Archive for the 'health' Category

11
May
13

A little bit more every day

Things are coming along.  To compare:

Four weeks post-op:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Seven weeks post-op:

Knee injury quadriceps tendon rupture

Today, just shy of 10 weeks post-op

Knee flex post-op 10 weeks

Of all the things I’ve had to do to get this knee to flex again, this has to be the most difficult:

Knee flex rope pull

It’s part of about 90 minutes in what the physios at rehab call the torture chamber.  When you arrive you’re given a set of exercises that target your problem.  I’ve got about 10 different things to do in order to build up my quadriceps muscles and flex the knee, and could go into detail about each one, but that photo is all you need.  It’s the worst.

The rope is appropriate, because it’s like self-flagellation.  I flex it as far as the muscles will take it, then start pulling slowly on the rope until it hurts.  Then I pull just a little bit more and hold it for 30 seconds.  After about 15 seconds, you start to go a little numb in the head, but wake up again when it’s time to release it.  Then the pain comes back double as you slowly let the foot down to the floor.  Repeat six times, once a day.

Good news!  I get to keep doing this.  My rehab is going to be extended one week, after which I will have the opportunity to drop by the centre for a workout as often as I like.  Physio should also continue twice a week after rehab finishes May 21st.

25
Apr
13

Notes after two days of rehab

There’s a theory about the news business that says they publish stories of disasters in far-off countries to help remind their audience that no matter how bad things get at home, it’s a lot worse elsewhere.

I don’t know how much truth is in that, but I was reminded of it on day two of rehab.  As much of a disruption to my life this injury has been and will continue to be for months to come, it’s a chin scrape compared to the situation of three men I’ve seen in the changing room, therapy pool, leg workout, and stretching classes.

One of them is an older fellow who looks like he’s worked outdoors his whole life.  He has a vertical scar running from way above to way below each knee, and he walks so slowly… I haven’t found out whether he’s got artificial knees, but maybe we’ll get to talking tomorrow.

Another fellow looks completely normal until he’s in the change room, where you see a long, curving scar running from his hip to his knee.  He had a rare form of bone cancer and they’ve installed an artificial femur.  Though he had to stay six months without moving in hospital – I was climbing the walls after six days – he says he’s lucky: the medical technology used to give him the new femur is so new, had he been diagnosed with the disease only three years previously, they would have had to amputate the whole leg. 

The third guy makes me weep just to think about.  He is tall and good-looking, but looks like he’s been in a serious car or motorbike accident.  He has absolutely no use of one arm, which dangles bone-thin, limp and lifeless at his side.  His hip and leg on the same side are very deeply gashed, and he walks very awkwardly.  I haven’t talked to him, am kind of waiting for the right moment to engage him in conversation, so for the moment I remain in respectful awe at his guts and determination as he works his way through the workout routines.

I am so very humbled by what I’ve seen over the past two days.  Though I see it only from a distance, I have a new-found perspective on what it means to be profoundly injured, and the strength these people have to work on overcoming it.

I’m also gaining even more respect for the people who go to work every day determined to help people in such bad shape get well enough so that they can lead a reasonably normal life again.  They see them arrive and leave again a few weeks or months later, like a carousel of pain.  There must be deep satisfaction in knowing their work is vital to the people they treat, but the energy, enthusiasm and often humour with which they approach their work must come from some profound place only they know where to draw from.  I know I wouldn’t last a week in their position.

In the weeks since I’ve been getting around the city for better or worse, I’ve also been on the receiving end of countless acts of kindness from people whose names I’ll never know.  From the man who went all the way back down a spiral staircase to hold the door open for me to make sure I left the doctor’s office in one piece, to the men and women, young and old who without fail will see me with a crutch and stand up and offer me a seat on the bus, to the random people on the street who catch my eye and with a little smile wordlessly tell me: hey, I’ve been there, too – I can only say: thank you, Hamburg.

And there is progress.  One month after the operation, I could only bend it a little:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Three weeks later after 12 days of physio and two days of rehab, still a ways to go, but it’s coming along:

Knee injury quadriceps tendon rupture

 

17
Apr
13

Hooray-hooray, it’s not yet May, but rehab starts a week today

I’d love to do a leaping dance, but under the circumstances, maybe not.

