My COVID-19 experience

If you read two of my previous blogs in May, you know I had day surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital-Rochester for a cochlear implant.
In those blogs, I didn’t include information regarding COVID-19. Two days before my surgery scheduled on May 6, I was required to be tested for the virus at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic.
The nasal swab test returned negative. But, to my complete surprise, the blood test was positive. According to my local primary physician, Dr. Martha Binn, this meant I was indeed infected with the virus at some point in the past. But I was asymptomatic and did not know I was sick. Still, Dr. Binn said I did have the virus.
What makes my diagnosis ironic is sometime in March I told family members this was the healthiest winter I’ve had for several years with not even a cold. Strange!
Upon reflecting as to when and how I could have picked up the virus, only one possibility came to mind.
The last weekend in February, we were with family at a Minnesota hotel/water park. The following week, a family member became very ill. At the time, we thought it must have been a bug. Yet, it was something our family member had never experienced before.
Back in February, we were aware of COVID-19 in China and Italy, and we had begun to learn about cases in New York. But, we didn’t realize it had already infiltrated mid-America.
Later though, after we learned more about COVID-19, there was no doubt the family member had contracted the virus at the hotel/water park. I am convinced that is where I got it, too. Why? Because the hotel lobby was packed and the game room was busy. Elevators were crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people breathing on each other and plenty of floor-button touching. YIKES!!!
As far as we know, The Outdoors Guy didn’t contract COVID from me, nor did any of our other family members from their household. Yet, they could have and, like me, were asymptomatic.
We continue to wear masks and take recommended precautions.
Will we get the vaccine when it is available? Absolutely! The obvious reason: Dr. Binn advised, “There is no way of knowing how long the antibodies will last.”
My antibodies could be long gone by now.
Our country’s citizens anxiously await the day when life returns to normal. Then, except for lessons learned and the tragedy of lives lost, may COVID-19 be but a distant memory in our nation’s history.

Amid COVID-19, it's great to get AMAZING health news!!

Last week, The Outdoors Guy had labs and a CT scan for pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with on May 8, 2015.
Yes, it has been 5-plus years since his diagnosis!!
What makes this so incredible is pancreatic cancer survival rates, according to the American Cancer Society, “Are grim. For one year, the survival rate is 20 percent and the five-year survival rate is just 7 percent.”
For four years following chemo, radiation and surgery, Bob’s scans and tests have been clean. And, we are so thankful last week’s results gave us the same fantastic news!!! The CT scan shows no sign of the tumor. Plus, his labs are within normal range.
Unstageable cancer is uncommon. Leave it to The Outdoors Guy for his to be unstageable throughout his illness.
Back in 2015, his surgeon at Mayo-Rochester, Dr. Mark Truty, reminded us that Bob had a very bad cancer. At the time of diagnosis he was borderline, meaning he only had a 50/50 chance to live until surgery.
After Bob’s first 25 treatments of the strongest chemo allowed, Dr. Truty's plan for the next phase of treatment was five weeks of radiation five times a week, and then, hopefully surgery.
Afterward, Dr. Truty said, "You are doing better than average! Most people who make it this far survive! The tumor is pulling away (from the artery)!!"
Dr. Truty said the tumor had shrunk from five centimeters to three. He also told us the scan showed no evidence of metastatic disease! Surgery, called the Whipple Technique, was scheduled for Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester. Despite a pre-surgical laproscopy that showed the tumor had not metastasized and surgery could proceed, we got word Dr. Truty was closing much sooner than expected.
Dr. Truty met with us in a consultation room and proceeded to tell us that when his team opened The Outdoors Guy to begin surgery, he found something he had never seen before. Bob’s entire abdominal cavity was covered with scar tissue from colon surgery he had in 1989. It was not visible on CT scans or during the laproscopy.
Dr. Truty said the scar from that surgery was not very large. So he was shocked to see scar tissue covering The Outdoors Guy's abdominal cavity. It had adhered to just about everything.
He told us, "When I touched it, the scar tissue was falling apart like wet tissue paper, and trying to work through the scar tissue caused bleeding."
Dr. Truty said just by removing a portion of the tissue from the bowel, it caused enough bleeding that he had to resect the bowel.
Dr. Truty was unable to proceed with removing the tumor or performing the Whipple Technique.
"I felt if I attempted to continue with the procedure, I would lose him," Dr. Truty remarked.
Even though our family was extremely disappointed, we spoke of Dr. Truty's world-renowned level of competence. We were grateful The Outdoors Guy had the best of the best, one who recognized the monumental risk and wasn’t willing to take it.
It was also encouraging when Dr. Truty told us he believed in all likelihood the tumor was dead or nearly dead. He said, "I could not feel the tumor, only a thumb-like impression of where it had been."
After surgery, Bob endured 12 more rounds of chemo followed by blood tests, tumor markers and CT scans every three months. However, in July of 2018, Dr. Paula Gill, his local oncologist, said because his test results continued to be excellent, she could no longer justify testing as often.
It made Bob a little nervous, but he agreed to her plan. Two years later, all continues to be well!!!
As of July 2020, it has been five-plus years since his diagnosis. The Outdoors Guy and our family are so grateful to God for this tremendous gift of life Bob has been given!!!

