Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the tag “heart surgery”


Bravery is defined in Merriam-Webster as courage.

I decided to look this up today.  A co-worker was having a conversation with me, coming to find out everything that I had been going through in just the last several weeks.  And his comment to me was, “You’re really brave.”  And I looked at him like I was almost hoping for a hint of sarcasm or even some foolery.  But for once, he meant it.  And then he repeated it, “You are brave.”

The first time I heard it, I was uneasy.  I was hoping the conversation would end, but when he said it the second time, I knew that I had to deal with it.

In my life, I am hard pressed to find even one instance in my life where I could be defined as brave.  I have never fought in any armed service.  I have never broke up an attempted bank robbery.

But when people find out that I have beaten cancer, had open heart surgery, two cases of pneumonia (one with sepsis and the other double pneumonia), kidney stones, all kinds of late issues from my treatments, I get, “You are brave.”

When I think of “bravery”, I think of men and women who run into a burning building, police officers who put themselves in harm’s way every day, an airline pilot flying a human missile loaded with hundreds of lives, a teacher shielding her students from a lunatic’s bullets.

No, I am not brave at all.  I simply did what I had to do.  I have two beautiful daughters who I know love me so much, it would devastate them to lose me.  I have no choice but endure if my body and mind are capable of doing so.  In the second half of my life, I have met so many people who have faced relapses of their cancer, multiple cancers, those who struggle with their survivorship from the treatments that saved their lives, and sadly, those who lost their battles.

I have always said that I would not go through anymore treatments if my Hodgkin’s Disease came back, that is, until my daughters came along.  One of my dearest friends has faced nearly 50 surgeries all having to do with her surviving her cancer treatments, this along with a battle with a secondary cancer.  With so many close calls, not just near death, or in some cases, flat lines, she continues to trudge on to this day, not only a proud mother, but the happiest grandmother, something that she never thought she would ever see.

I do not know how she would react if I told her that she was brave.  I know on occasions when I have talked with her on the telephone, I have told her that I was speechless for words to how I felt with her continued struggles and survival.  It would be easy for her to give up I think.  She has been through so much.  But the fact is, she has not given up.  It is with her example that I can never make that decision either.

And so, I am watched periodically, whether month to month, quarterly, or annually.  There are things that have been identified and can be dealt with.  I go to my appointments not afraid, but confident in my caregivers that things will be dealt with sooner than later.  That is not bravery, that is trust.  As for the all-of-a-sudden stuff like the pneumonias, the cardiac issue, some kidney activity… a little luck does not hurt either.

Man Up! The Big C (Colonoscopy).

Consumer Reports recently submited a report stating that  only a few cancer screening tests were truly necessary.  The writer offers excuses such as not beneficial, causing unneeded scares and paranoia, and financially not worth it.  As a cancer survivor I know all too well the importance of catching a developing cancer as early as possible.  There is no early detection for Hodgkin’s Disease and it is rare enough that it is difficult to diagnose and often misdiagnosed by something as simple as the common cold (yes, that was my original diagnosis).

When all is said and done, try explaining to a family who in spite of health benefits cannot afford the extremely expensive treatments because the cancer diagnosed was not caught earlier by detection and could have been treated at a less cost.  There are actually some in our society who would even make the argument that too much money, and too many tests get performed.  I know that my heart surgery, would not have cost over $100,000 had I been followed up as they do today for late effects because the issue would have been caught sooner and perhaps a bypass would not have been needed..

For now, screenings are available, and they do benefit us.  And we should have them.  Women have their boobs smashed in searching for breast cancer (a service that I was willing to perform free of charge when I was younger and single).  They even climb up on a table with a papercloth gown exposing their girly bits once their legs are placed up in stirrups.  Of course, there are skin cancer screenings.