Only a few days after receiving word that my medical rehab has been approved by the Berlin powers-that-be I get a call from the clinic saying my three-week program starts April 24.  Yipppeeee!  :)  I had been counting on it starting only sometime after the first weekend in May.  The clinic here in Hamburg has a great reputation and has just re-opened in brand-new facilities.

It’s just in time.

I’ve ditched the brace that had been clasped to the leg from ankle to hip for six weeks to keep the knee stable after the operation, but there’s still so little movement in the knee, I get worried that it’ll never be the same again.  It’s hard to see over the lip of the hill when you’re standing at the base.

I now get around mostly without crutches with a tension bandage around the knee, but it’s a hop-along scene.  This is what it looked like four days ago when I made the switch:

A friend congratulated me on the quick approval for rehab, saying all the pain they’ll be putting me through to stretch out the tendon again will be worth it.

I can’t wait…

09
Apr
13

how to bake bread on one leg

Hobbling around on crutches means you can’t do much of what you usually do, but as long as you have a bit of balance and are organised, you can still pivot on one leg in the kitchen.

The other day I made what around here will forever be known as one-legged bread.  

To make one-legged bread, you first have to rip your quadriceps tendon, get it sown back to your kneecap around three permanently installed screws, spend nearly a week in hospital, and still be a week or so away Ian knee post-op front x-rayfrom being able to walk without crutches or ankle-to-hip leg brace.

If that step sounds like too much hassle, I fully understand.

But since making bread of any kind means going slow, being patient and taking long pauses, your mindset is already there if you’re approaching it on one leg.

And because your muscles are wasting away immobile while the tendon heals, you should be eating a lot of protein – like steak!  That is a tip from my old friend Vreni in Vancouver at Wellness Works.  And I’ve recently discovered an ancient whole grain called Kamut that is not only very tasty, it has more than twice the protein of run-of-the-mill whole grain wheat.  So in this recipe, that’s what I use.  It grinds up well in a grain mill if you have one.  Thanks again, Vreni – for that and your advice on how to best recover from my injury.

The first step is to make a thick, awful-looking batter called a sponge that will serve as the basis of the bread dough. In this recipe you use white flour, kamut flour, dried yeast, honey and lukewarm water.  Ingredient list and details at bottom.

Mix that up with a whisk until it has the consistency of thick pancake batter.

Then mix well together some more white flour, yeast and salt, and pour all that over the sponge.  Cover and let sit on your counter for an hour, then put it in the fridge overnight or up to 24 hours.  Or if winter is still lingering, stick it out on the balcony if it’s not too far below freezing.

When you get up the next morning, the yeast will have bubbled up into the flour mixture and look like this:

one-legged bread sponge mixtureYou can see how the sponge has bubbled up from below to mix on its own with the flour mixture on top.  This is perfectly OK.

Now get a good wooden spoon and mix it all together, then knead the dough for about 5 minutes.

Then go give your leg – and the bread – a rest!   Stick a bowl over the dough and let it sit for 20 minutes.  That allows the dough to expand a bit, making the rest of the kneading easier.

ian in hamburg one-legged bread rising

While you’re letting the bread rest or during one of the risings, maybe you can do an exercise you learned in physio: lie flat on your back, and try to raise the injured knee off the ground by sliding your heel along the floor toward your butt.  I get about this far until it hurts like a bugger and I can raise it no more:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Back to the bread:

Knead it for about 10 minutes more after it rests, then put back in your bowl, cover and set in a warm place to rise.

It should rise about double after about 90 minutes.

Punch it down, fold it over a couple of times – but don’t knead it – then put it back into your bowl to rise a second time.  It won’t take as long this time to rise.

After it’s risen a second time, punch it down again and shape to an elongated form and place in your bread pan.

bread dough in pans before final rising baking

Leave it uncovered somewhere warm to rise to about an inch or so above the loaf pan rim, then stick in the oven at 240 degrees C or 475 F for 10 minutes, lowering the temperature to 215 C or 425 F and baking for another 25 minutes or so.

