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If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I wrote this post on 1/14/2010 for my old site, following a trip home for my sister-in-law’s funeral. I’m going to transfer the domain ‘’ to the Relativity wife for her own site (under developement).

I’m not sure if it was the bison beef sticks or the fact that it was the tail end of a crazy five days culminating in a twelve hour drive across the midwest stopping only to pee and buy more diet coke (and not the caffeine free kind, because that kind of defeats the purpose). Perhaps it was the stress of a funeral, too little sleep, and boat loads of unhealthy food: whatever the cause, it came to pass that when my head hit the pillow at 11 pm Tuesday night, my chest grew strangely light. My heart felt like a butterfly trapped in a cage, and it wanted out; its soft wings battering the inside of my ribs, bouncing off my sternum, and flying crazy loopy-loops from one side to the other.

I recognized atrial fibrillation for what it was, irregularly irregular, and indeed it was. I laid on my right side, hooked up to my CPAP machine like a corpse on life support, counted my pulse and did the math. Around 25 beats in 15 seconds added up to about a hundred beats a minute—hmmm—could be worse. I held my breath strained, coughed, and rubbed my neck (carotid body). Nothing changed, still had the butterfly. I was freezing. I thought that maybe if I exercised I’d snap out of it, but I was bone tired, so I took a hot shower, except it wasn’t as hot as I would have liked because of some stupid safety feature I tried to undo a few months ago, but couldn’t. After a long very warm (but not hot) shower, I was still freezing, so I climbed into some flannel pajamas that must’ve had an R value of about 40. Finally, I was warm, but I still had the butterfly.

I laid on my back and did some more math. I figured if I went to the ER, I’d be admitted and monitored because it was so damn late. Morning-time would come and I’d convert medically, or electrically, and no matter what, I’d miss the talk I was supposed to give Wed. morning at 9:45 am. Well, I really didn’t want to do that, and, well, I’ve been in A-fib before, and lots of people live with A-fib (like Bill Bradley); but, true, many of them were on coumadin, which I of course was not; but, then lots of times patients come off of their coumadin for a few days before a surgical procedure; so, it’s not like I absolutely had to go in.

Besides, did I say I was bone-tired? And if I was bone-tired, Sue was even more bone-tired (boner-tired?). She didn’t even stir with all my grunting, coughing, neck rubbing, and rolling around in general, feeling sorry for myself. I wasn’t sure if having my heart history was comforting or not. It’s not like I had a heart monitor at home. I mean, it felt like atrial fibrillation; but what if it was V-tach with some PVC’s messing up the regularity? What if it was only irregular and not irregularly irregular?

I laid on my back, done with all the math, not sure if the butterfly would let me sleep. It was 12:04 am. My CPAP was strangely comforting, and unlike years before, when I wondered how I could ever sleep with it, I now wonder how I could ever sleep without it. As I lay there, the possibility of not waking up did occur to me, and for some reason, I did not find that thought particularly frightening. I imagined myself in a casket, wearing my dark navy suit with a white shirt and blue-striped tie; skin smooth and unblemished, hands folded, left third finger graced with the second of my three wedding rings. I suppose my thoughts were secondary to the visitation and funeral we had just attended over the four preceding days. It didn’t seem so bad—to be on the other side, I mean. So, I lay there, my butterfly fluttering quietly, and I prayed, If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

When I next opened my eyes, the clock read 6:22 am, and my butterfly whispered from inside my chest, Good morning sunshine.

Hungry in Hawi II

My June contribution to the NWTC “What’s Cooking?” Newsletter. There. All caught up with my site migration. If not perfect, it is, at least, serviceable. I will be adding further video content in the weeks ahead. Anyway…the newsletter.

If you have not read part I, it is the immediately previous post.

