Let’s see now, where was I?
Last week, some of you noticed the absence of my Wednesday column. I think I have a good excuse.
Let’s get this straight from the start: I have always felt the most boring thing in the world is to listen to people talk about their aches and pains. I’m not lacking compassion, but unless you’re a good friend of mine and your stuff is life-threatening or life-altering (I have a few of those), it’s really not of interest to anyone but fellow-sufferers after about 30 seconds. It’s mind numbing.
But I feel I’d be remiss to have written one column and part of another about having discovered I had heart disease and preparing to go in for a stent which then got rescheduled to open heart, double bypass surgery Nov. 7, without a little follow-up. As I pointed out with the example of my 40-year-old, incredibly active nephew (I erred in writing “early 40s”) who got a stent put in after they discovered an artery in his heart was 99 percent blocked, it can happen to you, Boobie.
Less than two weeks after, I feel great. Not ready-for-basketball-yet great, but a lot better than I anticipated, and a lot better than some I know who have gone through the same thing, and oh yes, our ranks are legion.
Heart disease still trumps cancer as the leading killer in the U.S. (600,000 yearly), and many don’t know it kills more women than men. While nearly 50 percent of women who were asked in a poll what they thought their greatest health threat was, named breast cancer, the truth is they are nine times more likely to die from a heart condition than from breast cancer.
I’m not trying to depress you, just inform you. Know thy enemy.
Some, when faced with a serious physical challenge, will jump on the Internet for exhaustive research, to become a near expert. The fatal flaw in that is that there is so much information out there it’s impossible for the non-expert to know what’s what. I tend to rely on already-experts that I have total confidence in.
That would be my team of doctors, mostly from Pacific Heart Institute. I first only dealt with one, then another did my angiograms (catheters to the heart), then I briefly met the one who would be doing the bypass, and didn’t meet his partner until after the surgery, when he came by my hospital room.
I was operated on at Saint John’s Health Center (most call it “Hospital”) and I couldn’t say enough about the treatment I got there. Stayed five days, the first half in ICU.
ICU (Intensive Care Unit) is a wonderful place. If you happen to be sick enough to land there. You feel so taken care of. (Good thing, because I literally couldn’t move much more than a finger for a while, and I still am lusting for the night when I can actually turn over in bed and find a more comfortable position, which won’t happen for another month or so).
You are watched over and monitored by a dozen tubes attached from you to a bank of lifesaving machines, and by a corps of nurses and doctors, literally every heartbeat. I had dozens of nurses and assistants in those five days, and they ranged from very competent and caring to like-your-Mom.
No slight to the many others, but I have to mention two women who really made a difference. One was Sherreen, who gives the best shave you’ll ever get (face shave, you perverts), and quickest (amazing since one nick is going to cause a big problem for a patient on blood thinners), and was absolutely distraught to find out on the fourth morning that I had not been given the option for a bath. Took it personally. Anyone in a similar situation knows, you feel absolutely renewed after even a quick bath.
The other was Abigail, a tall woman from Nigeria, who was also so caring and solicitous, and made it her cause to see that I always had a hot tea when I wanted it, and that I try all the flavors, as she named them all off, and reminded me which one I had last time. Seems silly, especially since I’m strictly a coffee guy, but in those moments it means an awful lot.
Everyone asked how you were doing, and said you were looking awesome, fabulous, wonderful (for someone who just got sliced and diced, you reminded yourself). But what a humane and smart policy for a hospital, especially for critical care patients, and how difficult it must be to get everyone to comply, down to the kind folks who emptied my trash and cleaned, to understand that caring and smiling is part of their job description, and speeds recovery.
I was going to write more about my surgeons, but I’m really at a loss for words. They are gods. But humble and completely approachable. I had eight visits from four of them in five days, including the boss. (The other one who operated on me whom I hadn’t met, clearly has mythic status among other health professionals.) Wright, Robertson, Pelikan and Hunter, and I must include Doshi, who was out of the country at the time, but is my main man. If you see those names in your corner, bet the ranch.
God bless you, merry gentlemen and the work that you do and the ungodly hours you put in. And especially to Dr. Curtis Hunter — you are a righteous dude, and I would put my life in your hands anytime. (But let’s put that off a couple of decades or more, shall we?)
It was fascinating being able to interact with so many great surgeons in a few days. All but Robertson spent a long time with me (he’s there and he’s gone, the Lone Ranger). I came away with the appreciation that they were sort of nerdy artists, but that’s just a notion that doesn’t begin to comprehend what a complex bundle of skills, knowledge, intuition, judgment and wisdom they possess. Magic men.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org