March 21, 2008


We all face our own mortality although some of us are good at pretending it doesn't exist. Usually I'm able to ignore thoughts of dying or of losing someone I love, but sometimes the concept slaps me in the face and can't be ignored.

Last week I had one of those slap-downs when we were waiting at the hospital while my husband, Don, got a heart catheterization. A catheterization, according to the American Heart Association is a procedure where a cardiologist threads a thin plastic tube (the catheter) into an artery and manipulates it into the chambers of the heart and coronary arteries. Also according to the AHA "the test measures blood pressure in the heart and how much oxygen is in the blood." The catheter injects dye into the coronary arteries that can be viewed and studied with an overhead camera.

Don had four heart by-passes done about eighteen years ago and, I'm told, they usually have a life spam of ten-twelve years. Sure enough, Don's catheterization revealed that one of those by-passes is completely shot and "will never come back." Two are still going strong and the forth may be a candidate for a stent someday. Maybe.

Before the cathe started, Don was wheezing from what I thought was a cold so they sent in a pulmonary doctor to do a breathing treatment. He kept asking ominous questions regarding Don's past smoking history and he seemed surprised that he wasn't using oxygen at home. In short, he scared the blissful, head-in-the-sand attitude right out of me as thoughts of emphysema and lung cancer filled my head. The next hour of waiting for a blood test to come back that would prove one way or another if Don's wheezing was from bronchitis or something more serious was extremely difficult. When a person, like Don, had been a heavy smoker for a lot of years you can't help thinking that lung cancer is going to be the piper that demands the last coin in their pocket. Thankfully, the cause of the wheezing was ruled to be 'bronchitis' so they went ahead with the catheterization instead of admitting Don. He dodged another bullet.

For the next few days I worried about the 'what ifs' ahead of us, borrowing trouble from the future and generally forgetting the caregivers' Cardinal Rule about living in the moment and appreciating what is here, right now. The bottom line, I finally had to tell myself, is that after all the testing and all the worrying nothing has really chanced. Don is still in my life and he still finds life worth living. We don't have to say good-bye just yet and I don't have to make my way alone in the world. So I made a conscious choice to go back to a land where ignoring our mortalities makes sense in a crazy kind of logic that demands no explanation from those who have been there, done that. ©


FLOOG said...

An amazing post which echoes feelings and thought's I experience regarding my father.

Similarly, a massive heart attack way back in the seventies almost robbed us of a truly great man, attributed to years as a heavy smoker.

Subsequent quadruple bypass, stents, then a heart sleeve to prevent leaks and certain death, the problem discovered purely by chance by a doctor performing other tests. Failed arteries, temporary measures, band aids over the problems.

The emotional ups and downs, the contemplation of death, the possibility of losing my life's mentor and friend, all so real.

Dad treats every day as a bonus, his mentality and outlook on life is to live each day as though it were his last, to enjoy and savour and when the time comes for him to take that final journey, he and we will know that he loved life and lived a great life.

I'm not ready to surrender him yet, nor do I want to face life without him, but I think about such things and it makes our time all the more special

the aphasia decoder.... said...

Floog, I'm glad you still have your dad. Mine died from lung cancer so we had seven months for the long goodbye. Like yours, he was a great mentor who appreciated every day. We can both hope our dads passed on their best qualities to us so that, in that way, they'll always be with us.

J-ellen said...

Deep insight, Jean. I have not heard of that Cardinal Rule, but I follow it most often. Your reminder will help with the off times when I forget.

I am so glad you and Don dodged that bullet and have more time to enjoy the gift of the moment. It is true, as caregivers we find life's meaning in what we are doing for another. If that changes, so would our purpose.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to stop by and say hello to you and the kids.:)
I've been caught up in the election so out of the real world.. fighting around on a couple of blogs and going to caucus/delegate training.
Glad to hear that Don doesn't have more serious problems.
I hit my four year next month and I rarely stop in SN for any of the latest news. Jenny is doing great and so are the dogs.
Looking forward to a dry spring and summer.
Later, Tom

Jack Payne said...

You write with justifiable passion about the bank shots life has taken at you and your husband. And, with a stroke the shot is really direct. I admire your obvious deterimnation to accept, in the face of ominous odds. The best to you. All I can say is, hang in there--this is your best chance to emerge a winner in this (seemingly) nevrer-ending battle.

BookingAlong said...

I'm sorry to get to this one late. Your experience echoes so much of the details (I won't presume we had the same exact feeling but I sure had flashbacks to anxiety and worried moments) I had with my father. He had four bypasses and several heart surgeries. There were times the prognosis was grim and the doctors were wrong every time. I have learned to live in the moment. Having a teen helps with that because I generally HAVE to focus on the moment, if only to save my own life - and sometimes his. I am often torn between wringing his neck or saving his life. Then I usually go off and read something you've written to give me some perspective.