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Health Update

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been dealing with what I’ve been calling “kidney stones.” The truth of the matter is a bit more complicated than that. The story starts over eight years ago, just after having my heart attack. The day I returned home from the hospital, I started feeling an intense pain that landed me back in the emergency room of our local hospital. That turned out to be an impassable kidney stone. Due to my health and the volume of blood thinners I was on, they couldn’t take the standard shockwave approach to dealing with it. When they tried alternatives, the amount of blood was enough to cut the procedure short and they ended up placing a stent so that I would no longer require the pain medications (which they were growing concerned about causing other problems) or a hospital stay. The plan was to come back and deal with it when I was well enough to do so.

Having received two stents in my heart the week before, I made an incorrect assumption that there wasn’t an expiration date on the stent they placed. (Very stupid.) I was no longer in pain and my heart issues took priority. The doctor who had installed the stent was out of network. I kept meaning to find a new urologist, but stupidly didn’t and I’m paying for that now. The stone rarely came up as more than medical history in the years between. I’ve remained on the blood thinners since and wasn’t comfortable with the thought of going off them for another procedure. (I’ve been off them for two weeks now and it’s causing me considerable stress, but not having this dealt with was… stupid. See a trend here?)

This type of stent, however, is meant to be temporary. Eventually, it failed, breaking into many unpassable pieces. My body responded as it should, by attacking it, leading each piece to become calcified with new stones. The stone it had been holding at bay was also eventually released. When I went to the hospital at the start of the month, I thought it was just that one stone, but it was more like an asteroid field of debris scattered between my kidney and bladder. The scan they showed me was lit up like a Christmas tree.

I had to spend several days in the hospital for pain management while they waited for the blood thinners to leave my body. I’m resistant to most pain medication, so it took a bit of time to find something that worked effectively and then they had to balance it with anti-nausea treatments to keep me from being sick. After a few days, they attempted the first procedure–to clear the bladder and remove the larger pieces of stent, including one that was now wedged between the two–and that was largely successful. I went home the next day to recover.

The second procedure, a week later, was anticipated to be significantly more challenging. The goal was to clear my kidney of what remained, but unfortunately they only managed to get about 70% of the material before having to stop and place a new stent to hold what remained at bay. I left the hospital later that day groggy and not really understanding much of what transpired. I’m still finding out little details.

Both procedures involved heading in (not saying how, but I was mercifully unconscious) with lasers to break up materials and vacuum it out. That makes two years in a row where I’ve had people shooting lasers inside my body in January. It’s a habit I hope to break.

Apparently we’ve reached the point where shockwave therapy is back on the table as an option. This causes a fair amount of internal bleeding, so it’s likely I’ll be pulled from the blood thinners again. A normal person with just a plain old stone would have started here and been done, so it feels like the worst might be over. I do still have the new stent–which comes with its own special, but predictable, type of pain–but that can be removed after the shockwave has broken up what remains. At this point, I’m told that I need to heal. The next session hasn’t been scheduled yet and could be weeks away.

If that wasn’t enough, I was informed this morning that they also noticed a cyst in my kidney. Apparently these are quite common, so I’ve been told not to worry about it. Easier said than done, but it’s good to know they are on top of things and will be monitoring the situation.

This latest medical saga isn’t done, but at least there’s no more hospital stays with their infernal IV lines and needles in my immediate future. (I neglected to mention that my IV line was accidentally ripped out when they were moving me back to my hospital bed after the first procedure. By some miracle, my arm ended in exactly the perfect position for the needle to pull out without ripping me to shreds. I’d like to thank the universe for that one small mercy it showed me. When it happened there were audible gasps in the room and I couldn’t bring myself to look until a stunned nurse said there was no blood.)

Quick Health Update

If you’ve been trying to get in touch with me, you should probably know that I’ve been in the hospital much of the last week. In short, kidney stones, but the full story is much more complicated and ugly explanation that spans eight years of medical issues. The good news is that I’m in considerably less pain. I do, however, have another procedure scheduled for next week and the possibility of needing a third not long after that.

