I wake up every morning, and I say, “Ugh.” Sometimes it’s “Uck.” Sometimes it’s “Fuck,” truth be told. I don’t wake up much these days with a song in my heart, unless it’s a melody-less song with ugh and uck and fuck in it.
Last Monday, my dad took a fall and wound up in the cardiac care unit. He’d had a heart attack, but it wasn’t the typical exertion-related kind, and there’s no—according to today’s heart catheter procedure—blocked anything.
For nearly a decade, he’s had aortic stenosis. The aortic valve becomes calcified, narrowing, and it causes a backup of blood, resulting in very low blood pressure and heart episodes like these. Eventually, the dopamine drip will no longer work to keep his blood pressure up to 85/69. But if he can’t get off the med, he can’t go home.
During his heart cath procedure, the doctor discovered that more of his aorta is calcified, so he’ll need a CT scan to determine whether it’s operable. If he passes that test, he’ll need to fail the next one. Two heart surgeons will need to agree that he’s not a candidate for open-chest surgery due to his limited lung capacity (he has COPD and asthma). If that goes well, he could have a percutaneous valve replacement, which is a brand new (like—yesterday) treatment. It wasn’t available before his chemo began, or it’s likely that he’d have had one of those years ago—possibly avoiding all these extra trips to the hospital to bring up his blood pressure.
That’s Dad. Me? Well, I am due for my six-month CT scan to see if the cancerous nodes in my stomach have grown. If you were to look at my actual stomach, you’d think they’d grown the size of a watermelon, because it’s clear I have a giant squash growing there. At the same time, I’m ditching my oncologist because, after making me wait an hour to see him, he spends my visits with his back to me, asking me questions, typing the answers on his laptop, and addressing the multiple laptop crashes. Then he turns to face me, pokes my stomach and underarms, and sends me off. I need a little more bedside manner. A little more face time. A little less technology.
One year ago in August, I started to get some bad leg and back pain, so I went to see my back surgeon. He looked at my MRI and said I needed two fusions. I fretted. I told him I really didn’t want another back surgery, and, as I was still talking, asking him what else I could possibly do, he was getting up and walking out of the room, telling me to call him when I was ready for surgery. So I ditched him, too. When I told my second-opinion doctor the story, he said, “Did he really do that?” but it didn’t sound like a question. Unfortunately, he agreed that I needed two fusions. The issue that took me to see the back doctor in the first place—some nerve damage and leg pain—has returned with ferocity. Back surgery looks imminent. Hooray.
Dad and I are both feeling a little overwhelmed. We’re a little depressed. We cry. We wake up and say, “Ugh.” If will were the only thing we had, we probably wouldn’t wake up.
Sometimes the pain isn’t worth it. Sometimes the scenery just ain’t so good when your bed is facing the hallway and not the window, and you don’t know if it’s day or night, and the beeping is incessant and not even in time with the seconds so that you can precisely count the minutes of lying there, and the only thing good you have is the pure oxygen streaming from the cannula. But even that loses its sexiness after a few days, especially without a companion opiate.
But I’m not 75 and in the hospital. My scenery has a gorgeous, talented daughter in it, some sweet dogs, a good husband, so many friends, a comfortable home, and a good job, where people appreciate me—and tell me so.
I’m not ready to stop looking. At least not until I stop writing.