Let's Do It Again
By Al Coon
Written September 11th, 2011 the day before, once again...
I looked at what I wrote on the day before Dotti's first total hip replacement surgery, and one thing that is different today is that last night Dotti and I had a relatively good night's sleep. I doubt tonight we will be so lucky, but today started off better than June 12th did. Still the pain has been growing and growing in Dotti's right hip, to where she is nearly as bad as she was with the left hip in June. She uses a cane nearly constantly, and her gait is very distorted by the pain. She leans forward abnormally and limps badly. As much as we do not want to have to go through the risks and recovery of another surgery, there is little point in trying to live out life as it would be without doing this. Dotti is a free spirit who would die in the captivity of a wheel chair I feel. I don't know for sure, but we both feel that the potential rewards outweigh the risk of perhaps losing everything. That is not easy to say, and even harder to face up to, but here we are, with surgery less than 24 hours away.
Let me tell you about Dotti's left hip, the one that has already been done. There is no pain. Zero. Her left hip feels perfectly normal and never causes her any problems whatsoever. As she goes up the stairs, because she does have a lot of pain in the right hip, she raises the left foot and says, "Good leg up towards heaven." That was the memory aid the physical therapist gave us to remember to use the good leg first when going up the stairs. At the time, it was the right leg that was the "good" one, because the left one first of all had been in terrible shape for many months, and that was followed by her left leg suffering the trauma of tearing out the old hip joint, and hammering in a new one. (We both were happy that we didn't see what they actually did in the operating room to get that new hip installed.) So, she was up with the right and when descending, she was down with the bad, or left leg, to "the other place."
Today, she goes up first with her left leg, because, thankfully, it is the good leg now! It really is good. It is all that we had hoped for. Her range of motion is not perfect yet, but it is way better than it has been in years and it is going to improve once this second surgery is over. The right leg has held her back a great deal the past couple of months, but that is what tomorrow is intended to fix, and it will, if Annie was right when she sang, "The sun'll come out tomorrow." We have seen what a difference a new hip can make, with that left hip turning into a wonderful success. We can only hope that the right one will do as well.
I have to admit that I have tried to close my eyes to the risks. The doctors list them off, as if telling you that they are there will make it okay if one of them hits you like a sledge hammer in the head. It won't be okay. Warnings are to protect the provider of services, not the users. What are you going to do? Say no, and live in horrible pain the rest of your life? Still, the risks exist. Nothing has changed since last time. The odds still say that well over 90% of hip replacements go just fine, with great improvement, or even full recovery. There still is an 80% chance that loss of blood will be small enough to avoid any transfusions. (And even with a transfusion the odds of catching anything dangerous is less than 1 in 600,000.) We have already experienced the methods that they use to avoid blood clots, and they worked very well the first time. They will do all they can to avoid infections, hitting the body with antibiotics before anything can even begin to be troubling. Yes, all should go well. The odds are very good, but the risks are there, and until those are left far in the past, I will worry.
Along with Dotti's recovery the past few weeks have been busy for us, as we have had visits from some very special people in our lives. First there was a week's visit with our son Glenn, new daughter-in-law Miho, and our grandson Kai. It was a wonderful week with lots of fun and catching up on news, since the last time Glenn and Kai were here in 2008. The earthquake, tsunami, and reactor leaks in Japan, where they live, reminded us of how easily what we most treasure can be taken from us, and just seeing them all alive and well was emotional for us.
If you click on the picture you will be taken to a page I am creating to celebrate our Coon Family Reunion 2011. I have the birthday dinner page completed, and will be adding the other pages as I have time. As it turned out, I hit my 60th birthday at the end of their visit, and Miho hit her birthday on the same day. (I should have no trouble remembering her birthday in the future. Kai is growing fast, and is quite the basketball player, and he is only 13. (Or should I say, already 13! It doesn't seem possible!)
Whenever my two sons get together it reminds me of how much I love them both and how proud they have made me. Glenn has retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer and he did it in my field as an electronics technician. How cool is that? And LeRoy is strong, honest, and a manager in a large department store. They are both good men, self-sufficient, and kind hearted. If sons came in a vending machine and I pressed the button for two great sons with all the trimmings, they would be what I would want to pop out. And Kai is smart, active, with incredibly good manners, and a real joy to be around. Finally, Dotti and I were overwhelmed with Miho, as she was busy helping in every possible way. Dotti's hip makes everything difficult for her, even getting into a car. Miho helped with everything, from helping with getting Dotti's bad leg into the car, to doing the dishes and cooking. Glenn has a real keeper, and now so do we!
