March 25, 2012

These are miracles

It is easy to be cavalier with a life not tied to your own.  When the lives do not belong to us, statistics do not feel like lies.  They feel like a promise that things will go just fine.  When the surgery is done on someone else, it is easy to forget that every procedure has risks, some of them significant.  We deal in the abstract: organ donor, open heart, cardiac bypass.  Intellectually, the procedure seems so simple: open the chest; remove the old, broken part; replace with a newer model; reconnect all hoses and wires; start things up and close up.  Emotionally, however, I found out the hard way that heart transplants evoke a visceral reaction born of acknowledging the prospect of imminent death.

My uncle has been on the transplant list since early December of last year, and he was called in for a heart early Tuesday morning.  One of the strange things about it, though, is that he had to wait a much longer time than I would have guessed before the surgery.  The heart is the last organ to be harvested, and the transplant teams had to wait until the other recipients were assembled and prepared for their respective surgeries.

He finally got word that he would go into surgery Wednesday afternoon.  I thought I would be happy, at peace;  instead, a tightly coiled spring was centered in my chest.  The hollow abstract notion of "organ transplant" was replaced with cold reality, and I could see the surgery in my mind's eye with its real implications.  My uncle would, in a way, die and be brought back to life in the operating room.  He would depend only on machines for breath and blood to circulate.

The frightening nature of this scene was inescapable.

Not even reading UpToDate on heart transplants was that comforting--if anything, I was only more aware of how close we had come to losing him, how short our time would truly be without this surgery.

I waited in tension all afternoon, the infrequent text-message updates from my mom only a mild antidote.  He came through just fine, though--more than fine, the surgery went very well and by Thursday evening my uncle was already looking years younger, with better color and energy enough to crack jokes.  Today, he took his first walk around the recovery floor where he will stay for the next week or so, and his ejection fraction is back up to within normal.

I am in awe of the audacity of medicine--of the faith that prompts patients to put themselves in our hands, of the confidence that allows us to take drastic measures, of the daring in our thinking that creates procedures like this one.  The abandonment of an old heart for a new one, the stopping of an old life and subsequent rebirth, the extension of a lifespan: these are miracles.

March 7, 2012

Visions of vegetables danced in my head

The temperature climbed into the 50s today.  In response, my body kicked into spring mode: I opened the windows after dinner and started scouring the internet for tips on planting gardens in Wisconsin.

The problem, of course, is that my eyes are always bigger than my time and fridge space and canning abilities.  My new apartment that I will move into in June is the upper part of a duplex, and my landlords have told me I can have part of the backyard for a garden (they even compost!  We are kindred spirits already, even if they are an older half-retired couple).  I've been trying to pick out what will be the easiest to maintain as well as what will give me the most bang for my buck, investment-wise.

When I make a wish list of all the vegetables I want to plant, here's what I come up with (basically, all the vegetables I like to eat!):
-cucumbers
-tomatoes
-lettuce
-spinach
-kale
-squash (winter and zucchini)
-beets
-carrots
-green onions
This seems like way too much..especially as I'll probably move in the second week of June, so by the time I get things planted it will be mid-August before I can harvest anything and I'll be up to my ears in pediatrics (and soon to move into internal medicine!).  And of course, the problem is really how much can I put away and use immediately?  Even working at the garden last summer, harvesting only a few things every time I visited was more produce than I could keep up with.

I can't forget herbs, too--I think I'll line my garden with them and put some of them in pots:
-basil
-parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (you can't leave out one, the others feel lonely)
-cilantro
-oregano
-lavender
-stevia
-chives
-dill

I'll probably plant some mint in a pot, too.  You can't really put mint in the ground unless you're ready to just give up the whole garden to mint...it spreads like wildfire and then can't be killed.

Is this too much?  Probably.  Will it come to fruition? No idea.  It's really time, though: I'm going to start some seeds over spring break next week and let the plants get nice and big before I plant them in June.  

The newest iteration of my garden planning has my little plot laid out thus:

No, I did not just spend ten minutes making this...Okay, fine, I totally did.

March 2, 2012

Still Life with Body and Hands

At fifteen I practiced palmistry,
spent hours tracing creases
and fingerprints
in search of a direction.
I looked for boyfriends and jobs
on the horizons of my friends' palms.
My life line was broken twice
and I wondered which path
would be the wrong one.

This morning, the stethoscope
is heavy as a stone around my neck,
the bell cold and sterile.
It weighs as much as my white coat,
with its laden pockets of reflex hammers
and responsibility, lint collecting
in the bottom with pens and
forgotten rare symptoms.
I warm the metal against my palm.
Taking it from my shoulders leaves me
weightless, almost naked.

Every morning, this weight surprises me
before my hands tell patients' fortunes.
Feeling for the edge of a liver
or thumping for pneumonia,
testing hands for strength and 
feet for sensation,
I read their bodies by touch alone:
lives recorded in scars,
life and head and heart lines now
nothing more than creases and folds.