MY DAY AT THE HOSPITAL – Marilyn Armstrong

After a day during which we got up early because I had a hospital appointment, the day after Bonnie quite literally barked all night, it made this into a very long day. Garry hadn’t driven in so long, we missed the turn into the hospital.

When we finally backtracked, they had the entire parking lot roped off and there are a lot of places you can’t go. Like the front door to the buildings. Since they won’t let the caretakers of people in, Garry had to wait in the car. It turned out he could have waited in the lobby, but when we asked, no one knew anything about anything.

One building was all COVID-19 cases — it used to be an extension of the daycare/heart unit and presumably will be again. I fell on my way in, really because those shoes have a ribbed sole that has a tendency to catch on cement. I scraped my knee, which was only a very small part of the problem. The rest of it was getting up from the ground. I can do it myself, but I need something to grab.

And suddenly, there were nurses and doctors and lawyers everywhere. “She fell on hospital grounds!” they said. I guess they assumed I was ready to call a lawyer.

I said, “If this is the most serious problem I have this week, it’ll be a great week.” They still had to check me out, realized when I said it was no big deal, I meant it really was no big deal. They cleaned it, didn’t bother to bandage it. Tomorrow everything will hurt, but in the meantime, they checked my battery (I sometimes sound like one of my electronic devices) and unlike the last time they checked it when I had maybe two years of battery left, this time I had 6-1/2 years left. I guess quarantine got me fully charged.

There wasn’t much traffic but there was more than I expected. A lot more.

The nurse explained that they aren’t worried about people who need help because basically, everything is closed. I pointed out that I didn’t hurry for this exam. They called me because it had been more than a year since I was checked. Which is a long time for someone following heart surgery, especially with so many implants.

She looked at my records and said, “Oh. yes. I can see.” She then pointed out that the mess they’d made at the hospital was way above her pay grade. And she reminded me that they have a building full of tests for Coronavirus, but they aren’t using the tests because they are saving them.

I didn’t even bother asking what they were saving them for because I already knew that was  WAY above her paygrade and maybe the head of the hospital’s paygrade.

Outbound road

They sent me the test results and I have to say I have no idea what they mean. None. The only thing I could say for sure is that there were no “flags” indicating a specific problem. So that battery works and there’s nothing terrible going on.

As we turned into the driveway, I asked Garry to stop so I could take pictures of the garden which has gone from a dead, muddy pile to something resembling a garden. Amazing what sunshine can do. I’m supposed to get a box soon, when our very backed up post office manages to hire a few more deliverers who can find their way around the Valley. It will — via Bluetooth — continuously interrogate my Pacemaker and send the information electronically. I may not have to go to the doctor more than once a year, but it is a bit creepy.

A BIT OF ADVICE ON SURVIVING YOUR MEDICAL SYSTEM – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m alive for two major reasons:

  1. Because I didn’t take a lot of advice I was given. I had been misdiagnosed and had some bad doctors.
  2. Having learned my lessons the hard way, I did my homework and sought out the best doctors for whatever needed to be done.

In earlier surgeries, I tried to make life easier for people to visit me, including a working husband. Now, I find the best, most respected surgeon … even if he or she is a long drive from home. It’s my life on the line.

Dealing with breast cancer in both breasts — two unrelated tumors — and ultimately getting Boston’s best surgeon and plastic (rebuilding) surgeon was complicated, but I found a doctor who was a friend of Garry’s brother (who lives in Minnesota, but the doctor lived in Boston). The “local” surgeon had 30 surgeries and told me what I was going to do. No choice. She believed she already knew what I needed.

I spent a month finding someone with hundreds of hours who was head of the women’s surgery unit in Boston. It was a very nerve-wracking month hoping cancer wouldn’t grow much while I sought the best doctors I could find.

There is a lot of advice I wish I had gotten but didn’t. Instead, I got some excellent advice from myself.

The most critical information I can give you is to make sure you are using the best doctors and hospitals. Local doctors may be able to set a broken leg, but for anything more complicated, they might kill you if you let them.

I took my own advice which is how come I’m here to tell the tale. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t been my most powerful advocate, I’d be an ex-blogger.

This is my best advice. 

Life is unexpected. Shit happens. Cancer, heart issues, diabetes, arthritis. You name it, we get it. No matter how well you take care of yourself, you will at some point require medical care, maybe surgery, maybe other stuff.