Take it out, let it cool on a rack a bit, slice off an end, put on a bit of butter, enjoy!  Then hop off to rest while it all cools.

Ingredients and method:  I have two huge loaf pans, so I multiply by FOUR the recipe listed below.   Splitting the huge mass of dough into two, each loaf should weigh about 1600 grams before you bake it.   I usually cut the loaves in half and freeze what we don’t eat right away.

Putting the sponge mixture overnight in the fridge is not really necessary.  You can mix it up into dough after a couple of hours if you like, but leaving it overnight makes for a more full-flavoured bread.  Just make sure you let it warm up again for an hour or so after taking it out of the cold.

For the sponge:

All-purpose white flour (in Germany 405): 1 cup / 155 grams

Kamut or whole wheat flour: 1/4 c / 36 g

Honey: 1 1/4 tsp

Dry instant yeast: 3/8 tsp  / 1.25 g

water 1 1/3 cups:  / 320g

DO NOT ADD SALT TO THE ABOVE MIXTURE.

Flour mix:

White flour: 1 3/4 cups  / 290g

Dry instant yeast: 1/2 tsp

Salt:  1 1/2 tsp

Enjoy:

ian in hamburg one-legged bread kamut

This recipe I’ve adapted from The Bread Bible, eliminating all the fancy stuff like throwing in ice cubes into the oven before baking to provide moisture.  She also recommends pre-heating the oven to 475 F ONE HOUR BEFORE BAKING!  I suppose in a universe of infinitely free electricity this might not be such a bad idea, but around here our light bills just jumped another 10 percent, so lady, forget it!

19
Mar
13

jumping through hoops to get rehab

You never really learn how things really operate until you have to deal with them yourself.

All I want is some decent rehab programme, something to make sure I can walk again without a limp after ripping the body’s largest tendon and rendering my right leg useless for the time being.

Ian half-way home to HamburgMy regular doctor was telling me enthusiastically last week about a clinic where I could get a full morning programme of daily physio once the 6-week no-touch rule is over and I can finally take off this dead-weight brace it’s been so fun to drag around.

But when I went Monday to the specialist surgeon to whom he’d referred me to have the stitches removed and we later talked about physio, all he was able to offer me was a referral for two half-hour sessions a week.  The absolute bare-bones minimum available.  In Germany’s two-class healthcare system, if you’re a private patient you get silver service, no questions asked.  If you’re on statutory cover – in German gesetzlich – well, take a number, eh?  Nothing new there.

So this morning I went back to my regular doctor and told him of the enormous gap between what he was talking about and what the specialist gave me.

“Hmmmm…. let me do some quick phoning around and I’ll call you back in later,” he said.

Twenty minutes later he tells me the deal: in order to get rehab, I have to go first apply for it through the bureau that deals with pension issues.   Pension?  That’s the rapidly dwindling sum I’ll get when I retire, isn’t it?  I thought this was medical.

“It is,” he explained, “but your healthcare provider is responsible for your time off work.  They pay for that.  Your rehab is paid for by the pension people.”

The things you learn.

So he gives me a referral for a rehab clinic, reminding that I’ll first have to call the Hamburg pension administration bureau, who will set the ball in motion.

Knowing that sounded just a little to easy for words, I ask for and receive a direct number to call, some tips on what to say, and a merry send-off home.

The number they gave me was not in service.

Digging the right number out of the Internet, I wait on hold for the usual 10 minutes before speaking with a woman who informs me that my pension is administered not in Hamburg, but by the federal office in Berlin.  When I ask for the number in Berlin, thinking this is probably a routine thing,  I get an answer as cold as this late winter and probably as much as I should have expected: you can go find it yourself.

So I dig out the number soon enough and call the Federal Pensions Office and jump through the usual number-choice hoops before speaking with a woman who guides me through pages and sub-pages to the right forms to download and fill out.

There are seven separate forms totalling 17 pages.   Many repeat the same questions in a different way.  Some don’t apply to me, but I have to check a box anyway.  One ominous one involved giving my bank account details to permit them to extract any fees I might have.  No mention of what these fees might be for, or how much they are.

