Archive for the ‘Surgery’ Category

Say goodnight, Dick

Okay, okay, I get it.

I’m a little bit nervous; that okay with you?

It’s just surgery. It’s not even considered to be major surgery…matter of fact, they probably consider it to be minor surgery.

Yet, here I am on a Sunday evening, sitting at the computer, typing like some kind of drooling idiot. “It’s no big deal,” I keep telling myself. It’s what I call “dry-cleaner-surgery;” you’re in by nine and out by five…yeah, right, so I have to be ready for a cab at five in the morning to take what would normally be a twenty minute ride to the hospital to get me there before 6:50 a.m. That’s almost two friggin’ hours in a taxicab. “Why so early?” you may ask. Welcome to the realities of traffic patterns in the Greater Boston area. I had to see a doctor at 9:00 last Thursday. It was a similar trip to the one I’ll take tomorrow. I left at seven-friggin’-thirty in the morning and got to the doctor’s office and five minutes to spare…five minutes; can you believe that…and this on a highway that has just been expanded and had another lane added…within the past six months! I feel like I’m caught in some kind of Parkinson’s Law thingie: if work expands to fill the time available, then traffic expands to overfill the lanes created for it.

Everything would be fine except the pre-op nurse was very specific…you get there at six-fifty or before, or they start without you. Well, we all know that’s not quite true…be interesting to see, but I’d just as soon not chance it. Back, however, to the realities of why I’m sitting at this @#$%&* computer on a Sunday evening when I should be watching 60 Minutes or something.

You see, I’ve had over fifteen surgeries in my life where they’ve had to knock me out…they call it general anesthesia; I call it knocking someone out. “Hey doc, how ya do….” that’s it; then you wake up an hour or more later, not remembering one damned thing. I must admit that I do enjoy some of the new anesthetics. You just go and that time in your life is gone forever. You don’t remember a thing.

This is all well and good, and I’m quite certain that I will wake up, and that my eldest will arrive and drive me home in her tank, but…what if? I mean this 81-year old bod has been knocked out by anesthetic for a few years now. Suppose I don’t wake up; suppose this little nap becomes the big sleep. Worrying about it the night before isn’t going to do a whole hell of a lot of good. If anything, worrying could be bad…it would really screw up a night’s sleep, and the night’s sleep is going to be short because I have to get up so early for the damned cab, so…why worry? Wait a minute; why not worry? You don’t wake up; that’s a pretty big deal. Hell, even if I do wake up, it’s a pretty big deal.

So, here’s what I’m going to do…I’m going into the bedroom; put on my Breathe Rite strip (I snore like a freight train and a jet combined if I don’t wear one…ooh, you’re a mouth breather…screw you…and then I’m going to say my prayers as I try to do every night. After that, I’m going to lay my head on the pillow; pull the covers up to my chin, and sleep like a baby…until that friggin’ alarm goes off and tells me it’s time to get up…in the dark…to catch a cab…and I can’t have breakfast…and, and, and…

“Say goodnight, Dick.”

“Goodnight, Dick!”

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Somewhere out there is a child. He or she – probably a she since we’ve been such a male dominated society for so long and have really messed things up – may be in elementary school, possibly even in kindergarten or still in the womb. I’ll use the feminine pronoun from here out…she thinks a bit differently from most of her classmates; she looks ahead. She wants desperately to learn. Sometimes, the teacher actually goes to slow for her and she jumps ahead; sometimes she gets bored and finds herself in trouble. Who is this ‘girl’ who is just a bit different? Why she’s the next great American entrepreneur. She is the person who will make us think differently about…

…I don’t really know how this child, girl, woman will affect us, but she’s out there. She’s the seed, pushing harder than the others through the frozen ground to be first to break through and become the flower whose destiny is to achieve something of which no one yet has the faintest idea. She won’t be another Bill Gates, Madame Curie, Warren Buffet, or Marc Zuckerberg. No, here achievement will be greater in her field than those others. She will see beyond the horizons, where others are unable to see. She will be criticized, particularly by the male side of the ledger, but she will persevere, and she will change our way of thinking.

