March 28, 2014

Wild Heart…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:30 pm


Cause and effect, chain of events,
All of the chaos makes perfect sense.
When you’re spinning round, things come undone,
Welcome to Earth, third rock from the Sun.

Joe Diffie, lyrics

I’m sure stranger stuff has happened to me. Had to have, somewhere way back there. But right now, I just can’t remember when.

I’ve been going through some real crap, lately. Turned out to be pretty intense stuff. Mostly self-inflicted, of course, as is usually the case with me. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to work out of a cave I chose to walk into. Anyway, that’s how it was the last few weeks. I went to work, as usual, every day. And wrote at night. Brooded in deep and intense shame. And wrote and drank and wrote.

And then, on Wednesday night last week, I don’t know where it happened. Soon after I left the gym, I think. Somehow, I hurt my eye. The left one. Or maybe it just happened on its own. I remember rubbing it and thinking how it itches. Otherwise, I thought little of it. That little moment right there was the trigger for the huge chain of events that would come roaring down over the next few days.

The next morning, I got up, as usual. Went to take my shower. Grabbed my good old battery shaver, and leaned in toward the mirror over the sink. And just gaped. Except for the pupil, my left eye was completely blood red. I’m talking completely. And I’m talking blood red. I could see, though, with it. If I hadn’t seen myself in the mirror, I would never have known. I recoiled, horrified. What in the world was this? Ah, come on. One more bit of crap to deal with. Had I only known. I hadn’t seen nothing yet.

From work, right at eight, I called the Wellness Center I use on those rare occasions when I need a doctor. Better go get this checked out. I told the nice lady what was going on. My left eye was bloody. She poked around on her computer and told me someone would see me at two.

And right here, I’ll just say this, because it applies a whole lot down the road. My heart flutters. Just goes off, on wild beating binges. It’s done that for years. And yes, I’ve had checkups from doctors over the years, and they never mentioned anything. So I never thought it was that big a deal. I’ve never felt a thing from the flutter. Never even felt it beating in my chest. No tightness, nothing. It’s like my blood eye I saw in the mirror. I would have never known about the heart thing, except once, years back, I just happened to check my own pulse. It was running crazy wild. And since then, that’s the only way I ever knew I had a fluttering heart. When I’d check my own pulse. Which I did, now and then, especially after I discovered how my heart acts. Sometimes it was calm, when I checked it. And sometimes it was wild. It was never smooth beating, though. It was always erratic, soft or wild. But it was always strong.

I walked into the Wellness Center and checked in. Sat and waited a while. Then the nurse called my name and led me to a room. Checked my blood pressure. Took my heart count. Blood pressure was just OK. My heart beat was a little high. 140. What’s normal? I asked. “60 to 100,” she said. She left then, and said the doctor would be in soon. I sat and waited. And yeah, I was a little tense. I had a bloody eye, here. And I wasn’t feeling all that good about life in general otherwise.

He walked in before long. A nice young man. I’d seen him once before, about a year ago. He’d taken good care of me. We talked as he examined my eye. Shone a little light in. I lay down on the table, and he had me do the whole eye coordination thing. Everything worked fine. “It just burst vessels,” he said. It’ll heal on its own. We talked a bit then, about things. I told him I’d been feeling down lately. He was a good guy. We just sat there and talked.

Then he mentioned my heart rate. He wanted to do an EKG test, or some such thing. Sure, I said. So the nurse came back in, and I lay down on the table. She stuck all kinds of sticky things on me, and attached some wires. Then she did the test, and a printout popped out of the machine. “Let me just go show these to the doctor, before I unwire you” she said. “To see if this is clear enough. I always check, in case he wants me to do them again.” She walked out. It was the last quiet moment I would see for the next forty-six hours or so.

The door burst open a minute later, and nurse and doctor rushed in. The nurse quietly but hastily started removing wires and sticky things from me. I sat there at the edge of the table as she did this. The doctor stood there and faced me. Looked at me. Looked down at his paper. I’ll never forget the expression on his face. And then he spoke. Concisely. Carefully.

“Mr. Wagler, from what I’m reading on this chart, you are about to go into a massive heart attack,” he said. I stared at him. What the heck was he talking about? He showed me the paper, a bunch of gibberish. “Your heart rate is exceeding 150 and accelerating,” he continued. “I strongly recommend that you be admitted to an emergency room immediately.”

I can’t remember exactly how I reacted. It was nothing dramatic. Probably just gaped at him. I was pretty exhausted emotionally already, from other things. And now I was having a heart attack? It was all just surreal, looking back. I finally asked him. And how am I going to get there? “I would like to call an ambulance,” he said. Meanwhile, the nurse rushed about and poured four aspirins into a little cup. “Take those aspirins,” the doctor said, looking at me strangely. “Are you feeling any pain in your chest at all? Any tightness? Any sweating?” No, I said. I don’t feel anything other than usual. No pain, no tightness. He wouldn’t believe me, though. “I strongly recommend that you get to an emergency room, right now, the closest one,” he repeated. “Do I have your permission to call an ambulance?”

Well, what are you going to do in a moment like that? I couldn’t think straight. I sure didn’t feel like any heart attack was coming on. But those charts wouldn’t lie. And the stress of it all made my heart flutter straight up. All right, I said. Call the ambulance. Someone rushed off to do that. I sat there. “Don’t move at all,” the doctor said. “Just stay sitting right there.” You mean I can’t even walk out? I asked in disbelief. “No, they’ll bring the stretcher in for you,” he answered. The doctor left the room, then. The nurse stayed right there, looking at me intently. I’m sure she was expecting me to collapse, clutching my chest, at any second.

