Sunday, January 26, 2014

CPR in the real world

Last Monday evening, at the last minute, Art and I took a refresher CPR course at our resort. It's gotten simpler through the years. Now, if there's a witnessed cardiac arrest, CPR is chest compressions only. If a person's heart stops beating suddenly, there's oxygen already in the blood. The chest compression squeezes the heart to pump the oxygen to the vital organs of the body. The thinking these days is that the "two quick breaths" doesn't increase the chances of survival. I did my practice on a dummy under the watchful eye of a second-year University of Arizona medical student. Then we were shown how to operate an AED, a defibrillator that talks the user through the procedure, from placing the pads correctly, to running the analysis, to generating the shock if necessary. We were given the locations for the five defibrillators on the resort. Then we walked home.

Yesterday after lunch, Art and I rode our bicycles over to the pickleball courts to try our hand at this new sport. He was winning 10-8. He walked to retrieve the ball and suddenly clutched his left knee and approached the bench on the side to sit down. He had that knee replaced two summers ago and I was concerned he might have wrenched the appliance. I sat down beside him. "Does your knee hurt?" Art shook his head. "Does anything hurt?" He didn't answer. I looked at his face and it didn't look right. Out of my 65-year-old brain floated the questions you ask a person you suspect may be having a stroke. Can they repeat a complete sentence you give them? Can they smile? Can they raise both their arms? Art repeated the sentence faintly. Then he slumped into me.

I looked up. At the end of the pickleball court, half a dozen men were chatting. "Call 9-1-1",  I shouted. First step, remembered from my CPR training five days earlier.

I could see most of the men running toward me. "Let's get him on the ground," one said. Art resisted a little, but he was transferred from the bench to the ground by three of the men. He was breathing, gasping a little. One of the men said, "I'm a retired fire chief. The AED is on  the way." Someone had run 100 feet to retrieve one of the five defibrillators.

"Start CPR," said the chief. "He's still breathing," I responded. "You're not supposed to do it when they're breathing."

Then he wasn't breathing. No chest rising and falling, no pulse. Art was in cardiac arrest; his heart had stopped. I placed my hands over my husband's chest and started CPR. I thought his chest felt exactly like the dummy I'd practiced on. I paced myself for 100 compressions a minute, remembering the song "Staying Alive" which has the beat I needed to match.

The chief tore Art's t-shirt off, opened the AED box and extracted the shock pads. He placed one pad at the top left of Art's chest, the other at the bottom right. He pushed a button and the machine said, "Analyzing."

I was still doing CPR. A man standing over me said, "Want me to spell you?" I said, "I'm okay for now, but if you help, you need to kneel on the other side of his body to be ready to take over for me."

The AED said, "prepare to execute shock". The machine will only shock if there is no heartbeat or an arrhythmia that can be fixed. We pulled away and Art was shocked. His body jerked, drool oozed down the side of his mouth, and he opened his eyes.

He was alert as to place and time. The men remained with him until the paramedics arrived. The chief told the EMTs what had happened and passed the responsibility on to them. Then he said, "I'm going back over to the pool." I called to him and asked his name. Scott. A resident of the resort. I didn't get his last name. I need to thank him.

Art was transported to the University of Arizona Medical Center South Campus and I arrived by car about 45 minutes later. A cardiologist would be doing a cardiac catheterization. The procedure would take about an hour, he said. If they found anything they would probably fix it while they were in there. If a stent or a bypass was needed they would do it then. An hour later, the doc came out. "The best possible news. His arteries are clear. He did not have a heart attack."

In ICU for 15 hours, all the tests were run. Echocardiogram showed no damage to the heart. Blood work showed very low potassium levels, which is probably the cause of the cardiac arrest. Within six hours of admission Art's heart rhythm returned to normal; it has remained that way for 20 hours now. Potassium levels are now normal. Art is eating like a horse, texting friends, talking to visitors. He may be released tomorrow.

My husband's heart stopped. CPR performed by me kept the blood flowing to his vital organs until the AED shocked his heart back to life. Amazing.

I have no idea how I remembered CPR. It seemed natural to be kneeling there on the ground ministering to my husband. I felt no fear.

Then this morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m., full of fear and unable to go back to sleep. The adrenaline that kept me going had worn off.  It has been a busy day - six more hours at the hospital, talking to doctors, talking to five of our eight children by text and by phone, answering emails from concerned friends, remembering to eat from time to time.

I am very tired tonight. I hope I will sleep.

