February 4 2006
50 days, December 13 to February 1
My whole trouble started as when I became careless and made a stupid decision on December 13 2005. I was converting my daughter’s attic to storage space by putting down a plywood floor and plywood on the walls, etc. I thought it would be nice to have a storage space for seasonal/rarely used items like artificial Christmas trees, used childhood toys/keepsakes of my grandkids, etc. As you know, I have always enjoyed fixing or installing various things in and out of the house. I have also enjoyed fixing cars myself but there is less to do now since the quality of the automobiles is so high--almost nothing breaks down. For example my 2004 Hyundai Elantra GT needs engine oil and air filter change only once a year and even that the dealer does it free. And if there is a problem it is usually computer-related and that is beyond my ability to fix.
After more than dozen trips to Home Depot and more than fifty “climbs” up and down of the ladder I finished and started last ladder trip down. The ladder was a little too far from me to be safe and so my body was not on the center of the ladder. The weight of my body moved the ladder just enough to not support me and I crashed down to the floor which I had just installed. When I recovered from the initial shock and unconsciousness my wife and daughter insisted we go to hospital and check me out. I checked my body. No bone was broken. I found no bump on the head, all movement of the extremities were normal. I declared myself that I was not injured and asked to go home. When they said you still should go to the hospital and should be checked I joked, “I did, I checked at the Lee Memorial Hospital.” At the time, my ego was hurt more than my back. Much to Mimi’s dismay, I insisted on coming by the next day to “detail” and clean up. I even put up a new light. As time went by my confidence grew and each time I met them I smirked arrogantly as if to say “I told you so”.
My confidence in favor of my judgment greow everyday. I hiked alone on 21st day of fall(1/3/06), 30 miles east from here about a mile long with a 1100 feet elevation which I hiked once prior to the accident with Dr. Han Seong Hack. He is a retired anesthesiologist who moved here from Columbus Ohio about a year before me, graduate of 64 of our medical school, very nice guy and with another retired dentist happen to be Dr. Lee. My wife June was uneasy about me hiking alone. Mimi was appalled I hiked alone. As she said first rule of safety is to never hike alone. The buddy system is for everybody, including healthy, fit 20 year old avid hikers. The next day I was determined to go again and when June couldn’t stop me from going she followed me. I was amazed how fit she was! She was way faster than me! She used to be slower than me. I attributed this to her vigorous daily exercise this past year. We joined a health club after retirement—it is only a block from our house. On January 7, (26th day of the accident) I hiked again with Dr. Han and dentist Dr. Lee. We hiked up to a higher elevation this time. When we came down pouring rain was awaiting us. This is Seattle after all.
When they visited at the hospital and met June after my surgery they told her they noticed I walked like I was dragging my right leg.(The hematoma was on the left side of my brain.) I myself didn’t notice and didn’t feel anything like that at all. I went to Church on 27th day after the accident (it was my first Church visit since I came to Seattle). Church parking lot was full. I circled the street around Church. I managed to hit right rear wheel at the corner twice which I rarely do. On Jan 20, (29th day of the accident) I received regular medical check up and was told other than A1C level is higher than a year ago the rest of the test was normal. They didn’t take any xrays even though the receptionist was told of my fall. That Thursday (1/12--31st day) I visited my dentist and while driving down to Federal Way June kept saying that I was driving too close to the right. Dentist planted titanium under local anesthesia. On the way home June slipped into driving seat which I didn’t protest which she thought was unusual. The next day, Friday the 13th(32nd day), in the morning, June noticed I was unstable. She thought I was weak after my dental implant surgery. After feeding me oatmeal she went to pharmacy after leaving strict orders for me not to leave the bed. I left the bed anyway and sat on the toilet. Shortly after sitting on toilet and starting to urinate I leaned forward too much and fell down to the floor. At that moment I can hear the garage door, June walked into the bedroom, found I was missing, rushed to bathroom and found me laying on the wet floor. She was alarmed, called Mimi, my doctor’s office and 911 for an Ambulance. To me they were making unnecessary fuss for a simple loss of balance. Ambulance arrived and headed to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue. On the way to hospital I had confidence they won’t be able to find anything wrong with me. And once again I knew I would be triumphant to prove them all wrong. This time my luck ran out. (Actually, the “luck” was never there…I just didn’t know it.) They told me I have intracranial hematoma. Beside feeling of disappointment of losing bet I felt no alarm. No fear because I know the result of intracranial hematoma very well. Uncontrollable bleeding could be a problem and re exploration due to re bleeding could happen. But they are infrequent. So, I was calm, feeling nothing more than walking into the barber shop for shaving.
