And We’re Back

OK, so that’s the good. There is bad.

Attention HSR! There are a few things you need to change.

It has been, to say the least, an eventful few days for Helaine and me. I’m back home having undergone a lumbar discectomy.

A few weeks ago I was in horrendous pain. Two epidurals later it improved to terrible pain.

Now I have no pain!

Well sort of. Now I have different pain which I expect to quickly heal.

Wednesday’s trip to the neurologist brought a recommendation: surgery. Nothing else had worked, nor was it likely to.

Truth is this is what I was hoping for! After a few months of suffering my whole outlook had changed. My pain was pretty constant. There was little I could do comfortably other than lay on the sofa.

I felt sad for myself–never a good thing.

Chronic pain is a bitch. I was willing to take radical steps to effect a change.

Boom! We were off to the races.

An associate of our doc would perform the surgery Friday. He wouldn’t be available for a meet-and-greet for a few more hours so I hobbled my way to what had been The Hospital of St. Raphael&#185 for pre-op testing.

Blood drawn, EKG taken, questions answered and surgical consequences explained. They do this stuff every day.

We headed back to the surgeon’s office, met the guy who’d carve into me and scheduled my procedure for Friday. The plan was get there by 5:30 AM, hit the OR at 7:00 AM and walk out in the afternoon.

Yeah, right.

Thursday afternoon I got a call from the surgical anesthesiologist’s office. Something had shown up on yesterday’s EKG. I’d need to see a cardiologist at 4:00 PM. I sprawled myself across the back seat of Helaine’s SUV and headed to New Haven.

Hour-by-hour my leg was getting worse. I wore shorts and dock shoes in case I needed to undress for an exam. Long pants were too tough to deal with.

No one knows why Wednesday’s EKG had the data it did. Still, surgery is serious stuff. More tests were needed to make sure my heart was OK.

“I want you to go the the hospital now.”

And with that an ambulance was called and I was off to HSR.

Too much detail! Let’s cut to the chase. The tests were negative enough to allow surgery Friday. All outward signs say that surgery was successful. Yea me!

There are a few things I want to say.

I know nothing about medicine, equipment and facilities. I know people.

There are no kinder, more loving people than the staff at HSR. There was not a moment I was not bathed in gracious care.

I was under the influence of morphine. There are names and blocks of time I’ve forgotten. Bethany was my nurse in the ER. Upstairs in the SICU it was Julie, Kate and Katelin. I never doubted my well being was their first concern. They were assisted by a coterie of techs and specialists.

When the guy wheeling you to the ER is in a good mood it does make a difference.

I know, I’m the guy on TV. Trust me, that ‘thrill’ is gone in the first few minutes. Everyone gets the care I received. This staff is incapable of less.

OK, that’s the good. There is bad.

Attention HSR, there are a few things you need to change. Your rooms and systems are designed in such a way a patient can never get any rest!

My bed had a pump that ran around 75% of the time. It was a loud pump. I finally begged one of the nurses to turn it off.

I was going to be there a day. Was anyone really worried about bed sores?

If paper at the nurses station ran out, my monitor beeped. Thanks. I was afraid I wouldn’t always be up-to-date with expendables.

It’s an annoying sound designed to draw attention. And it’s persistent.

Were you expecting me to change the paper?

I was wired with electrodes for a continuously running EKG. If one lead disconnected (I am the first person ever with hair on his body) it set off another beeping alarm in my room.


No, really. Why?

I was trying to sleep with a blood oxygen probe on one finger, inflating blood pressure cuff on my forearm, intravenous line to my hand and at least a half dozen poking electrodes on my chest back and side. Quiet was the only thing I wanted.

I know there’s a lot the hospital can’t control, but you’re in charge of the noises in the room. You can fix that tomorrow. You can.

Other annoyances, like an automated blood pressure cuff which inflated every half hour as I moved toward deep sleep is pretty beyond your control.

No warning. No nothing. All of a sudden a pump started and the cuff expanded until my arm was ready to explode. I need an hour alone in a room with the person who invented that.