Hungry in Hawi II

So I’m sitting on the covered-porch of the Zest restaurant in Hawi staring through the water in my glass to the street beyond. I feel trapped in an optical illusion with a wildly canted water level seemingly out of proportion to the table it was sitting on and I wonder if the inside of the restaurant is like one of those houses at the carnival where you can walk up walls. Cutting the first of my four ravioli into tiny pieces only made Jim, my brother-in-law, laugh harder, so I ate the last three whole, which didn’t take very long since I didn’t have to open my mouth any wider than if pronouncing a vowel, and I’m not even sure there was much mastication involved. Honestly, I couldn’t remember, the whole lunch being so opaque, ephemeral, like a dream.

Did I just eat lunch? Oh, silly me; of course I did, here’s the $110 tab by the water glass.

I can’t look at my brother-in-law sitting on the other side of the porch. His constant snickering, peppered with guffaws, grates on my nerves like a wire brush against fresh sunburn. “Hey. Shaun,” he says, managing to squeeze out, “maybe you should ask for a box,” before collapsing back in his chair in a paroxysm of laughter. It’s all I can do to keep from leaping across the narrow space that separates us and throttling the evil cackle from his throat. I imagine his eyes bulging, face turning purple… no…not in front of the children. It is they who save me, my nephew and niece; Gabe with one of his bread sticks, and Morgan with half of her BLT.

There…that’s better; I feel the carbs crossing the blood mucosal barrier into in the bloodstream. My serum glucose surges and the amygdala of my hypothalamus registers a modicum of satiety. I’m going to be okay. At least I’ll have enough energy to perambulate to the custard stand I see across the street.

As a physician, finely tuned to the metabolic processes of his body, I sense the ebbing of my rage, and trust myself to speak. “Say, Jen,” I ask, “what time’s that luau you signed us up for?”

“Um…” She’s thinking, lips pursed in a silent whistle, mentally ticking off the activities she’s planned for the next two weeks. It must be a tight schedule because her eyes are unfocused and moving back and forth like she’s watching the Williams sisters at Wimbledon as she mentally sorts through dolphin encounters, volcano excursions, snorkeling trips, and beach days at various locales. Finally, she says “…we have to be there at six for the open bar; and dinner and the program start at seven.”

Wow. I’m impressed. No notes or anything—it’s like a recording: a three hour period in a schedule probably as congested as the week before a shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. I ask, “I wonder if it’s all-you-can-eat.”

“Well, I’m not sure about that,” she says, not as bothered by her ravioli dish as I, having the benefit of a prefatory bread stick and blended drink in a tall glass; “but,” she adds helpfully, “it is served buffet-style.”

Hmmm…buffet-style…that’s better. I know that even if the plates are on the smallish side I can always go vertical. I could even sneak in with a later table if necessary—I mean, what could they do? Arrest me? Humiliate me? Well, not likely; and, I don’t care. That’s one of the things I liked about being half-way around the world–anonymity.

The next five hours fly by. I try drowning Jim in violent surf at Hapuna Beach, but he gets away from me. At 1800, I’m standing behind Jen in a line at the open bar, wearing a see-through plastic poncho that the lady handed out, because of the rain. I put a bottle of beer in my cargo pocket and ask for two Mai Tais, but the bartender says, “Two drinks at a time.” I take the Mai Tais.

We found a table closer to the stage. Maybe that’s why it was the last table called– no later table for me.

Lunch a distant memory, chewed up orange-rinds from spent Mai Tais littering the ground around me, the maître de finally gives our table a tired wave. I leap to my feet like a Navy Seal on a mission. In the thick line ahead of me, the large bowl of kalua pork is half-full. I see that the serving spoon has fallen into it. A thin hairy arm reaches into the bowl to pick it up. The arm looks vaguely familiar. Then I see the lightly bearded face of the waiter that looked like the artist formerly known as Prince. He looks back at me, and smiles.

(I should add that the food at Zest was superb, if scant; hence, my general avoidance of fancy restaurants, not that Zest was all that fancy, other than the food, which was decidedly so.)