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
- Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel

Hear ye!!! Hear ye!!!

When was the last time you gave any thought to one of the most highly-technical senses within your system: i.e. your hearing?
About 2005, I began having problems with tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears. If you have never experienced it, tinnitus can be enough to drive a person crazy… or worse. I have heard of people taking their lives due to this devastating condition.
Tinnitus is almost always worse in the morning and evening. Early-morning hours was when it woke me up. Then, all I wanted to do was get up and get away from the quiet. Even though it was still dark outside, I needed to get away. I dressed hurriedly and went outside where there was traffic noise to drown out the noise in my head.
For a while, it was my morning ritual. Then, The Outdoors Guy bought me a sound machine to use at night and early mornings. It did help, and gradually I began to adjust to the new normal.
But then, along with the tinnitus came hearing loss. I later learned tinnitus is actually a form of hearing loss.
In 2012, I began wearing hearing aids. Normally, they last about five years. I am fortunate mine have continued to perform well for eight years, in part, because I have taken very good care of them. My audiologist told me it is almost unheard of to go eight years and still have hearing aids function as well as mine.
Recently though, after testing, I was told what I already knew. My 8-year-old hearing aids were no longer capable of providing the level I need to make up for my hearing loss, which has gone from bad to worse.
After my last hearing test in September, my audiologist told me, “You’re not even good at guessing what the words are.” We both laughed. But, yikes!!! Sometimes the truth really does hurt! The chart showed my hearing, especially in my left ear, took a nose dive. I have what is called profound hearing loss. No need for an explanation.
Despite the bad news, I put off ordering new hearing aids (I also wear one in my right ear), hating the idea of spending $10,000 for a new pair. And, in case you’re wondering, no insurance covers hearing aids.
Finally, after Bob and I went for lunch with friends, Cathy and Doug, a while ago, I realized it was time. I couldn’t understand Cathy, even though I was sitting next to her. Plus, Bob, our boys, daughters-in-law and grandkids all agreed… it was time.
So, off to the audiologist we went. But there was a surprising twist to our visit. Dr. Hugo Guerrero pulled up the results from my September visit. Rather than discussing new, stronger hearing aids, he asked me if I had considered a cochlear implant.
Bob and I were very surprised! We didn’t think my hearing had deteriorated enough to warrant an implant. An even bigger surprise was to learn when a person has profound hearing loss, cochlear implant surgery is actually covered by Medicare.
While we waited in his office, Dr. Guerrero, audiologist at Mayo Clinic-Onalaska, began the process of conferring with Mayo Clinic-Rochester’s Audiology and Otorhinolaryngology Departments. It wasn’t long before he returned with the promise Mayo-Rochester would contact me to inform me if I was indeed a possible candidate for cochlear implant surgery.
Only days later, I received the call. My appointment was scheduled for mid-March. But, because of COVID-19, the appointment was pushed back to May 18, with no guarantee it would even happen then.
