Spring break becomes renal reality

This spring break I was planning to relax. Relax, and do all the things I don’t seem to have time for while in classes.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I spent my spring break in a hospital room.

Life in the hospital seems to be all about waiting. And waiting. And waiting. With how slowly everything moves there, I wonder how they would deal with an urgent situation.

No, I’m not sick. For at least the past month, my husband of nearly five years was having troubles eating, drinking and using the bathroom. Mike was diagnosed with multiple ailments from multiple doctors before seeing a specialist who immediately admitted him to the hospital.

I was at home trying to finish my finals, when Mike called to tell me he was in the hospital. Luckily, I was mostly done with my project, because I rushed through finishing. Of course, because I was trying to finish quickly, I had technical issues. I waited and paced while my printer took several hours to print part of a page. Had I been able to concentrate, I’m sure I could have fixed the problem sooner as well as done a better job but my mind really wasn’t on school work.

I finally finished and made it to the hospital room where I learned what had been wrong with my husband for the past month or so: His colon had been narrowing and now was completely blocked.

Perhaps I should backtrack and try to explain his special circumstances. (I should forewarn against any graphic descriptions.) Because of a birth defect, Mike’s bladder was removed and his kidneys were rerouted to his colon. Thus a blockage in his colon blocked everything which caused a complete renal failure. It’s possible that his other organs—not just his kidneys—could have shut down too.

Because nothing was moving through his colon, he ended up puking his waste products, giving new meaning to the phrase “tastes like crap.” The hospital kept him like this for more than a day, vomiting fecal matter, to see if his kidneys would start working on their own. Obviously, they couldn’t because nothing would leave his colon. I’m blissfully ignorant about medical things, but even I knew his kidneys wouldn’t miraculously start working without some kind of procedure.

Finally, mercifully, more than a day later, Mike went through the pain of having tubes inserted through his back into his kidneys allowing them to drain. Almost immediately, one kidney filled bag after bag with liquid. The other still isn’t working very well.

Since his kidney function was now in line, he could undergo the tests to pinpoint exactly what the problem was. Then, he could wait for surgery to remove the colon blockage—the reason he was there in the first place.

Close to five days after being admitted, Mike finally went under the knife.

As seems to be hospital custom, Mike was made to wait before alleviating his suffering. Apparently, paperwork is a higher priority than a patient writhing in pain. If the anesthesiologist didn’t chastise the nurse into giving Mike the medicine when he did, either Mike’s mother or I (we were waiting with him as he was being prepped for surgery) would probably have let the nurse know what she needed to do in words mostly beginning with the letter F.

For several hours that felt like days, we waited in his room to hear how the surgery went. Since patience is a virtue neither of us has, Leslie and I took turns asking the nurses if they had heard anything about Mike. Several hours after the surgery was supposed to be done, we were told that he was in recovery and we could see him in his new room soon.

Now it was time to wait for the doctors to decide that Mike was recovered enough to go home—when he could digest food properly. Unfortunately, his body was not ready for food as quickly as his mind. A few days later, Mike was able to convince the doctors to slowly start him on solid food again.

Finally, the day came when all of the specialists agreed Mike was ready to go home and heal. First though, the specialist who had admitted Mike explained what had caused the blockage: Cancer was found in the middle of the blockage.

So now, even though Mike’s home and recovering, we’re still waiting. Waiting for him to be ready for another surgery to reconstruct his colon as this past surgery was only a temporary fix. Waiting to talk to a cancer specialist. Waiting to hear what other treatment lies ahead.

Originally published in issue 194, April 1, 2005

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Visit our new web site

It's official! We are WNC Health Advocates.
Please visit our new web site, Visit WNC Health Advocates
The new name reflects what we do -- advocate for health care for everyone and help people access and navigate our current health care system.
While we still hold onto the memory and the generous spirit of Mike Danforth, we need people to be able to see our name and understand who we are.

Help Life o’ Mike

We need your help now more than ever. Your tax-deductible donation will help us get Patient Pals and Family Friends to more people in need of peer support. Please consider a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Donate here or mail your donation to Life o' Mike, PO Box 1213, Asheville, NC 28802.

Patient Pals & Family Friends

Life o' Mike has a peer support program for people with one or more serious or chronic medical issues or disabilities.

We aim to reduce isolation and fear among people who have conditions, including psychiatric illness, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, mild dementia or other cognitive disorder or disability, thereby reducing depression and complications as people learn to improve self-management of their medical conditions.

Patient Pals help alleviate feelings of isolation and frustration. They can help people develop a list of questions to ask the doctor and then accompany the person to the doctor to make sure all the questions are answered, taking notes to be sure the person understands the doctor’s answers.

Our trained volunteers also accompany their “Pals” to art exhibits, movies and walks outdoors, meet for coffee, call to check in and more.

Our Pals have experienced weight loss, improvement in diabetes, HIV, psoriasis, depression and more, just because they have someone who cares about them. Some relationships develop into longer-term friendships; other Pals move on to more independent lives.

Family Friends are there to help caregivers and other family members grow into their new role.

We need volunteers, who are asked to donate a minimum of one hour a week. Training is free and includes information on active listening, ways to help and when to know more help is needed.

And of course, we need funding.

To learn more, call Leslie Boyd at 828-243-6712 or e-mail lifeomike@gmail.com.

Life o’ Mike honors Joe Eblen

Life o' Mike presented its first Michael T. Danforth Community Service Award to Joe Eblen at a luncheon on June 8, in the Friendship Hall of First Congregational Church, 20 Oak St., Asheville.
Joe, seen here with Leslie Boyd, left, and his wife, Bobbie, has spent his life helping children and families, both as a coach and game official for more than 60 years, and as founder of Eblen Charities.

Start From Seed

Life o' Mike has a new program- Start from Seed (SFS).
SFS is a volunteer doula program aimed at providing non-medical, comprehensive support to low income, high-risk women and families of Buncombe County focusing on three areas:

1. We help new doulas with certification and training in return for their participation as a volunteer doula for SFS

2. We mentor volunteer doulas with their first few clients

3. Our volunteer doulas provide birth and postpartum doula services to low income, high risk moms, providing support and tools to empower them as a new parent.

A birth doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; a postpartum doula provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Start from Seed clients are referred to us from the Buncombe County Department of Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership Program, Western North Carolina Community Health Services, and Mission Hospital. The Program is intended and designed for growing clients’ inner strength and helping them gain empowerment to help them cope with the emotional, physical and mental challenges of childbirth, labor, and motherhood.

Our new moms and their infants have many needs. If you would like to help them get off to a good start, please visit our Start from Seed web site: Start from Seed, or call Program Director Chelsea Kouns at 804-814-9946.

Events in the community

Free birth and labor classes

Peaceful Beginning Doula Services holds free birth forums, Peaceful Birth, 6:30-8 p.m. the last Thursday of every month (except November) at Spa Materna, 640 Merrimon Ave., above The Hop, in Asheville.
All are welcome, expectant women and their partners are encouraged to attend anytime during their pregnancy. We also encourage doulas and other maternal/child professionals to attend and share in the discussions. The forums are "birth circle" style, focusing on normal birth which follows the Lamaze Six Care Practices for Healthy Birth. The forums are led by certified and experienced educators.

NAMI Family-to-Family Class

NAMI of Western Carolina holds 12-week classes for families and caregivers of individuals with a severe mental illness 6-8:30 p.m. Mondays at Charles George VA Medical Center, 1100 Tunnel Road in Asheville. The course covers major mental illnesses and self-care. Registration required. Info at 828-299-9596 or rohaus@charter.net.

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