Wellness Wednesday: How to Prepare For and Recover From Hip Replacement Surgery

My story of surviving a ruptured aneurysm in Amsterdam in 2019 makes me a poster kid for “Better In, Better Out,” a concept trademarked by Holland’s Maastricht University, TNO and Care IQ on preparing patients for hospitalization: The more fit the patient is before a medical confinement, the more quickly the patient will get out of the hospital and back to civilian life. 

Here’s a “Better In, Better Out” story about a friend of mine in Albany, NY, who discovered this happy approach on her own. When Deb was faced with hip replacement surgery in December 2020, she set about building the physical, emotional, and mental strength she would need to recover and rehabilitate from a very serious surgery. 

A FITNESS HABIT

Deb was already fit. For years, she has worked with a strength trainer three times a week. She didn’t let the pandemic stop her, moving online when his private studio was shuttered by COVID in the spring, and returning to her private sessions, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, when he re-opened in June. 

When the hip pain hit last July, Deb added a couple of weekly sessions with her physical therapist. As “essential workers,” the PT practice was open and had adopted the same COVID safety protocols. The two practices had long consulted with each other to ensure they were on the same page in Deb’s treatment, a rarity in the often siloed approach to care. She highly valued the coordinated, holistic approach, which gave her confidence that she was doing everything she could to get better. 

A HIP FRACTURE

However, the pain did not diminish. Finally, an October MRI revealed the problem: Deb had a stress or insufficiency hip fracture, a torn labrum (the cartilage surrounding the hip joint), and bone-on-bone contact. “My trainer took a look at the report and said, ‘You’re a hot mess,’” Deb recalls with a wry laugh. She scheduled hip replacement surgery, getting a valuable new member on her team: the surgeon’s case manager, whose background in physical therapy gave Deb additional insights into what lay ahead.

PRE-HAB

Armed with this new knowledge, Deb and her team began a five-week countdown to surgery. “You learn how your body will need to work during recovery,” she says about working on her abdominals to support her torso, her arms to lift her, and her legs to support her.

When time came for the operation, Deb was ready. “I went in very confident and ready to plow through.” Despite the case manager’s advice that she plan on resting at home for two weeks after surgery, Deb was committed to getting back to life ASAP, and she convinced her case manager that she was up for it. “I’m not a patient patient, and I knew that down time would be harder on me than anything, leaving me bored at home, with the potential to overeat and get discouraged.”

SURGERY AND THE HOSPITAL

On a Monday morning in December, just days before elective surgeries were cancelled and barely six months since the onset of pain, Deb underwent surgery. Three hours later, she was on a walker doing a lap down the hospital corridors. She ditched the walker for her second lap, using the railing for support. “By my third lap, I was moving unassisted, doing what the happy nurses called ‘a hospital jog,’ telling me that I was almost as quick as runner patients.” She did not take narcotics for the pain, managing with Tylenol. She was discharged on Tuesday. Although the hospital made her take a walker home, she never used it. 

REHAB

Because she wasn’t on narcotics, Deb could get behind the wheel right away (a big bonus, in her book!). On Wednesday, she drove herself to her first post-op physical therapy session, and then to her first post-op strength training workout. By the time she arrived at her trainer’s, her PT had called ahead to discuss his assessment and planned exercises. Her trainer began customizing her sessions accordingly, focusing on hip strength and weight-bearing status. Deb’s Movement Team was back on the job. 

Three training workouts and two physical therapy sessions every week kept Deb busy and focused on her recovery. Being goal-oriented helps, she said. “You grit your teeth and know that the end is in sight.” She celebrated hitting each marker of her progress with her trainer and physical therapist — driving herself (a bonus!), getting into bed without pain, climbing stairs normally, even putting on her gym socks unassisted.

When Deb walked into her surgeon’s office for her six-week checkup, the staff were amazed. “They said they wished all of their patients were as prepared as I.” 

WHAT’S NEXT 

Deb is feeling very much back in the game of life. She has officially graduated from physical therapy — with honors! She’s back at Zumba, on Zoom. And she semi-jokingly tells her trainer that he can retire when she turns 100. She is now 66. 

Deb is aiming for a remarkable feat just six months after hip replacement surgery: finishing the June 5 Freihofer’s 5K Run for Women. “Even if I have to walk it, although I’m shooting for my normal ‘turtle jog.’”