Thankfully my earlier heart scare got me some extra time in the joint, because I wasn’t lucid enough to leave until 3:30 AM Saturday when I snuck out of my room to hang with the nurses. My actual discharge came at 11:00 AM.

So, here I am again on the couch. There’s a deep hole in my back a little larger than a quarter that needs to heal. I have been told to take it easy.

My back hurts at the incision. That will heal.

My leg pain is gone. My hope is that’s permanent.

I don’t know exactly when I’ll return to work. Two weeks is everyone’s best guess.

I haven’t driven a car in seven weeks! Except for doctors appointments it’s been over a month since I left the house!

I am ready to reclaim my life.

Thanks to the doctors who diagnosed and treated my ailment. Because of you my future should be pain free. You have my gratitude.

&#185 – The Hospital of St. Raphael was recently folded into Yale/New Haven Hospital. It isn’t the Hospital of St. Raphael anymore, but I will refer to it as HSR for old times sake.

I Have Been Fixed

Everything went as planned. I have been fixed.

I am in the hospital now. Discharge is planned for 11:00 AM.

There was no blog entry yesterday for the first time in six years! Surgery seems a defensible reason.

Everything went as planned. I have been fixed.

I am in the hospital now. Discharge is planned for 11:00 AM. My sleep schedule is totally screwed up!

Once I get home and settle in I will begin to write more about my experience and why I love people, but often hate systems!

Thanks to all of you who sent well wishes and kept me in your prayers. No words can express my gratitude that you allow me in your life.

The clock is running. I expect a two week recuperation then back to work.

Under The Knife, Friday

I am scheduled at the former Hospital of St. Raphael Friday morning at 7am. The means ‘in-the-hospital’ at 5:30 am.

“That’s when I usually go to bed,” I told the surgeon, a triathelete who looks like one! This is going to be on his schedule.

Here’s today’s revelation: My next step is surgery.

That’s the decision we came to this morning at the doctor’s office. It’s the decision Helaine and I anticipated last night.

Over the last month and a half my life has been dominated by pain and pain avoidance. It’s a crappy way-of-life.

I am scheduled at the former Hospital of St. Raphael Friday morning at 7am. The means ‘in-the-hospital’ at 5:30 am.

“That’s when I usually go to bed,” I told the surgeon, a triathelete who looks like one! This is going to be on his schedule.

My surgery has come together quickly. Once the decision was made the world shifted into high gear. Blood work, urine, x-ray and a rapid fire boatload of questions and warnings.

The plan is a small incision in my back to allow trimming the herniated disk currently squeezing my S1 nerve. Very straightforward.

If all goes well my leg pain will be gone. The wound from the incision will be a bigger short term problem. Within a few weeks I should be ready to go back to work.

A Lumbar Discectomy is routine surgery performed every day… but it is surgery. I have asked lots of questions and am happy the right team will be in place.

I asked the surgeon if he’d save some images for me to put in the blog.

“You want a picture of the disk,” he asked with more than a little pride in his ability to take one?

Hell yeah.

We’re Waiting

The surgeon even unwrapped a sterilized pen to put his initials on my mom’s arm.

So far I’ve been impressed my everything that’s gone on here at the hospital. We’ve been kept with my mom as much as possible. She’s in surgery now.

There are a lot of people involved in her care. There’s the anesthesiologist who’s got a med student tagging along. He also supervises a nurse who’ll be monitoring my mom. There are at least two other nurses who’ve been by and, of course, the surgeon.

He’s young–but that’s not saying much since everyone seems young nowadays. Actually he reminds me of the Elliot Gould character from the movie M*A*S*H. That was back when Elliot Gould was young… and thin… and a household name.

Everyone is systematic. Questions are asked then asked again. The surgeon even unwrapped a sterilized pen to put his initials on my mom’s arm.

My mom’s arm has been numbed. She has also been given a more general sedative. We’ve been told she’ll be pretty woozy the rest of the day, even after we leave the hospital. No heavy machinery for my mom!

My dad and I walked to the cafeteria for breakfast. This hospital is immense. We got lost on the way back–twice! One time we took the wrong elevator and ended up on a surgical floor.