Hungry in Hawi

My May contribution to NWTC “What’s Cooking?” Newsletter; based upon a beautiful trip to Hawaii.

We stayed at a resort that had a flock of wild Turkeys, and I made this video of my nephew calling the wild Turkey.


Calling the Wild Turkey from Shaun Melarvie on Vimeo.

Hungry in Hawi

We’re driving north on 270 as it turns eastward at the extreme northern end of the big island. We just passed through Hawi on our way to the Pololu Valley overlook and as we passed the Bamboo restaurant Sue asked, “What’s that?”

“That’s my stomach growling,” I told her. “I’m starving. It feels like my belly button and backbone are touching.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll stop on the way back.” She didn’t sound very sympathetic. It was early on in our vacation, and I always start my vacations aggressively—with exercise, I mean. That morning, I had run three miles towards Mount Kea, and three miles back, towards the Kona coast, the ocean a glittering blue, suspended before me, like I was the only one in the world, down-hill—I almost ran fast. Later that morning we spent a couple of hours body-surfing in the waves with my brother-in-law and his family—I didn’t leave the water once. Now, we’re all dry and on our way to a late lunch, eventually, somewhere, and the way I had it figured, I was 6,000 calories in the hole, and that wasn’t counting the two thin waffles and left-over, pinkish-tinged, warm milk in the bottom of my six-year-old nephew’s cereal bowl. It was the last of the milk. I didn’t care. I drank it.

Pololu Valley is beautiful. I had seen it two years ago, but had forgotten where it was on the island. I just remembered a gorgeous view and a killer trail down a mountain to a black sand beach. I think it’s prettier than the Cliffs of Mohr. I stood at the top of the Awini Trail, looking down the zigzagging, dirt path, and swayed. I actually became light-headed at the thought of the caloric expenditure required for the descent and subsequent ascent. I barely made it back to the car, having to stop half-way to lean on a boulder, so weak with hunger was I.

Twenty minutes later, I’m standing behind my sister-in-law as she’s reading the menu in front of this place called, “Zest.”

“Mmm,” she purrs. I didn’t know if I should rub her belly or scratch her behind the ears. “Crab Ravioli with lemongrass and kefir lime infused coconut brodo,” she says, rubbing her hands together like she just squirted a tablespoon of lotion into her palm. “We’re definitely eating here.”

“Huhn? What’s that? Crab legs? Sounds good. Let’s eat.” I can’t wait. I hope they have a big basket of bread before the meal.

The waiter/cook/maître de, who looks like the artist formerly known as Prince, only with a light beard, and a faded ironman tee-shirt instead of a velvet purple jacket, seats us on the front porch, facing the street; Sue, I, and Morgan to the left of the main entrance; and Jim, Jen, and Gabe to the right of the door; but we’re all close enough that we can talk and pass things back and forth. Six-year-old Gabe orders bread sticks; ten-year-old Morgan orders a BLT; Jim orders the catch of the day; Sue, a salad; and Jen and I, the crab ravioli. It’s an entrée, it’s lunch, and it costs $18.95, so, I figured it’d do me just fine, especially with the side dishes and bread.

I suppose I should have known from my pasta experience the previous night at Merriman’s. It was a late supper. Of course, I was ravenous, but in a fit of fiscal sanity I passed on the $35 steak dinner, opting for the $17 pasta something or other. Unfortunately, my meager savings were quickly offset by the pre-dinner drinks and $10 deserts after supper; however, the six loaves of bread did allow me to push myself away from the table only slightly hungry, happy that I had hid the leftover Donkey Balls (chocolate-covered macadamia nuts) behind the toaster, back at the condo.

I hear the door slam and I smile. Hear it comes, I think. Let the feast of coconut brodo and lemon grass, or whatever, begin. Oh. It’s only Gabe’s bread sticks. They’re huge, almost like mini-French loafs. A few door slams later, Sue’s salad and Morgan’s BLT come out, then Jim’s fish, and with that, I experience my first tinge of concern—the dish is a huge white bowl with straight sides, and I can’t see the entrée all that well.