I’m betting she will hit her goal. Better In, Better Out! 

Deb’s Movement Team

Chris Mann, MS, CPT, at Kinetic Training [click here] and Cody Csontos, DP, DPT, at Choice Physical Therapy [click here].

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Tuesday Travel: Florida Spring Break Might Take A Page From Vaccine Protocol

Florida is being inundated by scantly clad college students looking for some fun in the sun. We are in the middle of the 2021 spring break, the time of year American and Canadian colleges and universities close in advance of their final semester of the school year.

After the enforced confinement of the past year, and the record cold most of the country endured just weeks ago, being able to escape to the Sunshine State must feel awfully good. Old people have been doing it for months. I’ve heard quite a bit of French — and seen the corresponding Quebec license plates — during our weekly outings to a sparsely populated beach on the beach. However, we’re all wearing masks — mandated for indoors in our county — as we walk from the parking lot to the water, and we sit apart from each other. More and more of us have struggled through the crazy vaccine protocols to get our immunizations.

The same cannot be said for what’s happening just a few miles down the road in Ft. Lauderdale, South Florida’s spring break epicenter. Maskless romping in close quarters by unvaccinated youth means these kids will be taking home more than a sunburn when they migrate back to their indoor college life. I can see the t-shirts now: “I went to Ft. Lauderdale and all I brought back was COVID.”

Ft. Lauderdale March 4. Photo: Mike Stocker, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Which is why I absolutely love an idea spun up by my favorite Palm Beach Post columnist, Frank Cerabino: applying the pandemic protocol to spring break activities to make them safe for students this year.

What would spring break be without a hotel swimming pool full of scantily clad college students holding plastic drink cups and grooving to the sounds of a pool-deck DJ? So, let’s do it … but a little differently this year due to gathering restrictions with COVID-19. Just follow these rules:

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post
  • “You must sign up to reserve a time slot to be in the pool.
  • And being that it’s Florida, we’re making you sign up through Publix grocery store. Don’t ask. It’s just something we do.
  • You’ll have to get up before 7 a.m. and compete with all the other college students across the nation coming here for spring break.
  • Once you are successfully allowed into the Publix online portal, you will be able to enter the approximate geographic location of your spring break hotel. Then you will see a list of available pool slots and times that are available in your area.
  • With only five people allowed in a swimming pool at any given time, there will be heavy demand for a relatively small number of spots.”

That’s how we roll down here in South Florida. Enjoy!

Ft. Lauderdale March 4. Photo: Mike Stocker, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Wellness Wednesday: How Being Strong Can Get You Well

Millions of COVID-19 survivors struggle with physical and cognitive disability long after they’re released from the hospital. Those who were strong before getting sick have the best chance of making a full recovery.

Long Hospital stays weaken the Body

Survivors of critical illness experience marked disability and impairments in physical and cognitive function that persist for years after their initial ICU stay.

CHEST, the official publication of the American College of Chest Physicians

Nearly half of those who survive a stay in the Intensive Care Unit find themselves impaired or disabled by ICU-Acquired Weakness. In 2019, I was one of them.

I had Icu-Acquired weakness

I was struck down by a ruptured arterial aneurysm while on vacation in Amsterdam in May, 2019. OLVG Hospital saved me by quickly clamping the rupture, and kept saving me as my body crashed for the next four weeks. When I finally came out of the fog of illness, I had lost nearly a third of my body weight and the ability to move. After a brief dance career and a lifetime of teaching exercise, I found myself marooned in an inert body. What I didn’t yet know was that I might not have awakened at all had I not been so strong going in.

Physiotherapy got me moving

My iPhone, my 10# weight

My Dutch caregivers began giving me physiotherapy right in the ICU. A bed-mounted bicycle moved my limp legs. A cushioned harness and ceiling pulley lifted my sagging torso upright for a few minutes. A speech therapist coached me in chewing and swallowing before the feeding tube came out, and an occupational therapist gave me hand exercises so that I could grasp of silverware and cups. It was weeks before I could hold my iPhone, which felt like a 10-pound weight.

Doing my exercise in the hospital

When I left the ICU to complete my recovery in the hospital’s gastroenterology unit, I added daily sessions in the physiotherapy fitness center. Being in a gym was familiar territory, and eventually it felt good to move. The muscle memory came back. I stood. I shuffled. I walked. I got on an airplane and came home to continue outpatient PT with the goal of being able to climb the stairs to our daughter’s apartment. It took me months, but I made it.

