I've been lucky when it comes to health issues. In my 48 years of life, I've had Lyme disease twice (still not out of the woods), a corneal ulcer caused by windblown grit while kayaking across the Baltic Sea, a benign AV nodal reentry tachycardia, a kidney stone from dehydration, and elevated intraocular pressure (multiple generations of males in my family history had glaucoma). I've never broken a bone, had any GI/Neuro/Pulmonary/Rheumatological issues or taken any chronic medication, other than Xalatan for my intraocular pressure.
My family history is otherwise unremarkable.
Thus, it came as a complete surprise when the call came in at the end of last week that my father was having a posterior/inferior myocardial infarction and was on his way to the cath lab to be stented.
On Thursday night my wife and I flew to Los Angeles to be with him in the ICU.
The process of medical care is like any complex project - there's a technical part and there's a people part. The doctors and nurses did a remarkable job on the technical part. The role my wife and I played was to manage the people part - building confidence in my parents that everything would be okay, that the quality of life would be just fine, that returning home would be safe, and that the future would be bright.
We stocked the refrigerator with low fat vegan foods. We helped interpret patient education materials, discussed life style recommendations, and managed the process of transitioning from inpatient to outpatient.
Hospitals are a great place in a crisis, filled with professionals who can medicate, operate, and heal. But the larger social context of healthcare - the orchestration of emotions, calming of fears, and regaining the cadence of daily life requires a support system.
In the past, extended families lived together or at least clustered together in a community. With increasing specialization of employment, a challenging economy, and the ease of long distance travel, we've lost many of our family support systems. What I experienced was a remarkable coming together of a virtual extended family in support of my father. Colleagues, former employees, and friends gathered together to support my parents. My father was rarely alone during his ICU stay. In a world that can be filled with road rage, competition for resources, and a lack of civility, I was grateful to experience healthcare supported by the community around my family.
The circumstances, a heart attack, were bad, but the outcome was good. My father is back home, back to his usual routine, and the love and respect of his network of supporters will always be with him.