This past week, we had a visit from Dotti's twin sister: Catherine!
Catherine, Dotti & Al
The visit was a lot of fun, and it flew by in only a moment it seemed. We stopped by the Sears Photo department and had some photos done of all three of us. We all love this one, but it was hard for Catherine getting back up afterwards. She has also had a hip replaced, and there are complications with hers, because of an accident in the 1990s where a light rail driver fell asleep at the controls of his train, and hit Catherine's van right in the passenger's door. It crushed the car and they had to pry her out with the "jaws of life." Her hip and pelvic area as well as her neck, all sustained broken bones and for a year she was incapacitated. It scared us all naturally. Due to a legal technicality, the Portland public transit had a cap on how much it would have to pay no matter how much damage it did to a citizen, and Catherine did not get the kind of treatment she needed. Things were left unfixed, and it is still causing her problems after all these years. However, there is good news as they recently discovered a correctable long term problem from that accident that was not taken care of at the time. They have high hopes that they will be able to completely fix it now, and in 6 months or so, her hip and leg pain will hopefully all be gone! The year 2012 we hope will be a good one for both the twins!
Unfortunately, due to some dysfunctional family issues in their childhood, too complex to get into here, these lovely twins were not allowed to share the sorts of experiences that most twins would share growing up.
It was unforgivable how that happened, but there is no undo button for life and we are now doing our best to pour some of that wonderful twin magic into their lives now. Matching outfits and hairstyles shows how much they look alike. Dotti likes the natural gray look (as does her 60 year old husband—that would be me) and so their hair color is no longer the same, but there is no doubting that they are sisters.
And the energy the two of them bring to life is amazing. They are so alive and a conversation is always on the run with these two. They are from New York, without any doubt, and they both talk fast. You have to pay attention if you want to keep up.
Color coordinated canes, and matching beautiful smiles as the twins are heading out for a fun day of shopping together. Those hands go together naturally without their even thinking about it. I can't begin to express how nice it seems to me to see these two sisters together and laughing, hugging and sharing everything together, like twins should. And one of their favorite phrases is, "Will you get out of my head!" They compare past purchases and treasures and find that they are the same.
One of the most striking examples was a lamp that Dotti purchased at a thrift store a few months ago. She didn't like the lamp shade with it, so she went to Wal-Mart and purchase a new shade that she thought would look good with it. Later she saw a photo of a lamp at Catherine's house. Completely independently of Dotti, Catherine had bought the same used lamp, and then put the same new shade on it from Wal-Mart. Of course they each said, "Will you get out of my head!"
If they were seeing each other every day or so, I think they would be communicating without hardly having to speak. They are definitely twins, and it is fun to watch!
As with all good things, Catherine's visit had to come to an end, and yesterday was the day. Catherine got on her traveling dress, and she and Dotti were at the top of the stairs contemplating the goodbyes that were ahead. All the stuff was already in the van, and we were ready to head out.
It was 35 years ago, plus 3 months exactly, when this picture of Catherine was taken in the little wedding chapel when Dotti and I were married in 1976. Oh what a day that was! I can still remember driving across the Interstate Bridge into Vancouver, Washington from Portland, and looking at the beautiful pointed top Mount St. Helens, nearly 4 years before it blew its top as the world watched. I wasn't as familiar with the area at the time as I am now, I used to confuse Mount St. Helens and Mt. Hood all the time, because they looked a lot alike back then. No more though. That flat top ugly mountain that still puts out steam a lot, looks nothing like Mt. Hood any longer, but on the day that picture of Dotti and Catherine was taken, Mount St. Helens was beautiful and pristine. And so were the twin sisters! And despite the years, and all the medical issues, I think they are both still beautiful as can be!
I coaxed a smile out of Dotti as she started down the stairs.
She is starting to use her right leg to step down, because she is using the "bad leg down to that other place" as she descends the stairs, as she will be doing for a few weeks now, until that right leg gets up to the point where it too will be a good leg and she will go up the stairs with both legs, stepping up all the way, one step for each leg all the way, rather than one leg up or down one step, and then bringing the other one to the same step.
Unfortunately, our gas line fell off our van on the way to the airport and LeRoy had to come and grab Catherine and her luggage to get her to the airport in time to catch her plane. He was there in a hurry and had her on her way before the tow truck arrived for our van. As it turned out, the driver found the gas line, hooked it up and had us on our way shortly, without a tow, but we didn't get to the airport to see Sister off. Fortunately there are cell phones and we still said our goodbyes. She made it home safely and Dotti and I are so happy she came and it went so well.
