Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “April, 2017”

How To Save A Life

Okay, forget Grey’s Anatomy.  Let me tell you how a life is really saved… mine.  Well at least one of the times.

First, how did I get to this particular moment?  To treat my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (the original life saving event), I was treated with both chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.  It is the radiation therapy that  caused life saving event number two.  Unlike what patients today would be exposed to, I had been exposed to 4000 grays of ionized radiation.  To put that in perspective, that is more than 4 times the lifetime maximum exposure limit.  Mention this to any radiation tech or nuclear power plant worker today and they would cringe.  The fact is, it did save my life.  Unfortunately, it was unknown back in 1989, what doing that much radiation to me would lead to long term.  Even when I was going through my treatments, I barely knew any long term survivors who actually were exposed to worse levels than I was exposed to.

So, anyway, the radiation has had a cumulative effect on me, still does to this day.  But nine years ago, I was diagnosed with a “widow maker”, a blockage of the LAD (the main artery going to the heart).  Radiation had so badly scarred that artery, it was blocked nearly 90%.  So, for the rest of the story, you can go to the page on “Paul’s Heart” called “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable.”  The purpose of this post, is to summarize the extraordinary efforts that were used to save this life.

I was wheeled into the operating room, around 6:30am.  That is the last place that I remember until waking up in the Intensive Care Unit, alone, just my nurse trying to keep me calm.  I had just had a procedure the day before, and though I knew I was going to have a bypass, I was in no way prepared for what condition I was going to be in.  Seeing that I was extremely emotional upon waking up, and going into a full blown panic attack not seeing anyone familiar, I was re-sedated.

Fast forward, as I am known to do, I obtained the records of this experience.  I had to.  The doctor had no one to explain what was done, so that it could be explained to me.  The operative report is three pages long, but clearly, does adequately the skills that were used to save my life.

Once in the operating room, the only thing I had been wearing, the gown, had been removed.  I was covered only by a blanket.  At that point, everything was connected to me, tubes connected or inserted, all to prepare for the surgery.  Prophylactic antibiotics were administered, not just because this was a risky procedure, but because I had not spleen, which puts me at a higher risk for infections.

Then they opened me up.  Because they could not harvest a sufficient vein from my leg, they actually used my mammary artery.  Once they were done prepping this graft, I was put on a bypass machine.  For the first time in 42 years, I was no longer going to be breathing on my own, nor having my own heartbeat.  A machine was going to be doing that for me.  And here is where it got surreal for me reading this report.  “The patient was placed on bypass, cooled, and emptied.”  Emptied?  Yes, my heart was emptied blood, and in its place would be an antegrade solution.  This was all done to keep my body cold, keep my heart safe, so that when I was put back together, the heart would be back to its preoperative condition.

There is a whole bunch of stuff that was done, and when it was, my heart “was allowed to fill with blood”, and after 45 minutes on the heart/lung machine, my heart was jumpstarted.

Of course, there were other things that had to be completed before finally closing me up.  And there was a lot to be done.  But the surgery had been successful.

Why do I bring this story up?  Because I am someone who can appreciate just how expensive medicine can be.  I am extra critical of the insurance industry and their greed.  I am definitely opposed to the efforts of our current government to deal with health care.  If the government had enacted the American Health Care Act, and I had to have this done, I would be dead.  I already have the pre-existing condition of cancer which would put me in the high risk pool, a pool that I would never be able to afford for the care that I need.

And without insurance, I do not have the faith in medicine to put any kind of effort to save my life, knowing that they will never get paid for their work because I would have no insurance.

You want to save a life?  Many lives?  Our government needs to go back to the drawing board.  Perhaps it is time to go with the single payer health insurance.  But the current direction that our government is going to result in people dying.  I have many more pre-existing conditions all created by my original cancer diagnosis.  I would hate to think that my 27 years of survivorship will have been for nothing, having been put at risk for the benefit of politics, lobbying, and corporate greed.

Why… When I Was Your Age…

Both of my daughters are at an age where I find myself reminiscing to a certain time period in my life, early teenage years.  For some reason, I find myself focusing on Saturday mornings and afternoons.  Typically, my daughters will either entertain themselves or perhaps spend time with a friend or two.

