Thursday, December 26, 2013

USC vs. UCLA - the ICU version

If my family saga was in a novel, people would prolly dismiss it as unbelievable. (I intend to try sometime, nonetheless.)

So, a few weeks ago, I blogged about my sister's adventures at Keck Medical Center of USC, where she underwent a fairly harrowing surgery for gall bladder cancer. Still looming ahead for her, chemotherapy, because gall bladder cancer is highly, if not always, terminal.

Let me backtrack just a moment. Once upon a time, in the middle of the Vietnam War, two nineteen-year-olds fell in love. The Princess and Prince were both serious, somewhat geeky honor students, and they bonded in a restaurant over pecan pie.

Scary times were ahead of them. The Prince enlisted in the Air Force (just ahead of being drafted into the Army) and was sent to Vietnam, where, among other things, his unit was bombed and he was sent out to "beautify" the base by spraying Agent Orange around the perimeter fences (without any protective gear). The Princess planned their wedding for the month after he was due to return, though the evil fairy her always supportive maternal grandmother frequently declared she was foolish to do so, as her betrothed was unlikely to survive the war.

The Prince did return, married the Princess; they had two handsome young Princes and moved to a ramshackle bungalow hippie-style castle in the foothills of sunny Los Angeles, far away from the evil fairy. From their castle, they offered a warm and loving welcome to royal family, friends, and friends of friends alike. If this was a fairy tale, I could write "...and they lived happily ever after," and that would be the end of the story.

In real life though, there are many joys and tragedies. This Prince and Princess have had their challenges over the years - everyone does.  But among other things, the Prince's health, physical and emotional, was deeply impacted by his time in Vietnam. He suffered from PTSD, he suffered from eczema and psoriasis on his arms and legs, which got into his joints (psoriatic arthritis) and caused extreme pain and difficulty in walking. He turned (not wisely, it must be admitted) to alcohol to cope with the pain.  Fast forward a few decades: the Princess and Prince have retired to a new, more remote castle, near the shores of a favorite California lake (Isabella). The Prince has stopped consuming alcohol entirely and is actively addressing his medical conditions; the Princess takes long walks with her dogs at dawn on the lakeshore almost every day.

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition - or Gall Bladder Cancer

While my sister (the Princess) has not lived off fruits, nuts, nor Whole Paycheck Foods triple-blessed organic produce, for the most part she has lived a fairly healthy life, been physically active, etc. Her diagnosis of gall bladder cancer shocked the whole family.

But we have a very supportive family (now that the evil fairy and a few others have passed beyond the veil). So our middle sister, Princess B, made plans to come to support the Princess during her chemo; Princess B's daughters, Duchess A and Duchess B, both with nursing/health experience, planned to tag-team and travel to California to support the Princess following her surgery, since the Prince was in somewhat fragile health, and I would pitch in where necessary.

What we didn't expect was that the Prince would suffer a severe intestinal ?virus? ?bacteria?, just days after the Princess's extensive surgery, on his return to their castle, which would require hospitalization. Thus, when the Princess was released from Keck-USC (her hospital), yours truly would be driving her and Duchess A post-haste to the hospital on the shores of Lake Isabella, where the Prince was recuperating. Only then to the castle, where an extra carriage was available for Duchess A to chauffeur the Princess, and soon, we expected, the Prince, around the castle environs, while I returned to LA and the day job. Duchess A had not expected to care for two recuperating patients, but she was game.

What we also did not expect, on the very day that the Prince was being released from that small rural hospital on the shores of Lake Isabella, was that he would suffer a major stroke in the presence of Duchess A and the Princess. Which, because of his existing medical conditions, was unable to be treated with "normal" stroke protocol medications, but which indicated an airlift... to UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center.

The Prince being airlifted to UCLA

Scrambling to Cope, Physically and Emotionally

While Duchess A and the Princess raced to the castle to pack for the return journey to Los Angeles, the Prince's sons and I raced to UCLA. When allowed to see him, the Prince was alert and awake, but clearly deeply impacted by the stroke - and not physically stable.

Eventually, he did stabilize, but as it was touch and go, Princess B and Duchess B arrived (early) to assist. Even in two of the best hospitals in the United States, the reality is that the care is better if a family member is present in the room during exams, the administering of tests and medications, etc. Sometimes it is helpful to keep calling and saying, "Hey, he asked for a bedpan ten minutes ago, can we get that moving, before he does?"

