery that was 100 percent blocked.

Six minutes. The time it takes to listen to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its entirety. They say permanent damage usually occurs after the brain is deprived of oxygen for seven minutes. To say it was a close call is an understatement.

When I first felt the symptoms of the heart attack, it was close to 10 p.m. and my wife Jo had just gone to bed. We had just watched the movie "Mud" with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. I laid down on the couch and felt a tightness in my chest. I had trouble breathing.

I got up and walked around but didn't feel any better. I knew Advil wouldn't help but I took some anyway, and immediately threw up. I tasted blood in my mouth. I knew something wasn't right, but didn't know then it was a heart attack. There was no sharp pain. Just an inability to breathe. I crawled around on my hands and knees but nothing made me feel better. After about 10 minutes, I decided to ask Jo to call 911.

This was a critical decision, since I didn't want to seem foolish calling an ambulance if it turned out to be the stomach flu or food poisoning. And I somehow knew I needed an ambulance as opposed to asking Jo to drive me to the hospital. I guess you know yourself better than anyone.

In retrospect, the possibility of a heart attack must have factored into my decision, though I didn't think the words at the time. There's a history of heart disease in my family, and after my 67-year-old brother had an emergency stent procedure a couple weeks earlier our Mom made us promise to get EKGs. Mine was scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 18. I'm only 48, and less than a week before the heart attack I'd had a physical.

Anyway, Jo immediately called 911 and within a few minutes Adam and Jake were there. They asked how I was doing and I said I couldn't breathe. I was on the kitchen floor at this point, still conscious but having real difficulty breathing. They had wheeled a stretcher into the attached garage, but I had to get up off the floor to get to it. I got up OK and walked with help. I remember trying to put on shoes and a coat before abandoning the effort, figuring I didn't need them where I was going.

I laid down on the stretcher and they wheeled me down the driveway and loaded me into the ambulance. Then there were several minutes while they tried to stabilize me, started some IVs, notified the ER of my condition, gave me oxygen and aspirin and a little later, nitroglycerin. Before long we were on our way for the 1.7-mile (five minute) ride to the ER at Joliet's Presence St. Joseph Medical Center.

As I've said before, they had already called a Code Blue, and my last conscious thoughts were being in the ER, having my chest shaved and a tube shoved down my throat. Then blackness. They gave me the Michael Jackson knockout sedative, so I have no recollection of anything until I woke up at about 9 a.m. Tuesday. No white lights, no sensations of floating above my lifeless body. Nothing. I guess I felt pretty good from the moment I woke up, all things considered. I didn't know I'd had a heart attack until Jo told me how my heart stopped for six minutes, and the chaplain had told her to prepare for the worst.

Anyway, after four days in the hospital I was discharged on Friday, Feb. 21. When I got home I emailed Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante, himself a former firefighter, and Tom immediately sent along to Fire Chief Joe Formhals my inquiry about the paramedics who transported me to the hospital. More recently, Deputy Chief Ray Randich also helped arrange for me to stop by the station and thank the guys.

I'd like to also thank everyone in the ER that night at St. Joe's. I sent a card to the hospital, but I have no way of knowing who all was in the ER that night and played a role in saving my life. I understand when a Code Blue is called it's pretty much all hands on deck, and I guess the ER got a little backed up that night, so apologies to others whose treatment was delayed on my account.

The recovery is going well. Still getting lots of rest. Seeing the cardiologist again on Wednesday and hoping for clearance to begin some rehab. I've lost 30 pounds in the three weeks since the heart attack, though I don't recommend this to anyone as a weight-loss incentive. Not smoking is hard, but necessary. I'm taking meds to lower cholesterol and looking forward to many more happy years of existence.

Just a final word of thanks to everyone who sent messages of support, cards and gifts, and visits and phone calls. I really do appreciate all your prayers and kind thoughts. I hope to see you out and about again soon!


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Recovery update: Feeling stronger every day

By Ted Slowik

Thanks again for all the messages of support. I appreciate each and every one who took the time to connect in some way. I feel like Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." I feel like the richest man in town!

In the two weeks since I had a stent put in after the heart attack, I've been resting a lot. I wouldn't say I'm bored, because I've got books to read, TV shows and movies to watch, music to listen to and other stuff to keep me busy. I'm good for about half a day now--usually I can get a lot done in the morning (taxes, doctors appointments, thank-you notes, medical paperwork) then need a nap by afternoon! I'm still attached to a mobile AED and will be for a couple months.

My white blood cell count is slightly high, which could be a sign of an infection, but I don't have a fever. I had a drug rash reaction that cleared up when we switched one of the blood-thinner meds. I'm eating healthier, not smoking, taking other meds to lower cholesterol and seeing the cardiologist next on March 12. I'm hoping then he clears me to start some rehab. Once that happens, I'm hoping the recovery moves along fairly quickly. My hope is to be out and about, even back at work, before the end of March. The way this winter is going, I'll probably be back in my old routine before all the snow melts!