Within minutes, you could hear the sirens. Coming closer and closer, then turning in. You always hear those in the distance, and wonder what poor soul is going down now. This time, it was me. The door opened down the hall, and I could hear them clumping in. It was all very surreal, but I’m trying to tell it just as I remember. And then two men appeared, a lady behind them. The men dragged a gurney. They clanked it around and set it up and jacked it up and moved it over to where I sat. I couldn’t believe this. I could just as well have walked out. They finally nudged it close, and I shifted over. They took to strapping me in. Of course, my heart was going crazy like a trip hammer, by now. Fluttering way out there, into the ether.

And then we trundled out. I sat there, totally alert, and totally not having a heart attack, as we approached the ambulance. “There will be a little bump, here, now,” one of the men said. And they yanked me up. They were really good at what they do, I’ll give them that. My left arm was immediately stabbed by a large needle of some sort. The man on my left hung some sort of little bag up on a hook. And connected the hose to the needle. And that started the continuous, ominous flow of drugs that would assault my body for the next two full days. He also clipped a little metal wash pin to one of my fingers. That took my heart count, and showed it on a screen above and to the front. The man on the right talked to me. Name. Address. Age. Birth date. I spoke to him clearly. I live just down the road, here. And then I told them, told it for the first time to anyone involved in this drama. It was the first time I thought of it.

I’m not having a heart attack. My heart does this all the time. It flutters. It’s done this for years. They absolutely did not believe me. “What’s the rate now?” one of the men asked. “180 and going up,” the other said. “We need to get it settled down.” I’m telling you, it’s not a heart attack, I said again. It was no use.

It took a long time, to get ready to go. Probably at least ten minutes or more. They had to make sure I wouldn’t pass out on their watch. Stabilize me. It was just crazy. At long last they had everything secured, and the woman went up front to drive. The ambulance backed up with a lot of beeping, and shifted around. And then pulled out and headed west for Lancaster General Hospital. The two guys stayed in back with me. They stayed busy, checking things. I sure admire people like that, for all the training they have. And as we bumped along, they tried to keep me talking, to keep me there, alert. That wasn’t any problem at all.

This is my first ambulance ride, ever, I said conversationally. And then we came up to a light. Sadly, the ambulance stopped, just like a normal vehicle. What’s up with that? I asked. Can’t we have sirens, and running red lights, and all? By this time, the guys were lightening up. They’d figured out that I wouldn’t pass out on them, at least not likely. We chatted. I asked what station they were from. I’m going to write this, I told them. I really am. They were from New Holland, of course. And we stopped at another light. I complained again, about there being no sirens and running red lights. The slim guy to the right chuckled. “Look,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to be in the shape you’d have to be for us to do that.” OK, I said. I’ll buy that.

In the meantime, I was making calls. Calling the office. Calling my boss. Calling my brother, Steve. By the time I got hold of Steve, I was pretty convinced of what was going on. They’re taking me in an ambulance, I told him. My heart was fluttering, and the doctor thought it was a heart attack. It’s not. My heart has fluttered like this for years. Steve seemed pretty shocked. I mean, who wouldn’t be, to get a call like that? He said he’d come in and see me as soon as he could.

Somewhere along the way, the slim guy on my right asked what I write. Oh, I wrote a book, I told him. A New York Times bestseller. And I spoke the title. Y’all need to go buy that, I said. “I think my wife might actually have that,” he said. “I’ll check when I get home.” And then we were in Lancaster, and at the hospital that would be my world for the next two days. They pulled up. Opened the doors. Apologized for the bump of unloading. And I was trundled right in. And into a little side room. A team of people waited there.

I wasn’t allowed to get up, or anything. Oh, no. They had to shift me over to the table, like I was a helpless invalid. The doctor stepped up. Nurses swarmed around and stuck in another needle or two, and hooked them to bags hanging from hooks. What in the heck were these people shooting into me? I’m not having a heart attack, I told the doctor. My heart has fluttered like this, off and on, for years. He chuckled. “It couldn’t be beating this fast for very long without being an attack,” he said. It’s done it for years, I said. Meanwhile the nurses were prodding and poking about. “Oh, I like your shoes,” one of them said from the far end of the table. They’re Borns, I said. I walked all over Europe with them last year.

And they took my temperature, blood pressure, the whole works. After a while, an Xray guy popped in. The place was like a zoo. He took Xrays of my chest, from front and back, I think. And soon everyone drifted out. I was all alone, pretty much strapped to a table in the LGH emergency room. Probably the last place I ever could have dreamed of being when I got up that morning. It was just surreal. All of it was. But still, I wasn’t sure. Maybe I was having a real heart attack. I couldn’t see it, though, the more time that passed.

About an hour later, a very distinguished man in suit and tie stepped in, followed by two interns. A real heart doctor. I forget his name. He had reviewed the Xrays. He shook my hand. And he told me what I already knew. “You’re not having a heart attack,” he said. “You have a very strong heart.” And then he pointed out the little details to his interns. This and this and that. You’ll notice such and such. I lay there quietly, like a piece of meat.

Meanwhile, Steve called. I had my cell phone on me. He had my IPad and he was coming in. Where was I? Still in the emergency room, I told him. I’m still sitting here, waiting on a room. If they move me before you come, I’ll call you. About an hour or so later, he showed up. I was still there, on that table. He gave me a hug, and sat down and we just talked. What in the world do you say to your brother, when you’re lying in the emergency room of a hospital like that? Hooked to all kinds of hoses with drugs shooting into you. And right while we were chatting, the orderlies came. A room had finally opened up.

And right here, I’ll say this. The people at LGH are fine, fine people. Courteous. Professional. Friendly. And totally competent. If you ever need your heart worked on, go there. I’ll vouch for them, all the way. I was trundled down the halls and here and there. In and out of elevators. I just laid back and half closed my eyes. By now, the shame of it all was diminishing. I was here. Didn’t want to be here. But I was. This was happening. Might as well try to drink it all in.