Regardless of convenience, understanding the quality of the medical facilities within driving distance — even extended driving distance — are critical to surviving.

Do the research. Find out what available medical facilities and associated doctors and surgeons and support services are reachable. If you have to drive a considerable distance to obtain the best services and people, do it. Survival trumps convenience.

Your life is on the line. I’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the story. It is absolutely worth it. You are worth it.

THE LONG ROAD

Recovery, by Rich Paschall

Bill was to report to County Hospital at 10 AM so he had to hustle through his morning routine, if you could call it that.  He slept until the sun woke him up, so he barely had an hour to wash his face, shave, get dressed, make coffee and leave the house.  In his usual haphazard fashion, Bill accomplished his tasks on time.

From the kitchen window he spied clouds that might roll in from the west, but nothing could erase the shine from this day. A goal had been met and Bill would have the honor of walking the winner across the finish line.  But despite his bright attitude, Bill grabbed for the large golf umbrella on the way out the door.  No, Bill did not play golf.  He just never knew when there might be a need for such a large umbrella.

Clouds rolling in

Everyone seemed to know Bill when he arrived at the hospital.  He had been making regular visits there for months, and chatting up the nurses and interns along the way.  Now he only had time to smile and wave as he made his way to the fifth floor.

In room 502 a nurse was assisting the patient in getting ready to leave the rehabilitation floor to head home.  Slowly he dressed, needing some help from others as he went.  When he was all set, the nurse helped him to stand, and after a minute on his feet, to sit in the wheelchair.  His personal items were stuffed into two plastic bags marked “Patient Belongings” and a small plastic tub, which was used a few times for washing up, was filled with a small half used tube of toothpaste, a cheap toothbrush, a small unopened shampoo bottle, a half bottle of mouthwash and some hand lotion.

The patient, a retired Industrial Planner from the Midwest, had arrived rather unceremoniously  three months earlier.  Paramedics brought him in after collecting him from the floor of his screened in patio.  A neighbor had spotted him and another neighbor arrived with his first name.  A medical investigator actually discovered his last name by visiting the home where he was found and looking on the mailbox.

Now the entire staff on the fifth floor of County Hospital knew Harold.  Although he said very little due to his condition, nurses and therapists liked to stop in to have a little chat.  For the first month, Harold could say nothing in return.  As time progressed, he began to react more to the comments with a nod, a smile, or even a word or two.

He had spent the first week at County down stairs in ICU.  For the second week he did little but lay in bed in 502.  Sometimes someone would turn on the television, but it was doubtful Harold was aware of it most of the time.  After that, the plan was put in motion.  It was not the plan of the supreme Planner, but one on which the rest of his life depended.

It took many helpers to carry out the plan for Harold.  A physical therapist was brought in to get Harold back into motion.  He worked his arms and legs and soon began to prompt the patient on which action to make.  When he was quite ready, the therapist would take him to the activity room where Harold would sit and roll a large ball across the room to the therapist who would roll it back.  After that there was standing and walking.  By the third month, Harold moved to the stairs.  It was a narrow set of three with railings on both sides to grab.  He went up to the top, then down the other side.

As movement improved, Harold was taken to a room set up like a kitchen.  There he would practice opening jars and bottles and sometimes even cans.  It was a struggle.  In the third month he would prepare his own lunch.  It was soft foods which he sometimes could not eat.

From week three a therapist came to teach swallowing.  Weeks of exercises lead to attempt at swallowing thick liquids.  Water and coffee were no good unless thickener was added.  Harold looked at the therapist with a bit of disdain every time she poured thickener into a good cup of coffee.  In truth, he could barely swallow the liquids when his time at County was up.

Another therapist worked on speech.  Harold found it strange that someone must teach him how to shape his mouth and exercise his throat for sounds in order to say words again.  It was not perfect after three months, but at least he could speak and be understood.

The long road home

Bill arrived in 502 with all of the enthusiasm of a relative welcoming someone back from the dead.  His smile was even larger than the patient’s, who still was working on his facial muscles and reactions.

“Ready to break out of here?” Bill said with a laugh.

Harold nodded slowly.  He actually was not sure he was ready, but he was certainly glad to be going home.

“OK then, I guess we will just roll you out of here, since they will not allow you to race through the halls,” Bill blurted out, amused with himself.

