MY HEART STRUCK SORROW…

I was out for brunch provender. A couple heirloom tomatoes, a couple bagels from the Farmers Market, then a trip to Bea’s for lox and brisket. Driving south on White Oak, I glanced to my right and noticed an elderly woman, down on all fours and very shaky. I drove for a couple seconds, having a flashback…then pulled a U turn and raced back to that cross street, another U turn and parked in a red zone. I jumped out and searched quickly, discovering her 50 meters away, still struggling.

I walked towards her, helped her to her feet and asked if she wanted me to call someone. Her accent was heavy, Eastern European or Middle Eastern; she had a bruised knee and scrapes on her hands. I asked if she lived nearby…apparently around the corner. The cause of her fall was just another irregularity in the pavement, a small upthrust, enough to catch an unwary toe. I walked with her for a bit, she expressed her gratitude and I was happier to help than you can ever imagine. There was no other foot traffic on White Oak and cars continued to drive by.

Years ago, while in England I received word that my own dear mother had fallen while in her beloved patio garden. She lay there for several hours, until a neighbor noticed her and called EMS. Her left arm suffered a spiral fracture…and Mom never recovered from that fall. I was able to fly home and spend time with her during her convalescence and final days…but today’s encounter triggered a wave of grief and anxiety and helplessness inside of me. All I could think of as I circled back to this woman was my own mothers fall and the absence of anyone to help her for so long.

ANGELS

In early December of 1969, now at Walter Reed in DC, I underwent an arteriogram to determine the proper procedures to repair my combat severed carotid from several months before.  A catheter was threaded thru my groin up into my heart and a dye was injected into my body.  I remember the burning sensation, not entirely unpleasant and could literally feel the roadmap of my interior circulatory system.

They discovered the clot that was slowly destroying my left side and decided after a few more weeks, I’d be strong enough to survive the next surgery, a saphenous bypass.  I awoke in ICU, fairly groggy and have a few faint memories, but only that…a misty angelic encounter.  Those of you born after the usage of Pentothal as an anesthesia, Xin Loi.  😉 Y’all just missed out on one of life’s very purest highs.  Downside is that you really want a gas passer standing by, cause your body is so busy blissing out that you forget to breathe.  We’ve moved on to better drugs from which patients recover clarity faster…but I’ve had em ALL.  Trust me, Pentothal is the Gold Standard.

So anyway, come early January of ’70, it’s time for The Main Event. This is still early days in vascular medicine, which is why I’m part of the historic Vietnam Vascular Registry.  During the subsequent years of 5000 mile check ups, I’d visit Walter Reed and my doctors seemed to enjoy walking me around the halls and introducing me to their colleagues, saying, “Hey you want to hear a war story?  Let tell you about this young Lt and his surgical history!”  Some of them even recognized me from commercials. 😉

We went thru our pre-op drill, my gas passer by now an old friend and he allowed me to linger on the cusp of consciousness for a looooong while and then I very slowly slipped under.  During my conscious absence, they opened my right thigh, removed a segment of my right saphenous vein (redundant and very handy for non-rejected grafts).  They then opened my throat, quickly removed the small, blocked segment of my right carotid and grafted the transplanted vein.

All went well.  Very well…and I remember waking up in ICU.  Beside me was a sweet, somehow familiar face and a body that would bring eyesight to the blind!  My own eyes opened wide and I whispered in wonder, “You’re real.  I thought I had dreamt you!”  She squeezed my hand and said, “Sure I’m real.”  And with a sly smile, “I wondered why I never heard from you.”

Well, my mother raised no fools and before passing out, I had her write down her name on my nightstand pad.  Lt. T continued to care for me over time and oh, those sponge baths…Have Mercy!  Once the doctors had cleared me for more strenuous activity, she and I began an athletic affair that stretched on into spring.  Clearly my medical work had been top notch. Forget about standard cardio stress tests; THAT’s the way you wanna go!

And then the Army sent HER to Vietnam.  Story of my life…

ELDER CARE

When I was 4 or 5 I had my tonsils removed. There were complications with the ether and I spent a scary night in the hospital. Aside from that, despite a few concussions and minor fractures, I never spent another hospitalized nite…until Vietnam. Then I spent about 140 nites.

Now nearing the end of my life, in the past five years I’ve undergone the following surgeries: two arthro knee scopes, two rotator cuff rebuilds, one spinal laminiotomy, a 48 hour stay following two small strokes, cervical traction and more tests, exams and rehabs than I can count. I’ve been spending medical insurance $ like a rapper in a Vegas strip club. For my two day bill at Tarzana Hospital following my strokes, you could send your kid to Stanford for a year. And that’s just physical. Don’t even get me started on my mental costs for PTSD…

I’ve earned full coverage ever since beginning my career…and my VA coverage is free for the rest of my life. I do let them fill my prescriptions but that’s about it.

My point is that the statistics don’t lie. Older patients are clearly the most expensive…and our population is aging. Health costs keep rising, fewer people paying into the pools, coverages getting ever more expensive. I dunno. It may be time to take us seniors out on some ice floe and cut us loose…assuming you can still find a frozen one.