Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Saga of the Golden Years

After some dental surgery and catching shingles and the pain of that—truly as all say the horrible pain like nothing else—and with her history of atrial fibrillation, Dee got so weak yesterday and her pulse was so thready that we decided to call 9-1-1 and have the paramedics take her to the hospital. I was impressed with the fast response. First the shorter firetruck came screaming down Lobdell and turned on to Sevenoaks, followed by the paramedics in their van, followed a bit later by a supervisor (or two, women) in their SUV. All the emergency personnel around the bed, Dee’s 145 heartbeats and then 80 and then 135 and then 150 was cause for real concern. Did an EKG and started an IV and finally lifted her from the bed to the gurney bottom bedsheet and all. She was scared, naturally, and not even necessary to say that. While I was changing shirts and getting my wallet and such so I could go in my car so I would have a ride home, I didn't realize they worked in the driveway in the paramedic van for a half hour to stabilize her heart before they ever started for the hospital. The paramedics and the supervisors in the SUV and me in Pearl Honda all left at the same time. 

From one in the afternoon and for the next eight hours, and since BR General is now a teaching hospital, we saw a total of nine doctors in various stages of being a doctor, from a whip-smart Chinese woman (Lin Wang) studying at Tulane to a supervising doctor of several other doctors. Throughout the day we began to realize how smart our dumbasses finally were since each told us how dangerous things were for a while with her heart. They even had a second IV in her arm in case , as one said, "things went south." Blood work, saline drip for hydration, potassium chloride drip, and finally after all the doctors had listened to the chain of events, dental surgery, shingles, heart I-got-ya-irregular-rhythm, one said with low sodium (strange) and extremely and dangerously low potassium it seemed to be the perfect storm of events. They couldn’t get her heart back in rhythm even after a dosage of her regular heart meds until they gave her a shot of something else that finally did the trick. I mean in five minutes her heart went from the 100's to 60 and the mid-50's, end of the marathon, you can stop running. Naturally with the slower pulse and the drips her color really improved quickly. We had great service until the late afternoon before the evening shift change. Heard they were three nurses short and it took until 9 p.m. for her to be taken to her room. Even as improved as she was she was still hurting from her bad back and the shingles pain and everything else, so when the ice pack leaked and wet her sheets and blankets, we tried not to complain too much since we were in the ER and surely some people were as troubled as Dee had been earlier and maybe some others also fighting to live.

For once we did the smart thing and didn't worry about calling the paramedics. Dee couldn't even get to the bathroom a few steps away without her heart racing and coming close to passing out. Both of us felt like we dodged a very large bullet. They kept her overnight for observation. Since she was stable and I had not eaten and the cats had been out all day and I had not had my heart meds yet, I came on home, exhausted from the emotion of it all.

Even though I have thousands of adventure stories that turned out badly and could advise what to avoid in life, I have limited my advice to three things: better save for your children’s education, better save as much as you can for retirement, and as imperfect as the people and procedures in health care may still be, don’t hesitate to seek care from someone who knows more than you do. My father died of a heart attack at age 58. At age 69, just some discomfort, I merrily drove myself to the hospital when I was having one. I was lucky. Despite hesitating for a few days with all the potentially deadly signs so visible, Dee was also lucky yesterday. And by loving extension, me also.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Language of Colonoscopy

