Post #225 – Flashbacks
No, I’m not going to go back and do a retrospective of my first 224 other posts. But as I sat here wondering how I could show how much having this venue to share my stories and experiences with you, has had an impact on me. Over the last year, I have touched on many subjects. I have made lots of contacts with each of the subjects I have written about. This morning, while exercising at the gym, I had one of those flashbacks.
I recall the day that I knew I was in trouble, something was not right. I was on a piece of exercise equipment for a good cardiac workout, the eliptical. I am not much of a runner, or walker, or stepclimber. Okay, I do not like cardiac workouts. I like weight training, though I do not have the body of a Greek Adonis, for going through what I have been exposed to in regard to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, my body does show the wear and tear that it has been through. But I liked the eliptical for some reason.
The handles had sensors on them to grip onto with your hands. They measured your heartbeat as you did your exercise. Of course, for a good cardiac workout, you want to get your heartbeat up to a certain number for the “good burn”. However, while you want to hear “0 to 60 in seconds” when comparing cars… not so when it comes to the old ticker. Within a couple of minutes, the monitor would display the rapid climb of my heartbeat from 67 at rest to 152 all the while I was experiencing a tightness in my chest. Because it was not the excrutating pain I have heard heart attack patients describe, I took it as no big deal. All I had to do was slow down just a little bit, and the heartbeat would get down to the green level.
After 4 months of this, I finally made the call to my doctor to complain about this nuisance that just would not go away. In fact, it was bothering me at work the similar way. One nuclear stress test, not normally done on a “healthy” forty-two year old, and 48 hours later, I underwent emergency open heart surgery to perform a triple bypass, which was then downgraded to a double.
Having had my chest cracked open and wired back shut, I felt far from the “lucky man” my doctor proclaimed me to be. Dr. Sarnoski had told me that I had prevented my fatal heart attack. It was not a question of if, but when. My stubborness and pain tolerance submitted just in time to save my life.
As time would go on, I had to get back to exercising. I had since joined three other gyms. My recent stint is now in its second month. And I am doing quite well, getting a grip on my weight control. But there it was, the eliptical. I had not seen it since April 13, 2008, back when exercising on it could have caused my death due to a massive heart attack. Healthy for the most part, I should be able to handle this machine. I undergo annual screening for my cardiac system and though there are some slight issues, all in all, I am good to go. But mentally it is difficult. I had no idea the silent killer that was active inside of me back then. Could it happen again? I climbed on the machine and started to step. Keeping a smooth pace, my heart rate began to climb. In my head, how fast would it climb? I did the exercise for five minutes today, and at no time did heartrate ever climb over 120, nor did I have the chest tightness. I have finally conquered one of my biggest fears.
The hardest thing for a parent to experience is the loss of their child. The next hardest thing is for a parent to experience is watching harm come to their child such as a major illness, such as cancer. I have witnessed both of these events, many times over. But what about when the roles are reversed? When the child must take care of the parent?
Earlier this year, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. What had originally been discovered courtesy of a cough, diagnosed at the earliest of stages, soon escalated to a stage three cancer, requiring chemo and now radiation. Wow, we went from just being a spot requiring the portion of the lung to being removed, to now needing chemo to take care of any stray cells. The surgery itself went fairly well, but an unplanned event occurred at some point either during the surgery or recovery. All of a sudden, he was diagnosed with having suffered two strokes. Now instead of being his health advocate, now my brother and I were faced with being his caregivers.
I have had my share of surgeries. I have gone through so of the most toxic chemotherapy. I have been exposed to enough radiation therapy that you could probably have eaten your lunch on the floor of Three Mile Island and not have gotten as much exposure. So I understand completely the risks associated with all three of these processes, because I have had to deal with all three risks. I know what it was like to go through the processes, and I know what it is like to deal with the side effects. But now I was going to have to watch my father go through it, and unless he regained his cognitive abilities soon, I was going to have to make the decision on his prognosis.
And so, for the first time in 23 years, I was meeting with an oncologist to discuss a new cancer journey. And that first step would be stepping inside a chemotherapy suite for the first time in as many years. My suite was fairly unremarkable, plain, nothing fancy except to lounge chairs. But I was usually in the room by myself along with Brenda, my oncology nurse. The appointment lasted about two hours. Then the race was on to get home before my first heave of vomit. That was back then.
My experience with my dad was so much different. With a deep breath, and hopefully a good grip on my emotions, I escorted my dad into his chemotherapy suite. Wow! What a contrast. It was bright. The suite extended down the whole length of the building with chemo lounge chairs lined up along the windows. Every chair was in front of a window. There had to be fifteen chairs. And with each chair there was a television. As we walked to his chair, we passed an elderly gentleman playing an acoustic guitar singing Jimmy Buffet songs. As soon as my dad was seated in his chair, a volunteer stopped by to ask my dad what he would like for lunch. For lunch? They have not even put the needle in his arm and they want to feed him so that he can throw it up? And minutes later, here came a beautiful, golden therapy dog who nuzzled his head right onto my dad’s lap.
My dad went through his first treatment without any issue. But the icing on the cake, after seeing with my own eyes that cancer care has come such a long way, not just since the 1940’s and 1950’s, but from just two decades ago. As my father rose out of his chair, I heard it with my own ears as well. “That wasn’t too bad. In fact it went really well.”
The final flashback occurred last week. I completed my second campaign for our local school board. Two years ago, following an ugly negotiation between our school board and teacher’s union, I made a decision to campaign for one of five seats up for election. It was a typical campaign, in spite of it being for a school district election. The incumbents pulled out every stop they could and released several negative ads about five relative unknowns who dared to run against them for their seats.
When all was said and done, two candidates on our slate had done the impossible. For the first time in our district’s history, two candidates broke into the single political party stronghold, ever. And with that, the remaining three of us, made the decision, after losing by the smallest of margins, that we would campaign again.
We found ourselves a fourth candidate, as this election would be for the remaining four seats. But unlike the first campaign, no one was even aware that there was an election. Neither party was publishing or mailing anything and our local newspaper did absolutely no coverage. Voter turnout in an off-year election is difficult enough, but add in the fact that there was no media coverage locally, a worse voter turnout than what had been expected proved just that, worse. And it was worse for both parties. Voter apathy. We lost again, and by a bit larger of a margin. But in a local election, which has the biggest impact on a voter, and the voter can have the biggest impact on an election, enough people just did not care.
And with that, our school district will head into another contract negotiation. I am hoping that the school board does the right thing, and keep the negotiations behind the closed doors like they should have been done four years ago. That is one flashback I do not want to have again.