Get strong now

When it comes to survival, exercise may be the best weapon we’ve got, and any kind of movement counts. Do squats during TV commercials and hamstring curls while washing the dishes. Toss in a few standing pushups as you’re wiping down the counters. You’ll have a cleaner kitchen and a stronger body.

better in, better out

Holland is among the countries paying special attention to the physical capacity of incoming patients. They call it “better in, better out:” the stronger you are going into a major hospital event, the sooner you’ll make it out. Care IQ, a Dutch healthcare consulting company, markets the concept as BiBo™, encouraging physicians to introduce pre-surgery exercise for their more vulnerable patients. As people are living longer, we all stand a greater chance of becoming those frail persons. 

Next week, I’ll begin a true “better in, better out” story you don’t want to miss: how a friend of mine prepared for elective surgery — a hip replacement! — and what happened.

Wellness Wednesday: How I Became Newly Grateful for Being Healthy

It’s been quite the two years. In 2019, I survived a ruptured aneurysm. As I completed my recovery in early 2020, the world went into pandemic lockdown, and both my husband and I — both high risk — have lived apart from much of the world for nearly a year.

But February delivered three pieces of good news that will carry us forward into whatever 2021 has in store.

  1. My doctor pronounced me in excellent shape.
  2. My husband and I are fully vaccinated.
  3. I don’t have breast cancer.

Let me say a few words about that final item, and the doctors that carried me there.

The Gynecologist

Like most of us, I delayed many medical appointments last year. When I did get in to see my gynecologist in early January, she identified a small mass in one of my breasts. I have “dense breasts,” which is to say that it’s never easy to figure out which lump is normal and which might mean trouble According to the CDC, about half of all women age 40 and above are in this category. Dr. K gave me orders for a mammogram and an ultrasound, and an appointment with a “breast doctor” to review the radiology report. I realized this meant a breast cancer doctor.

I wasn’t that worried, but I was pissed off. Adding yet another medical situation to these challenging two years was too much. I didn’t want another doctor in my e-Rolodex, thank you very much. Unfair. Boo-hoo. Etcetera.

I allowed myself to pout for a couple of days, listened to wise people who reminded me that life doesn’t work that way, and made my appointments.

The Radiologist

The imaging center radiologist looked at the images as the technician put me through my paces. She was reassuring: the tissue looked no different from other fatty breast tissue. Several days later, I received the written report. In black and white, it said “Not cancer.” Good news. If I hadn’t already scheduled an appointment with the breast surgeon, that would have been that.

However, as I discovered during my long hospital stay in Amsterdam, I am a super-compliant patient, and so I gathered my records and prepared for a brief conversation with the next doctor along the lines of “Sorry to waste your time, never mind.”

The Breast Surgeon hi

But that’s not the conversation we had.

About 16 percent of breast cancers do not show up on a mammogram or ultrasound. If you were sure the lump wasn’t new, we’d let this go for six months. But, you are not sure, and I don’t want to be wrong. A biopsy will tell me for sure what we’re dealing with. It’s your choice.

Dr. M

I realized that I hadn’t survived, recovered, and thrived in these past two years just to hope for the best. I scheduled the surgery.

The Primary Care Doctor

It’s called a lumpectomy when the tumor is cancer, but an excisional breast biopsy when the substance removed is unknown. Either way, it’s surgery, and I had to be deemed healthy enough to withstand the process.

The hours that I spent getting evaluated — in-person instead of on the telephone for the first time since March — were the most lively, interactive, and positive of the past year. Every interaction affirmed my progress in recovery. Big item in the silver lining category.

The Breast Surgeon

At 7:45 AM the Monday following Valentine’s Day, Dr. M. marked up my breast. “Nice timing for Valentine’s Day,” I said. “Yeah, just felt you up,” she quipped back. I laughed as I was wheeled into the operating room in the outpatient facility, and then it was over. Dr. M called my husband to say that it looked like plain old fatty tissue. We were home by 10.

