Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dreams of Brazil

It was one of the few times I was actually asleep in the hospital, pain-killer induced to be sure. I awoke to the dancing of a flashlight beam bouncing randomly around the walls of the room; it was around 4:00 AM. Suddenly a hooded head peered from behind one of the divider curtains, a pair of thick glasses with little lights mounted on either sided.

“Are you Robert” the voice asked. Upon affirmation, the black jump suited character flung back the curtain and stepped close to me. The pain meds occasionally had me on the verge of hallucinating; what immediately came to mind was that I was being visited by Harry Tuttle, rogue heating engineer, a character from the Terry Gilliam movie, Brazil.

In actuality he was the nighttime lab tech who had come to collect some blood samples from me. Yet for a few minutes there I felt like I was living out an odd parallel with the scene in the film.

The following day, while doing my mandatory exercise walk in the hallway, dragging my IV stanchion along with me, I happened to notice the list of departments and their corresponding floors listed on the plaque next to the elevators. Sure enough, there it was: “Central Services”.

Here's the actual scene:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hospitals are Not Recommended for Sick People

I had originally intended to share some of the (relatively few) humorous anecdotes that occurred during my 23 days of hospitalization. However now that I am home, I am finding that recalling details of my recent ordeal have been actually causing me a fair amount of anxiety.

Though we offhandedly think of the hospital as a place for cure and healing, the required practices one encounters there seem to contradict that very goal. Though I was fortunate to be attended by lot of very caring and professional staff, at other times I was forced to challenge people who appeared to be conducting procedures by rote and, seemingly, without any thought as to what they were doing. Take for example the nursing aid that, at 4:00 AM, I fortunately stopped from wrapping a blood pressure cuff around the arm in which my IV infusion was flowing.

There also appeared to be some undercurrent of professional controversy between a few of the many physicians on my case as to what treatments I should receive. One day I found myself being wheeled back into ICU to have my heart “restarted” when a different cardiologist intervened, suggesting the procedure was unnecessary. At another point I had been convinced by one cardiologist that I needed a pacemaker. Hell, if getting a pacemaker would get me home safe-and-sound, I was all for it. But that decision was overturned by a second cardiologist. Though I had little influence on the outcomes, I’m happy to say I did not come home with a pacemaker planted in my chest.

I was trying my best to remain informed and involved in my treatment. But I am not a doctor, I depend on getting the (consistently) best advice I possibly can. When the professional advice was contradictory, it caused me a lot of emotional stress. I wondered that if one were a cardiologist who specializes in pacemakers, wouldn’t you naturally be a biased advocate for their use? Like the saying goes – When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Any form of sleep is nearly impossible in a hospital, particularly if one does not have a private room. My nights were continually interrupted. There seemed no end of tasks, no reason too trivial, to motivate the staff to enter the room and disturb the patient. One night the door opened, the lights came on; an aid simply taped a piece of paper to the wall across from my bed. I often couldn’t see any purpose for the interruptions.

A number of different (noisy) roommates cycled through sharing my room; at least four of them had the television blaring Fox News 24/7. Often they slept through the din of noise pollution. One day I hadn’t noticed until Nancy came to visit that my roommate had long since been wheeled out of the room for some procedure – the TV blaring Fox with no one there to watch. I spent most nights wearing earplugs and a face mask to shade my eyes.

Naturally I did everything within my means to demonstrate to the physicians and staff that I could be released at the earliest; I walked, I assiduously performed my breathing exercises. It paid off – on the evening of March 20th, a Sunday, the wires and tubes were disconnected from my body and I was packed off for home. I was in pain, but I must confess… to sleep in my own bed next to my living wife was as close heaven as anything I can imagine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Temptation of the Skeptic

“…the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things will I give you if you fall down and worship me." - Matthew 4:8-9
Unlike as was my case, most other folks awaiting heart valve replacement surgery have gotten off pretty easy. Barbara Walters and Robin Williams, for example: a noticeable shortness of breath or perhaps or a bit of dizziness or fatigue. In otherwise good health, these people had the luxury of popping in and having their surgery and were out of the hospital in less than a week.

I had to do it the hard way. Unlike their experience, the conditions leading up to the emergency replacement of my heart valve were dire indeed. I had a massive infection, the full extent of which I didn’t fully appreciate until after the operation was over. At the time, I only knew I was in the hospital feeling like death warmed-over. Quite frankly, I was more than prepared to accept the “ultimate relief” that such an outcome might have brought..

While hospitalized, I had precious few visitors; mostly family and a few very close friends. One visitor was a woman who believed in “other unseen forces”. She chatted with me briefly before explaining about an amulet she was wearing – a Hebrew Chai symbol which she believed had helped six other of her friends, and herself, survive life-threatening situations. Though she was fully aware of my lack of belief in things paranormal, she hesitantly offered to have me wear the “magic amulet” prior to my going into surgery.

If one thinks about it, likely many of the personal convictions and values we may hold are, in reality, merely “academic”, particularly when viewed within the context of our normal, healthy, everyday existence. I chuckle when I recall back as a teenager in high school I felt strongly that our country should be fighting in Vietnam, keeping the Communist menace at bay. Not surprisingly I held those strong convictions until, whereupon my 18th birthday, I was required to register for the Selective Service (Draft). Harsh reality can sometimes force us to reexamine our beliefs.

So now my visitor had placed before me a dilemma, a challenge to one of my deepest of convictions – what should I do? I could just say “what the hell” and accept the “magic amulet”. I could easily rationalize my choice by simply claiming that it certainly couldn’t do any harm.

I thanked her but politely declined the offer reaffirming both to her, and to myself, that I would not accept, not even under life-threatening conditions, that there are supernatural powers which hold dominion over our lives. She left taking the amulet with her.

