Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas/Hanakkah Newsletter

December, 2014


Okay, we know that in today's world, using the "C" word is considered worse than using the "F" word, but we are going to use it anyway. So for our Christian friends and relatives, have a Very, Merry Christmas. For our Jewish Friends, Happy Hanukkah. For the Proselytizing Secular Humanists in our circle, a Globally-Warm Winter Solstice. If Al Sharpton gets a copy, a Riotous Kwanza. And Fond Good Wishes to anyone of good will who doesn't fall into one of these categories.
It's certainly been an interesting year. As we assume almost everyone knows, Bob was fortunate enough to receive a unilateral right lung transplant through the VA last December 23rd, so he spent Christmas Day in a coma. We feel very blessed, as it was pretty clear without it he'd have been lucky to reach his 68th birthday in April. But his health has dominated our lives.
To recap, things went very well at first, but in March the new lung developed complications, and he went back on oxygen. Turns out they got it from Honest Harry's Bait and Used Body Parts Emporium. (Seriously, say prayers and blessings for all organ donors and their families.)  Between then and July 7, he was back in the hospital four times, for 35 days, three with pneumonia, the last time with swelling in the bronchial tubes.
On Memorial Day he was at the edge of the abyss, on 100% oxygen and barely holding at the minimum acceptable O2 level of 90%. Professionals were losing hope and Bonnie was eying the insurance money. They told him he could be intubated with a breathing ventilator, but that many people never come off them. He decided, "Let's throw the dice," and by Saturday he was off the breathing tube. The doctor said that of the hundreds of patients he had intubated over the years, Bob tolerated it better than anyone he had seen. We credit the power of prayer, the great physical therapists at the VA who built him up (as much as possible given what they had to work with!) and his Marine Drill Instructors, who taught him self-discipline and to be calm under pressure. The breathing tube meant that Bob couldn't talk, but he was writing jokes on a pad for Bonnie to read to the docs and nurses (he's never been depressed). Not that being sedated improved his handwriting to the readable level.
After the July admission, they figured out that the frequent bronchoscopies (20 by then) were doing more harm than good. Since then he has improved greatly and has been very stable for the last three months. He's still weak and breathes hard with any exertion, but he's been off oxygen since August, getting out, and enjoying life. Doing his blog gives him BiPAP time during the day as well as at night. He spends about 35 hours a week managing his health, counting three mornings at physical therapy, where he may hold the record for longest patient. The drugs have caused cataracts in his eyes, and Bonnie found out he's been learning Braille--at Hooters.
We can't say enough about the superb care team at the VA, from the doctors and the transplant NP, to the PTs, RTs, Nurses and Health Techs (CNAs). There is no caregiver there he wouldn't want to have in the future. Bob has been saying this publically, so, no good deed going unpunished, they asked him to serve on the hospital's Veterans Advisory Board.

Bonnie has been awesome in the role of caregiver, and has developed many new nursing skills, such as changing an IV at home. She volunteers at the VA Wednesdays and continues to work from home for the US Bone and Joint Initiative. And she has a new hobby--water Zumba. Her duties as Grandma to Britnye (14) and Dale (2.5) bring joy. She also does most of the dog-walking for Caramel, Britnye's Wisconsin Woof Hound, who lives with us. He's 14 pounds of love and mischief.

Both the cats, Marmalade and Tom, went through health challenges this year, but are fine now. Alas, they were not covered by Obamacare, so they got to keep their plan--we pay 100%.
Needless to say, all our traveling this year was within three hours of the Madison VA, to see friends in Chicago or tour nearby scenic Wisconsin. With temps down to 7 degrees and snow for Thanksgiving, we are preparing for another hard winter. We'd like to drive south in February for a bit, and travel next summer, but all depends on Bob's health. Of course, we always like seeing friends if you get this way.
So from our home to yours, Nollaig Chridheil, Happy Hogmanay and a safe and prosperous 2015.

~Bob & Bonnie

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