Thursday, July 23, 2009

Medical Miscreants

The half-witted Gastroenterologist I last wrote about just skims the ineptitude that lingers in the dark recesses of our brilliant, very costly, and extremely inept medical system.

Perhaps the most dangerous of these medical miscreants was an ICU resident, Dr. K., at UPMC (Univ. Pittsburgh Med Cntr,) whom I had the misfortune to come across in 2000, when I had my dual transplant (kidney-pancreas.)

I received the all-important call while on the loo; I didn’t know what to do first – pull up my trousers or leap for joy! Soody, my wife at the time, took control and got us to UPMC in quick order – with my emotions overwhelming me every time I had to talk to anyone. As soon as we crossed the Center’s threshold, I was thrown into a spare hospital room’s bathroom, had a tube up my bum, and before I could say, “I’m sorry but do you have the right person!?” I was double enema’ed, body shaved and chatting with various nurses, technicians, the surgeon, and the anesthesiologist in pre-op.

The surgery took 10 hours. They had to remove my original kidney transplant, insert the new cadaveric kidney, and then insert and attach the new cadaveric pancreas – the pancreas is a wobbly little thing with multiple attachments and takes a long time to go in.

I seemed OK at first in post op. Then my blood pressure was off and they moved me to ICU and gave blood – several times. This is where things started to go wrong. ICU, for those of you who’ve not been there is not a place you get better in; it’s a place that deprives you of sleep as you get poked, blood pressured, and attached to machines that beep constantly and are designed to keep you awake. It is a place you try to escape from so you can actually try to sleep and recover. Fortunately, my ICU nurse, Marjorie, was a joy. A kind, and attentive nurse, she worked at getting me some quality sleep and care.

Enter Dr. K., the resident “in control” of my case. After a couple of days, and several blood transfusions, I had started vomiting. K. insisted I had stomach problems and ordered an NG tube. If ever anyone suggests putting an NG tube into you – run for the nearest exit. You are awake while a doctor thrusts a too large tube up your nostril, past your (gagging) throat and finally down into your stomach. If only you were given a mallet to whack him on the head as he does it – that would even the score a bit. I could tell from K.’s forceful ineptitude that he had been one of those children who failed the round peg in the square hole test and broke the toy instead. After one attempt he had my right nostril bleeding, so he tried the left. Painful success finally ensued. Unbelievably, the next day he took it out as it wasn’t working. Then he proposed to do it again (and by this time I wasn’t able to breathe very well.) I said, “NO! Go away!” Luckily, he was shortly replaced by the chief surgeon, who’d returned from time off. He took one look at me and rushed me to the operating room, apologizing that he would have to split me, from stem to stern, up the middle. It seemed an odd time to be asking me for forgiveness as I was barely conscious but I took the mask off and said, “as long as it works.” Two hours later the leaking pancreas graft was repaired and my abdomen emptied of blood like a boat’s bilge.

I never found out whether K. made it into transplantation as a specialty, and I really dread to find out the answer.

The kidney transplant had a mind of its own, 3 months later I was back at UPMC fighting rejection again. But it wasn’t going to stay and after 3 years I was back on dialysis. I am extremely fortunate to have friends like John Schlesinger and Margaret Rowe, a married Brit/Irish couple who both tested to donate to me. It is hard to say how much that 2004 gift from John has meant to me, or how high it ranks in the heavenly scale of human altruism, but I am always aware that John’s gift has made my life longer and better. God bless him.

The 2000 pancreas cured my 27 years of type 1 diabetes and is still going strong after 9 years, a good record for pancreatic transplants which I’m told usually average 5 years.

Thanks to both the pancreas/kidney transplant and John’s donated kidney I’ve been able to volunteer at Ground Zero’s relief effort (St. Paul’s Chapel), volunteer coach Special Olympics, move to Brooklyn, get remarried to a lovely woman - Diane, plant a wedding fragrance garden, establish a valued friendship with Soody, direct several plays, fight cancer, and with the help of friends, Steve and Chris, build a kayak. I am so very lucky and yes – it’s a great day!

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