Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Amazing Human Body.

Or more specifically, My Amazing Human Body.

When I was about 8 years old builders started to build some homes next to our home. I lived in England at the time. Houses in England are built with bricks. Trucks (Lorries in England.) delivered the bricks and the men stacked them in piles that seemed to us to be about 10 feet high 20 feet long and 8 feet wide. However we were 8 years old so the piles were probably more like 5 or 6 feet high by 8 to 10 feet long and 4 feet wide. Being small boys and being told to stay away from them, we naturally climbed onto the piles.

Once on top we removed the bricks from the middle and stacked them around the edges working our way down until we had a nice "cave" where we could sit out of the view of the adults. This den made an ideal place to sit and drink "firewater" - which was water, and supplied by me - and lemonade which was supplied by my rich friend Charles. Well his parents were "Rich". It was also an ideal place to smoke, something else that was forbidden, so we had to do.

In the 1940's in England everyone smoked, well almost everyone did. My father did, but my mother never did, and dad quit when he was in his 30's. There were a lot of brands of cigarettes available. I remember Weights, Woodbines, Players, Craven "A", Senior Service, Gold Leaf and there were others, including a French? brand called Galouses? But the only ones for us kids were Woodbines because they were not only the cheapest but you could buy a pack of five cigarettes!

I don't know if it was illegal to sell to kids then, but we never seemed to have any problem buying them. Maybe we just said, "They are for my dad." Not that we bought cigarettes very often anyway. For one thing it didn't matter how cheap they were when you didn't have any money - - -. And they tasted bloody horrible! We had to smoke because we weren't allowed to, but I can honestly say that we hated it. Well I did anyway.

Now where was I going with this? Oh yes the pile of bricks. Well I fell off and hurt my shoulder. Years later an X-Ray for something else found that I had broken my collar bone. But I didn't know that then, only that it hurt and I was not going to tell my mum and dad because I had been told not to play on the bricks. I don't know why I didn't tell them because I can never remember them punishing us. Although dad did slap me on the leg once when I said something rude to an aunt.

Anyway, apparently the bone healed itself.

I'm sure there were other cuts and scrapes. Like the time I came off off my home made go-cart onto some gravel as I negotiated a curve at high speed. A lot of blood that time, but mostly they were mild injuries.

The next major injury was a broken heart at age 19. That hurt bad. But again my Amazing Body healed itself.

Then at age 26 I was body surfing at Cape Cod in Massachusetts when a particularly large wave picked me up and tossed me unceremoniously onto the hard packed sand on my right shoulder. It hurt. Well it would wouldn't it? Hard packed wet sand has about the same consistency as hard concrete. Julia suggested that I lay in the warm sun and "Keep moving it."

We were sleeping in the back of our Oldsmobile Station Wagon and in the early hours of the next morning, when the pain became unbearable, we drove to the Hartford Hospital where an X-Ray revealed that I had broken the ball of the ball and socket joint in my right shoulder very neatly in half. The doctor wanted to put me into a half body cast or something. But it was summer and very hot and we had to get back to Baltimore and I was a guy. So he strapped the arm securely to my body, put it in a sling and told me to see my doctor when we got home. He also said "Whatever you do don't move it." (Please note Julia's advice at the end of the last paragraph.)

Back in Baltimore I went to the company doctor - we had just come to the US and didn't have a regular doctor. Plus I expect the company doctor was free. He told me to keep the straps and sling on for, I think it was 4 or 6 weeks, without moving it. The company gave me a job of taking messages, drawings etc around the offices, which was rather good of them. As it was my right shoulder I couldn't even write!

After 6 weeks the doctor took off the sling and told me to move the arm. He repeated the order when I didn't comply! I couldn't move it! Try strapping your arm to your body and not moving it for 6 weeks and see what happens! He grabbed it and moved it. I screamed, well grunted anyway. Once he got it moving he gave me some exercises to do, one of which was to "walk" my fingers up the wall. A little higher each day. This I did, along with other exercises. I did this compulsively because the doctor told me that I would never get full use back in my arm. But I did, and have had for 45 years now. It has only been in the last few months that I have been having pains in that shoulder and even then only at night and not during the day. At night if I sleep on my right shoulder, the bad one, it can be uncomfortable, but if I sleep on the left side the right shoulder is very painful. Go figure. Any ideas why? Anyone? So I now sleep on my back and that works. Not easy after sleeping on my side for most of my 71 years!