What will our kindergartner cum woman see that the rest of her counterparts will not? Oh, Lord, how I wish I knew. Thankfully, we, as a nation, have always been blessed by an adventurous few who have been willing to step up, take a chance, and make something good happen. Indeed, it is the foundation of America. Of the 104 arrivals who settled Jamestown in 1607, only 38 survived the winter, but 38 survived. When the “first comers” landed in the New World aboard the Mayflower, they were 102. When they landed at Plymouth, there were 99. By the time that first winter ended, there were only 50. But 50 were enough. It has been so throughout our history. There have always been those who have survived and who have wanted more. Their reasons have been many; all too often, we have said the reason was greed, and in a few cases that may have been so. While we talk about the decline of the middle class in today’s society, it can’t begin to compare with the nearly extinct middle class of the 19th Century…but we survived. Some prospered; some died…actually, they all died, as will we. As someone said, “Birth is a life sentence.”

Think about this: At one time, gasoline was a waste product. It was too volatile and flammable to be used in lamps and thus was thrown away. Along came the automobile and clean gasoline – the waste product – was perfect for powering the new engine. We’ve seen typewriters progress from manual to electric; from electric to self-correcting; from self-correcting to adding different features; from different features to room-sized computers; and from room-sized computers to something you can wear on your wrist.

What’s next? Sorry, but only our child in kindergarten has her finger on that pulse. She may not even be aware of what she will do, but she’ll do it. Perhaps she’ll find the cure for all disease, and although that will create its own share of problems, it’s certainly a positive. Perhaps she’ll eliminate surgery as an alternative form of cure. She may be the one to lead a colony to an earth-like planet in another galaxy or find the solution for peace in this fractured world.

Our little girl will not shatter the glass ceiling; her predecessors will already have done that. Of one thing I’m quite certain…she will not be political or a politician; their views are too narrow, and few of them are as visionary as they would have us believe. Another thing of which I’m certain is that her commitment to whatever it is she is doing is total. She will eat, sleep, and breathe it until her goal is accomplished. She will not be interested in a Nobel Prize or awards and accolades of any kind. Her reward will come with her accomplishment.

I deeply regret that I will not be around to watch you succeed, child, but I have faith that you will achieve; that you will change the world, and that the world will become a better place because of you.

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On prior occasions, I have spoken at length (a) about the number of prescription and non-prescription medications that are my daily fare, and (b) about the warnings that generally take up one or two pages of small type which I am expected to read and understand. In the information booklet of one product on drugstore shelves is this warning: “Do not use if you cannot see clearly to read the information in the information booklet.” They’re kidding, right? No, they are not! Perfect eyesight is not actually a prerequisite for reading these pages…a 50 to 100 power magnifying glass will do quite nicely, thank you very much! If you don’t believe me, go to your local drug store – not dealer, store – and pick up a bottle of, hmm, okay a bottle of Aleve. Go ahead, I’ll wait…not all day, but I’ll wait.

See, see what I told you; the label unfolds and unfolds and the print is so damned small a Hobbit couldn’t read it. I don’t really know what that has to do with it, but you get the point. I don’t believe they actually mean that you should read the directions. They believe that if you watch enough television, you will see their ads where some poor schmuck gives up his Aleve for the day and is in agony by the time he or she gets home. Are they nuts? What person in his or her right mind would give up something that works for something that – for them – doesn’t? Whatever happened to ‘truth in advertising?’

But, enough about Aleve and its dreaded competitor, Tylenol, let us move on to some of the more idiotic warnings that one can read in various medical pamphlets. On the directions for a sun shield – you know; the thing that reflects sun from your windshield in the summer – “Do not drive with sun shield in place! Sounds pretty logical to me. I can’t say that there is anyone in my circle of people I know who would do such a thing but I suppose it is possible…no, it can’t be possible, but…it’s in the directions. Here’s one that you may find on a coffee cup: “Caution: Hot beverages are hot.” Well, duh, do ya think? Remember a while ago when airline pilots were complaining about people aiming laser pointers at them. Perhaps these are the same people who didn’t read this warning on their laser pointer: “Do not look into laser with remaining eye.” Hey, I don’t make these things up; I’m just saving you the time of not having to look these up on the web.

There is only one explanation for these warnings or instructions or whatever the hell you wish to call them. It’s called CYPA; it used to be called CYA, but some folks thought that a might extreme, so now we say, “cover your posterior area,” rather than “cover your ass.” It is, of course, conceivable that some people misinterpreted cover your ass with “throw a blanket over your donkey,” or even, “walk around with your hands violently clutching both butt cheeks; embarrassing, but…orders are orders.

