Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Olof On The Mend

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published, February 14, 2018] ©2018
 
As I told my husband Olof as they were moving him from the Cardiac ICU to the Trauma ICU, I wasn’t that desperate for column material.  A week before his recent heart attack-cum-traumatic-brain-injury, I had been wondering aloud at dinner whether after nine years of writing my column I had anything left to say.  Were people just too polite to tell me?  (This is your chance.)
 
And then Olof goes and almost crumps right in front of me. 
 
It would not be surprising that this event has shaken both Olof and me to the core.  But I never worried about Olof having a heart attack. Part of it is that he was too busy having cancer. But the cancer was cured and he was just so insanely healthy. No family history of heart problems whatsoever. This violates all rules of nature, never mind medical advice.
 
Speaking of medical advice, our first week home after he got out of the hospital was with fraught with inadvertently-induced iatrogenic afflictions. Please note that we were absolutely dazzled, amazed, and tearfully grateful for the care that we got at the Prebys Cardiovascular Institute.  I totally recommend that if you are going to have a heart attack, you have it there. 
 
But in all the confusion between having both a heart attack and a head injury, I didn’t know that Olof was being given Lipitor, a statin.  I know that there are people who think that everyone should be taking statins. But they would be idiots.  For people who tolerate them well, statins are apparently terrific.  But there are a sizable number of people – Olof and I among them – who have serious, and potentially permanent, side effects to them. We have many friends who have had bad side effects of various types to statins as well.
 
When Olof took statins a decade ago, he developed increasing severe muscle pain over a period of weeks which, since he never complains (including, alas, about chest pain), I wasn’t aware of it until he was too incapacitated for business travel.  It was our pharmacist who clued us in on the likely cause of it.
 
Olof’s mother, I should mention, has had cholesterol in the 350 range (no, not a typo) her entire adult life.  (She failed with statins as well.)  Did I mention that she is 96 and clear as a bell?
 
I didn’t find out that Olof had been given Lipitor in the hospital until a prescription bottle of it came home with him.  He was already having muscle pain but assumed it was a delayed symptom of his fall.  But when we got home, the muscle pain absolutely crippled him. He was in agonizing pain, unable to get from sitting to standing – or vice versa – or to stand up straight.  Just what somebody who has just had a heart attack, a neck injury, a smashed up face, and an on-going brain bleed needs. It was heartbreaking to watch.  I flushed those suckers down the toilet immediately.  But it took almost two weeks for the pain to fully subside. That stuff doesn’t leave your system overnight. 
 
Our house is small so if you fall down, there’s a reasonable chance you’re going to hit something.  I was just terrified Olof would fall again. His arsenal of new meds – eight! (well, seven after I gave the statins a burial at sea) – was making him very lightheaded.  I just wanted to wrap the house in bubble wrap. Or maybe HIM in bubble wrap. 
 
Our dog Lily was rapturously happy to have Olof home. Even though the neighbors had done a heroic job caring for her, she expressed her distress at Olof’s absence by regularly pooping on the carpet. 
 
I, meanwhile, thought I was managing the stress pretty well until I realized when I came back from errands in downtown La Jolla one morning that I had been wearing my fuzzy bedroom slippers the whole time.
 
It was probably not too surprising that I have developed a constant anxiety about having a stroke or heart attack myself.  Olof was (and still is) in tons better shape physically than I am.  So how exactly do you know you have occluded arteries before you drop almost-dead in front of your horrified spouse?  Even the cardiac rehab people scratched their heads and said that Olof had already been doing everything that they normally recommend post-heart-attack patients do. 
 
So when we went for Olof’s next cardiologist appointment, I booked an appointment for myself. First available for new non-emergency patients wasn’t until March but that will hopefully give us time to get Olof back on track. I realize that obsessive worrying about having a heart attack or stroke is probably not helpful in preventing them.  In the meantime, every time I have the slightest heartburn – Olof’s only symptom – I’m wondering, “Is this it?” 

