This is Antoinette Rigoni who caught me as I fell down a stairwell at my home only two weeks after major open heart surgery and hauled my sorry near unconscious butt to hospital for the latest chapter Dio De Muertos (Day of The Dead). I had hired her six weeks ago to take care of me the month or so recovery at home and she was there May 18 to receive me from the plane and bed me down after I had gotten out of St Vincents Private Hospital after only 10 days of initial recovery. Over the next ten days she took care of my needs–ferrying me to the markets on Sunday, dressing the leg wounds where the surgeon harvested eight sets of veins for a triple bypass as well as replacement of a mitral valve, rewiring my existing pacemaker/defibrillator and replacing it with a higher tech unit. She nursed me, offered to cook and help around the house, etc. She made sure I only administered a few drops each of CBD and THC Oil under the tongue (I used no opioids) , rubbed my leg wounds with cannabis cream and made sure I took my new profile of half the meds I was previously on.
Though I had survived open heart surgery with my stressed in the gentle hands of my Sydey surgeon Alasdair Watson, I arrested on the table after 8 hours of my heart and lungs stopped for it. They managed to reboot me without kidney failure, other circulatory damage or stroke and I returned roaring. I was in a private hospital rather than public and an operation that would have cost over $750,000 in the US ended up only costing me less than a grand for anesthetist, medical imaging and a few other sets of tests. Funny enough, Antoinette, the private nurse was the greatest expense but I had budgeted for this. She saved my life, which is priceless. The latest thing that felled me was an undiscovered duodenal ulcer burst that was weakened by all the surgical trauma, gushed a huge amount of blood in my bowels and served me a cardiac arrest at the end– my fifth death experience restart since my first heart attack at age 37 (saved by my angelic girlfriend and gotten to the ER in time), a ventricular fibrillation at Honolulu Airport in 2015 where I was gone for ten minutes before the ambos arrived. Then it was a random lady who had taken a CPR course six months prior who was my angel. Later there was a TIA stroke 1n 2017 which Jen my neighbour figured out was serious due to my slurred speech on the phone that morning and she joined the Angel Brigade taking me in to the ER.
So that’s five near death experiences and what did I learn?
- Don’t smoke! Most of the people my age I’ve met in here were heavy smokers and so have COPD, Emphysema, Black Leg or Cancer
- Don’t get diabetes by eating sugar. Honey, agave syrup, rice bran syrup, fructose, maple syrup need to be off the list along with candy.
- Save your arteries! I had too much high fat meat (brisket, steak, pork and poultry skin) as well as small goods and especially cheese.
- About sausages and salami as well as cured meats. Limit them because if the fat doesn’t kill you, the nitrites will. Eat smoked fish instead.
- Make your diet plant centric–salads, vegetables, beans, grains, baked orange roots like pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams and some potato.
So here I am in hospital after a triple bypass, mitral valve replacement, new telemetric pacemaker defibrillator and having survived a duodenal bleed after all that. Yep I’ll have to modify my diet but it won’t be boring. Having solid food after a liquid diet for five days suddenly revived my taste buds, like growing new ones. I’ve lost weight in here and take cardio rehab classes through the week, completely mobile now. So let me introduce you to my new digs I’ve been in for a week and will probably lounge in, rest, recuperate, recover for another five days. I REALLY LIKE THIS PLACE!! It’s like a mini vacation in a low key resort with a medical centre attached but all free due to Australia’s cool social medicine program.
I spent a day in the ER, then three days in Intensive Care, got transferred to a Medical ward setup with three 70+ year old women, all on their last legs for four days and then transported to this luxe private room with it’s own bathroom where I’ve now been a week. I was blown away by the level of service and the broad menu as well as the care and concern of great nurses. This is in the isolated Rehabilitation unit at the far end of the health campus as they call it and it’s even ‘mo betta’ because I am away from the Psych ward which adjoined General Medical Ward where the girls and I hooted whenever another nutter started screaming. What else do you do?
Rehabilitation Unit is a special ward off the end of the campus that has so many features loaded into it that you feel welcomed as soon as you hit this portal. The nurses are young but smart and behaviorally different from the older lasses in the general Medical Ward.
Never ending hot water, a chair to sit in while soaping, bars to practice my ballet moves, big mirror, heightened loo (but I miss my bidet) and an echo it’s so big. The space is incredible, it is so private, I can play my music or watch streaming TV at a moderate volume and am right next to the nurses’ station for quick response. But even better is the garden area right outside my room where I often eat lunch at a picnic table and bask like a walrus in the warm sun.
