Success on a Monday…

Gotta love it when a plan comes together – it was over 50º and sunny before noon, so Rita and I walked the south side of the river from the boathouse parking lot to the bench at the other end and back, probably a half-mile total. It was amazing to be out in the air, which felt pretty crispy around the ears, striding out, hiking pole in hand and sister by my side. The city has a huge clean-up project underway next to the Kaw, clearing acres of dead trees and underbrush back away from the sidewalks, opening up small tributaries and other vistas we hadn’t known were there. Lots of tiny encampments have been dismantled and hauled away, but we could still spot a few tents and hooches through the leafless winter trees. “Sleeping rough” wouldn’t describe it, and I wish every human could count on warm shelter no matter what.

Along with welcome moments of consciousness-raising, today’s walk was a needed affirmation that all is well in the recovery process. The success of previous spinal procedures has hinged on my doing the work post-op to make it happen… somehow… without the actual source of the pain having been addressed… so I carried the guilt every time for the lack of positive returns. This time around, we were in the right place when the technology arrived, stellar young people REPAIRED the problem, I walked out of the hospital without nerve pain, and today’s effortless half-mile folded me up when I tried to tell Kim about it. Gratitude… so full of it these days.

It’s cool when your body agrees.

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Confronting reality on a weekend…

It’s a sunny Saturday morning, 27º and headed for the 40s this afternoon. Monday’s forecast high of 55º will be a bit of a heat wave, and if the wind stays down and the sun stays out, imma plan a river walk, brief though it might be. Meanwhile, I’m quickly forming an attachment to the treadmill upstairs and we put in a solid fifteen minutes together yesterday. Gonna go say hey again before KU-KState b-ball this afternoon since the game will have me glued to my chair for the duration.

Lately I’ve been taking weekends off and deliberately emptying my head of thoughts that clamor for expression… but there are fellow humans in every area of life who don’t have that option and might never at any point. Not to play favorites, but if nobody was working at the hospital, for instance, when our weekend emergencies happened, we’d know we were in a world of hurt. The hard truth is, we’re IN that world now, we just don’t have the knowing yet.

We’re in year three of a pandemic that didn’t have to be like this… a disaster that could have been stopped in its tracks in the same way ebola, smallpox, rabies, polio, and the flu were dealt with… and if our early-detection systems around the world hadn’t been dismantled by TFG… or if any real measures whatsoever had been undertaken after we knew what it was… we’d be in a far different place this morning. But since none of that happened, a world more soberingly real than anything we may have imagined is right on our doorstep.

The brave new world that’s headed our way will register on people’s consciousness dead last here in the heartland, but it’s already being felt in the cities. I know someone who at one point was managing three hospital units including her own, and helping another manager with three or four additional units. Another nurse spent some time in a small African country where people in the hospital were lying on the floor, some of them seizing, with people simply walking over them. She knows it’s only a matter of time until the U.S. looks that same way because, to quote yet another RN, “At some point all of these customer service surveys and trying to turn the healthcare experience into a five-star hotel or resort stay will be shown up for the farce that it actually is. You either are dying and get the emergent care that you need and somehow find a way to pay for it, or you die. No more of this ‘my food wasn’t tasty enough, my room wasn’t clean enough, my sheets weren’t soft enough, the nurse wasn’t pretty enough, the nurse didn’t speak to me subserviently enough… ‘”

There’s a level of incivility toward medical personnel from patients and family members that inevitably bleeds over into interactions among staff and departments to the point that structure disintegrates… chaos eventually reigns… and Americans, of all people, sooner rather than later, walk into New York-Presbyterian Hospital to find fellow humans writhing on the floor for lack of beds and/or personnel. It sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but if you’re connected to the healthcare world at all, you know this country is right on the edge.

COVID and its children have only multiplied and strengthened, regardless what anyone wants to believe. It isn’t slowing down, it isn’t confining itself to the old and infirm, its voracious appetite for living its best life has not diminished. The world’s efforts to be stupidly valiant in its presence are laughable and thoroughly tragic. In my own formative years, we stared polio down and turned it into history, but 65 years later Americans seem to be devolving, most definitely to our own detriment. The vaccine technology that once saved us has become our enemy and I wish I didn’t know that about my fellow man. We are, of all species, most to be pitied, for we so richly deserve our fate. Sometimes you get what you ask for. Probably one of Murphy’s laws…

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Totally random…

Happy 100th, Betty, and thank you.