And I was settled into a private room at the 1200 level. Steve tagged along, with a little bag holding my IPad and keys. And a few other things. And soon enough, Ben, the nurse, came in to check me in. They were a little befuddled. I had no medical records, anywhere. No family doctor. No nothing. I do have a doctor that has my records. Problem was, I hadn’t been to see him for, oh, at least six, maybe seven years. So my mind just blanked on that. I don’t go to doctors, unless I need to, I told Ben. I try to stay as far away from them as I can. “That’s fine,” he replied. “But we’ll have to go through a few questions, here, to get some information on you.” Ah, good grief. Will it stay private? I asked. “Of course,” Ben said. But those records could still be hacked, I said. But he was patient. And quite humorous and good-natured. And we went right down through the list. It took a few minutes.

Steve decided to leave, soon. We shook hands, and he walked out. The next day, he and Wilma were planning on flying out to Kansas for a wedding. My sister Rachel’s daughter Ida Rose was marrying Jacob Nisly. I had planned to go, but decided not to. Good thing I didn’t, I guess. That would have been a wasted ticket. I told Steve to pass on my greetings to everyone and to congratulate the bride and groom for me. He said he would.

And I settled in for my first night at any hospital. I’ve never ever been admitted before. It’s a brutal place, like a prison. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s for your own good, at least if you really need to be there. But that doesn’t make it any less a prison. They brought me a tray of food. It was OK, but bland. Of course, I was hooked up to at least two bags of drugs with two different needles stuck into my right arm. That’s how you’re trapped, in a hospital. With those freakin’ intravenous feeding tubes of whatever it is they’re pumping into you. And don’t even pretend you know what all that is.

I settled in, with my IPad. A friend stopped by, for an hour or so. Attendants kept popping in and doing all kinds of things to me. Before anyone did anything, they’d always ask. “What’s your birthdate?” I always told them. And they took my blood pressure and temperature. Stuck the little metal wash pin on a finger, to take my heart rate. And a nice lady stopped by, strapped a long rubber band on my left arm, and stabbed me with a needle. They needed to test my blood. It just went on and on, stuff like this.

My friend left around nine, then. And I was alone. I leaned back on the bed (hospital beds are really cool, that’s one thing I can say. You can contort them to almost any configuration.) and tried to take stock of what the heck had happened and why I was where I was. I could hardly think straight, probably because of all the drugs they were shooting into me. That, and just flat out exhaustion.

Ben the nurse had told me. Tomorrow morning they’d come around. In a hospital, there are two kinds of healers for the heart. The plumbers and the electricians. Plumbers open up your veins. Electricians look to the wiring. Tomorrow they would both come, I was told. And they would consult with me, about what was going on inside me. And decide the best course of action to take. My problem was obviously electrical. I’m sure the plumbers figured I had plenty of problems for them, too.

I dozed off, now and then, as the night came and passed. It’s impossible to sleep in a hospital. Flat out impossible. If the monitor in my room wasn’t beeping wildly, there was another one beeping somewhere real close. And just when you’re finally dozing off, the door opens and someone comes in and does the whole blood pressure/heart rate/temperature thing again.

It wasn’t even fitful sleep. It was just intermittent dozing. The next morning, there was no food. And there had been no water, either, since midnight. Today they planned to probe up a vein in my groin to fix the problem in my heart. I couldn’t have anything in me. The whole morning is just a groggy memory. The electrical people showed up. A doctor and his assistant. Both totally professional and polite. The doctor chuckled a bit. “So you went to check out your red eye, and landed up in the emergency room. Heh, heh.” Yeah, I said ruefully. That’s exactly what happened. I kept trying to tell them. No one would believe me.

And he told me. I had what was called “atrial flutter.” Where the top part of the heart just ran wild, on its own. The bottom couldn’t keep up, which made a real good scenario for a blood clot stroke. And no, my blood-red left eye had nothing to do with any of that. They told me what they wanted to do. And they really felt there would be no problem, fixing my heart. It was a pretty simple procedure, I was assured. They would go up a vein in my groin, and do an ablation, whatever that is. Tweak what needed tweaking. And it would happen that afternoon. Maybe I’d be able to get out that evening. Strangely, no plumbers ever arrived. I guess they found very little to no plaque in my veins. So there was no need for them.

They needed some more inside data, so I was trundled off again, soon. An echo-gram, I think they call it. The guy bastes you with some sort of schmutz, and takes all kinds of detailed pics. All throughout, I hated to think of what all this was costing anyone. Sure, I have insurance. With a pretty high deductible, I forget how high. I’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. Anyway, this new scan was downstairs, close to the operating room. So after it was done, they rolled me over to the holding area. It was probably eleven o’clock. And the operation would come at two. So there were three hours to kill. And there I lay, on a stretcher table. Hooked to a monitor that kept beeping loud warnings, because my heart kept jumping way up beyond safe measures. I couldn’t eat anything. And I couldn’t even have a drop of water for my parched throat. There was no way to sleep. There was no way to do anything but just lay there.

I stirred, finally. Rang the bell. The nurse arrived promptly. I’m thinking I should make some phone calls before heading into surgery, I told her. Is there any way that someone could fetch my IPhone from my room? She never hesitated. “Of course,” she said. “I’ll go get it myself.” I hate to make you do that, I said. Can’t you just call up there and have someone bring it down? “No, it’s no problem,” she said. And off she went.

Meanwhile, the anaesthetist arrived, a nice friendly man. Everyone was nice and friendly. He needed information. Everyone needed information. He had a clipboard, and he told me of all the possible risks involved. It’s not near as dangerous as it used to be, to go under like that. But still. You never know. Once in a while, someone doesn’t come back. He was quite jocular and witty. And totally professional. All LGH people are, from what I can tell. He had me read through a form then, and sign off. I did so wearily.

