Saturday, November 1, 2014

Roller Coaster

It is not just gimps who have found ourselves, at times, firmly in the grip of the medical establishment. As much research as we might do, we eventually have to put ourselves in the hands of a trusted team of professionals, and follow an established or experimental treatment protocol.

The following story is a mash-up of excursions into the medical establishment, but all based on a real incident on a real roller coaster.

A very short story. Enjoy.

Roller Coaster
Aaron Cohen 11-1-14

Clackety clackety clackety . . .

The roller coaster car grabs the chain and starts the long climb to the apex of the twisting track that will yield two minutes of terror-laced thrill on our tortured route back to the starting point. We are committed now. No escape until the car brakes to a stop.

Clackety clackety clackety . . .

The echoes of that long-ago ride bounce off the insides of my skull. I’m sitting on the table. The doctor has just left the examining room, and invited me to get dressed. Everything has been explained. Tomorrow’s procedure. The treatments over the next few months. The ancillary and follow-up therapies. The side effects. The odds (or potential outcomes based on others’ experiences). The progress checkpoints and tests along the way.

Clackety clackety clackety . . .

This is no thrill ride, nor will it be over in two minutes, but the path is set and the car is proceeding inexorably up the highly superior US medical infrastructure.

Many years ago, when the children were quite small, we took a short vacation trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Busch Gardens.  My wife does not like roller coasters, and the children were too small, but they indulged my need to ride the big coaster at Busch Gardens. It was beautiful. The first drop was a steep dive right over the water of the lake. I waited in line for more than 20 minutes, and as luck would have it ended up in the front seat of the car. My seatmate was a pretty young woman several years my junior who seemed to be there with a group of friends.

Clackety clackety clackety

As we approached the release point high over the lake she turned to me and said, “It really helps if you scream.”

She was right!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Elul Project - Laura

Introducing guest blogger Laura Abrahams Cohen, who also contributed an essay about thankfulness and walking to our synagogue's Elul Project (see previous entry for my contribution). Enjoy - Aaron

Elul 2014-5775
I am thankful for the blessing of good health at the start of the New Year!  My adventure started over a year ago with some hip pain. Not quite ignoring the discomfort, I began Zumba exercise dance classes in September 2013.  After all, my outdoor pool had just closed on Labor Day and one DOES need to exercise.  Surprising myself, I liked the music, which I’ll admit is different from classic rock’n’roll and the Grateful Dead which form the sound track for my life.  Soon I needed to see the orthopedic doctor again because the pain began to become alarming.

We needed to pin down the real problem which involved navigating the healthcare system. I am thankful to have health insurance through my employer.  By November of 2014 I got the official word on the results from the MRI—hip arthritis.  It had progressed rather rapidly from a year earlier when the x-ray showed not much of anything.

By this point I was looking for solutions to the mounting discomfort.  Temporary help came from a cortisone injection into the joint which provided exactly five weeks of relief.  No repeats of that relief were possible.  By early February the words “hip replacement surgery” were spoken. Oh my, this would take some getting used to. Zumba went on hold for a while.

The months from February to May 2014 brought acute pain and real disability.  Driving my car resulted in my not being able to stand up and walk when stepping out of the car. My leg from knee to hip completely cramped up (to protect the deteriorating hip joint).  I resorted to keeping a hard folding chair in the back of my car.  I would hobble to the back of the car, take out the chair, sit down and shift around in an effort to be able to stand up again and walk.  Usually it worked, but sometimes it did not. My colleagues at work began to see me have trouble walking and sympathetically asked if I was OK.

By late February I scheduled the surgery.  I probably should have scheduled it for sooner but we had three happy occasions coming up in April and May which I didn’t want to miss. The date was set for June 3 so that we could celebrate at a cousin’s wedding in Austin; travel again to my uncle’s 90th birthday in Ottawa-- at which he surprised everyone present including his children by turning the already happy occasion into his wedding to his long-time girlfriend; and celebrate with our son Jonathan and his fiancĂ©e Alyssa at their engagement party.