I spent that day and the next icing, resting, and binging on Netflix. I had no pain, no swelling, because the cut was tiny and I’d also followed the guidelines to get a super-supportive sports bra. The Syrokan runs a little small but lives up to the hype. When I showed my husband the incision, I realized we were commemorating Mardi Gras with the New Orleans tradition of “flashing,” sans beads. Eventually, I turned off Netflix and got back to walking: a mile, two, four.

One week later, Dr. M showed me the pathology report: Benign, it said. Benign fibrofatty mammary parenchyma, a lipoma, a benign fat tumor. Same material as the rest of the breast, just encased in material that makes it feel more dense, like chicken fat in a baggie. In six months, I’ll do another mammogram for a new baseline. That’s it.

Tears came to my eyes. They still do as I realize, once again, how grateful I am to be well, once again

Lessons Learned

Be better about documenting what’s going on in my body. Don’t put off medical appointments — my husband and I will be back in doctors’ offices in mid-March. Do what they tell you to do. And keep going, every day, with something that will make you stronger: walk, do yoga, do the polka, lift weights. It really doesn’t matter what, just keep moving. It helps if it’s kinda fun.

And this from USA Today’s Adrianna Rodriguez: Doctors recommend patients schedule their mammogram before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, or space out the two appointments, after some women have been mistaking swollen lymph nodes, a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine, for breast lumps.

Here’s to our health, dear readers! Enjoy the sights and sounds of early morning in our backyard.

Weekend Wildcard: How to Walk With Angels

There are angels who never were people, and then there are angels that are people whom God has chosen to deliver a message or complete a task here on earth.

Rabbi Marc Gelman

In 2019, doctors and nurses in Amsterdam’s OLVH Hospital saved my life, and the hospital chapel inspired my recovery with soul-catching music when all I could do was barely sit upright in a wheelchair.

This Valentine’s Day, I walked four miles listening to that music by Tom Lowenthal and thanking all the angels that brought me back into life.

  • The ER nurse who I heard say she was starting CPR as I was rolled into OLVG. My heart had stopped. I cannot have heard her. I guess angels have special powers to reach the dead.
  • The radiology doc who knew how to reach and seal the abdominal artery rupture.
  • The recovery room nurse who realized that my body was failing.
  • The ICU doctors and nurses that refused to let me give up for six long weeks.
  • The gastroenterology team on 7A who believed I would walk onto a plane six weeks later.
  • The doctors and nurses at the University of Florida Shands Hospital who pronounced me recovered.
  • The physical therapist who knew I would jog again.
  • The nurse practitioner who taught me the pelvic floor exercises and gave me back my confidence

Say yes to life. Say yes to miracles.

Rabbi Marc Gelman

Wellness Wednesday: How Love Helps Us Survive

I was still the new girl in my fourth grade class at The English School in Bogotá when I gave valentine cards to all 20 kids. At recess, I saw Pedro, a Cuban boy, rip his card in half and grind it into the dust with his heel. 58 years later, the image remains burned into my memory, not because I liked Pedro but because it seemed like such a mean thing to do.

All we are looking for in this world, whether you’re the new girl or not, is kindness. An acknowledgment that we matter. Valentine’s Day gives us a reason to say so.

Pandemic Imposes Loneliness

The pandemic has imposed such loneliness on the world.

There’s been a sense of removal, loneliness and even depression because social interactions have been so limited.

Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, quoted by Rachel Wegner, USA Today/Nashville Tennessean

Companionship Eases the Pain

In Rachel Wegner’s recent article in USA Today and the Tennessean , she reported on an elderly couple who married mid-pandemic. Both husband and wife agreed they felt blessed to have each other.

Life with Florence is good, so I want to keep living.

86-year-old Rudy Saperstein, about his wife, Florence, age 89.

Love Carries Us Forward

Now comes Valentines Day, bringing us messages of love. Love, that most luxurious of connections, has the power to keep us afloat.

My daughter sat by my bed for hours when I was so sick in Amsterdam. My sister massaged my weak, dry hands. Together, they carried my husband forward until he could carry me back to America. Neighbors took over the watch. Therapists stepped in. Slowly, I regained myself, and my husband and I regained our lives. Life with each other is so good that we want to keep living.

I received a Valentine’s Day card from my cousin Jeanie in California the other day. She thanked me for my crazy-early 2020 Christmas card, one of the many I wrote to my extended Amerson family last fall. Jeanie said how glad she was that I’m healthy again, and that she hopes that we’ll come visit. That is a light at the end of the tunnel for us all. Never has a card seemed more important, including its printed message.

