Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Cardiovascular Surgeon

What has my vascular surgeon done for me? In all likelihood, he saved my life.

Dr. Chad Jacobs is a very competent member of Rush University Cardiovascular Surgeon's office located in the professional building across the street from Rush University Medical Center. Dr. Jacobs and I go back quite a few years.

When the onset of DVT was first diagnosed, I was originally treated at Cook County Hospital, now known as Stroger Hospital. Cook County Hospital as it was known then, was in it's last year in the original building, which I believe was over a hundred years old. I did receive treatment there quite a few times, not the least of which was my first femerol popliteal bypass. For many reasons I decided to no longer seek treatment there.

When further problems, namely blood clots, resurfaced, I decided to receive treatment at Rush University Medical Hospital. I really don't remember how I met Dr. Jacobs, but I do remember I took an instant liking to him. Unlike a lot of doctors you might encounter, Dr. Jacobs has a warmth about his personality, a feeling of genuine caring. Dr. Jacobs made talking about my medical problems as easy as possible.

I knew I had serious problems with potentially serious consequences. Dr. Jacobs was candid with me about the possible ultimate outcome of the DVT diagnosis, especially coupled with what was eventually described as hypercoaguability (my blood was inherently too thick).

We continued a regimen of blood thinners (coumadin), aspirin, and Plavix. All of those drugs were effective for a while but the DVT, a degenerative disease, progressed. I had many bouts with blood clots, at that time, exclusively in my right leg. As I discussed in an earlier blog installment, sometimes these clots were successfully dissolved, other times not; the results were vein bypasses, several to be precise. After having had the bypasses occlude (clot) repeatedly, I had reached a point where there was nowhere to bypass to or from.

I remember Dr. Chad Jacobs commenting to me over the course of several years, that he was amazed that I was able to forestall my clotting problem for as long as I did. I attributed that ability to excercise. I am very confident that my participation in an excercise program helped delay the inevitable for as long as possible.

In June 2008, after two previous bypasses that same year, I had reached the end of surgical treatment. I believe it was March 2008 that Dr. Jacobs told me that if this last bypass failed, there was nothing more that could be done surgically to save my leg. In June of that same year the unthinkable happened, an occlusion. I lost my right leg.

I can't begin to explain how hard the surgical team, under Dr. Chad Jacob's leadership, worked over the course of several years, to save my right leg; it was not to be.

Dr. Jacobs is always optimistic and encouraging to me. I remember there were times when I doubted my ability to carry on and handle the health problems that lay before me and the subsequent necessary treatment. Dr. Jacobs said to me, "Glenn you are stronger than you think you are." What a confidence booster and sense of reassurance his belief in me had on my outlook and continuing recovery.

As I wrote about in an earlier blog installment, I began to have similar problems in my left leg. I ended up having three by-passes in my left leg and then in December 2010 all hell broke loose literally--all bypasses failed and the inevitable came to fruition. I lost my left leg.

Of course I am still learning to cope and reapproaching how to do what were simple everyday routines, but now are much more difficult, and yet I feel they are still attainable to a greater or lesser degree.

To me it has been essential to establish open communication between all of the various caregivers, I have encountered, and myself. A communication that goes beyond just mere professionalism, it is on a more personal level for me, a type of friendship really. I would like to think I have established an intrapersonal relationship with many of my medical professionals that has enabled all parties involved to go beyond the sometimes cold clinical relationships many people encounter, to a warm caring connection. All those things make my health situation not only more bearable, but often times more hopeful. Who could ask for more than that?

I remember Dr. Chad Jacob's words to me about strength and it helps keep me focussed and realize how much inner strength I really do possess. I recall one time on a routine check up appointment with Dr. Jacobs, he walked into the examining room and said, "I know I am going to have a good day, today because your are my first patient."

Well, Dr. Chad Jacobs I want you to know I am going to have a productive, happy and prosperous life because you are my doctor. I genuinely thank you for your belief in me it has given me great strength and optimism. Optimism and inner strength I call upon every day to achieve the happiness we all deserve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Physical Therapist

Christine and myself at Rush outpatient therapy.