I’ll still be working, but expect my schedule to be erratic for a bit. In-progress updates about medical stuff will be on Twitter if you want to follow there.

Life in the time of Covid-19 as someone of high risk

 

Almost everyone is effected by the Covid-19 pandemic in some way. Here in NJ, we’ve been in lockdown for over two weeks. In that time, NJ has become the second-most infected state in the country. Both my wife and my youngest son (a high school student) have been working from home. My oldest son works at a bank, which has thankfully transitioned to drive-thru only service. We have seen our parents, siblings, nieces, or nephews since all this started. I have extended family here and abroad that have been exposed to C19 and I worry about them.

Given my medical history, I’m considered a high-risk. Should I contract the virus, the odds of it becoming life-threatening are significantly worse. I try not to think about this too much, but it’s always there. Knowing what friends in China and the Seattle area went through ahead of us, I started my emergency food shopping earlier than most and have only ventured out to resupply once. I can’t describe how stressful that trip was and how particularly irritated I am by facemask-wearing individuals who think the 6ft rules don’t apply to them. (While I was there, the announced that they were adopting elderly and high-risk only shopping times for high risk individuals. They should be restricting pickup and delivery services to those groups too, but aren’t.)

Given that my job is pretty much run out of my house, the daily routine is only changed by the presence of others–who largely keep to themselves during “work” hours–and stress. I try to minimize the number of times I look at the news and social media. It just makes me angry or depressed, often both. There have been cleaning sprees and I’ve decided to wage war on the ever-encroaching thorn bushes and honeysuckle that have been reclaiming many square feet of our backyard. You can call these coping mechanisms.

On some days work is… difficult. I had been keeping the response time for our slush pile to 24 hours or less, but around Wednesday, I just burned out and didn’t look again until this morning. I have acceptance letters to send, an editorial and introduction to write, some stories to edit, and a couple of ebooks to format. I don’t seem to have the energy for any of it at the moment. Maybe I need to go play a videogame, clean some more, or just listen to some music (though a number of people in the house would just hate that).

I’m used to not seeing a lot of people for extended periods of time, but I figure I’ll eventually feel like doing it again, particularly as more and more of the conventions I had planned to attend this year have canceled or rescheduled. To combat this encroaching isolation, I’m trying to set up a few online video panels for April. I expect them to be four-person panels, about an hour each, scattered around the month. They will be free, but since the hosting services have participant limits (unless you are wealthy), there will be limits on who can participate through the built in chatroom. Fortunately, it looks like we can stream it simultaneously to our YouTube channel, so any people beyond that limit will be able to watch there. The idea is to keep it casual and fun. We all need that right now.

So, yeah, a bit stressful, with this sword hanging over me. It’s not the first time I’ve had one over my head though and practice doesn’t make it easier. It does give some perspective though. We’re healthy right now. That’s the thing I have to focus on. Just have to do what is in our control to stay that way. I wish you all the best of luck in the weeks and months ahead. Stay safe.

ICFA – Trip canceled

 
Due to my cardiac issues, I am currently considered a high risk if exposed to Covid-19. The CDC has recently posted a recommendation that such individuals avoid travel and crowds. My doctors have expressed similar thoughts. As much as I was looking forward to attending ICFA in Orlando next week, I’ve decided to follow their advice and cancel my trip.

The number of cases in NJ is still quite low, but there has been one just a town away. Several friends are in places that have it far worse. I wish them (and you) all the best. Keep safe. Better caution than risk with something like this.

Post Surgery Update

 
It’s been nearly a week and a half since surgery and things are going much better now. I’ve finally managed to sleep through the night (once) and the incision site is healing nicely. General pain levels are down, but still a presence. (Mostly dull. It can get sharper, but I’m learning not to do things or to stop before that can become a problem.) My surgeon has lifted a few of the restrictions and my device continues to function properly.