Remember broomstick skirts? I do, and I was doing fairly okay with the aging process until my throat started looking like one… so now, like Nora Ephron, I feel bad about my neck. Filters (did you know they have cotton-candy hair?) may or may not have been employed in the making of this image, but if any were, they were clearly defenseless against the throat rebellion. Just a reminder of how real life can be…

Waiting for spring with a whole new intensity this year, which is misguided since we’re barely into winter for real. The thought of walking outdoors, on real surfaces, in fresh air and sunshine, is genuinely tantalizing at this point… but since it’s currently 12º out, headed for a blazing high of 19, I plan to make the acquaintance of the treadmill in the 5th-floor workout room in about 5… 4… 3… Time to grease the zircs, oil the hinges, and get this show on the road. Rita Jo’s out there every nice day, finding the cool walking trails, and I’m consumed with envy, so I have to get there… starting with a benign stroll on the flat sidewalk along the Kaw. FIRST NICE DAY!!

Still maintaining my extended fast from TV news, but I’m fully aware that the insanity continues unabated. It’s cause for both tears and laughter, so I look hard for the humor and kindred spirits.

*****

When it’s over, it’s over, but I keep a good thought.

On the subject of current events…

The weekend starts tomorrow, or if you live in #lfk, tonight. Absorb all the good from it…

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Dear Diary…

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 is a day for the record books, by which I mean mine personally. We saw my neurosurgeon today for my one-month follow-up and all is well. He removed all my staples and stitches, which alone makes for a comfier existence, said everything is on schedule, and told us that the surgery could not possibly have gone better. I was hoping for a spa soak, but that’s still another month out, so I’ll get over it and press onward. I’ll be walking, walking, walking until the 3-month mark when he’ll reassess and decide what to assign next. For now, I think he’s given me ten extra years, and I thanked him for paying the price to be where he is, doing what he does, because he’s changing lives.

Time has lost all meaning over the past two years, but especially in the sequence of events we just experienced. By all rights I should still be at least three weeks out, waiting for surgery, but since the KIMN8R (on a hint from Rita) asked that I be put on a wait-list I ended up having my first consult with Dr. Carlson six weeks sooner than my original appointment, and then a woman scheduled for my exact procedure cancelled, with surgical team in place, so I inherited her spot. Thus, surgery was already done and I was home from the hospital a week ahead of my originally-scheduled visit. Therefore… we missed the main onslaught of Omicron and made it back to the cave before the devil even knew we were out.

There are things in life that really are supposed to happen, and once they get rolling you could barely stop them if you tried. It feels like I closed my eyes on fifty years of pain, surrendered my body to science, and woke up in a world I’d almost forgotten. I dropped the opioids at the end of week one, parked the walker, and haven’t looked back… life is never over until it’s over and I’m ready for more of it. Only time will tell if the pain’s going to move up my spine to the other wonky disks, but for now the real problem’s been fixed, the nerve pain has disappeared, and I’m moving unless something stops me, which doesn’t seem quite real yet, although black & white does have a way of bringing things home…

TRIGGER WARNING: Bones and hardware

So that’s how things are looking at L5/S1 around these parts, folks, and we’re callin’ it progress. Hoping for an early spring…

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What they wanted…

Artist Credit: Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour
"We wanted to help people
We were smart and driven
We loved science and physiology, humans and disease
So we made a commitment
We signed up
It was an honor

We read thousands of pages
Attended hundreds of lectures
Pulled all-nighters
Took more exams than we thought possible
Finals week felt insurmountable
But it didn’t break us
It made us stronger

We learned statistics and biochemistry
Immunology and pathophysiology
We mastered genetics, virology and pharmacology
We read scientific papers and learned how to dissect them
Papers, not videos
It was an honor

We came running when you needed us
Literally, running down the hallway
To the ICU, the trauma bay, labor and delivery
I need help, you said
We can help, we said
It was an honor