I don’t know why it has to be this complicated, but I suspect they do it this way to turn off those people who are intimidated by officialdom.  There must be a percentage out there who give up before even trying.

After filling all the forms that pertain to me, I have to take the bundle to my doctor to fill out stuff that pertains to them, then take that bundle to my healthcare provider who will fill out more little boxes, then I get to go to the post office and send the bundle off to Berlin.

Right now I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes so long to get approval, I’ll have long since passed the point at which rehab will do any good.

16
Mar
13

A cross-border ski-doo trip to hospital

Skiing Ischgl Samnaun Ian with patrollerIt took a good half-hour for the ski patrol to arrive by ski-doo after we first sent word we’d need them.   As we were waiting we heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching, and I groaned – no, please, not a helicopter ride!

The patrollers hopped off the machine and got to work pumping up an inflatable brace after assessing my situation.  By tapping on the bottom of my foot and seeing I wasn’t writhing in agony, they were sure there was no bone breakage, but were very careful nevertheless in sliding me in, because every little movement of the leg hurt.

Many people had stopped while we were waiting to ask if they should send word, and we thanked them all kindly, but now that help had arrived, everyone just whizzed past.  Unfortunately, the patrollers still needed help to hoist me into the sled once they got me on the inflatable stretcher, but they couldn’t get anyone to stop.  So the little  red-haired girl got a grip on one end as the two of them took up the other, and in one lunge I was plunked down and then strapped in for the ride to the clinic.

This was all happening one sunny afternoon at 2,700 metres in Ischgl, Austria, but we were staying over the border in Samnaun, Switzerland.  Ischgl and Samnaun were two separate areas until an expansion joined them up in 1987, so now you can get a lift ticket that covers both.

Ischgl Samnaun map

The ride to the Ischgl clinic was a bit of fun, actually.  I now know what it feels like to have everyone stop, stare, and tell themselves: thank hell it’s not me.

At the clinic they had me walk around a bit, which I actually managed with the brace, but they told me I’d be in a hospital for a few days, offering to fly me by helicopter down the valley in Austria.

“Uhhhh… that might be a bit too much trouble,” I stammered out, not only unsure whether my insurance would cover a helicopter air ambulance at two bucks per blade rotation – low estimate! – but what about the red-haired girl?  How would she make her way back to where we were staying in Switzerland?  They might be joined at the mountaintop, but to reach Samnaun village from Ischgl village you first have to head down to the junction of two valleys and then go up the other.  It’s a long way, and it was late in the day.

“OK,” they said, “what we can do is tell the Samnaun patrol we have a victim to pass over to them.  You’ll both be taken by ski-doo up to the border and from there the Swiss will take you down to the clinic in Samnaun.”

This time I was the one in the rear passenger seat of the ski-doo and the red-haired girl riding shotgun as we revved our way back up to the pass to the Samnaun side.

A patroller was waiting on his ski-doo at the border, and before we knew it we were on our way down the other side to the top of the aerial tramway, where a man was waiting with a wheelchair.  The patroller parked the machine and helped us squeeze in with all our gear among the other passengers for the tram-ride down, where at the bottom an ambulance was waiting for the short ride to the clinic in Samnaun.  At every link in the chain there was someone waiting to take over.

In the Samnaun clinic they definitely diagnosed the ripped quadriceps tendon, and set me up for an ambulance ride down the valley a little less than an hour away in Scuol, Switzerland.

Cash or credit card, sir?  I do hope to get some of it back….

===========

Marty Ian Scuol hospital Switzerland balconyIf my first-ever serious ski injury had to happen somewhere, I was pretty lucky to land up in hospital in Scuol.   From the moment of injury to the operating table barely more than six hours had elapsed, a crucial point as I’ve since learned.  The earlier this injury is worked on, the better the chances of a full recovery.

