WAKE UP CALL

The Septuagenarian Speaks – published August 7, 2019, Siskiyou Daily News

Those four or five of you that read my column on a regular basis know that I usually write whimsical attempts at satiric humor.  Not today.  This one is serious.

The morning of Wednesday July 24, I provided some excitement to our usually quiet neighborhood by being transported from our house to Fairchild Medical Center in an ambulance, with siren activated.  I had been nauseous all morning, and after a spasm of vomiting, I choked and couldn’t breathe.  With assistance from Yreka Fire Department and Mt. Shasta Ambulance EMT people, by the time we arrived at the FMC emergency room, I was able to breathe a little, but with great difficulty.  Every gasp for air created a horrible squeaky hissing noise.

The people at the ER were waiting for me, ready to administer procedures and medications.  But soon after I arrived, I had another spasm of vomiting with the same result.  I couldn’t breathe at all!  I’ve been in some scary situations in my 77 years, but nothing compares to suffocation.

The ER people got me relatively stabilized, and hoped to be able to solve the problem without invasive intervention, but as the day passed into evening and night-time, the decision was made to use more extreme measures.  They intubated me, which means inserting a tube through the mouth and then into the airway; and used a ventilator, a device which pushes oxygen through the breathing tube.  They also did an endoscopy, a diagnostic procedure involving a flexible tube with a light and camera attached to it, enabling the doctor to view pictures of the digestive tract on a TV monitor.  I was semi-conscious when the ventilator was used and felt a high level of anxiety and claustrophobia and recall being resistive.  I found out later that I was physically and verbally abusive to the people trying to save my life.  Using the endoscopy and other diagnostic procedures, I was diagnosed with ulcerations of the GI tract, pneumonia, and a blood clot on the lung.  The GI tract ulceration was no doubt triggered by my life-long fondness for gin.  I was in the hospital six days, and am now home, with a banker’s box of medications.  The prognosis is good, but recovery will take a while.

The reason for writing this column is to stress the high quality of medical care we have in Siskiyou County.    But there are people who go out-of-town from a mistaken belief that you can’t get quality care here.  The grass-is-greener mentality.  That is poor judgment.  Take for example the delivery of babies.  Why risk the health of the mom and the baby by adding more than an hour drive to get to the hospital?  There are great local doctors that do deliveries, and Fairchild Medical Center has an excellent birthing center.  During my 6-day hospital stay, there were a few mornings that I heard soft music piped throughout the hospital.  The song is “Lullaby and Good Night” (the Brahms’ Lullaby), and it is played every morning after a baby is born.

If you want to be a rich doctor, you don’t set up your practice in Siskiyou County.  The physicians who choose to live and work here do so because they like the beautiful country, the lifestyle, and the personal relationships.  There can be difficulties associated with practice in a small community.  For example, if you practice, say, at the USC Medical Center in Las Angeles, and are unable to save your patient, the patient is just an unknown name and number.  I’m not saying the doctors don’t care, and I’m sure they take the Hippocratic Oath seriously.  But in a small community, if you can’t save your patient, chances are that patient is a friend, or the parent or child of a friend.  There is genuine grief.

One of the people working in the Emergency Room that day when I couldn’t breathe was Brandon Swenson, the son of Drs. Rick and Vina Swenson.  Brandon is a student at OSU, and applying to medical school.  He is working at FMC as a summer intern.  The Swenson family hangs out with a group of people that include our daughter and son-in-law.  They all have kids of various ages who have known each other since pre-school.  Therefore, my wife and I are like honorary grandparents.  In the ER I thought I was going to die and was scared to death.  I looked at Brandon’s face as he was watching me, and he looked more frightened than I was.  He was afraid his “grandpa” was going to die right in front of him.  A learning moment if he decides to practice here.

I was at Fairchild Medical Center for six difficult days beginning in the Emergency Room, then ICU, and finally the general ward.  The kindness and professionalism of all the medical and technical people was amazing.  I would list all their names, if space allowed.

I do want to mention the hospitalist, Dr. Walter Wynne.  He talked to me several times when I was going through hell and lucky to be alive.   In his kind, gentle, nonjudgmental manner, he kept me apprised of what was happening to me, calmed me down, yet let me know that if I don’t make some change to my lifestyle, I might not be so lucky the next time.

Bob Kaster
Yreka, CA

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