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.

COLOR

The recent news of Indian brutality towards visiting Nigerian students jogged an old memory. I filmed in India for two weeks, months before 911. AIR PANIC. The Indian people were universally warm and friendly to me…except at the airport. I kinda noticed a vibe upon my arrival but attributed it to my exhaustion after 3 flights over 30 hours.

On my departure day, I’m traveling alone with 3 critical connections. That morning my body had finally surrendered and I was now in full crisis mode, the most devastating intestinal distress I’ve ever known. I’ve traveled all my life; I’ve never before felt so vulnerable and needy. At the Mumbai airport, I stood in line, an elderly white Western female ahead of me. She was quickly checked and passed thru. I stepped up….and was immediately struck by the intensity of the guard, the sheer hatred and rage in his eyes. He had an automatic weapon pointed straight at my chest…and he looked as tho he’d really like to use it. For minutes I stood there as he pored over my pages of my past travels and visas. I felt the sweat sliding down my back, I felt the tremors in my abdomen and I was scared. Scared shitless? Fuck, I wish! He had no idea how very close we both were to an ugly international incident.

Eventually he waved me thru and I gratefully moved forward. He was perhaps even darker than I…but I felt the very same contempt, the same anger any earlier encounter with some American bigot might have generated. I now perhaps better understand…and we should all know that bigotry has no racial or color barriers…even among people of color.

This photo was taken on that final day, shopping for gifts in Hyderabad.  My fear and distress are pretty obvious on my face.  😉