Saturday, July 30, 2011

Celebration at Cradle

Well, the 12-week cardiac rehab period is officially over this weekend. Farmdoc now graduates back into his own life - or rather into the new life that has been granted to him by a team of doctors and the everyday miracles of modern medicine.

Physically, Farmdoc's almost back to normal, but emotionally...looks like that'll take a little longer.

We talk about it all the time but I'm not sure we're any closer to truly grasping what happened - how bad his heart disease was, how close to dying he was really, and what was done to him to repair it.

And then there's the whole idea of a fresh start. I wonder if we'll ever take that for granted.

Farmdoc the scientist is obsessed with the physical aspects of this new life. He's bought a pedometer which he wears all the time, and every day he walks for at least 30 minutes. Even today in the rain we strode out in rain gear, leaving behind a warm, cosy house. And he watches his diet obsessively.

I, on the other hand, am obsessed with what it means to have a second chance. I look at the long scar on Farmdoc's chest and it seems so strange. I don't associate it with operating theatres. It seems more symbolic to me somehow, a sign that something within has changed.

This week we took Daughter Number Four to stay at Cradle Mountain for a few days. The trip was a celebration and a thanksgiving, a time to immerse ourselves in Mother Nature's offerings at their most sacred and sublime.

It feels too soon to write properly about this experience and what it means, but I do know it feels to me that there's something holy about the responsibility of making a new life count. Cradle Mountain seemed the right place to set out on this undertaking.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Six and Six

Eight weeks down, four to go.

On the evening before Farmdoc's bypass surgery, the surgeon sat on the end of the hospital bed while he told us about the twelve-week recovery process.

During the first six weeks, progress would be measured week by week. There'd be bad days and slightly better days, but overall there'd be forward movement. Farmdoc should expect disturbances in every area of his life, including concentration and even taste and smell. At the end of this time, he'd be allowed to drive again.

In the second six weeks, progress should speed up and be measurable on a daily basis. And at the end of twelve weeks he should be able to do whatever he wanted.

This was when we could have made the piano joke. Do you know it? The patient asks the surgeon if he'll be able to play the piano after the operation. 'Of course you'll be able to play the piano!' says the surgeon. 'That's amazing,' the patient replies. 'I couldn't before.'

My guess is that the surgeon's heard that one plenty of times, so it's just as well we didn't bore him with it again. At this point we didn't understand what lay ahead, but we were grateful that he was so generous with his time. We would cling to his words through those difficult first six weeks ahead.

Most weeks it didn't feel that there was any progress at all. Farmdoc would drag himself up and down the corridor outside our apartment a couple of times and then fall into bed, exhausted. It was wet and cold, so we walked around and around the shopping complex at Melbourne Central. We joked that the security people must have wondered what we were up to, never entering any of the shops, but religiously circumnavigating every floor before taking the escalator to the next one.

Farmdoc couldn't read. His eyesight was blurry and he couldn't concentrate. He slept for hours. He was even fussier than normal about what he ate. His voice was husky, he had a persistent cough, he was often short of breath. It was impossible to imagine he'd ever be normal again - let alone play the piano, which he couldn't do before!

But then, after six weeks, we left Melbourne and returned to Onemilebridge, and sure enough, progress sped up. After two weeks here he's striding up hills as well as he ever did. He can sleep on his side without discomfort, and those scars that will forever tell the tale of his surgery are already fading.

The surgeon's advice was that if it hurts while he's doing something, then he should stop, but if it 's painless while he does it but hurts afterwards, then that's just a sign of his muscles being brought back into action, and he should continue. He's doing most normal farm chores, and in about a month he'll begin to see patients again. I think at the end of this six-week period he'll be as fit as he ever was.

When I was looking for an illustration for this post, all the photos I could find show a hollow-eyed and gaunt Farmdoc, looking like the survivor of some harrowing ordeal. I guess that's what he was, but I couldn't bear to look at those, so I have chosen a picture of the six of us, four weeks after the operation, celebrating Farmdoc's birthday - and his new life. May it be long and happy.