The physical therapist plays a pivotal role in the continued recovery and success of an amputee such as myself. Their role is similar to a personal trainer at a gym. My prosthetic legs are for example, like a piece of gym equipment, but if you don't know how to use it, what good is it?

Fortunately for me, I have been provided with two of the most advanced prosthetic legs available today (my gym equipment). The task at hand is learning to use them to their full advantage, that is where a good physical therapist (the personal trainer) is essential. My physical therapist, Chris, has helped me immeasurably.

Chris and I go back to the time I lost my first leg and we have worked together off and on for the past three years. I have been blessed, once again, to be associated with a therapist of her caliber. Chris has the ability to be tough, when necessary, but at the same time be encouraging, kind and a good listener.

She and I have developed a great relationship and I can honestly say I feel she is my friend. Yesterday at my physical therapy session, by the time I looked at the clock, my one hour session was over. I told her how quickly our time together seems to go by, and one of the reasons why is because we are so engaged in what we do and our conversations flow so freely and effortlessly.

I feel the success of a physical therapist is determined by their ability to communicate to their patient, the knowledge they have acquired through their extensive training and education and then be able to relate it to the patient in a meaningful way; thus implementing their words into the patient's actions. Chris is able to do all of those aforementioned things seamlessly while at the same time incorporating humor. She and I have a great time together laughing and joking but simutaneously I am learning and practicing techniques that will help me to walk more proficiently on two above knee prosthetic legs.

Chris is not the only physical therapist who has left a lasting impression on me. Her associate, Katie, another great therapist, has instructed me a few times and she does an excellent job; always willing to listen to my insecurities and provide me with answers that give me the movitvation I need from time to time. Katie was also instramental in getting my guest blog debut in the Rush University Medical Center's blog, "Rush InPerson," going above and beyond her role as a physical therapist. She read the words in this blog, "Life Without Legs" and believed my words should be shared with others--a compliment to me from her that I will never forget.

Before a person even reaches the point of being released from the hospital, after an amputation, stroke or whatever, physical therapy begins almost immediately. The physical and occupational therapists I remember most from my inpatient therapy sessions were Liz and Jenny.

Perhaps being an inpatient therapist presents it's own set of unique circumstances sometimes even more challenging than an outpatient therapist may face.

First of all, they are dealing with patients who are just recovering not only physically but psychologically from their very recent losses or injuries. Patients who are still just coming to terms with what has happened to them.

Secondly, patients like myself, at that time, are still heavily medicated. Being under the influence of strong pain killing medications often affects a patient's attitude and performance. For me personally, of what I can remember, there were times when I feel I wasn't particularily cooperative and even combative.

I have great respect and admiration for inpatient therapists like Liz and Jenny, who understand firsthand what a patient is going through and make the appropriate allowances for the patient's behavior; commendable to say the least.

The importance of physical therapy cannot be emphasized enough. Without physical therapy many patients would never be able to overcome on their own, such things as back injuries or ankle injuries and so forth.

Those of us who have sufffered permanent injury or loss, the role of a physical therapist is an essential part of recovery.

My continued recovery has been made much more pleasant, and even fun because of my therapists both past and present. I am so thankful to have such meaningful relationships with such wonderful people.

If you are a patient, recovering from surgery, stroke or injury it would be advantageous for you to understand and appreciate what a physical therapist can offer you. Establishing a harmonious bond with your therapist will reap you benefits that will last you a lifetime.

My personal experiences have taught me all of these things and more; isn't that what life is really all about, helping each other and passing along the love of one person to another in whatever form?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Prosthetist

I remember the first time I heard the word, "prosthetist" I thought she said prostitute, which by the way is two words down from prosthetist in my Webster's dictionary, however they are miles apart in meaning. Anyway, a prosthetist is a medical professional who is responsible for the design and fit of a prosthetic limb. In reality they are much more than that clinically sounding word.

Through my various exposures to different specialized medical professionals, the prosthetist has a unique role. Of the five prosthetists I know, each and every one of them are capable, caring and concerned individuals who face a daunting task. Imagine trying to fit someone with an artifical limb that they will potentially wear twelve to sixteen hours a day for the rest of their lives, in my case, two prosthetic legs; not an easy job.

