For all I knew, I’d
been behaving myself. I’d been eating my vegetables. And for several weeks, I hadn’t
even had a soft drink. No Coke, no Pepsi, no nothing.
had started when I joined my church in a Daniel Fast in January. That’s 21 days of mostly vegetables, and avoiding
of everything else that you really like.
I had had my first
taste of Coke when I was 13 years old, and since then I had never been without it. But The Daniel Fast had awakened some taste buds, and those taste
buds had developed a resentment for what I had once been almost addicted to.
And, for the first time in my life, without me trying at all, or even paying attention,
I began to notice that my clothes were fitting. Skirts that once could barely be fastened, actually
started slipping down over my hips.
And then there were
the two tests. The stress test, and the ecko-cardiogram. I’d had those tests about three years
before. The doctor that administered the tests at that time, stood there, quite friendly, and informed
me in a kind voice that all was well, according to the test. I received the news gratefully,
trying to suppress a giggle. A few years before, I had written and self-published a novel. And this kind
doctor with the good news bore a striking physical resemblance to the villian in my book. The
resemblance, happily, was only on the outward. And I did manage not to giggle.
So when I first felt the pains, heart trouble was furthest from my mind.
I first noticed them on the way to the Cable Access TV studio, on a nice May Wednesday afternoon. It was
not a sharp, needle like pain. It was more like someone had spilled crazy glue all over the inside of my chest,
and everything in there was sticking together.
thought was that there was some kind of pullution in the air, and I was breathing something that made me burn. This
thought seemed reasonable, since the minute I got inside at the studio, the pain left.
The next few days, the pattern seemed to develop, that when I
went outside, I hurt, but when I’d come in, the pains would relax.
I even walked over to the El Cid, a local Mexican restaurant, and met
my daughter for dinner. The pains disappeared the minute I sat down at the table. We had a lovely dinner.
But things started to get out of hand, and now the pain was not going away. I was still making excuses.
It was pollution. It was indigestion.
Heart trouble was not allowed in my vocabulary.
then one morning, I woke up, realizing that I just could not manage this anymore.
But Dr. Blacker was out of town. So I called the Medical Office, described my symptoms, and said, just
get me ANYBODY!
I heard a strong, reassuring, voice at the other
end. It was a Dr. Nau, who told me to come in to the emergency room immediately, and take an asperin.
This was my cue. My signal. It’s OK to panic now! I called a cab,
some clothes, and forgot to take the asperin.
Halfway down Diversey Parkway, I
remembered the asperin. This was another cue. It’s OK to panic now, too!
I pushed my rolator walker through the entrance door to the emergency room. The attendant was momentarily
in the back. Panic Number Three!
“Hello! Hello! Is
Within a quarter of a minute,
the attendant had come up, I was through the door, and there were real medical personnel ready to take my vitals.
The panic left. Now that they were there, everything would be all right.
I was quickly hooked up to the the required tubes, had the ID bracelet clicked into
place, and was on the bed, sitting up, with a pillow behind my back.
Someone came in and put an ex-ray plate behind my back, and took an ex-ray with a portable machine. I
felt so grateful at that moment. I had never seen an ex-ray machine on wheels. But I was so
glad they did not have to make me stand up for the picture. Right now I knew I could not handle standing
Before long, I was in a room, and attached
to a heart monitor. It was a small device, resembling an old fashioned portable radio.
Small enough to put into the pocket of the hospital gown. But it had wires. Wires all over.
Attached to me. And I learned that as long as I had these wires on me, I could not take a shower.
How humiliating! Not only that, but I have chronically very dry skin, and if I don’t get a shower
when I need it, my skin can start to itch so badly I want to scratch it off.
I knew by now I wasn’t going home today. I didn’t care. I just wanted to lie down and let everybody
take care of me.
And there was a test I had to be given.
I’d had one of those before. They inject a die into your veins and take pictures. I
can’t remember the name of it. It mapped out that three vessels to my heart were 90% blocked.
How in the
world could I have been functioning at all? In answer to my question, Doctor Blacker pointed towards Heaven.