There were moments that we thought would break us
Moments that drove us to journaling, to therapy, to nightmares
Broken babies.
Paralyzed children.
Dead pregnant mothers with three kids at home.
The wail of a mother whose son just died.
We bent but we did not break
We returned because you needed us
And we could help
It was an honor

Then there was fear
Fear of walking into our place of work
Fear that we’d be killed by going to work
Fear that we’d kill a loved one because of our work
There were tears and sleepless nights and anti-anxiety medications
But you banged your pots and pans
You sent us pizzas and called us heroes
You needed us
We could help
So we wore our masks, and our gowns, and our gloves, and our goggles
We decontaminated ourselves before going home and isolated ourselves from our families
We almost broke
It was an honor

How quickly the joy turned to defeat
Elation to rage
You’ve learned to do your own research now
You know better than we do
Gaslighting is your language
Your selfishness is astounding
You don’t want our help when we ask you to stay healthy
Yet you arrive at our doors begging for help at the end

You stole our resources
You hobbled our ability to help those who did what they were supposed to do
You killed our patients by filling our beds and using up our ventilators
We can’t help any more
You broke us
There is no more honor”

- Anonymous

A poem written by a physician after reflecting on the veteran who died in Texas because of the ICU bed shortage. 
Artist credit:
Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour

*****NOT A DISCLAIMER: I read yesterday that people are simply done with COVID and all its iterations, finished, through, sick of hearing about it, and I know in my bones that's a fact. But it doesn't change the equal and opposite fact that COVID doesn't care, it just wants to eat, sleep, live, and reproduce, and will for as long as we allow it. Our refusal to deal with facts is bringing our amazing, incredible, unmatched, behemoth of a healthcare apparatus down on our heads and the implosion will be... simply beyond. We've been warned... and warned... and warned... and we do not care. Sars-cov-2 is now part of the warp and woof of human existence, and the cost will be incalculable. "The fall thereof was great... "

There's nothing you nor I can do about any of it now, unless you're unvaccinated. You have the power to do that much and it isn't too late yet. The variants are becoming increasingly uglier, but the vaccinated are staying out of hospitals when they do fall ill. However tired you are of knowing about it, the death toll goes on relentlessly. And the people who once had the tools, energy, and incentive to help are finding other ways to stay alive. May whatsoever gods there be have mercy on us.

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Friends and family…

Once more into the fire, and tomorrow the answers start showing up… did we find the right nerve? Will fusion be the fix? Will I get my life back? Those are the operative questions, see what I did there?

None of this would be happening without Kim, who told me from the beginning that he was going to keep looking for whatever would stop the pain. I was 57 when he married me, skeletal from grief anorexia and fried from years of caregiving and loss, but still a house afire and totally into living life. Fast-forward to 2021 and increased degeneration from the accident I told you about… https://playingfortimeblog.com/2021/10/04/a-fractured-fairytale/ … has nearly immobilized me, so it’s gradually become a fact of life to be dealt with… will I stay on my own two feet, or is that becoming history?

It’s been a long time getting here, but fifty years after I first became acquainted with intractable nerve pain, we “know a guy.” There’ve been a lot of starts and stops along the way, most of them total dead-ends, but from here to Wichita to Scottsdale and points between we’ve checked out information and leads and promises and guesses, and it’s always been “We think this could help… we can try this procedure… welp… we tried.” A senior-staff spine surgeon, without so much as sitting down or making eye contact, told me in 2018 that nothing could be done to upgrade the state of my spine, so I came home with something settled in me that said “Don’t bother exercising, it only ramps up the pain.” That wasn’t a conscious decision, but the psyche is a powerful and mysterious universe and knows how to shut us down.

This fall, with things clearly falling apart in the pillar that holds me upright, Kim raised the ante and went in search of any helpful information available. A PickleBall friend told him about his wife, my age, who had robotic-assisted spinal surgery in Kansas City and is walking again without pain. Another PickleBall buddy told us about her own friend, my age, who had yet another KC surgeon do the same surgery, with similar positive results.