This entire CYPA protocol is particularly evident in hospital pre-op rooms. If you haven’t been in one of these lately, count your blessings; if you have, you know exactly of which I’m speaking. There you are, laying on a bad with your butt exposed to cool [read “freezing”] sheets. The IV nurse has hooked you up to a bottle of saline solution and you’re just waiting to be wheeled in to have your head amputated or whatever. In walks the anesthesiologist or, if you remember M.A.S.H., the ‘gas passer.’ Just kidding, they don’t use gas anymore. He introduces him or herself and begins a long explanation of what is going to be used to put you to sleep. He – it’s a generic term – then goes on to explain precisely, damn near down to the last molecule, what the various drugs will do to or for you. They don’t give a damn about what you’d like to hear; they are required to tell you everything and more about the drugs will be using; it’s the law…to hell with the fact that the more this guy talks, the more you want to rip out the IV and head for the nearest door; he is required by OSHA or HIPPA or the YMCA or whoever, to impart this information to you. Here’s how you stop him. “Is there any anesthetic in my system right now?”

“Not yet but we’re going to…”  he begins

Cut him off. Do not let him get beyond the word, “to.”  You then ask, “Will you be using Versed?”

He will then begin with, “Yes, we will be using Versed, and…” If you allow him one syllable beyond “and,” you’re nuts! You don’t care to know what else they might use…unless, of course, you’re allergic to anesthetics; then you might let him prattle. In any other case, once he has said, “Versed,” let it go. You’ll be fine. Here comes the tricky part. Your anesthesiologist will now say something to the effect of this: “Just gonna give you a little something right now to relax you,” and he will inject some liquid into a port – it’s what they call it – in your IV. What this stuff is, I have never learned, but it is soooo gooood! It’s generally at this point that the surgeon comes in to explain the procedure. He or she waits until this kickipoo joy juice has been injected before stepping through the curtain. They always ask if you know who they are; it’s a standard procedure. I’m always tempted to say, “I’ve never seen this man before in my life,” but operating rooms run on a tight schedule, and one is only allowed to have so much fun. The last time this happened, my response was, “I do, but you’d better talk fast; this stuff is great!” That is the last thing I remember before waking up in recovery. In came the surgeon, still in his scrubs and began to explain what he did. Why do I care? It’s over; done with; we can’t take it back. All I want to hear is one of two words; ‘success’ or ‘failure.’ If it’s the first, we have nothing more about which to speak. If it’s the second, he’s not going to be going anywhere because my hands will be wrapped around his throat demanding an explanation…never really have had to do that.

I sort of got off track there, but back to the warning labels. Just remember a few common sense things: Batteries are not made to “explore” as the label on one indicates. Believe the stroller warning when it says “remove child from stroller before folding.” Don not use silly putty as earplugs…they tell you that although I’m quite certain that some child, somewhere, has already done it. And, by all means, obey the sign in the railroad station that says, “Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.” Wow, whoever heard of prosecuting a dean person? Yep, orders is orders; follow carefully!

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The late Academy Award winning actress, Bette Davis is quoted as having said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Now that I’m only a couple of years away from when she died – she passed away at the age of 81 – I’m beginning to understand precisely what she was saying.

Getting or growing – your choice – old is a process, along with everything else. If you are diagnosed early on with a terminal disease, you never have the chance to experience what some might call the torment of growing old. My friend Jerry – and at my age, I’ve forgotten his last name – died of some damned thing called poliomyelitis. I saw him on Saturday night, when the store in which we both worked closed. He was fine; no problems. Evidently, he woke up Sunday morning with some aches and pains; by Tuesday, he was dead. He never had his chance to grow old. Neither did my friend, Joe Thompson. Joe quit school in our senior year to join the Marines. On the way back to camp one night, on some Georgia road, Joe and three of his buddies wrapped their car around a tree. Joe hadn’t hit 20 yet.

It’s been said that only the good die young. Personally, I think that’s bullshit; you die when you die. Life, at least to me, is a big gamble. Every day the dice get rolled somewhere and you live or you die. That is, perhaps, a bit morbid, but it’s one way of looking at it. I’ve also been known to say that every morning I pull back the covers and put my feet on the floor, the Devil says, “Oh, shit, he made it through another night.”