This is where time, days, room changes, and other events started to blend together. Can’t
remember exactly when any given event took place.
It was late that afternoon, I believe,
when Dr. Bradshaw came into my room, and leaned against the windowsill.
He was the Doctor. I’d never seen him before. But my life was suddenly in his hands.
Actually, as I later looked back on that scene, I was rather astonished at the fact of how calmly I received
the news. This stranger with his life in my hands seemed to actually inspire confidence, which I
really, really, needed.
I heard the words “four-way
by-pass” and I did not do what a person would normally do on hearing those words. I didn’t scream,
cry, or shake.
“Oh, that’s about the
worst thing!” My mind said, with extraordinary self-control. “Well, if you gotta fix it, fix
About that moment, my daughter arrived,
and the Good Doctor had to repeat everything for her benefit. She responded with business-like decorum. Well,
get on with fixing it!
I did not realize that my surgery
had already been scheduled.
When I was informed of the scheduling,
I marveled. Hey, this is real! This is actually happening to me!
I found my own reactions rather odd. Ever since I was 40 years old, I had a
secret fear in a locked-up corner of my heart. Don’t even THINK heart trouble! Once, I was watching a
TV show, and as the story progressed, it hinted that one of the ladies in the story was going to have a heart attack.
I changed the channel. I was a heavy middle aged lady, and heavy middle aged ladies had heart troubles. But
not in MY world! I would not even allow it! I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. It
was just never going to happen to me! And that was that! I would not even allow myself to
watch it in a fiction story. Talk about dodging reality!
when the time came, when, like Job, the thing I greatly feared actually did come upon me, I acted like
Deuteronomy 33:27 The
Eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms. And those Everlasting Arms swept up under me and
held me secure. And not once during the following days did I ever feel afraid or nervous, wondering if
those Arms would slip.
I needed the surgery “yesterday”,
but was informed that because of blood thinners I had been given on my arrival, I had to wait a whole week.
Suddenly, good news! Dr. Blacker was on the scene! His job, on this team,
was to keep track of every single pinch, twinge, rattle, chill, dizzyness, or just plain discomfort
I felt, throughout the entire pre- and post-op proceedings. Just his daily appearance
in the doorway to check on my goose pimples, or lack thereof, was a boost to my morale,
banishing any feelings of abandonment I might have been having.
That week was to be filled with resting in the hospital bed, waiting around for meal trays, getting
sick at the thought of eating what was on the meal trays, going round and round on the TV dial trying to find something
reasonably interesting, and NOT taking any showers!
It turned out my roommate was a writer of children’s stories, so we had something to talk about.
Her name was Elaine, like one of my relatives, and she had a relative named Rose. So I did have
a few nice visiting moments.
My biggest tactical problem was that
the hospital-provided CPAP masks did not fit. The headgear---the straps that hold the mask in place, appeared to have
been designed to fit the strangely mis-shaped heads of the aliens in the movie “Independence Day”.
And the mask did not fit snugly over the face, which resulted in the stream of air blowing into
the face, in a manner that made me feel like I was sleeping with my head sticking out of an open window on a moving
bus. And when I would take the CPAP off to use the restroom at 2:am, an alarm would start honking so loud
I was sure it could be heard all over the hospital. And I didn’t know how to turn it off.
When I’m preparing for a taping of my Cable Access TV show, I always calm myself the day before, by reminding
myself, “it’s not happening yet, so you don’t have to get nervous yet”. That’s
what I told myself about the surgery. All the way through the pre-op preparation, all the way into
the operating room, it was, “the surgery hasn’t started yet, you don’t have to worry
I did have an “Oh, oh, it’s here,
now” moment, when I was wheeled into the operating room. But then I fell asleep.
The next thing I was aware of was, I was looking at my left arm. I can’t tell what position
I was in, but it felt like I was lying on my side, or that I was on my back with my arm somehow above me. But,
there it was, with a huge, wrist-to-inner-elbow scar, with a big knot in the end at the wrist, making my arm look
like that of a Raggedy-Ann doll. Oh, yeah, I remembered. They said they would take a vein out of
my arm. I hadn’t thought of it leaving a scar. At least not a jumbo sized one.
