Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Did Say this Blog is Tangentially About Flowers Didn't I?

There are purple and yellow and palest pink orchids in the wee, glass walled, conservatory off my second floor office. Last year at about this time it was an open porch, but then I batted my eyelashes and said to my prince...Could you put up maybe some plastic so I could hold over the tropicals?

And lo. It was done.  

Besides the orchids, I've got a Meyer lemon, with an actual lemon just turning lemon colored, a key lime, a grapefruit, a Honey Bell orange seedling, and several varieties of jasmine.

The absurdly unfloriferous red hibiscus has been yanked from the earth and put in a pot. The pink geraniums from the front window boxes will be enjoying their second winter indoors; amazing how bushy and happy they are, if they had tails they'd be wagging. The ferns are on their hooks. The palm's in the corner.

It's all very splendid, though it smells a bit like an indoor swimming pool since the prince sprayed bleach on the backs of  the wonderful Alice in Wonderlandy wicker chairs that we picked up on last month's Tallulah trek.

It was last month, wasn't it? Somehow I've lost track. A few weeks ago, that's right, isn't it? When I thought I had the flu? But then it turned out I didn't.

It's increasingly amusing (to me anyway) that I chose Alice at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party to illustrate my blog. Leap with me down the rabbit hole:

A few weeks ago, I was suddenly in the hospital having open heart surgery.

A few days ago I thoroughly enjoyed a birthday I had not been looking forward to (pick the approach of your own next nasty birthday and you'll catch my drift).

My friend Susan thought this a perhaps overly dramatic way of avoiding the event.

Now I'm sitting at my desk, amazingly pain-free for being stapled together. I'm sitting here in baggy blue jeans and a black fleece hoodie, gazing at my plants and waiting for my friend Maggie to arrive and drag me out for a walk. Must get in my half hour walkie.

Footwear is discussed:

The tougher, louder me,  the one that always gets us into trouble in the first place, was just urging me to put on the black lace-up boots, you NEED those 3 extra inches, she said. Meanwhile her boring, dyspeptic counterpart glared and spat and stuck my feet in salmon colored crocs, muttering something about balance and energy. Oh blah.

But then, earlier this week, she also wrote a fine letter of thanks to the doctor to whom we ultimately owe our life,  So we'll concede on the issue of the crocs and hope that anyone who sees us will only notice how gorgeously thin I am, not how short.

The entirely serious (make that more or less entirely serious) letter follows because it's something all of me wants to put out in the universe, he deserves it:

November 16, 2009

Daniel Waterman MD
Washington Primary Care Physicians
Washington, DC 20003

Dear Dr. Waterman:

What can I say but that you saved my life. I had a brilliant surgeon who had a brilliant team, but in the end the rescue was entirely due to you.

This is interesting, since you are not my doctor. Although I’ve seen you a few times over the last 25 years  – and had hoped I could reassigned to you, which for whatever reason never worked out – you happened to be the doctor on call when I phoned one morning several weeks ago complaining of heartburn and flu symptoms.

When you reached me at the end of the day, instead of taking my word that things seemed to have improved and suggesting I make an appointment with my assigned physician, you asked me to see you the following morning ( Fluke? I don’t know. There were so many flukes involved in this saga).

Even this degree of care is more than what I’ve become accustomed to. I consider myself lucky to see a doctor when I have what seems like a simple cold or flu. Most often I (and most of the people I know) self-diagnose, get a quick look over, and have a prescription called in to the druggist.

But at 11:45 on October 29, I was sitting on your examining room table as you probed and listened and tested for something that appeared to bother you about the function of my heart.  

You said something about inflammation and a valve not working correctly and “would you mind if I set up an appointment for you with a cardiologist?”

I gathered from that there was an option. Leaving the appointment making with me, perhaps? If you had done so, whoever was going through my things after the funeral would have found the referral still sitting in my big old black leather tote bag, right next to the referral for a chest x-ray that was given to me last month, after what seemed to be a bout with bronchitis.

For whatever reason I allowed you to wrest control, not an easy thing to do with me, and make the appointment for 8 am Monday -- I noticed you seemed pleased that you could get me in so quickly. Then you cautioned me to be as quiet as possible over the weekend and said my husband could phone if he had any questions.   

Greg ignored the phone concept, choosing to park in the waiting room until you could see him the next afternoon. In retrospect, and to take a little of the schmaltz out of this, he is irritated that you didn’t insist that we go immediately to the hospital. You said you didn’t because we lacked health insurance; he thinks that should not have been a consideration. But how could you have really known? It seems miraculous that we all moved as far and as fast as we did.

The cardiologist thought, at first, that I appeared to be healthy enough (I’m good at that), but ordered a sonogram to be on the safe side. The expression on his face as he prepared to tell us what he suspected told me that this problem, as severe and glaring as it was, could easily have been overlooked – he almost overlooked it.

He too posed no questions. “I’m ordering a transport vehicle to take you to Washington Hospital Center,” he said, and we did not argue.

Somewhere along the way a doctor or nurse or technician noted that I was speeding through the system, “like you’re in the drive-through lane at McDonald’s.” This was a perfectly true, if artery clogging funny way, of putting it.

Had Dr. Lowery not been exhausted at the end of the day by a similar operation, he said I’d have been on his table that night. I’m glad he waited for the morning.

I remember little between my Monday morning admission to the hospital through Thursday, when it appeared (to me) that I was still alive. It took seven and a half hours to fix my heart, which was plucked out, and flopped on a table for 29 minutes, and rearranged.

There’s a whole other story in the hospital’s handling of various events, so I’m still not exactly clear about what was done.  I understand, however, that Dr. Lowery pulled it off without the usual mechanical bits or pig valves. His nurse said he was pretty pleased with himself and his photos.

Yes, Dr. Lowery fixed me up and deserves enormous praise. I’ve this nice straight line of a scar that I’m going to cover in glitter and feathers as soon as I’m permitted – I’m that proud of it. In a few weeks I’ll be on a baby aspirin, something to control blood pressure, and a statin they say.

But if you hadn’t sensed something physically wrong, then battled my demons and overruled my self-destructive course (which this was, and for which I had developed a tremendous talent for obscuring), I do not think that I would be celebrating my 60th birthday tomorrow.

I’ll tell you something else you’ve given me: The knowledge that I have an enormous number of people who seem to love me. The cards, the letters, the flowers, the calls, the visits, the dinners and desserts brought over…

It has been like being at a funeral without being dead, which, it turns out, is the BEST birthday gift anyone could have given me. Even better than life, in a way, since I suddenly see how much I have to live for – and now have the energy and desire to do so.

Please know I will be forever grateful for your care.


  1. This should go out on the world-wide-web - as an example of how we should all listen to our bodies, so someone else can listen to them - and then work their magic! There are so many stories woven (some with delightful humor) into this narrative. But the main one is that life - in this case quite literaly - is dependent on building-blocks. In Stephanie's case every one was vital, every one played its part to perfection - particularly the one in the guise of the wonderful sounding Dr Waterman. Maggie.

  2. Of course I do know how to spell 'literally' - but not when reeling under the emotion of reading,and absorbing, such an acount of a life saved! Maggie.


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