Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ICU experience

A while back I noticed Jo Anne studying my life insurance policy.  She informed me that if I were to suffer an accidental death she would receive double the face value of the policy.  Then, and this kind of disturbed me a bit, she asked me what could constitute an accidental death for someone in my condition?  Without thinking, I blurted out a number of scenarios that would surely do me in and would be viewed by the authorities as "accidental death."

I didn't think much about it after that until a week ago last Sunday evening.  Jo Anne was performing a medical procedure on me and inadvertently bumped the humidifier which is full of water and delivers me the moisture I need through a 6 foot long ventilator hose.  One end of the hose is attached to the humidifier and the other to my throat.  When the humidifier tipped, the water in the humidifier immediately drained through the ventilator hose into my lungs before Jo Anne could do anything about it.  Instantly I was unable to breathe, turned purple, and was literally drowning.  Jo Anne was doing everything in her power to keep me alive, which was very comforting given our life insurance policy discussion, and was able to dial 911. Within 10 minutes three police cars, a fire engine, and a paramedic vehicle arrived at the scene. They have been here before.  These good folks took over from Jo Anne, got some oxygen into me, and we made a mad dash to the ER in Irvine.  Once in the ER, I was stabilized; but, thinking that I might get bacterial pneumonia, they deemed it wise to keep me in ICU for a few days for observation and to pump me full of antibiotics.

Wednesday afternoon I was released to go home.  Jo Anne and my son Richard got the van all loaded up with me in it and we headed for home with Rich going back to work.  We had gone but a short distance when Jo Anne realized we had left behind a beautiful vase of flowers Mike and Richard had given us for our 44th wedding anniversary, which we had celebrated the previous day while in the ICU.  She turned the van around and was fortunately able to find a parking spot directly in front of the large main doors of the hospital.  She stopped the van; I had her turn on my favorite Robert Goulet CD, and then she made a dash for the hospital to recover the flowers.

Just as she left, I felt I was getting dizzy or lightheaded because it seemed to me like the van was moving backwards.  I blinked my eyes in an attempt to clear my head, and then realized that the van was actually freewheeling backwards down the driveway toward a two-lane road that bordered the hospital.  I really didn't panic but the thought occurred to me that this may be the incident that will enable Jo Anne to collect on that accidental death life insurance policy.  Well, the van was picking up speed, and I guess you would have to be paralyzed from the neck down, unable to turn your head to see where you're going, and unable to do anything even if you could see, to fully appreciate my predicament.  Finally, and miraculously, the van and I crossed the two lane road, jumped the curb, ran through a flower bed, and finally was gently stopped when the back bumper came into contact with a small tree. Several nurses and two security guards came running up to see what had happened.  They quickly ascertained that I had nothing to do with the escapade and were puzzled as to what had happened.  I was as puzzled as they were, and all we could figure is that Jo Anne had put the van in neutral instead of park as she made her run for the flowers.  I pled with them to go easy on Jo Anne, no handcuffs, and that it was just simply an "accident."

As Jo Anne walked out of the hospital she couldn't see the van and thought that maybe some foolish person had "quadnapped" me.  Then she saw the security guards surrounding the van which was parked some distance away.  She ran up extremely concerned, as you can imagine, and the security guards assured her that all was well.  They did point out to her the difference between Neutral and Park, for which I was grateful.

All the way home she pled her case -- "Jack, please believe me, it truly was just an accident!"  Well, she was pretty convincing but her excuses sounded to me a bit like the excuse Aaron gave to Moses when he was confronted by his brother regarding why he made the golden calf.  I can just see Moses rolling his eyes when Aaron said; "And I said unto them [the children of Israel], Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf."  [Exodus 32: 24]

Don't you think Jo Anne is a good sport to let me write about her the way I do?  On a more serious note (and very tender one to me) is that she brought her trusty air mattress into the ICU room and spent all three nights there with me.  Based on many experiences in ICU, we know those wonderful nurses simply do not know how to take care of somebody with all of my issues.  They just don't see that many patients like me, for which I am sure they are grateful.  I was on a hospital ventilator and every time I would doze off, an alarm would go off that sounded like a calliope at an amusement park.  One night, at least 20 times, Jo Anne would be getting up, leaning over the bed, checking the trachea system, and making sure I was breathing.  On one occasion, as she looked at me my eyes were wide open and she thought, rolled back into my head.  She knew I had died.  She screamed, slapped my face, and started shaking me.  I was wide awake before the slap but now I was very alert!  The ICU people went ballistic thinking they had a casualty on their hands.  I wonder why they were so eager to help us pack and leave the next day? Multiply what Jo Anne did for me in the ICU those three nights by 19 years of days and nights and you get a little glimpse of what charity is all about.