Depending on the “expert” with whom you speak we begin the process of sarcopenia anytime between the ages of 20 and 50. Gotcha with the big word, didn’t I? Don’t worry I also had to look it up. It’s the age at which we begin to lose muscle mass. Sure, it’s possible to slow the process through strength training, and I suppose if you’re Mark Maguire, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, or a few others, you can even reverse the process, but (a) I would prefer to grow old at the regular rate, (b) I’m not certain I have the money to pay for that ‘stuff,’ and (c) I’m not all that big on injecting myself if I don’t have to do so. If you’ve ever had to inject yourself with insulin or Lovenox or anything like that, you know what I mean. The point is that as we age, we can’t lift the things we once lifted. We can’t do what we once found fairly routine. I well remember being in the gymnasium at Babson, watching a group of students playing basketball. One of them yelled over, “Hey, Mr. Bishop, wanna play?” Certainly, I was too wise to get into that gig, but they did convince me to take a shot. I stood where I had remembered standing in high school – my ‘spot’ on the floor from which I once had been a deadly shot. It was about 25 feet away from the basket and just off to one side. I took my shot and it fell about five feet short of the rim. I laughed; they laughed, but it was a clear indication that when you’re in your late fifties, you don’t shoot hoops the way you did at 17.

As I say, aging is a gradual process. If you’re lucky (and smart), you exercise to stay healthy; you eat right to stay healthy; you don’t smoke; you don’t drink to excess…everything in moderation – even moderation itself. With luck, cancer steers a wide path around you, although many of us find the basal cells of our sunbathing youth and they must be removed. When I grew up, smoking was an acceptable habit, and so in middle age, were its consequences…COPD and emphysema. Quitting helps but the damage is done. You can’t run as far or as quickly…if you can run at all. You learn that the meals that tasted so good also took a toll on your heart. If you’re lucky, you survive the first attack, and if you listen, there may or may not be a second and more severe one.

Time moves along and the print on the newspaper gets smaller and a bit more indistinct. You see an eye doctor and he may tell you that he can improve your vision or that you’re condemned to bi- and then trifocals. In my case, procedures had advanced whereby, laser surgery removed cataracts and my vision was restored to the point of buying eyeglasses off the rack. Some folks aren’t so lucky. Their vision keeps fading until it’s all but gone. The same is true of other senses. Hearing seems to fade…very, very, very slowly but it fades. Hearing aids become a part of one’s wardrobe along with greater caution when crossing the street.

One morning, we wake up and something seems to ache as we’re getting out of bed. Hell, which can happen any time from 10 on, I suppose, and if you’ve been an athlete, it happens the morning after every game. At some point, the ache or the pain doesn’t go away and you realize that the cartilage which once was there is either torn or worn away. The doctor says it’s the onset of arthritis, that you need surgery, or that, “we have a pill for that.” If it’s your back that’s hurting, they have injections for that or you can go ‘under the knife’ and pray for the best. You see, aging today, is not the same as it was in the day of your mother and dad. And it most certainly isn’t the same today as it will be 50-100 years from now. If you followed Star Trek, you may remember when Bones, Kirk, and Spock, returned to earth in the late 20th Century to rescue one of their crew. They found him in a fairly modern hospital, yet Dr. McCoy called the doctors of that period, “barbarians” and “butchers.” I can honestly say that I’ve seen some of that in my lifetime. My left leg has a six inch scar from the first knee surgery; the second – a year later – has two one inch scars on either side of the knee. My youngest child, whose knee surgery was done about 20 years later, had three tiny pinholes which we can no longer see. What next, you ask? What’s next is already here. Doctors are growing cartilage to repair or replace that which has worn down or gone altogether. Gall bladder surgery, which once left a nine-inch scar on one’s chest, is now accomplished with a miniature vacuum cleaner that leaves a barely noticeable mark. But still, we age.

Despite medical marvels and advances, the human body is not built for longevity. Our organs begin to function less than optimally no matter what we do, take, exercise, or eat. Sure, it can be slowed down; sure medical science is making fantastic strides; sure this and sure that, but…we still wake up with a new pain here or a new ache there every day or week or month. The beauty of it is and if this is the case just think of how fortunate we are. We’re still alive to see the beauty that is the world around us. Yes, for some, we awake to see the ugliness that is around us, but I guess I’m luckier that I’m in the first group. I watched Juli’s morning glories open again this morning; the purples, the blues, the reds, and yes, even the whites open to signal the beginning of a new day. And yes, I don’t feel particularly well because of my aches and pains and other problems…but I’m alive to see those flowers come alive; to see the blue jays come and grab the peanuts Juli has tossed out for them; to see the squirrels, chipmunks, and wild turkeys come to eat the grain and see that she’s thrown out. It all reminds me of just how lucky I am to have made it to this age and to think of how sad it is that so many of my peers have not.