I saved a life. That's CPR in the real world.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Anchorage visitors in Tucson

My sister Alyx and her husband Virgil flew from their cold wet dark Anchorage to spend six days in warm dry sunny Tucson. We inflated a queen-sized airbed for them and the four of us lived in 620 square feet reasonably well all week. Every other night the airbed lost air; we'd wake up at 2, or 4, to the sound of the electric pump. The second toilet developed a small leak at the base so we called the landlord and wrapped a towel around the toilet base. We planned showers around the limitation of a five-gallon hot water tank. We clustered in our small living room with computers on three of our four laps. Lots of talk, especially between Alyx and me.

Alyx wanted to rent a bike and ride in the desert and, as a geocacher, to find some caches. We did that. We rode bikes in the RV resort and along the trail in Julian Wash. We found 16 geocaches. Alyx went to her first-ever water aerobics class and was surprised to like it. She listened to my handbell rehearsal and decided the bells sounded lovely rather than goofy. We went to a dance and Alyx danced for the first time in many years. By the time she left yesterday she was sore but sun-filled.

Virgil wanted to spend time with brother-in-law Art. They went to eight 12-step meetings in six days, most of them at 6:30 in the morning. Usually Alyx and I were up by then, but not always.

We went to Macaroni Grill one night for dinner. We ate a lot. Too much. And had enough left over to take home. In Anchorage there is no Macaroni Grill, and Alyx craved it. Another evening Virgil grilled ribs on our neighbor Ken's barbecue. Ken joined us for dinner, along with friends Ann and Larry. At home, we rarely entertain.  Here it is simple and easy.

Every morning when I looked out at the sun I felt blessed. By Saturday, Alyx and Virgil didn't want to leave. I got it. As I drove home from the airport after dropping off, I was grateful for our good fortune. We will be here for two more months.

Six days of houseguests is probably enough. Today Alyx and Virgil are back in Anchorage, settling in for their workweek. They plan to move to Washington this summer, so they have lots to do in the next six months. And today Art and I are enjoying our quiet park model. He's reading the paper and watching a couple of football games. I'm reading my online classes (chemistry, psychology, big data, social and economic networks, and the human body in the environment]. These are free, not-for-credit classes for me, the lifelong learner.

In the sideline, my computer died yesterday, victim of an eager dismantler trying to clean it so my earbuds would work. The dismantler apologized and I got a new MacBook Air. So far, almost everything has been moved over. Not how I would have planned a Sunday, but it could have been worse.

Right now I feel like a lucky woman. I know I am a grateful one.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Our snowbird life in Tucson

This is our second winter at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson. We're renting the same place this year. When we passed through the entrance gate, a deep familiarity washed through me. It felt very good.

                           Looking down 4th Street from our driveway

We were introduced to the Voyager by my college roommate Ann and her husband Larry. We met  their friends last year. We met other people through the activities we pursued. And we're doing a few different things this year, and we have met new people doing those things. Almost everyone is from someplace else for the winter, and it is very easy to make friends.

Here's what we've been up to so far.

Two dances - one on New Years Eve and one last night (January 11). At home we don't dance. Here, the music is good, full of oldies. We sit with friends, get up and dance to the irresistible songs. It takes less than five minutes to walk to the ballroom.

Water aerobics. I started last year in a simple class and continued once we got home. I can tell I'm stronger now. I bought my own weights last week, finally, at Sports Authority. I take the easy class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the more vigorous one on Tuesday and Thursday. Six minutes to get to the pool on foot. These classes are at 8 a.m. and because the sun is shining I am able to get out of bed that early.

Current events discussion. This one can be aggravating because participants are on wildly divergent places of the political spectrum. Last week we talked about raising the minimum wage and about discontinuing unemployment compensation. I should say we debated and challenged. It's a place where politics isn't something we don't talk about. I will never be a conservative.

Great Decisions. This is a weekly discussion on foreign affairs. I volunteered to facilitate our group this year rather than just participating. I'm a little nervous about the first meeting next week because my role is new, but I know most of the people from last year, and I have done facilitation, and I am a mediator. We have one difficult participant and I am thinking about ways to keep him from dominating the conversation. Probably people will have to raise their hands to be put on a list to speak. I'm glad for the challenge, though.

Line dancing and two-step dancing. We start the two-step class this afternoon, and the line dancing starts tomorrow. We did both of these last year so we know what to expect. I bought dancing shoes this summer and they were wonderful on the dance floor last night.

Handbells. I got promoted to the "varsity" ringers. I love the sound of bells and I don't even care whether we ever perform for anyone besides us. We will, though, at a resort concert in March. It had been 30 years since I played bells before last year. I still remembered.

Pickleball. This is new for us this year since Art was recovering from broken ribs last winter. We took the beginner class this week. Even though I did a face plant on the court because I lunged forward to return a serve, I suspect we'll do this more often. On pickleball days I'll probably skip water aerobics.

Reimagining God - a discussion group for people on a spiritual journey. After I talked to the facilitator she invited us to a fascinating lecture in Tucson, and to her very progressive Methodist church last week. We are exploring progressive faith communities this winter.

