If It's Not Fatal, I'll Try To Put Up With It

If It's Not fatal, I'll Try To Put Up With It
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How  I   Survived  A  Four-Way  By-Pass

And  Lived  To  Tell  About   It

            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. 

  That 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.

                 My first 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. 

  But 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,
Threw on 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 anybody here?!”

         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 up.   

      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 it!” 

         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!

       But when the time came,  when, like Job,  the thing I greatly feared actually did come upon me,   I acted like a pussy-cat.  

       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 yet.”

        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 proper.

       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 
Lay there resting.

        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 with the 
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 pots.

       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 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 a clear
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.

       I 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










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