Today is Friday, September 24 - Day 66 of my journey to health. And I had the most eye-opening conversations this past week, I just have to journal that experience.
(My previous post was for the 21st, but just posted earlier today, just so there is no confusion on the days.)
First, some personal observations.
Dad's surgery was just one of dozens (DOZENS) scheduled for that day. Every single, solitary "pre-surgical" private room had someone in it, scared to death of the surgery. And with him/her were loved ones, equally as scared.
Will the patient survive? And if so, will the patient be able to function, talk, walk ... will s/he even be able to return home again? Or will a stroke on the table force a trip straight to a nursing home, from the hospital?
Life, for patients and families alike, literally hang in limbo there. It did for us. At that point, no one there (patient or family) had control of anything.
And that unit is filled like this, day in and day out.
And yes, while we were there, one of the morning patients didn't return to his room. A nurse returned to his room (across from ours) to take away his bag of clothing, the stuff he wore when he walked in and said good morning to us, as we passed in the hallway. He seemed like such a nice man.
This was the reality.
We prayed for him and his family - and hoped he at least lived. (The staff can't share any information about a patient, so we don't know if he even lived or not. All we knew was that he wasn't coming back to that unit.)
You know how we always thought "tomorrow, I'll ..."? Well, the nurse said most of these patients didn't even know they had a problem a month ago.
The unit was filled to capacity with people who thought "tomorrow, I'll ..." -- it had some retirement-age folks, as one would expect, but also a surprising (shocking) number of 40- and 50-somethings too. I didn't expect to see that, in those numbers.
When reality visits, it sometimes doesn't give a warning.
We often don't have a clue what is going on inside our bodies. If we don't feel pain or discomfort, we must be okay, right? How misguided of us, how naive, and how potentially dangerous. We hum along, doing what we usually do, how we like to do it (more bacon, please) and never give a thought to what reality is going on inside our bodies, undetected.
And most of the unit's 40- and 50-something year old patients were heavy. I didn't see one that looked to be under 250 lbs. It is one thing to be told "this is what could happen" and "this is what statistics show," but it is quite another to see human faces (and so many of them), going through something I didn't really ever think could possibly apply to ME. That stuff is what happens to other people. I'm not a statistic.
Well, neither were they.
A phrase one of the nurse trainees told me the nurses use (privately), is "I'm not a statistic - YET." I'm forever going to keep that in my mind.
I'm not a statistic - yet.
Dad's vascular surgeon came out to talk to us, immediately after the surgery. The surgeon was fit and strong and so very serious. He deals with blocked artieries and veins every single day, in one way or another. And most issues, he said, can be completely prevented with a healthy diet.
Something as simple as diet, could (literally) prevent all of this?!
But reality continued ...
Some of Dad's issue was handled well, but some could not be. (What? You mean surgery can't solve EVERYTHING?!!) No, sometimes not. I'm sorry.
The surgeon was being kind, but firm. The truth sometimes hurts.
This was the reality.
The good news - the immediate crisis has passed, and Dad will be okay - not 100%, but okay (at least for this particular issue).
So, here is the bit of free advice Dad's vascular surgeon was kind enough to pass along to me, unsolicited.
Lose weight. You now, officially, have a parent with this issue. Take it seriously. Don't become a statistic. (!!!) I will send your father home with a packet of information and a set of instructions. In it, there is a diet plan I strongly urge him to follow. I'm going to have the nurse include a second diet plan set - for you. I don't want to see you on my operating table unnecessarily.
Ouch. The truth hurts. But this is a highly paid expert at what he does, and he knows of what he speaks. I'd be a fool not to pay attention.
And here is the funny part - the nurse told me just yesterday that the diet will be a low fat one. (That's what I've been trying to do these last 66 days.) The surgeon didn't know, of course, that I've lost over 20 lbs in the last two months. But, I am now very excited to see what exactly the instructions say. I'm not sure how compliant Dad will be, but I don't need a hammer to fall on my head - I get it. I do.
Dad can't wait to come home this afternoon! And we can't wait to get him there. He was an excellent patient, so far. It wasn't an easy thing to go through, and it wasn't an easy recovery period either. But, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, I hope we never have to visit that unit again - ever. The staff was wonderful, and highly skilled, and (sadly) very well practiced. How sad, that poor diet had more to do with this than anything else. And I keep remembering what the nurse said - most of these patients had no clue anything was wrong a month ago.
I've had my warning shot over the bow. It was a week of eye-opening conversations, and eye-opening observations, and I'm not wasting any of it.
Interestingly, the hospital cafeteria had a salad bar (as one would expect), and some healthy entree choices (2), but it also had a pizza area, a "classic American" section (cheeseburgers, anyone, with fries?), a dessert stand to make Wonka weep for joy, and enough cola-company-sponsored beverages to fill Lake Ontario. Okay, perhaps I exaggerated there a bit, but you get the point.
It is up to the individual to practice self-control, to make good choices. And isn't that what I face every single day? It is up to ME to make good choices. The variety is there, the good and the bad, and it is up to me to pick wisely, carefully.
So, I managed to lose weight (1 lb, so far - though I can tell I've lost more since Tuesday), by eating salads with smart dressing choices, or a healthy entree, and by consistently making proper selections for myself. What I wanted was comfort food - lots and lots of comfort food. And it would have been very easy to "treat myself" - trust me. I came THISCLOSE on one occasion, but I reminded myself that habits must change, and food doesn't bring any real comfort - not really. We had a lot of curve balls tossed our way this week. I wouldn't want to repeat any of it. But, we got through it. And ...
I'm not a statistic - yet.
Day 66, and looking forward to Dad's discharge!