Well, it turns out to be more than “just” a barber shop visit.
After surgery June was told the blood clot which was bigger than neurosurgeon’s hand. He was at a loss why I didn’t have a headache at all with the clot of that big in size. Anyway my left temporal compartment was cleaned, a drain put in, hard cover reinstalled and sent to ICU (which I will refer to as maximum security prison because I am confined here because of my high ’literally’ climb). June told me I was fine post op, Friday night. (I don’t remember anything from the early days post surgery.) However, the next morning…extreme nausea hit me and the vomiting was very painful at this point. You can imagine the pressure on my fragile head so soon after surgery. They determined it was the result of high Dilantin level so they stopped it, Sunday night. Since I had been seizure free before the surgery, and the 2 critical days after the surgery, my neurosurgeon felt comfortable discontinuing the anti-seizure medicine. The next day I developed grand mal seizure lasting about 2 minutes, literally minutes before Mimi came in. I managed to pull all the IV’s. They immediately put me back on Dilantin…but this time, on the loading dose..they put the drip in very slowly, and my body seemed to tolerate it before. They eventually switched to another anti seizure medicine, Depacon. Now I became real maximum security prison inmate. Now I was in solitary confinement. When I had regained consciousness I detected their ingenious plan to kill me, by slowly removing oxygen. They were replacing oxygen with poisonous gas, red colored. They had made conspiracy with outsider who’s motive was to kill me. I demanded immediate release from this cell. This lovely young good looking maximum security prison guard, to whom if I met her in a different circumstances might ask for a date (I won’t protest if somebody calls me as a dirty old man. Point is, she was such a beauty) is an accomplice to kill me. She asked me why, “Why? You want to know why? Because if I stay here you are going to kill me” She laughed. “Relax. It is not good for your recovery.” “Relax? I know you are going to kill me and you asked me relax? You are the worst human being I can think of.” “This is ICU. We are trying to help you. How can we kill you?” “Don’t be so smart young lady. I know you got all kinds at trick on your disposal. You can slowly lower the oxygen concentration in this room.” “Look at here, your oxygen saturation is 100%.” “Well, I don’t trust you. You can manipulate that monitor for false reading.” She gave up and so did I. When I realized there is no hope it terrified me. Clock is ticking, my mouth became dry. I surveyed the room, searching for escape route. It seemed to me doorway is not feasible, all locked up. I looked up the ceiling. There might be an escape route through air conditioning duct system. But before reaching there I have to free myself from this bed first.
I tried to pull Foley. To my surprise it didn’t move a bit. In a closer look (there was a diagram) I can tell this is not an ordinary Foley I saw. It was a completely different one and unless I free my hand from restraint, there is no way I can remove it. I became desperate. At such nerve wrecking moment June showed up. Hallelujah. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Without elaboration I talked to her “If you don’t want to become a widow, you better get me out from here now! You hear!?” That afternoon my Tony visited me.(He was here for 4 days) I motioned him to come close to me, put my mouth to his ear. “There is conspiracy going on here. They are going to kill me. If they don’t move me out here tomorrow take legal action immediately.” He nodded but seemed bewildered. While Tony was here he was a great source of support for June. The timing worked out because Mimi was able to take a break and tend to her daughter’s dance competition that Saturday. Tony also did a great job researching nursing options, etc, and documenting what had happened thus far.
Then, the next punishment came to me. Hiccup! (I will call it engine backfire). This hiccup continued day and night, every second, the result is exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Each hiccup was accompanied by pounding my head with a hammer. Attempt to sleep was useless. Every hour felt like more than ten hours. These hiccups drove me up the wall and made me almost insane. Still in these dire situation when I heard the rumor that I am going to be transferred to medium security cell (regular recovery ward), my mood changed slightly for the better. Those poisonous red particles floating in the room started decreasing. Next day, when Tony and Mimi visited me I talked to them “It might be paranoia arising from hallucination. But it was so real I couldn’t think otherwise at that time. Hold the legal action.” He nodded, again, just like yesterday. ” My maximum security sentencing day was lifted but alas, I had to spend another day due to no cell available in medium security prison. You see, every place is crowded. Now until this moment I didn’t have bowel movement (for 8 days). I would be dishonest if I chose that moment to celebrate my release from the maximum security prison by emptying my septic tank but my bowel did for me nicely. What a good feeling! What a relief! Clean and nicely equipped maximum security toilet didn’t hurt my feeling either.