Life is a treasure; a blessing. Getting old may not be for sissies, but it sure as hell is for the experience of seeing just how much beauty there is in it and how fast it’s changing. If life in the 1800s and early 1900s plodded along like a horse, and if life in the 1950s move along slowly the automobiles of the time, the 21st Century, by its end, can certainly be a time when, instead of our progress being measured arithmetically, it will be measured in exponential growth. I would love to have a crystal ball to stare into to see just what I won’t live to experience.

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What, you think it’s easy coming back from shoulder surgery? Like the operation was on a Monday and I should be writing on Tuesday? Give me a break. I hadn’t had greater readership on Wednesday since the first time I said “fuck” in an article…geez, what a bunch of sickos!

It should be noted that since I’m having some problems with a couple of the kids right now, I decided that I would spend a bit of their inheritance by treating myself to and from the hospital. I hired a livery service to escort me in style…and style it was; bottles of water; snacks, and drivers in little black-visored caps. Oh, man, I pulled up at the entrance to the surgical center and all eyes were staring at the tinted glass? You know the drill: “Ooh, is that someone famous? A movie star perhaps? Certainly, a celebrity of some kind.” Then I climb out in my ratty shorts and a big old PMC shirt, and I could feel the disappointment in the crowd. Perhaps if I had worn dark glasses and a baseball cap pulled down just above my eyes, but, you know, 20/20 hindsight and all that nonsense; I just wanted to get in and get it over with.

Anyway, I guess from the surgeon’s point of view, all went well; from my point of view, I’ve known several days that were quite a bit better. Don’t get me wrong; everyone was very solicitous and smiling. One nurse – not attending me – came by and said, “I know you,” and we recalled another time I was in pre-op and she had been my nurse. She remembered that my name was Dick because that had been her late husband’s name. They called him “Big Dick.” At that point there had already been some “relaxation juice” administered and, I really didn’t want to go there. You never know what’s going to come out of my mouth at the best of times and I just wasn’t going down that road for love or money. My nurse, Kat, was laughing so hard she was shaking, and Suzanne, the widow, was on a rant trying to get me to make a fool of myself. It’s easy enough to do that when I’m fully alert; never mind tempting me when I’m groggy!

While I cannot remember the ride to the operating room – rather like on television when the ceiling tiles and the fluorescent lights are whizzing by – I do remember being asked to roll on to a table in the “OR.” The way my little brain was working, I figured if I got rolling, it was going to take a hell of a lot more than a few nurses and doctors from stopping that train from going right off the track. The analogy I’d use would be, “See that 44-pound curling stone hurtling down the ice. Why don’t you just go out there in your leather-soled shoes and grab the handle.” See ya! After they’d schlepped me onto the table, it was lights out until I woke up an hour or so later feeling better than I had in a long time. One of the drugs used in anesthesia today is Versed. Its principal benefit is one of amnesia; you wake in the recovery room asking, “How did I get here?” Terrific drug!

Going home was even better. The driver was standing by his Cadillac Escalade with a sign that had my name on it, and I was being wheeled to the chair by a perky young volunteer. If that isn’t an ego boost for a 78-year old, old fart, I don’t know what is. And a Cadillac Escalade…you take a freaking elevator just to get into the front seat; hell, you look down on the drivers of those cross-country 18-wheelers! I think we drove over a few Porches’ and never scraped their roofs!

The first day home was great. I had completely forgotten that it takes anesthesia some time to wear off, particularly if you’ve had general anesthesia plus what they lovingly call a “block” in the area on which they are going to operate.  I ate drank Pepsi, had some ice cream, and even chowed down some chocolate covered raisins…mmm, good.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent putting everything I had eaten on Monday evening back…onto the sheets; into the toilet; almost into the toilet; into a waste basket by my bed, and; at one point, all over my shirt. Oy vey, such a mess! I didn’t believe I had eaten quite that much on Monday evening; it felt like a family vomit. Okay, enough of that. Let’s just say that by Sunday, I was back to soda crackers and room-temperature water.

