11.24.2010

The Other Side

It is hard being on the other side.
Twice in the past few months I've had a family member near death with a medical problem. I've felt helpless, and  worse.

First my wife's father - and my next door neighbor -- was hauled into the hospital by ambulance while we were up huckleberry picking. They worked him up for chest pain, but really it was upper right quad pain with vomiting after eating corned beef hash. I know -- gallbladder right?  Seems the hospital they took him to (not my hospital) never even worked him up. He got an EKG and some morphine and zofran in the ambulance. They did a PO fluid challenge and sent him home.

I had to talk him into going to see his provider, who set him up with an ultrasound for stones. No stones, but he kept getting worse. I didn't want to be intrusive, so I didn't check on him -- and anyway I was busy working. He continued to get worse. Finally he went in for a follow up, got a CT and was recommended to a surgeon at another hospital. His gallbladder had burst, and he'd been walking around for two weeks like that getting septic. The surgery was massive. He was on TPA for two weeks and went home with JP drains. He's doing better now.

A few weeks ago my mom called to tell me my sister was in the hospital. She had a cough that her doctor thought was pertussis. Follow up Xray showed shadows, CT showed fluid building up around her heart and lungs.

I visited her in the hospital while she was getting her tests and fluid drained from her lung. She was across the hall from where my mom recovered from her cancer surgery one year ago. Her husband is an RT, he and I knew too much, based on the tests, based on the language that they used. She was getting worked up for Cancer. Mindy and I talked about it. She had been my mother's caregiver exactly a year ago when mom was fighting lung cancer. She knew the drill but mom's cancer had been caught early and by accident.

"You know it's bad when you doctor calls you personally and says I'm sorry and starts sobbing on the phone," Mindy told me. "All my doctors start with an apology. I always thought I'd get cancer, it seems like everyone does, but not this early. Not when I'm this healthy."

Her cancer is stage 4. If she is lucky and with chemotherapy, she may live to see her 16 year old son graduate from high school.

I feel helpless. I don't know what to say or do. So I talk to her as a patient when she asks a questions and like a brother who loves her when I can't do anything else. I can explain things when it hurts. I try to cry when she's not looking.

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