It was another bump in the road, a broken bow, and life goes on.  Speaking of life going on, did you feel what I just felt? It's either the end of the world or an earthquake!  Jo Anne just ran in and said it was an earthquake! (5.5 Chino Hills quake)  Could she have caused it?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

If it isn't one thing, its your mother!

Last week we spent a wonderful 10 days in St. George, Utah.  We love our family and friends who live in that beautiful area, but as the daily temperature hovered between 105° and 110°, we could understand why J. Golden Kimball at an August stake conference held in the old St. George tabernacle many years ago, said to the saints, "If I owned a home in St. George and one in Hell I would sell the one in St. George and move!"

On this trip, and of course at other times in our lives, we came to experience first-hand the truthfulness of some time-tested adages ("an adage is a saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation" -- Merriam-Webster dictionary) like: "If it isn't one thing, it's your mother!"  And, "It is always darkest just before it gets totally black!"  We also saw and experienced for the umpteenth time in our lives Murphy's Law in action: "Murphy's law is an adage in Western culture that broadly states that if anything can go wrong, it will... It is most often cited as "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" (or, alternately, "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way."  [Wikipedia]

I had been nursing a pressure sore on an unmentionable part of my anatomy for some time.  All I can say about it is that it has been a real "bummer."  In St. George, I was sitting in my wheelchair too many hours at a time, and that, coupled with the hot, dry, St. George air began to get the best of me.  The sore begin to get worse and the last couple of days of our trip I spent most of the time in bed.

I was scheduled to speak at a fireside on Sunday evening, June 22, at the Sunriver Chapel.  My good friend, John Nelson, had spent the better part of a month advertising the event and was expecting a large audience.  I spent all that Sunday in bed and planned on getting up at about 5 p.m. to be able to speak at 7 p.m. Jo Anne and Doug Holladay, a longtime friend in whose home we were staying, got me already to be hoisted out of bed and placed in the chair and that is the exact moment when Murphy's Law manifested itself. The tilt and recline mechanism in the chair went totally dead.  The back of the chair was at such an angle that I couldn't sit in it.  Jo Anne and Doug and my brother-in-law, Rod Stuart did everything imaginable to solve the problem but there was no way.  We tried to call a number of medical supply stores in St. George to see if we could find a wheelchair repair man but on a Sunday evening it was impossible. Jo Anne finally stood up, wiped the sweat from her brow, and said, "I'm going to go speak at that fireside!"  She went!  I stayed in bed!  She did a great job as I knew she would, and I was very proud of her and her courage to not panic or give up as we were walloped with the bitter reality of Murphy's Law. 

Monday morning our wheelchair people in Southern California were able to instruct a St. George repairman by phone how to Jerry-rig the tilt and recline on my chair so we could get me in it, into the van, and seven hours later limp into Orange County.  I have been in bed ever since but I'm happy to report that the sore is much improved and I should be back to "normal" in the near future.

We all experience Murphy's Law in our lives.  The unexpected always seems to happen at the most undesirable and inopportune time.  I believe our challenge is to learn how to deal with these bumps in the road of life and not let them get the best of us, because they are inevitable.

Some of you have heard me talk about these kinds of events as the "broken bows" of life.  I, of course, am referring to Lehi's family and their experience with Nephi's broken bow as they waded through the wilderness. 

When Nephi broke his bow, the family felt this was just too much and so unfair.  Even Lehi, a great prophet of God, could see no way out of this horrible predicament.  Nephi recorded: "And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord."  [1 Nephi 16:20]

Whenever I am subjected to Murphy's Law, I think of this incident from the Book of Mormon.  I believe the "natural man" in us reacts far too often the way even great Lehi did when confronted with our "broken bows."  We are tempted to become "exceedingly sorrowful", and at times, when we feel life has pushed us too far, we may even "murmur against the Lord."

I am able to live each day only because of electrical and mechanical devices. Over the years anything that can go wrong with these things has gone wrong.  I have had more near death experiences than I can even count.  In the beginning, when my equipment would fail, I would start to hyperventilate, have a panic attack, and I hate to admit it, become "exceedingly sorrowful."  With the passage of time however, and as my faith has increased, I have tried to adopt Nephi's attitude and simply go make another bow, get on with the hunt, and realize this is not the end of the world.  I have discovered that really everything in life that seems so challenging at the moment is simply a "broken bow."  I suppose that even a terminal disease is only a "broken Bow" because, knowing the end is near, we can plan for our entrance into the spirit world and hopefully be better prepared than we would be otherwise. 

I really am unable to put into words what Nephi's example has meant to me in my paralyzed state.  He truly is one of my heroes because of his attitude of gratitude and faith. 

After a particularly difficult experience with his brothers who had just tried to kill him, he said: "Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions."  [1 Nephi 18:16]

Can we be like Nephi?  I don't know, but I think we must try.  And yes, it is true, "If it isn't one thing it's your mother!"