Monday, February 27, 2023

Dad's Perceived "Blip on the Radar" Turns into a Major Medical Issue

The past 2 months have been wild and scary.  We were happy and carefree, ready to leave for Quartzsite, AZ right after Christmas.   Then Dad suffered chest pains, resulting in an ER visit that, thankfully, ruled out another heart attack.


We breathed a sigh of relief and were hopeful that a heart catheterization scheduled for December 29 would reveal that a new stent or rotor-rooter of an existing one would fix Dad’s problem.  Dad was confident that the incident would be just a “blip on the radar”.  He would be fixed in a jiff, and we would be in AZ just a few days later than planned.


Dad’s “blip” turned into the need for QUADRUPLE coronary artery bypass surgery!  Then midway through the bypass procedure, Mom was summoned for a consult:  Dad also had a leaky mitral valve for which she had to provide authorization for surgical repair!  But we ain't done there!   After the bypass surgery, Dad developed tachy-brady syndrome, a fluctuation between atrial fibrillation and bradycardia, too low a heart rate.  This resulted in the need for a pacemaker a week later.


Prepped for bypass.

Post procedure, Dad looks a bit chunkier from all the fluids.

After the pacemaker insertion.

Coming home, with more hair stubble than Dad has seen in many years!

It boggles this stuffed rat’s cotton brain how things turned so bad so quickly.  After Dad’s heart attack 5 years ago, he made major life changes:  adhering to a plant-based diet, giving up all the foods he loved (Dad shared my passion for cheese!); losing 40 pounds; exercising regularly and even doing yoga on a daily basis.  He doesn’t drink, smoke, or take pharmaceuticals—legal or illegal.  He aced his last nuclear stress test in November 2021. And his blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, and other lab measurements were all good after his bloodwork in October 2022.  Yet his worst fear came to fruition in early January 2023—being cracked open like a coconut and required to take prescription drugs.  It was a tough pill for us all to swallow (pun intended), and it certainly portrays the evils of heredity.  Sometimes nothing you can do will make you healthier.  With Dad’s DNA, we are always grateful Dad didn’t follow his own father’s destiny:  dying in his 40s from a heart attack.


I don’t know which was tougher to bear:  Dad with his chest cracked to physically repair his heart function or Mom emotionally brokenhearted, dealing with the possibility of losing her partner in life.  They both seemed to have aged considerably from the ordeal.

Thankfully, the Texas hospital where surgery was performed operated like the good old pre-COVID days.  Masks were not required. Mom was able to stay at the hospital for the full 2 weeks of Dad’s admittance, sleeping and showering at the ICU visitor waiting area or staying right with Dad when he was within a regular room.  She left the grounds only twice.  Once was to visit the local Walmart to purchase clothing and toiletries for both her and Dad.  (This hospital provides NOTHING to patients, not even a tissue.  Waiting rooms have no complimentary coffee for visitors.  Vending machines, if operational at all, require payment by apps or credit card.  The cafeteria has very limited hours of operation.  One might think these changes were implemented for COVID.  However, the staff informed Mom they were all enacted for budgetary purposes long before COVID reared its ugly head.)  The second time she left the hospital was to pick up the car rental she booked to transport Dad home, since there was no way Dad was getting into Big Boomer, our medium duty truck.  

Meanwhile, my pocket pal Nezumi and yours truly, the Rambling RV Rat, remained home.  We were highly concerned about our human Dad, so we were well behaved stuffed rodents, especially since Aunt Laurie (whom I refer to as Wicked Witch of the East or W.W.T.E. for short) checked up on us each evening.