Just sending you a note to say you’re in my heart and thoughts, on Valentine’s Day — and every day.

Lynn Horrabin, Advocate-Art card for the American Heart Association.

Another cousin Jeanie in Minnesota wrote me a real letter last year in response to my brief card. It was lovely to hear from her. I met both Jeanies during a South Dakota family reunion many years ago. Today, I wonder if they were named after my Aunt Jeanie, who we lost last month. She seemed to have all the time in the world to hear what I had to say, and now I just miss hearing her words back to me.

Write to family. Write to friends. Use Valentine’s Day as an excuse, or just scribble a note on an index card and send it off. You never know who’ll write you back just when you needed it.

Weekend Wildcard: How to Take Care of Yourself Like Tom Brady With Fitness, Family, and Fun

I’m a terrible football fan. About halfway through a game, I’m known to ask who the guys in the blue tights are. I cheer every good play by either team. But on Super Bowl Sunday, my husband and I almost always gather with friends and family to watch the event, sometimes for the game, sometimes for the ads, and always for the halftime show. I can still visualize Jennifer Lopez and Shakira in last year’s shake and strut in Miami. Just don’t ask me who played.

Super Bowl Sunday is also an anniversary. It marks a year to the day since our rescue Lab, Kumba, came to live with us, and 29 years since the Sunday I first revealed my pregnancy during Super Bowl XXVI. Our daughter was born that fall.

This year, we are following the social distancing guidelines that have kept us healthy for the past 11 months, no matter the tradition, just as the editors of The Palm Beach Post are begging us to do:

It’s never easy, remembering to tote masks and hand sanitizer everywhere we go. All of this, it seems, is magnified on weekends like this, when we think about what we should be doing. It’s even tougher when we see members of the Covidiot Caucus prancing around barefaced as if ignorance is an antiviral.

The Editors of The Palm Beach Post

We’ll be watching the game in our little bubble with Kumba as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on the Buc’s home turf.

Although I know who Tom Brady is — in part because we lived in New England before retiring to Florida — I had to look up the sportscaster term GOAT: Brady is the NFL Greatest Of All Time. Still, even I know that Brady is more hated than loved despite his remarkable record — nobody likes the guy who dashes everyone else’s opportunities to win, and then there’s the deflated ball scandal. But, in leaving the Patriots and bringing the Bucs to the Super Bowl, Brady has become a little easier to like, even admire.

He is the NFL version of Benjamin Button, seemingly getting younger as he ages chronologically, or at least, slowing the aging process down in a way that defies belief.

Gene Frenette, Florida Times Union/USA Today Network

So, as we look at how we can stay the course during this pandemic, let’s ask WWTBD What Would Tom Brady Do? It comes down to fitness, family, and fun. Thank you to sports reporters Gene Frenette and Joe Schad for enlightening me.

Have Fitness Goals

Throughout Super Bowl week, the husband of a supermodel looks as energized and youthful as he did during any of his Patriot years. His secret goes beyond being physically fit. Brady’s will to prepare, beyond just practice and film study, remains as vociferous as ever. No joke, he actually said Thursday that he wants to focus on improving his “speed” in offseason training.

Gene Frenette, Florida Times Union/USA Today Network

Appreciate Family

The best part about winning is having the people that have helped you get there and supported you there with you to enjoy it. Some of the best memories I’ve had in my life are being with my kids right after the Super Bowl and celebrating with them.

Tom Brady, GOAT quarterback, as quoted by Palm Beach Post reporter Joe Schad

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

‘Papai não sabe de nada,’ which means ‘Daddy doesn’t know anything.’ I usually get that a lot in the house.

Tom Brady, about speaking Portuguese, his wife’s native language, as quote by Palm Beach Post reporter Joe Schad

This is the year to root for the Brady underdog GOAT against Kid Mahomes. Here”s Jim Gaffigan’s suggestion.

Enjoy your wings for few, folks!

Family Friday: My Secret Pandemic Domesticity

When he retired some years before I did, my husband took on the shopping and cooking responsibilities and after-school supervision of our teenaged daughter, activities that I’d juggled while working full-time (and volunteering) during our daughter’s elementary school years.

