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New Year’s resolution to ‘survive’ tested in 2017

January 11, 2018 - Andy Flynn
This week: 436 lbs.

Start (Jan. 2): 444 lbs.

Total lost: 8 lbs.

Although I’m determined to lose more weight this year — even with a successful loss of 45 pounds in 2017 — I will not be making any New Year’s resolutions for 2018.

After last year’s one-word resolution — “survive” — I’m ready to give up that annual tradition altogether, for the sole reason that I almost did not live to see the end of 2017.


First hospital visits

Six years after almost dying on the operating room table during an emergency hemorrhoidectomy, I had a dear-death experience with multiple pulmonary embolisms in my lungs and a saddle pulmonary embolism near my heart.

The date was Wednesday, Sept. 6. I was in the middle of putting together the Lake Placid News for the week, working at home because I had difficulty breathing, and I took a bathroom break upstairs. That’s when it hit.

I could barely breathe and barely move without getting out of breath. I was home alone with the dog — who was no help at all — and I forgot my phone downstairs next to the computer. It took me two hours to slide down the stairs and get to my phone and call 911.

The Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad hauled me to the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, where a CT scan showed the pulmonary embolisms. It was the saddle that the doctors were worried about.

Sitting in the emergency room, the doctor on call told me the news. He was straightforward and honest. “You could die at any moment,” he said. I’m paraphrasing here, since I was a little out of it at the time. But the message was clear. I could stop living at any moment.

That’s a sobering feeling, and a lonely one. Even though my wife and mother were in the room, I felt as though I was all alone. I kept mumbling, “I’m not ready yet. I’m not ready.”

The doctors told me they were going to give me blood thinners to prevent the saddle from getting larger. It seemed as though they were taking forever.

“When are they coming to give me the blood thinners?” I said to my wife. “What’s taking them so long?”

I wasn’t ready to die yet. I kept thinking that I have so much more to give, so much more to do before I’m ready to check out from this world. I kept doubting myself, thinking, “Have I made any difference? Have I done anything worthwhile in my life?”

The blood thinners finally came, and the ambulance ride to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington was stressful. I kept worrying. Reassurances of “Just relax” did not help. How could I relax? That was the beginning of some anxiety issues that I still have today.

I spent six days in Burlington, but my ordeal was not yet over. The medication they gave me to break up the blood clots caused bleeding elsewhere in my body (we still don’t know where), which caused urinary-tract problems after I got home.

One day later, the rescue squad hauled me off to the emergency room at AMC Saranac Lake after having pain in my left kidney. The pain subsided on its own in the ER, but I still had blood in my urine, so my urologist hooked my up to a catheter to take home. That was fun.

The next day, I was back in the ER with the same kidney pain, and they found my ureter was blocked by old blood clots. My body was trying to stop the bleeding, but the blood thinners were making it difficult. Residue from those unsuccessful clots was building up, causing the blockage. Without pain medication, my urologist scoped the kidney and then cleared the blockage. The only comfort I had during the procedure was a nurse holding my hand as I was lying there on my back, my face covered, feeling the wire going into the ureter and unblocking it.

My vascular surgeon then placed a temporary filter in my inferior vena cava to block any potential PE’s from moving up my legs and into my heart. That was needed because they had to take me off blood thinners to stop the bleeding.

After three days at AMC Saranac Lake, the bleeding had stopped and I was sent home to recover. I even started walking again, building my strength, knowing that I still had hurdles to jump over in the coming weeks. My IVC filter would have to be surgically removed after successfully being placed on a regimen of blood thinners.

Then this happened.


Dawn’s turn

The date was Monday, Oct. 9. It was exactly one week after returning to the Lake Placid News. My wife Dawn, who had three kidney stones removed in 2016, felt some kidney stone pain on Saturday, and then it went away. But she had a major fever, giving her sweats and chills. She made a doctor’s appointment for Monday afternoon.

We were late. She could barely move while getting ready for the appointment, and we took it slow. I moved her to the doctor’s office at AMC Saranac Lake in a wheelchair, then to the lab and eventually to the emergency room. That’s when it got real. Dawn didn’t even have time to have an “I’m not ready to die” moment. After the doctor realized how sick she was — her kidneys were shutting down — she was placed on a ventilator and moved to the intensive care unit. Her body went into septic shock. All the medical staff would say at the time was, “She’s really sick.” Apparently, she had large kidney stones, a urinary tract infection and E. coli in her blood. It was bad, and she almost died.

After 10 days in ICU, including five days on a ventilator, Dawn was moved to a regular room upstairs and released the next day.

In the meantime, I was at the hospital every day, just like Dawn had been with me in Burlington and Saranac Lake. I was putting the Lake Placid News together from her bedside the entire time, using the hospital’s Wi-Fi to hook up to the newspaper’s servers and my cellphone for communication.

Other than the nights at home crying myself to sleep, I didn’t realize how it was all affecting me until I was having trouble breathing eight days after she arrived at the hospital. I checked myself into the emergency room; I?thought it was another PE, as the symptoms were similar. Come to find out, it was a major anxiety attack, and I’ve been dealing with the anxiety of almost dying — worrying that it could happen at any moment — since this all began. Luckily, it’s getting better now. A couple weeks after Dawn was released from the hospital, the urologist blasted her kidney stones, and a recent CT scan showed no signs of stones. All clear.


My turn again

With the blood thinner doing its job, my vascular surgeon took out the IVC filter on Dec. 13. The one-hour procedure took almost four hours, as the filter did not want to come out, and I woke up from the anesthesia feeling as though someone had run me over with a truck. It took me several days to feel better.

By the end of 2017, Dawn and I were counting our blessings, feeling lucky to be alive. We spent the holidays just enjoying the time we had together.


A new year

Dawn went back to work on Jan. 2, and she’s getting stronger every day. I’m finally getting into my old routine at the Lake Placid News, feeling as though I’ve turned a corner and I’m ready to transform my body into a healthy one.

To say it’s been a difficult four months is an understatement, and we’re still dealing with the emotions, after-effects, follow-up doctor appointments, medications and financial stresses that follow such life-altering ordeals.

I’d like to think we’ve changed somehow, in a big way, that we’re entering the new year with a hand full of resolutions — maybe even a bucket list. But I don’t see it. I don’t feel it. I just know it will take more time to get healthier and pay off the medical bills that continue to pile up. The stress is still there.

Yet every new year is a clean slate, right? It’s a time for hope, that things will get better. It’s a time for dreaming, a time to hope that those dreams will come true. It’s even a time to make lists.

With “survive” as my only resolution for 2017, I was able to check that one off my one-item list at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Jan. 1. With the sounds of First Night fireworks booming over Saranac Lake, I was in my bed, thinking, “I made it.” The anxiety vanished.

As for 2018, I’ve not written down a single resolution. Let’s just assume that most everyone will have “survive” on their list without actually writing it down. It’s a given.

Then, at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, we can all toast “to another year on this Earth.”

Happy New Year.


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Blog Photos

Andy Flynn is happy to be alive at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington in September 2017. (News photo — Andy Flynn)