After the Prince was at UCLA for about three days, Duchess A received news of another family health crisis involving her son. She and Duchess B had to arrange emergency transportation to her home state to help him. Yes, it does feel like my family is being punked.

Or, like firefighters in a bad fire season, that we are being called upon to fire fires on too many fronts with too few resources, but we are also aware, like fire season, that this too shall pass.

Current Status

As of Christmas Day, everyone seems to be on the mend, though the Princess still has chemo looming ahead, and the Prince has not yet been released to acute stroke rehabilitation, something we hope happens very soon. Princess B remains for a few more days, then must return home, though her plan is still to return for at least some of the Princess's chemo.

I feel really blessed to have such a fabulous, supportive family, and while the Christmas season has lacked in some of my usual traditions - tree, presents, watching movies, etc., it has been abundant in wonderful shared hugs, kisses, smiles and tears.

USC vs. UCLA - the ICU and Regular Hospital Room Comparison

  • USC has open potties in the ICU rooms; UCLA has potties tucked into clever cupboards. Win: UCLA
  • USC ICU uses standard IV's on stands; UCLA's ICU IV's are suspended from the ceiling, so the floors are probably more sanitary. Win: UCLA.
  • USC ICU rooms felt roomier, because of how they were arranged; UCLA's were set up in such a way that the bed and IV's & equipment made about a third of the room, including the phone, very difficult to access. Win: USC
  • USC had extremely attractive male and female attendants; UCLA - could've been, also, but even I have been too fried and tired to notice. Draw.
  • USC parking structure - $7.00 per day; UCLA - valet parking only at $12 plus tip. Win: USC.
  • USC remote controls and entertainment included movies on demand, movies in Spanish, relaxation and meditation videos, music and more; UCLA - horrible remote in ICU, marginally better in regular room. No extras, and channels don't match up; CBS 2 = 1, Fox 11 = 15, etc. Win: USC.
  • USC cafeteria - not bad, many healthy choices, daily specials. UCLA - likewise, but bigger and better laid out, as well as access to picnic tables outside. Win: UCLA.

English: The new UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Ce...
English: The new UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, from the south-west looking across Westwood Bl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tips for When (It's Really Not an If) a Medical Emergency Happens to Your People.

  • Talk to any neighbors you trust, now and exchange phone numbers, and, possibly, keys. I have several neighbors happy to feed my cat in a pinch, who I trust not to steal my not-particularly valuable belongings, but I just might not be able to knock on their doors and ask them to.
  • Sit down with your phone manual and make sure you have tagged or otherwise sorted your contacts, and that the important ones all include current information.
  • Complete, sign, and have witnessed (if required by your state) your Advanced Medical Directive, because your loved ones really don't need to be guessing in time of crisis what kind of care you want, from extreme to hands off, if you aren't able to express your own wishes.
  • Buy an extra phone charger and keep it with you at all times; they're usually not that expensive.
  • When you know you are going to the hospital, bring not only your phone charger, but an extra power bar if you have one. There may only be one available plug in the room and several people who all need to charge their phones.
  • Wear layers whenever possible. Temperatures in the rooms can fluctuate from arctic breeze to am-I-having-a-goddamned-hot-flash? (which even the guys experience).
  • Water bottles, cash in small denominations, and small snacks are all good things to bring with you.
  • Work out, as much as possible, a visitation schedule, so it's not a ghost town from 4-6 and the hordes of Genghis Khan from 6-8.
  • If you can, like being the parent of a newborn baby, nap when the sick/injured person naps.
  • Depending on the condition of the person you're visiting, you may want to bring a laptop to check your email, update FaceBook (the Princess's favorite), or play games. Don't count on getting any Real Work done while your loved one sleeps; not likely you will be able to focus enough to do so.
  • Pay attention to your own needs; drink plenty of water, and don't be afraid to draw the line and say you need a break to get some sleep/wash some underwear/grocery shop, etc. I even kept my long-scheduled massage appointment, and it made me feel SOOO much better.

And with that, I'm taking my own advice, and getting some food and sleep. It's going to be a long haul, still, so while I have some posts already in the can, writing new ones ain't my biggest priority. Expect me to be sporadic in posting and visiting back

Enhanced by Zemanta