Somebody came near me and told me my surgery was over, and wanted a response from me, so I
nodded my head. Then somebody
said something about yanking the tube out of my throat, which she did.
The next several hours and days are something of a blur. I remember at one time, waking up.
I wasn’t awake all the way. I do remember that I felt a blanket covering my head.
I was uncomfortable. And I heard the incessant honking of that alarm that I associated with
the disconnected CPAP mask. I don’t remember if I was wearing the CPAP, or if it was an alarm for some
other thing that needed attention. I just remember that I was barely conscious, very hot, and felt
like the alarm would never go away. And I couldn’t move. The “couldn’t move” part
was by far the worst thing. I thought that this was as close to Hell as I ever wanted to get.
I did return to reality, and wakefulness, and hospital post-op routine.
They would take me out to
a room someplace and make me walk. Just ten steps, but they’d make me do it.
When I was able, I took to getting up myself, and pulling the IV bar down the hall to the observation room, and looking
at the sailboats in Lake Michigan. Whoever thought to build a hospital on the corner of the Lake there, was a genious.
Watching the sailboats was more than pleasant and relaxing. It was theraputic. I think that
the Doctors should prescribe each patient to be required to watch the sailboats at least ten minutes a day.
I celebrated my 72nd birthday in the hospital. My windowsill was filled with flower arrangements bearing banners
and balloons, saying both Get Well, and Happy Birthday.
My daughter would bring me my mail, and stationary
to handwrite my answers to my mail.
I would wait around for the meal tray to
come by, and be so happy when it finally arrived. And then I’d look at the food, and it all appeared to be made
of modeling clay, and didn’t taste much better, and I wondered how I would ever be able to swallow it.
I got used to handing out my finger or my arm, several times a day, to be poked with a needle.
The most memorably uncomfortable post-op discomfort, was the raw, rough, three-yards of cement that
I felt in my chest. I knew my sternum had been cut in half like a chicken breast. And I was terrified to cough,
sneeze, or even clear my throat, lest something disastrous would result from the movement. And there was constantly
a trickle in my chest that felt like
A small rivulet of water flowing over a cold hard rock.
I spent a lot of time running the the remote control around the dial, looking for something worth watching.
I found a series about a dwarf named Shorty, who had a business where he hired other dwarves to rescue mistreated
animals. I saw an animal performers show, where a lady had trained fan-tailed doves to fly around on her
arms in a breathtaking bird ballet.
My daughter would come by every day and
cheer me up. My aunt would come by every day, and wear me out.
One thing about major surgery. You sort of come to a moment when you have to forget all ideas about modesty.
I remember one moment when, dressed in high fashion hospital-chic, I was being assisted across
the room to the bathroom by a clone of Lou Gossett, Jr. And all I could think of was, what
a helpful angel!
That’s the way the medical profession
is. You go into a strange room, and sitting in that room is a perfect stranger, and that stranger is a man. And
within five minutes you have half your clothes off and are talking about bowel movements. And it’s all perfectly
At one point, the Doctor decided I needed a transfusion.
I’d never had a transfusion before. I was set up in a nice quiet room, hooked up, and just
It was exactly half-way through the transfusion, that it took
effect. Suddenly my bowels, which hadn’t moved in several days, decided they were very definitely ready to get
back to work, and I had to be helped to the commode. Back in the bed, my lunch tray came, and suddenly
I was really hungry, and wanted to eat everything. But right in the middle of lunch, the people came to transfer
me to another room. So with all of my clothes and belongings, my lunch tray, and my utility bar
IV and blood bag, we went wheeling down the hall like a caravan.
Two and three times a day, someone came and took me to the rehab
room, where I was walked
around and around, up and down stairs, and made to get on a bed and practice lying down. Lying down was very
difficult for me. The inside of my chest was paved with concrete, and shifting positions was something
I did NOT enjoy! A couple of nights, I slept sitting up in a big chair, because getting a comfortable position in the
bed seemed like an impossible task.