There’s a large flat panel monitor mounted near the TV in this waiting room. It flashes info on all patients scheduled for the E.R. They are identified by number followed by the last, first and middle name of the surgeon. No initials here.

The rightmost column shows my mom’s procedure began at 8:22 AM. Now we wait for her elbow to be repaired. The surgeon will come and see us when everything’s done.

On My Way To Florida

The word shattered when used to describe a body part is never good!

I’m heading down to Florida Monday. Helaine and Stef will be staying in Connecticut. Unfortunately, my mom fell and shattered her elbow.

The word shattered when used to describe a body part is never good!

A few days ago, after her accident, my mom dropped some nuts on the floor. She got on her hands-and-knees to pick them up. With only one working ‘wing’ she couldn’t stand. She finally had to call our friend John to lend assistance.

The good news is she says she’s not in any pain. The bad news is she’ll need the elbow surgically repaired, probably with a few pins inserted for good measure. Surgery is scheduled for Tuesday morning.

A full recovery is expected and my mom should be back on the mound pitching before the All Star break.

Impressed By Bush 41

This morning, as I stumbled downstairs, Helaine asked if I had seen George H. W. Bush’s (aka – Bush 41) eulogy of Gerald Ford? It was an unusual topic for Helaine. She mostly avoids this kind of television – and who can blame her?

I had not seen it, but she had recorded it!

OK – before you start getting macabre feelings toward my wife, one of the great advantages of a DVR is, you can record shows on-the-fly. The recording actually begins at the point you started watching, not when you hit the record button. Pretty convenient.

She hit the play button and I watched Mr. Bush walk to the podium. He is 80 years old, but has a full head of hair and wore no glasses.

My dad later commented, maybe Bush 41 has no glasses for the same reason he has no glasses, they no longer help. Good try, but no. It’s possible he’s wearing contacts or had surgery. It’s still impressive.

President Bush began to read the eulogy and was quite poignant. I suppose, with too much practice, one gets gets at this sort of thing. Then he got to the point where he talked about the real Gerry Ford.

Twentieth Anniversary

Sometime over the next few days, we mark an anniversary in my family. Twenty years ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Had this been in her mother’s time, or even earlier in her own life, my mom would have died. It is a medical miracle that my mom and so many other women are breast cancer survivors&#185.

That’s not to say it was easy or not without consequences. This was a life changing experience for her. But, twenty years later, my mom is healthy and happy and incredibly active.

I will be forever grateful to the medical community that developed these miracles of modern science – because they really are nothing short of miracles.

It was an emotional time for us for a number of reasons. My parents had just moved to Connecticut from Queens. They were strangers out of their comfort zone in a life threatening situation. And, Helaine was pregnant, expecting in June.

The surgery had been successfully performed a few days earlier, but my mom was still at Yale/New Haven Hospital around this time, the week before Christmas.

Christmas is a quiet week in the hospital. Most elective surgery is postponed. If you’re there, you’re there because time is of the essence.

One night, while my mom was still recuperating, Helaine and I headed to the hospital to visit. While we were there, our friend and neighbor Ron Feinberg walked into the room.

He was finishing his medical training at Yale, and he too was stuck in the hospital on Christmas Eve (along with every other berg, stein, man and witz).

Things were quiet and he had an offer. Would we like to take a peek at our child? This was about the last possible thing we could have expected, but Helaine and I were game, so we followed Ron through the nearly deserted hospital and into an examining room.

As Ron passed the ultrasound transducer over Helaine’s belly, a video screen showed random noise… and then… Oh my God, it was a child.

We both stared at the screen silently.

Most people look at an ultrasound picture and try to figure out whether their child will be a boy or a girl. Silently, we did too… except Steffie’s body ended at the waist. Whether she had her legs tucked under her, or was in some contorted position, all we could see was we had a “stump baby!”

We actually both came to that conclusion independently, but never told Ron. He looked at the video as an OB/GYN, not a parent, and pronounced our unborn child healthy. And, she was.

