Sunday, February 14, 2010

Life 2.0

Even after all this time,

the sun never says

to the earth,

“You owe me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that -

it lights

the whole world.

- Hafiz

Having a heart attack tends to focus you on what's important. Like breathing, which I thoroughly recommend.

There I was, coming back into the house after swimming some laps when I suddenly became aware of pains that were roughly like a bad case of heartburn and shortness of breath. And no, I did not immediately think heart attack.

It didn't go away after about a half fact,the pain increased and was joined with a certain lightheadedness and a cold sweat. So I dialed 911.

Contrary to popular legend, I was able to get through immediately and was promptly switched from the main operator to the paramedics, where the dispatcher took me through my symptoms, advised me what to do and literally stayed on the line with me and held my hand - I do not exaggerate - until the paramedics got to my home.

The house is enclosed by a fence and getting to my front door and then getting me out involved jumping the locked gate, getting me on a gurney, and then getting me through a fairly narrow entryway and walkway down several landings while navigating some stairs.It's actually a fairly complex exit, especially carrying someone in a gurney complete with oxygen tubes and G-d knows what else, but the paramedics did it all with a practiced ease that surprised me, although it shouldn't have.

In the end, the only thing I took with me were my set of keys and the tee shirt I was wearing

By this time, I had been told that I was having a heart attack. As we headed for the nearest ER, the pain and shortness of breath had spiked and during the ride, in between trying to breathe,I began to chew on the fact that this just might be the end of the story.

This wasn't a morbid or melodramatic realization in any way. And no, I didn't see my life flash before my eyes, thank you ! It was more a feeling of regret about the thought of not seeing my wife and kids any more, of having unfinished business and especially about the amount of time I'd wasted on some of life's trivia and vanities. I had to confront that, and while I'm sure in real time it was a short period, to me it seemed like a fairly long reflection.

At that point, I commended my spirit to G-d, not asking for anything mind you, but simply acknowledging His judgment and His omnipotence, how ever it turned out. I recited the ancient Hebrew prayer, the Sh'ma, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The first lines translate as "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One."

Reciting those words, which have comforted and sustained the Jews for centuries, I had distinct feeling of comfort,of divine mercy, a feeling that whatever happened, Things Were Going To Work Out.


Arriving at the hospital, I was transferred immediately to surgery, where I feel into the capable hands of Dr. James Kulczycki, a highly trained, compassionate physician whom I recommend without reservation if you're in my part of the world.

The procedure I had done is formally known as an angioplasty, and the technology is interesting. Think of it as plumbing on a anatomical scale. It involves going in through the groin and clearing a blocked artery by shoving a catheter ( a tube) through the blockage, inflating the artery with a small balloon and keeping it open while a wire mesh contraption known as a stint is placed inside so the blood can flow.

It's similar to what ex-President Clinton recently had done, except in my case there were a few additional complications because I was having an actual heart attack at the time.

Dr. Kulczycki ended up doing the original surgery and once I was recovered sufficiently, I was transferred via ambulance to a different hospital operated by Kaiser, which is my actual insurance carrier.

During my stay at both places, I got a unique insight into the state of America's health care.

In both places, I was treated with the utmost kindness, competence and courtesy by the paramedics, technicians, doctors and nurses. I experienced how these people approach the art of healing first hand.And as usual, I talked to people when I had the opportunity and there are stories I can tell you:

  • The one about the surgeon who took extra time out of his busy schedule to call my wife, reassure her about how well the operation had gone, answer her questions and let her know that really, Everything Was Really Going To Be OK - instead of letting some assistant do it.

  • The one about a young teenager roped into a community service program in high school who did a ride along with the paramedics, was inspired to make that his life's goal and succeeded.

  • The one about the nurse who rose to the head of her department in the cardiac care unit, retired....and then realized how much she missed nursing and returned to work as a subordinate in the same department she used to head, just to get back in the game.

  • The one about the Army corpsman who did a tour in Afghanistan (ummm, pronounced Kor'-man, Mr. Commander-in-chief, not 'corpseman', and yeah, we both laughed at you over that one) turned down a cushy job with his father-in-law and now continues saving lives as an ER technician.

There are other stories I could tell you, but I want to give you a sense of the sort of people who make up the vast majority of those who make a profession of laboring to make things come out right when something goes wrong with the human body.

I have absolutely no doubt that had I arrived at the ER without insurance, I would have gotten the same level of care. For that matter, the original hospital had no knowledge of my insurance or my ability to pay until after the surgery was performed.

Another thing I have absolutely no doubt of is one of the chief things driving up healthcare costs - fear of predatory lawyers and lawsuits. It skyrockets the price of malpractice insurance and results in millions of dollars worth of duplicated tests, procedures and paperwork.