Finally, Home-going Day! I made an
arrangement with my favorite brother to drive me home. I left the hospital followed by a parade of flower
An interesting thing happened on the way out. As I was being
wheeled down the hall to the elevator, suddenly all the nurses aides that had cared for me, came running
out of the rooms they were in, like on a signal. I suddenly found myself surrounded by the ladies, shaking my hand
and saying goodby and asking me for a blessing. I said a short prayer for each of them. And I have wondered ever
since what I did that made them like me so much. Was it because I was polite to them and said “thank you”
and “please”? Or maybe I didn’t complain to them about anything.
It was a sweet thing.
Home Again! Back to my computer,
and my e-mail, and the funny cat pictures on the Icanhazcheesberger.com site. Call the Home Nurse from
Excellent Home Health, and schedule the home physical therapists.
Get a few showers. Back to almost normal. But only for a short time.
During this short time, I “lost it” once. The nurse had showed me in the hospital
how to ruin a perfectly good, juicy orange, by injecting it with insulin. I did it in the hospital. I’m
a big girl. But that first day at home, when it was time to actually do it on my own, I couldn’t.
I forgot how to pull the plunger out. I forgot every movement I’d been taught, and I just knew I would never be
able to put that sharp, hostile object into my own skin.
So I cried, surrendered to my weakness, and begged my daughter to do it. After a few days,
I recovered from my cowardice, and started sticking the needle in myself. Now, she still has the job
of filling the syringe, because her hands are steadier than mine, and she can read the numbers on the syringe better.
But now I can do the terrifying deed without any trouble. The only trouble I have now is getting
Unobstructed view of the chosen site of the injection. That’s one of the frustrations
of being “chubby”. You can never see your whole body at the same time.
One day, the Home Nurse and Home Physical Therapist showed
Up at the same time. They both
saw something oozing out of the suture in my chest, and called Dr. Blacker.
Whatever it was, demanded immediate attention. I had an appointment that day, anyway.
Before the day was done, I was back in the hospital.
This stay had to be longer than the stay for the surgery.
I needed to take a series of anti-biotic IV drips. Twice a day for a month. One hour each.
Several trips to the room where they scan the bone, to make sure there was no infection in it. From having
a near perfect recovery, I seemed to now have the worst available complication.
This time, I had my daughter bring me my own CPAP mask. What a relief!
This time the days really took forever. I was missing the whole summer. The concrete in
my chest was feeling a bit better. I went to the activity room, where we would play memory games to help our
brain cells decide to wake up. We had a session where the activity leader did a great job of polishing
my nails. When I got back to my room, I suddenly remembered my daughter’s allergies, and was afraid the smell
of the polish might make her sick, so I took the polish off right away.
My chest wound was cut open, and into this gaping hole in my chest, there was put a sponge, attached to a hose, and
taped down securely. The hose was attached to a small portable thing called a wound-vac, that drained the wound,
and let it heal slowly from the bottom layer to the top. Which required that a couple of times, the top layer had to
be cut open again, because it was going to fast, and the process had to be continued from the inside out.
And once again, to assure that the apparatus remained dry, there were allowed NO SHOWERS.
There occurred a problem with my Medicare payments, and one of the solutions thought up was
to transfer me to a nursing home for the final ten or so days of my treatment.
But by this time, I was beginning to go into a severe depression. The thought of being in a nursing home made
me feel like I would be left out in the middle of the desert with no company except the cactus.
I had a couple of really long, drawn-out bawling sessions. I told Nurse Kim I wanted to go
home. I was willing to come back to the hospital every day for the treatments---spend a thousand Dollars on back and
forth taxi fares---but I just wanted to go home.
Nurse Kim Gough is an angel of mercy.
Even before I knew when my surgery would be, she was in the room, soldier-like, ready to prepare me for my battle.
And when I told her how badly I wanted to go home, she determined to get it done.
It took a lot of checking, testing, making sure it would be safe for me to go home. Then one day,
I was hooked up to a small, portable, wound-vac, and was on my way.
Three times a week, the dressing in my chest was changed, and the open wound was measured. It
was closing. Very slowly.
There were times I had to fight
giving in to depression, feeling that I was going to be plugged into the wall with that machine for a whole year.
