Friday, July 22, 2011

The real residue...

I'm mending.

All is not perfect, but most is not bad, and that is good.

The real residue from this little medical adventure of mine is not having to cut back on driving, spicy foods or beer, or having to take some meds for six months or more.

The real residue is less medical, and mostly psychological.

The real residue is uncertainty.

In my mind, I know that this all will be fixed. But, in my mind, I also will have lingering doubts.

When driving at 80, me at the wheel with Joyce beside me, heading to K.C. or across the salt flats of Utah or the mountains of North Carolina, invading my thoughts will be doubts -- that uncertain feeling that I am 100 percent OK and what if a seizure hits. Or even when driving to school in the morning, that bit of uncertainty will creep into my mind and grab my attention, for a second or a minute or more. (And what if I hurt someone if something does happen?)

Or when trying to reclimb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Or in a compartment watching the wastelands whiz by on the trans-Siberian Railway, a thousand miles from nowhere. Or, our first bucket list item, that freighter trip from Brooklyn to Cape Town, the same one I took in '71. What happens if something happens?

Each day (or each hour), it'll impose itself in small or big ways, making me wonder "what if?" It already has.

That is to be the biggest part of this rehabilitation. Not the rebuilding of muscle tissue that disappeared from 15 days in a California hospital. Not the healing of the meandering wound on my skull or between the layers of the brain. But what's "in" the brain: my thoughts, my doubts, my uncertainty.

That is the hurdle I'll need help in clearing.

And I'm not terribly confident I'll succeed.

But I'll try.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good news, bad news (well, not that bad)...

The local neurologist and his counterpart in California finally hooked up today, and the news was "good and bad," according to the local guy, who called.

The good is that they have no concern about the swelling on the right side of my head. Give it time, they said. The bad is that I'll be on my anti-seizure medicine for six months to a year. Apparently, that's the norm.

OK, I asked, what about driving and what about beer? The answers were:

Driving: OK. ("Don't overdo it," doc sez, which means no long road trips for a bit.)

Beer (and martinis): Well, not recommended (in excess) but, perhaps, once in a while. So, I had half a beer tonight (thanks to a shipment of special Colorado brew from Erin Wiley), and it was great! A lager with a bit of color, which gave it a nice nutty flavor. But, sorry, Joyce, no Sunday night martinis, as was our wont, at least for a while.

But back into the Miata, as least for short trips. And some sips of good brews (which is better than none at all).

And the knowledge that meds will likely be gone at some point before retirement.

Oh, he added: "Lots of sleep." Doc warns that lack of sleep is biggest factor in all of this regarding seizures. "Get at least eight hours a night," he says.

Believe it or not, that may be more difficult than cutting back on beer and giving up Sunday martinis. I rarely sleep more than seven, mostly six, per night. But I'll try.

Oh, I forgot to ask about spicy food, but we dipped our toe (figuratively, not literally) into that world tonight with a lasagna made and donated by Ben Gleeson (husband of Kate Shipley, who's in D.C. on an internship right now, and whose wedding I gleefully performed). Tangy with a bit of a bite, but no side effects, so far, so it's full speed ahead for that part from now on. (Perhaps it was that half-bottle of beer that helped! I think so. Don't you?)

So, progress continues after the excursions into the cranium. Driving, spicy food and (a bit of) beer are back.

What else to say, but "Cheers!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back in the saddle...

A short post to offer the promised update:

First, I got the clearance to return to work on Monday, so I've been in the office for almost three days now (though at a much-reduced speed).

Regarding my visit to the neurologist yesterday, all OK…doc said he was "amazed" that my brain was back in proper alignment so soon after being pushed so far to the left. I've still got some swelling on the right side above my ear that's puzzling (to him and to me), but doc says it's not brain-related. Perhaps, he says, it's some leftover fluids from surgery. He says he's checking with docs in Calif. to get advice.

Oh, and the doc here did reduce my meds a bit (the weaning begins) and may do more reduction after talking with California docs. Here's hoping that driving the Miata, spicy foods and beer (some special Colorado brew from Erin Wiley delivered by her dad, Jack) are not too far on the horizon.

