Saturday, May 02, 2009

Gifts that Keep on Giving

Most of the past few weeks have been either busy or not busy and when “not busy” either “sick” or unable to focus on writing any more recent posts, here.

Some of the seeds I planted on April 21st actually sprouted. The other day, I counted 14 moon-glory seedlings bursting their first round of leaves up through the soil. Something else started to do the same but when I checked it later in the day, it was obvious it had already become lunch to a squirrel.

Last weekend, I was involved in rehearsals and performances for the Harrisburg Symphony’s concert version of Tosca – but just attending, not performing. I’ve been blogging about them over at the Harrisburg Symphony Blog, along with a couple of posts about Tuesday’s chamber music program, “Stuart & Friends.” I still need to post something about the Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra concert that night, too.

Meanwhile, April 23rd was the 2nd Birthday for the Copperfields – Abel, Baker, Charlie, Blanche & Freddie. New catnip toys and some more pom-pom balls (the kind that are not perfectly round so they bounce and roll in all different directions) were added to those already lurking in the various Bermuda Triangles that inhabit this house. Pictures were kind of pointless since it’s impossible to get all of them to stand still long enough for the camera – or at least, this camera.

Another important anniversary passed on Friday, the 1st of May. It was two years ago I had to go to a hospital emergency room to find out if the intense pain on the lower right side of my abdomen was a hernia or appendicitis.

Since it happened at work, the result of pulling opening the very heavy sound proof door to the radio control room where I worked then, my doctor would not see me until I had filled out the necessary paperwork with Workman’s Comp, had a file with a claim number and everything ready to find an approved specialist who would then examine me instead (the nurses’ cynical laugh as she told me this did not bode well). But since this new doctor couldn’t see me for, like, two weeks, I was told to go to E.R. if appendicitis was a concern for me (and since I still had all my original parts, it was). When I signed in, the admitting nurse was surprised I had all this information all ready for her: she dutifully filled it into the appropriate forms (so it surprised me when, sometime later, I received a bill for this only to discover this information had somehow not made it to the billing department). I was wheeled back – past the room where my mother had been examined before her death 6 weeks earlier – then taken down for an MRI which revealed it was neither appendicitis nor a hernia. It was, in fact, TWO hernias, one on either side of the groin, plus a pulled abdominal muscle and – oh, yes – gall-stones.

Without going into too detailed a history of the two years since then, let’s leave it that the doctor examining me later that month felt the hernias were not that serious and could be “taken care of” after the pulled muscle (which could not be taken care of by surgery or medicine) had a chance to heal. A few weeks? A couple of months? Well, more like six months. Then they could work on the hernias. Meanwhile, I could return to work if I didn't lift anything over 10 pounds. It didn't seem likely to put in for a six month leave-of-absence. Knowing what I know now, I'm sorry I hadn't.

About four months later, then, the company had installed a new “automatic door opener” with a handicap logo on the button. Until it was installed, since I worked the evening air-shift, most nights I could just leave the door propped open a little bit, enough to break the vacuum seal that made it relatively sound-proof but of course three of those nights were when the Vacuum Guy and his family came to clean the building and one of those nights was Listener Requests night when I would have to open the door repeatedly for the jaunt down to the music library at the other end of the Atrium. Then after a couple of weeks, it broke and I was back to pulling the door open to get out of the room and re-injured myself. The claim was still active so at least I didn’t need new paperwork to see the specialist again.

Basically it took about a year for the muscle to finally heal well enough but by then the hernias were becoming increasingly more urgent. In the spring, I decided I would have to take time off – people were saying maybe two or three weeks – but I would wait until after an important fund-raising campaign and other events were out of the way. By that time, I was “laid off.”

So now, we had to clarify the role of Workman’s Comp in all this since I was no longer an employee where the work-related incident occurred. It also turned out the doctor had informed the insurance company the left hernia appeared to be slightly older than the right one and since it didn’t have its own file and claim number, it would not be handled by Workman’s Comp. All of this occurred during a transition period running parallel with my being “laid off” where one Human Resources director was being replaced by another.

So now this also meant I had to wait until the health insurance coverage was clarified. For some reason, there were a couple of confusions about setting this up and so I had to wait a few months which of course involved another visit to the doctor’s because it had now been longer than the allowable lapse between a visit and scheduling the surgery. By December, there were days I was barely able to walk or do steps. The surgery was scheduled for early February, the right one billed to the Workman’s Comp company, the left one to my personal health insurance, being maintained through a COBRA agreement (now, when I discuss a free-lance gig, I think in terms of how many weeks of medical insurance it will cover – even a semester’s worth of adult education classes for the fall looks like it will pay for two months).