Boys and girls, medical robotics have arrived in the heartland and the Young Turks are on it. A primary factor in our move to Lawrence was the stellar medical community here and in next-door Kansas City, and that’s been proven wise over and over. We’ve had critical need for their gifts many times in the eight years we’ve lived in this Kansas cocoon, and nobody has disappointed us so far. And before we’d even settled in, Kim started making himself part of the neighborhood, the community… local… bringing us now to a personable young surgeon with a shiny resumé who knows how to “fix it.”

So tomorrow we’re going to fix it. Please keep a good thought.

Not this part…
not this part…
not even the trainwreck in the middle, just one key spot.

The x-rays are this side of obscene, but the amazing fact is that I stand straight… I just can’t keep moving for more than a few minutes.

Before they bring in the Happy Juice, I’m saying thank you to the guy who got me here, because it wouldn’t have happened without him. However this turns out, he never gave up the quest. When he married me I was under a hundred pounds, brown as a bean, and vibrating with life. Seventeen years later I’m over a hundred pounds, white from lack of sun, nearly deaf, evading seizures every chance I get, and on the cusp of living out my days on a Jazzy. Not sure why I’m even still hanging around, but the heartfelt hope is that after tomorrow it will start getting less tricky by the day to be here.

This isn’t the first time the KIMN8R has saved my life. He’s the cook who brought me back from the edge when we met, and he’s fed me irresistible food every day for all these years. He keeps me laughing, makes sure the adventure doesn’t end, holds me when I cry (a lot), lets me be me, end of story… and he believes in me. From the moment we met, it was going to be him or no one (I said no one, but never tempt fate), and against all odds he’s kept me putting one foot in front of the other.

While preemptively fighting my battles for me, he’s had his own challenges since January 2021, including 45 radiation treatments for an aggressive form of cancer, followed by months of other therapies and protocols, ongoing in 2022. He aced the radiation and went on to double his exercise quotient in order to maintain his conditioning for putting up with me… a job he says he was born to, and he’s so right. He’s at fighting weight and I couldn’t be more fortunate to have him as my cornerman. For six years he helped nurture Robert’s mother in her 90s and made her days far more interesting, fun, and lifegiving than if it had been just me all the time. He didn’t get to do that for his own family and he values it above price. In my world he’s The Guy for all the things.

In the current atmosphere, with relationships coming apart all around us, I remember people who watched two wounded human beings find love and happiness and said “I give it six months.” Have any of them ever felt a twinge over their cynicism, I wonder? Doesn’t matter…

I’m not sure most of #lfk knows Kim Smith has a wife since he’s always by himself, so I’m ready to get past tomorrow, and the three months after that, and whatever after that… and get out there with my ol’ man again.

Let’s do this.

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Anger vs Gratitude…

Woke up yesterday morning processing anger, straight out of a dream… Kim said the growls and grumbling at 6am, which he first mistook for snoring, were truly impressive. I repeatedly ran everything through the wood chipper all day but the fury remains untamed as of wake-up time this morning.

Also, write this down: I DO NOT SNORE. However, my dreams are a wonder to behold for scope and realism. Yikes.

The catalyst for the renewed angst seems to have been a combo of things… fresh statistics illustrating our dismal outlook in the face of COVID and its progeny… the fact that we find ourselves in this position due to humans’ inability to care about other humans… and a heartbreaking article about the burden we’ve placed on the medical world and the toll that’s taking.

The pandemic is as much an industrial-strength shock to the medical community as to the rest of us out here who of course know it all. Those medical people spent long years full of sleepless nights on little food, learning how to save lives, maybe even yours or mine someday. That’s their drive, to make people better and thus the world a teensy bit softer for the landings. And they’re good at it, really good, and they know things, and have seen and done things which you and I do not want to know, see, or do… nor will we, because we don’t have what it takes.