Still not a bad result for an arm that I, "Would not regain full use of." as the doctor said. My Amazing Body.

Next. After being laid off from the newspaper business, The News American, on Christmas Day 1979 - the newspaper business is definitely not sentimental - I started a Chimney Sweeping business.

In July of 1989 after almost 10 years of uneventful work, with only the occasional scrape or bruise, I fell off of a roof. My leg was Hyper Extended at the knee (The knee joint bent the wrong way!) The knee swelled up something awful. It looked about the size of a small soccer ball. The doctor looked at it and said, "It could be blood or it could be fluid." I said, "It's fluid." He said "It could be blood." After several repetions. He said, "We have to find out." and I said, "How?" The answer was simple, "We take a needle and draw a sample and look at it." Well that didn't sound too bad so I said OK. Doc went accross the room to a cabinet. When he returned I almost passed out. He was holding a syringe about the size of a litre bottle of soda with a needle the size of a pencil! But it wasn't as bad as I thought. The needle went in easily and when he drew back on the plunger a dark black fuid filled the syringe. Obviously blood, a pint or two of it!

It seemed that bending the knee the wrong way had torn the tendons causing them to bleed. They wanted to operate. I said no thank you. So a knee brace was fitted and set to move about 15 degrees, which made walking awkward and climbing a ladder impossible. After a cuople of days I reset the brace to allow about a 30 degree movement, which made walking easier and also made it possible to climb a ladder. Which I did. I know, stupid. But that is guys for you! I was back to normal in a few weeks. Not even missing any work. And no operation!

My daughter was living in one of our apartments and when it needed some landscaping, I was there for it. The faithful station wagon was ideal for picking up 6 railroad ties at a time. Hey I was only in my 50's. I loaded and unloaded several loads of railroad ties. alone. Then dug out the area to be made beautiful and laid the ties in place. When I had laid about 10 or 12 in place my 50 something year old back decided it had enough. I fell to the ground screaming. The ambulance rushed me to hospital where the doctor pronounced that I had popped a disc and would need an operation. I said no thank you very much. And instead went to see a physical therapist at the Sports Therapy place in Annapolis. My physical therapist's name was Kayla as I remember and she put me on a special table where I did exercises. Within a few weeks I was as good as new. Maybe better. And no operation!

Building, lining, repairing and cleaning chimneys is hard physical work. In October of 2000 after some 21 years of hard physical labor I was lifting a very heavy stove with another man when I discovered that I had osteoporosis. There was a loud bang from the region of my back, followed by a loud scream from the region of my mouth and I fell to the ground in what I can only describe as agony.

An ambulance took me to Annapolis hospital where a nuclear scan revealed severe osteoporosis and two collapsed vertebrae.

Unbeliveably I returned to work a couple of weeks later, mostly just doing desk work.

Three months later, when an employee didn't show up and I went to do his work, I collapsed another vertebrae while lifting a ladder. That was pretty much the end of my working career and I thought, my life as I knew it. In a matter of minutes I had lost 2 inches in height, lost my business - which I, along with my partner Bob, had spent 20 years building to be probably the biggest Chimney Company in Maryland - and a lost a life free of pain. I also lost my freedom to do anything that I wanted to do, including working 12 hours a day.

Life changed. And I changed. I was taking pain pills daily, in fact several times a day, just to be able to function. My business had been wrenched away from me. I thought my life was over. I "Sold" my busines to my partner. Gave it really. The fight had been knocked out of me and I had pretty much given up.

But that Amazing Body rallied and I managed to pull it back together. I applied for and received Social Security Disability which gave me the freedom to be able to work towards rehabilitating my body. This took several years and I was just starting to think that I might be able to find something that my recovering body could handle when - -

WHAM, at the end of March 2005 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On the 22nd of March I saw my family Doctor, Dr Shantz. He sent me to see Dr Alkaitis on the 23rd. On the same day Dr Alkaitis sent me to see Dr Soloman who called Johns Hopkins hospital while I was there in his office and spoke to and made an appointment for me to see Dr Weingart the next week. He, Dr Soloman, said, "If I were having this operation Dr Weingart is the doctor that I would want to do it."

I went to see Dr Weingart. I remember that he washed his hands when he came in to examine me and I said, "That's what I like to see." He looked at me puzzled and said "What do you mean?" and I said, "Someone who washes his hands when he is going to be putting them inside of my head." There was no reaction. He may have been a good doctor, and I'm not sure about that either, but he certainly had no sense of humor! And that was proven more than once during our association.