There’s still a good bit of swelling on the left side of my chest, which I am told is caused by pooled blood. There’s also extensive bruising on my chest and left arm, both of which have added to the discomfort. Weight and movement restrictions will remain on my left arm for a few more weeks. This is to keep me from accidentally pulling the lead (and screw) out of my heart–both of which would be obviously bad. Pain prevents me from even considering those motions.

This procedure was more complicated than the original implantation, but I had been lead to believe that the recovery would be about the same. They were wrong about that. This was worse. It took much longer for me to get back to doing simple things like using a cell phone or computer. Movement caused pain. Pain caused tension. Tension caused new pain in different places. I ended up watching a lot of TV this time instead and was rarely comfortable. I’m so happy that the worst of that is over.

Thank you to everyone that has been writing and wishing me well. I haven’t been in the best of shape to respond to all of you, but know I’ve seen and appreciated your kind words.

Defibrillator Saga: Hopefully the End

 
I went in for surgery yesterday to have my defibrillator and leads removed and replaced. While most of the procedure was outlined in a previous post, there were a few “new to me” details that I didn’t find out about until I got there. To start off, during prep, I was informed that they would have to shave neck to toes due to some of the contingency procedures that could happen if there were any problems. That and hair is an vector for transmitting bacteria or other surprises. Next was that there would be an emergency line on my groin, just in case they needed to send a balloon up through a vein/artery (I’m not entirely remembering this part as it involves needles and my brain skitters a bit when that comes up) just in case they need to stop some internal bleeding. The legs were shaved just in case they needed to borrow some part from my leg to fix something else. Oh and there was another line placed in my arm, again with the needle, and something put down my throat so they could keep an eye on my heart during the procedure. (Fortunately that would be put in after I was unconscious.)

Later, they wheeled me into the operating room. There was at least six people in there and they put me under before the rest of the team arrived. In the past, I’ve been asked to count as they put me under. This time, I was just out before I knew what was going on.

The procedure went perfectly, so none of the contingencies they prepared for were necessary. They started waking me in the OR and it’s pretty much a blur. I know I was coming out (fighting my way out) of a very odd dream, nauseous, and unable to keep my eyes open. The kept me in recovery for perhaps an hour and then wheeled me to my room where my family was waiting for me. I really needed to see them, but I was struggling to stay awake and they hadn’t eaten.

Hospitals are not places to sleep. I slept in one or two hour slices throughout the night, interrupted by blood tests, blood pressure checks, stealing my water away (so I wouldn’t drink after midnight) and shift changes. It was enough to give me back my appetite and the strength to sit in a chair.

In the morning, a tech came to test the device–the same one that I saw during my first hospital visit in December–and we chatted about the new device and what had happened since he last saw me. This one might last 10-13 years before the battery needs to be replaced and it’s a lot louder. I could actually feel the vibrations, but that just might be the sensitivity of the incision area. It’s not big, but it hurts. Dull and regularly pain. For the next 4-6 weeks, I have limitations on my left arm designed to keep me from yanking the new lead out of my heart. The good news is the pain pretty much prevents me from accidentally doing any of the things I’m not supposed to. No lifting things, raising my arm, etc.

Everyone that needed to see me came through before noon, so I was able to get out on time, or early in hospital time. Lisa and Eamonn came to bring me home and I felt every turn. Driving is off the table for a while and left-side seatbelts would be a big mistake. Still, I’m home now and that’s a big improvement.

Thanks to everyone that supported me over the last few weeks, but particularly my family and the amazing team at Morristown Medical Center. Everyone over in Gagnon wing is a pro and so kind.

Complete list of posts in this series
Defibrillator Saga 1
Defibrillator Saga 2
Defibrillator Saga 3
Defibrillator Saga Conclusion

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