 
 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Not The Best Of Times

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 7, 2018] ©2018
 
Last week I wrote about my husband Olof’s surprising heart attack after he’d just spent a year getting down to his ideal weight, eschewing alcohol and bad carbs, and walking two hours a day.  So much self-sacrifice and you still have a heart attack? Profoundly unfair.
 
I could only wonder afterwards: should I just stick with chocolate and chardonnay, my food groups of choice? I would not want to risk a cardiac event.
 
But the heart attack was “mouse nuts” (a favorite Olof expression presumably referring to the genitalia of tiny rodentia) compared to the brain bleed and neck and facial injuries he suffered doing a face plant into a piece of furniture on his way to our bedroom floor. 
 
I’ve written several times before about our quirky address so when I called 911 I had a sudden terrible fear that the paramedics wouldn’t find us. Some years back, I called 911 to report an accident in front of our home only to have them call me back 15 minutes later to say there was no such address.  Not too long ago, I had this actual conversation with the police department non-emergency operator which I have purloined from my August 17, 2016 column:
 
Inga: I want to make sure that my address is listed in the city’s emergency database.
 
Police Operator: Why wouldn’t it be?
 
Inga: Well, even though the house has been here for almost 70 years, the trash people don’t have it listed in theirs.
 
Operator (annoyed): We’re not associated with the trash people.
 
Inga: I just don’t want to have an emergency and find out that our address is not in your database.  Could you confirm that you have this address?
 
Operator: You’d have to call 911 to be sure.
 
Inga:  I really don’t want to call 911 if I don’t have an actual emergency. Could you check to see if the police department has this address in its database?
 
Operator: Um, yup, we have it.
 
Inga: So that means that 911 will have it too, right?
 
Operator: Not necessarily. 
 
So while I was on my land line with 911 to report Olof’s heart attack, I quickly used my cell phone to alert neighbors that I needed help. I ran to the front door as they rushed up: “Flag down the paramedics! Don’t let them go by!” Even the GPS on Lyft and Uber wants to send drivers 150 feet south of us.
 
Speaking of neighbors, I mentioned last week that I will never be able to make it up to them for all the help they gave us in the form of taking over care of our dog Lily, delivering food, and providing immeasurable moral support.  One of my neighbors even came over and dug up the colony of mushrooms that had sprouted on my front lawn so my totally non-discriminating dog wouldn’t eat them.  Neighbors do NOT get better than that.
 
We also had help on a more ethereal plane as well.  Our 8-year-old granddaughter, who attends Catholic school although like 25% of her classmates is not Catholic, announced she was praying for Olof at every opportunity during the day.  Apparently she got extra credit when he didn’t die. 
 
But she wasn’t alone in providing divine assistance. A year ago Christmas, I adopted an elephant named Shirley for my granddaughter from a group that rescues circus and zoo elephants. Granddaughter has been besotted with Shirley, follows her progress on-line, and informed me a few months ago that Shirley has having serious foot problems of the type that plague elephants who have been kept on concrete rather than dirt surfaces.  I have made regular contributions to Shirley’s Foot Fund. Good karma really does come back to you: my granddaughter assured me that Shirley was praying for Olof too. That elephant clearly has connections.
 
While in the Trauma ICU, a physical therapist came to assess Olof and after asking about his usual activities informed him that because of his neck injuries, he would not be able to do dishes until further notice. Geesh, Olof, I said.  What some people will do to get out of household chores. 
 
Olof only became dismayed when an occupational therapist showed up too.  He was afraid she was going to give him a new occupation.  He’s very happily retired.
 
Then the cardiac rehab folks came around. Somewhat of a dilemma in Olof’s case: he had already done everything – and more – that they normally recommend. 
 
But ultimately they decided that his brain bleed wasn’t getting worse and his heart situation seemed stable and I could monitor Olof at home. The trauma surgeon gave me a list of all the symptoms I should call 911 about and to NOT try to bring him to the ER myself.  Was I totally, absolutely clear on that?  Oh, you bet I was.  And now at least I know that emergency services can find my house.
 
Olof takes a jaunt around the trauma ICU with a nurse
 
Shirley