Friday, January 8, 2010

I go to pieces, part 2

You may recall me telling you about my trach collar and trach falling apart during a fitful night's sleep in December.

Somehow, I was able to pull myself together and got through the holiday season without another incident.

Two nights ago, the same thing happened. But this time, when I placed the trach up against the hole in my neck, it wouldn't slide in; the circumference of the trach was just a bit more than the circumference than the hole.

I considered panicking. Instead, I sat at the computer and e-mailed my doctor, telling him that I hoped he would be able to help me if I just showed up in Kaiser's Head and Neck Department. Then I threw on my jacket and shoes, tossed the trach in a Zip-Loc bag, grabbed my keys and drove to the Head and Neck Department at Sunset and Edgemont.

The receptionist almost didn't recognize me without the familiar plastic apparatus around my neck, which she has been seeing on me for almost a year. But I held up the Zip-Loc bag with the disassembled pieces and handed the receptionist a note explaining what happened, which I wrote in the elevator ride to the sixth floor.

It was before 8 o'clock and the clinic had not opened yet but the receptionist checked me in and said that the on-call doctor would arrive shortly before 9.

I was the only one sitting in the dark waiting room for 15 minutes or so, then a young kid walked in and took a seat opposite mine. I expected him to catch him staring at the hole in my neck but instead he seemed more interested in my flannel Mickey Mouse pajamas.

After a short wait, a nurse led me to one of the exam rooms. I was hoping that Dr. B1 would have been on duty but another head and neck specialist, Dr. T, walked into the exam room.

Dr. T read my note and then pumped up the chair so that we were eye-to-eye. He held a flashlight above the hole in my neck and peered inside.

"Bummer!" he said.

"What do you mean?" I wrote in my pad. Along with "Code Blue" and "I'll send for the chaplain," "Bummer!" is one of the last things you want your doctor to say when he inspects your breathing capacity.

The hole in my neck, Dr. T explained, was already beginning to close up, which was the reason I could not slide the trach back in. I didn't think that could even happen, I wrote. Dr. T said that trach holes could close in within a matter of hours and when that happens, the surgery needs to be repeated.

He left the room for a few minutes and returned with a tray of instruments and tubes of gel and lubricant.

"This is going to get a little messy," he warned, wrapping a large towel around my chest and shoulder.

My knees were knocking as Dr. T lubricated the rim of my trach hole, and then applied the same gel to a fresh trach. I clenched my eyes tight as the round end of the trach pressed against my neck, and Dr. T applied more and more pressure.

Finally, I heard a soft pop, and then felt the trach slide in. When I opened my eyes, Dr. T was lifting the blood-splatted towel from my chest.

I held the trach with a finger as I rode the elevator down and walked to my car. Two trach-separation incidents in as many weeks doesn't give me confidence that this won't happen again. When it does, the trick will be to get to Kaiser before the trach hole seals up.

And also I should have a pair of Donald Duck pajamas ready to wear for the next emergency. You don't want your doctor to see you in the same jammies twice.


  1. Another eye-opening and brilliant account of what you go though on a daily basis. I don't know how you do it. Besides facing the day with the steady and positive outlook you have, you are still able to communicate your feelings in a manner that is witty and free of anger and self pity (which doesn't surprise me, because it's exactly how you are).

    If anyone reading this knows of a publisher, I think one of the greatest gifts for Paul would be to see his writing published. Let's get it out there. This writing communicates to people beyond Paul's friends and people dealing with health issues. It is human and witty and brilliant.

    C'mon, after reading the gripping paragraphs that preceded it, didn't you smile or even laugh out loud when you read the last paragraph about the jammies? This needs to move out of the blogosphere and onto the next level.

  2. Totally agree and have been thinking exactly the same thing!! It makes me laugh and makes me cry and I look forward to it every day. I worked with Paul on the junior high newspaper and knew, back in 1970 at age 12, that he would be a brilliant writer or cartoonist. I even had him draw one of his characters in my annual because I was sure I'd be able to point to it someday and say, "I knew that guy!" You haven't disappointed me, Paul.

    Not sure how a middle school math teacher can help, but please, someone?

  3. Same here! As a Pos Ped, I met Paul briefly a couple of years ago on an AIDS LifeCycle ride. I look forward to reading this blog daily. Thanks, Paul, for this gift to all of us.


  4. Dean, as we have spoke ... I agree 110%. I have some friends who have written books and have asked them to introduce me to their publishers. What (and how) Paul writes will give others the strength to hang in there as well as support for their family and friends. Paul is a true inspiration to others and reading his blog keeps me connected with him.

    Paul, what do you think?


    1. "You Can't Always Get Want You Want"? Maybe Mick and the boys could endorse for their #1 Fan

    2. "The Salt of the Earth"

    3. "I Will Survive" ... not that Paul was ever into disco

    4. My name is Paul

    5. The Long and Winding Road

    Mike (the brother)

  5. YES! Paul, you are touching people's lives. You are writing a poignant and personal journal of one of the hardest phases of life's journey. Every day I check your blog to see how you are doing. At times I feel like a guilty voyeur, but I keep watching because you inspire me to be a little braver and to fight to live each day with more joy even when things aren't so joyful. Thank you!
    Diane Denson Furukawa

  6. Gee, all this time I assumed that my cancer tumor were causing my head to swell. Maybe my head is swelling because of all of the kind words you all posted. Thanks, everyone! --Paul

  7. Paul,
    As others have said you give me strength on a daily basis.
    I could not agree more with Dean.
    Your words need to be published and reach those who will be lucky enough to hear them.

    You are the wind beneath our wings!!!



  8. I read this today, and couldn't agree more, you should be published. You are so brave, and you are a source of strength to me every day. You have the ability to keep us aware of your struggles without losing your wonderful sense of humor. No wonder we love you!! AMA

  9. I got shivers reading your blog ... you have so much going on and seem to handle it ... well. I don't know if I would be as calm and collected.

    You inspire me.

  10. me too, big time. (that's what we say in the south, when we really, really mean it)

  11. and we usually sign our names.
    From Kim Krask

  12. Paul, I whole heartedly agree with all the comments posted by all your friends. Actually, it was just today I spoke with someone about somehow taking your blog and saving it.....I can't imagine not hearing your thoughts and are just amazing and I am glad to be your you! mk