Shot Karma

Injections are one of many ways to administer ...

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My husband Brian likes to remind me that life is like a karma credit card — it’s far better to add as many credits as you can to your card of life because the debits will inevitably come along.  Having been the recipient of thousands of injections through many years of surgeries, medical check-ups and blood draws, I knew what it was like to get a shot, to feel the anticipation of a needle prick.  As time went on, I’d become queasy at the very thought of a needle and grew accustomed to looking away while some kind nurse or practitioner went about their business of sticking me.  It takes practice to be the patient and I thought I’d become quite good at it.  I never wanted to be on the other side.

But this week, Brian told me that he had a procedure on the horizon and as a part of it, had to have twice daily injections.  He pulled out a plastic bag of pre-filled syringes and handed it to me, intimating that I become chief injector.   My stomach turned somersaults.   There was no way I could do this.

As my yoga teacher Cynthia has told me, life has a way of touching you on the shoulder when it’s your turn.  As I examined every angle of how to get out of giving Brian his shots, I realized there was no way out.  The karma of shots had come my way.    For many years I had taken them, adding debits to my karma credit card.  Now it seemed, it was time to add some credits to that card.

As the moment approached,I over-thought my new role.  Then, I remembered a passage from the book, Surfing the Himalayas:  A Spiritual Adventure  (www.himalayas.com), “Thoughts should have a place in your life of course, but it should be a very small place.  To really  know something, in order to see its perfection and to become part of that perfection, you must become the action that you seek to perfect.”

Brian handed me the needle.   As if I’d done it all my life, I took it, flicked the tip and watched droplets of fluid fall out, then plunged it into the folds of stomach Brian gathered with his hand and depressed the plunger, feeling the tension of liquid pouring into his body and out of the syringe.  We both exhaled. 

From nursed to nurse.  Karma isn’t always supposed to come full circle in a single lifetime but it felt that way.  I’d repeat the same anticipation, the same motion for three more days.  I didn’t want to perfect this action by any means.  Still, I found a way to become one with it.  If nothing else, I felt it was my turn to do it.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

What's your wish?

It is frustrating to be on a search mission for old medical records.  I’ve doggedly looked for various records from several doctors in a variety of nooks and crannies.  But when a nondescript manilla envelope with a return address of “Green Bay Plastic Surgical Associates” arrived in my Chicago mailbox I was too terrified to open it.  It sat there on my desk, seeming to taunt me with its nonchalant ability to so easily ruffle my feathers. 

 But a day of reckoning had to arrive and I gingerly opened the package, pulling out 25 or so pages of photocopied medical records from my plastic surgeon for 20 years, Dr. Harold Hoops. If memory served me correctly, I went to Dr. Hoops after my original surgeon Dr. Thomas E. Lynn died several years after my accident.  While I still have not been able to find Dr. Lynn’s original records, I quickly discovered that I had in my hands Dr. Hoops intake records and nearly 20 years of notes on my case.

There in his chicken-scratch of a doctor’s scribble were his notes on the history of my case: 

Medical Records : Chicken-scratch of doctor's scribble

Post-traumatic burn scars of the right leg and buttock; burned at home, age 2, at home stepped on lighted burner, stove, pant leg caught fire; initial care by Drs. Lynn and von Heimburg; St. Vincent Hospital, 3 months.

With just these few couple notes, I had confirmation of the stories I’d heard my whole life.  I kept flipping through the pages and then I saw it — four photos of my own leg, front and back, taken at Dr. Hoops’ office when I was nine years old.  It was hard to believe but I’d never seen a photo of my own leg like this.  I gasped in shock at the sight of it.  Then, turned the page and put the packet back in the manilla envelope.  I needed more time before I would be ready to look again.

“The Records…..Have Likely Been Destroyed….”

“I’m sorry I don’t have any personal recollection of the burn incident details although I do recall that there was such an incident,” Dr. Kaftan wrote to me the other day, in answer to my query.  Not only had my mother listed Dr. Kaftan, a pediatrician in Green Bay who is now retired, in my baby book as part of the team when I was burned but we’d known the Kaftan family as long as I could remember.  It was my Aunt Janet who recently encouraged me to call or write Dr. Kaftan — she had done the advance work for me and chatted with him about my contacting him.  I was excited to do so not only because the thought that he would have some recollections loomed large but because he was now the last remaining member of my team of doctors.  Drs. Lynn, von Heimburg and Hoops have all since passed away. 

“I am sure you are correct that the records of the Webster Clinic doctors have likely been destroyed……although I would be glad to inquire if you would like me to,” he helpfully offered. 

Ah yes, paper records.   An email that you or I send today lives on ad infinitum in cyberspace.  Paper medical records from before the 1980s are subject to records retention policies and typically destroyed on a schedule or shortly after a doctor retires.  Oddly, in our technology oriented world, they tend not to be converted into electronic records, the belief being that no one is interested in them any more. 