About a month into the new arrangement, R asked: “How in the world did you do this?” My honest answer: “Not very well.” When everything is done on the fly, none of it is very satisfying.

I think back to that conversation from within our current pandemic bubble, the previously unimaginable solitude which gives us nothing but time. It is an unexpected luxury.

The Pandemic Schedule Is Flexible

Breakfast sometimes takes three hours. Some days, lunch happens at 2. Entire chunks of time have vanished into Netflix binges — Alexandra Schwartz’ New Yorker review of “warm and witty” Call My Agent captures why it’s felt so good to be in Paris with this crew, and Decider’s Megan O’Keefe explains why I had to watch all 55 episodes of the Spanish telenovela Velvet (set in 1950s Madrid).

Writing Time Expands

But my productivity has also increased. I completed my memoir, THE DICTATOR FLEW OVER OUR HOUSE & OTHER TRUE STORIES: AN AMERICAN EMBASSY FAMILY MEMOIR, which is being considered for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. And I’ve been working on the structure of this blog, most recently organizing my posts by day: Politics Monday; Travel Tuesday; Wellness Wednesday; Family Friday; and Wildcard Weekend.

Domestic Chores Expand

Kumba

I’ve discovered the simple pleasure of hands-on homemaking. Early on in the pandemic, I pulled my mother’s sewing basket out of my closet and created facemasks out of old pillowcases and pajamas, enjoying the calming effect of sewing by hand. More recently, I’ve taken to patching up our rescue Lab Kumba’s toys, an endless task that he enjoys ripping to shreds.

Shrimp and Veggies

Cooking now takes over more of my day, from planning menus in My Fitness Pal , to soaking potatoes to leach out their potassium as advised by R’s doctor. Potassium-rich bananas, avocados, and beans are off the menu, along with tomatoes and salmon, so I’ve had to get creative in finding other ingredients. Here’s a recipe I created for a quick one-pan shrimp and veggies, and it’s leeks that add the magic creaminess (so worth the hassle of rinsing off the dirt first).

Sauté 2 cloves garlic, one chopped leek,, two chopped celery stalks, and one chopped red pepper until soft. Add 1/2 C frozen peas. Add shrimp (we buy 28 oz. bag of frozen, cleaned, uncooked) and cook until just pink. Salt to taste. Serve over rice or pasta, and leftovers make a great lunchtime salad. Enjoy!

What pleasures have you discovered in pandemic homemaking?

Wellness Wednesday: How to Survive the Vaccine Hunger Games

Weeks after being buoyed by the encouraging news that remarkably effective coronavirus vaccines had been approved, millions of Americans find ourselves in an exhausting battle to get the vaccine into our arms. We are struggling against often contradictory communication, the lack of supply, and radically uneven access.

Trying to get vaccine is like being in an all too real version of The Hunger Games, a sci-fi story set a dystopian future in which teams of young people vie to survive in a televised fight to the death. Just replace vibrant youth with the frail elderly.

To win, Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen must count on partnership, collaboration, and strength. Here’s how these strategies can help us succeed in the vaccination process and get a needle in our arm.

partnership

My husband and I almost lost each other in 2019 when I became very ill while on vacation in Amsterdam. We don’t let a day go by without giving thanks for being together. We know how lucky we are.

We fare better with a partner. Batman had Robin. Roy Rogers had Trigger. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is paired with the kind and loyal Peeta, who also becomes her love interest.

Rachel Wegner’s recent article for the Nashville Tennessean featured newlyweds Florence (age 89) and Rudy (age 86) Saperstein, who married mid-pandemic and were recently vaccinated together. Being together during the social isolation imposed by the coronavirus has bolstered their spirits and kept hope alive.

Life with Florence is good, so I want to keep living

Rudy Saperstein

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an other to love. Reporter Wegner spoke with an infectious disease expert in her reporting, Dr. William Schaffer, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Schaffer confirmed that the psychological impact of COVID-19 on the elderly has been a top concern.

There’s been a sense of removal, loneliness and even depression because their social interactions have been so limited.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Collaboration

Whether we have a partner or not, it’s collaboration with others that gets the job done. Katniss and Peeta risk working with their competitors to achieve success. In the coronavirus hunger games, while we’re competing with each other to get that needle in our arm, we’re also helping each other get there.

