Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Three Years Ago (Part 4)

This photo was taken at the Rush Medical Center outpatient physical therapy gym September 2012.

While I was still in the rehab center, Bill and our friend Michelle visited me. I was surprised and yet very pleased that Michelle had accompanied Bill, while they were with me someone walked in to take me to the in patient rehab gym. In situations like these no time is ever wasted and rehab is started immediately, I was to walk on my one prosthetic leg using a walker.

Bill and Michelle joined me at rehab and I remember Bill, Michelle, and I joined hands and she said prayer for me. It was during their visit that Michelle said to me "through great losses come great blessings." In addition to coping with monumental loss of my second leg, I was also wondering about my future and how I was going to survive financially, specifically  how I was going to keep my condo. Bill remembers this better than I, but Michelle said in a confident almost omnipotent way, "oh you are not going to lose your condo."

There are probably a whole host of other instances that occurred but these are the ones that stuck out in my mind the most and the most clearly. Eventually I returned home and began an arduous task of recuperating and putting my life back together.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to recall and explain all of these things to you is because there is a chance that there may be someone out there reading my words who is going through something similar. As difficult and seemingly hopeless as my story seemed as it was happening to me at the time, there has been life after amputation. There has been life after double amputation.

I am not going to sugar coat things and say everything is great, because it isn't, however life has progressed forward and adjustments have been made. My life will never be as it once was, nor will your life if you are living similar circumstances. This I can say, I still laugh, I still love, I still want to be loved and all of the basic human qualities remain.

Through the past three years I have grown as a person. I am much more aware of the preciousness of life,   I am thankful for what I do still have and I understand more fully that as difficult as my life may seem sometimes, there are those whose lives are even more difficult than mine. There are those who have lost even more than I and have managed to have full and happy lives.

As Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I know that I am thankful I was given the opportunity and freedom to express myself to you and that with God's grace my words will find their way into your heart and help you in some small way, be a better person, live a happier life and pass the love along.

Thank you.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Three Years Ago (Part 3)

Here I am standing in front of a St Lucia sign, this is one of the last pictures taken while I still had my left leg.
As we traveled down the expressway toward Rush Medical Center, my mind was racing, my emotions were all over the place, and yet there was a calm practical aspect to all of this. I had to remember to pack things like my hairbrush, razor, and cellphone charger, after all I knew I would in the hospital for quite a while and despite the costs of a hospitalization it is certainly is not a hotel.

My assistant Frank, not a very comforting type of person, meant my conversation in the car was relegated to the practical aspects of what he was to do at my place in my absence and not much else. I could not look to him for any emotion support, his approach is much too clinical for such pleasantries as offering comfort. 

When we arrived at the emergency room, Frank offered to come in with me but I declined his offer as I knew he was much too hyper a person to play the waiting game and his being there served no purpose. In medical emergency situations I have found it to be one of the most alone periods one can endure. No one can have the surgery for you, no one can recuperate for you, no one can even genuinely comprehend what you are actually going through. 

At this stage of the game things begin to get a little foggy. I know they put me in an emergency cubicle and I was given a tranquilizer, Ativan, I definitely needed it at that point to help me cope with what was about to transpire. I do not recall whether or not they attempted to do a TPA procedure or whether is was determined to be a fruitless effort. 

At some point I called my sister, Rhonda and either she or I called Marguerite and Marguerite called Bill. Those were the only people whom I alerted right away, the others, Ruthie, Steve and others came later. Fortunately under such dire circumstances you are administered a plethora of drugs which of course drape your memories in a heavy thick fog. 

One of the last recollections I have is being in a pre-op area which is the last stop before you are wheeled into the operating room. I know Rhonda was there and either Justin, my nephew, or Erica, one of my nieces, were there and for some reason my friend, Shawn may have been there. Forgive me for not knowing exactly what occurred, if I am not retelling this exactly, those who were there can correct me and I know their account would be more accurate than mine.

I remember feeling loved and being surrounded by those who cared about me, it was a feeling of comfort and warmth. The next thing I remember is being in intensive care. The intensive care units are designed to be just that, intensive care. They are curtained off partitioned areas in one large room, void of telephones or televisions, hot, and very noisy. It is next to impossible to get any rest despite the potent drugs that were coursing through my veins.

I think at this point Christmas had already passed or was within a day or two. My sister, Rhonda had given up her Christmas to be with her brother and I hope she knows how much her sacrifice means to me even to this day. I do recall her only grandson, Max, was celebrating his first birthday on New Year's Eve and Rhonda wanted to be home for that, I insisted that she go. She had already done enough.

Normally a post-operative person without complications should only remain in intensive care for a couple of days, however, there was a shortage of available rooms in the regular part of the hospital and I was forced to stay in intensive care well beyond what was necessary. This posed a problem because as I said, it is very hot, very noisy and no privacy whatsoever.

Eventually I was given a private room on the eighth floor of the hospital, a place where I had been many times before, everyone knew me from all of my previous stays. A few things happened that really stand out in my mind.

I remember calling my dear friend, Ruth, or maybe she called me, I told her that what I had hoped would never happen, did in fact happen. I had lost my left leg above the knee, thereby making me a bilateral above knee amputee. Ruth cried. She does not normally cry, I have known her for over twenty years, we are dear friends and maybe she has cried once or twice in my presence. She cried because she knew how much this would change my life. I will never forget it.

Another incident happened after I was moved from the regular hospital to the adjacent rehab center. A friend of mine named Patrick, visited me, he and I had become friends at Cheetah gym. I remember he used me as an example to some of his less dedicated friends  about not making excuses for not working out. Anyway he was not prepared for what he saw, and I guess the full magnitude of what had happened to his friend hit him pretty hard.