The nurse returned soon, with my phone. Before I could call anyone, the phone rang. It was Titus. He’d heard. I told him what was going on, and we talked for a few minutes. We hung up. And Steve called, too, right then, to touch base. Then Marvin Yutzy called, from Kansas. And we talked. I told him what was coming, and he said his Dad had had the same thing done to him. The people were gathering at his place tonight, he said. The guests for the wedding tomorrow. He wished me well, said they’d be praying for me, and we hung up.

And it felt good, that they called. I hadn’t thought about it much. I don’t like to bother people, when I’m in a place like that. Never have. I never even bothered to call my pastor, Mark Potter. Not that I wouldn’t have. I just didn’t think of it. It’s always a serious thing, when your heart gets operated on, when any outside foreign object touches it. You never know what could go wrong. And I thought of it, of course, that I might not return. But the odds were pretty slim, and it didn’t bother me all that much. I’ve always been alone, all my life, in such situations. I don’t know any other way. And here I was, alone again, going into surgery. They had asked me. “Will anyone be coming to be with you?” And I told them. No.

Sure, there was a sliver of fear down there, way down deep. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t. I very much wanted to live. Still, if something happened, I was pretty calm, thinking about it. I knew who I was, and I knew I was my Father’s son. Nothing would ever take that bond away. Nothing. That comes out of my own experiences. And it comes right out of Pastor Mark Potter’s preaching. And it was a beautiful thing, in that moment, to hold on to. A strong and beautiful thing. Even so, I was just too exhausted to think about it much.

And just before two, just like she’d promised, the operating room nurse came to fetch me. She was all cheerful. As she pushed me out, she proclaimed, “I hear you’re a famous author.” Who told you that? I asked. I sure never told anyone in this place. It was another nurse, who happened to attend the same church as my brother, Steve. Somehow, that nurse had seen my name and told this nurse. Well, yeah, I wrote a bestseller, I said. But it was a miracle, the way it happened.

It wasn’t far, to the operating room. A big old cold place. A large team of people awaited me. They were all smiling and cheerful. They slid me over onto the table, and took to placing all kinds of pillows and cushions everywhere, to position my body the way they wanted it. “We hear you’re a famous author,” they said, smiling. “You wrote a bestseller.” Yeah, I grunted. I did. “He said it was a miracle,” the nurse told them. And then the anaesthetist’s assistant stepped up. Swabbed a spot on my right leg. Earlier, back in the holding area, the main man had told me I’d feel a slight sting. The assistant scrubbed around a bit, then she dropped something on the floor. They had to go over to their supplies and get the replacement of what she’d dropped. I lay there, just trying to be aware of everything. Then I saw her, holding the hose. And then I felt a slight sting on my leg. It happened just like I’d been told. My last memory was of her standing there, holding something to my leg. And feeling that little sting. There was no fading out. It just went dark. Instantly. There is no other way to describe that.

I woke up, I don’t know how long later, in the recovery room. I wasn’t startled, or anything, about where I was. All kinds of patches were taped to my chest, hooked by wires to a small pocket monitor beside me on the bed. They noticed soon enough that I was back, and came to return me to my room. As we trundled along, I reached over and felt my right pulse. For the first time in years, my heart was beating in steady, evenly-spaced thumps. They had done it. The electricians had done it.

Back in my room, they brought me food. And water. I drank and drank glass after glass. I was on strict bed rest for four hours, until 8:30. What if I need to use the bathroom? I asked the nurse. “We’ll bring you a bed pan,” she said. Then I’ll wait, I said. A friend stopped by for a while that evening. And right about then, I got a text from my tenant. He wondered if I was OK. He hadn’t seen me around, and the truck hadn’t moved in a few days. Drat, I thought. I forgot to let him know. So I called him right away.

I told him where I was and what had happened. He was all sympathetic. “Hate to tell you this, but you got problems with your water system again,” he said. “It’s all muddy, coming out from anywhere. I think your softener system is shot. I can’t tell for sure, because I can’t get into the basement. You better call your plumber buddy back.” I groaned. Then I said I would, thanked him, and hung up.

Come on, Lord, can’t you give me a break, here? I thought. What is this, my freakin’ “Job” moment? Haven’t I been through enough of those in my life already? Or is it just me, banging my head against the walls? But come on. I mean, I’m about shot here, in the hospital. I’ve had some real rough days, lately. I’m laid out here, flat on my back, all strung out and helpless on a hospital bed, with a heart that needed some tweaking, to get to working right. And now, right this moment, my water system goes bad? What’s next? Is my truck gonna collapse for no reason, too? Can’t you just see fit to not pour it on so strong? And no, I didn’t feel one bit guilty, either, talking to God like that. I mean, if you can’t be honest with Him, if you can’t tell Him when you’re all pissed off and hurting and scared, what kind of relationship is that?

And right there, from my hospital bed, I called my buddy, the plumber, Dwylin Flaud. Left a voicemail. He texted back that he was at his daughter’s softball game, and that he’d call me as soon as he could. An hour or so later, he did. And I told him where I was and what had happened with my heart. I know you’re totally busy tomorrow, but is there any way you could go out and at least patch things up so they work for now? I asked. He was all sympathetic that I was in the hospital like that. “Yeah, I’d promised someone else I’d stop by, but this is more important,” he said. “I’ll try to push that one back and stop by. I’ll get the tenant to help me.” I told him where the key was to get in, thanked him profusely and hung up. And the next day he did what he’d promised. Went out and bypassed the softener system. He called me when he was done. He’d had to go through the whole house and drain all the pipes from the dirty softener sediment. And he would stop by within a week or so, and replace the whole thing. I sagged with relief. Thank you so much, thank you, I said. Just send me the bill. And I thought to myself, as we hung up. He’s a good man. It pays to have good connections.