That was a few weeks ago. The memories of the first few days are still very fresh in my mind. I’d like to think that if I need more surgery, I would just ask to be given a bullet on which to bite, but who’s kidding whom? The biggest surprise of all came a week after the surgery. It was during a “follow-up” with the surgeon’s physician assistant. Jokingly, I asked when I could resume my gym workouts…”Today, if you feel like it,” she said. Suffice it to say that it was the following Monday that I went back to doing some cardio, but think about it; one week you’re getting cut, and two weeks later you’re back to a routine; today’s surgical procedures are  truly remarkable. It makes one wonder just how far can we go in terms of a) repairing the human body; b) doing it with a minimum of disruption, and; c) doing it without the entire process costing damn near as much as a year’s salary. I can hear it now…two workers discussing lunch and the first one says, “Sorry, can’t make lunch today; having the knees replaced on my lunch hour.” Somehow, I just don’t think I’m gonna be around for that one.

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I said that I wouldn’t be writing for a while….however…

…The sun hasn’t quite hit the horizon yet; who the hell am I kidding; the sun hasn’t even begun to approach our horizon at 1:30 in the morning. Yep, that’s right; I’m actually writing this scary piece just on the am side of midnight.

I have had eleven surgeries in my life, the last one just last year…and that was to put a stent into a triple ‘A.’ That’s what they – you know, the ones who are known as ‘professionals’ – call it. We laymen refer to it as an abdominal aortic aneurism. It’s the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, largely because it often goes undetected. Unless you happen to be having an ultrasound or some test that includes an inside look at your gut, chances are you wouldn’t even know if you have one…ain’t that a bitch! But, anyway, that’s behind me. That one was done in the morning, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it. This one’s different.

I can’t sleep. I went to bed around 7:30 last night because I wanted a good night’s sleep;  are you kidding? I lay there  tossing and turning like a bloody dredel at Christmas time…wait, those two just plain don’t go together; ah, what the hell; let’s be ecumenical about this. Anyway, around 12:30 I woke up from my less than satisfying sleep. I figured that if I couldn’t get back to sleep by 2:00, I’d get up. Two’s not a bad time, right? Toss, turn, toss, turn; are you seeing a pattern here?

At 1:30, I said…you don’t need to know what I said; let’s just say that I got up. Evidently, the computer would like to sleep also, because I couldn’t win a damned solitaire or any other kind of game…the computer was “against me’” it was “out to get me.” Paranoid, me, paranoid? Nah, nothing like that. A little ‘tetched’ in the head, maybe but paranoid, hell no!

At 3:30, I finally said, “That’s it!” Of course, no one was awake to ask, “What’s it?” but it was it. My significant other is a light sleeper…snores like a freight train, but is a light sleeper. I tiptoed into the bathroom, stripped, and turned on the shower; waited for the water to become reasonably warm and stepped in; damn, it felt good. While it was exceedingly difficult to restrain my operatic excellence, I managed to control myself and soaped up, rinsed off and was out in about ten minutes – I told you it felt good; a ten-minute shower for me is like the 45-minute showers the kids used to take; gimme a break, will ya? I even toweled down as quietly as I could.

“Ya’ll right?” I heard as I slipped on underwear and shorts. “Sorry, honey,” said I. “Shhh, I’ve gone back to sleep,” she responded, and I swear that in less than ten seconds, the train was back on the track and speeding away. I figure I’ll shave around 5; have to look good, ya know?

By now you’re probably thinking you know what’s going on, right? Yes, I’m going for the big dozen in surgical procedures this very day. You see, my right shoulder has been bothering me for over a year. Upper body workouts have been a bitch, but two Alleve in the morning and a couple at night had been keeping things relatively calm. Several weeks ago, they stopped working. I went through the traditional x-ray and MRI “stuff” and then went back to see the orthopedist. When he pulled the MRI up on the computer, I said, “Uh-oh, looks like it’s time to sand and sew.” He agreed. I have a number of bone spurs in my shoulder; one that is pushing up under the clavicle and another that seems to be tearing away at a tendon. Can you ask, “Hey, stupid, how come you were continuing to work out?” or any other derogatory questions that will embarrass me no end? Whatever it is, you’re right; I violated Voltaire when he commented, “Common sense is not all that common.” Thanks, “Volty;” rub it in a little more.

I have no idea why I’m concerned about this. Same doctor worked on the left shoulder five years ago. He’s just switching sides. How do I know he’ll be doing the correct shoulder (notice I didn’t say “right shoulder,” because it is the right shoulder but if I just left things…ah, ta hell with it!). I’ve even requested an anesthesiologist I know, and I have great faith in my surgeon. What could go…oh, no, no, no, one never, ever says that. It would be the kiss of…whoops, can’t use that one either. Well, you get what I mean.   As I said last week…”See ya when I see ya!”