Until President Obama is willing to utter the magic words 'tort reform' and actually do something about this situation, you can assume that he's lying about being serious about healthcare reform. It's the key to the whole puzzle, and I'll leave it to you to figure out the odds of that little morsel coming out of Prez Zero's mouth.

Our healthcare system works incredibly well, thank you very much... most of all, because the people involved in it work so incredibly well. And a few needed changes like tort reform will keep it that way, without the tax bill disguised as reform and known as ObamaCare.


So, here I sit, pondering over Life 2.0. And yes, that's how I think of it (and no yuks about avatars playing Second Life, please).

I'm in the process of getting back in touch with my physical self. I am going back in to the hospital in a couple of weeks or so to have additional surgery done to correct other blockages, and my focus now is quite naturally on healing myself. That's going to involve some fairly major lifestyle changes, but I had already started some of them anyway...just not quickly enough. But then, I now have a second chance to get things right. And yes, I'm going to triumph over the challenges involved, G-d willing.

I've learned that a lot of things I gave a great deal of time and importance to matter very little in the grand scheme of things, and that a number of simple pleasures I took for granted have an incredible joy and sweetness to them.

One thing that ended up being a lot more important than I anticipated was this site. I could not have imagined that this little corner of cyberspace affected so many people until I saw the comments on the board, got the e-mails and the phonecalls and saw how many regulars kept checking the site to see what was going on.

I take that as an attaboy if not a complete endorsement of everything I do here, and a spur to continue and to improve.

That's actually true in general, now that I think of it.It's Life 2.0, a gift from Almighty G-d to finish things up and do things better, and I plan to take full advantage of it.

I have a feeling Life 2.0 is going to be a vast improvement on the old, flawed version.

please helps me write more gooder!


Anonymous said...

Welcome back home!

I am a longtime reader, but don't post here.

Keep well and stay healthy, my friend!

Rhymes With Right said...

Beautiful, my friend. And you are one of the few (my wife being another) who would take the time while ill to make sure that you got absolutely everybody's life story.

I suspect you have already done what my wife does after every stay -- made those calls to the hospital administration (or written the letter) telling them of all the good things, since they usually just get the complaints.

Freedom Fighter said...

Thanks Anonymous.

Yup Greg..I sure did!


Tsumura said...

Glad you are doing better, my prayers are with you and your family.

B.Poster said...


Its good to know you are back home and seem to be doing better!! Praise G_D!! We will continue to pray for you as you continue to recover. Please take all the time you need to get well and to spend with your family.

Right Truth said...

You will receive a questionnaire from the hospitals, and maybe from individual departments within the hospital. Please don't toss these. Fill them out honestly. The hospital is REQUIRED to pass these out and they do not go back to the hospital, but probably to an independent company (which charges them a fortune). The results of these surveys have an affect on how funds, insurance reimbursements, etc. go to the hospital. At lest that is how our hospital works.

Now, to your health. I'm so glad you are doing well, glad that your experience was positive.

You are correct that if you had no insurance, you would have been treated exactly the same way. Yes, without tort reform there is no serious health care reform.

I'm sure your doctor told you that in about 1/3 (I believe) of patients that have angioplasty, a stint will fail and need to be replaced. So don't get discouraged if this happens.

Also, the latest stints, like you have, are treated with a special medication that make them so much more dependable at keeping plaque from building up again.

I'm thankful that you did not need open - heart surgery, the recovery time is so much longer.

If this happens again, chew an aspirin immediately.

Again, I'm so glad that you are OK.

Right Truth

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi Deb,
Thanks so much for the good wishes.

Aside from questionaires, I also tried to let the health professionals involved know how I felt by my demeanor..which to me meant being friendly, polite and as non-demanding as possible.

As far as the stints go, the hospital even gave me the product number, in case there are any recalls or problems. But they also told me they have never had any of their stints recalled.

By luck or grace of G-d, I ended up with an incredibly experienced, well trained and compassionate surgeon, and I'm sure the doctors at the Kaiser facility are just as good.

The big thing I'm working on now is getting healthy and researching various natural ways of reversing arterial plaque.

I'll go in for additional surgery ( probably another stint) in a few weeks after I recuperate a bit.It's in G-d's hands and I'm fine with that.

Thanks so much, and please give my best to the Grouch.

All Good Things,

Scott Kirwin said...

Excellent writing - better than your usually excellent essays.

Freedom Fighter said...

Thanks, Scott!

William Jockusch said...

I am glad you lived.

There is a book called The China Study. It is highly relevant to your situation. In fact it could save your life.

Take care.

Rosey said...

Again, glad you are okay. Welcome back. Your blogging seems to have barely skipped a beat! Take care of yourself.

Freedom Fighter said...

Thanks, Rosey!