The second night was a little less stressful than the first. I was hooked up to only one bag of drugs, and I could move about the room pretty freely. Still, it was hard to get to sleep, because something was always beeping somewhere. Plus, I’d had a good two-plus hour nap that day, when they put me under. So I took my IPad and started writing this blog. And people popped in at all odd hours to poke and prod and take my blood pressure and draw more blood and such. Dawn finally arrived. Today I would get back home, one way or the other. If they wouldn’t release me, I would walk out. I was pretty determined about that.

My friend Gloria came by around 9:00. She would take me home. And I told her I wanted her to be there, when they explained the drugs they were giving me. Especially Coumadin. The blood thinner they claimed I needed. I understand little about such stuff, except I don’t like the sound of it. I was too groggy to grasp instructions. (All I know is I can’t take my Superfood. I’ve taken that stuff twice a day for ten years, and now I can’t, because it counteracts the Coumadin. And now my body’s screaming for it. It makes me crazy.) And soon enough, my buddy Ben the nurse popped in. The guy who had checked me in would check me out. I grumbled pretty savagely at him. This place is a freakin’ prison. He took it all good-naturedly enough. The doctor stopped by, and went over things with me.

At around ten, Ben released me from all intravenous tubes. I was free to get up and walk around. Can I go for a walk around the halls? I asked him. “Yes, I want you to,” he said. So I went, and just walked. And walked and walked. I never ever figured it could feel so free, to just walk around a hospital. Of course, I promptly got lost. After much meandering, I stopped at some station. I’m lost, I said. I don’t even remember my room number for sure, except it’s in the low 1200s. The ladies laughed and laughed, and made a few phone calls. One of them led me back to the general vicinity of my room, and pointed me the right way.

Around 11:30, Ben unhooked all the heart monitor valves from my chest, and tore off all the little tapes they connect to. I was free to change back to my real clothes. I wasted no time, doing that. And right at 12, Gloria and I walked from the hospital into a beautiful sunny day. I kept exclaiming as we drove along Rt. 23 toward home. It’s all so simple and all so beautiful. And then we pulled into my drive. I walked into my home. I have never been happier to walk through those doors. If they ever drag me back to any hospital again, I think I’ll have to be unconscious.

Maybe things happen for a reason. Maybe they don’t. From here, I think of a few things. My cousin, Elmo Stoll, a prolific Amish/Seeker writer and leader, passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack at age fifty-four. Just a couple of years older than me. Maybe I was living on borrowed time, with my flutter heart. Who knows? Maybe I needed all that drama to nudge me down the right path, to get my heart taken care of. At this point, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good, fretting about any of it. It all happened as it did. But still, I wonder.

What are the chances that it all was supposed to happen this way? That I would bust my eye, for whatever reason. And when I went to check it out, my flutter heart randomly shot up and way out of control. Thus the frantic call to the ambulance, the brutal two-day stay at LGH, and the people there who fixed my heart. There are a whole lot of other ways of looking at it all, sure. But that’s one way. Of course, my heart could give out tomorrow. There is no promise of any future on this earth. I have a better grasp of that than I’ve ever had before, believe me.

I’m in a new place, now. And not because I want to be. Seems like I always have to be dragged kicking and screaming through the next door. It’s a strange place I’ve never seen before, a world of little pink and blue and white pills. And yeah, it’s a little scary. More than a little. I’m just kind of moving around real slow, feeling my way through the fog, trying to get my bearings, trying to clear my head, to figure out where I am, who to believe, and what’s going on. Right now, I trust nothing that anyone tells me without first sifting it through some serious filters of my own.

But I’ll keep walking. I always have. All in all, I’m just grateful that my flutter heart held out for as long as it did on its own. And I am grateful for all of life. For the beauty and the madness and the pain of it. But especially for the beauty.

And today, I am grateful for my new heart.

March 7, 2014

The Clans of Old Bloomfield…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:37 pm


Now this was lost, a fume of smoke, the moment’s image of a fading
memory, and he could not say it, speak it, find a word for it – but he
could see that boy of his lost youth…He seemed to be a witness of the
secret weavings of dark chance that threads our million lives into
strange purposes we do not know.

—Thomas Wolfe

They saw it coming and had time to get ready for it, the family. He hadn’t been doing all that well lately. And then, a few weeks ago, the stroke hit, a hard one. And that’s what did him in. And the other Saturday afternoon, as I was meandering out there on the road, my brother Steve called me. And he told me that the man had died. “He passed on a few hours ago,” Steve said. And we talked a bit. About David G. Yutzy, one of the founding patriarchs of the Amish settlement in Bloomfield, Iowa. Steve’s father-in-law, Wilma’s Dad. And this week, a lot of memories stirred in me. Not only of “Dafe Yutzy,” as he was called in Amish-speak. But of all that was the world of Bloomfield as I knew it. Or Old Bloomfield, I guess you could call it now, since it was so long ago, and it’s no longer the same place it was back then.

I’ve mentioned it before, in one line in the book, I think. Bloomfield was founded in the early 1970s by Gideon Yutzy and his sons. David, Henry, and Norman. I’m not sure of their ages, who was oldest. It doesn’t matter. And their younger brother, Eli, eventually moved in, too, with the young English woman he had married. She became Amish for him. But I think it was just Gideon and the three older sons for the first while. And I’ve thought about it some, since. What kind of nerve or guts, or was it foolishness, they had, to just go off on their own like that, and settle in a new place. Or maybe it was just plain old faith. I don’t think any three of my brothers would ever have done that with my father, go off into a strange new land to settle, with no other Amish people around. I know I sure wouldn’t have. So it must have been some kind of special bond they had there, the father and his sons. That’s all I can figure out.