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From what I can gather, the quotation below is part of a tribute to Florence Nightingale by Karen Savage. I have no idea whether she is the audio books narrator, real estate broker, bank manager, assistant professor of music at the University of Washington, or the Karen Savage who lives in Bozman, Montana. Whoever she may be, she has hit the nail rather squarely on the head. My interpretation of what she has written is that someone asked her the question, “How does it feel to be old?” If that is the case, the person doing the asking was either a dear friend or a damned fool! Admittedly, it took me many more years than it should have to recognize the truth in what she is saying. Here is here quotation:


 “…As I’ve aged, I’ve become kinder to myself, and less critical of myself. I’ve become my own friend.

I have seen too many dear friends leave this world, too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.

“Whose business is it, if I choose to read, or play, on the computer, until 4 AM, or sleep until noon? I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 50, 60 &70’s, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love, I will.

“I will walk the beach, in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves, with abandon, if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set. They, too, will get old.

“I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And, I eventually remember the important things.

“Sure, over the years, my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break, when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody’s beloved pet gets hit by a car? But, broken hearts are what give us strength, and understanding, and compassion. A heart never broken, is pristine, and sterile, and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

“I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.

“As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don’t question myself anymore. I’ve even earned the right to be wrong.

“So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day (if I feel like it).”
When I received this story from my sister in California, I had to believe that it was not Marilyn who was sending it along, it was the hand of my late wife, Joan, who was actually doing the sending. You see, for years, we didn’t think of ourselves first. Even after the kids were married, our lives pretty much revolved around them and the grandchildren. After Joan’s death, I found my life didn’t change that much. Except for the loneliness, much of life still seemed to be centered on my kids. When I decided that life would be far better with a new partner, it caused a schism within the family.

It was rather eye-opening when I discovered that I wanted to begin living my life on my own terms, not on the terms that would be dictated by my children. Yes, it was gut wrenching; then I began to think about the number of times I’d sent birthday cards with a bit of cash in them and never received a call, an e-mail or any kind of “thank you,” from the children of my daughters. I began to ask, “How much time does it take to pick up the phone and say, “thanks.” The answer is that it takes no time at all. This is my final year of sending $20.00 in each card. I have better ways to spend that money.

Recently, I had to schedule surgery. It’s a day thing but I have to be driven to the hospital and driven home. My partner doesn’t have a driver’s license.  When I announced the upcoming hospitalization via e-mail to my eldest, the reply was, “Keep us posted about the surgery.”  Since my youngest is vacationing on Cape Cod for a month, I can’t very well intrude on her. That leaves me with friends, all of whom have full-time jobs – I run with a younger crowd. I supposed that I could have taken a taxi, but I decided to “…be kinder to myself.” I have hired a corporate livery service as my mode of transportation…both ways yet!

As Savage says, “…I like being old. It has set me free. . I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day (if I feel like it).”

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I’m not certain for whom or which I have the greatest distaste. Is it doctors, those pompous, arrogant, cocksure practitioners of what they call medicine? Or perhaps it’s the hospitals where, if you are in the emergency room with anything short of a heart attack or a body covered in blood, you are treated as a colossal waste of their precious time?

Now, having made all of these denigrating remarks about physicians and the mansions – a.k.a., hospitals – that many of them call home, allow me to flip the coin to the other side. If not for some of these contemptuous, annoying, insipid, medical harpies, I would be dead…several times over…which is not only redundant but stretches the limits of the truth. In addition, I must admit that some of these grandiloquent, self-important dilettantes are extremely likeable characters. With one notable, now retired cardiologist whose routine called for keeping his patients in his waiting room for a minimum of one hour beyond their appointment time, my heart healers have been magnificent. The late Doctor ‘Chip’ – I never did learn his first name – Gold was a character beyond characters. I don’t believe Chip ever slept; I suppose that could have been what killed him…it wasn’t but it could have been. He would generally arrive in my room at Massachusetts General Hospital sometime between two and three o’clock…in the morning. He would hover like a ghost over my bed. He wouldn’t say anything…just hover. Eventually, his presence would wake me. It was interesting because I never woke with a start. It wasn’t like someone scaring the crap out of you; it was merely that I knew someone was there. Looking back, it was a remarkable gift on his part. Should I meet him in an afterlife, I must ask him how the hell he was able to accomplish such a feat. Here comes the interesting part…the first words that generally came out of his mouth were, “Whatcha reading?” On one of his early-on, infrequent day visits, I had been reading a Tom Clancy novel. He practically tore it from my hands, dropped into a chair and began reading. “Ooh, I haven’t seen this one yet,” he said…and read some more. It was rather strange but learning that our reading tastes were similar, that would be his first question…in the middle of the freaking night! Chip was one of those doctors who was (a) an excellent surgeon; (b)an extremely caring physician; (c) an impossibly funny prankster, and; (d)a doctor with an international reputation that had him flying back and forth from the U.S. to Europe…that may be when he slept, although he denied that and said it was when he read.