As time permits, we will have more on the web page about Sister's visit, but for now we are focused upon the surgery tomorrow.
The time since the last surgery didn't lead to the large weight losses that we were hoping for, but Dotti weighed 220 this morning, and that is down a couple of pounds from last time. It is not what we had wished, or even what we expected, but, on the upside, with all that has been going on, with visitors, birthday parties, baby showers and all that, at least Dotti didn't gain weight! And, once we are on the other side of this tough next few weeks, we take off the gloves and start swinging at this problem with all that we have.
Weight has destroyed both of Dotti's hips. You can be sure that it will destroy both of her knees as well, and the new hips that she just got to boot, if she doesn't get back down to goal soon. There is no other option and that is going to be our top priority.
Exercise is another thing that has to be right at the top of the list of important things to do from now on. Look at all the healthy 90 year old people you know. What is the one thing they all have in common? They are active! They move. They walk, they get out of the house. They do things. Exercise is a key comment to healthy living. If you don't exercise, you will not live to a happy and healthy old age.
Dotti and I have made a pact that we are going to go after health from this point onward. Eating right, exercising and focusing on an active healthy lifestyle is what we are going to do. There are plenty of things that can mess that up for us. But from this day forward, we are going to take whatever door is open to us that leads to health. If that doesn't work, we were going to die anyway. There are no guarantees in life for good things. Most of what is good, especially as you age, is what you build for yourself through planning and positive effort.
I remember in high school, and during the years right afterwards, how guys always talked about "getting in shape." Usually it didn't happen. They would get some weights and use them for a while, or start jogging, and then it would fizzle out. At that time, you just were a bit overweight, or you couldn't run far, but you didn't care. When you are young, your youth covers up your bad habits pretty well. Your joints stand up to the weight, and your heart puts up with the strain. But when you get up over 50, your immune system starts to weaken, and your heart is less resilient. Things can very easily go wrong, and with each passing year you can add more of the same to your "shopping cart" all for free. Either you aggressively go after good health, or you lose it, a bit at a time, or sometimes catastrophically, with one heart attack or a stroke, etc. High school was a long time ago, and it is time, even well past the time, that we need to focus on the target: doing the right things to enhance our good health.
I am tired today. It has been a long year that has just passed by. There has been an incredible amount of pain I have witnessed Dotti go through. This past week I have watched Catherine hurting as well. Tammy has pain, and I have my own pain to deal with. Pain bleeds your happiness reservoir down, and can empty it entirely. The past year of pain has been something I want to avoid seeing again. Whatever can be done to lessen pain, and better yet to prevent it entirely, is what I want to go after. Reasonable exercise can help a great deal, as it tones your muscles and keeps your inner organs functioning far better, including your brain. Keeping your weight at a healthy level can help as well, maybe even more. The two items are no longer optional in our lives. They are as mandatory as breathing, for the long haul.
I will reiterate my hope, and my belief, that by next summer, both Dotti and I will be healthier and trimmer than we have been for years. I can't guarantee that Fate will let us pass by this time of trial, but I can guarantee that if he does, we will take advantage of it, and move towards a far more active and healthy way of life. Our old ways have been killing us, and so we have to discard them, permanently. Once again I say, in 2012 I expect a hike to the top of Mount St. Helens. I also expect for us to have a DWLZ VI conference.
Will things move ahead as I envision them, or will things come crashing down upon our heads? I don't know. No one knows. We could be hit by an asteroid tomorrow for all we know. Things may go horribly wrong. But if they don't, here am I, and I am pledged to grab Dotti by the hand, and the two of us are going to move forward into a brand new 2012, healthier and happier, and more active than anyone has seen us since 2003. All I can do is my best, but that is what I am bound to give. I am bound by my heart, and my love for Dotti. I am bound by my word and my honor. I ask for a chance to take my shot, and that shot will be given or not. But here goes...
So, tomorrow is the big day. Do I dread it as a hazard that may take everything from me, or do I eagerly anticipate it as a golden opportunity? Will it open the door to a bright future and happy days, or will it drop a net over our hopes for good? Well, until I find out otherwise, I am going to believe that things are going to get better from here on, and Dotti is going to start moving forward towards the healthy woman she was meant to be. Dotti is strong of heart, and if there is any way for her to succeed, she will!