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Friday, April 29, 2016

Update #3: I Want Patience And I Want It Now

I never realized I was a type "A" personality until I got sick and laid low.  I typically enjoy doing things and getting projects done.  Being knocked off my pins by the operation has found me chaffing at the bit a little too often.

The doctor who did my operation told me it would be a slow healing process, I just never realized how slow a slow healing process could be.  I do see a little progress each day, with the emphasis on "little".  I know in several weeks I'll be able to much more that I can now, so I'm trying to keep focusing on that.

It's been a struggle trying to wrap my head around being semi disabled at the moment.  Marti has been nothing short of wonderful taking care of me and handling almost everything.  Along with having to deal with Krakatoa the ostomy bag which I have almost mastered, I have some small wounds from the incision on my stomach that have to be cleaned, packed and bandaged twice a day.  Doc Marti swings into action and handles that for me, as well as keeping track of my temp and medicine intake. 

Yesterday, I talked Marti into going into town and just walk around a couple of stores for some exercise and a change of scenery.  I felt pretty good so she agreed and off we went.  A couple of hours later I was completely wiped out, it was all I could do to get out of the car and lay down on my couch in the Journey.  I didn't realize I didn't have a much energy as I thought I did. 

One thing I find is a battle with emotions.   I find that my moods can take some pretty serious swings back and forth, from feeling on top of the world to bouncing in the bottom of the pits.  Thankfully my family and friends have been keeping tabs on me and giving me a lot of support.  Here at the COE Volunteer Village most days we have a 5 o'clock happy hour where our fellow workampers drop by our site and hash out the day, with lots of fun and laughter.  It's great medicine for me and always  gives me a lift. 

I'm focusing on getting through the next couple of weeks when I'll be able to do some light work for the COE, filing, answering phones, even some patrols in a vehicle around the parks.  It's hard for me to accept sitting still and not making a contribution, I feel sometimes like I'm freeloading.  The rangers have been great though and insist that it's okay and the important thing is to get better. 

A month from now things will be different, we'll be on the road for a couple of weeks (with the doctor's blessing) before we return to Thurmond COE.  I'm keeping my eye on that goal, it will be worth the wait.

Thanks again for all the comments and emails of support, it means so much to me and is very encouraging.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Update #2 - by Marti

Hi, guys - It has been a while since I posted, but thought it might be time for my input on this crazy, unexpected turn of events.

You know the basic details - Paul suddenly 'crashed' after having a nice dinner with friends.  Within 30 minutes, he went from "my belly hurts" to vomiting non-stop for 20 minutes, to being on the floor writhing in pain and shaking violently.  Initially, as the belly pain increased, I planned on driving him to the ER.  As events deteriorated, I knew I couldn't get him to the car by myself, or even with friends nearby and made the 911 call.  Whoever thought up that system, may God richly bless them!  Within 15-20 mins, he was loaded in the ambulance and on his way to the hospital (of my choice! - a blessing). 

After several tests, an EKG (which they had difficulty doing, as he was still violently shaking due to pain), an xray and finally a CT scan - the ER doc came in and said the surgeon was already called and on the way in, as he had ruptured a diverticuli (which we never knew he had, despite a colonoscopy 4 years ago) and there was air in the abdomen and a hole in his colon.  Surgery was the only life saving option.  Paul was finally given a pain med, his shaking stopped and some relief was given - good thing he has a good singing voice, because the meds cheered him up, and he randomly broke out in song with catch phrases he heard.  It would have been comical except the magnitude of what was going on....  in retrospect, we have chuckled a time or two about it, though.   We were blessed to have had one of the top surgeons in the area on call that night - a fact the ER nurse told me, confirmed multiple times later, even that both  surgeons in that practice were tops.  Of course, me being slightly (cough cough) cynical, I grilled the surgeon before he was wheeled away... it didn't help that the surgeon was a beautiful blond lady, and accompanied by an attractive oriental med student.  Later on, I joked with them telling them I thought that it was some type of Grey's Anatomy episode I had stepped in...  she later told me, she knew she hadn't gained my confidence, because of my questions (what is your infection rate?  what will you be doing in the surgery? etc)  After the surgery, she met with me, and explained that we have a LONG road ahead, full of ups and downs, and lots of frustrations.  Boy, did she know what she was talking about!!