At WalkMS in April, the fundraising and awareness project of my team the Mitzvah Squad for the benefit of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society there would be NO WAY I could walk the three mile route. I borrowed a scooter from Aaron to cover the course.
I was worried about the upcoming surgery—no joke.  I tend to be easygoing-- taking things as they come.  I’m a veteran of three c-sections and gall bladder removal.  But this was BIG, and it involved rehabilitation and physical therapy as well as the time off from work to accomplish these things.  On the morning of my total hip replacement surgery I couldn't walk and had to ask for a wheelchair half way down a long hallway.

My surgeon promised me that when I stood up from the surgery I would not have the pain that plagued me for months leading up to the repair.  He is right. The recovery is amazing and miraculous. He and his staff were helpful as were the physical therapists in getting me through the adventure.
Prior to about 40 years ago, hip replacement was somewhat experimental. Since the 1970s the techniques that are now in use were developed and are quite successful.  The first U.S. hip replacements began only in 1940.

I got advice and encouragement from growing list of friends who have either had joint replacement surgery or are close to someone who has had it.  Everyone spoke of the terrific results and said they wished that they had done it sooner!

How fortunate I am to be living in 2014/5775 and to have access to this repair. I often think about the devastating pain that all the humans who have had the same problem as I suffered from in the history of humanity until just 40 or so years ago. I think of the majority of humanity today with no access to our amazing first world medical system. 

Especially at this time of the New Year I do not take this blessing for granted.  I’m working on my rehab with daily walking, swimming and physical therapy exercises.  I am hugely grateful to have recovered from this problem. I am thankful for my new beginning with my pain-free leg. I’m even glad to return to my work and my regular routine after a well-timed early-summer outdoor-pool-season rehab.  I’m looking forward to returning to those noisy fun Zumba classes.

Laura Cohen

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Elul Project - Walking - A Memory of My Dad

For the past several years my Rabbi (Ben Goldstein - Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim) has asked congregants to contribute essays to an Elul Project as a way of preparing for the High Holy Days. A booklet is compiled, and shared with the congregation on Rosh Hashanah. I finally broke down and wrote one this year. My resolution is to not let it be another year before I contribute to this blog again.

Elul Project 2014
Aaron Cohen
September 4, 2014

Walking to synagogue on the High Holidays.
Walking to synagogue on the High Holidays, with my daddy.
I must have been three and a half. My baby brother had been born in March and would come to synagogue later with Mom, but Dad would leave earlier and walk the three tenths of a mile to Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY. I was deemed “big” enough to walk with him, and sit with him in services until babysitting started.
After breakfast Mom dressed me in my shul clothes. It had to be after breakfast because we didn’t want to spill on new clothes. I don’t remember much about the outfit except that the good gray wool pants seemed terribly scratchy, and I got to wear a clip-on tie. Then we walked up to Old Mamaroneck Road, and over to the Temple. We passed houses, and woods that would become houses in later years.
When we got to the Temple we entered through the doors by the chapel, and went up a half flight of stairs to a landing where Dad picked up a small envelope from a table with hundreds of seemingly identical small envelopes. This envelope contained two tickets on the center aisle in row HH. Then up another half flight to the sanctuary. Dad sat on the aisle—the same seat he would occupy on the high holidays for the next 39 years. I sat in my Mom’s seat, and politely said hello to the people in the neighboring seats who had held that real estate for many years. I don’t actually remember being polite, but I know that Dad would have it no other way.
Grandma Madeline showed up shortly after we got there. She had the next two seats in the aisle. One for her, and one that Grandpa Ben used to sit in, but would go unoccupied for the first time this year. I’m pretty sure Grandma Sadye sat there on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. She was a member of the Hebrew Institute on Greenridge Avenue, but her son and grandchildren were here.
When Mom and Larry arrived I went to babysitting. It was comfortable and familiar; held in the room where I went to nursery school, but different because Mrs. Marish wasn’t there.
Three times a year for the next ten years I walked to shul with my daddy on the high holidays. We then moved too far away to walk, something that I didn’t think about at the time.
I miss it.
Walking to synagogue on the high holidays.
Walking to synagogue on the high holidays, holding my daddy’s hand.
Maybe he carried me part of the way. Maybe he still does.