But God has been good.   Although we are members of SkyMed to deal with on-road medical situations, Dad's issues transpired while we were still at home base.  So, we were fortunate to have his usual healthcare providers involved in his treatment.   Dad’s surgical procedures all went well.  Despite his requirement to be in a sling for his pacemaker for the first 4 weeks post-op, Dad has had a speedy and full recovery.  Effective February 24, he has resumed driving and was given the green light to return to “normal” activities (though I’m sure the docs wouldn’t share Dad’s personal definition of “normal”).  Most importantly, God has blessed us with the gift of friendship and caring people in our lives.  Collectively, we felt like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The outpouring of support and prayers has been so heartwarming, particularly from those in the RV Community, who understand the added hardships of dealing with medical issues within a traveling lifestyle. Trixie, a former full-time RVer who is back in a sticks/bricks nearby because of her own husband’s major medical problems, arrived at the hospital to sit with Mom during the bypass surgery.  Friends Janice/Rick and Nancy/Jerry (all of whom we met while working at Amazon 7 years ago) and Mom’s BFF Aunt Maureen/Uncle Ted, checked in EVERY SINGLE DAY, offering Mom emotional support. So many who previously went through this surgical ordeal reached out to give Dad encouragement.   I can’t name you all individually, but please know my family is eternally grateful to each and every person who phoned, e-mailed, texted, messaged, and most importantly, prayed for a positive outcome.


We canceled all our travel plans and our summer volunteer gig in Oregon because Dad’s litany of follow-up medical appointments, from PCP to thoracic surgeon, from cardiologist to cardio electrophysicist (say that 3 times fast!) are booked right through August.  Thankfully, our ERPU leased lot here in Escapees Rainbow Park provides us a place to park with no worries about reservations or needing to change spots. To learn more about Escapees ERPU long-term leased lots, here’s my blogpost about it:

This is the longest stretch of time we have stayed in Livingston.  Furthermore, we typically are here only during the last quarter of the year.  So, we ain’t looking forward to a Southeast Texas summer!  Mom’s already dripping from the humidity despite the cooler weather we experienced in January and February.  We also had several torrential rainstorms which created wetlands and flooded fields along Highway 146.  There was enough standing water that the occasional heron, egret, or ibis would fly in for a stopover, which was very cool to see.  


One of the advantages of being at home base is catching up with friends. So we have enjoyed socializing numerous times with Park residents Lisa/Jim and friends Rosemary/Jeff who are here in Livingston for a month or so before continuing on their journey.  We were happy to see Bob/Ruth from Hondo while they were on the Park grounds for a short time one day giving their lovable pooch Nicky some play time.  James/Cindy, whom we met last year in Quartzsite through mutual friends Guy/Sue, were passing through the area.  They recognized our truck!  That led to several long chats during their stay and an evening of dinner and fellowship.  We hope to see them again soon down the road.  We also have enjoyed the company of new RV friends Dave/Debbie, who share our passion for dance and have joined us at the VFW many times. 

One of several dinners my parents spent with Jim/Lisa as a foursome...

The foursome expanded to include Escapees Larry/Robyn.

One of several evenings of fellowship with Rosemary/Jeff.   Our server at Pueblo Vieja was terrific and provided great laughs.

So good to see Ruth/Bob and Nicky.  We usually catch up with them in Hondo on our way to Quartzsite.

Fun times with James/Cindy.

James is a big fan of mine, so I bestowed him with this photo op!

New friends Dave/Deb, who share my family's love of dance.  They have helped my parents with their two-step!

Mom keeps us all motivated to stay active and engaged, insisting we must make the most of our time here.  Therefore, we participate in the limited number of activities the Park offers like the Sunday ice cream socials. Mom assisted Park residents with reorganizing the Clubhouse library, and she has returned to daily line dancing lessons offered at the Park.  Dad started walking with us daily--he is now joining Mom and me for our full 5-mile jaunt!


Furthermore, we have become auxiliary members of our local VFW, which has lots of fun events like dance lessons as well as live bands every Saturday.  The VFW has provided us a venue to dance and to expand our friends and acquaintances beyond the RVing community.


Through folks from the VFW we learned that some Livingston residents are trying to organize pickleball games using the tennis courts at a local park.  Mom created a petition to the Mayor requesting at least 1 tennis court be lined permanently for pickleball.  (Right now, we have to chalk out the court once/week.)  Despite the less-than-stellar current court conditions, my parents are enjoying meeting new people and re-honing their limited pickleball skillset.


Into each life, some rain must fall.  We, by the greatness of God, have withstood this storm.   But we know that EVERY day is a gift.  We have no guarantee of tomorrow, or next week, or next year.  Being back on the road soon is our hope, but for right now, we are content just to enjoy “being”.




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