Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Snapshot of My Mom's Life

As many of you know, my mother passed away on April 16th, 2008, at the age of 76, following a long battle with advanced Parkinson's Disease.  She was a fighter, but a decade or more of Parkinson's, combined with years of constant pain from severe osteoporosis, had worn down her resolve.  At the end, I think she wanted to die.
I know that everyone's own mother is special to them, partly because she's their  mother, and partly because every mother is unique in different ways, but I think my Mom was one of a kind.  Her name was Kathy, she loved the smell of honeysuckle, and her favorite flowers were yellow roses.  She liked spicy foods, especially foods seasoned with a lot of black pepper and horseradish.  She never drank or smoked, but she loved her coffee.  She liked sad songs and sad movies, and she struggled with depression all of her life. 
She and my Dad adopted me when I was a small baby, and at the age of eight I was absolutely stunned when they told me that I was adopted.  She had never done anything to suggest that I was not her natural child.  My Dad once told me, "Never doubt that your Mother loves you," and I never did. 
My Mom thought she was dumb, but I knew she wasn't.  She may not have had much "book knowledge," but she was very smart with people.  She could win folks over with a smile and a few words.  I watched her talk salesmen into selling her merchandise at half price when the items weren't on sale and the salesmen had no obligation to cut her a deal.  She claimed that she was shy, but if she was she had everyone fooled.
In many ways she had a hard life.  For instance, when she was nine years old, she had to have a tonsillectomy, and her doctor opted to do the surgery in his office.  He blindfolded her before he gave her the anesthetic.  For the rest of her life she was afraid of the dark, afraid of going blind, and afraid of doctors.  I know this was 67 years ago, but doctors back then must have known better than to do things like that.  She would refuse to see a doctor no matter how sick she was, and it was only in the last year of her life that she agreed to see a neurologist and was diagnosed with being in the late stages of Parkinson's Disease.
This entry is necessarily an incomplete description of my Mom's life.  I could write books about her experiences.  I just wanted to give you a snapshot of a part of her life.  In my Mom's memory, Krissy and I planted a yellow rose bush in a giant flower pot on our patio.  The rose bush will remind us that my Mom is still with us, and that we'll all be together again someday.
Goodbye for now, Mom.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Fell in the Shower and Injured My Neck

Six weeks have passed since I've felt well enough to write an entry.  Much has happened to delay my writing, one incident being the death of my mother on April 16.  I received a flood of online comments expressing sympathy and concern for my wife Krissy and me; I want to thank all of you who kept us in your thoughts and prayers.  Mom will be missed.
The latest delay began on Sunday, May 4th.  Krissy and I were getting ready for a two and a half hour drive the following day to see my hematologist/oncologist at Hershey Medical Center.  Late that night I decided to take a shower to get a head start on what we knew would be an early, busy Monday morning.  While in the shower I slipped and fell backwards, smashing the back of my neck on the rim of the bathtub.  The pain of the impact stunned me, and the force of the impact split open a respectable length of skin behind my right ear. From the other end of our apartment,  Krissy heard me fall like a bag of bricks, and she came running to help.
Though we had a lot left to do that night, we were forced to make an unexpected trip to the local Emergency Room.  The pain in my neck and shoulders was severe, and we were afraid that I might have done serious internal damage.  The ER staff took my injury too casually to suit my impatient mood.  After I explained all the important details, the triage nurse handed me a beeper and told us to sit in the waiting room until someone from Registration was ready to see me.  They were having a slow night at the ER, so there was no one ahead of me waiting to be seen.  When I had been there three weeks earlier with what I had thought was bronchitis, they had taken me from triage directly to an exam room even though they had been quite busy that night. 
Upon arriving in an exam room, the ER doctor had blood drawn to make sure my platelet count wasn't too low due to my bone marrow transplant.  The lower your platelet count is, the more likely you are to have internal bleeding.  Thena Radiology technician had me walk to the CAT scan unit.  On previous visits the staff had always insisted on wheeling me over.  I didn't know why this visit was different.  The results came back before too long.  My platelet count was quite low, but not dangerously so, and the ER doctor said the CAT scan images were normal.  The doctor closed the wound on my neck with some kind of super glue.  He told me to go home and resume normal activity.  Krissy and I weren't sure if we believed him or not.  The pain I felt certainly wasn't normal.  We got home at about 2:30 AM.
Later that morning I drove us to Hershey.  The neck pain was bad and my neck muscles were stiff, but I could turn my head and see in all directions well enough to drive safely, if not comfortably.  My doctor's appointment went very well.  My hematologist/oncologist said he believed my two cancers would never come back.  He did order an Aranesp injection, though, to raise my hemoglobin, which was significantly low.   We stayed in Hershey overnight at Hope Lodge, and I drove home on Tuesday.
A week after I fell, my neck hurt as badly, if not worse, than it did the night I fell.  Monday, May 12th, Krissy called my local Primary Care doctor.  Krissy explained my situation and the nurse said if we could get to my doctor's office in half an hour, my doctor would see me.  I don't know how she does it, but Krissy gets things done.  Seeing a doctor on 30 minutes notice is next to impossible. 
We got there on time.  My doctor examined my neck, then sent me downstairs for X-rays.  My doctor said the X-rays showed that a piece of bone had broken off one vertebra in my neck.  He told me to buy and wear a cervical collar, and he referred me to a spinal surgeon.
I saw the spinal surgeon the next day.  He did a series of neurological tests on me, then sent me down the hall for more X-rays, about 15 of them, with my neck in all different positions.  After a while, the surgeon came back and told me that my vertebra was not fractured, and that what had looked like a piece of bone was actually a calcification which had been there for a while.  I wasn't sure exactly what a calcification was, but I have since learned that it is a hardening of soft tissue which is far less serious than a fractured vertebra.  The surgeon told me that I had a sprained neck which would take at least a few weeks to heal.  He scheduled me for physical therapy and gave me other instructions, which I'm following.
The pain is considerably less than it was a week ago, but it's definitely not gone.  The cervical collar seems to be helping a great deal.  I'm writing this entry, so you can be sure that I'm feeling better than I was.  I expect to be fully recovered before another month goes by.
Do yourself a favor:  Be careful when you take a shower.  A sprained neck is very painful, and I could have been hurt much more seriously.  All it takes is one bad step.  Good health to you, your family, and your friends.