He operated the following week, after which began another long ordeal for my Amazing Body.

Suffice to say that I could write a full length novel about my experiences over the next few years. I would argue with the finding that Johns Hopkins Hospital is "The number one hospital in the world." In fact if they are, I certainly cannot imagine how bad the others are!

For one thing they lost my bridge. And that was the least of my problems!

On my way home from the hospital a week or two later Julia had to pull over so that I could get out of the car and lean on it while my body was wracked by a series of pains that were like severe electric shocks. Over the next few years I suffered these severe convulsions or shocks sometimes several times a day and sometimes so severe that they literally threw me to the ground. The doctor said that he had done many similar operations and never heard of any such symptoms. In spite of repeated calls to him I was never able to get an answer to what was happening and almost never able to get him to call me back.

Over time the frequency and severity of the attacks gradually reduced until after about 5 years they only occured once every month or two and were usually little more than a slight inconvenience. Now, 2012, I still get the occasional pain, but they usually only last a few minutes and are little more than a shadow of they what they once were. About two or three times a year I get a longer more severe occurence of The Pain, but again nothing like what they were in the first few years. Then they were so severe that the only thing that I could do was lay flat on my back and remain absolutely still. It would usually go away within minutes, but if I got up it would come roaring back. I found that I had to stay absolutely still and flat for at least one to two hours before it was gone and I could get up without it returning immediately. Bear in mind that at first this sometimes happened several times a day! And my doctor refused to believe that it was happening!

But I recovered. I return to hospital (The University of Maryland Hospital now.) every year, usually in January or February, for an MRI of my brain. The tumor remains, they were unable to remove it, it is right in the middle, but it has not grown appreciably. My Amazing Body. What was next for it?

Well it's next test came in June of 2012.

My parents still live in England and Julia and I went over to visit them in June of 2012. I was now once again in "peak of health". Really, I was feeling great. No signs of any of the past traumas. Then I was walking down the hall one day and my left knee started to bother me. Nothing big, just discomfort at first. After a few days I was limping, but still able to walk a couple of miles without too much problem. Gradually it got worse and worse untill I was using a cane. Then one night at about 2AM it was so bad that I had to wake Julia and call my brother-in-law to ask him to pick us up and take us to the local hospital. I was afraid that it was a case of delayed DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) from the flight. But they did an X-Ray and some blood tests and said no. So I took Ibuprophin and Tylenol until we got back to the US where I had more X-Rays, a CAT scan and an MRI, after which they determined that I had a cracked femur. No, I have no idea how it happened. Also I had two tears in the meniscus of the left knee - that is the cartilege. The doctor gave me a pair of crutches and told me to stay off of it as much as possible. Extra strong Tylenol and Codeine enabled me to continue with my hectic lifestyle - just kidding. He also gave me an injection into the knee, which did nothing at all to help. I returned to him in a couple of weeks expecting him to do "keyhole surgery" and go in to repair the torn cartilege. But he said no he wanted to wait and see what was happening with the cracked femur. He had examined the CAT scan and MRI carefully and seemed concerned about what he described to me as "Fluid inside of the bone". My question of what does that mean, elicted a worrying reply (To me) of "I really don't know, come back in 4 weeks and we'll see how it is". Four weeks later I was back with my usual question now of, "When are you going to do the keyhole thing and fix the cartilege? Oh, and by the way the knee is much better now." He said no to the keyhole surgery because he was still concerned about the water, or fluid, in the bone. He told me to come back in a couple of weeks. Fast forward 3 weeks. By this time the pain had gone completely, I was no longer limping, not using the crutches and felt almost normal! He asked me to walk around, felt the knee pushing hard on the two places where the torn cartilege was - had been? - and said, "Well, whatever it is you are doing, keep on doing it. Come back and see me if it starts hurting again."

And that was it. I have had no pain whatsoever since then and if I didn't remember which knee it was I would not know! That's how completely 'healed' it is!

I'd kind of like him to do another CAT scan and/or MRI to see what has happened. My understanding is that cartilege does not repair itself after you reach your early 20's. So it can't be healed, so what has happened? And what is the deal with the cracked femur? Did it heal? Did I imagine the whole thing? No, I don't think so either.

So I guess I just wait now to see what is next!

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