But when it comes to men, we are a little funny about that stuff.  We have a lot more confidence in our health that we find such things as prostate screenings and colonscopies are unnecessary.  The last thing we need to tell us we are sick is having a finger or camera shoved up our ass.  Besides, and I am not saying that I believe this, but there are men that do, that it might have some… well… homosexual connotations by having these exams done to them.  Me personally, I have always been of the mindset, I do not want anything going in through the out door.

Again, a personal note, I know dozens of people who have battled colon cancer, and too many that have died.  My cancer treatments that I went through run the possibilities of developing a secondary cancer, perhaps colon cancer.  A colonoscopy would be beneficial to me.  In fairness, my doctors have not pushed me until now, my friends urged me years ago.

I love this blog, Paul’s Heart.  I am not about sensationalism, so I have no plans of videotaping my colonoscopy.  If I end up being this major baby and I got to destroy it and cannot, I do not want that leaked out.  But with my wife by my side, she will help dictate the things that are done, said by the staff, said by me, recovery, and trip home.

That is right, in just one and a half days, I will be going through not only a colonoscopy, but completing the “pig on the spit” image, an endoscopy.  I have had an endoscope done before where they go down your throat.  It was no big deal.  And after having gone through a cystoscopy (putting a camera up the manliest of parts) done, and that they made me do without anesthesia, never again I tell you.  But it has prepared me that I can handle the colonoscopy.

So what has changed my mind?  What are the risks for and against?  I have lost too many friends to colon cancer.  My body was exposed to too much when I was treated for Hodgkin’s Disease.  Contrary to a magazine that should probably stick to writing about microwave ovens and stereo systems, I have two of the most important reasons to pursue any cancer screening available to me, no matter the results or the risks, my daughters.

I know the risks involved with a colonscopy and an endoscopy.  I also know the risks with my past health history.  But I am getting these done in the best facility I have faith in.  I believe I have the best doctor performing these procedures.  And though these are fairly common procedures, something can go wrong.  I have faith in the doctor and her team that if something does go wrong, I am in the best possible place to handle such.  I can handle any more of a diagnosis I may get, or be completely revealed that all I have to deal with is from the scan last week.

The rest is up to me.  I need to follow the prophylactic care prescribed, and the caution I am given in my recovery.  Other than that, it is up to my body and its physiology, of which I realize I have no control how things act and react.  My plan is to be back here by Wednesday night.  And though I have no intention of becoming the colonoscopy spokesboy, I do anticipate being able to say, it was “no big deal” and glad to have had it done and be sure.

Time for me to “Man Up.”

Does Size Really Matter? – Deciding On A Health Facility

Memorial Sloan Kettering.  The Mayo Clinic.  MD Anderson.  University Of Pennsylvania.  The list goes on and on for the top hospitals when it comes to cancer treatments.  There is a different list of facilities when it comes to heart surgeries, pulmonary issues, and so on.  Many of our nations “best” hospitals are “teaching” hospitals, meaning that they are more likely to have the current diagnostic tools and treatments available.

I have taken quite a few moments to decide what hospitals to be taken too, of course ulitmately, I am at the hands of my wife to honor my wishes.  The closest hospital to us just also happens to be the last hospital in the world I would ever want to be taken to.  It has the worst reputation for cleanliness and sterility, in other words, you have a fairly good chance of going home with MRSA.  The longer you stay in that hospital, the better the chances of contracting MRSA.  So it is not necessarily a good thing if a hospital keeps you longer to recover from whatever took you there.  The reason that my wife insists on taking me there?  It is the only way that my daughters would be able to come and visit with me as transportation time alone would be an additional hour and a half.  On a school night forget it with having homework.  So, in that regard, I appreciate being local.  It is a smaller hospital, which recently had been bought out by a larger network, still not on the national level, but the buyout has been expected to improve the quality of the local facility.  I am just not sure that it has.

