Imagine you are backpacking with your daughter in a remote part of the Grand Canyon and a mysterious illness decides to show up just as you are trying to make the climb out. Your chest is pounding, you're having trouble breathing and your legs feel like lead, but there's no one around to help you. You make it out alive only to learn that the climb back to health is going to be even more difficult.
One doesn't normally connect humor with healing, but Getting Better is both helpful and, at times, hilarious. The book is an entertaining collection of one patient's stories, thoughts and philosophies about how to deal with the physical and emotional trials of being seriously injured or ill. The author shares what he has learned about how relationships, faith, mental/physical fitness, and a sense of humor combine to help one cope with the ups and downs of the healing process.
If you're a patient, you'll learn, laugh and nod along as we examine some ideas for getting better in some facets of our lives. And, Getting Better isn't just for patients. Family members, friends, and caregivers will also find this book to be entertaining and full of ideas about how they can help the healing process for the people they care about.
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Read an Excerpt
Healing Prescriptions for Patients, Families and Friends
By Mark Landiak
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Mark Landiak
All rights reserved.
In March 2011, I woke up at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, one of my favorite places on Earth, in a tent next to my oldest daughter, Elise. It was our third day of backpacking, and little did I know it would very nearly be my last.
The Grand Canyon is an amazing place with its breathtaking, panoramic views and sheer expanse. If you don't believe in God when you arrive, you might just be converted after a day or two of witnessing His majesty spread out before you as far as the eye can see. In fact, one can hear people professing their faith all over the canyon: "Oh my God."
As beautiful as it is, hiking the Canyon can be rigorous and dangerous. For this reason, most people don't hike to the bottom or on the lesser-known trails. We did.
As a father, I couldn't ask for much more. My daughter chose to spend her final college spring break backpacking in the Grand Canyon with her dad instead of whooping it up on some Florida beach with her friends. I've done one-on-one trips with all four of my kids, but hiking the Canyon was an activity reserved for Elise and me. We'd done it a couple times before and were both in good enough shape to do an even longer exploration this time around ... or so I thought.
I was still floored to think she wanted to be in this wondrous place with me. Every day, I think I am the luckiest dad in the world and now more than ever, I'm reminded how much I love my kids every time I am with them. On this occasion, there we were, crammed into a small tent at the bottom of the Canyon, with the sound of Clear Creek and the Colorado River bubbling in the background. It was our final night and I thought about what a great time we had together. In the morning, we'd planned to hike out of the canyon and back to everyday life.
We woke up early, excited for the challenge of powering up the steep South Kaibab Trail that would take us to the canyon's rim. I wasn't at all prepared for what was about to happen next. Just as we started up the very first steep climb of the 8.5 mile trek out, something began going terribly wrong. My legs fatigued. My breaths shortened. I began to perspire profusely. My heart raced. We were less than 20 minutes into a hike of what should have been about 4.5 hours and my body was already wasted.
I rested a moment and drank a bottle of water disbelieving I could be in serious trouble and thinking that I was dehydrated from the 14 mile trek on the previous day. I seemed to recover and started off once more. 15 minutes later and BAM! It hit me again. What was going on? I'd never felt like this before. Imagine having the worst case of the flu you've ever had and attempting to climb the 2,109 stairs of the Willis (Sears) Tower in 85 degree heat ... then having to do it 10 more times.
As I continued to struggle, Elise became more and more worried. She walked behind me, often with two hands on my pack pushing me up some of the steepest trails in the canyon, carrying her pack and supporting mine. She offered to take my 60-pound pack, but I wouldn't let her. At 22, Elise had grown from daddy's little girl into a physically fit young woman who was an accomplished soccer player and was training to run her next marathon. If ever I appreciated her athleticism, it was in this moment. Elise, on the other hand, probably wished at that moment she had decided to hang out on a beach watching the spectacle that has become spring break instead of witnessing the spectacle of her dad's situation. She was more than worried and thoughts were running through her mind that dad might not make it out.
We saw no one for the first two hours of the arduous ascent out of the canyon. We were alone and I was in big trouble with no phone or cell phone service to call for help.
As I was relaying this story to Dan Campana who helped me get all this down on paper, he wanted to talk to family and friends about their view of each situation. You'll see a number of their comments scattered throughout the book. Here is a comment from my daughter:
"There were some times when I was really scared. We're in the middle of nowhere. I've never seen him like that before. It wasn't until he started wobbling and not talking that I thought we might have to get help. I was making emergency plans up in my head." - Elise telling Dan about the experience
I kept looking for milestones – make it to that corner, get to that rock, keep moving toward that tree – Elise looked at my colorless face and had to wonder whether I was going to leave the Earth right then and there. And, I might have if not for her presence of mind and strength to push me up the steepest climbs. She may well have saved my life that day.