But then, on April 22, the phone rang. The caller ID said Mayo Clinic-Rochester. Mayo was beginning to open the clinic to a few patients. And, wonder of wonders, I was one of those fortunate enough to be offered an appointment for April 23.
Bob and I met with Dr. Weston Adkins in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology. After more testing, he confirmed the hearing loss in my left ear was deemed profound. Yes, I was indeed a candidate for cochlear implant surgery in my left ear and met the strict Medicare guidelines. I must continue to wear a hearing aid in my right ear because my hearing has not dropped off to the profound loss-level like my left ear did.  
That afternoon, we met with surgeon Brian Neff, who discussed the pros of cochlear implants. He stressed the main benefit over hearing aids is clarity. Hearing aids only increase volume. However, with greater volume, background sounds become noisier, too. It was easy for me to get his point. I had been living it just as Dr. Neff had been, too. He has a cochlear implant in one ear and uses a hearing aid in the other ear. He said he has greatly benefited from the device.
Thirteen days later, May 6, after more appointments and additional tests, the day for surgery finally arrived.
Arrival time in Rochester was scheduled for 5:45 a.m. We were up at 3 a.m., and out the door at 4:30. Within 15 minutes, oldest son, Jon, phoned and told us he was on his way to meet us from Cloquet.
“Oh, no!” We said. “It’s too far for you to come!”
“I left home at 3,” he said.
We talked for awhile and discussed whether or not Jon would be allowed into St Mary’s Hospital, even though our info sheets told us three visitors were allowed.
Jon decided to keep driving and as soon as we reached Rochester, he would stop and wait until we called him with the information.
Unfortunately, after arriving at St. Mary’s Hospital, we learned the 3-person policy was in place before COVID-19 entered our world. Not only could Jon not be with us, no one was allowed to stay once patients were checked in and called from the admissions lobby area. So, Jon turned around and went back to work in Duluth. Bob returned to La Crosse where he received updated text messages throughout my surgery. Once he received the text that I went into recovery, he set out for his return trip to Rochester.
I am pleased to report Dr. Neff said surgery went very well. He phoned Bob when he finished with my surgery and told him, “Once the incision was made, the implant slid in very easy!”
But, then Bob asked him THE BIG QUESTION: “How much hair did you have to cut?”
Dr. Neff responded with, "Oh, the hair!! They are always worried about their hair! I didn’t take off much at all, but I’m sure it is still too much!!!”
When Bob told me what Dr. Neff had said, it was a big LOL moment!!
Recovery has gone well so far. I only experienced some dizziness, which was gone after I napped for a couple of hours after returning home.
It was 24 hours before the bandage could be removed. Meanwhile, I looked like a space cadet!!
The next two weeks I am in a holding pattern while waiting for the surgery site to heal. Then, we will make two return visits to Rochester for post-operative visits plus implant stimulation when the cochlear implant will be turned on.
Dr. Neff explained it could take 3-6 months for everything to heal and for me to reach full hearing clarity.
I will be happy to update you once this takes place because I know there are many people who struggle with hearing loss. If I can help one person it will be well worth it!!!
Stay tuned.

Practicing patience!!!