10 days in the hospital, which had the typical sleepless nights, LOTS of pain, negative medication side effects (read behavior issues so atypical of Paul) and tubes coming out of every orifice!  Thankful to be finally home, it has been a journey to find a routine. Learning how to care for an incision that has a (thankfully, small) infection -something the surgeon told me to expect from the get-go, due to the bacteria that was dumped into his abdomen during the rupture- that requires wicking (basically, packing it and letting the drainage get pulled out, sorry for the weak stomached readers). Also learning how to care for, use, and manage a colostomy.That could be a blog post on it's own. But I will spare you the gory details....  LOL

So, here we are.  One week post hospital discharge.  The surgeon told us on discharge, that it will be a full 6 months before Paul feels and is fully back to normal.  In that 6 month period, the first 3-4 weeks he will be weak and require a lot of sleep/rest.  After that, he can do light/small things...  right now, he can do very little- which is a huge frustration for him.  The primary doc told him that it even harder for men, who are used to being in charge and the strong one.....  The magnitude of what happened, how close it came to being the end for him (although he later told me he had perfect peace, if it was the end, as he knows he is going to a better place- so thankful he told me that AFTER) and now looking to what is ahead.  That includes another major surgery to reverse the colonoscopy, sometime around months 3-4 - something he already dreads, as well as the total life change. 

All that being said, we both feel blessed by God.  He received treatment timely. We had a top surgeon on call, that saved his life (that has been a tear jerker for me, as we hugged her goodbye)  our family and friends have been a huge support.  Our daughter drove 1.5 hrs every day to see her dad, both our sons wanted to come, but we told them it wasn't necessary so they checked in daily, sometimes multiple times a day.   My sister (a nurse practitioner) came and stayed with me at the hospital, and was medical interpreter and stabilizer for both of us.  Our friends visited at the hospital, and the Rangers contacted us via text and told us to not worry about anything except getting Paul better. 

We take it a day at a time.  Life is like that, isn't it?  You never know what is around the corner.  That leaves me with my parting thought.  Most of you know we are building a small house, that will be a home base for us, as we will continue to travel.  This event has underscored something we learned from Howard and Linda Payne - ALWAYS have an exit plan.  I cannot fathom having to navigate through this, or worse, during a traumatic event.  As it was, while Paul was in the hospital, I dumped the tanks, reset a breaker and fixed a minor problem with the ice maker.  Never mind having to continue working with realtor on the house-build.  Life felt (still does in a way) surreal.  But not having any plan in place would have only added to the trauma, and stress of the situation.  I knew that if we had to change our lifestyle, we were all set.  There would be no need to scramble to make plans.  We are prepared in any way we can:  spiritually, physically and financially. 

Thanks to all our readers and followers for your support, it means so much!!  We are thankful to God for sparing him, and helping us through all this, thankful for family and friends that encouraged us (and continue to do so). But ....folks, are YOU ready for what life throws you? 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Update #1

Home.  It seemed so distantly away while I was in the Hotel California (hospital).  All those tubes and wires that encompassed my body that seemed like they'd never let go were finally removed and I was wheeled out to our car.

I had no problem climbing the steps into the Journey and settle into my favorite spot on the couch.  Since I was on some serious painkillers, I found movement pretty easy.  That became a two edged sword, since I have an eighteen inch incision down my middle stomach, those muscles are the ones used to move your body around.  On painkillers, it was a little too easy to overdue things so I've learned to be very careful and plan my moves.  Using my legs and arms I can do a lot, but things like siting up in bed require a helping hand from Marti. 

Using the colostomy has been a real learning experience.  One you don't want to make a mistake with if at all possible, and yep, we've already made a few.  As I'm getting used to it, each "event" handling the bag is getting a little bit easier and a little (little) bit less annoying.

