Tuesday, February 20, 2018

That Time I Didn't Die

2018 continues to be the year I didn't die! Too early to call it? Screw that. I spent last weekend in Tacoma General Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU). I was treated for dual pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in both my lungs that were restricting blood to and from my heart) over the weekend and through until Monday—February 17th to the 19th 2018.

(Torah tells me blood clots in the lungs leading to a heart attack is what killed Carrie Fisher. Wisely, she kept that to herself until the clots were dissolved.)

By the mere fact that you're reading this, you've probably guessed that the treatment was successful. You're right! I got tPA (clot-busting juice) Saturday evening into early Sunday morning dripped into me via IV. But for several hours before and after that, I got heparin, a blood thinner. Sometime around 2 am Sunday morning, the clots were gone.

Styling in my hospital gown. They gave me pants! And groovy socks.
I had to stay in the ER for 36+ hours after the tPA treatment, where someone woke me once an hour to check that I wasn't having a brain bleed, with questions like "Where are you? Do you know why you're here? What's your name?" Luckily, I consistently answered correctly. Though at one point the idea came into my head to start answering everything with "Blurple" because how funny would that be? (Blurple is a term coined by Bear Weiter, MCG's Art Director, to signify a busy status beyond Red.)

During that same period, my average heart rate came down from 80-90 bpm to the 50-60 bpm (or 45 when I'm really relaxed) it normally is. My really scary blood pressure dropped back down to its normal level, which is in the 120s / 80s. Apparently, no lasting damage had been sustained.

Finally, I got to come home Monday afternoon.

After all that clot-dissolving and clot-preventing medication, including the blood-thinner I'm going to remain on for at least 3 months, my blood is unlikely to throw up another clot. The downside is that if I cut myself during this period, it won't stop bleeding. Thus I've been warned. I'm imagining the results like something out of a Monty Python skit.

So, what life-altering wisdom have I taken from this near-death experience? I wish it was as easy as that. It's pretty muddled. Here's where my thoughts mostly are right now.

1) Your loved ones, friends, and family are really the most important thing. I didn't once think "Man, I wish I'd lost that extra 10 pounds," or something similar. Instead, I thought "Wow, I'm sure glad Batgirl's here." Batgirl (Torah) stayed with me the entire time, sleeping in a chair for two days while I had the bed. Imagining how she, my friends, and my family would feel if something happened to me was really the only time I felt sad or scared. (But maybe that wouldn't have been the case if she hadn't been there to keep me company.)

Sometimes Torah got TWO chairs to sleep on
2) It's hard to appreciate how wonderful it is to stand up and not have to catch your breath, to talk longer than 4 or 5 sentences and not have to catch your breath, not to be afraid of going up the stairs and therefore choosing not to, to be able to walk the dog for a block then not pass out on the floor and sleep for 2 hours to regain equanimity... It's all still fresh for me, so whenever I do one of these "minor" things over the last day and a half, I still marvel. It's wonderful.

3) We often hear about the failures of western medicine. And even experience them sometimes when a friend or family member passes, or when a chronic condition manifests. But holy moly, It almost seems like science fiction that in one short weekend's treatment, I'm feeling better than I have in months. I'm amazed, and I hope all of you get to be just as amazed as me, if something should ever go so wrong for you.

4) Yes, it's a cliche, but after my brush with death, I feel like I need to do more to improve the world than what I'm currently doing. Except what that is hasn't come to me with crystal clarity. I give money to several charities. I support several Patreons on an ongoing basis. But I don't really give up my time to volunteer or work on charitable initiatives. Maybe that should change. Not sure what's a fit for me right now, but it's something I'm going to think about.

5) At the very least, I'd like to figure out how to build bridges between people. I was examined, transported, treated, cared for, cleaned up after, and in some other way helped by a bare minimum of fifty different people during my weekend Embolism Tour. Every one of them was smart, dedicated, and caring. And I bet at least half of them disagreed with me on some particular issue or other. Should I let those single points of disagreement define those people to me?

In case you're wondering, the answer is not "Blurple."

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