And just that close, it didn’t work. I’m writing from memory, here, so not all the details may be exactly accurate. But this is how I remember it being told. They lived there for a year or more, all hopeful that other families would move in. And none did. So they got a little discouraged, and got to talking. Maybe it was a mistake, this Bloomfield thing. Henry decided to pack up and move on over to Milton. He’d had enough. He wanted to live in a real settlement. And Milton was just south of there, all inviting. So he moved over. And the remaining few families huddled for a few more years. And they talked some more. They didn’t want to move to Milton. Maybe they should just give it up and go look at other more suitable settlements to move to. Settlements that were more established, and somewhere along their lines of thinking.

And Dave actually went to Milroy, Indiana, and bought a farm. That’s what they tell me today. But there’s a legend out there, too, that I somehow recall from way back. I don’t know if it’s true in every detail, but I know I heard it told. The men of Bloomfield headed to town, one day, to board the bus. Maybe they were heading to Milroy. I don’t know. But from the stories I heard, it was a close thing. They planned to board a bus to somewhere. And from that bus they planned to board, a young Amish man with a long red beard stepped off. He greeted them. He had come to check out what they believed, and how things were, here in this little fledging place. It was Dewey Gingerich from the now-extinct settlement of Fortuna, Missouri. He originally hailed from Kokomo, Indiana, where his father, Bishop George, still lived. They were having issues in Fortuna, I guess, right about then. Little Amish communities like that tend to explode sometimes from personality clashes. And Dewey decided to head on up north and check out Bloomfield. The Yutzy men welcomed him enthusiastically, and abruptly canceled their own trip to wherever they were going. They took Dewey out to their homes. Showed him around. The land was fertile, and, better yet, cheap. You could buy a pretty good-sized farm for a little bit of next to nothing, compared to a lot of other places.

And Dewey was impressed. At least with the land. Maybe not with the church rules, so much, but those could always be tweaked, he figured. And he went back home to Fortuna, all excited, and told of what he had seen. And eventually a lot of the Fortuna families moved up to Bloomfield. Dewey told his father, too, there in Kokomo. I suppose Bishop George made a foray soon after that, to see for himself. They both bought farms not far from where the Yutzys had settled. And so Bloomfield was saved from extinction. They had a Bishop, now. That’s a huge thing, for any new settlement. It signals stability and structure. And soon other families from other places started trickling in.

And by the time Dad and Mom took the bus to check out the place in the spring of 1976, Bloomfield was getting established. Dave Yutzy was The Budget scribe for the community. And he duly recorded that David and Ida Mae Wagler were there, visiting over a Sunday. And all those little intricate details count, looking back. Amish people from all over read The Budget. And a little later that summer, Dave triumphantly wrote that David Wagler had bought a farm there. Out just north of West Grove. He and his family were moving to Bloomfield. It was pretty big news, to be proclaiming from any Amish settlement. Especially from a young upstart settlement like that.

And in August of that year, I got to go along with Dad and Naomi and Titus, to help build our new dairy barn on the farm. Joseph went along, too. I’m not sure who all else went. It was so long ago. Charlie Newland took us in his capped pickup truck. Of course, Carl Sansburn had to get in on the action, too. We arrived at the farm, and it was all that Dad had claimed it would be. Big hills to the north. The little farm buildings nestled in, below. And the river bottoms to the south, bordered by the Fox River. Maybe I’d canoe that river, some day, I thought. (I never did get that done.) They had built the foundation for the barn, and were waiting for us. The Yutzy brothers, Dave and Norman, and their sons. Looking back, the Yutzys were good at three things, as I recall. They farmed. They worked at construction. And they liked to hang out at sale barns. That’s just who they were. And they had a lot of fun doing all of that. And they welcomed us quite raucously into their world.

I connected immediately with the Yutzy cousins, Marvin and Rudy, that summer as we built the barn. They were bright and intelligent, and said things that made me laugh. We got along real well. The barn sprouted, day after day, as we hammered hard at the wet rough lumber Dad had bought from Jake Beachy, who had a sawmill. It was tough slogging, but we stayed at it. There were frolics, too, that week. The men from the few families settled there came and helped us build, all for free. And there was another connection going on, in another dimension. My sister Naomi met Alvin Yutzy that week. Naomi cooked our noon meals. That’s why she came along. Not long after we moved to Bloomfield, Alvin asked to bring her home one Sunday night.

And we built that barn that week, the Waglers and the Yutzys and all the frolicers that came to help. I was excited and nervous. This place would be my new home. Still, I felt deep sadness. Aylmer was the only home I’d known. I remember how my little sister Rhoda asked Dad, as the day approached that we would leave. “If we don’t like it, can we move back here, to our home?” Dad chuckled. And he assured her, in some way. I don’t remember what he said. But there he was, and there was his little daughter, asking. He calmed Rhoda’s heart, even though he knew we would never return to Aylmer. That’s a pretty special memory.

And then we moved to Bloomfield, in October of that year. It was a new world. I reconnected with Marvin and Rudy. It was a strange time, leaving behind the only world I had known. And I got to know my new friends and their families. Another thing I remember about the Yutzys. They could sing. And they sang a lot, at the singings. In harmony. That was a sin, in Aylmer. I can still hear Alvin’s high clear tenor. And his brother Lester’s deep bass. It was just chillingly beautiful to us Aylmer folks. We joined the singing, of course, with our cracked and untrained voices.

And it seemed like if there were ever two families that were destined to mix and mingle their blood, it was the Waglers and the Yutzys, in that Bloomfield world of long ago. Alvin took the first shot at it. He courted Naomi. Brought her home, after the singings. And eventually, he asked for her hand. She said yes. And they were married. Then Lester courted my sister Rachel. And Steve asked Wilma if he could escort her home. And Titus courted Ruth, the daughter of Dave’s brother, Norman. And right along, then, as the years passed, Ruth’s brother and my best friend, Marvin, brought Rhoda home. And, in time, all of them got married. All of them. That’s pretty rare, I think, that so many siblings get married to so many partners that shared the same blood like that. And there was an empire, of sorts, sprouting to life in Old Bloomfield.

