(201) Health 2021 Edition - Page 68

ASK THE DOCTOR

LEARNING PATIENCE the Hard Way

A doctor who battled COVID shares lessons the disease taught him WRITTEN BY DR . JAMES PRUDEN

When Iwas young , Iwas told , as were many of you , that Ihad to “ be patient .”

It might come after aquestion like “ Are wethere yet ?” or , while standing at the Christmas tree waiting for some errant family member to get out of bed . It might have been “ Can Iopen my presents now ?”
In that time ofmylife , Ithought being patient just meant Ihad to sort of “ chill out .” When Ilooked it up in the dictionary ( truthfully , when I “ Googled it ”) Ifound a bit more ominous definition :“ Patience is the capacity to accept ortolerate delay , trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset .”
Icontracted COVID inearly March , at the beginning of the East Coast experience . In fact , Iwas one of the very first admitted to my hospital for this condition .
Isay “ my hospital ” because Ihave worked at St . Joseph ’ s for nearly 40 years as an emergency physician , and have found it to be awondrous experience .
To say Iwas ravaged by this illness would be an understatement . Ofthe 31 days Ispent on the intensive care unit , 18 of them were spent on aventilator . Ilost 80 pounds , and could not even turn over in bed onmyown . But more intense than the loss of weight ( I needed to lose some ) and the loss of strength was the neverending awareness that Icould not get enough air .
Ibecame the poster child for impatience when Ihad to lie flat for my second CT scan , which occurred just before my second intubation . Lying flat made breathing
so difficult that Iremem- ber screaming at the technicians toplease , please hurry . It was the closest Ihave ever been to experiencing sheer terror .
By the time Iwas being discharged for rehab , Icould just about feed myself and brush my hair . Fortunately , I am mostly bald-headed , so it did not take much effort todothat .
DR . PRUDEN
So what does this have todowith patience ?
When myfiancé Liz and Imade arrangements for an August wedding , we were active in our St . Mark ’ s church choir , we got pleasure in actually going to the movies , and we just loved todance .
Now it was the middle of April , and I was oxygen dependent , Ihad no taste for food , and Icould barely stand with assistance , let alone dance .
Although it has now stopped , for some still unexplained reason , flesh was peeling from my hands tothe degree that my son Christopher and Ijoked that Icould use them in aZombie Apocalypse movie .
For me , the guideposts for patience were embodied inthe “ Serenity Prayer .” You know …
“ God , giveme grace to accept with serenity the thingsthatcannot be changed , Courage to change thethings whichshould be changed , andthe Wisdomtodistinguish the onefromthe other .”
This was a chance for me to embody that prayer .
The trick has always been defining that which I could change and that which I could not change .
No one knew why the skin on my hands was flaking . Perhaps it was a reaction to the 5,000 medications I had been given . The hope was that it would go away by itself . Whatever the cause , I had to move ontosomething else .
In order for metolearn to relearn to stand on my own , to walk , to lift things , the medical team would identify the specific deficit , and the physical therapists would drive me relentlessly to do it “ just 10 more times .” Ieven gave them murderous nicknames .
As for the oxygen dependence , I was having pain with each deep breath . I knew that pushing the envelope of pain was the way to overcome it , but Iwas finding that very hard .
It ultimately took a significant turn for the better when Liz and Iwere trying to dance and something terribly funny happened . Suffice it to say that I was laughing so deeply I was forced to take deep breaths in spite of the pain .
So as far as patience goes , Ithink one must strive to identify things in their control , and work hard to make them happen .
More importantly , one must accept the things that are beyond their control and let the fates doasthey will . The hard part is knowing which is which .
Incidentally , Liz and I danced for four hours at our wedding . ❖
COURTESY OF ST . JOSEPH ’ S HEALTH
64 2021 EDITION ( 201 ) HEALTH