A Year of the Blahs

Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.
John Lennon, Beautiful Boy
Last November I returned home from working in Europe to discover I had pneumonia. No problem I thought. A few days of feeling bad and getting some needed rest. But when the same thing happened two months later, I was discouraged to say nothing about how I felt. An x-ray followed by a cat scan indicated I had something strange in my upper right lung. More antibiotics, more feeling lousy, more waiting to feel better. Another x-ray in April revealed the same story ... something strange in /on your lungs. "It does not look malignant but it does have a strange shape. We do not know what it is, probably just lingering stuff from pneumonia." This was the comment by the doctor, the x-ray technician, the cat scan team, the Pulmonologist, etc. Finally in June, the Pulmonologist declared he should do a bronchoscopy and see if he could not "sweep away" the debree still in my lungs. This was scheduled for July 8th and was a relatively easy outpatient procedure. Except the doctor found a tumor growing next to and over one of my bronchial tubes. Time for some major surgery!

Meanwhile, except for feeling blah and needing, for me, an extraordinary amount of sleep, I had gained the 12 pounds I lost back, and my blood tests very scary in the early part of the year had normalized. Surgery was scheduled for August 15. My Pulmonologist, went to work and found the right surgeon for me at Stanford hospital. None of the experts believed that the tumor was anything but benign and that proved true. Nevertheless, as the surgeon explained what he had to do, I grew scared! He made it seem very routine, but not without pain and a tiny amount of risk.

Systems are really interesting. Suddenly everything went into high alert. Family and friends were there for me. They came forth with gifts and love and stories. I felt myself being wrapped in a safety net. I could let go and not hold all my fear to myself. Others would sense my apprehension and be there with relaxing and powerful stories and prayers. My emotions were being cared for.

My physical and mental systems responded to this love. My nutritionist gave me herbs, minerals and vitamins to take before undergoing surgery and after having it. I could literally feel my cells and nerves taking in the nutrients and using them! It is pretty amazing how the body and mind work together.

So I thought that I was prepared  but when I changed into my gown for surgery and a aid told me to lay down on the table to begin the process my body went into high alert. My blood pressure went up so high the surgeon team wondered if it was safe to do the surgery. I had a student learning to put the tube into my arm and he failed three times!! Small veins, great fear, unpracticed did not add up to a good first few minutes on the table. The lead anesthesiologist noted my anxiety and attempted to engage me in conversation and asked me what my work was. I replied, I help groups of people solve complex problems and he replied, "That is what you are going to do with us! Help us solve this mystery of your lungs." Clever. Another system was going to work. Within about three hours time, the surgery was completed, the doctor reported all was well to Matt and Todd and that my other lungs were those of an 18 year old, and I woke up. I was full of tubes and pain medicine, but restful and surrounded by family.

Another system went into place, that of nurses and doctors and technology insuring that I had the care I needed. I had an alergic reaction to the pain medicine and every inch of my body itched a LOT. The nurses made me complain; it was part of their role to insure that I was communicating what was happening inside my body. They asked questions over and over making sure that I was listening to my own body.  Annoying and powerful. The nurses checked each other, not accusingly, but rather as a way of insuring my safety. My recovey room was totally wireless and I was monitored from a number of stations. Every time I changed medicine or had a shot, it was recorded electronically and my arm band was scanned -- information about me was consistently updated. I know that mistakes happen and I paid attention, but it seemed that it would be difficult for a mistake to be made. (I do know careless mistakes cause death more than 100,000 times per year!) I went into this system of care on Friday afternoon and was released the following Tuesday morning. Within that time, I had nothing but good care and some exceptional care.

I was lucky. I am part of the medicare and have secondary back up insurance. This meant that I could afford the operation and not worry about bankruptcy. Matt and I do not have a financial cushion. I could not imagine how this would have been affordable without insurance. I would have been terrified unable to rest and renew. How can we as a wealthy nation deny health care to anyone? How can we not offer preventative medicine and health plus alternative medicine as a right to every individual?  In deed, we cannot say we have a health care system. We have many broken or ignored pieces. There seems to be little will or understanding of how to create a worthy system. I am lucky. While many sub-systems were employed to insure my wellbeing, each was somehow linked into the others creating a net of comfort and security. This is not always the case. 

It has been two weeks since my surgery. Daily, my body adjusts and works to restore itself. I can feel the work it is doing and the places that it is working on at any given time. I can not say this is always comfortable and that I don't complain. The doctor has told me that within about six months time, my two remaining right lobes will expand and fill the cavity where my upper lobe was removed. What a miracle the body is! in fact, the way nature creates systems within systems, allowing everything to be both independent and interdependent is awesome.  I've learned a lot. I've  researched, explored and I now know more about my body. I can practice even more preventative medicine.

Would that our health attendants would come together and begin to think like a system!  As we work to get universal health care, would it be too much to ask that we learned how to create a real health care system based on principles of biomimicry and systemic design? 

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to 2009 as a year of good health, vitality. I've had my year of the blahs!