Native American flute. We took the beginner lesson last weekend and have been practicing enough that we no longer sound like dying cows most of the time. Yesterday we went to the beginner flute circle. We learned some new techniques and I wasn't too nervous as we went around the circle playing for each other.

Bicycles. We brought ours this year. Our Prius usually gets 43 miles per gallon on the freeway. This year, with the drag from the bicycles on the back, it got about 30. We probably could have rented bikes cheaper! Mine had a flat tire but it is now in good condition. We went for a short ride yesterday and Art fell off his when we got back to our driveway. We need to be careful! I don't foresee taking off-resort rides, but it is quicker to get to the activities on the resort. Feels good to be back on a bike after having it hang on the wall of our garage for six years.

We are busy, but not frenetic. Except for water aerobics and pickleball, our other activities are once a week.

A friend visited the resort this week. On Thursday the three of us took a four-mile hike in the desert and then to a fabulous Mexican place in downtown Tucson for lunch.

My sister Alyx and her husband Virgil are flying in this afternoon. They live in Anchorage and are pining for some sun and warm. They will get it here!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reflections on the road to the sun

We left home on December 23 and arrived in Tucson on the 29th. The trip went according to plan, and I have the memories to prove it.

For the last four years our twin granddaughters Mary and Malayne have spent the week between Christmas and New Year's with us in Washington. This year they moved with their mom Rebekah and stepdad Dan from Roseburg, Oregon to Spokane, and the twins spent their winter break in Roseburg with my son Russell, their dad. So we spent the first two nights of our trip in Roseburg - one lovely, quiet evening with our old friend Jeanne, and Christmas Eve Day (doesn't everyone describe the 24th this way?) at Russell's house. He cooked his first turkey - on the barbecue - and it was pronounced delicious. Also in attendance were his girlfriend Amanda, my husband Art, my ex-husband John and his girlfriend Shirley, and John's sister Patty. As we sat at the table and then opened gifts, I thought how fortunate we were to be sharing this event in good spirits and with affection for everyone. It has been nearly 30 years since John and I divorced, and yet in some way we are still family. It has been great for our children. I am glad that John has found happiness with Shirley, and I am even gladder that I can say that!

We drove south on Christmas Day under gray skies and intermittent fog. But as soon as we'd made the long climb up the mountain from Ashland, the sun and blue sky came out and stayed out. Wonderful!

I have been to California numerous times since I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1980, but it's been almost that long since I've driven rather than flying. The trip down the length of the state was sometimes a reflection of then and now.

We spent the night at the La Quinta Inn in Stockton, arriving after dark. When we left in the morning, the air was distressingly polluted - fog combined with the output of industrial activity resulted in visibility so limited that we missed our first freeway turn because we couldn't see the sign! Many trucks, rough interstate road. I don't remember Stockton like this 30 years ago.

The long straight drive down I-5 in the Central Valley reminded me of the productivity of California soil and the continuing struggle with a limited water supply for an enormous, crowded state. So many people living in the "promised land".

We arrived in Los Angeles at 3 pm and, despite our effort to find an uncrowded freeway we could use to get past the city to San Diego, we were unsuccessful. We sat on "the 5" for half an hour in the Santa Clarita Valley and on "the 210" for another half hour near Pasadena. We finally stopped for dinner in San Dimas to wait out the traffic. The "promised land" has compromised air quality, millions of vehicles and even more millions of residents. Not so promising, to my mind. I lived in this area for six years in the 70s, and I am very grateful we moved north.

Then, three nights in San Diego with daughter Melissa and son-in-law Scott. A hike at Torrey Pines from the bluff to the ocean. I can do it! And a visit to Balboa Park and two of the museums there. The best part of these days was the time spent with Mel and Scott. It is wonderful to have an adult-to-adult relationship with grown offspring. We talked and laughed and ate and played Mexican train (dominoes). Melissa is the oldest of the eight offspring in our blended family. I know she watches out for us, and that is a good thing. By the time we left, we were all caught up and very glad for the time we'd spent together. We'll see them again in July at a family gathering in Idaho. They're planning the event - another nice thing, the next generation down picking up the torch of family continuity.

I could live in San Diego, I think. But I couldn't afford to buy a house there!

The final driving day, from San Diego to Tucson, was mostly desert. As we passed through the towns I was so, so grateful I don't live there. I spent nine years living in the desert when I was younger, and I remember the summer heat, the wind, and the sense of desolation. I love Tucson in the winter, but there's no place like home at the other times of the year.

So here we are, on New Year's Day, comfortable in our park model at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson. I remember the family and friends, the sights and sounds of our road trip. I remember the past and I am grateful for that. But there's no place like the present.