Seeing our child for the first time, even with the less than perfect imagery of an ultrasound machine, was an amazing experience we’ll never forget. Getting that sneak peek and realizing my mom would live to cherish her grandchild, made it the most amazing gift ever.

In early June, Steffie was born right there at Yale/New Haven. She was not a stump.

&#185 Because the breast is composed of identical tissues in males and females, breast cancer can also occur in males, although cases of male breast cancer account for less than one percent of the total.

My Friend Kevin Is Very Sick

I am writing this in early July. When I’m finished composing my thoughts, I will hit the save button, but instead of publishing, this will be a saved draft. If you’re reading this, something tragic has happened in Kevin’s life.

Kevin’s a ham radio buddy, though neither of us are active ham radio operators anymore. I met him around 15 years ago, probably over-the-air first. He and another friend, John, offered to come over and help me erect a wire antenna over my house.

I didn’t know Kevin or John at the time. They offered to slingshot this wire between trees because… well, because they did nice things for people. I grew to better understand that as time went by.

Kevin is in his late 40s. He has four daughters, one still at home and in school, and a granddaughter. He and his wife are the kindest, sweetest people you would ever know.

This isn’t BS. I’m telling the truth – they’re so nice, I can’t think of anyone else even in the ballpark.

Kevin and Melanie are the most religious of my friends. They are observant Mormons. Kevin is an elder at his church&#185. Their religious beliefs are reflected in how their daughters were brought up.

Kevin is my friend who can do everything. Whether it’s physical labor, electronics or computer related, Kevin always has the answer. He doesn’t look like a jock, and I’ve never heard him express any interest in sports (a continuing trend with my friends), but he kayaks and camps and is generally at home in the outdoors.

He would give you the shirt off his back. He would. End of story.

A few months ago Kevin had some back trouble. Who knows why these things happen. He had surgery. Back problems don’t go away all at once, as Kevin found. We really hadn’t discussed the surgery in a while and I assumed he was healing.

Last Thursday I spoke to Kevin, first on Instant Messenger and then on the phone. He was in the hospital.

His symptoms were back pain and nausea. When he went for medical treatment, he was told he needed to be in the hospital right then – they literally walked him over.

Doctors had discovered a blood clot in his pancreas. Blood clots are serious stuff, so he went to have it ‘fixed’.

After we got off the phone, I did what most people do in 2006, I went to the Internet to research his trouble.

Enter “pancreas blood clot” in Google and the first citation’s headline is: “ACS :: How Is Cancer of the Pancreas Diagnosed?”

It had never entered my mind. It had probably never entered Kevin’s either. He’s not even 50. He doesn’t smoke or drink. He’s easy going and non-stressful. He has lived the observant life and, religion aside, he’s still a wonderful person.

I went to visit Kevin on Thursday. He was in a pleasantly bright room with the door open and a curtain giving him a modicum of privacy. He had his laptop and cellphone at the ready. He was lying in bed, over the covers. There was a currently unused ‘port’ for intravenous fluid on his wrist.

If Kevin was sick, I couldn’t see it.

We talked about my Internet project. Kevin was my go-to guy when I ran into problems and he was designing the backend interface to the database.

I told him to forget it. But he said it would be a good way to pass the time.

We spoke again Friday. He was originally supposed to be leaving, but some tests had come back and he had pancreatic cancer. He said it like you might say you had peeling paint at home. He was relaxed… unphased.

From Wikipedia: Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer typically have a poor prognosis because the cancer usually causes no symptoms early on, leading to metastatic disease at time of diagnosis. Median survival from diagnosis is around 3 to 6 months; 5-year survival is 5%

Kevin came home Saturday evening.

&#185 – I apologize, because I don’t think it’s actually called a church and elder might be an inaccurate term. He is the lay person who runs the services.

Addendum – It is January 24, 2008. While installing new software I found this entry. I treaded lightly when I wrote this. Unfortunately, our worst fears were realized and Kevin died from the cancer on June 1, 2007.

He was everything I said he was and more. He really should still be alive. That would be the fair outcome.