I told him I would bounce back, but it was too much for him seeing me like I was, he had to leave the room. I think maybe he went to gather his thoughts, perhaps cry, I am not sure. He did come back more composed and apologized for leaving the room, I told him there was no need to apologize. This was an emotional situation for all involved, not just for me but also for those who love me.

To be continued.....

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three Years Ago (part 2)

Above  is a photo of  me sitting on my balcony drinking a protein shake after my workout taken March 2010.
Fortunately, I have always had the ability and wherewithal to bounce back from many medical procedures. After having gone through two surgeries and three total hospital stays during 2010, I enjoyed the second half of 2010 free from any impending medical procedures or complications. 

I enjoyed my 10 day cruise immensely, I was back to my routine. I will never forget Saturday December 18, 2010. I went to the gym as usual and everything was fine, I had stopped to talk to a friend near the locker room and it was then that my world began to change forever. Walking the short 150 feet from where I was talking, to the front of the gym, a clot occurred. One of the most insidious things about this hyper coagulation syndrome is that you have no warning, one minute your blood is flowing the next minute it is not, kind of like turning off a faucet.

There I was sitting on a couch in the front of the gym, terrified. I knew from past experiences what had just happened. I also knew what lie ahead for me at least in the short term and what potentially and most likely lie ahead in the long term. It took about 15 minutes for a sufficient amount of blood to reach my feet before I could walk to the car and drive home. Often times even though you have a clot,  some blood can eventually reach your extremities, the amount of time it takes varies with the severity of the occlusion, I knew this was bad.

When I finally got home my mind was whirling like a cyclone, fear, anxiety, worry, what to do, who to call, I was a mess. I had a conversation with God pleading with him to not let this be true, to let it pass or let it be my imagination on overdrive. In my heart of hearts I knew the truth, and yet I immediately went into denial, I did not deserve this, I had already been through so much, I was a good person and on and on. 

It took a lot of courage for me to do the unthinkable, remove my shoe and sock and look at my left foot. Tears were welling up in my eyes as my greatest fear was visually apparent, my foot as white and as cold as snow. No blood in my foot causing the whiteness and coldness, this had really happened. A voice in my head resonating Dr. Jacobs words, "if this bypass fails there is no where left to bypass." What that meant was I was going to lose my left leg also, I broke down and sobbed.

Always a resident in the hotel denial, I thought well maybe it will be better by tomorrow, it was one of the worse days and nights of my life. I lie awake most of the night, I slept with my left leg draped over the side of the bed letting gravity pull as much blood as possible into to my poor blood starved left leg and foot, but it was of course of no avail, a last ditch effort.

It was one week before Christmas, Bill was in Nashville for the holidays, Marguerite and Paul were two hours away in Normal Illinois and everyone in my family lived three and a half hours away in Indianapolis. I could either call an ambulance or call my personal assistant Frank. I opted to call Frank to take me to the hospital. When I called him on Sunday morning I told him what had happened and told him to pick me up in a couple of hours, I needed time to pack.

It was one of the longest and most somber car trips I had ever taken..........

To be continued.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Three Years Ago (Part 1)

Pictured above is a shot I took from the Emerald Princess cruise ship in November 2010.

It has been almost three years since the loss of my second leg. At this time three years ago I was preparing to embark on my first cruise to the Caribbean with my friend Shawn, his sister, Lisa and her husband, Dan. I was a mixture of excitement and a smidgen of angst. I had never undertaken such a trip before and having lost one leg at this point I was a little nervous. After much encouragement and reassurance from family and friends I was looking forward to the trip.

A couple of weeks before the trip I had undergone a test to check the circulation in my remaining left leg, I did not want any complications while at sea. Everything had checked out fine and I was doing well in physical therapy, in fact, I had been learning to walk with my prosthetic leg up and down sloped areas, soon I may have been able to dispense with the cane altogether. Alas, that was not to be.

I returned from the cruise on Saturday December 4, I was well rested, very tan, and excited to return to Cheetah gym and resume my everyday life. Things were going well and I was proud of my accomplishments having bounced back from the loss of my right leg just 18 months earlier. I was driving using my left leg, going to the gym 5-6 days a week and had even managed to work a couple of jobs, things were going to be just fine.

During the course of 2010 I had been battling to keep my left leg. Things took a turn for the worse December 27 2009, I had a blood clot occur during my visit Christmas 2009. My sister, Rhonda ended up taking me back to Chicago in her car and my brother- in-law, Peter, drove my car to Chicago. Fortunately my vascular surgeon, Dr. Chad Jacobs, was able to dissolve the clot through a procedure called a TPA. Again in April 2010 another clot appeared this time, however, the clot was not able to be dissolved and a bypass was performed. 

I remember while recovering from the  bypass my surgeon advised me he was not particularly pleased with my bypass and wanted to redo it so that it would hopefully last longer. I was upset and said I wasn't sure my body could withstand much more invasive surgery. He assured me that I was in fact physically capable of undergoing further surgery. We decided to redo the surgery in June. In May the veins occluded again unexpectedly, and I went in to have yet another by pass, this time something that had never happened before, occurred, compartment syndrome.

Compartment Syndrome is what happens when too much blood rushes into your veins too quickly and can rapidly cause your veins to burst. The emergency solution is to make long cuts into your legs to allow the proliferation of blood to escape. This procedure was performed successfully and allowed me to dodge the bullet and keep my leg.  I will continue this in my next post........