I’m going to write the hospital staff a card today to thank them for everything they did.  Perhaps they figure they were just doing their jobs, but I was so impressed.  From the first wheel through the door to good-bye six days later, the care was excellent.  The doctors were clearly professional and at the same time approachable and friendly, I was given my choice of anaesthesia by the director of the hospital himself, the morphine as I emerged from the epidural was offered and gladly taken, the nurses were often asking how I was, what they could do for me, and somehow also knew when it was time to leave me to just rest.

And to help me get through my last full day, a good friend who’d read of my plight on Facebook and who was planning a trip to Nice from Munich via Switzerland offered to drop by for a visit.  He arrived on the morning of the best weather we’d had since the day of the injury, brilliant warm sunshine bearing down on the balcony.   We had a chat and got some sun, and when the physiotherapist came along to give me another introductory course in competitive stair-climbing with crutches, he bade farewell.

Marty, you are the greatest.

13
Mar
13

That time just before everything changes

When something suddenly happens to you that has the potential to change your life forever, you look back at those moments just before to search for some sort of meaning.  Was what you were thinking some sort of clue that went ignored?  Was choosing one path over the other just a decision among dozens we make every day, a different choice just delaying the inevitable?

I’m sitting here starting the second week of six with my right leg gripped in a brace from the ankle to hip after blowing out a tendon skiing, getting emergency surgery, and spending nearly a week in hospital.

I was skiing along a ridge following little red-haired girl as we made our way back to Samnaun, Switzerland, when I stopped to look at the vista spread out to the right.  It was like everything you dream a day in the mountains should be.   The sky a deep blue, the roiling froth of mountain peaks spread out in all directions.  No wind.  Uncrowded.  Just a Dad and his girl seizing the day we’d planned and looked forward to for months and months.  The second day of two weeks and it was already perfect.

Skiing Ischgl red-haired girl

We were in Austria, but the Swiss mountains loomed closer, and as I glanced over at to my right down the cliff and the blinding clarity of the snow across the valley, I called out ahead for her to stop and just take a look at it herself.  I wanted to catch up with her so we could stand there together, so that I could remind her that this is what it’s all about.   It’s not just the feel of your skis on the snow, the sweet spot you hit when years and years of practice lets you accomplish a fluid and effortless turn one after the other.  It’s not the speed – though that’s part of the exhilaration you kind of get addicted to – and it’s most definitely not about looking good or trying to impress anyone or comparing this one to that.

It’s about stopping to appreciate what’s all around you.  The feeling you get when you really see where you are among the mountains, the vista, the fresh air.

But she was already so far ahead of me that she didn’t hear, and I felt compelled to move on and catch up far sooner than I wanted to.

We met up at the top of a black run down to the left.  The ridge traverse led to a blue run – a much easier way down – which we could see in the distance further on and down to the left.

“So which one do you want to take?” she asks me.  “The blue or the black?”

“The black, for sure.”

OK!

We flew off beside one another down the wide, flat expanse.  There was no other skier near us.  The first few turns felt really good as they had both days, and I was thinking about which lift we might take first to get us closer to the Swiss border and home, and what we’d be making for dinner, when suddenly it felt like my right thigh burst out of its skin, and I was down.  I squirm and cringe just writing this, a feeling I get when I rehearse to myself in German what I’m going to tell the doctor.  The pain doesn’t come back, but it’s this feeling of helplessness and incomprehension, because I still don’t know how it happened.

In an instant I knew from the pain that something serious had gone wrong and that this would be my last time on skis for a very long Skiing Ischgl Ian injuredwhile.  I was just beginning to bounce head first down the hill on my back as that thought flashed, but by the time I’d stopped and rotated so I could use the good leg to get up to a standing position, I thought: this isn’t so bad.  I don’t feel anything at all anymore.

Two women stopped and asked if I was OK, as they’d seen the fall and heard me screaming.  They asked if they should tell the ski patrol at the bottom of the lift.

“I think I’m going to be OK,” I said, the red-haired girl standing beside me.  “I’m going to try to make it down by myself.”

No chance of that.  My first attempt at moving the leg was instant agony, and somehow I was on my ass again, sliding down a few metres further, my daughter scrambling behind to grab and stop me.