I was supposed to be transferred to the halfway house (Rehabilitation Center) the next day. But that night I was moved to medium security cell which is unlike maximum security cell, no private, single use toilet. And by this time I was so exhausted due to that damn constant engine backfire that even though a toilet was available, I don’t have enough strength to use it. In this bad situation, tough problem developed. Rapidly and unexpectedly, my septic tank timer malfunctioned. Timer didn’t wait for the tomorrow’s occasion. I made an emergency call for help .They bring bedpan (it was not made of gold, believe me, but made of plastic). For those of you that aren’t familiar with Fairbanks, Gold Panner is the name of Fairbanks Memorial Hospital’s soft ball team. So I settled for a plastic pan instead of gold one. This time the celebration went too far. The celebratory water fountain reached beyond its intended target. I informed them celebration is over. When they realized what happened, they just said “Oh, my!” then turned me from side to side, cleaned bed and me. I closed my eyes and pretended I had no idea what was going on. Of course they knew I am aware. What a humiliation. I don’t want another one in my life. Only the missing part in this celebration was Handel’s Water Music, I thought. Later on second thought this timer malfunction did great favor for me. You see, what would happen if celebration started while I am heading to halfway house and while laying on the Ambulance stretcher. To my knowledge there is no toilet equipped ambulance in this country not in the world for that matter. Not even mop or pail. I would have no choice but to take unprecedented stretcher bath for 20 minutes providing there was no traffic jam. Naengmyun Dr.’s (see below) dignity would be even lower if that happened. I am going to send a letter to Don Young (who is perennial congressman from Alaska) asking passing mandatory ambulance toilet installation bill. Why Don Young? He said “Kiss my ear.” when he was asked “How about sending that over 700 million dollar money ear marked for Ketchikan bridge to Hurricane Katrina victim in New Orleans?” And you don’t have to be a genius to know that “Ear” is euphemism of “A..” Gentleman like him won’t let anybody kiss his “A..” let alone dirty a one, would he? That’s why need mandatory ambulance toilet bill, I thought.
There were 4 inmates in the medium security cell. One of them happen to be, guess what, a retired Philippine anesthesiologist. Maybe due to pain---but he was calling “Mama, Mama” intermittently with 40’sh gentleman standing beside him (June guessed his son) who was comforting him. Suddenly he hollered at me “Hey. Naengmyun Anesthesiologist!” For those who doesn’t know what the Naengmyun ” is, it is a cold noodle soup/dish. . It was one of the way to cool off on hot summer day, --it cools you from inside. This is a pure Korean invention, even Chinese couldn’t figured it out. I highly recommend it. Try it. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to connect Dr .Lee and “Naengmyun”. Next day I was transferred to halfway house(nursing home) finally, still struggling with hiccups. The first ambulance trip from my house to hospital 9 days ago was delayed due to unavailability. This time, the opposite occured. Two of them showed up and it took some time to sorting it out. Winner triumphantly transferred me to the
halfway house. It was wonderful place run by Providence Marianwood, same organization as Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Except isolation room every room has 2 patients. I was fortunate enough to be the sole occupant most of the time. In spite of good service and surroundings I was exhausted to the point of breaking down. It seemed I had 24/7 hiccups FOREVER!!! Everybody knew my predicament and along with sympathy, they gave me their own secret formula from age old breathing in a brown bag to GAS-X, to holding breath while sugar cube in the mouth. None of them worked. While I was at the medium security, one nurse from Philippine told me she saw a patient who hiccups constantly even while in sleep. Obviously it didn’t help my morale. Then after 10 days of constant hiccup, I woke up 2 o’clock in the morning and noticed that hiccup had stopped! My head was crystal clear, feels like I am in the heaven! Then hiccup returned. Next evening I asked sleeping pill and pain pill. Regulation does not allow sleeping pills before 9 o’clock and hiccup stops only while I am sleeping. I took pain pills like percocet, for relief. After 2 nights’ partial success, total success came the next night. I was so happy I announced it to everybody, almost to the point of bragging about it. Everybody congratulated me. Occupational therapy and physical therapy progressed rapidly after hiccuping stopped. I was anxious to go home. I felt I could go home anytime but the law require they (health care provider) give patient 72 hours notice so that patient can appeal their discharge. Jesus! I am anxious to go home but can not go because of the stupid law which is protecting me! It was determined I can be discharged on next