And my skin under the tape itched and itched and itched with no available remedy. I unloaded
my depression to a good friend of mine in Minnesota. She told me to learn to say “I wuv my
wound-vac! It is keeping me alive!”
I tried to learn to “wuv” my
wound-vac, and got to laughing at it, for its talent for getting tangled. There was the vacuum hose, and the re-charger
cord. And to leave them unsupervised for as short a time as one minute, caused them to tie themselves together in
impossible knots, which I had to untangle several times a day, and also quietly, and in the dark, when I would have
to get up in the middle of the night for a trip to the bathroom.
invented a way to have a shower without having a shower. I would cover the floor with towels. Then
I would collect pitchers from the kitchen, and fill them with hot water, and put them on the utility bench in the shower.
Then I would stand on the towels in front of the sink, and suds up all over, careful to avoid my chest
area. Then I would climb into the shower, hold a big thick towel tightly over my chest, and with my other
hand, pour the water in the pitchers over me.
My hair was desperately in need of
a shampoo. It was also desperately in need of a dye job. I started using Number 110 Natural Light
Auburn when I was thirty years old. In all that time since, I had not seen my natural color more
than a tiny wisp at the roots. Over these weeks, I saw the silver strands in my hair, growing longer and
longer, like an unkept front lawn. I began to actually feel my age. Should I accept the inevitable
and leave it like this?
No! No! No!
Never! I will accept white hair when I get my resurrected body in Heaven! But here, it will
stay Auburn! When I was finally able to hang my head over the sink, my chest protected by a thick towel, and
apply the dye, I felt like I was swimming in the waters of the Fountain of Youth! Oh! What
a lovely feeling! I’m young again!
Finally came the day of freedom. I was free to walk around unfettered, free to lift my walker
up the stairs, and get around.
It took a while to get used to being
able to get around. I didn’t have to remember to pick up the wound-vac every time I moved. I
stopped getting yanked back to my chair when I would forget to unplug the re-charger cord when I would start
to cross the floor. Walking a block with my walker became easy again. I could go the whole block
without having to stop for breath. That felt really good, really satisfying.
Three days after I got delivered from the wound-vac, I got attacked with a case of the mother of all sciatica,
which prevented me from leaving the house for another three months. The pain went up one leg and down the other,
and never let up.
During the sciatica ordeal,
I was swallowing pain pills several times a day. Once, I neglected to get the refill. And
I didn’t have enough pills to last the weekend. This would have meant at least two and a half days in torment.
And our CVS Pharmacy was closed on Saturday. This required a panicky call to Dr. Blacker for an emergency prescription
at an open pharmacy.
I couldn’t leave the house,
I could barely move. Once, bending to sit down was so painful I nearly fell off the chair I was trying
to sit down on.
Finally, a couple of very well-placed,
but certainly painful, cortisone shots, took care of that, and now I was back full time, re-establishing
my normal schedule.
But something lovely happened
through that ordeal. One morning, sitting at the computer, I started to sing and praise the Lord. After
a few minutes, something sweet happened. My mind became so caught up into a Heavenly Place of the Lord’s
Joy and Peace, that for a few minutes, I seemed detached from the pain. It was still there, just as sharp
as ever. But I found my mind letting go of the torment of it, as though it were an irrelevant small
distraction to the sweet peace I was feeling in my soul.
Psalm 42:7. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts. All thy waves and Thy billows
have gone over me. Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall
be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
Psalm 98:1 Oh, sing unto the
Lord a new song, for He hath done marvelous things!
I am filled with a sweet newness, and a
deep thankfulness for all the extra days I see ahead of me.
Tribute and many thanks to Nurse Kim and the
Doctors. There is a Doctor named Stein, who took care of infections. I never could remember
the word that described his specialty, so I called him the Bug Doctor. There is a surgeon, whose
name I’ve forgotten, who’s initial is S. and who was part of the team.
And then there is Dr.s Bradshaw, Breyer, and Blacker. My
three-B A Team.
Thanks so much for the extra
years. I’m going to use all this extra time I got to serve my Saviour.
The New Beginning