Overall, I'm feeling OK, just tired and weak from all those days in the hospital, the trip home, and not sleeping particularly well (because of swelling on right side).

But thankful I'm here and feeling as well as I am.

Thanks again to all who've expressed concern or have kept me in their thoughts. I truly do believe it's been an important part of prompting the "amazed" response from the neurologist here by moving my brain back into proper alignment so quickly.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Miata and me...

I'm home, itching to get back to work, which may happen tomorrow (Monday, July 18).

And so is the Miata.

For those interested in an update on me, no real news will come until Tuesday, when I see the neurologist and have a follow-up CAT scan. Though, still, no neurological symptoms (that we can detect) except for a bit of swelling on the right side of my head. That's the side they worked on, twice.

And my golf game a week ago went well. I was as good (or as bad) as I was before all this tinkering in the cranium. I even cut the front lawn (though I cheated with a new-bought self-propelled lawn mower from Sears).

More important: no pain and, thankfully, no headaches -- though, still, until I get off the anti-seizure meds, no driving, no spicy food and no beer.

My plea to wean myself off the meds will be a big part of Tuesday's meeting with the neurologist because I crave all three.

As for the Miata, which we'd planned to use on the trip back from California mostly along fabled Route 66, it is home after a return 1,900-mile journey nestled in a covered car carrier. It arrived on Tuesday, along with five other vehicles. They included some royalty: a Dodge Viper and a '70s-era yellow Corvette. (The other three cars, and our Miata, were of the proletariat.)

A confession: The car carrier couldn't drop off the car in front of the house, as expected. It needed to unload or reposition five cars before getting to our Miata. So it headed to a Wal-Mart a mile or so away to do the unloading. Once safely birthed, I sat in the contoured leather seat, feeling comfortably at home. Not wanting to leave her again, I drove, slowly (and against medical advice), the mile or so back, safely, into the comforting embrace of our garage.

Early Saturday afternoon, I took Joyce out -- she at the wheel -- to introduce her to the mystery and magic of the Miata's six-speed manual transmission. At a local high school parking lot, next door to the Wal-Mart, I talked her through the routine of going from first to second, then third, fourth, fifth and sixth while synchronizing those moves with a left foot pushing the clutch to the floor and letting it out precisely at the proper moment.

She did well enough that we headed, later that afternoon, her at the helm, to a Miata club meeting in Kansas City. By our return early that evening, Joyce was a pro at negotiating the gear box

I must admit that I was envious the entire trip there and back. For someone who truly hates to drive, wishing that Lawrence had subways like New York City so I wouldn't have to own a car, I love driving the Miata, as I loved driving the '79 MGB all those years. It's simply fun!

So good thoughts for Tuesday, please. For driving, for spicy food and, of course, a good beer or two.

Oh, and for good health.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Life after death...

I think I died.

Three Mondays ago, I was on life support in California. I even told Joyce it was OK to "let me go," and she had expectations of making the trip back home to Kansas alone. But thanks to the miracles of modern science, and the good folks who put those miracles to good use, I'm still on this good Earth, we assume healthy, or at least healing, and happy. And back home in Lawrence.

For much of the last two weeks of June and two days into July, I'd been in a California hospital recovering from what started as what I (and others) thought were sinus headaches to something called a subdural hematoma. In layman's terms, that's bleeding between two layers of the brain.

What started as one of the most beautiful drives across the Western U.S. wound up with literally the top half and right side of my skull being bored and sawed into, and medical miracle workers digging (delicately, we assume) in the folds of the brain to stop some bleeding.

That was Friday, June 17.

But let's begin almost a week earlier with my 68th birthday, June 11.

That day, we left Lawrence, Kansas, in the Mazda Miata, top down, of course, for the three-day trip to Alameda, Calif., to see our son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Andrea Garcia, and her parents. (We'd planned to drive back home along a southern route through Las Vegas to see Penn & Teller. Then, we'd planned to spend two nights at an old hotel in Williams, Ariz., with a train trip to the Grand Canyon. Finally, historical Route 66 would lead us most of the way back home to Kansas.)