A member of the hospital staff rolled the patient to the front door and Bill pulled his car right up to the front.  They both had to help Harold get into the car, as his range of motion was limited.

The hospital worker handed into Harold a cane, the kind with four feet on the bottom.  “I guess you will be needing this for a while.”  With that, the two retirees drove away.

Leaving the hospital was not the end of the journey for Harold.  It only took him part way down the long road.

 

 

 

A TAP ON THE SHOULDER

When Hope Pays a Visit, Rich Paschall

Bill woke with the Florida sun proclaiming the new day, as he did on most days. He did not set an alarm clock, it was against his retirement protocol. Instead, he waited for the room to brighten with the energy of a new morning.

A new morning

A new morning

As he wandered through his house, getting ready to meet the world, Bill thought of what he would do that Friday. It seems he had been on a futile mission all week. Nevertheless, he would try again, and give it just one more chance. It felt like the least he could do for his friend.

Bill’s morning routine could not exactly be described as a routine.  Rather it was haphazard at best. He went to the washroom. He went to the closet. He went to the kitchen to start coffee. He went back to the washroom to shave. He looked again in the closet for what to wear and he went back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It took him over an hour to get ready to start the day, but that was Bill’s retirement plan. In other words, there was no plan.

His neighbor Harold, on the other hand, always had a plan. His time seemed to be allocated to the minute. While Bill liked Harold, he was not fond of the rigid lifestyle. That was no way to retire, Bill thought. Of course, it all did not matter now.

At the beginning of the week, Harold was found lying on his screened in patio and carted off to the local hospital, just a short distance away. It was not unusual for the Emergency Medical Technicians to pick up old timers in this part of Sarasota County, but it was still a shock to the few who knew Harold. Bill was one of those few.

Although a daily purpose was never part of Bill’s retirement goals, he nonetheless scheduled himself into a visit to the county hospital every day in a vain attempt to learn something, anything, about Harold’s condition. He was not immediate family and he was not named on any medical documents, since Harold, Planner Supreme, had no plan for this life-altering event. So Bill had learned nothing all week-long. Still, he could not settle his mind over the thought of Harold just falling over on his patio. So he kept trying to get a medical update.

When coffee was gone and toast was eaten, Bill was ready to make the trip to the county hospital. He stepped out into the Florida sun to find the day was already hot and humid.  Neighbor Mabel Crockett, would tell anyone who would listen that “the air was so think you could cut it with a knife.”  And so it was exactly that.

Bill hopped into his car in the driveway of his townhouse and hoped that the air conditioner would be at work right away. He was a bit disappointed at that, but he did not have far to go.

He arrived at the parking lot that was just two dollars for patients and visitors for four hours. “Don’t forget to have your ticket validated,” the guard warned Bill. If he forgot, the charge was double. Bill did not seem to care too much about that.

He entered by the Emergency Room and walked past the Trauma Triage and down the hall to the main lobby area. There he walked right up to the same receptionist who greeted him every day that week.

“Yes?” the elderly receptionist said with a sigh. She recalled Bill immediately and was prepared to go through the routine again.

“I am here to see my friend Harold. He came in through Emergency on Monday.”

“I know,” she said with a tired sound. It is the same sound that came with all of the disappointing statements she must give to visitors. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “Your friend is in intensive care. I can not give out information to anyone but immediate family.”

Bill started with his usual response, “But I might be…”

“I know, sir, and I am very sorry. It is the regulation and there is nothing else I can say,” the grey haired woman proclaimed with a heavy dose of sadness.

They stared at each other for a moment when Bill finally conceded. “I understand,” he said with a bit of a choked up sound. He could understand the rule, just not the dogmatic enforcement in this circumstance.

Bill started back down the hall toward the exit by the Emergency room. He passed pictures of important donors, including the Ringling Family of Circus fame. There were also paintings of peaceful ocean scenes that would seem to go with the best rooms at a Holiday Inn. Bill noticed none of it all week-long.  He just knew how long the walk would take to the exit.

As he got half way down the hall, Bill felt a tap on his shoulder.  “Excuse me,” a voice announced. “Excuse me, sir.”

Bill turned around to find the elderly receptionist right behind him.  She seemed a bit out of breath, probably from her pursuit of Bill.