Refusing help was denial of that first thought that this was a serious injury.  This can’t be happening.  It’s never happened before.  It’s only the start of our ski vacation.  I’m healthy, I can ski well, I’ve got the rest of my life to enjoy this and I’m going to prove it.

Another pair of skiers stopped to ask the same thing, but this time we were pretty emphatic.

“I’m really injured,” I told them.  “I’m going to need to be taken off the hill.”

14
Jan
13

So I skate onto the ice and fall on my face…

…35 years ago…and that’s why I have to go in for an operation this week.

There’s blood everywhere, bright red on the hard, flat, cold surface, but I don’t notice it because my only thought is to stand up as best I can, turn around and make it back to the bench without falling a second time.

Canada Germany hockey game Hamburg 2012“Hey buddy,” a guy says, “your nose is really bleeding.”

And so began – and ended – this Canadian’s ice hockey career at 17.  I’d always loved playing street hockey, played it for hours and hours after school and weekends like any kid growing up in Canada, squeezing in an extra 20 minutes’ floor hockey over high school lunch break.  But it never gets cold long enough on Canada’s southwest coast to freeze the local lakes thick enough to skate on, and our town didn’t have an ice arena, so I never learned how to skate until I was about 30 and moved to Quebec.

But the fact I didn’t know how to skate didn’t bother Kenny, who convinced me to borrow some skates and hockey gear and go down with him and a bunch of other guys one night for their weekly pick-up game in North Vancouver.

“You can ski like crazy, man, so you can skate for sure!” he said, and I was dumb enough to believe him.  I fell to the ice within 10 seconds of stepping off the bench during the warm-up, and watched the rest of them play the rest of the night as I made sure the bleeding stopped.

The bruising spread across my face and stayed there like disappearing berry stain for three weeks, but after that, I never gave it much thought.  As anyone who’s really active in- or outdoors will tell you, you take cuts and bruises as part of the game, and this I figured was in that category.

Several years later at 24 while at a routine medical exam before taking a job with the railway the company doctor looks up horse schnozzmy nose and tells me that I have a deviated septum.

“What’s a deviated septum?” I ask him.

He angles a mirror around so I can look up my nose at the blockage up one nostril, asking if I’ve ever been whacked on the head or had trouble breathing.

“Well, sure,” I tell him. “But I never really thought about it that much.”

I knew I should get it fixed, but took another four years to get around to it.

By some dumb luck I managed to land an Austrian Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who’d emigrated to Vancouver after the war.

Once we agreed to go ahead with it and the first x-rays were done he explained in detail how my nose would look once the operation was completed and I could breathe easier again.

But he never once told me HOW he’d go about straightening it, so it was only a couple of weeks later while lying on the operating table that I learned just what it meant to re-straighten a broken nose.

Because after he’d squeezed at least three needles up there to make sure the entire area was frozen so well I’d never feel a thing, he started to go to work on my face.

If you’re queasy about such things, you can click away now.

As he inserted his scalpel and started digging away I felt nothing, but he made a scraping sound through the skull to my ears I’ll never forget.  I know all this because I was also dumb enough to let him convince me to have it done under local, not general anaesthetic.

I really wish I’d never been awake to see this, but what saved me was Demerol, a wonderful, legal drug when introduced directly into your veins makes you feel in an instant like you’re floating in mid-air.

hammer and chiselSo I felt good and relaxed until he pulled a silver hammer and what looked like a chisel off the tray and held it over my head.

“What are you going to do with that?” I ask him.

“You von’t feel a sing,” he says, “but if you vant, you can haff some more Demerol to relax you some more.”

The extra Demerol boost felt like what I’ve heard a heroin rush feels like.

After he was sure I wasn’t going to object anymore, he aimed the chisel up my nose, raised up the silver hammer, and started hammering.  He hammered and hammered and hammered and all I could think of was, they can do what they want with me, I could be trussed up and hung by the ankles from the theater lights and I wouldn’t care, just let it be over.

When he’d finished re-arranging my nose, he packed it with cotton and I was wheeled out to recover.  Three weeks later, I still had a bit of bruising, but at least I could breathe easier once the cotton packing was removed.