Before you begin to believe that my first paragraph was a lie, allow me to tell you about my primary care doctor. It’s been so long since I have seen him that I don’t really remember what he looks like. Last year, because he happened to accept a call from a dental surgeon – mine – he told this doctor that I had atrial fibrillation and would be on a blood thinner for life. First, I do not now, nor do I ever hope to have atrial fibrillation and second, the only blood thinner I take is a baby aspirin for my heart. When I learned what he had said, I asked that he correct himself with the dental surgeon…he never did. I asked that he apologize to me for making such a stupid mistake…he never did. If it weren’t for the fact that his nurse practitioner is so damned good, I would have changed doctors some time ago. It’s too bad because years ago, when he had a partner, they diagnosed me with a blood disease that (they said) would have killed me within 24 hours had they not caught it. So, here again, I owe a physician my life. Too bad he changed and became a horse’s ass.

Enough about doctors; let’s talk about hospitals…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Every hospital has a horror story; some are worse than others. My personal stints have included Newton-Wellesley, New England Deaconess, Tufts New England Medical Center, South Shore, and Massachusetts General. Let’s see…where to begin. Following my first heart attack I was taken to Mass General in Boston. It’s a fine hospital and is also where I met Dr. Gold. From a physician point of view, it was great. However, since I was recuperating on a cardiac floor…strictly a floor for cardiac patients, I really didn’t appreciate various people coming in on four different occasions to take me down for chemotherapy…definitely not a heart attack treatment. Mistakes can be made anywhere.

It was at Tufts New England Medical Center that I saw the real ugly. I watched a cleaner stand in the middle of an ICU for three and a half hours, leaning on her wide mop and not moving, while nurses and doctors walked around her. She just plain did not move. Of course, the fact that she looked to be about 350 pounds may explain some of her lack of movement. In front of the mop was a small pile of bandage wrappers, dust, surgical tape, and other crap, but she did not move it. At one point, I asked my doctor if the cleaners were unionized. He allowed as how they were not. I said, “Then why doesn’t someone fire that fat bitch who’s been standing there for over three hours?” He looked; looked back at me, and just shook his head. On my follow-up visit, I reminded him of our conversation. “Weren’t you being a bit of a racist?” he asked. I couldn’t believe his response. I don’t give a damn what color you are; you stand like a post for that length of time, your butt should be out the door!

There is not one negative thing I can say about New England Deaconess. The place was immaculate; the nurses were fantastic; my neurosurgeon, who would die of pancreatic cancer less than two years following my surgery was remarkable, and, and…and…in addition to fixing my cervical disc problem, he got me to quit smoking. Rest in peace, Howrd Blume; rest in peace.

Newton-Wellesley is my local, suburban hospital. US News ranks it among the top 100 suburban hospitals in the country. I can look back on the times when it wasn’t so great, but I can also say that the changes that have earned it the justified ranking of “top 100” have come about so quickly that there are few bad things I can say about it. To paraphrase Marc Antony, “The good these people do will live after them; the evil or bad stuff has been interred long ago.” My life was saved at Newton-Wellesley by a young woman who has been deaf since birth and by a former M.A.S.H. doc who asked the right questions. The woman, an ultrasound technician, noticed a blood clot in my leg. She called the doctor who asked if I was short of breath. The upshot was that they discovered a pulmonary embolism in my lung…that’s a bad thing…and took immediate action to clear my lung of the blood that was leaking into it. The procedure was life-saving, and I have since had the opportunity to meet and thank both the tech and the doctor responsible.

Whatever hospital you choose, you or someone close to you has to be alert. All hospitals make mistakes, some that can be fatal. Certainly, things aren’t as bad as they used to be, but even today, mistakes do happen. As patient, family member, or friend, it is not your right to question; it is your responsibility to do so.

Oh, South Shore Hospital? How the hell should I know? I was seven years old and having my tonsils removed. Damn, that ice cream was good!

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