As I See It...
By James E. Lee
(From Newsletter No. 55)


Lessons Learned from
my hospital experience

This next paragraph is courtesy of my wife, Melanie (and thank God I found her when I reached age 50),

Since the first procedure was not going well my surgeon for the second procedure got involved. He took over and saw that I was stabilized and than went to speak to Melanie. Normally he would have had me transported to a specialist in the city. However, since I had already been under anesthesia for about two hours the risk was way too great. He laid out the options to her. Melanie’s one question was a great one. “If it was your loved one what would you do?” His response: “I am confident that I can do this procedure and would suggest we pursue this option”. This was full open surgery, a procedure for gall bladder surgery that had been abandoned 15 years ago with the advent of laparoscopic surgery.  He had never done the full procedure that he and his team would soon start. 

The surgery lasted four and one half hours. When it was over I was shipped to ICU with breathing apparatus in place. I was awakened at around 8 AM the next morning (I had spent the night on the “Michael Jackson” drug).  I was fully restrained, tubes down my nose and throat, and three tubes coming out of my chest. I couldn’t talk and could only communicate with a pencil on paper. When they suctioned out the breathing tube the pain was intense! The next two days were pure hell but I had my own morphine button to self administer pain medication every eight minutes.

Once I was moved from ICU to critical care my life got better. My surgeon had done a fabulous job. He believed that he had removed all of the gall stones that had escaped the gall bladder and had migrated into the bile ducts. Two of the stones were the size on walnuts. My stay in the hospital ended on Wednesday (my 10th day there). Since my surgery I have had several tests to determine if all the stones had been removed. The final test was as an outpatient (a nuclear medicine scan) this past Thursday. The result, it showed the bile duct functioning normally. On Friday, the last tube (a t-tube) in my chest was removed. I now have a 9mm hole in my chest that has started to heal.

Lessons Learned
My journey did not have any precursors. It came on like a hurricane and overwhelmed me a period of 48 hours. The fact that my primary doctor is associated with the finest hospital on the North Shore of Chicago no doubt saved my life. I had a world class surgical team. My surgeon told me that it was one of the worst cases he has ever dealt with in 11 years of practice. The flip side was that I was also making the fastest recovery he had seen. However, there is a caveat.

Both my surgeon and cardiologist agreed that I should take until the end of July to recover. During this time I am to focus on walking, use of the treadmill, have a strict low fat diet, and cannot fly, leave the state, or lift anything heavier that 30 pounds.

This means that I have cancelled all shows and other events. I try to limit my office time to four hours a day. A friend has volunteered to handle shipping the books. It is important that I take this time to heal and alter my lifestyle so that I can enjoy a long and productive like. I am 61 years old and would very much like to be active until I am 90.

While this problem came on like a hurricane it had been simmering for years. I had spent 20 years in this business spending as many as 30 weeks a year on the road. My diet was not healthy, exercise was limited to lifting 50 pound boxes of books, and I lacked the proper sleep. The fact that my heart was so strong is the reason I am still here with you.

The biggest lesson is the fallacy that something will never happen to me. This is the hardest one for each of us to grasp. While in the hospital I thought back on all my friends and clients who had had procedures over the past few years. I would always promise myself to change my ways, but tomorrow never came. Well, tomorrow is now hear and change is not an option, it is the only way that I can go on living. By the grace of God I have another chance. If my story prompts someone reading this to make a change everything that I have gone through will have been worth it.

Be and stay healthy my friends. Thanks for all of the cards, emails and prayers. A special thanks to my wife, Melanie, who endured this ordeal with me. Thanks to my fiend of 35 years, Rich Drews, who came to the hospital each day I was in the critical care unit. Thanks to the doctors and nurses at Highland Park Hospital for providing outstanding care and showing me a new path to life.

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