I've had a considerable struggle with some emotional issues, a bit of up and down moments and anxiety.  When I was in the hospital, just out of the ICU I was all tucked in for the night.  Marti had gone home for the day and I was ready for sleep.  All of a sudden I became very hot and had an anxiety attack that ended up with me being seen to by three nurses and a doctor to calm me down and get back to bed.  Without going into details, it was the scariest time I've ever experienced in my life, I was absolutely terrified and totally out of my head with panic. 

I was given some heavy medication that ended the episode and put me back in bed, none of which I remember doing.  Since then, I've had some anxiety about it happening again, foolish I know, but just preys on my mind a bit.  The surgeon told me that these feelings are often a side effect of anesthesia and I certainly believe she was right on target.

I can eat normally, we take short walks around the campground to keep moving.  I have much to be thankful for, each day I feel a little bit stronger and less pain.  I keep looking forward to returning to a normal lifestyle in a few months where I'll be able to do most everything even with my little bag friend, which I've named "Krakatoa".  If you don't get it, Google is your friend.   :c)

Sometime this late summer, I'll be entering the hospital for surgery to remove Krakatoa and reattach all my plumbing  to get me back to normal.  That prize is keeping me going, I've much to do this summer, a trip to our son's commissioning ceremony June 1, some time with our Missouri granddaughters, a trip to the Winnebago factory service center for work on the Journey and a 10 day motorcycle trip in July with my two brothers.  The doctor has given me the green light to do all this with the surgery at the end of the summer.

I have much to be thankful for with Marti, my kids and my friends at the top of the list.  My blog friends have also been great with comments and emails that have been so encouraging.  I thank you all for your kind words, thoughts and prayers.  I know it's helped me so much!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Looking Into The Abyss

We've been working hard at J. Strom Thurmond Project Corps of Engineers getting everything ready for the upcoming summer.  Even though we're required to put in a certain amount of hours each week in exchange for a fantastic FHU site right on the lake, we've happily put in extra time to move everything forward.

That came to a screeching halt last Tuesday night.

Back during my Coast Guard career, I was lucky enough to attend and graduate from the Coast Guard's prestigious National  Search and Rescue School.  One thing that was pounding into my head was it's human nature not to recognize the trouble you can be in, or if you realize something is wrong, you go into denial about it and often it can turn into a life threating disaster.

It started off simply enough, we went out to dinner (pizza) with some fellow workampers.  When we arrived home, I started having some abdominal pain and felt nauseous.  In what seemed an instant, I started full blown vomiting and extreme pain in the abdomen which left me not doubled but tripled up on the Journey's floor in agony.

Marti was really worried and said I needed to go to the emergency room, but through clenched teeth and tears, I said I didn't need any help and it would pass.  When it didn't pass after a few minutes and got even worse, Marti called 911 for a ambulance.

Shortly the ambulance arrived with EMT's and several local firemen.  They evaluated me and loaded me in the ambulance and headed for the hospital.  On the way there, I passed out.  I may have refused to recognize the life threatening situation I was in, but thankfully Marti did.

In the ER, I was given some pain meds and sent for a CT scan.  The scan revealed I had (until now) asymptomatic diverticulitis causing the bowel to finally rupture and make my abdomen septic.  The result was I was rushed into a several hour surgery which resulted in a large section of intestine removed, the cavity flushed and an colostomy fitted.

If Marti hadn't called 911 when she did, I'd have plunged into the abyss and not be here now.

I've been in the hospital for a week now, with the potential of staying another 5-7 days.  It's been extremely painful and has laid me lower than I've ever been before.  Thankfully, I have Marti and her sister Gail, (a nurse) and our daughter Heather helping me in the hospital.

The long term prognosis is good, a couple of month for my system to rest and then surgery to the removal of the colostomy and reattachment of the intestine.  I've been informed that the healing process is going to be a long, slow process.  I'll eventually be able to do some normal light things, but for now and the foreseeable future, I'm pretty much disabled.

The outpouring of concerns and visits from friends and fellow workampers and good wishes had prayers from people around the country have been very helpful to me, especially in dark times when I despair over the whole situation.

I won't be writing too much in the blog for a while, I'll be resting and healing.  But be assured I'll be back and reading up on ya'lls adventures while looking forward to ours.