Hope to see you all soon!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Remembering brother Jim five years after his passing

By Ted Slowik

Five years ago today, on March 2, 2009, we lost our brother Jim. Third-oldest of the 12 Slowik siblings, Jim died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 59.

I've written about Jim before, and how his passing profoundly affected my outlook on life. When he died I was 44, and thought, "Hey, I might only have 15 years left. What do I really want to do with my time?"

So that's when I set out in earnest to become a better songwriter, musician, guitarist, vocalist, performer, storyteller and recording artist. No, I'm not trying to become a famous rock star. Creating music makes me happy, and over the last few years my improvement is apparent to anyone who knows me. I'm just trying to be the best I can be. In doing so I've become happier than I've ever been.

Little did I know that my brush with death would come not 15 years but a mere five years after Jim's passing. Two weeks ago, I survived my heart attack because my wife Jo was there to call 911 for me. Jim lived alone, and though he was very happy living his life he didn't have anyone there for him, and he didn't make it.

Jim really loved open-wheel auto racing, and had taken up freelance writing for a fan magazine called the Piston Patter. He'd call me for writing and interviewing advice and was loving the opportunity to talk to famous racing legends like Carl Haas and Paul Newman. He loved being close to the excitement, and would travel the country to volunteer as a security worker in the paddocks at races. Jim was very, very happy.

So while I appreciate that my own near-death experience will cause me to take better care of myself, Jim's passing had already taught me that every day is a gift and that it's important to make the most of life. So share your gifts with others, because the more you think of others the happier you will be.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

To my wife Jo: Thank you for everything, and for saving my life

By Ted Slowik

Since my heart attack on Feb. 17 I've been overwhelmed with support from family and friends. Thank you for all the cards, visits, meals, flowers, phone calls, messages and prayers. There's one person I need to thank above all others: Jo, my wife.

Jo made the 911 call that saved my life that night. It was close. Remember I flat-lined for six minutes. Brain damage starts at seven, they say. In all my years writing I've purposely avoided saying too much publicly about Jo out of respect for her privacy. But today I feel compelled to publicly thank her for saving my life.

I met Jo when we both attended Lewis University in the 1980s. I was editor of the student newspaper and she was in theatre performing roles like Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." It took some encouragement from our friends John Creighton and Linda Gjerde, but I asked her out on our first date on Valentine's Day 1985. I was 19.

We dated for five years while she finished graduate school and I worked at a newspaper in LaGrange. We married at Lewis on Aug. 4, 1990. Our wedding was in the chapel; the reception was in the dining hall. Our wedding day was one of the handful of times when all 12 Slowik children and Mom and Dad were together.

We lived in DeKalb, then in an apartment on Comstock Street in Joliet's St. Pat's neighborhood. Jo grew up in Lockport and Joliet. Her dad, Jim, taught biology and coached football and other sports at Joliet West High School. She's the second-oldest of five kids. When we met her family lived on Oneida Street near the high school.

She's been my muse since early in our relationship. I wrote the song "Coming Back For More" while driving back and forth between DeKalb and LaGrange in 1988. Our friend Hound Dog recorded this demo of "More." Others originals written about or inspired by Jo include "Back To You," "Drama Queen," "I Don't Wanna Fight" and "Sparks Fly."

We bought our first house together in 1992 on Cowles Avenue in Joliet's Cathedral neighborhood. (Jo was raised Protestant but converted to Catholicism prior to our wedding). Later that year our daughter Hannah was born.

Jo worked for AlphaBet Soup children's theatre and in the office for Bud's Concrete when I worked for Bud during the 1990s, jobs that allowed her to be with the kids most of the time. (While pregnant and playing the cow in a production of "Jack and the Beanstalk" she once passed out and had to be rushed to the hospital). She's always worked in addition to running the household and raising the kids. The kids grew up theatre brats.

Before the 1990s were out Jo was working full-time at Lewis University. As box office manager and later theatre manager she's managed the house, ticket sales, supervised student workers, handled publicity and other operational duties that go along with running a theatre.

She's also taught theatre classes as an adjunct instructor--sometimes as many as three courses a semester--and directed one of the Philip Lynch Theatre's five mainstage shows every year for about the past 15 years. She also founded the Heritage Theatre Company, a troupe of Lewis acting alumni, and directs the company's annual Christmas show.

By 2000 we outgrew the little bungalow on Cowles Avenue and moved into a much bigger house on North Wilcox Street. We lived there for eight years as well. Throughout the 2000s, while I worked as a reporter or editor at The Herald News in Joliet and Naperville Sun, Jo worked at Lewis and was the kids' primary parent, getting them off to school, making sure they did their homework and projects, and everything else involved with kids in elementary and later, high school.

Jo's been the most important person in my life for nearly 30 years. As I started to write thank you notes to all the people who offered support following my heart attack, it seemed silly to proceed with a single note without first properly thanking Jo for everything. My love for Jo know no bounds. We've been through a lot together, and if it weren't for her I wouldn't be here. It's as simple as that.