When I dealt with my Hodgkin’s Disease, I was not really aware of all of the “big” network and teaching hospitals available to me.  I did believe that if I were to go to any of them, besides the great distance, I was not sure that they could give me emotionally what I was going to need, that I would be treated just as a number.  Personally, I needed more than that.  The doctor that I chose worked out of a small network, but more importantly, as all cancer patients probably had the oppportunity for this, I knew a patient personally that he cured, my grandmother.  Granted, she was treated for breast cancer, but he saved her life, he could save mine.  The big risk I took by doing this, he was an older doctor, so there was a chance that I would be treated with older modes of treatment and not the most current available.  But I believed that if I had the confidence in him, I would have confidence in the medicine, and that would get me through.

At various points in my life, I would end up in the hospital and always felt comfortable with the hospital that I grew up near.  It has become quite the network and one of the best in the country.  So when I had some uncontrollable bleeding from an area that no man ever wants to see blood coming from, it was only natural that I went to that hospital.  When it was determined that it was not cancer or cardiac related (yes, blood in the urine can be attributed to a valve issue with the heart), but rather a kidney stone, how quickly that stone situation got resolved depended on where the roaming kidney stone unit was and what day.  Yes, hospitals in my area do not have their own “lithotripsy” machine.  The first time that it would be back at this hospital would be in approximately two weeks, however, it was going to be back in town the coming Tuesday at a hospital that I swore I would never set foot in ever again.  My grandmother had passed away in that hospital, and while it was not their fault as to the cause of death, I did have a problem with their methods of convincing people the importance of extending their terminal lives at the expense of their dignity.  As far as I was concerned, this hospital tortured my grandmother during her dying days.

But for anyone who has ever had a kidney stone, or gall stone for that matter, no one will deny the pain level to drive a six foot 300 pound giant of a human being into a fetal position in pure pain, than a 4mm stone.  I needed to have this resolved before the stone set to travel from my kidney.  I was going to have to have the lithotripsy (shock-waving the kidney stone into obliteration), at this hospital.

Now let me tell you about how small this hospital is.  I was the first scheduled appointment that Tuesday morning.  Now remember, this is a fully functioning hospital.  It also evidently has hours of operation.  So the security guard unlocks the door at 5:30am precisely, and I am already third in line.  I cannot see what is happening, but I do see a lot of head-shaking.  Just like that, I am called to the receptionist and begin my admission, or the process that the hospital will be using in place of that procedure.  You see, when I offered them my driver’s license and insurance card, they told me that their computers were not operating.  They did not state if it was expected to be a long drawn out process or not.  I stated that I had a 5:30 procedure scheduled so it was urgent that I be registered and they offered to make a photo copy of my indentification.  Fifteen seconds later the woman behind the desk came back and said that their copying machine was not functioning either.

Did I mention that I did not want to be in this hospital in the first place?  And so, without any identification, which I had to store in a locker while I was in for the lithotripsy, I was escorted into a room, where I would be anesthetized, with no identification, no hospital bracelet, nothing.  And so, the procedure went on, because I could not risk returning to the state of pain that the pea-sized stone had been causing me.  And to add insult to injury, they actually allowed me to sign myself out of the hospital later that morning, totally unattended.

I realize that the last example was an extreme case.  But it did happen.  And I went against my gut feeling in being treated at this hospital.  I got lucky compared to how this episode could have turned out.

My heart surgery, that was a totally different story.  I happened to be at that hospital in a connected doctor’s office.  I was already there, but I was already aware that the hospital had a good reputation.  But even that reputation is limited when it comes to long term cancer treatment effects.

When I found out, that I was not done with my cancer history, I had the major decision to make.  And it did not even come down to the biggest hospital or the hospital that made me feel all snuggly and warm.  I needed a network that had history, studied long term side effects.  My prior posts have gone into great detail on just how urgent my decisions can be.

As you can see, it all depends on the situation, do you go with the big network or the little hospital.  Does size really matter?  To some it does, to others, it’s what you do with what you know.

Post Navigation