But back when I was their age, okay, a little bit older, I had just relocated to a new school.  One of the first friends I made was Kevin.  We had similar interests in music and bowling.  More importantly, he made me feel welcome during a time that I had been forced into and to adapt to.  Kevin actually lived in the neighborhood that I had just moved to also.  I got to meet his family, a sister, and his mother and father.  A very nice family who to this day, I hold them all in a special place in my heart.

During the school year, Kevin would drive us to a local bowling alley.  We both bowled in a junior bowling league on Saturday mornings.  I was good.  But Kevin was better.  We enjoyed bowling so much, that we both got certified to coach younger children in bowling.  And we would coach the afternoon shift of kids from beginners to even fellow teenagers.  Come to think of it, I was a good bowler, but I found myself to be a better coach.

As soon as we were both done with our shift of bowling, part 2 of our Saturday morning, meant a fun lunch at Kevin’s grandparents’ home, just blocks away from the bowling alley.  Kevin’s grandmother would run to the grocery store, and come home with hoagies for us to eat.

We would do two other things along with eating.  Every Saturday, we would watch the syndicated weekly pro wrestling episodes.  Waaaayy before the WWE got huge, the WWF used to film in my hometown of Allentown, at our fairground property, Agricultural Hall.  The WWF would film here every three weeks I believe, and break down those filmings over the next few weeks to be televised.  We also had a unique connection to the WWF.  The ring announcer was a long time staple named Joe McHugh.  The connection was that his brother, John, was the principal of our high school.  There was no Monday Night Raw or even WrestleMania at that time yet.  So, the Saturday morning wrestling was pretty much all we had.

The other thing we did during our lunch break, was talk with Kevin’s grandfather.  He was a very sweet man named Joe.  Joe would tell us stories of when he was younger, including war stories.  It was always interesting to hear the details he would tell of his experiences.  To this day, I still enjoy hearing stories from my elders.

After lunch, Kevin and I would head back to the bowling alley and coach the final afternoon shift.

Of all things that I look back on from my youth, this is one of the times that I always remember fondly.  As time went on, I would eventually combine with Kevin again, and his grandfather, along with Kevin’s dad and uncle, and we would make a pretty awesome adult bowling team.  I believe Kevin’s grandfather was well into his eighties at the time, but he still enjoyed getting on the lanes.

Almost 35 years after graduation, I still keep these memories close to my heart.  And I still consider Kevin a good friend.


Behind The Mask

I am going to share some information with you.  During the recent and large brush fires that we experienced here in southwest Florida, I heard several people speak about wearing “masks” to help deal with the smoke.  Of course, the masks that people refer to are nothing more than those used by doctors, surgical masks.

And we have seen these masks used in several different settings by common people in every day situations.  The masks are worn to prevent inhaling allergens or dust, perhaps with the belief that it will protect the person from inhaling a contagion such as the flu or cold.  People can be seen walking the streets, on airplanes, even in doctor waiting rooms, wearing these masks.

You are not as protected wearing these types of masks as you think you are.  In fact, if anything, to a certain degree you protect other people from you.

If you are going to wear a mask, you want to make sure it will serve the purpose you are wearing it.  But honestly, a plain surgical mask is nothing more than a sneeze/cough catcher, and possibly preventing a direct hit of the wearer’s bad breath.  The material is too thin, and it also does not “seal”, and that is the important word, seal around your mouth and nose.  The only way to prevent inhaling smoke, dust, allergens, or contagions, is wearing something called a respirator.

Respirators come in various styles.  What I have pictured is a common respirator.  I know this because at one time in my life, I worked in an environment that required “respirator training.”  In other words, learning and making sure you use the respirator properly.  A respirator when properly worn, will seal and prevent any outside hazards from being inhaled.  The mask has material built inside, to crimp around the contour of your jaw and nose, making a seal.  If you are wearing it properly, as you breath, you will feel the respirator almost “suck” to your face.  That means that there is a seal.  And if it does not, then you are basically wearing it as if it were a surgical mask, offering little if no protection at all.

Of course, in a professional setting, the training involved a lot more than just putting it on and seeing if it stuck to your face.  I actually wore a hood over top of my head, while wearing the respirator, while a mild scent was sprayed inside the hood.  If I could smell the material, then I did not have a seal.

When you are trying to prevent something from entering your lungs, you need to wear the correct mask, and a surgical mask is not it.  A surgical mask will not protect you from smoke inhalation, grass allergies, dust storms, or someone with a case of the flu.  The rule is quite simple, and you do not to be a professional, if you can smell it, you definitely are not protected from it.


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