This has nothing to do with the story line, but I’ll just say it here. It’s kind of ironic, I think. I married into the Yutzys, too. Ellen’s father, Adin, is a brother to Dave and Norman and the others. He had left the Amish, though, and joined the Plain Mennonites before Ellen was born. Or maybe shortly after. I can’t keep track of small details like that. They’re not that important in a story. Anyway, we were one more Wagler/Yutzy couple. Or Yutzy/Wagler, take your pick. From all the courtships that happened between those two families, ours was the only one outside the Amish world. And we all know how that went. Our marriage was the only one that failed. You think about that, and it’s a little strange. But not really. The stress of our journeys, the stress of breaking free, had a little bit to do with it, I think. Who knows?

Moving on, then. There was a short golden age, there in Bloomfield. When all was going as it should have, when it came to what an extended Amish family is. And what it is to set down roots. But it could not last, that golden age, and it didn’t. Nathan was the first one to walk away from that world for good. I soon followed him. No sense going into detail how that all came down, it’s written in the book. And after fleeing, we sorted out our lives, licked our wounds. Picked ourselves up, and kept walking. And we were the only two from either of those clans that fled Bloomfield, at least for a few years.

We went back to see the family every year at Christmas. And it went pretty well, usually. Our siblings and in-laws treated us cordially enough. Once in a while someone felt led to give us a little talking to. It got agitated a time or two. And Dad always delivered his obligatory lecture at some point during morning devotions. We just shrugged it off, such fussing. And we went on about our lives.

There were fault lines, though, in the foundations of the budding empire. There in the Wagler and Yutzy clans. And soon enough, those fault lines shivered and gaped open. There was no one particular reason for them, I suppose. It was a mixture of things. One of the main reasons was that the leadership in Bloomfield took a hard core, conservative turn. Bishop George was greatly influenced by Dewey and Jerry, two of his more radical sons who also happened to be preachers. My brother Joseph walked among them, too, the preachers of Bloomfield at that time. But he never had much of a voice, other than being the most popular preacher around. The Gingerich men looked at him with grave suspicion. He was a Wagler. He had wild brothers. And later, he had wild sons.

They had a lot of power, that combo of Bishop George and his two preacher sons. I’ll give some credit to Bishop George. He said it as he saw it, in his high squeaky voice. And his sermons were always interesting, even if you didn’t agree. But his sons, well, let’s just say they weren’t public speakers. It all went to their heads a bit, the power they had. And they took to acting a little funny. They wanted to be more plain. And that just never works, in any Amish community. Never has, never will. I don’t know why that’s so hard for some people to grasp. If you start forbidding things that always were allowed, all of a sudden, it creates a lot of turmoil and unrest. And there was no way to stand against that power structure. If you spoke up in protest, you were marked. So you had a choice. You could stay quiet and go along with all the silliness. Or you could move out.

Some of that stuff went on, way back when I lived around there. But after I left, it got a lot worse. The farmers stirred and asked to use mechanical milkers to milk their cows. It was tough to make it, milking by hand. Oh, no, the Gingerich clan decreed. That would be a sin. That’s not who we are, here in Bloomfield. And the carpenters, too, looked on helplessly as more and more restrictions came at them. All power tools were abruptly forbidden. And the preachers grumbled that the builders were on the roads in pickup trucks every day, too. It all just got a little dark. I’m sure there were a host of other grievances that I never heard of, too. I wasn’t really all that tuned in to Bloomfield, anymore. Didn’t really want to hear much of all the problems going on.

The Yutzy men were particularly irritated at Bishop George and his sons. The rules in Bloomfield had been pretty firmly established, they felt, when they settled there. The way they had agreed among themselves how things would be. And now here came the Gingerich clan, and just arbitrarily changed things, decreed all kinds of onerous new laws. It didn’t go down well at all. And the children were stirring, those in the Wagler and Yutzy clans. And others. At some point soon, it was inevitable. There would be an exodus.

Dave Yutzy saw what the future held, I think. And to his credit, he made some tough decisions. In 1993, he and his wife Ella (or Ellie, as she was called) packed up and moved to Rexford, Montana, with a few of their younger children. It was a pretty big deal. I remember hearing the news, and wondering what in the world was going on. How could it be? One of the original founders of Bloomfield was packing up and moving out. Something must not be quite right.

And I’m not sure which of my married siblings broke first, but in time they all moved out of Bloomfield. Except Titus and Ruth. They’re the only ones who remain in Bloomfield today, of all my family. The others all trickled out, mostly over a period of a decade or so. And they all eventually left the Amish, too, except Joseph. But he didn’t move out until much later, over to May’s Lick, Kentucky. The others left for Plain churches. Like Beachy Amish, or even plainer. But where they could drive cars. Two of the once-powerful clans of Old Bloomfield now were no more. Dad did what he could, to persuade and convince his sons and daughters to stay and be content in Bloomfield. It was no use. I’ve always felt bad for Mom, that she had to endure one more burden, to see her children moving away from her like that. But, as it was with my own journey, all of us have to make our own choices. And all have to do the best they know, with what they have.

I’ve been a bit critical of Bloomfield, now and then, over the years. But they had one rule that was highly enlightened. Gideon Yutzy and his sons had insisted on this rule, when they settled there. And Bishop George must not have had much of a problem with it, because he and his sons never got it changed. And that rule was this. If you left Bloomfield and joined a “car church,” you would not be excommunicated. Not as long as it was a “Plain” church and not as long as you moved out of there and didn’t cause anyone any trouble. There aren’t a whole lot of Amish settlements where such a thing is true. Well, maybe there are more now than there used to be. The old Blue Bloods here in Lancaster County sure could learn a thing or two from their uncouth western cousins.

