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Friday, May 6, 2016

Gray Matter: Home Again

Monday, April 10, 2006

At last, I'm home, and Cherokee County never looked so good! One's own house, own bed, kitchen, computer and, most of all, family and friends, take on fresh significance. First, I must tell you my shoulder replacement surgery seems to be a complete success. I am rapidly regaining strength and mobility and, most remarkably, the nagging pain is gone. I have nothing but praise for the surgeons and therapists, as well as the efficiency of the entire Mayo Clinic system, which included my first two weeks of "skilled care" recovery. Following that period of time, I moved to another facility, actually a nursing home, which was somewhat more of a challenge. There, I learned a bit about cultivating patience and tolerance, neither being characteristics for which I have been noted.

Before I go further, I do want to say that my procedure was relatively pain-free. I'm not sure if this were due to the surgeon's skill, my level of pain tolerance, or possibly both. As a result of this, my first days in the skilled-care unit proved a real revelation. The group of remarkable women I came to know there had each gone through multiple operations before coming to Mayo to have previous "procedures-gone-wrong" corrected. Every one of them was dealing with excruciating discomfort, so pain-management was a paramount issue.

Over all, I reaffirmed a long-held conviction, that everyone has a story. The most interesting stories are those of folks who share them judiciously with others, while the most boring are those told over and over with total disregard for the listeners' interest

One particularly brave woman was from Chicago where she'd had a hip replaced five years ago at one of that city's major hospitals. Following the procedure, she continued to endure severe pain but was advised that it could be worked through with therapy, water-aerobics etc. etc.

Finally, a nurse friend realized there was something else going on and persuaded the lady to come to Mayo. Their examination revealed that she was suffering from a virulent "staph" infection that had eroded the entire joint. They then proceeded to remove the damaged tissue and install some sort of temporary brace, as well as a "port", through which a powerful antibiotic was infused directly into the area for three hours every day for six weeks. Can you imagine sitting completely still for three hours every single day ? I can't ! She cheerfully told us she was reading and re- reading a lot of great books and listening to her vast collection of classical CDs.

After that was completed she was to wait another period of several weeks, and then the doctors will reconstruct the whole area and implant a whole new replacement. At that point, the entire recovery procedure will have to start all over again. Now there's patience and tolerance on a level I could not even imagine. In spite of it all, she was one of the most engaging conversationalists and one of the most strikingly attractive women I have ever met.

Another of these women was the widow of a long-time practicing attorney in St. Paul. This brilliant woman seems to have been plagued with physical problems her entire life. I think her first college degree was in music performance for it seems she had been a pianist of near-professional quality. After her marriage, while her husband was in the navy, she had studied for another degree taking a totally different track and becoming a medical trasncriptionist.

At age 27 she had her first back operation, one of four at that time, followed by a lifetime of joint replacements and who knows what all. I once asked her how many surgeries she had undergone in her lifetime and she promised me she would try to count them up. She wasn't one to dwell on her miseries. Instead, she recounted adventures of her and her late husband as they had traveled around the world. These were stories to be relished by all of us who heard them!

One sad post-script to her life story was that she no longer even enjoyed listening to her classical records because arthritis had robbed her of her performing skills Even more poignantly, she told of selling her beloved piano because she could no longer bear the sight of it as she would never be able to play it again.

On a happier note a woman I first met at the Skilled Care Unit also came to the Nursing Home, soon after I did, for additional recuperation before being able to return to her home near Alta. When we first met, she told me that for years her family had bought their autos and had them regularly serviced at guess where? - Hesse Chevrolet in Marcus ! We are both looking forward to the time when she will be home. As soon after that as her car needs a tune-up, she plans to come visit me while Hesse's are doing their thing !