Upon reaching each of these small goals, I'd rest on a rock, take a drink and recover enough to begin the push to the next milestone only 200-300 feet away. This went on until we finally emerged over 8 hours later. Setting goals and beating them are part of life for many people. It's a mindset used to win in sports, build successful businesses or just to be the best possible person you can be. It's the approach I've used for athletics and work. It helped me get out of the canyon alive and I've used milestones every day since to help heal my mind and body. I've learned that no matter how dire your circumstances, there is always a milestone you can reach that will put you a few steps closer to getting better.
Oddly, within 2 hours of finishing the hike, my body recuperated as if nothing had happened. I attributed the whole episode to a severe case of dehydration, something all too common that gets plenty of people into trouble in the Canyon. I was in denial, and why not? I'd always been in great health. Up to that point, I'd never been sick aside from the occasional cold. I'd always been in great shape. I was invincible. Or so I thought.
Little did I know that a very dangerous disease had just sent me a pretty obvious warning that it lurked inside my body and was ready to let loose. Like many testosterone-filled, ego-oriented males, I ignored the incident. What an idiot! I had just dodged the first of many bullets.
"There was no mention of going to a doctor. Just a lot of 'glad-we-made-it-out' jokes."- Elise to Dan about the post-hike conversation with her dad.CHAPTER 2
Three weeks later, "recovered," and undeterred by the Canyon experience, Genius Boy (that's me) tried to run a 5K race with my two sons. About 400 yards into the race, something didn't feel right and I had to slow down to a jog, then a walk, then stop. Undaunted, I gathered myself, then pushed on with the same result. I even tried to gut it out by power walking to build up to a run. The same thing happened again and again. Every time that I started running, I'd immediately lose energy – I crashed about 20 times during that race, but did I stop? No. Duh. What was I thinking? After all, I'd never been sick before. (Oh, wait ... Hey Mark, remember the Canyon three weeks earlier?) Let's do the math: one near death experience plus another near death experience equals go see a doctor. I should have called an ambulance. I felt horrible and knew something was very, very wrong. (Another bullet dodged). The next day I still felt awful and that was enough to put me in a doctor's office that afternoon. When my doc saw the EKG, I was in the hospital the next day. Now for the first time in my life, I was officially a patient.
Surviving the canyon and the ill-fated race attempt marked the start of a much longer, more difficult climb out of the unfamiliar territory that I found myself in. Over the next 10 months I underwent nearly three dozen hospital and lab tests. They did almost every heart and lung test known to medicine. Nothing. They then looked at my liver, kidneys and gall bladder. Again, nothing. While doctors and specialists poked, prodded and groped my fifty-something year old body, I continued to get worse. ... a lot worse. So bad, in fact, that I could not make it up one flight of stairs without stopping and looking for a place to immediately sit down.
Let me put that into some context: I've always worked out to keep myself in good shape. Played soccer twice a week, went on many long runs, never smoked, and drank in moderation (except for some "best forgotten" incidents in college). Now, things got so bad that even attempting a slow walk down the driveway to get the morning paper left me completely exhausted, out of breath and unable to keep going.
After the internist, the cardiologist, the pulmonologist and various other specialists, the neurologist was next. She diagnosed me with Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular disease which originates in the auto-immune system. She referred me to a second neurologist, a supposed "specialist" from Northwestern University, one with more experience with that disease. He offered his own (incorrect) diagnosis. He said I had Lambert Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome. That's what he treated me for over the next six months, ignoring the negative test results, the worsening symptoms I was having and not caring enough to check with some of his associates about my case - despite my request for him to do so. And all the while the real disease was destroying me from the inside. (That was a huge learning experience. If you're not getting better and your doctor isn't talking to other doctors about your symptoms, fire him or her and find another doctor. That's what I should have done about 6 months earlier. This guy was all ego and no action).
By Fall, 2011, the high dosages of steroids and inactivity were helping me to feel a little better. My youngest son, Luke, played high school water polo, so I'd take him to the health club where he'd swim to get in shape for the upcoming season. There was a racquetball court there, so while he was swimming, I killed the time by hitting the racquetball around by myself. It had been many years since I stepped on the court in my past life as a tournament-level player, but I enjoyed the practice and my skills came back quickly. So I decided – like a fool – to enter a tournament. I hadn't played a competitive match in over 5 years. Something is drastically wrong going on inside me. I know there is a big problem ... and something inside my head tells me to enter a tournament? What was I thinking?
Since I'd been feeling decent enough to practice, I thought that maybe I could exercise my way out of my illness. Yeah, that was another classic brainstorm of mine. So I thought getting into this competition could be good and I wanted to relive my glory days. Since the neurologist from Northwestern who was supposed to be taking care of me was no help whatsoever, I was building my own Monthly Treatment Plan. What I forgot – beside, you know, almost dying and being unable to walk up a flight of stairs just a couple months earlier – was how intense and vigorous competition can be. I had no business being out there. Still, I'm a hard-headed Ukrainian. As my sister says, "You can always tell a Ukrainian ... you just can't tell him much."
