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.
Amen to that.
Totally agree about the insurance/politics! My family had no insurance when I had Hodgkins, and spent a good chunk of their life savings to treat me – this was back in 1968 before prices had skyrocketed to the level of greed they later became, but still it was a sacrifice. I knew then at barely 16 that it was all unfair, that people who couldn’t afford the same treatments would likely get sub-par (if any) treatments, and die. Wasn’t fair then, isn’t fair now. It’s a mini miracle I ended up in Switzerland, where basic medical insurance is not just a right, it’s an obligation – required by law. And yes, the gov’t subsidizes for those who can’t afford it, and yes we pay high taxes here – very high – but everyone is taken care of so it’s worth it. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad I no longer live in the US.