Preface: Bear with me as I will eventually get to the point.
A Little Family History
My father-in-law, Paul, is 84 years old. He is a former marathoner; having run more than six marathons. He ran countless 10k and 5k races. Up until about 7 years ago, he was still running. Slowly and shorter distances, to be sure, but still running. He gradually came to realize that his running days were over. Instead, he took up speed walking and hiking. He could be seen early every morning speed walking through his neighborhood in Charlottesville and/or wandering the trails of the Shenandoah Mountains. About a year ago, Paul and June moved to Blacksburg. They moved into Warm Hearth, a senior living community, because June (my mother-in-law) has some significant health and mobility issues that prevented her from climbing stairs. After getting settled in Blacksburg, Paul quickly found the nearby trails leading around Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. Being a very sociable person, he also found a group of people that routinely hiked at the same time and places. They formed a small band of hikers and every morning, they could be seen and heard on the trails. Paul especially always has a story to share and being out of breath never stopped him before.
Emergency Heart Surgery
Paul routinely got a check-up. He’s been in really excellent health his whole life with no known issues other than the occasional bout of tinnitus, addiction to ice cream, and love for peanuts in a bottle of Dr. Pepper.
On December 9, while working at the store, Mark and I got a call from Paula (my sister-in-law) that we had to call Scott (brother-in-law) immediately to speak with Paul. Paul was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. He was hiking, started experiencing chest pain, and collapsed on the trail. Fortunately, his quick thinking and quick acting hiking companions got emergency help. Mark talked to his Dad and then to Scott. An aortic aneurism was suspected. After being examined at the hospital, it was determined that an aneurism was indeed the cause and the decision was made to airlift Paul to the hospital in Roanoke for emergency heart surgery.
Rocky Few Days
Mark immediately drove down to Roanoke and stayed with his dad at the hospital for several days post-surgery. While the surgery itself was successful, Paul was still an 84 year old man having undergone major surgery. The anesthesia had him very confused, moody, aggressive, and volatile. It was a very rocky few days according to Mark. http://www.jhartfound.org/blog/confused-about-post-operative-confusion/
After clearing from the side effects of anesthesia, Paul started feeling better, feeding himself, telling stories to the nurses and doctors, and demanding to go home. He was able to return home after about 10 days. Of course, the requirement was that he had to have 24 hour assistance for the next 10 days while he healed and regained strength. The siblings all pitched in and took turns staying along with an attendant from Warm Hearth.
Doing Great, Maybe?
19 days post surgery, Paul was doing great. Regaining strength, ambulating with a walker, feeling well, and eating well. Mark and I decided to go back to Blacksburg with our kids for more of a social visit, help with grocery shopping and other errands.
We drove down on a Friday morning and arrived just after lunch. Within an hour of visiting, Paul indicated that he was not feeling well, that he was in extreme abdominal pain, and that he needed emergency help. We called the Warm Hearth medical staff who advised calling 911. Within minutes the EMTs were there, packed up Paul and took him away. Mark rode with him to the hospital and stayed acting as his advocate.
Waiting and Waiting
The rest of us stayed at the house visiting with June. It was getting to be evening and we still hadn’t heard anything. It didn’t make sense for all of us to stay with June, so I sent the kids back to the hotel and just spent quiet time accompanying June into the night.
9:30 text received “CT scan scheduled”
10:15 text received “He’s next up for CT”
11:30 text received “CT clear, have ruled out anything serious. Starting treatment for severe constipation”
Now you may be thinking… “What? He went to the ER for constipation?” Yes, severe constipation can cause a lot of damage, not to mention pain and discomfort. Heart patients in particular cannot exert pressure from coughing, sneezing, clearing of the throat, or pooping. http://surgery.about.com/od/aftersurgery/ss/ConstipationSur_2.htm. In fact, there were 29 deaths from constipation between 1982 and 1985. http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/c/constipation/deaths.htm. Enough of that.
1:30 text received “Will be here a while more”
June and I were both reading and dozing in our chairs, just waiting for the next update. With the 1:30 update, I finally went to lay down on the coach.
The In-Between State of Being Asleep and Awake
There was to be no deep sleeping that night. The remainder was spent in that state of both being asleep but also being awake. The place where you think deep thoughts, worry a lot, imagine everything, and question everything. The place were you work through anxieties and try to find answers. Sometimes going round and round with no answers but more questions.Writing doesn’t come naturally to me, so my attempt to put into words everything swirling through my head that night will fall short.
Obvoiusly, I spent quite a lot of time thinking about Paul. Here he is an 84 year old man recovering from major heart surgery. He would be the first to admit that he’s led a fantastic, wonderful life. Married for 63 years. Three great kids and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
But the questions kept surfacing. Should he have even had the surgery? How much time would he have left in this life? Are the costs of surgery and recovery justified? While I don’t have the answers to those questions, I came to realize a few things.
The reason that Paul even survived the surgery is because he was so active. In fact, he is already making plans to be back on the hiking trail by the end of January. He plans to live productively for another 10 years at least. The thought that he would die was so foreign to him because he lives his life.
With that realization, I started asking myself some questions. Am I really taking care of myself so that I am truly alive? No. Or am I simply going through the motions? Sometimes. Am I making sure that my own parents have the supports in place should something happen with them? No.
My New Years Resolutions
A few people have asked me about my new years resolutions. I really didn’t make any on New Years Eve. I typically don’t. It seems somewhat trivial to me to say “I will run a marathon.” or “I will break my personal best in a 10k.” Those are definitely worthwhile pursuits, but to me they are goals, not resolutions.
My grandmother lived to be 94 years old. She would often say “Life is not for the faint of heart.” She’s right. I want to be 94 saying that to my grandchildren and great grandchildren.
So here goes… My New Years “Resolutions”:
Live my life like it means something.
Take care of myself and take care of others.
Be alive and help others be alive.
In order to do those things, I need to be active, maintaining a healthy weight, maintaining a healthy attitude, taking time for myself while also giving more of myself. I have to be involved, to be loving, to be forgiving, to be curious, to be constantly learning, to be teaching, to be leading, to be following… to really BE ALIVE!
Postscript: Paul did come home after treatment. Since then, he’s cooked a few meals, taken a walk at the Mall, seen the doctor, and has resumed living his life.
While thinking about all of this, I came across a blog that I really liked: http://productivelifeconcepts.com/Topics/making-a-difference/
Life your life in 2013.
February 2, 2013: Paul continues his amazing recovery. He is walking 1/4 mile distances several times a day, is driving again, and enjoying every day.
March 4, 2013: Paul is back to light hiking up to 1 mile per day and really enjoying being with his buddies again. Last week, he went to a Virginia Tech Womens Basketball game (his favorite!)