It’s now been 25 years, and I thought I’d never have to think of it again, but somehow, it’s crooked again.  Or maybe the operation wasn’t all that successful, or maybe the falls and hits playing sports since then injured it again and I once again didn’t care.

But I’ve been to three ENT specialists over the past two years in Hamburg, trying to get help for another problem: phantom smells.  It started about two years ago with a powerful smell of metal all the time.  Copper, mostly.  That went away, but now it’s other stuff.  I smell soap, burned wood mixed with soap, weird chemicals wafting through my head.  It comes and goes in five-day cycles.  They’ve given me an MRI and ruled out brain tumour, but I’m slowly coming to realise this is like tinnitus for the nose.   Like hearing sounds in your head that aren’t there, the nose smells things that aren’t there either.

But at every visit to ask about the smell thing, the new ENT took one look up my nose and said I should look at getting it fixed.  I’d tell the story I’ve just told you, and they all looked horrified and said that things have improved in the ENT branch since 1988, that fixing a nose is not so brutal anymore, and in any case, they’d give me a general whatever they had to do.

But I wasn’t going for it.

Then I visited a fourth specialist who said there’s still a problem, but such a drastic measure as re-straightening the septum isn’t necessary.  What he is going to do this week is clear out the scarring left over from the first operation, and perform a minor procedure to widen the passages so I can breathe easier.  I did a test a month ago at the clinic that showed I’m just not getting enough air.

I don’t usually yammer on about my operations, but since this is only the second one I’ve ever had if you don’t count the routine tonsil yank-out they did when I was 8, it’s a big deal for me.

I just hope one day I can play some hockey again.

This winter in Canada, for sure.

ice-skating-holland-netherlands-sunrise-hockey-stick-puck-rough-ankeveen

21
Jun
12

The Germans don’t beef about draining my blood

I used to donate blood when I lived in Canada, but am no longer allowed to, even if I paid them.  Because I lived for more than three months in France in the early 1980s, I’m no longer eligible to give blood in Canada.

Eet ees ze vache folle, you see.  Mad Cow disease.  The Canadians fear I’m a carrier because France at the time I lived there was importing possibly infected beef from Thatcher’s Britain, a mad cow dominion if there ever was one.

Roast beef?  Hah! I could tell them that as a struggling student I lived exclusively on baguette and brie washed down with cheap wine, but it wouldn’t do any good.

In fact, if you applied Canada’s incredibly strict rules for donating blood to Germany, the entire system in this country would collapse.  That’s because Canada now says that if you’ve lived for more than five years at a time in Europe at any time since 1980, they won’t allow you to donate, either.

Canada is paranoid, I suppose, because there really is no way of knowing whether my blood is tainted or not, or, if I truly am a carrier, when it will flare up.  There’s this disease called Kuru that still pops up in former cannibals from New Guinea about once or twice a year, even though it was more than 50 years ago the last time they tucked into some filet humain.  Kuru is what they call a prion disease, and is like mad cow in that the cattle got it after being fed the ground-up – and infected – bits of their forefathers .  That was a bad idea, because it spread to humans and has killed more than 170 people so far.

But the Germans see beyond all that, and have no qualms about sticking needles into my left Canuck arm to drain a bit of fluid.

Every eight weeks I go to a clinic about 20 minutes away, down a litre of fruit juice while filling out a form that says I am still in a monogamous relationship with a human being I trust, have not suddenly decided to swap needles with strangers, and am not at the moment on day four of a three-day bender.

Then I go have some more juice while waiting my turn at the draining beds.   It takes only a few minutes of semi-horizontal relaxation with the friendly nurses, after which they give me a meal voucher I trade for two long, crunchy European wieners and a mound of potato salad washed down with another litre of fruit juice.  Gotta make sure I don’t collapse on the way home, I guess.

For all that they give me €23 to cover my bus fare, time and trouble.  But they also give me a bit more.  Even though your contribution is anonymous, indirect and just a drop in the bucket, it’s a good feeling to know it’s going to help someone get through their stay in hospital.

And you might call it the karmic installment savings plan, but some day I might be hauled in on a stretcher and need to make a withdrawal myself.