   Let’s talk colonoscopy.
   It’s a language most people don’t speak, especially men.
   Three reasons according to me: the self-consciousness of being naked in front of strangers; the perceptions of possible pain; and the paralyzing fear of what the look-see will reveal, the doctor coming in and saying, “Well, Mr. Cothern, you won’t have to buy any Christmas presents this year.”
   Again, speaking for myself, I feel extremely vulnerable when in the room with two nurses who really could care less what my flabby body looks like and with my doctor standing near and putting on gardening gloves. My penis usually shrinks to the size of a two-chamber unshelled peanut.
   No pain. Something akin to Michael Jackson’s doctor sending me to Never-never Land but with no terminal results, whatever they gave me floated me away so quickly I didn’t have time to even think of any lyric to Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”—much less count backwards.
   Having two brothers who had prostate cancer, one eventually succumbing to Cancer of the Everything for (perhaps) not learning the language of regular checkups, having had glaucoma and going totally blind in my left eye, having had RA for four decades and diverticulosis to go along with that as a steady and painful companion—not until old age avoiding seeds and such and great spicy foods and cigarettes and alcohol and wild women (I wished as a much younger man)—I did fear what the doctor would find. I feared not being strong enough while losing everything. I had put off getting answers for years. Ignoring my pain and stomach problems meant I didn’t have anything serious. My gastroenterologist did find and removed four pre-cancerous polyps, which was good news, but he also found some scar tissue from the diverticulosis that is blocking some of the lower reaches of The River Bowel and no doubt had been causing a lot of my pain over the years. Still, not really horrible news, and after dealing with the blockade, Christmas shopping (online) is still on my schedule.
   So why this public service post?
   Maybe to get one friend to have any kind of checkup?
   Perhaps. But I know how difficult it is to begin language acquisition so late in life.
   But these few paragraphs also just serve to illustrate that as humans we build up expectations so high that nothing can meet our good wishes. Everything we fear has us dead by morning. Like most things encountered in the boat being rowed upstream, the truth of it all lies somewhere in between.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Birth Day

Everything else on the 27th day of January in 1945 paled (as it should) next to the Russian troops throwing open the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau while radio stations in this country were playing “Don’t Fence Me In” by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. While the troops were finding 468 dead inmates, folks in New York were catching Martha Graham and Dance Company at Jordon Hall performing “Appalachian Spring” at the Saturday matinee. While the troops were liberating 2800 people abandoned by the SS without any provisions to survive, William “Willie” J. Glunk was being born in Astoria, New York, about the time Noah Berry, Jr. was preparing for an opening and run of 504 performances in Up In Central Park at the Century Theatre with book and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. While Lois Ada Comfort was being born in Doniphan, Maryland, Raymond Cothern in Baton Rouge, David Hermes in Baraboo, Wisconsin, while these and countless others were being born, hopefully with joyous cries at new life, the Soviets were inventorying the storage buildings and finding 836,255 women’s coats and dresses, over 368,000 men’s suits, and human hair totaling seven tons. While Oscar Schindler was saving 85 Jews from a train in Brunnlitz that had been locked for a week, in Bound Brook, New Jersey, William Hennessy was being born and would live 67 years to the day, the 27th of January, both his birth and death date.

In Baton Rouge and other places in Louisiana that day, there were no ironic newspaper headlines, only straight-forward reporting during war-weary times and the seemingly necessary one-sided reporting of race. Harold Joseph, Negro, died that Friday in New Orleans Charity Hospital of an abdominal gunshot wound received while resisting arrest during a jewelry store robbery Thursday night. His partner, Robert Guidry, Negro, was also shot while escaping with the goods and was in serious condition. No doubt Patrolmen Jay Sedgebeer and Paul Oestricker were busy filling out reports about Joseph and Guidry refusing to halt while fleeing and how many shots were fired and by whom. Also in New Orleans, Rock P. Scallan was sentenced to 60 days in jail by Judge George Platt for driving a truck while drunk earlier on December 23rd. In Baton Rouge, despite objections from the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the sale would go forward of 22 horses and mules no longer fit for duty at Angola, the state penitentiary. The Society cited a law prohibiting the sale of “debilitated, diseased and lame horses and mules in cities of 10,000 or more.”

On that winter day in January, while Robert Guidry, Negro, struggled to survive his gunshot wound and the family of his partner prepared for a funeral, while Patton’s Third Army was crossing the Our River and capturing Oberhausen and while the 6th Ranger Battalion and the 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit began a rescue behind enemy lines of 500 American, British, and Dutch prisoners-of-war in the Philippines, Onetia Mae Wilson Cothern was 31 years old and giving birth shortly before noon at the Baton Rouge General Hospital, right across Florida Boulevard and two short blocks west of Bernardo Street. Willie Talmadge Cothern was 33 years old and waiting with other expectant fathers for the birth of his child. Willie Von and Wayne Harolyn at ages 12 and 6 were in school, perhaps with vague inklings that the attention they had been receiving was being splintered into unequal time, that the balance of power was shifting under them much like the uneasy alliance among all armies, all families.