I accept that I survived because I just happen to be fortunate to live in a time and place where open-heart surgery is now a routine occurrence, when new technologies and pharmaceuticals are continually evolving, and because I tried to maintain my physical fitness in preparedness knowing I would need this surgery some day. Rather than rely on faith of magic, I placed my TRUST in the people who deal with these issues every day. It was, and is, the right choice for me.
I am only recently able to spend a bit more time in front of the computer. I've missed visiting my followers and leaving comments. I anticipate that will change in the near future. Thanks to all of you for your supportive comments. ~ RTS

Monday, March 21, 2011


After 23 days I was released to come home from the hospital late last night. When I was a little boy my mother would read to me while I was sick in bed. This particular poem was my favorite.

Expect a bit more from me in a couple of days after I reacquaint myself with my home and my ravaged body. - RTS

The Land of Counterpane
by Robert Louis Stevenson

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Post Wherein One Finds our Protagonist Mildly Scathed and in Recovery

And so I'm back. Dad had his surgery yesterday. All day. I tell you, if I didn't have such a high-stress busy job, I'd have been sitting on the couch throwing darts at a blank wall. I'm not gonna lie, it didn't go super smoothly - however he is out and in the ICU and they're removing a few more tubes from him every day. Well, it's only been one day, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that more will be removed tomorrow. A full recovery is expected. Which is exactly what I expected. So, I'm glad that worked out. Expectation alignment.

Hopefully he'll feel like blogging again soon. I can't believe he squeezed one more in before the operation! That's dedication! I don't have that kind dedication to anything. Not to my house plants. Or my cat. Maybe some of my shoes. The red Jeffery Campbell pumps. Prioriti

Anyway - back to Dad. As a retired public employee, I'm sure he'll have some thoughts on the recent TOTALLY HANDLEBAR MUSTACHE-ESQUELY SINISTER UNDERHANDEDLY SNEAKY passage of the bill in the Wisconsin senate to take away collective bargaining. And other stuff. So look forward to that.

In these days following the human and natural tragedy that is the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear explosion trifecta, I'm just so damn thankful to still have my dad. And to live somewhere where the waves didn't surpass the 3ft mark. Though there are totally sharks here.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Skeptic's Leap of Faith

I’ve been reading your kind comments from the imposed seclusion my hospital bed using Nancy’s laptop computer. I first want to acknowledge how deeply moved I am at the heartfelt wishes you have so generously expressed to me; a mere fellow blogger whose face you have never seen nor voice have ever heard. I am consumed by your expressions of love and caring. For those of you who have offered me your prayers, though you know I am a non-believer; I most graciously accept your prayers as the expressions of love and compassion which I accept are offered in the spirit most meaningful to you. I thank you.

IF all goes to plan, tomorrow I will enter surgery whereby a severely damaged aortic valve will be replaced. The defective valve actually functioned longer than had been anticipated, which actually resulted in it causing more damage. Think of a bad part in your car that is still working but causing other damage as it bangs away. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, but…

After tomorrow, providing I survive, I will be in intensive care for some time. I’ll ask Kara to report my post-operative condition, or whatever outcome.

I’ve accumulated a bunch of funny “hospital stories” at this point so it would be a shame were my consciousness not to hold on long enough for me to share them in future blogs here.

Tomorrow I switch one ordeal for another, the probabilities are more in my favor than not.

Thanks to all of you who have remained in contact and shared your compassion,
~ Robert The Skeptic

I will be unable to respond to your comments for a while.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

If by "Guest" you mean "Password Hustler"...then yes

Since my father has selfishly decided to stay ill and is currently awaiting surgery of the heart valve replacement variety in the hospital - a place of inexplicable and odd smells - I've been left to pick up his blogging slack. So I think it a fitting homage to his Thought Sanctuary(TM) to write about myself.

Anyway, that's what he gets for giving me his password.

My dad and I live about two hours apart. My parents have been divorced since I was a toddler and the Mickey Mouse pancake weekends were all I knew of him for years. Then, as we (my sister and I) got older, the weekends began to fill themselves less with animal-shaped breakfasts foods and more magic tricks, LEGO Alpine Swiss villages, UFO launches, historically inaccurate bedtime stories, lava tubing, inappropriate-for-my-age films, banjo sing-alongs, shot/handgun marksmanship lessons, underage bartending, folk music concerts, power tools and the occasional peace march.

With the exception of the last item, it's been pretty damn awesome to have him be a part of my life for the last 31 (ugh) years. Like...milk-out-of-your-nose-from-laughing awesome. To the point where Nancy had to make a rule that he can't talk if someone's drinking. Because it hurts. There are some canals where milk does not belong.

The point is, I absolutely refuse to even acknowledge the idea that this surgery will be anything but a wild success and neither should you. The first 31 years were grand, but sometime in the next 31 - I'm hoping to get his teriyaki burger recipe.

So raise a glass, when you next imbibe, and wish Dad the best luck science can determine the outcome of. Especially since he's not getting another cosmo for at least two months.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Where's Robert the Skeptic?

Robert's previous blog posted at a pre-set time on Friday night. At that actual time he had taken suddenly ill, so has been unable to immediately respond to any of the comments, as is his usual modus operandi. He is currently receiving expert medical care at our nearby hospital and hopes to return home and to his keyboard within the next couple of days or so. His two out-of-town daughters and their families visited us yesterday, which cheered him immensely. So stay tuned...Robert the Skeptic is anxious to get connected again and read your blogs and your replies to his blog. This post is respectively submitted by Robert's spousal unit, Nancy, who is not a blogger (however I do read some of your blogs from time to time).