09
Mar
11

A couple of reasons why German healthcare is in such a mess

From some of the highest drug prices in Europe to bloated bureaucracies, there must be a dozen reasons why healthcare in Germany is an expensive mess – about 8% of gross wages for those on the public plan, and rising.

trust me i'm a doctor buttonA few years ago, during what turned out to be the longest stretch I’ve ever had to endure in a hospital, I got a good look at two of those reasons.

It started out as a routine blood test at my family doctor.

“This doesn’t look good” he says when showing me the results.  “You’ve got to see a specialist about this as soon as possible.”

So I get an appointment at a specialist who performs an ultrasound, along with another blood test.   When the tests come back he hums and haws, says it could be this or that, but to find out for sure, we have to take a tissue sample.  Jab a hollow tube through my liver and rummage through what they pull out.

“Just a couple of nights in the hospital,” he tells me.

I get sent to a third doctor, the one who’s going to be taking care of the hospital visit, who performs the third blood test in about three weeks, which comes back with the very same results.

Upon admission to hospital a couple of weeks later, they take another two blood tests, one on admission, another the next day.

“Look,” I tell them.  “I don’t understand.  I’ve got an arm like a junkie’s with all these needles.  Why do I have to get a new blood test every time I’m sent to a new doctor?”

“Because that’s the way we do it here,” they tell me. “You may be referred to another doctor, but they have to take a new test each time.  They can’t take the results of the former doctor at face value.”

I wondered how many billions each year are wasted that way, but it was the hospital visit itself that really opened my eyes to the way the system is set up to rip us all off.

Not only did they only perform the tissue sample the morning of my third day after admission, already forcing me to stay one more night than I’d planned for, but they also arranged to have me undergo a colonoscopy a few days later, because the tissue sample showed nothing abnormal, and they wanted to “make sure we aren’t missing anything.”

That was on a Friday, and they told me I’d have to spend the entire weekend in the hospital waiting for the colonoscopy to get underway the following Tuesday.

What?  Wait f0ur full days in hospital when I feel perfectly healthy just to prepare for another procedure that might not even be necessary?

“Screw you,” I told them.  “I am not spending five minutes in this dump more than I have to.”

Dump?  More like an asylum.  My time until then had been spent enduring the ravings of an attention-starved recovering alcoholic in the bed beside me, who, completely oblivious to the impact his constant ramblings and interruptions had on the rest of us, actually woke me up the night before the tissue sample, because he couldn’t sleep and so was watching his personal TV at 3 in the morning.  Mostly to get away from him, I packed up and left that Friday afternoon, signing a waiver on my way out saying that whatever happened to me that weekend was my own doing.

After a beautiful weekend hiking the storm-swept mid-winter beaches of St-Peter-Ording with K and the little red-haired girl, I showed up Monday morning at the hospital, spent a day drinking gallons of some vile solution turning my backside into a storm drain, submitted myself to an invasion by a 12-foot black plastic snake, and spent a day and a half recovering.  The only thing I was grateful for was their generous application of Demerol.  I liked it so much, I’d have let them do it again just to get more of the stuff.

I told my family doctor all this and he replied with what I’d been thinking all along.  “I’m really sorry you had to go through all that, but hospitals do that all the time..  Every night you stay there is worth a lot of money to them.  They maximise the time you have to stay so they can turn around and bill the health funds.  There’s really nobody checking to see if what they do is really necessary.”

To top it all off, I received a bill from the hospital for the daily user fee we all have to pay.  They completely disregarded the two nights over the weekend I had left the hospital, billing me for the full nine days.

I paid for seven with a note and a letter explaining why, with proof I wasn’t there and all the rest, but the bureaucrats ignored it.  Instead I received a nasty notice threatening me with legal action and all associated additional costs if I didn’t buck up for the two days I did not stay in their comfortable surroundings.

So I paid for those two days just to get them out of my hair, only to find out a few weeks later from my healthcare people that I shouldn’t have, and that I could get the money back if I applied for it.

But by then I was so glad to have the whole sorry mess behind me I didn’t bother.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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