Thursday, December 20, 2007

Which First, Crow or Egg?

The cardiologist's voice was solicitous: "I know you're worried about Dad, honey..."
Me, he honeyed. My mother, he darlinged. My brother, the airline captain, who has been gathering Papa-san's medical records assiduously, was spared the endearments.
The cardiologist did tell me that now he had figured out why the Crestor he prescribed had attacked my father's muscles and put him in the hospital: "Dad's" heart failure was advancing so quickly that "Dad" was unable to metabolize the Crestor, which built up in his system!
The cardiologist was immensely relieved to have discovered that he was off the hook for this one. He reminded me again that he considered my father a friend, his favorite patient, and he wanted the best for him.
I, wits dulled by stress, did not say, well, when he first,started complaining of weakness to you, why did you not even consider it might be Crestor? You checked his pacemaker, you sent him for a CAT scan, and you didn't do a blood test for this known side effect? And don't you think his current level of heart failure might have something to do with being on his back for a month with rhabdomyolysis and hospital-acquired infection?
So. The drug didn't cause the sickness, the sickness caused the reaction to the drug.
That's the cardiologist's story.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Sock Eater

This blog was intended to be a little bit useful and a little bit amusing, but since my father's illness, that's not the way it has gone.
He was brought down by the mistakes of his doctors, whom he trusted. They prescribed powerful drugs, too powerful, more powerful than an eighty-two year old could handle. They didn't warn him of side effects, passed the buck about how he landed in the hospital, and now won't return our phone calls.
So add anger to the normal grief I feel at seeing Papa-san, world traveler, laid up in the plastic pink sterility of a nursing home bed.
Yes, he's eighty-two. Yes, he's had multiple cardiac problems for thirty years. But he was up and working and shopping and cooking, zipping around town in his little white Suzuki (nickname: "the ice cream truck"), buying duck eggs and smoked salmon and stuffed olives and heirloom tomatoes from the same people every Saturday, and turning out reams of copy on his industry, reviewing unreleased prototypes, going out to dinner with Mama-san. Only a couple of months ago. But all the time, he was being overdosed with Crestor, growing weaker and weaker without knowing why.
At his age, with his heart, it was a tightrope act. It's a tightrope act with us all, of course. As you near the end, the rope is narrower, your balance more delicate. But it's possible to keep going for quite a while, all the way to the end, unless something knocks you off the tightrope.
That's what these doctors did: they knocked him off his tightrope, early. Maybe it's greedy or unrealistic of me to want more for him, of him. But I want it. This is not how his life should finish. The hospital and nursing home rounds of fear, humiliation, fear, humiliation. And his internist of more than 20 years, who is the same age as my father,and who retires at the end of this week, was supposed to see him; Papa-san has been having some problems. The internist's office called the nursing home and cancelled the appointment. They didn't suggest one of the other doctors in the practice; they merely said that Dr. Ch----- was no longer seeing patients.

When I was a little girl, I could not hang on to a pair of socks. Neither could my brother or father. Mama-san, obsessively methodical as she was, could not understand why we never removed both socks in the same place. She said she never thought she would marry into a family of one-legged people, but the evidence was clear that she had.
Really, of course, it was the Sock Eater who lived in the deep recesses of Papa-san's closet, beyond the shoe trees. At night it would make the rounds, camouflaged among the dust bunnies, incorporating one of every pair of socks into itself, and retiring to its lair to digest all that cotton, wool and nylon during the day. I don't know what it excreted---buttons, maybe.
We children didn't worry about the Sock Eater. Mama-san sighed over it but she had to accept it and its voracious appetite. It was our only under-bed monster--there wasn't room for anything larger or more sinister, what with the extra cot and all the Woman's Day magazines.

We didn't fear monsters. We didn't fear the dark. We didn't fear spiders, or bats, or fire or floods. We lived in a stone house in the woods, up on a hill where floods or tornados never came. It seemed impregnable, a fortress. And none of these things ever hurt us.

It wasn't impregnable, of course; time crept in. That was to be expected, but we didn't expect it. More than that, though, a tiny oval marauder was brought in, disguised as a friend.

Monday, December 10, 2007


A Card for my Father

He really did see the Hindenberg. He was at Admiral Farragut Military Academy in New Jersey. I suppose they were all watching for it, and it floated right over on the way to its historic immolation.

I wonder if that image was transmuted into the dream he told us about years ago, when we were all sitting around the kitchen table at breakfast. Here it is:

It is a holiday in a small New England town. People are standing around, waiting, as for a parade. A shadow forms in the distance. Slowly, it takes over the sky, darkens the sun. Looking up, my father realizes it is the underside of a giant elephant. The shadow passes, and as it goes, the crowd breaks into applause, and cheers, "Elizabeth's done it again!"

This is the best dream I ever heard. Most people are more entranced with their own dreams than with each others', but all my friends have to admit that this is one really great dream.

He is in the rehab center, which looks awfully like a nursing home. I've come down with a cold and can't see him, so I'm sending him this.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Action Figure

Just to let you know what they're messing with, this is Papa-san. This is his action figure. My brother had it made for Papa-san's 80th birthday. It is true-to-life down to the belt buckle. He is accessorized with a safari hat, giant single-lens reflex camera, and a pocketful of leaky green pens.

Thanks to his doctors' near-fatal enthusiasm for a powerful statin drug (see 'Crestorfallen' in November), he is in a rehab center now. Today was his 2nd day of physical therapy. I won't tell you his exact progress; that's his story. We don't know how far he'll go, or how long it will take to get there. But nobody has put a limit on his possibilities, and so we go on.