So, I'm in this tournament and by the end of game one, I knew something was definitely wrong. Again, I thought I could work through it. Michael McDonald wrote a song about this. "What a Fool Believes." It was my theme song back then. So, after a long hard fought point, I get hit with a tsunami. Can't breathe ... In a cold sweat ... My heart is pounding on the inside of my chest like a misbehaving child who wants to get out of his room. I looked up at the ref, but could not speak. My face was void of color and I was blacking out.
One look at my face and the ref knew something wasn't right. He immediately called 911 for paramedics. I staggered out of the court, barely, and collapsed two steps outside the door. I had never felt worse in my life. The only thoughts in my head as I lay on the carpet were of disbelief – I can't believe this is happening to me – that and, I need to fight to stay conscious. The Grand Canyon didn't kill me, and I sure didn't want to die outside a racquetball court in Lombard, Illinois.
Every fiber of my being wanted to pass out, but no way was I going to let this happen. I fought as hard as I could. Somehow I knew that if I blacked out, I wouldn't wake up. I couldn't speak and was barely coherent. I felt someone pounding on my chest administering CPR. I couldn't move and did every relaxation technique I could think of to settle my racing heart and, the next thing I know, I'm staring up at five paramedics. It must have been a slow afternoon, because the entire Lombard Fire Department showed up. I'm sure glad each and every one of them did.
They quickly hooked me up to an EKG. One of the paramedics reading my EKG said it was the worst that he'd ever seen. They couldn't believe the readings, so they repeated the test. I laid on the floor for 45 minutes and consumed about a gallon of water while they continued to monitor my vitals. Defibrillator paddles were at the ready. They didn't want to move me and I didn't want to move. Slowly, my body started to recover. I had very nearly died, but said no to an immediate ambulance ride to the hospital. Despite strong urgings to the contrary, I signed a form validating my decision to decline the hospital trip as I wanted to get to my own hospital and my own doctors. I think the back of the form required another signature to validate that I was an idiot for not going right then and there, but I don't remember exactly. Another 90 minutes or so passed, and I recovered enough to get up and walk around – just like my rebound after the Canyon ascent, but a lot groggier. I stuck around another hour, ate a slice of pizza (the universal recovery drug) and drove myself home. But something was different this time. I was really sick. I don't know how I made it home because I don't remember driving home. I passed out (literally) in my bed and slept for 12 hours straight.
A wake-up call came first thing the next morning from my cardiologist, who had the results of a heart monitor test from the day before my racquetball court collapse. He ordered that someone drive me to the hospital immediately. Yes, I did have a heart monitor test on the day before the tournament started ... but, I didn't have the results yet, so I made the decision that it would be OK to play. In my defense, I actually believed that this might be good for me. My Cardiologist, Dr. Pappas, said I was having 50,000-70,000 extra heartbeats per day and probably had been for several months - plenty enough to kill anyone. But, this time, being a stubborn Uke and in good physical condition worked in my favor. I can't help but believe that God had His hand in this as well. He probably called St. Peter over and said, "hey, check this one out. I've been sending this guy blatant signals for almost a year and he still doesn't get it. Should we bring him in?" Then St. Peter probably said something like: "That's amusing. Let's keep him around a little longer just to see what ridiculous thing he'll do next?"
After an MRI at the hospital, a team of doctors conferred and concluded that I had something called cardiac sarcoidosis, a rare heart condition where inflammation in the heart creates scar tissue that, in my case, affected the heart's electrical system and created wildly erratic contractions (ventricle tachycardia) which prevented it from pumping blood properly. The disease is particularly aggressive and gets progressively worse. Tests showed the right side of my heart was severely enlarged from the strain I was putting on it. They immediately implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator in my chest to keep me alive. Cardiac sarcoidosis starts in the immune system, but where it comes from is a mystery. I don't fit any of the profiles for someone who typically gets it. That didn't matter. With my new diagnosis, off to intensive care I went. The next thing I know, I'm waking up with a highly sophisticated device in my chest, and wires running throughout my heart.
This crash course learning experience taught me three really important things:
1. If your body is sending you some pretty obvious signals, and especially after your next near death experience, for goodness sakes, go immediately to the Emergency Room.
2. If you doctor isn't helping you get better (like Dr. Ego, my ex-neurologist), there are plenty of competent ones out there who actually care. Find them. And,
3. Regardless of how bleak your situation might be, hang in there because God might just keep you around, if for no other reason than you are a source of amazement. The real learning is that He likely has a bigger plan for you, no matter how many signals you miss. (Can't you just see God and St. Peter up there shaking their heads and saying. "He entered a racquetball tournament? Really?!")
Excerpted from Getting Better by Mark Landiak. Copyright © 2016 Mark Landiak. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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