I don’t get any bread. There’s no side dish either. Set before me is a small, porcelain bowl with four ravioli in it the size of walnuts. I’m not even sure they’re touching. There’s some green vegetation that I take to be either lemon grass or a kefir lime leaf, maybe both.

Jim and Jen look over at me and start to laugh. I grimace, pick up my knife and fork and cut one of my four ravioli in half, hoping that the guy looking like the artist formerly known as Prince didn’t come out because I wasn’t sure I could stop myself from doing something I knew I’d regret later.


Tribute to IZ

My April contribution to NWTC “What’s Cooking?” Newletter

The first time I heard IZ was at my son’s house in Omaha. What a Wonderful World was playing on the stereo and my granddaughter stood in the middle of the living room, eyes closed, swaying to the music. I asked Jason who was singing and he said, “That’s IZ.” It was beautiful, magical; not only to me, but also to a two-year-old child who couldn’t yet comprehend the lyrics. It was the sort of voice that touched a special place, kind of like an angel come down from heaven; the sort of voice not often heard that transcended the music accompanying it; a voice like maybe Pavarotti or Elvis. I made a mental note to pick up a CD, but back home a month later I couldn’t find any and I forgot about IZ.

Two years ago, Sue and I vacationed in Hawaii for a week and on the second day I was in a grocery store, walking up and down the aisles looking for something we couldn’t be without when suddenly, right before me, was a wall of solid IZ. Turns out, he’s from Hawaii. And he is a most singular person; dramatic, unforgettable, with thick black hair to the middle of his back, a huge round face, and absolutely, extremely, morbidly obese. Before I saw his image, I had no idea of how he looked, and as unlikely it might seem that the voice fit the man, as I stood there, listening to the looped track of him singing, I thought it completely natural, and I smiled at the wall that was IZ.  I bought every CD he ever recorded and the rest of the week we listened. We listened to IZ in the car, driving down Queen Kaahumanu Highway; we listened to IZ in the mornings during breakfast on the terrace; and we listened to IZ in the evenings as the sun dropped behind Mount Kea, turning the jewel-blue ocean black.

After a few days that seemed like hours, we landed in LA. Shortly after disembarking the plane, entering the main concourse, I saw IZ. He was carrying a ukulele and was accompanied by some airport staff—I figured because, being a celebrity, he needed the VIP treatment. I saw him climb aboard an electric cart and zip away.

“There goes IZ!” I shouldered my bag (with the IZ CDs), turned back to Sue and yelled, “I’m going to see if I can catch him,” and took off. I thanked the Lord that the airport was crowded, which slowed the cart enough such that I was able to catch up to IZ by an escalator. He was almost to the bottom when I leaned over the top and yelled down. “IZ! IZ…are you IZ?” He turned and looked up at me. He had a little more facial hair than I remembered from the CD covers, but other than that, it was spot-on, positively IZ. “I love your music,” I yelled down.

“IZ?” he yelled up. “I think he’s dead, man.” And then he was gone.

Sue caught up to me. “Did you see him? Did you get his autograph?”

“No. What a jerk. He said IZ was dead.” I slipped the CD cases back into my shoulder bag. “I don’t believe it. I buy all of the guys CDS. I adore his music, and he has the nerve to say he’s dead.”

“Maybe it really wasn’t him.”

“Oh, come on…he must have weighed six-hundred pounds, he arrived from Hawaii, he was carrying his ukulele;” and, I said, “He was getting the VIP treatment. Didn’t you see all those people around him?”

“Well. Yeah. I suppose.”

“Sometimes, Baby, you just gotta believe.”

Two tortuous days later, after missed flights and delays, I sat at home in front of my computer, with enough energy to look up IZ. Israel Ka’ano’I Kamakawiwo’ole; May 20, 1959-June 26, 1997.

