And Then This Happened…

This blog post was actually written in November 2022 – right after Mark’s surgery. He did eventually get a real hospital room and enjoyed a speedy recovery. I keep thinking that I need to give my “writing muscles” a better workout… so I will begin with just this small paragraph as introduction to an old, outdated blog post:

Before I write here is our daily update – there are no rooms at the hospital. Poor Mark, hours later he is still on the gurney with his feet hanging off. For awhile they just kept him in PACU but finally moved him back to a same day surgery room so that I could join him. We are quite snug in this very beige room. They finally came up with a plan – they have found a room which will fit a regular bed. It is still on the same day surgery unit but they said it actually has a window. Sounds like he may be spending the night down here. Luckily I have a hotel room for the night and was not planning to spend the night on the (non-existent) window seat/bed.

2022 has been a crazy year for medical news which is probably why the kidney cancer did not shake us up very much. I am going to share these stories so that they are written for posterity. I have a few stories of my own that I will post if I have a lot of sitting-around-in-the-hospital time tomorrow. The characters in this story live in a nearby town and will have to go by code names… to respect their privacy let’s call them Ethyl and Fred. Please do not try to discover their true identity.

  1. A couple days before Christmas 2021 Fred has a scheduled doctor visit to check out a suspicious spot on his arm. The doctor walks into the room and immediately says, “I am calling an ambulance, you need to be in a hospital.” Ethyl drives him to the ER and he is diagnosed with a GI bleed and has lost over half of his blood.
  2. A couple days before New Years Fred once again is taken to the hospital, this time in a neighboring town more than an hour away. He receives more blood and is improving. The weather is stormy and the hospital is short staffed. Fred doesn’t want anyone to be a bother to anyone so he says he will take the train home. Someone releases an 80 year old man to get himself to the train station in a snowstorm. We volunteer to drive to get him, but there is confusion – which station will he go to? One phone call does not quite clarify the situation and then his phone battery dies. He has gotten off at the wrong station just as a blizzard hits. It was like ice crystals blowing sideways and obliterating our vision. Fred has only a light jacket and no hat or gloves. What was the hospital thinking??? Fortunately we get to this station and Mark is able to find him. We are grateful we brought the truck with the heated seats! He was deeply chilled.
  3. January 7 or 9… Ethyl is going to the car to drive Fred to a follow-up appointment. He is feeling better and they have planned a steak dinner out for a date night, celebrating his return to health. A kindly neighbor brought their trashcan up from the street and Ethyl decides she will push it inside the garage. Fred was just about to do this but ran inside quickly. The trashcan gets the better of Ethyl and she falls. She is taken by ambulance to the local hospital where she learns her back is broken. This is not good. But the food is good…
  4. After several nights in the hospital Ethyl is transferred to a long-term care facility. Fortunately it rather near their home and Fred, who is still recovering, is easily able to drive and spend time. The food is terrible and she has trouble eating. This is not good for Ethyl’s diabetes. I try to bring foods to tempt her to eat but she soon begins to throw up most of her meals. The facility is understaffed and though we like each staff member, it does not seem that her care is what we would hope. I learn to wash her hair in bed because no one else is doing it – not true, she has other attentive friends who are also helping. They finally try to get to the shower but she falls. There were several more falls. She has a catheter and develops an infection which goes undetected. Fred and I huddle – we have growing concerns as she loses touch with reality and begins to hallucinate. I tell the nurse and he promises to be watchful. Finally Fred tells them he expects Ethyl to die by the morning – they suddenly pay attention and find and treat a terrible infection. Ethyl improves right away, returning to reality.
  5. Ethyl is released in March and goes to see her primary care physician – the same doctor who sent Fred directly to the ER. We are so grateful for him. He is shocked that Ethyl cannot move her left leg at all and when he learns she has not had an MRI he calls all over the valley until he finds a same-day appointment. The results show that the initial break has worsened and is now impacting her spinal cord.
  6. Back surgery – Ethyl had hoped to avoid this but is ready for anything that will help. There is a cancellation and they are able to schedule her within the week! It goes well but she has to go back to a rehab center – they choose a different one this time though it is thirty minutes away. The food is still terrible – seriously! It sounds good, looks good, but is inedible. The care seems better but she is still on a catheter and drifts in and out of reality. She was told she would have the catheter for many more months to indefinitely but her neurosurgeon gives orders which help retrain her bladder. Everyone is happy when she comes home after another six weeks or so. Fred’s health is improving all this time.
  7. While in the rehab facility Ethyl has been itching terribly. After a couple weeks at home Fred begins to itch as well. The doctor thinks it may be bedbugs which cancels all physical therapy for the time being and introduces them to the fun world of exterminators. Now no one wants to go visit and repeated treatments may or not be helping. No bugs are seen but red spots and itching continues though not as strongly.
  8. They are given a strong ointment for their skin but Fred decides to tough it out. After a few days the itching is unbearable and he decides to give the ointment a try. Within moments they are calling 911 – he has an anaphylactic reaction and is taken by ambulance to the ER and released a few hours later.
  9. Ethyl is still in a wheelchair and is not to move on her own. Early the next morning (after Fred’s anaphylactic reaction) she gets out of bed and walks to the bathroom. In her exhaustion she forgot that she cannot walk. She falls and breaks her ankle – another trip to the ER. Another delay in healing. This is all around the 4th of July.
  10. Weeks and months go by. Church members bring in food on a regular basis. Their out-of-town children come to help as often as they can. Life becomes a blur of itching, scratching, wheelchairs, doctor appointments and they both sleep whenever they feel like it. Without a clear schedule Ethyl’s eating and medications are messed up and she ends up in the ER once again. This time her blood sugars are 750! At her age death would be the side effect of something like this but she seems fine. It took about a week to bring it back down.

Wow! What a year! And these are only the highlights! Currently the itching is minimal. They’ve had different skin diagnoses from different doctors. The walker has replaced the wheelchair and Ethyl is welcomed back to physical therapy. She is making great progress. Life is getting back on schedule. Fred’s health has remained relatively steady through it all. Everyone is being very careful. We try to bring food as we are able and have invited them for Thanksgiving. Ethyl says she will be coming no matter what… luckily we have strong arms to lift her up the porch steps. Well, Mark won’t be lifting by then but David returns from his mission the day before. Just in the nick of time. I love it when things work out!

And remember… these are not their real names. Don’t worry about their true identity. I will neither confirm nor deny… I should also say (and many people can attest) that Ethyl has kept a smile on her face through all of this! And a happy ending for my story – they just celebrated 48 years of marriage and I believe I heard that they finally made it to their date night. It took almost an entire year but Ethyl got her steak!

Postscript – Four months later and healing is slow but steady… I am learning the value of healthy food and social interaction for the elderly.

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