Now, since the diagnosis in May ‘07, whenever I went to the grocery store I had to take along a friend when I needed to buy cat litter since the 20-pound containers were too heavy for me to lift. After a while, I could manage to lift the 14-pound containers, but to carry them from the car to the respective litter boxes at the other end of the house, living alone, I would usually either drag them on a beach towel or use what had been the li’l red wagon of my childhood. If my pack horse could not go with me when I needed to get groceries, I would make a special run when he was, stocking up on litter and, say, those 40-pound bags of water-softener salt I needed periodically. Needless to say, I have aged considerably in those two years, as friends will attest.

After an agonizing few weeks healing after the hernias’ repair, things began to feel markedly better. So one day, while cleaning the litter boxes – with nine cats,, I could not do them all in one day since it was too much bending, stooping, scooping and hauling out to the trash – I thought I should by now be able to pick up a 20-pound container. I lifted it six inches off the ground and knew immediately this was a mistake. As the day progressed, I realized I had injured myself to some extent - again...

Another trip to the doctor indicated the repaired hernias were fine but I had “aggravated” the old pulled abdominal muscle. It might take, say, another two or three months for it to heal – that would mean, perhaps, mid-May or mid-June. And how do I find out if I’m ready to resume something like normalcy? Lift a 20-pound container of cat litter again, just to see?

Since December, I have been unable to exercise on my treadmill and I’ve probably put on another 10-15 pounds, having been sedentary for about 6 weeks before the surgery and for the three months since: I can go about 5-10 minutes before it begins to hurt instead of the 40-45 minutes I could do the summer before. But I can get the same effect walking up a flight of steps. It gets very frustrating.

Through all this, my workman’s comp representative has been wonderful. The specialist I’ve been going to has been great and the surgery and subsequent recovery flew by not as fast as I’d like but as well as could be expected, having had two matching hernias operated on at the same time.

What was unexpected, however, was a bout with flu-like symptoms this past week. Unless you’ve been living under a media-free rock, you would know that a person with a runny nose had as much power as a terrorist with a bomb to divert a plane from Munich to Washington, forcing it to land in Boston. “Swine Flu” is on everybody’s lips: people in Mexico are dying of it, there are suspected cases of it popping up all over the world but, fanning our own fears, more critically in this country. The fact that Pennsylvania is surrounded by states with confirmed cases has sent most of the state into Panic Mode.

When I started getting a sore throat Tuesday night, after spending a few days in a crowded and very warm auditorium with a couple thousand people during our summer-like 90+ heat-wave, I wasn’t surprised. That one of my friends who had stopped by on Sunday, dropping off an old computer of his to replace my 6-year-old veteran, had just come back from a business trip to Mexico, however, got me to wondering about it a little more seriously. What if it weren’t just “a” flu, but “the” flu, the Flu–du-Mal?

Fortunately, I did not develop any of the nasty symptoms that supposedly differentiated normal flu from Swine Flu and my friend whose computer could put a different spin on the term “computer virus” was fine, F-I-N-E, fine. So I shouldn’t worry. My flu developed just like other bouts in the past, almost indistinguishable from those near-annual “change-of-season” colds that last a few days then burn themselves out of your system on their own.

Unfortunately, one of those symptoms was a nagging cough and one of the side effects of regular coughing fits is abdominal pain, especially when you are overweight, out-of-shape and dealing with an aggravated formerly-pulled muscle. I could deal with the aching rib-cage, but this abdominal pain is making it difficult, once again, to walk, bend over or lift much of anything. I figure I’ve now put the muscle back another 2-3 months, making it maybe July or August, now, before it might be back to normal, a state quickly fading from memory.

The fever officially broke around 4am on Friday morning. By Saturday morning, the headache is less, the body-ache bearable but I’m still coughing, despite the Robitussin (less phlegm but still racking waves across the abdomen).

Needless to say, after two years, this has really gotten old...

So as I contemplated the 2nd birthday of the Five Kittens – born two days after I rescued their stray cat of a mother from my old mid-town neighborhood – and in my flu-state meditated on the Hernias’ 2nd Anniversary, it is not the kittens I look at and think “the gift that keeps on giving.”

- Dr. Dick

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