Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Front Row at a Train Wreck

Dave and I are friends with an older couple whose company Dave has done some contract work for over the past couple of years. They are Gregg and Virginia; they don't have children and are in their late sixties.

At the end of October, Gregg had surgery for cancer of the esophagus. He first had cancer and radiation--and he really wasn't in favor of these traditional treatments--his wife and his doctors told him that he would die if he didn't have them. He then scheduled his surgery for October 30. He and Virginia told everyone that he would be in the hospital for two days, and then back home to finish recuperating. They said over and over that it was not a "serious" surgery.

I was concerned that he wasn't in shape for surgery--both physically and mentally--and I expressed my concern. But the answer was that he would die if he didn't have it.

That day, when they went in to the hospital for the operation, the surgeon met with Gregg and Virginia and they claimed later that that was the first time they were told that the surgery was serious. Gregg was actually in surgery for over ten hours, and Virginia was beside herself as the time went on.

He came out and the doctor appeared pleased. Then, Gregg was in the hospital for ten more days. He was not a good patient, demanding to go home the entire time. Sometimes the hospital staff would call Virginia in the middle of the night and insist that she talk to him and calm him down.

Finally, on the tenth day, the doctor determined that Gregg should go to a rehabilitation center for some time, and Virginia took him over there. Once there, he was in pain, and finally collapsed and they had him transported by ambulance to a different hospital than the one he was in for surgery. He went downhill fast, and was placed in intensive care, in critical condition. The nursing staff who admitted him said later that they didn't think he would survive.

On that first day, Gregg had to be put on a ventilator and subsequently was sedated. He had pneumonia and a collapsed lung. He stayed in a drug-induced coma for a month. Frequently during that time, the medical staff asked Virginia if she knew what Gregg's wishes would be in terms of his long term care. The implications always were that they wanted Virginia to consider removing him from life support. She would not consider it.

Amazingly, during that time, Virginia's elderly aunt fell and had to be admitted to the same hospital as Gregg. The aunt developed pneumonia, and went downhill and ultimately passed away.

Further, the company that Gregg and Virginia owns is in dire financial straits. There was little else that could possibly go wrong.

It was finally discovered that there was a gap from the surgery on the esophagus that allowed the food that was being pumped through tubes into Gregg's body, to then leak into his lungs. A nurse figured that out and tested it by putting green food color into his food bag. Sure enough, that green coloring ended up being pumped out of his lung. They patched that up and it helped things.

Finally, Gregg started to improve--in very small increments. As I am typing this, he is no longer sedated, but cannot really move. His muscles have been inactive for over a month. He will have to go to a rehabilitation center to help in his recovery.

Throughout this saga, Dave and I frequently said and thought that we were so glad it was not us in this situation. It has been shocking and disturbing for us to observe.

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