I never cease to be amazed at the patience and genuine concern that has been demonstrated time and again by my primary prosthetists, Eric and Jason. Once again, this whole limb loss nightmare was not without it's own blessings, namely meeting and getting to know Eric and Jason. I have great respect and admiration for both of them and what they have and continue to do for me.

I always try to establish a good alliance with anyone I will be working with closely, as soon as possible. I do this through the use of humor and cheerfulness.

Facing a sometimes unpleasant prospect, getting fitted for a prosthetic limb, was made more pleasant through the use of humor. I love to joke around with Eric and Jason and they with me. I actually look forward most of the time to seeing them and making the never ending adjustments necessary to get the correct fit and help ensure a more comfortable and proper allignment.

My experiences with my prosthetists have brought an enlightment I would never have known had I not met Eric and Jason. To undertake such a specialized, personal and important task for the benefit of another individual speaks volumes about what kind of people prosthetists really are.

Having met Eric and Jason has taught me patience, endurance, perservence, accomplishment and ultimately success. The prosthetists I have met have enriched my life. It is not unusual for either Eric or Jason to call me just to make sure all is going well and ask if I am having any kind of issue with my prosthetic limbs. I never feel as if I am just another patient, I know they really care about me and strive to get the most comfortable and proper fit for my prosthetics.

I am extremely grateful to both of them for their continued support and involvement in my limb loss scenario. As I have stated before in previous blogs, taking an unimaginable loss, and through the use of humor and optimism turn it into as pleasant an experience as is possible, is benefical not only to myself but to everyone else involved in my situation.

As time goes on, I have made an observation that a lot of medical professionals arrive at their chosen profession as a result of personal loss or the exposure of a personal loss by someone they love. These losses establish within themselves a feeling of compassion and desire to make other people's lives better.

How many people in my situation can say and feel that they look forward to seeing not only their prosthetist, physical therapist and their various doctors but also to be told they look forward to seeing you also?

This just a small part of my experience, thus far, I know it will continue similarly, and it is as it should be, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lying Out In the Sun

Anyone who knows me knows what a sun worshiper I am and always have been. My best friend, also very fond of the sun, said he always laughs when he recounts the time I said, "I love my tannin'." Well that is true.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, it is very diffucult these days to get to the fifth floor sundeck of my condo building. There is an elevator, of course, but it only goes to the fourth floor. To access the sundeck you must take the stairs to the fifth floor. When I moved here three and a half years ago, I still had both of my natural legs, by the following summer I had lost my right leg. That loss made getting to the deck difficult but not impossible.

This is the first summer I do not have either one of my natural legs. Do you think I let that stop me? Of course not. I scoot up the stairs maneuvering my prosthetic legs as I "climb" each stair one at a time. After reaching the top, I hand walk my way to the waiting chaise lounge and hoist myself up on it using my arms.

With all the current hoopla about the damage the sun can cause, some people think I am crazy. Frankly I don't really care what they think. I enjoy the warm and I feel, healing rays of the sun. I also enjoy the breeze, the view and getting out of my condo after such a long and cold winter and spring.

I guess going through all that I do, to get to my sundeck and then to get back down may sound like it is more trouble than it is worth. Not to me.

Last fall I was contemplating going on my first cruise, I was riddled with concerns as to whether I could do it. I spoke to a dear friend in Seattle and voiced my uneasiness about the upcoming trip. She was, as always, reassuring and wise in her advice to me. She went on to say that many of the things we elect to do in our lives are difficult. Traveling by air, for example, is quite a hassle, even with all of your body parts and especially if you are missing a part or two (we laughed at the absurdity of the way she stated that). You must keep your eye on the objective, the cruise, and realize after all of the potential hassle of getting there has passed, you will be sailing the Caribbean for ten days. Was it worth the hassle? You had better believe it, it was one of the best vacations I have ever had.

Similarily the ten minute hassle to get to my sunroof is worth the hour or two I enjoy being in the sun, outside listening to music or an audio book on my ipod or talking on my cellphone to friends.

Although over time I expect things will get easier, hopefully I will somehow find a way to climb the one flight of stairs to the sundeck, until that happens however, I will do what I have to do to accomplish my goal regardless of the hassle that might be involved.

