Monday, September 08, 2008

Takin' Care of Business

My post today has nothing to do with the business of business, and everything to do with the business of life.

Last Wednesday, my brother collapsed from a bleeding ulcer and nearly bled to death.

If he hadn't had the luck to collapse in his doctor's office, which happens to be in a major teaching hospital, he would have.

As of Sunday as I write this, Rich is still in the ICU, but he's doing very well - and is, in fact, asking whether he'll be back to work this week. (The question, for anyone who knows my brother, is no surprise. The answer, given that on Saturday he had abdominal surgery for what the GI guy told us was the largest ulcer he'd seen in 20 years, is 'no', you won't be going back to work for a couple of weeks.)

Along with the medical factoid that many ulcers - including this one - are caused by bacteria, not stress, what I've learned from this is:

  • If you feel like you're dying, you probably are. My brother is an incredibly hale and strong individual, who is never sick. Other than a nasty cigarette habit (which we now believe is at its end), and what is probably a few too many grab-and-gulp lunches on the fly, Rich leads a pretty healthy life style. But for the last three weeks, he's been sick as a dog, starting with a violent 4 day flu during which he lost 15 pounds, which it appears set off the perfect storm that culminated in the bleeding ulcer. Without going into a case history, he had seen his doctor a couple of times and was having tests done. On Wednesday, he was scheduled for a CAT scan - but the hospital screwed up the appointment, and asked him to come back the next day. Statistically speaking, they had no reason to believe that a generally healthy 52 year old with no history of anything, who saw his doctor regularly, and was never sick, couldn't wait another day.
  • Sometimes you have to fight for your life.  Maybe someone else would have meekly heeded the request to come back the next day, but my brother has always been a fighter for what he believes in. Mostly, that's been the American labor movement. Last Wednesday, however, the belief he was fighting for was that he was dying and he didn't want his 11 year old daughter to have a dead father. So he raised a ruckus in his doctor's office, yelling that he was dying and, as he has told us, probably scaring the crap out of the receptionist. That's the last thing he remembers until he came to at 3 a.m., and saw his three sisters standing around his bedside - which definitely gave him a jolt.
  • If you're really feeling punk, take someone with you to the doctor. Routine visits are one thing, but if it's something really worrisome - or you're getting "the word" about results or treatment, it is ultra-wise to have another person with you to take notes, ask clarifying questions, etc.  I did not actually just learn this - I've known this for years - and had volunteered to go with Rich (as had his ex-wife). But - tough guy - he wanted to go it alone.
  • Make sure your patient information is current. My brother's was way out of date. So the hospital tried to call his wife, who has been his ex-wife for quite a while now. This would actually have been okay if his ex-wife was still at the same number, but she isn't. So, the hospital started dialing for dollars with his cell phone, and it took them quite some time to land on me.
  • Have someone listed as an emergency contact in your contact list.  In olden times, people carried cards in their wallets that said who to contact in case of an emergency. (And if they were Catholics, they probably carried a card that said, "I am a Catholic, in case of an accident, please call a priest," which seemed like a sensible thing during the years when I was a card-carrying-Catholic, but which, if I were still a Catholic - card-carrying or otherwise - I would likely hedge with a "but make sure to call 911 first."  Now people carry cell phones, and should have at least one contact marked "ICE" (In Case of Emergency). My cell phone does now - as does my brother's. While I was at it, I changed nicknames ("Diggy", "Po") to real names - first and last - and, while I was ICE-ing and un-Diggying my husband, I added the word husband after his name, since we don't share the same name.
  • Designate a health care proxy. While my brother was unconscious, I became his health care proxy. In an emergency situation, the hospital will do what needs to get done, but once my sisters and I were on the scene, one of us got to be the designated proxy. I live the closest to my brother, so it's me. We'll make it official over the next few days.
  • Don't wear socks with holes in them.  As with 'bring someone to the doctor with you', I already knew this. The hospital gave me a bag containing Rich's phone, wallet, keys, khakis, shoes, and socks. Earlier, I almost typed "don't wear holes with socks in them."

It's not easy seeing your kid brother so sick, but it looks like he'll be bouncing back.

Something to be thankful for on this lovely September day.


valerie said...

Maureen -- I'll be praying for Rich. (I know, I know ....But it's what I do when I care.) Sad story, well told. v

Marguerite said...

Like me, Rich was lucky to have you there during a crisis. And now you've given us all a good recipe for disaster control. I'm going to update my cell phone tonight. Thanks!

Maureen Rogers said...

Valerie and Marguerite - Thanks for your notes. (And, V, thanks for your prayers. No telling what might work...)