Be Your Own Caretaker

Be Your Own Caretaker

I learned the hard way; you MUST be your own caretaker or suffer the circumstances.  And in my case, thank the Lord, that the worst did not happen, or I might not have been here to write this.  First, I’d like to explain how I got to where I am health-wise:

My mind has always been centered on my parents’ health not mine and was very concerned about their well-being.  Although Dad believed in preventive health care and always maintained his doctors’ visits and took his medications religiously, he still had many health problems.  Mom always took care that Dad kept within his dietary limits – very little salt, not a lot of fat or pork, and not a lot of fried foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables (she actually got him to love artichokes).  Dad was a twin and it showed in the way he and his brother differed in their ways of their own health care.  As I said before, Dad always maintained his regular doctor visits and medications with preventive health care.  Uncle, the younger twin, unfortunately didn’t adhere to such standards.  He would only go to doctors if he had to.  And like Dad, Uncle loved Chinese food, but his wife didn’t and did not monitor what he ate.  So when Uncle bought Chinese food to-go, he ate the whole thing usually at one sitting.  One of the foods he and Dad loved was roast pig, which I’ll admit is delicious but thankfully not my favorite.  At one point, Dad wanted to compare the medications they were taking because they had the same health problems although Dad never suffered a heart attack like Uncle had.  It turned out Uncle was only taking half the amount Dad was.  It didn’t concern Uncle and told Dad those were the only ones prescribed and shrugged his shoulders.  One day Uncle and another brother was over visiting that I noticed that Dad and Uncle were twins, but you could only tell by their faces, because Dad was regular-sized, and Uncle looked like the ‘Pillsbury Doughboy.’  How sad, because not too much longer after that, Uncle died of a massive heart attack mowing his sister-in-law’s lawn.  This is a great comparison of how preventive medical care and the lack of it worked in identical twins.    

Dad’s health problems were basically genetic related.  Since my Dad’s parents came directly from China, family history and health history is unknown.  But judging from my grandparents’ health, Dad’s bad genes came from his mother.  My grandparents had arrived from Canton, China by ship in San Francisco and settled in the nearby city of Oakland downtown.  Grandpa was a robust and strong man.  Everyday Yeah Yeah (Grandpa, Cantonese for Dad’s father) would walk around nearby Lake Merritt before work, which was quite a feat since the shore length is 3.4 miles.  When Yun Yun (Grandma, Cantonese for Dad’s mother) was in her 80’s, she broke her hip and couldn’t walk anymore.  Yeah Yeah would pick her up when she had to go to bed or use the restroom.  He did that by himself until Yun Yun passed away from a stroke.  Yeah Yeah was quite a man.  He passed away after Yun Yun to what I believe was from missing her.  Yun Yun went into the hospital many times after suffering strokes and eventually passed away from one. 

Dad took after his mother and had other different medical problems.  In those days, his medical plan did not have everything computerized like my medical plan with UCLA, so I suggested that Dad keep a list of surgeries so he could inform all of his doctors.  He took great pride in maintaining that list and proudly showed all of his nurses every time he went into the hospital which included triple by-pass surgery, kidney stones, stents and carotid artery surgeries.  But at the age of 83, he wasn’t strong enough to withstand the series of three gastroenterology tests usually given all together to him by his regular gastroenterologist who was having back surgery.  Dad couldn’t endure the rigors of not eating for days and the third test and passed away on the way to the testing with a smile on his face. 

Mom was my healthier parent.  She was used to caretaking when her sister was hospitalized for a nervous condition when she was younger, and Mom would go to visit her regularly.  When my parents and I purchased house together, I began slowly taking over their caretaking, making sure they went to their doctor visits and taking their medications.  Mom was in really great health until her late 60’s when she developed a cancer tumor that thankfully didn’t attach to any organ and was easily removed.  Then she began to have heart problems and had to have stents placed in her heart.  Mom developed lung edema problems that became constant, leading to kidney problems.  She made up for her earlier hospital-free days with constant hospitalization for the edema and kidney problems.  Mom lasted thirteen years longer than Dad and passed away at the age of 93-1/2. 

As I mentioned earlier, I had always have been concerned about my parents’ well-being and really didn’t pay attention to mine.  Sure, I made sure I went to the doctors for annual physicals and took all my medications regularly like Dad had, but I’ll admit I didn’t pay attention to my diet.  And although I wasn’t a porker, I had been overweight most of my life, unlike my skinny sister and cousins.  But I really didn’t eat that much and to be honest I did not think it all out like I should have.  One thing for sure, I did have Yun Yun’s side of the family genes.  Yun Yun, Dad and I all had diabetes and coronary problems to varying degrees.  I didn’t realize the seriousness of this because I didn’t understand earlier how Yun Yun’s end result related to Dad’s end result and how the whole thing related to me.  But I am fully aware now.