Medical records policies aside, I have to say this new information just sucks.  Dead ends and I do not get along.  When news of this ilk comes my way, I want to yell out, “Hey, I was seriously burned.  I’m not making this up.  I have scars to prove it.  Why don’t you people remember anything about it because I sure do!”  But that is how this particular ball bounces.   I will make yet another effort to contact the Clinic/s and see if anything remains.  Beyond that, there are a couple of people still on my list to interview about their recollections.  After that, my story moves ahead. 

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I eventually received my resolution on all this.  It’s that resolution that lead me to explore the accident and early records.  Whatever I find or don’t find from days gone by will be what it will be.  It would just be nice to have a complete picture though the reality is that all our stories are somewhat imperfect.

Lessons on Beauty

When Shanna came to work at the office, she was the tan, cute, blond Southern belle or so we thought at the time. 

Southern Belle

 Like peeling layers of the onion skin, we get to know other people in slivers and slices.  Just the same way we get to know ourselves.  When I found out Shanna and I shared the same birthday, I got to know her better.  When Shanna offered to help out with my books, a little better still and so it went until we formed a bond of shared experiences and ways of thinking.  She was only in her late 20s when she came into the office one day to tell us she had a rare form of cancer.  Diagnosis.  Surgery.  Radiation.  Chemotherapy.  If you’ve ever been through it, you know it’s like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or simply put, a call for personal transformation.  Shanna lost her hair, that beautiful blond hair that so complimented her tan, that made her feel cute.  “The old Shanna doesn’t exist anymore,” she said.  “I was spending time on upkeep for crap that didn’t matter.  There are gorgeous people out there who are ugly inside.  Inner beauty lasts and that’s what I look for in people these days.”  Shanna’s hair grew back and she left bookkeeping and is just a semester shy of becoming a nurse.  I have no doubt that she will be a great one. 

Years ago when I was in college, a medical student looked at my burned leg and said to me, “You know, you can have plastic surgery to make that look better.” I nodded but didn’t say anything.  Words weren’t needed.  I’d  already had a dozen plus plastic surgeries by then. There was some wry delight in knowing that if that medical student couldn’t make even that assessment after years of medical training, then he wasn’t going to have a very successful career. What you see on the outside often has nothing to do with what’s on the inside.

Why I Want Those 1965-1966 Medical Records

My research thus far has included requesting medical records (from doctors, hospitals and rehab centers in Green Bay), talking with brothers/sisters/relatives, friends of my parents (who died in the 1990s) and even a smattering my own friends about their thoughts, remembrances, perceptions, misconceptions. “Didn’t you get burned on Halloween when the lantern you were carrying dropped and you caught on fire?” one relative queried. “No, not at all,” I responded. And that is the most exasperating thing — trying to prove out what I thought happened with all the other red herrings. This is why I so want to see the 1965 medical records. In my mind, they will confirm the story imprinted on me since youth or they will enlighten me with new information. Thus far, the most complete written record of the story has been found in my blue baby book when my mother wrote out an account of some of the details she chose to share in an eerily upbeat way. I’d like something a little more evidence-based but I understand that may be something that never comes my way. I also understand that whatever I may find may not answer some of the questions I have — like how did I get from home to the hospital? Or, how many “debridement” procedures (peeling off of the dead, burned skin) did I have before the plastic surgeries? My questions do indeed range from the basic to the macabre. Does anyone out there have additional ideas on who, what or where I should invest some of my research efforts?

Medical Records – Poof! They Are Gone

looking for  medical records

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“I just want to warn you not to be hopeful,” Terry in the Business Office of a medical practice said when I asked her about finding my medical records from the 1960s. That said, she said they would manually look through the ‘old books’ of records from the 1980s backwards to see if they could find mine. I saw Dr. Sullivan from the time I was a kid through college in the 1980s and despite the warning, am hopeful my medical records from the critical 1965-66 years still exist especially since I’ve hit so many dead ends. My original plastics surgeons are dead; their records destroyed. The hospital only had my records from the 1980s (and ironically, the woman assisting me in the medical records department was named “Bernie”). Dr. Hoops became my plastic surgeon in 1967, well after the original accident (and I do have all his records of me now). But my curiosity rests in the original records. Cross your fingers. Dousman Clinic may still come through.

Finding People

Finding people after 40 years is something of a daunting task. Yes, there are some alive and well, and even willing to talk about what they remember of my accident. But then there are the ones I think of and only remember a first name — Maggie, my nurse in the hospital, or Audrey, the physical therapist. I talked to my friend Sue who works at the hospital where I was treated so many years ago and she confirmed that in our modern world, our modern human resources rules mean people can’t share much. So will I ever find these people I remember? And if I did, would they remember? Maggie the nurse would. When I was 18, I went to visit a friend at the hospital, St. Vincent’s. When I walked out of the elevator she ran toward me and hugged me. I had no idea who she was until she told me, tears in her eyes. How she remembered me then, 15 years after she had last seen me, still startles me.