Archive for Monday, August 2, 2010

Jest for Grins: Luck plays a part in recovery from illness

August 2, 2010


“Every day above ground is a good one!”

I don’t know if husband Ray originated that phrase, but he is the first person I heard say it. Recently, he gave me a new phrase to think about: “Your world can turn upside down in a hurry!” He uttered that thought as son Ray, Jr. (aka Butch) was wheeled into surgery.

When you lose — or risk losing — someone you love, you realize the role that luck plays in receiving the health care required to effect a cure. Both good and bad luck played a part in Butch’s illness and recovery.

Bad luck was a freak complication of pneumonia even though he was treated with antibiotics (I haven’t checked out the statistics, but one physician told me the right antibiotic is given 8 times out of 10).

Good luck was that hospitalists at our local hospital realized he needed more skill than was available (i.e., no thoracic surgeon) and transferred him via ambulance to a Topeka hospital.

Bad luck was learning, shortly before Butch’s scheduled surgery, that he was out of his insurance company’s network.

Good luck was the hospital’s case manager persuading his insurance company to consider him in network.

The best of luck was being placed in the care of a capable surgeon, slight of frame and small of hands — it’s rare that I shake hands with a male whose hands are smaller than my own — gifted with amazing skill and stamina. After performing complicated heart surgery on another patient for most of the day, the doctor performed a lengthy surgery on Butch. It was 8:30 p.m. when he told daughter-in-law Linda, Ray and me that the surgery was successful and Butch likely would be in ICU for two to four days.

Good luck was Butch being released from ICU the next day. While he’ll face a long recovery, our firstborn — who spent the day after surgery in a state of euphoria to find himself still among the living — reminded everyone it was his first hospitalization since infancy. With any luck, he won’t see the inside of a hospital for a long time.

I wouldn’t want to be a doctor. Son Greg, who once thought he might, eventually determined that it was hard enough to lose a pet; losing a human patient, he decided, was more than he could handle. Like the rest of us, doctors are human and therefore fallible (note: human fallibility does not extend to whacking off the wrong leg or removing the non-cancerous kidney), so the doctor who saves your life one time might miss something another time and cost you your life. I couldn’t deal with that kind of pressure.

Another reason I wouldn’t like to be a doctor is because of the gross acts they must perform. I think of my friend Loren, who — as the doctor slipped on a rubber glove preparatory to an examination — exclaimed, “I guess I’d rather be on my end of this exam than yours!”

Then there’s the blood. As someone who twice fainted while having blood drawn (the first time while getting a blood test for a marriage license), I do my best to avoid blood in real life and in movies.

Of necessity, I once learned how to perform an invasive medical procedure on my seriously ill mother. My sisters and I still marvel that she survived our healing attempts and enjoyed four more years with us. Yet, when she did die, I blamed myself for not saving her by diagnosing what was wrong … until sister Vicki, tired of my self-flagellation, put everything in perspective, “I think it was your fault, Marsha. You could have gone to medical school and become a doctor.”

Patients luckily dodged that bullet. However, if you are ever faced with a serious illness, I hope you are blessed with a physician like the surgeon who operated on Butch. When Linda tearfully thanked him for saving her husband’s life, he smiled and replied matter-of-factly, “I don’t save lives.”

Then he pointed upward.


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