Sunday, February 07, 2021

To your health

Peggy at the junior high for shot #1

Conversations over the last week, usually in the form of emails, have been dominated by questions about getting the Covid-19 vaccination. Some of us elders have. Others haven’t and there’s no rhyme or reason to who or when a person is blessed. Thursday morning around 7am Peggy got a text and an email from the New Mexico Department of Health, NM DOH for purposes of brevity, telling her that she was scheduled for her first injection at 3pm that very day. That’s not a whole lot of notice but I can tell you she was giddy. She rousted me immediately. She told me, “Get up right now! You’d better check your phone. Maybe you got yours, too. I hadn’t. Hopes dashed.

Peggy suggested that I join her at the vaccination site in the junior high gym. We’d get there 30 minutes early just be sure. She suggested that it might be possible to grab an unclaimed dose. That, alas, did not occur either. Not only were there no leftovers but giving them to strays was expressly forbidden. Unused doses would be afforded to the next persons in line who would be called and asked to come in immediately. It seemed sensible enough to me though my attempt to cut line came to nothing.

Happily, we picked up some encouraging beta. It turns out that the vast majority of injections over the last few sessions (8am to 4pm, Wednesday and Thursday) were second injections. For example, 1,000 of 1,200 shots Thursday were second doses. But shortly, whatever shortly means, all of the pending second doses will have been completed and all of the 1,200 daily doses will go to those happy customers receiving their first injection. Do you follow that logic?

Hope so. Some of the folks in my Friday Spanish group struggled with the concept. Or said another way, soon 1,200 first doses will be delivered each day. I submit that’s more than 200 first doses delivered Thursday.

Beyond that the beautifully choreographed vaccination operation at the junior high, the operation is structured to give 2,500 injections a day. One of the volunteers was excited by my prospects. He told me, “Pretty soon this process is going to be moving like wildfire. You’ll get yours soon.”

As if by magic Thursday night at 8 I got a text and an email telling me that I could register for my first shot. The message included a confirmation number and directed me to sign into my NM DOH account, enter my confirmation number and I’d be able to schedule my vaccination. I did as instructed and found that my vaccination site was going to be in Angel Fire next Thursday, February 11. Since the whole day was available, I opted for 11:30am. I’m a late sleeper. Angel Fire, NM for the uninitiated is 25 tortuous mountain miles above Taos. It’s an absolute horror show in a snowstorm and that’s a distinct possibility in mid-winter. Fair weather would be appreciated.

I’m a voracious reader of the online news each morning. As such I get headlines and news accounts from New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Saturday the LA headlines cried out “Insufficient Supplies Plague Vaccination blitz.” As always, I embellish to make the point or because I forgot the actual headline.

The point is that California’s rollout has been a logistical disaster and the vaccination effort in lightly populated New Mexico has been a model of execution. While I was gnashing teeth to get vaccinated our, (meaning New Mexico’s) effort has moved smoothly. It’s one more reason I’m glad I live in the sticks where health care is personal and manageable. It’s not the disconnected monolith that it appears to be in urban centers like L.A.

Since December 24, 2019 I’ve been immersed in the health care labyrinth. First it was the Christmas eve faceplant that tore my left rotator cuff. Then was the May 10, 2020 swan dive off my road bike that broke my right hip. After that Dr. Auerbach discovered melanoma on my right tricep. Dr. Davis successfully excised the in-situ offender leaving a 2-1/2-inch scar. At some point in October, I did something else stupid that triggered an unruly bout of sciatica. Refer to the above examples. It could have been caused by running or a result of the broken hip. I was back at my regular 27 mile running routine a month after I discarded my walker. But, more likely it was caused by lifting. Anyway, in October I developed searing pain down my hip, into my hamstring, behind my knee and into my calf and foot. While the pain has ebbed and flowed, and I’ve had good and bad days the sciatica has been far more debilitating than the shoulder or the hip.  Saturday was the worst morning yet after four months of PT, a cortisone injection, acupuncture, and a course of oral steroids. This post, believe it or not, was not supposed to be a laundry list of maladies but a doff of the hat to the many medical professionals I’ve met over the past 14 months.

The care I’ve received has been caring and skilled throughout. As much as Peggy and I tell ourselves that we’ll never have surgery in New Mexico I find myself on the cusp of just that. Wednesday we’ll have a Zoom appointment with Dr. Philip Smucker to ask a handful of questions and to schedule minor spine surgery as soon as possible. Thursday would be lovely. No wait. That’s when I get my first Covid-19 shot. I’ll settle for Friday.

I’m approaching four months without any cardio-vascular exercise or upper body work. That ties the longest such period since the spring of 1976. I now sport a dough boy midriff. My fitness has fallen into the abyss of decrepitude. It has declined by every known metric. I don’t know if I can get it back.

The thing about New Mexico doctors, this is my hypothesis, is that top practitioners who would have found fame and fortune in the Big Leagues of Boston, New York or Los Angeles have chosen Santa Fe, Albuquerque or even Taos for lifestyle reasons. My contention is that we do not sacrifice expertise and quality of care in New Mexico. I pray, if I did pray, that Dr. Smucker is an exemplar of my theory; that he’s a good as the surgeon I’d get at Mass General in Boston. I’m doing this thing as soon as I can.

I have dreams of being the man I was 14 months ago. I dream of running unfettered by pain or climbing Wheeler Peak. I hunger for the seven pull-ups or 80 push-ups I could do little more than a year ago. Instead, I’m sitting at the computer with an ache from my lower back to my calf. I need to stand every 15 minutes for the pain to abate.

Yesterday I risked a brisk 40-minute walk. You need to test your capabilities here and there. The simple walk worsened my condition. Two Friday ago, I did 45 easy minutes on my stationary bike with the same bad result. I have to accept that I’ll be a couch potato unless the surgery works.

Without a successful surgery I will be the old man I fear.


John Ellsworth said...

Spinal ablation. I've been a back man for 30 years. Spinal ablation stops chronic back pain. Rinse and repeat in 6-12 months. Ask your doc before anything more invasive than a needle please.

Blacks Crossing said...

I am with whoever "Unknown" is about spinal ablation. Try it before anything more invasive. You may not need more advice from a non-expert, but some 50 years ago, my father suffered a pinched nerve. Searing pain from his lower back all the way down his leg. And he drove a manual car. Pushing in the clutch elicited a cry of pain and expletives. The family could not afford surgery so his doc gave him a brace and pages of exercises to do every day. Well, he wore the brace and did the exercises faithfully (before the days of PT, obviously), and he lived more or less pain free for the remainder of his life. Whether your blog was intended to be a melody of maladies, your are a damned good writer, Steve. Keep it up! And congratulations to Peggy for her jab and to you on your upcoming one.