Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's Happening with Us

I'm sitting here typing in my netbook while Rick has his first dialysis.
First I must thank everyone for all the love, support, prayers, and good wishes sent our way the last few weeks. We have felt upheld and loved, and we appreciate all of that.
Thank you.
It would be difficult to write about anything other than what we're going through now. It's as if someone has slammed us both between the eyes with a two by four. Wham! Life as you knew it is over, and renal failure is what is important to you now. You cannot argue with this.
You may wonder why Rick's kidneys have failed. If you think you know, tell his doctors, because so far they haven't been able to pin down a cause.
We think it's life. Life can cause of kidney failure.
It's a shock to have everything stop suddenly and realize that your life is in danger, or your spouse's life. Really gets your attention. At the same time, you start hanging around people and places that make you realize that you are not special – there are a lot of people fighting for their lives at any given time, which is a humbling realization. It's a part of life that is usually out of the public eye.
Watching medical shows on TV is not going to tell you anything about what it's like to have a medical crisis. Those people are actors, those situations are scripted, and as Rick's nephrologist says, those shows are phony.
A nephrologist, by the way, is a kidney doctor, and nephrology has nothing to do either with Egypt or having sex with dead people. I know how you people think.
I observed the difference between reality and TV the first night Rick went in to the ER. He was given a blood pressure medicine which may have worked a little too well, and every time he made a rash move like, say, raising his head slightly, his blood pressure would plummet down to, oh, 49 over 29.
If you watch “House” you know that at least once in every show, someone cries out, “He's crashing!” and then three or four doctors are running around the bed like a Chinese fire drill, yelling at each other to do this, do that, and then someone delivers a shot of epinephrine, or shocks the person back to life with paddles, and then the show goes on with the temporarily dead person revived to suffer more camera-friendly, viewer-manipulating drama.
That is not how it happens. The spouse (me in this case) notes the patient is looking punky, goes out in the hall and grabs Jeff, the nurse, and says, “He's not looking good,” and then Jeff calls for help and a contingent of nurses, aides, and one (count him, one) doctor come in and they move swiftly, quietly, intensely, professionally, and efficiently, to take care of the problem, because, guess what, this has happened before and they have a protocol.
So they pulled Rick's blood pressure out of the basement a couple of times, and by the next morning the drug he'd been given had cleared his system, and they went to a less drastic blood pressure medication.
That was the first and only time I'd ever seen a nurse wrap a blood pressure cuff around an IV bag and pump up the cuff so the fluid would flow faster. I wish I'd taken a picture to send to the “There, I fixed it” website, but I didn't. Still, if you want that IV to drip faster, there's your methodology.
Rick made it through a week in the hospital with the doctors and nurses keeping him alive and watching him for signs that his kidneys would kick back in, but alas, his kidneys are done. Renal function has left the building.
So here we are at the Northwest Kidney Center, with Rick starting dialysis. This is what we'll be doing for three days a week for the foreseeable future.
We are walking a well-worn path. Many before us, many with us, and many after us will be dealing with this particular medical crisis. We are hanging in there together, with the support of friends and family, taking one step at a time, one day and sometimes one minute at a time. One of the paradoxes is that there is nothing like having mortality stare you right in the eye and breathe on you with breath more fetid than that of a 12-year-old black Lab to let you know you are fully, completely alive.
Funny, that.
We're still here, still fully, completely alive, still cracking wise and thanking God. Stay tuned for further developments.
Photo: that's Rick in the dialysis chair, with his nurse, Jean, looking on. Rick says he's getting pretty fed up with pictures of himself laid out in bed. Don't blame him. You can send him a get well card at: Rick Tuel, P O Box 238, Vashon WA 98070.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

William DeWolf Hopper, actor

I had planned to pay bills this afternoon, but the bill-paying desk is in the living room, and Rick is in there watching “20 Million Miles from Earth,” a cheesy space-monster-from-Venus flick made in 1957. Rick says that all the questions posed by this movie have one answer: it was made in 1957. The stop-motion Venusian starts out as a peace-loving vegetarian, but is driven to rage by the dumb people who corner it, poke it, hit it, stab it, and shoot it. After a few minutes of that treatment the Venusian gets pissed off. I found myself rooting for this beleaguered alien, then I realized I wasn't going to get the bills paid and left the room.
Monster movies aren't really my thing.
The big dumb handsome lead is played by big handsome William Hopper. I don't think the man himself was dumb. His parents were an actor named DeWolf Hopper, and Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist, whose maiden name was “Elda Furry.” Wow.
He was in many movies in the 1930s, served with distinction in World War II, sold cars in LA after the war until he took a role in “The High and the Mighty” in 1954, and after that worked regularly as an actor, and is probably best known for playing Paul Drake, a private investigator on the Perry Mason Show, from 1957 to 1966.
He died young, in 1970 at the age of 55, of pneumonia following a stroke, and is buried in Whittier, California.
William Hopper, ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Short Essay on How It Is

Monday Morning October 12 2009

This date used to be Columbus Day. We used to get a day off from school, I believe, although memory does not serve as well on that score as I'd like.
Rick and I are celebrating momentous things this morning: he's home from the hospital, and he's alive. Yay.
Although, as Rick says, this thing is not over by a long shot.
He went into the hospital a week ago today, in acute renal failure. His kidneys were shutting down.
This has happened before. Back in 1997 he ended up in renal failure when he thought he would “work through” prostate cancer as if it was a cramped muscle. The kidney problem landed him in the hospital, which is where they discovered the prostate cancer.
This time he got bladder cancer first, and then renal failure.
The docs are mystified. They don't know why he went into renal failure, or why he got better, which they said they did not expect. I of course have opinions about both: I think that the cancer surgeries, cancer treatments, and stress from overwork, which he did because he was stressed about money, all accumulated until his weak points – his damaged kidneys – caved in. I think he got better because he has hundreds of people praying for him all over the world, and because he finally got some rest in the hospital.
Sit. Stay.
Rick says, yeah, sure, all of that, but the docs are looking for something “more sinister.” His blood was taken twice a day while he was in the hospital, and they ruled out a blockage, and they sent blood away for some in-depth lab tests, the results of which we're still awaiting. He was released with instructions to have blood work every other day, to monitor his electrolyte levels, and he'll be going in to see Dr. Oliver, the nephrologist, on Wednesday. He's still in renal failure - “underlying kidney disease which has been exacerbated” by something unknown – but he's feeling better and doing better. Except for the cold he caught from our grand daughter, but that will pass, also.
Meanwhile, I've pulled out the Renal Cookbook that I bought the first time we went through this. We have to get religious about his diet now – no fooling. It's a whole new world. The renal diet tends to be in many ways exactly the opposite of what I am told to eat. It's OK for him to eat sugar and white flour, for example.
It is too overwhelming to think about everything right now. We're on the one-day-at-a-time plan at the moment. Rick rests a lot, which is good. I'm trying to get through that “hit between the eyes by a two by four” feeling.
Rick is feeling very happy about quitting smoking this morning. He had cut back to almost nothing before this hospital stay, and of course could not smoke while hospitalized. This morning he is feeling downright sassy about being able to chug up to the paper box and back without huffing and puffing.
We are OK, or as OK as we can be with Rick, as he says, “functionally dead.”
Like it says in the old talking blues about hard luck, I'm just waiting around to see what happens next.
More later, of course.