“I am not supposed to say anything,” she said softly, as if she was telling a big secret, “but what are they going to do?  Fire me?  I am a volunteer.” At that, Bill saw her first smile of the week.

“Your friend is doing better,” she stated, “And they should move him out of Intensive Care soon, maybe tomorrow.”

Bill grabbed the old woman and gave her a big hug. Tears formed in his eyes as he told the receptionist, “Thank you so much!”  This was followed by another big hug.

So Bill thanked some woman he didn’t know for some news about a neighbor he hardly knew. The news itself really wasn’t anything at all, but it made Bill’s day complete.

Note: The next “Harold story” appears Friday.
Previously:  “Missing Monday,” “Sunshine, Spring Training and Survival,” “Wednesday Wondering,” “Waiting For The Story To Continue.”

A QUICKIE – Marilyn Armstrong

We are home. Garry’s surgery went very well. All the pieces are in place. Owen and I got to see the x-rays and you see the tiny coil that will send sound to his brain and the magnets that will keep the apparatus on his head.

Garry in hospital, not quite out of anesthesia yet, but getting there. From Owen’s iPhone.

He has a BIG cup of coffee, which he needed, took a bunch of ibuprofen for a headache. I fed him yogurt and fresh fruit and he’s watching a baseball game.

He is tired. I am tired. Owen is tired. But it happened. Two weeks to finish healing, then another couple of weeks for the healing to really finish healing, at which point all the technology gets put in place.

Thank you to everyone for caring. This really IS magic.

GARRY’S COCHLEAR IMPLANT IS TODAY – Marilyn Armstrong

By the time you read this, we will be at the hospital and quite probably surgery will be underway or even finished. I guess it depends on what time zone you’re in.

This is exciting stuff. Nervous-making, too. It will be at least 5 weeks until he is out of bandages and fitted with all the technology.

Remi, Garry, Tom, and sunshine

After that, it will take a few more weeks while we wait for the magic to work. The technology doesn’t produce “natural” sound. It is essentially electronic, yet the brain converts it into “real” sound. Or, more to the point, makes it sound like whatever sound we recognize as “natural.”

How it does the brain do that? No one really knows for sure. It just does it. Why? That’s another thing we don’t know. It’s a little miracle in its own right.

What we know for sure is that it happens. At some point during the first few months, the brain converts those “electric” impulses into what it “knows” as “real” (normal) sound. For some people, it happens very quickly. For others, it takes a longer and there’s no predicting which way it will go. The important thing is understanding that it will occur and when it does, its magic time.

For Garry, it has been a lifetime waiting to hear. It’s also going to mean some big changes around here. For one thing, I’m going to have to stop muttering under my breath. For the first time in our lives together, he will be able to hear what I’m really saying.

WELCOME! LET US MAKE THIS EVENT STRESS FREE! – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP # 49 – WELCOME


Nurse: Welcome to the University of Massachusetts hospital! We are here to make your experience as comfortable as possible.

We’d like to get started by asking you to give us the identical information we required from you on your previous pre-op visit. Yes, I know, it’s in the computer, but we need to see it. Again. We feel doing everything at least three times will lower your stress levels and help us avoid working on the wrong piece of you.

Just kidding. That never happens.

I know we asked you to not bring your wallets or valuables. We apologize for that because we really meant was don’t FORGET to bring all your paperwork and of course, your wallet. So now, would you please give us your driver’s license, medical card, and if possible, a third identification displaying facial recognition?

Entry

No, I’m sorry. Your wife assuring me that this is you would not be “official” enough. If you didn’t bring the information we asked you not to bring, don’t worry. We’ll reschedule the whole procedure in another few months.

We’re sorry if we got in touch with you so late yesterday you had trouble arranging a ride to and from the hospital, but as we like to put it, “that’s not our problem.” We do the medical part. You work out the rest.

Nurse: Now, Mr. (pause) (looks at paper) Mr. Armstrong?

Me: “Speak up. He can’t hear you.”

Nurse: We’d like to see all your medical papers, listing all the medications you currently take, have taken in the past, or might take in the future. Also, your medical card and another form of ID that includes a picture. A driver’s license perhaps?

You’re trying to explain that you were merely following our printed directions? Like on that paper you are waving in the air?

We didn’t really mean it that way. We omitted a word. We really meant to say you should NOT FORGET to bring all your paperwork with you.

Hospitals get so busy, you know?