Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pondering People and Pigs

It has been four weeks since my aortic valve replacement surgery; three weeks of being out of 23 days in the hospital. My life is currently weeks of multiple medical appointments and visits to the Infusion Clinic where my IV antibiotic pump connected to me 24/7 is serviced and my Coumadin levels checked and adjusted. I have good days and times when I feel extremely vulnerable; still I am lucky to be alive.

Constantly wearing this IV pump is a hassle; it is heavy and wearing it on a strap over my shoulder makes my already aching and healing chest ache even more. Yet this experience has also given me an appreciation of what others with more serious health issues must go through. I drop into the Infusion Clinic where my IV pump is quickly serviced and dressings changed. Most of the other patients there are required to hang out, enduring hours of infusion therapy, primarily for chemotherapy treatment. Again, I feel extremely lucky.

In the years prior to my mother-in-law’s, Wanda, death, her life completely revolved around hospitals and clinics. I now have some appreciation as to how difficult a time she was having. She suffered a cardiac amyloid condition; a condition similar to Alzheimers however affecting her heart rather than the brain. Her prognosis was that she would eventually decline, slipping into congestive heart failure. She was never going to get better, only worse. It was not unusual for her to have two or three doctor’s appointments every week, made even more difficult as she was by then wheelchair bound.

When Wanda was told that her condition had deteriorated to the point where she would require kidney dialysis, she decided that she had had enough dealing with needles, procedures and medications. Knowing that without dialysis she would die, she accepted that as the most humane way she could go. She died at home of kidney failure surrounded by her family.

My Coumadin treatments will eventually end in a month or two; likewise I should be free of my IV pump in a few weeks. I am in otherwise good physical condition and expected to make a full recovery. Eventually I will be able to do the things I enjoy; building and remodeling, yard work, riding my bike. I’m told I can expect to feel better than I before getting my new “pig” valve.

But my situation has reminded me of the countless others whose lives currently revolve around simply staying alive, who live within the restricted world of hospitals, clinics, therapies and procedures; many often painful or causing great sickness. My thoughts, at this moment, are for their difficult fight for life.

Did I mention how really lucky I am feeling right now?

30 comments:

Elisabeth said...

Hi Robert. Thanks for your optimism. I hope it's sincere. I trust you're not just putting on a good face.

I spent yesterday with my 91 year old mother going through the shuffle of doctors and hospitals. Something is wrong with her heart, she has no energy, but they can't find a solution.

Old age perhaps, but it's tough on her and on all those near and dear to her who try to help.

Get better soon, Robert. I miss your healthy skepticism.

HMBabb said...

Keeping good thoughts for your rapid and complete recovery. Stuff like this is indeed humbling, and leaves one with an awareness of our many blessings.

Paul said...

Just hang in there Robert. Above all stay positive-it helps a great deal...:-)

Rain said...

It must be hard and made more so in a country like ours that adds fear of expenses to the whole mix. I don't understand why everyone doesn't see how this is a national problem not just an individual one as any of us could have something go wrong. Stories like yours might wake a few others up.

Marylinn Kelly said...

We are all vulnerable to human infirmity...and I agree, any day, any situation in which we have choices, some strength and reason for optimism are cause for gratitude. Please keep getting better.

Entre Nous said...

Just Keep The Faith, in whatever form it may e, things will get better. Usually it happens suddenly, when you least expect it, just one day, you feel GREAT. I knew someone who had the IV to the heart thing, they gave her a back-pack to carry the bag around in, seems that would be more comfortable.

My sister and I used to say we'd know we were getting old when we sat around like my mother and her friends discussing drs. appts. I, along with my friends, do it now, heavy sigh.

ANd just so ya know, I am so totally HOOKED on Krauss cause of you :}

I have to read all his books, though they won't be added to my Feynman collection coming through the e-reader... I would have been in seventh heaven if all my profs. in college had been so interesting *sigh*

Robert the Skeptic said...

Elizabeth Your mother has done extremely well to reach age 91. It is not unusual for women her age to have heart valve issues as well which definitely effects stamina. As you no doubt surmise, the surgery for that, or coronary artery disease, is arduous indeed. I hope they are able to treat your mother without resorting to extreme measures.

HMBabb Indeed this ordeal heightened my awareness - often we take our good health for granted. If we live long enough, or meet with unfortunate events during our lifetime, the likelihood of being disabled to some extent during our lifetime is high. It is good to appreciate our well being while we can.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul I was actually counseled by the medical staff that I could expect to experience bouts of depression. It is to be expected when one has such a close brush with mortality. I'm actually going to set up an appointment with a counselor to talk it through. Thanks for your supportive comments.

Rain I notice that when people (conservatives) talk of the need for
individual responsibility, many nod their heads in agreement; to them it is a matter of principle, it's academic. But put a real face on someone facing medical barriers, and suddenly the humanity comes forth. That is why we see these stories on the news about some tragedy befall some family and there is an outpouring of public donations for that individual. Unfortunately, for each person in dire medical need we see in the news, there are thousands more we never hear about - they are out of sight, out of mind. We are disconnected emotionally.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Marylinn I have heard it said that if one lives long enough, one will experience disability. It is a fact of life. I once saw a news article on TV during the run-up to the great medical legislation debate; the news interviewed some young adult who jogs and is perfectly healthy saw no need to obtain medical insurance. Yet should that healthy young jogger experience one nasty encounter with a car, his needs might change dramatically.

I wonder, if he feels that since he is also a good driver that he has no need to buy not buy car insurance as well?

How is it that some people seem to lack the intellect to be capable of projecting some basic level of strategic thought and plan for the unexpected?