Wednesday, 19 days after 1st ambulance trip. I was jovial on Sunday. Monday 2:30 in the morning I woke up. I held the urinal and stood up, leaning on the edge of the bed. Unexpectedly and suddenly I encountered turbulence, spinning and before I could recover, crashed on the wall narrowly missing edge of the hardboard of the bed and hard concrete floor covered with vinyl tile. The wall was sheet rock, which is softer than the rest, fortunately. Not turning on the landing light did not help the crash. I never thought I needed, knowing I am navigating into such a familiar terrain. Staff rushed in, turn the room light on then I could see the mess I created. “Oh s…, how could I do this. I am in trouble, again, what shall I do?” “Don’t worry, they will fix you up.” There was blood all over the place. On the wall, curtain, floor. The incision wound was split open and right side of the face was warm. They kept changing dressing. Ambulance was called and went to Overlake Hospital Emergency Room. While cleaning the wound June and Mimi arrived. Who could expect good news when phone rang at 2:45 in the morning. So shaky was June, she called Mimi. Mimi went and got June from our house, and took her to the emergency room. June was sitting beside me staring up the ceiling without a word. I couldn’t say with enough sincerity…“I am so sorry.” I felt so bad for putting June and Mimi through stress yet again. It was Mimi who answered. “It was not the matter of sorry Dad….we just want you to get completely better.” While waiting the scan report I started to sorting out what fate is waiting ahead of me. I experienced just a glimpse of the worry and anxiousness June and Mimi went through, all those agonizing days in ICU. If there is another bleeding inside the skull it would be more serious this time. How could my body take another immediate surgery when it barely had time to recover from the first one? It turned out to be not a simple barber shop trip. They might admit me for observation in which case I have to stay in the hospital with uncertainty hovering over my head. Best scenario is everything is cleared just close the wound, and going back to Providence Marianwood. But if, if…….
About 4 hours passed, the nurse finally came in and stated the “CT scan is clean.” No sweeter words. Shortly thereafter, the ER Dr. who stitched my wound lifted the curtain and walked into my room to confirm what the nurse said. I remember clearing my throat and staring at him like defendant waiting sentencing in front of the judge. “Everything is negative. We will send you back to Providence and will notify you later for follow up” “Thank you Doc.” Another ambulance trip to the rehab Providence. I glimpsed outside through ambulance window. The sky was covered with dark clouds. But the cloud inside of me was lifted. June went with me in the ambulance. Mimi went home before the kids would wake up. Luckily, they did not have school that Monday, so it worked out as well as it could. Mimi had taken John to the airport that night. He couldn’t believe the timing—his really wanted to be there to help. But he helped out a lot during the 6 day visit. Everything from moving my computer to the main floor(erasing any need for me to go downstairs, no doubt), to vaccuming for my arrival to researching cable for my house. His wife Kris, and her mom cooked all these Korean food delicacies and soups to make me stronger. The frozen food filled a whole suitcase!
On February 1st, two days later I returned home by car, not by ambulance, 19 days after I left the house. I am not completely free yet, 2 months of house arrest(limited movement under the supervision) and 10 months of probation thereafter(full recovery time) No matter how inconvenient and ridiculous I don’t a have a voice because, all these are for my safety. You see, December 13, 2005 is my 9-11/wakeup call. I passed the in-home PT evaluation last Friday. The physical therapist was very impressed with my leg strength. On a national balance test, I got a 53 out of 56 points. Very normal for someone my age. It serves as a predictor that I have between 10 – 30% of falling. Average for anyone over the age of 64. The only difference for me, is obviously that I CAN NOT AFFORD to stumble much less fall. So especially during this next 5 week period while my skull heals, I have to be careful, to say the least.
I passed. I feel I didn’t lose the bet after all (tongue in cheek ). There is no permanent damage, slight over optimism in my favor. All this good fortune happened due to your prayers for me. For that I am eternally grateful.
And it was a little bit rougher than I anticipated but still it was a “barber shop visit” even though it was an ugly cut as you can see on the photo I attached.
And listen to this! Who said Climb doesn’t pay. It paid handsomely for me by Medicaid and Insurance company. DOT even rewarded me with disability parking permit.
Just kidding. Climb doesn’t pay of course. I learned it hard way. So I will be extremely careful from now on because the next time, if ever, the sentencing would be longer, harsher including death sentence.
Hoi Paik Lee