The first day heading west, the drive across Kansas was uneventful (except for the guy who almost careened into us from the adjoining lane in Topeka). We headed through Denver into the high Rockies, where the Garmin found us a B&B in Empire, Colo., literally nestled at a breathtaking 9,000 feet.

That night, the headache, which had been with me off and on for a few weeks, really dug in. In the morning, our host, on request, offered some Advil, which helped a bit, so we headed across Colorado into Utah, speeding through the salt flats (where we almost ran out of gas -- literally no gas stations for what seemed a thousand miles; the Miata, which had been averaging about 29 miles per gallon on the trip, went to 32 mpg during that leg, thankfully). We made it into Nevada for the stay that night. Then, on Monday morning, we continued across Nevada, which, to our surprise, was a gorgeous mix of desert and mountains. Neither of us had expected the vistas to be so captivating.

Late that afternoon, Monday, June 13, we pulled into Alameda, headache bearable but still persistent.

The headaches droned on, to varying degrees, that week. On Friday, the pain got so intrusive that we headed to the emergency room.

That was "best decision" number one (aided by our daughter, Jennifer, a pharmacy technician, who had said the meds I was taking for sinus trouble should have knocked it -- and me -- out).

There, the ER doctor, too, thought sinus infection and was ready to prescribe a new set of meds, but then he made "best decision" two: Let's do a CAT scan just to be sure, he said.

I walked the long walk to the CAT scan room. Once the technician saw whatever he saw, that's the last time I walked for a while. Into a wheelchair for the trip back, onto a gurney, into an ambulance, IV in arm, and off to the Sutter East Bay Neuroscience Center at the Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Calif., about 20 miles away. (It, by the way, turns out to be one of the best places to be if you ever need brain work.)

As best remembered (with Joyce's aid):

Whisked into surgery, where they drilled, sawed, then folded back the skull to get at the brain and the bleeding.

I came out talkative, I'm told (because I don't recall much of that), awake and alert.

The next morning, Saturday, was OK, but then I began to deteriorate, especially my heart rate. By Sunday afternoon it was evident (to them, not me) that something had to be done. So another CAT scan, which revealed more or continued bleeding.

Another surgery. (Joyce and the kids were away at the time of the decision, but the doctor called Joyce -- It'll be quicker this time, he said, because they just had to remove the staples to get back in -- so they rushed back to the hospital.)

After surgery, dicey at best, with machines doing the breathing and heartbeat.

That week is a blur for me, of course, and even for Joyce, who spent most nights trying to sleep in a chair in my room.

The next weekend, my condition began to improve. By the Monday, I was a bit mobile. And with physical and occupational therapists, I began to be more like my old self, ignoring advice of therapists by walking, unattended, the halls at night (with a walker) and joking. (If this is normal, the doc said to Joyce, maybe we should go back in!)

The toughest part was convincing the therapists and doctors that we needed to get home. We finally brought them to the idea, because of my rapid progress, that we could take the train home. (They'd vetoed Joyce driving, and flying, because of air pressure issues, was out of the question until the hole in my skull had healed.)

Trying to get a room on the train during the July 4th weekend proved to be as trying as convincing the doctors to release me. Ultimately, we found the one remaining room on the #4 Amtrak leaving L.A. for Lawrence on July 3.

So, after a relaxing night in Modesto at Andrea's parent's house, Ian and Andrea drove us the six and a half hours to L.A. for the Sunday evening train that ultimately got us back home at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, where Ann Brill met us with tea and coffee and Egg McMuffins.

As for the Miata, it's on its way home (on a car-carrying truck) as we speak. It should be here Monday or Tuesday.

Unfortunately, I have three (painful) bans right now because of the medication I'm on: no driving, no spicy food and, alas!, no beer.

But the need for medication will end, so life will soon be back to what it was.

And for that I am grateful beyond words, thanks to the miracles of modern science and the good folks who practice 'em so well. And, of course, all the family and friends who were there when we needed.

P.S.: More later on those good folks.

P.P.S.: A sign of my improvement -- this Sunday (tomorrow), I'm playing, with doctor's OK, less than a week after our return, in a charity golf tournament (a "scramble" so I won't have much pressure.)