Saturday, December 08, 2012

Experiencing life’s fragile nature

It's easy to forget how fragile life can be — how fragile we all are.

I was reminded of this fragility earlier this year when I spent a few days in the hospital. There were so many things wrong with me, my family doctor thought it best to admit me.

After three full days of blood tests, an IV in each arm, a CT scan and beaucoup medication I was able to head home. I had been diagnosed with a fever, viral infection, strep throat and swollen ankles and joints — the latter of which the disease specialist called post-streptococcal reactive arthritis.



For months after my stay at the hospital, which came at the beginning of May, I had to see a rheumatologist, a joint doctor. From there, I had more tests — my blood toxicity still high — and even had to see a cardiologist to make sure my heart was not affected from the strep.

I was on multiple medications for weeks, steroids almost until Labor Day.

The fragility of my body was tested. My ecosystem had been compromised. It wasn't until later in the summer when I finally felt back to normal.

This experience was the first real wake up call to the fragility of life — my life.

I am thankful for each day I wake up. I have been trying to eat, exercise and sleep better. You only get one body, one life.

Hospital viewing

The next time I really witnessed the fragility of life was just after Thanksgiving.

On Nov. 30, my friends and I were given a rare opportunity to witness a surgery or two at Toledo Hospital.

We had bid on an auction item at a charity event over the summer. The item included viewing a surgery and having a steak dinner with the surgeon. We decided to pool our money and bid on the item, which we would find out later that we won.

What this thoracic surgeon and his team of trained specialists do is nothing short of miraculous. Each day, they put on scrubs and save lives. I can't say the same about my life; I design newspapers and write movie reviews.

My friends and I checked in and got scrubbed up around noon on that Friday. Our first surgery we witnessed was a "routine" pacemaker battery change.

The pacemaker expert took us aside and talked to us about pacemakers, how they work and how important they are.

After the surgeon made his small incision below the woman's left collarbone, he showed us the pacemaker and prepared to replace it with a fully charged unit. After he disconnected the old one, we noticed the woman's heart rate flatline on the moment. This was only for a few seconds but we all looked cautiously at one another.

Tim and I. 
Having masks on, all we could see of each other were enlarged eyes, not quite sure what to make of this flatlined heartbeat.

The doctor them plugged in the new pacemaker and the heartbeat continued up again. He later told us, he would only have been concerned if the heartbeat didn't return within a minute or two.

He then sewed her up and the first surgery was done.

Since we hadn't really eaten that day yet, the doctor told us to go eat and return for the next surgery, which he promised was less routine.

Three more friends would join us after lunch, but it was very neat for the three of us (Tim, Sue and I) to eat in scrubs in the cafeteria. We felt cool and important — an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" was playing in my head.

The next surgery would be life-changing for the woman receive and, quite honestly, for us watching it.

She had been a smart for more than half a century and a cancerous, baseball-sized tumor had developed in her left lower lung lobe. After showing us the CT scan results, one of the doctors told us the woman may need her whole left lung removed in order to stop the cancer. Although, he said he hoped they only need to remove the lower lobe.

After waiting for a while for the patient to be knocked out, the surgeon returned and it was time to open her up.

Before he started, the surgeon selected what music he wanted to listen to during surgeon. He went to Pandora radio and select the "Cher radio" channel. My friends and I smiled at one another.

For the next hour, we watched. The surgeon went in through the woman's left side — through her ribs. He pulled them apart and put a clamp to hold them open. He began cutting and his search for the tumor began.

With each step, he explained to the six of us what he was doing and why.

The doctors are ready: My friends Cliff, Luke, Spencer, Tim and I. 
After much investigation, he and the other doctor assisting him decided the whole lung would need to be removed.

The anesthesiologist pulled us aside at one point and explained everything she and her aid were doing, including their use of a double-lumen endotracheal tube to control the woman's breathing and anesthesia. (Read more about the tube.)

Once the lung was removed, the surgeon allowed us to look into the cavity and pointed out various parts of the body, including some of the arteries.

He then stitched her up, as Cher continued to serenade in the background.

That was our experience. The room of specialists still could not understand who we were — just non-medical observers for the day. They mostly have students or other specialists in the room observing.

I'd like to thank that surgeon, his team and the hospital for letting us witness something truly miraculous. It was a normal day for them, but an extraordinary day for us.

I hope that woman realizes her fragility and the second chance she has been given. We all don't get a second chance.

I'm thankful for every day I wake up. And I'm trying to make sure I don't visit the hospital again as a patient any time soon.

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