The last time I checked in, which was in early May, my cochlear implant surgery at Mayo-Rochester was complete and I was in a two-week healing mode. (See my previous blog for surgery details.)
It has been nearly four weeks since surgery. Just over a week ago the implant was turned on in what is called activation. And, I returned to Rochester for a scheduled adjustment the next day.
The follow-up appointment with surgeon, Dr. Brian Neff, went very well. He was pleased with my progress and expects my hearing to continue to improve.
Recovery has progressed as expected. Overall, my hearing is not like it will be in the future because it takes time - usually 6 months to a year - for the brain to become accustomed to the new device. It definitely is an adjustment. It takes commitment and effort.
Currently, voices and other sounds I hear resemble the way we hear underwater. Like gurgling.
Not only that, men’s voices sound lower than normal and they seem to be speaking slower than before surgery.
Female voices sound like Mini Mouse, even when I’m listening to music. It’s comical and puts a smile on my face. So, I’m not complaining. Once fully recovered, I’ll actually be kind of sad Mini Mouse no longer will be singing my favorite tunes!!
Not only can I hardly wait for life to get back to normal, but for it to be even better! However, patience is the key!
And so I have learned…”Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” Barbara Johnson
Amen to that, sister. Amen to that!!!

Beat COVID-19 with “Curbside Chats”

Before many of us were born, President Franklin D. Roosevelt held evening radio fireside chats from 1933-1944.
During Roosevelt’s presidency, he addressed issues of the day to suppress rumors, explain his strategy and calm the population during World War II.
At this time in our country’s history, we are fighting a different kind of enemy against the dreaded COVID-19. During this time, citizens must practice social distancing. But, our family has come up with our own way to cope with this rule.
The Outdoors Guy and I have adopted what we call "Curbside Chats." Who says family can’t get together during COVID-19? I’d like to see anyone try to stop us!!!
Our youngest son, Evan, and daughter-in-law, Annie, live across town from us. When the virus hit, we were texting and checking in with phone calls, but it wasn’t the same as seeing their smiling faces and enjoying their company in person.
Our first “Curbside Chat” was spur of the moment. One day, I had suggested to The Outdoors Guy that we take a drive to get out of the house. We planned to check out the rising flood waters in several favorite spots.
As we drove, I said, “Let’s call Evan, see if he and Annie are home, and if they want to come outside for a Curbside Chat. We’ll stand by the Jeep and they can stay in their front yard.”
"Sounds good to me,” he said.
Yay! The kids were home and ready for a visit!!!
It was so good to see their smiling faces despite the invisible line drawn between us. They sat on their lawn and we stayed on the boulevard near our Jeep. They also brought their adorable beagle, Bibi, outside with them. She wanted to get to us so badly, but the kids wouldn’t let her.
Because we are considered in the high-risk category, Evan and Annie wanted to play it safe. They both work among the public. And, although they are extremely cautious, they were concerned if Bibi had been petted by them or someone else who was unknowingly carrying the virus, it could be transferred to us.
According to Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases, who was quoted during a CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response page on Facebook live March 18, “It’s possible that the novel coronavirus can survive on surfaces for minutes, or even hours.”
Evan and Annie were taking no chances!
Other than not getting to pet our favorite beagle, the Curbside Chat lifted our spirits!! In fact, we determined it would not be our last. The next one is coming up soon and we can’t wait!!
Now, if we could only figure out a way to have Curbside Chats with our oldest son, Jon, daughter-in-law, Sara, along with grandsons, Jackson and Bryson, and their darling Yorkie, Guinness, it would be a bonus. Unfortunately, it’s a long drive from La Crosse to Cloquet, MN. We’ve had to settle for phone calls with them.
At a time when we especially want to keep our loves ones close, but government rules and regulations forbid it if we don’t live in the same household, this has been a great compromise for us.
If you are missing loved ones who live close by, try our Curbside Chats. You can go to them or they can come to you.
Curbside Chats help curb the blues until once again we can hug our loved ones even tighter than we ever have before!!!

(NOTE: Roosevelt is the only president in history to hold office for more than eight years, thereafter the Twenty-Second Amendment was passed by congress in 1947 and ratified by the states on Feb. 27, 1951 that states a person can only be elected to the presidency two times for a total of eight years.)