06 January 2017

Christmas Letters

I generally do not do a Christmas letter. But this year, while I am not sending one with cards, I have been thinking about 2016. So,here, a sort of year in review.

In January, I went to see my Primary Care Doc, again. I had begun complaining of extreme back pain a few weeks earlier. Doc said I walked into his office like a man with severe lower back pain, but I was pointing at the wrong place. Tests and films were indicated. We knew I did not have gallbladder pain as I had surgery to remove it some years ago, and I know what pancreatitis is like, this was not that. Tests, we did tests.

Late January found us doing a biopsy of a tumor on my adrenal gland. I had moved from mere tests to the care of Amita Hospital's Oncology practice. The diagnosis took a while, and the special pathology facilities of Mayo Brothers. But it was definitive: B cell diffuse non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The nice thing if there is one, about lymphoma is you do not have to worry about it spreading, it is everywhere. (Gallows humor sort of goes with cancer, especially the second time you have it.)

My first chemo came close to ending my year. I did a full scale anaphylactic shock episode. Who needs to breath? LaGrange Hospital's "crash cart team," and the care of a great oncology oncologist with his nurses pulled me through. Or so I hear. The anaphylaxis hit me with a flash of discomfort and a long period unconsciousness. When I woke the therapy was over. I was exhausted, sick, but not in any real pain.

That pattern took me to June. After nearly losing me, the oncologist started each treatment with a half-liter of Benadryl. Not only does that keep the anaphylaxis away, it knocks you out.So I slept through the actual treatments. Unfortunately, the Benadryl does not keep the next few days away. Everything you have heard about chemo, especially the nausea, hair loss, lethargy, and weakness is true. BUT(!) after 6 treatments, 18 weeks of infusion and recovery, in June I tested cancer free.

July and August were all about getting stronger and recovering things like my beard and what hair I have. Remember that this all began when I went to doctors seeking help with back pain? The good news is that the cancer is gone, the bad news is that the back pain is not. So, September and October were spent working with surgeons, doctors, and a raft of radiology technicians. At one point, I had a firm schedule for a potential 10 hour surgery.

Here is a rule. When your cardiologist calls on a Sunday night late, the news is never good. Mostly because of simple caution, I had postponed surgery for two weeks. When my cardiologist called he affirmed my surgical clearance but said he was a bit concerned about my ekg. He asked me to come the next day for a 24 hour ekg that can be worn. I went.

When I got the portable ekg, I was told that 8 days later, the Tuesday after the test, I would meet with the doctor to discuss the results. Remember my rule? I turned the portable unit in at about 10:00 and at noon, Doctor's assistant had called to move my appointment up to the next day. So a very little bit of medical information: I am 70, and any number between 0 and 200 is an acceptable number of irregular heartbeats. I had over 4,000. So Wednesday, an interventional cardiologist found a 95% blockage in the main coronary artery, and another smaller blockage. I have two new stents. I also still have the irregular heartbeat.

The idea had been that without the blockages, as often happens, the heart beat would drift back to normal. But then, this d oes not always happen, and 2016 was just my tough year. My heart was simply not "calming down."

The next idea surprised me. So here is the logic. Lots of old guys (moi) especially if they sometimes snore (also moi) have at least some sleep apnea. To my surprise, it turns out that if that condition is treated, a benefit is that the cardiac rhythm is also normalized. OK, sleep study and a CPAP machine - right? Wrong. Oh we did the study, I have, "severe" sleep apnea. But I choked on every possible mask for the machine. I am told this simply happens sometimes.

So, ends 2016 with the back problem, the sleep apnea, and the irregular heart beat. Two of those are "life threatening," the sleep apnea and the heart irregularity. We are exploring alternate treatments in 2017.

All of this of course was for us in the foreground as the catastrophic presidential and congressional elections were playing out. I wrote a few blogs about the mess, but I was so busy not dying, I did not become really involved. I am under no illusion, I am a small fish, and my absence from the pond did not significantly alter the results. But, I cannot expect you to be active if I am not. So, my plans include a lot more involvement as we begin to resist the new American fascism.

2016 taught me something about mortality. I had so many near misses. But I also learned I can continue in the face of it. I became a master Mason, saw my elder son become a Mason, both of us mentored by my younger son, and saw Drew become only the second Senior Verger in the over 145 year of our parish. My grandkids grew and continued to be grand hopes for the future.

Happy New Year!

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