But Bloomfield has another strict rule, too, a rule that remains locked in today. An unbelievably harsh rule. And one that is pretty common in the Amish world. If a son or daughter leaves the Amish and joins a Plain “car church,” or just goes out and doesn’t attend any church at all, that child is pretty much cut off from any family ties in Bloomfield. Sure, he can go home to visit, like Nathan and I used to. But he can never be invited home. And the Bloomfield Amish can never go visit, can never go to the non-Amish weddings of their siblings or their offspring. I think they’re allowed to attend the funerals of such people, but what good does that do? By then it’s way too late. It’s all so brutal. It’s especially hard on a lot of mothers. It has to be, it can’t be any other way.

It’s just flat-out unnatural, to cut off a child for such a reason. And you can’t tell me any different. I remember a while back, I was talking to a good friend about it. He broke free from the Plain Mennonites, years ago. That’s a much harder place than where I come from. And I asked him. How can they do it? What possible motivation could there be, to treat any child like that? And my friend looked at me and told me. “It’s because they think they’re like Abraham in the Bible,” he said. “Where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son on the stone altar, because God demanded it.” It made a lot of sense to me, what he said, and I told him so. I’d never thought of it that way. Yes. They think they’re like Abraham in the Bible. Sacrificing their children because God demands such sacrifice, and such obedience.

I didn’t think to say it right then, but just thought about it later. Yeah. They’re sacrificing their children on an altar, all right. Just like Abraham was willing to. Problem is, their sacrifice is not to the God of the Bible. He demands no such sacrifice today. It’s the altar of sacrifice to false idols, what they’re doing. And they’re willing to give up their children to that. Willing to sacrifice them to idols. It’s not right, any of it. But this is just my perspective, here, how I see it. The Amish, anywhere, are free to believe what they want to believe. And free to act on those beliefs. I will always defend their rights, I will always defend the right of my people to live as they see fit. But still. I’m just saying.

And Dave and Ellie Yutzy moved out of that Bloomfield world. Moved on out to Rexford, Montana. And from all I ever heard, which wasn’t that much, they really liked it out there. But after a decade or so, Rexford was having problems of some sort. I don’t know the details about another little Amish church blowing up, and don’t care to. But in 2005, they moved over to a new little settlement that was starting up, in St. Ignatius. Still in Montana. A New Order Amish place. And there they lived, until their passing.

And from there, they traveled out and visited their children, both Amish and non-Amish. The way it should have been. The way it could never have been, had they remained in Bloomfield. They were welcomed into the homes of their children, and honored as parents should be. They came through Lancaster County a few times, and stopped at Steve and Wilma’s home. The last time was a few years back, for my nephew Ira Lee’s wedding. I visited with them both, and there was no hint of judgment in their faces. Dave smiled and talked, and we sat around in a group and retold old stories. And laughed uproariously at the old jokes. Someone related The Pancake Story that afternoon. Even though everyone knew the punch line, it brought down the house. And late that night, a bunch of us sat around in Steve’s kitchen and sang the old songs of Old Bloomfield. It took me back to the singings of long ago, that night. Hearing those old familiar voices, cracked and faltering now, some of them. But still singing those old songs.

And you look back at what Old Bloomfield was, back in the day. A place my father chose, quite randomly, it seemed, as a suitable settlement to move to with his family. In hopes of a better Amish world. And you look at the extended families, the clans, as they interacted and moved forward into life. It was what it was, the drama of it all. Bishop George is gone, now. He passed on, a few years back. His sons remain. Three of them are preachers, including Mervin, my old buddy from the original gang of six. But Bloomfield today is no longer what it once was. It has exploded in size, and today it is the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi. Eight districts, going on nine. No one man, and no three brothers, can dictate, anymore, as to how things will be or won’t. And that’s a real good thing, right there.

Dave and Ellie Yutzy enjoyed their children in their old age, and their children enjoyed them. As is the natural course of things. Ellie took sick, back in the fall of 2011. I don’t remember what it was, some blood disease, I think. She sank fast, and died a few weeks later. Her shocked and grieving family assembled in St. Ignatius to bury her. All of the extended family attended. Every single one of her children and grandchildren went to mourn her passing. And to honor her.

And Dave never seemed to really get over it. He grieved the loss of his lifelong companion. Mourned her deeply. Longed to go be with her. He had health issues, anyway. Two open heart surgeries, somewhere along the way. And his body just gave out. He wintered in Phoenix, Arizona, like always, this year. And his children took turns, going out to be with him.

And a few weeks back, he suffered a severe stroke, there in Phoenix. A few days later, he passed away in a hospice, surrounded by some of his children and grandchildren. What better way is there to pass on than that? Released now, to go join his beloved Ellie. They buried him beside his wife in the little graveyard in St. Ignatius. And there the two of them now rest together.

The Wagler and Yutzy clans of Old Bloomfield are scattered to the winds these days. And it’s just as well, I think. It’s not good, to have so many restless souls concentrated in one place. Too many strong personalities. There would be clashes, as there sometimes were back then. There would be all kinds of conflicts, all kinds of power struggles, had we all stayed there in Bloomfield. It would never have worked out. It’s just as well that the Old Guard could not hold.

We were what we were, back when the clans called it home, Old Bloomfield. And it’s kind of strange, how I feel, looking back from here. Because I am grateful for all it was, the world I came from. Grateful for the good things, and the hard parts, too. Like all of life, there was a mixture of both, and it couldn’t have been any other way. I am proud of where I come from, and I am very proud of my heritage.

And today, I’m just grateful to be right where I am.