Entre Nous Indeed, I was visiting my primary physician yesterday when she told me that, other than the heart valve surgery, I am a pretty healthy guy. I need to keep that in perspective. Unlike many, I am expected to get better.

I am so pleased you liked that Krauss video; I refer to it often. His explanation is so wonderfully clear and understandable.

Wow, that was awkward said...

Good reminder to always stop to smell the roses.

Mandy's Kidding said...

Isn't it strange that our greatest challenges can become our biggest gifts?

billy pilgrim said...

i always compare myself to the three legged neutered dog name lucky.

thanks for the tip on the lawnmower.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Awkward I would, but it still hurts like hell to bend over.

Mandy The gift here is awareness, seeing what we frequently overlook during our everyday routine. Some even call it "enlightenment".

Billy True fact: I saw a local TV news story about a dog that had been severly injured. It was going to be put down, but through surgery, it survivied though it only had two feet, the front and back feet on it's right side. It was enough that the little dog could toddle along bouncing on it's single front and back legs. When the dog stopped, it would lean against something, like a wall. They named the dog "Lena".

I couldn't find the story about Lena but apparently this is not that uncommon, here is one of several similar stories from YouTube.

Kara S. said...

Glad you're on the mend, Bob!

The Mother said...

Yes, you are lucky. You live in a world where valves can be replaced.

Someday we'll be able to offer the dying more civility than our currently christian society does.

Antares Cryptos said...

Yes, Robert, you are lucky, even though it was a life-altering experience. Sometimes it takes that not to take things for granted. Easier said than done.

I can't wait for the day, where innovation and a healthy society are put first and chronic illnesses become more than treatable.

Good to have you back.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kara Thanks so much.

Dr. Mom When I was a kid I watched some of the first open heart surgery on TV, it was breakthrough technology at the time, just like the space program. Fortunately color TV hadn't been invented yet. Now I am hearing about arthroscopic valve replacement under clinical trials; It would be cool if that becomes the common practice about the time this porcine part starts wearing out.

Pastors came in and ministered to some of my hospital roommates. Damn sad.

Cryptos We're moving in that direction as medical technology continues to advance. Now if we in America can just figure out how deliver that technology to ALL our citizens as they seem to be able to do in Canada, England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Japan ... you get the drift.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

It is so difficult to have to be dependent on others, including the doctors for daily life. Coumadin is a pain, my mom has to have her levels checked constantly. The rounds of appointments gets overwhelming, why not all at one time? It seems so basic to me.
Glad you are feeling stronger and getting healthy again. Makes feeling normal seem like something special.

adrielleroyale said...

Perspective. It's a beautiful thing, even when it's a difficult thing..

melissashook said...

I had a long bout last year with ulcerative colitis, during which I often felt, "I'm glad to be alive." And that was nice because I often have a cranky relationship with being alive, not that I don't want to be alive.
But this perspective stuff is so interesting! I appreciate your blog...
Finally reconnected with a friend who had a stoke a year ago, in a wheel chair, etc., making the best of it..
you and I are lucky!
thank you..

GutsyWriter said...

You wrote a fantastic post to remind us about how some people are in hospitals so frequently. I cannot believe it's been 4 weeks for you and that you're doing so well. My English friend, 54, has been a diabetic since she turned 6. Now she received a kidney and pancreas transplant in the UK. She is still being fed via IV's after a month and can barely speak. I feel so sad for her family, and her husband said, it will probably be six months before she feels better. So I know we have to be happy for our good fortune.

Robert the Skeptic said...

BackRow We have been fortunate in that the assorted clinics are willing to coordinate their schedules; so today, for example, I was able to have three appointments back-to-back. They can do it if they want to.

Melissa Quite true, I think with a few exceptions, if one lives long enough you will have some encounter between the body and the health care system. As you suggest, whenever we start feeling sorry for ourselves we can easily find people who are far more worse off.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Adrielle Often the fact that it is a difficult thing, the perspective becomes more clear.

Gutsy Pancreas transplant - that is a major surgery!! But perhaps that will cure her diabetes? She can expect a long recovery indeed. I hope she pulls through.

KleinsteMotte said...

You sound like a guy on the mend. Yup being positive will need a tweak now and then but as the summer comes back so will your strength and that should bring lots of smiles.

secret agent woman said...

I understand that. When I had my hysterectomy a few months ago I was really struck by the awareness that I was very, very lucky to have an easily treatable cancer with very little chance of recurrence. Still, you need to go easy on yourself unti you are all healed up.

Murr Brewster said...

I'm sure what you say is true. I have had few challenges in life so far; only having to worry about other people. But having to bring a bucket of water up from the river in the snow to flush a toilet makes me very appreciative of working toilets. Now I'm going to think hard about my heart valves and give them a little love.

Robert the Skeptic said...

KleinsteMotte I am happy my recovery is moving into Spring and Summer rather the colder months. Although I had to hire a guy to mow my yard for a while, not that I really love yard work...

SecretAgent Quite true, though I always weigh the "luck" issue - if we were really lucky, neither of us would have needed surgery, right? We exist within a continuum of luck, I guess.

Murr Actually not much one can do about heart valves one way or another, they are OEM parts directly manufactured from Mom. But it doesn't hurt to give all our parts a bit of love. (Some of 'em a bit more than others, at times.)

Orhan Kahn said...

Suddenly I feel like an asshole for having a cry about losing half a tooth. Good on you for focusing on the positives!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Orhan Don't fret, my fear of going to the dentist is a close second to that of heart surgery.

Kiwi Monster said...

Bob, I am grateful that you are home and on the mend. I have sometimes felt like you do now - in awe of life and how precious it is. I don't think human beings can sustain that level of "wow" for long. But it's good to feel it every now and then.