It’s lush, verdant, fragrant and a joy to wander through. There are so many plantings and mature specimens it’s almost park like.
As an example, here is a wall of plants, some in the ground, several in painted plastic bottles and even a passionfruit bush that we picked a few ripe globes from and added to Jackson’s bowl in the perspex cage we carried him around in to keep him safe.
And yes we do have an outdoor treadmill that works and is shaded early in the day which proved to be very handy for leg exercising
In addition there is a gym specially outfitted for stroke and other cardio rehabilitation which includes Pilates machine, other exercise equipment, parallel bars and some four stairs up and down to practice gait.
You couldn’t ask for more to be active but there is a lounge area tucked away with recliners and comfy chairs for family meetings or just to hang out reading.
Inspirational messages are posted up on the walls which really encouraged me to work out more and get more life back into my legs which would have wasted away if I spent my time laying out. As it turned out I went from barely able to walk one day to using a roller walker the next to get the reward latte from the car 200 meters down the hall. Now I can walk fully unaided.
They honor their nurses here too with these sayings which I thought were poignant. Because Jackson was allowed to visit me every day, Darren dutifully schlepped him down in his perspex Wingabago travel cage to the sheer delight of all staff. At one point he had eight folk circled around him in our closed ooff rec room taking selfies and videos, oohing and aahing at him as I had hime step up from his perch and down to their shoulders. At least he wasn’t asked for an autograph though he can hold a pencil in order to destroy it with his beak. They did ask if he was vaccinated for bird flu not realizing that birds aren’t, only humans And he looked so happy and splendidly healthy that there was no issue about coming in and spending time. As a contrast, they will let a dog in here if their companion is near death but only if the mutt has vet papers and is washed clean then sanitized on arrival.
Ahh Bird Love! Featherlust is seeing my boy every morning for an hour or so and letting him free fly in my room with closed door, hugging and smooching with him was the best medicine. He didn’t have to pass a COVID check, a temperature scan or other test to get in and be with me.
If I hadn’t strongly scraped through the open heart surgery and then recovered from the undetected ulcer that bled out stopping my heart again, I’d be ashes inside this hollow tiki head that was carved for that eventual purpose by Brisbane-based Marcus Thorn. Marcus operates as Tikibeat and does an incredible array of work including war canoes, figureheads on the bows of boats and ornate works for venues in the Tiki idiom. He happens to be Australia’s foremost TIKI carver though he has worked all over the Pacific. I am indebted to him for taking the year to craft my exit vessel to hold the ashes in the end.
But my fate is not to be hurled into Kilauea Crater with a bottle of gin to honor the fire goddess PELE from a helicopter flying over. I have a few people to thanks for that. FIRST My GP of ten years, DR ASHISH SINHA who charted and started the medical journey that has seen me die four times but also successfully rebooted back to life. Next my ten year cardiologist Dr DAVID HENDERSON who has led me to cardiac recovery and is responsible for spotting the mitral valve failure with a routine ultrasound early so as to have six weeks to plan surgery of three additional bypasses. It was my Sydney cardio thoracic surgeon DR ALASDAIR WATSON who sliced me open, diced parts of my heart and legs and then closed me up without a metal zipper. He’s ranked as the third best cardiac surgeon in this country for good reason–the guy who took my heart in his hands for eight hours also routinely does transplants. After surgery he told me I don’t need to see him again as I’ve pretty much experienced the peak of cardiac trauma and the rest is up to me; change of diet, limited fats, more fish and a lot more than 10,000 steps a day at a fast clip. He sowed a pigskin replacement mitral valve in which saved me the ticking of a mechanical one or the option of a cow valve. Then, there is my gastroenterologist, DR JAAZ, who detected the ulcer when it burst and saved me from the bleed. He’s the new doc on the team. DR AZEEM RAZAK is my kidney and blood pressure doctor who has kept thins beating through his pharmaceutical alchemy. And my beloved endocrinologist of 20 years is DR KATHERINE SAMARAS who has kept diabetes at bay.
But I really do owe my life to the critical care nurse who caught me as I was falling downstairs due to passing out from the bleed and got me rapidly into hospital where I went into arrest. You see Antoinette at the beginning of this blog. I have a secret to reveal; she was deathly afraid of birds before she met Jackson but their bonding encouraged her to change behavior. I think she is going to the same with me while the journey continues