This morning’s edition of The Palm Beach Post included an essay by Jupiter resident Leanna Landsmann entitled “Trying to get a vaccine in Florida ‘Hunger Games’.” About collaboration, Landsmann says:

Friendships now trade in links, tips, and phone numbers. Most don’t pan out, but they enliven the day.

Leanna Landsmann, The Palm Beach Post

As I was finishing this essay, an example of this collaboration came flying in on my iPhone messages. My friend Al Pessin — yes, the author of thriller Sandblast and soon-to-be-released sequel Blowback — wrote to share a trick and a link. Jackson Health is using Twitter to advise when their website will go live with vaccination appointments. If you’re not yet on Twitter, what better time to start?

strength

Hunger Games’ Katniss is an archery whiz and all around athlete. I made it out of the ICU alive because I was very fit going in, but, even having that advantage, I had lost so much muscle in those six weeks that I was unable to move unassisted. It took me a year to fully recover, and I do not ever lose sight of the fact that, one day, something will want to take me down again. When it does, I aim to be as strong as possible.

One year ago this week, we added another soul to our home, our rescue black Lab, Kumba. He was terribly anemic and worn to within an inch of his life when he was flown in from a shelter in Puerto Rico by the Labrador Retriever Recovery of Florida. Kumba and I became part of each other’s recovery journeys over the past twelve months in daily morning walks. Have a look at this transformation, and know that, you too, can succeed in being stronger, a day at a time. Just watch out for unseen corners!

Wishing you love, partnerships, collaboration, and strength in meeting this challenging time!

Wildcard Weekend Book Review: “The Beauty in Breaking” by Michele Harper

I have been broken many times. I suspect most people have. In practicing the Japanese art of Kintsukoroi, one repairs broken pottery by filling in the cracks with gold, silver, or platinum. The choice to highlight the breaks with precious metals not only acknowledges them, but also pays tribute to the vessel that has been torn apart by the mutability of life. The previously broken object is considered more beautiful for its imperfections. In life, too, even greater brilliance can be found after the mending.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

In her memoir The Beauty in Breaking, emergency medicine doctor Michele Harper draws on her experiences with patients to slowly address and heal the deeply-seated emotional pain of her traumatic childhood, chaos that landed her in an ER waiting room as a young teen.

All of us had converged in these hallowed halls for a chance to heal our wounds, to offer up our hurt and our pain to be eased.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

That experience led her to the decision that ER medicine would be her life’s work.

Unlike the war zone that was my childhood, I would be in control of that space, providing relief or at least a reprieve to those who called out for help … That would be my offering to the world, to myself.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

Harper offers us multiple opportunities to experience redemption as she reflects on the people in her care. The crushing blow of losing an infant makes way for healing.

After all, only an empty vessel can be filled by grace.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

A young Black man lies dying from a gunshot wound, crying for his mother:

… as he was absolved by the bright lights of the trauma bay.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

A woman in the psychiatric unit reveals an awful secret in a moment that feels like the shattering of a glass house:

We had trod mindfully over the shards and escaped with nonfatal wounds to a new freedom.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

Over and over again, Dr. Harper sees the person, not the patient.

I read this book in the early months of my ongoing recovery from a near-fatal ruptured aneurysm while on vacation in Holland in 2019. I could see myself through Harper’s eyes — a woman lying on an ER gurney bleeding internally to death. I felt her “call down the gods of repose and silence, to take the measure of their power in the moments when I need it most” just as those ER doctors in Amsterdam did in finding and sealing the rupture, snatching me back from death.

It was a short-lived victory. I was in the ICU for another month as my body failed and failed again. But, at every turn, the Amsterdam doctors and nurses not only pulled me back from the brink, they held me and my family up with kindness and compassion. As I emerged from the fog and began to recover my wasted body, my OLVG caregivers continued to treat me as a person, not a patient. They filled my heart as they healed my body.

My story has been refracted a million times over by the coronavirus pandemic as compassionate, exhausted doctors stand between COVID and death around the globe. What a time in which to see the struggle through the eyes of this passionate woman and compelling author.

In life, too, even greater brilliance can be found after the mending.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking
Portraits of hospital workers by Steve Derrick. See his Facebook page here

NOTE: The photographs on this post are portraits of hospital workers by Steve Derrick of Clifton Park, NY, who was featured by CBS News some months back. See his Facebook page here to see more paintings and to learn how to purchase them.