While visiting my mother who was in the hospital in 2018, I suffered a cardiac arrest, in the best place to have one, in front of the nurses’ station.  I am still known today as the Code Blue that happened in front of the nurses’ station.  I thought at the time I had tripped and put my arms up to protect my face since I fell face down.  I woke up in the Emergency Room with my arm in a sling.  I still didn’t realize I had suffered a cardiac arrest until I was informed by the ER nurse.  And top it all off, I broke my left arm trying to brace my fall.  Five days later, a pacemaker was implanted.  Technology is constantly improving and the pacemaker I now have is small and I have it checked every three months for any problems or recorded episodes.  I also have to make sure that I keep any electronic devices away from the pacemaker, such as mobile phones and radios, which could interfere with the pacemakers reading ability.  The pacemaker not only checks my heart to see if there were any incidents of stopped or slow heart rates and any other related events.  From all my checkups since it’s installation, only the stress when Mom passed away last year effect my pacemaker and it recorded that information.  The latest checkup showed the battery life will be good for eight years or so. 

The continued downward health spiral continued in 2018 and in early July, I started suffering with swollen legs and fluid seepage.  My primary doctor placed me into the hospital for a three-week visit to diagnose the cause of this swelling and seepage.  It was finally discovered that the cause was a total breakdown of my kidneys and that dialysis was imminent.  I had no one to talk to about this situation and the thought of dialysis scared me.  So my cardiologist visited me in the hospital, and we talked at length about dialysis and how important it was my only recourse.  My cardiologist is a wonderful man and I knew he really cared about my welfare and so I finally consented to start dialysis.  So my life changed with my new life on dialysis.  It hasn’t been the best of times for me, since I have always had deep arteries, and several operations were necessary to raise the arteries closer to the surface or to widen the arteries with medication for needle access to connect to the dialysis machines.  Since I have had a history of bad incidents with needles, this has not been very comfortable for me.  But I am now finally happy to say that the last procedure (#5) finally did the trick and my dialysis technician has no more problems connecting me. 

Currently I am on hemodialysis, which is a dialysis treatment to filter wastes and water from my blood, as my kidneys did when they were healthy.  Two needles are used to connect me to the dialysis machine, in and out.  I was placed on a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday 8am schedule for 3-1/2 hours every week.  I started out with a catheter implanted on my right shoulder and both of my arms were free to be able to do any crafts, such as crocheting blankets or doing needlepoint Christmas Stockings (finished 5 blankets and 4 stockings).  But now the procedure was changed and access to my blood is through the arteries in my right arm, which I am unable to move, so either sleeping is the best bet or watching TV.  However, there are some dialysis patients that have to be medicated to control their behavior.  Without the medication, they would be constantly yelling obscenities at the Staff or other patients.  One patient would go off almost daily which really disturbing the rest of the patients that we placed a complaint about her that she was changed to a different time schedule with less patients.  Although I am allowed to travel and can schedule dialysis at other centers across the country and abroad, there are still my problems of connecting to the machines.  I have a favorite technician who has never hurt me or caused bumps while connecting to my access, but when he was on vacation, another technician had problems.  I got large bumps and black and blue marks all over my right arm from that, very uncomfortable.  So, I am planning to eventually change to peritoneal dialysis, another form of dialysis in which a catheter is implanted on my stomach and I can do the dialysis at home with the aid of a small machine and a large supply of saline solution while I am up or sleeping.  I will be able to take the machine on trips and do the treatment wherever I am.  No more needles for dialysis.

I learned from Dad’s situation that you must know and trust your doctors and if not, change them.  His gastroenterologist was out for back surgery and Dad accepted the associate gastroenterologist.  He did not know that his practices were difference than his regular doctor.  In my opinion, this caused the passing of Dad because the associate doctor did not have the true concern of Dad’s  welfare.  Instead of doing three tests together, he did them back to back to have separate billing for each test and thus weaken Dad to his passing.  When I started working and started receiving medical insurance, it took me a few years to discover the doctors at UCLA, but I am so happy that I did.  I have been with my primary care doctor for close to 30 years.  I have been with my UCLA specialty doctors for less time, but I think the world of them and respect them as well as they respect me.  Believe me, before starting with UCLA doctors and for a period in between, I have had my share of what I can truly call “quacks.”  While one doctor was removing my skin hang tags with liquid nitrogen, she used so much that I lost my voice for several weeks!!  I reported her to the insurance company and my employer also changed insurance companies.  And then there was a period when I lost my paid medical insurance and had to go on Medi-Cal.  Oh, was that a change in the quality of medical care!!  it is so important to have doctors who are up to date in their medical knowledge and who are truly concerned about the welfare of their patients.  Medi-Cal doctors have no respect for their patients, other than what they represent in payments for them.  I had a cardiologist that scheduled everything one appointment at a time and he did nothing when my legs got swollen.  I knew from before that if that had happened before with my UCLA cardiologist, he would have prescribed a water pill to reduce the swelling.  This time I had to ask my Medi-Cal primary doctor for that medication.  I was so happy when I reached the age of 65 and was able to change medical insurance to SCAN where everything is covered without any monthly payments!!  And bottom line…I was able to return to all my UCLA doctors and hospitals, which helped save my life at UCLA-Santa Monica and Ronald Reagan Hospitals.

So, you can see, being your own caretaker is very important for life sustaining.  Of course there will be a time when that will no longer be possible, but while you are able, please take my advice and learn self-care and preventive medical care, which is very, very important.

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