I remember these lessons with regard to other aspects of my life also, learning to stand, to walk, to drive and on it goes. I has been difficult to learn and relearn all of these areas of my life. What alternative do I have? Do I sit inside my condo, not walking, not driving, not lying out in the sun, a prisoner in my own home in a wheelchair? That is certainly not a prospect I relish.

So I will continue to do what I do because in spite of all the hassles the end result is worth it. I gotta go, I'm on the sundeck, time to scoot my way back down and with a smile on my tan face I am happy to be able to do it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Rush Experiences

I have been a patient at Rush University Medical Center more times than I can count. I know all of the nurses and nursing assistants on eight north, all of the nurses and assistants at the Bowman Rehab Center (JRB), most of the transporters, who have been there any length of time, both at Rush and the Professional Building across the street. Additionally, I know numerous physical therapists both at the inpatient and outpatient facilities and last, but certainly not least everyone at the University Cardiovascular Surgeon's offices.

My name is Glenn Wheeler, I am fifty three years old. I have been fighting the ravishes of DVT coupled with a blood situation that has been described as hypercoagulabilty (My blood is inherently too thick). The result has manifested in many blood clots beginning in my right leg. Many of my trips to Rush involved dissolving these clots, sometimes it was successful, other times not. On those unsuccessful attempts at dissolving the clots, a bypass was the only answer. During the course of over ten years I have had over twelve vein bypasses.

There is only so much that can be done, as the disease degenerates, eventually there is nowhere to bypass from or bypass to; such was my case.

On July 2008 I lost my right leg. I felt all the medical professionals involved in my case did their very best to save my leg, unfortunately this degenerative disease had run it's course and nothing else could be done to save my leg.

In my opinion, I handled the loss of my right leg as well as anyone possibly could. I always strive to be optimistic in difficult situations, remaining positive and dealing with my life events head on. I was fitted with a prosthetic leg and after much therapy and hard work, found my life back on track.

One of my passions is working out at the gym. Before the onset of the DVT problem and blood diagnosis, I worked out five days a week for many years. After losing my right leg, before my prosthetic leg was even created, I went back to my gym on a walker with one leg. I was only able to do this because I had created such strong friendships not only with the managers and employees but also with many gym patrons. I knew I would be welcomed, helped and loved.

As time went on, the degenerative nature of my disease reared it's ugly head again, this time in my left leg. In 2010, I underwent four bypasses in my left leg, until a complete collapse of all the bypasses occurred in December 2010. I lost my left leg also.

Unfortunately I lost both legs above the knee. Now I find that I am a bialateral above knee amputee. Losing both legs both above the knee is not an easy disability to overcome, it affects just about everything you do or want to do.

As is my style and outlook, I remain positive and know myself well enough to realize just like all of the times in my life previous to this, I will overcome my disability.

I am currently still in outpatient physical therapy learning to walk, yet again. Someone once told me that through great loss come great blessings. I know that is true for me. Mere words cannot adequently describe the care, understanding, compassion, and help I have and continue to receive, from all walks of life, not the least of which are all of the professionals at Rush University Medical Center and their affiliates. I know this may sound like a paid endorsement for Rush, but I can assure you it is how I genuinely feel.

I want my limb loss to have meaning not only for me but especially for others. I began writing a blog in February of this year to put into words my experiences and how I deal with being a bialateral AK amputee. It is important to me that by sharing my life with others, I will inspire them and myself through our intrapersonal experiences resulting in mutual benefaction.

I invite you to view my blog: glenn-lifewithoutlegs.blogspot.com I aspire to be of interest not just to others in my similar realm, but additionally to those who seek a greater understanding of what an amputee faces as they put their lives back together.

I want my limb loss to have purpose. I feel that purpose would be best served through my writing. I hope you will take the time to read some, if not all that I have written.

This blog I started is a precursor to a book I am going to write. This book is aimed at an audience that is not necessarily looking to climb mountains, run a marathon or anything so monumental, but rather an everyday person striving to get their life back. It is my desire to touch others with my words of optimism, love and hope, thus enhancing their lives as well as my own.

I trust I have begun my journey with the right footing, excuse the pun, you be the judge.....