It was like he died that day. Until that moment, he was alive to me, and with his sudden loss I felt the universe somehow diminished by the absence of his voice.

IZ suffered from obesity all his life, and died from respiratory difficulties related to his obesity. On YouTube there is a video of IZ singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It has over 28 million views, and shows clips of IZ singing, playing his ukulele, and of his ashes being scattered over the ocean.

IZ…a man with the sort of voice not often heard, sent down to walk among us for a while.


Try it. You’ll like it!

My March contribution to the NWTC Newsletter.

What is there about TV that makes me hungry, and I don’t mean a mild, gee I haven’t eaten for a few hours hunger; no, I mean a ravenous, craving need to eat something, anything, that might dull its sharp edge. Reading makes me hungry too, but to a lesser extent, probably because I have to turn a page periodically. I also experience twinges of hunger while working at my desk at home, but, who wants to make a mess of things what with the papers and mouse and keyboard lying about. When’s the last time you went to the movie theatre and didn’t eat popcorn, or worse? There are certain activities that go together like peas and carrots, cheese cake and cherries, milk and cookies, cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, and so on, if you get my drift; and I’m afraid that TV and eating are irrevocably entwined, like the double-stranded helix of our DNA; entangled like a pair of quantum particles where the presence of the one implies the presence of the other. Or, maybe that’s just me. Perhaps I hold a particularly singular position in our universe where the light of the TV screen flaring into existence triggers a desperate sprint to the fridge.

I think of this as absent-minded eating—eating not to fulfill a nutritional need, rather, eating out of habit, fulfilling a pattern dating back to Saturday morning cartoons at six-years of age. There are many undesirable patterns of eating, but for me TV was a biggie, and my solution turned out to be not watching it so much, and half of the time when I do, I’m exercising. It’s hard to eat when you’re exercising. But, what about the other half-of-the-time?

If you have to eat something; if the sharp edge of your hunger is knawing at your insides like a hyena tearing into a raw steak; if the translucent glaze of the TV flickering across your face commands thou shalt eat now, if the Super bowl is ready to start and you feel like you’ve just emerged from forty days and forty nights in the desert, then, think of this. Think of Edamame.

Huhn? Edamame…what’s that you might ask. I know I did the first time Sue made some a few years ago. “It’s supposed to be good for you,” she said. It looked like giant furry snow peas. I forked some into my mouth and started chewing. After quite a bit of chewing I had a scratchy fibrous wad of cellulose that I promptly spit into my napkin. “Hmmm. Maybe I cooked it wrong,” she said, pushing a bolus of fiber around in her mouth.

Our next brush with Edamame was as an appetizer at an Asian restaurant. I’m not sure why we ordered it; probably because it was a vegetable, and less harmful than the Goji Tempura Battered Deep-fried Bacon something or others. Turns out, you’re only supposed to eat the beans in the pod, not the whole thing itself, and it’s pretty easy. You just bite the end of the pod and the beans slide right out. It’s kind of nice; not too fast, not too slow; not like a custard cone you’re swallowing whole, standing next to your car on blazing hot black top while sticky custard runs down your hand, collecting between your fingers; but not like the bag of sunflower seeds between your legs that lasts the whole six hours it takes you to drive across North Dakota, leaving you hungrier after than before you even started eating the dam things. No, edamame is actually satiating; and, it’s good for you.

Green soybeans in the pod, picked before they ripen. Everybody knows soybeans are good for you. Here are the specifics for one cup, which takes me a leisurely 15-20 minutes to dispose of: Fat (8g), Carbs (16g), Fiber (8g), Protein (17g). Wow! That’s twice as much protein as non-fiber carbohydrate—I think my muscles are getting bigger just lifting an edamame pod to my lips. That one cup serving has 189 calories, which is a fairly generous serving. Edamame can be bought frozen, and it takes 5 minutes in the microwave.

So, for that other half-of-the-time you’re watching TV and not exercising, think of edamame. Try it. You’ll like it…you know, like Mikey.