Medical personnel do the jobs they’ve been trained and educated to do on an equal-opportunity basis… pigment, religion, politics, and rude combative patients notwithstanding, they do their jobs. And then one day a snazzy new virus knocks on the door like the skeavy Orkin termite, and the game changes overnight. The breakout quickly becomes the pandemic the world has now been living in for two years, all medical personnel, equipment, and hospital units required for the flood of sick and dying. It’s no longer about “making things better,” there’s no time. You keep the patient on your right alive, if possible, while losing the one on your left. The hours blur while you pull double shifts on your feet, clothed in trash bags and week-old masks because the supply closets are bare, praying you don’t catch whatever this thing is and end up dropping in your tracks. And then you watch that very thing happen to a colleague… and then another. And in a heartbeat, working in the medical field has become more about death than life.

Months have passed, you’re still pulling all your shifts and more, and now the monster has a name… Coronavirus. Or COVID-19. Or just COVID. There are even approved vaccines available… but not for you… because medical people, some of the first and longest-exposed, are not at the top of anybody’s priority list, which should have been an early indicator of where it would all end up. We only hurt the ones we love… or need like air and water.

Now you’re lonnnng months into the process, which feels less like a battle and more like an endurance race. You’ve gone from hero… “Doctor, please, help me!” “Nurse, I need you, please!” … to zero. “No, I DO NOT HAVE COVID, YOU’RE LYING!!” “It’s a HOAX! I can’t die!!” Nurses and doctors have been assaulted, insulted, spit on, screamed at, and blamed for letting people die of a scary disease those same people refused to vaccinate for. In the hopeless melee, the lofty goal of making things better dies a quiet death, and people we desperately need for our own selfish purposes are simply not there anymore. Their own institutions, in many cases, haven’t backed them up, haven’t provided the safety measures needed, haven’t compensated them for their heroic over & above sacrifices. The public, in too many places, has turned on them in ways we could never have imagined. These nurses and doctors see their lives trickling out, day by day, for a goal that no longer feels reachable… and for a populace that wouldn’t know the difference if the landings were made softer… and they’re finding other, less soul-killing things to do.

In parts of our nation where COVID and its variants are rampant, the bright shiny people who wanted to make a difference are walking away. Why risk death for people who don’t in the least mind if you drop in your tracks because they refused the antidote? Or because your employer doesn’t want to pay extra staff. Or “extra staff” is now a figment of the imagination. We won’t comprehend what we’ve lost until they’ve all taken their gifts elsewhere.

The pandemic is nowhere close to being over. Two thousand people a day are still dying in the “greatest nation on earth.” It hasn’t magically disappeared, it hasn’t been prayed away, it’s with us for the duration, however long Mother Earth lets us stay in the nest. As so often happens now, the minority chose for all of us, and life here will never be the same. I’m exorcising my rage today by paying homage to every person in the medical community who has tried, against insurmountable odds, to change the outcome, to save all lives possible, to make a difference. Thank you for BEING THERE and for using who you are to slow our slide to hell. Really, truly… thank you forever.

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Heyyy, guess what day it is… ??

Here we are at HumpDay again, boys & girls, always an opportune time to assess where we’ve been and where we’re going. Any given week has the potential to end better than it started, so a word of hope… or solidarity… or humor can make all the difference.

Week #50 in the Year 2021 has held these bits of knowledge so far…

The pandemic unleashed by a deadly virus and multiplied by earth-dwellers who refuse the antidote, colors every part of daily living now. And the “greatest” nation leads the civilized world in death and suffering. We are an incomprehensible species, set on our own destruction. ‘Splain that, Lucy…

“We’re not taking it because we have no idea what’s in it.” Fair enough, provided all of your bodily choices are based on similar information.

A related thought:

And a point that neatly sizes up our current situation:

Our plates are full, here at the end of our second pandemic year, with much to sort and discard and much to reconcile with what we knew of truth. It feels better not to drag the same ol’ ratty stuff into a shiny new year. A head-on look at everything that’s transpired in the last twelve months is likely to grab us by the nose and take us down a rabbit hole of feelings, so there’s that, but since truth and facts are prime, it’s necessary to make the trip.

And then, for the sake of health, happiness, and that other thing… rhymes with health… we disengage from it all… and breathe… separate the truth from the litter and keep moving. I say it a lot… “Keep moving.” Life doesn’t stop for us, it doesn’t care, it’s not made that way, so we go with it or find ourselves hauling the ass-end of it all the time.

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