|EDINBURG, August 4 - The first bit of cheering up I got before my recent knee replacement operation was “oh, now you’re going to be the Bionic Man?” (Yes, that reference kind of dates me and my friends; my students are well past that iconic hero.)
And, yes, the references helped (a bit) prepare me for the new cobalt and steel knee. And now, it helps me to prepare me against the shock of ringing alarms at airports.
Eventually, the hope is to have some greater restoration of quality of life; e.g. walking to classes here and up the stairs to the museums during Study Abroad in Spain. I am glad I had the health insurance to permit me to make the choice. I am glad I have the family to help with recovery (cheerfully for the most part; though they do say I am too often a grouchy patient). God Bless the Caregivers.
The reason I write, sharing this “blog of the week,” is to try to utilize my home-bound circumstances for political purposes (grist for my “Rio Grande Guardian” articles, which I have been missing recently—hope you have too?) It dawned on me, after several days of daze from the medicines (never seen so many before, at least in my life), these experiences, while not uncommon, could be used to reflect, share, and instruct.
Like gallows humor, as one approaches the end, the mind is sharpened. At least I find my own and others’ attempts at humor to be comforting. First, one must deal with the sense of doom engendered from listening to one of those lists they must read you when admitted: e.g., “You can get tainted blood; you can get AIDS; you may be dead,” etc.
The operation was performed by well-regarded, internationally famous Dr. Rick Bassett. He just celebrated his 10,000th successful operation; lots of new knees around. It took place in the well-organized Valley Baptist Hospital, Harlingen, Texas. The staff was terrific. I had good care. But I didn’t appreciate the anesthesiologist’s politics (nor do I quite believe him): “President Obama’s policies have limited our drug supply;” but what was my choice than to go, unresisting, into that dream of Morpheus?
Four days later: discharge. Home: the days drag on, blurring into one another. I miss the focus university classes or steady work provide. I thank sincerely the friends who came to visit or call, hospital or home. Some don’t know what to do; that is understandable and forgiven. They are all appreciated. The professional staff of APC Home Health Services, Harlingen, especially Nurses, Maria and Jesse, and the Therapist, Alberto, top my list; they take great pride in their work.
Also, I back up and thank President Roosevelt, authorizing me my Social Security. It has been the most successful program in U.S. history. Remind me why it is still under attack? Oh, yes, Republicans and other right wingers fight efforts to keep the middle class strong and to keep all people healthy. I also thank President Johnson, authorizing me my earned Medicare. Few are out there, burning their Medicare cards. Likewise, I thank President Obama for health care extension to millions, for opposing private companies who denied coverage unfairly. We don’t have yet what citizens in Europe or Canada have, universal coverage, single-payer systems, but “algo es algo,” something is something.
Yes, I may have been in a fog a few days. (My colleague, Dr. Freeman, often asks sweetly “how can you tell the difference?”) But politics still swirls through my mind, actually becoming clearer due to the brushes with illness. The knees know. The body knows. They know who is on their side and who is the enemy. That’s why I’m reporting on them to you.
My daily blog opens when I say “hello to my little friend.” He (she?) is my CPM, an instrument designed (by the Inquisition, I think) to force one to stretch the leg, to avoid bad results, like lameness. A major celebration occurred when I flexed the knee over 101 degrees. I’ll keep pushing; I never believed “no pain, no gain,” until now. Little things loom more important: keep track of each pill; each meal must be monitored; give thanks for small improvements; pray for a BM.
The trouble is I also discovered on this home-bound adventure I have Diabetes (Type 2). I guess like millions, it’s out of sight, out of mind, until a condition affects you or loved one personally. I knew intellectually of the high rate of Diabetes in south Texas, of the culture, of our erroneous diet too heavily based on meat and carbs (and cokes).
But, wow; now, almost all I think of (when not groaning in my machine or not thinking of politics) is diet. What to do? Where to go for facts? A learned friend here in the Valley, Dr. Isidore Flores, director of the International Valley Health Institute, McAllen, recommends “The China Study” (T. Colin Campbell). The data are there but, for me, it’s an old story: “the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.” (I can’t quite turn vegan.)
I have kissed Crème Brulee adieu, but it is trickier to decide among food groups and portions of all the others. (Dr. Flores has cut out all milk products.) Yet, we all know we must make changes. I think this applies to one on the personal level — about health and diet — and, as important, on the political level. Too many people have medical needs that go unaddressed.
Too many are not fortunate enough to have adequate medical insurance. We live, ironically, in the only developed nation in the world that does not provide universal, comprehensive medical care. Our current system — including the progressive program of President Obama - is inadequate. Judged by world-wide standards, U.S. health care is still costly and often punitive to the middle and lower classes. We cannot have good health for the rich and poorer health for the masses. It’s a question of health - and of ethics.
We must all think more deeply, more scientifically, about political parties and political leaders and must support those who support us, in sickness and in health, and must expose and oppose extreme, unscientific, inhuman ideologies, be they from doctors or politicians, just as we would a cancer - like disease that devours from within. Politics has always been personal for me; this medical challenge has made that even clearer.
Dr. Gary Mounce is political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.