Sunday, August 23, 2015

What About Now?

All too often as we glide through life, we hear about this unfortunate circumstance or that one and quite quickly, it disappears from our thoughts. Why? Usually it is due to the fact that whatever it was, had no bearing on the observer. So why bother, right? Wrong!

For our regular readers and followers on Twitter know, we take the concept of firefighter health very, very seriously. It's a subject that were are very passionate about. Why? That's a valid question and it's also a tough one to answer. 

Your author has been disabled since 1992 when I work up one morning with, what I thought was a run-of-the-mill backache. After seeing several doctors, I finally had an MRI and found out that I had a herniated disc at L4-L5. The question of how was more difficult to answer. I had been out of active service with a fire department since 1985. I was in a relatively sedentary job and was not required to move or life heavy objects. Today, 23 years later and after five back surgeries, too many injections to count and having a medication pump surgically implanted, the consensus of my doctors is that the underlying injury occurred in June 1978 when one leg fell through the floor of a house being used for fire training. At the time of that fall, I blew out my left knee, but I had no idea about my back. However, that was an on-the-fireground accident that could happen to anyone. So, no - my passion does not come from that occurrence. 

Even though I have been out of the fire service since 1985, it has and always will, have a role in my life. And I read Firehouse Magazine every month.And each month, the first column I read is the list of LODD's. A recent report regarding the LODD's in 2014 indicates that nearly fifty-percent (50%) of firefighter LODD's are caused my preventable health conditions. PREVENTABLE!!! No, I did not know any of these firefighters in any way, nor did I know any active firefighter with serious health risks...until this past week.

One of my neighbors is a career firefighter for a department about an hour north of where we live. He's a real nice guy, loves what he does and was working to put his "20" in, with just a couple of more years to go. However, my friend, whom we'll refer to as "Tom," is a big man, both height-wise and weight-wise. So each time I'd see him outside and wave or stop in to chat for a few, I never said a word to him, but inside, my guts were churning. Before me stands a guy who loves what he does, is good at it, but not taking care of himself with the same passion he uses to fight fire.

Two weeks ago I got a cal from his wife to come over to help them with a computer problem. I saw Tom's car in the driveway and assumed he was on an off-day. When I got inside, he's walking all bent over and I asked what happened. He said he threw his back out on a call a few days before, but he wasn't that concerned as the next Monday, he was going to have knee replacement surgery. I fixed the computer, wished them both good luck and told him I'd check in on Monday night or Tuesday morning to see how the surgery went. 

Early Tuesday morning, I get a call from his wife and I asked her how the surgery went. She said, "It didn't!" She then explained to me that when he went for his pre-op clearance, the doctor observing his EKG saw traces he was not happy with and scheduled him to undergo a supervised stress test that Monday (the day before her phone call) with a pair of cardiologists. Tom was upset, but more about missing the knee surgery than anything else.

He underwent the stress test and suddenly, the doctors told him to stop. They sat him down and helped him through the recovery phase. The doctor came over to him and asked, "Tom you're a firefighter, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir," he answered with the pride he had in his work.
"Not anymore, you're not!" the doctor said. "You're firefighting days are over."

Stunned by the news, Tom asked for an explanation. The doctor told him that his cardiac output was in the mid-30% range, where normal for someone his age should be in the 60's. There was evidence of ischemic damage, most likely caused by a silent MI. Finally, they were concerned about the condition of part of the septum.

That was that. Of course, as I said to his wife, the good thing is that these conditions were caught in advance of a non-survivable incident. He had an angiogram on Tuesday and came through it well. Moreover, he is beginning a course of medication and lifestyle change to get him healthy again. No doubt, it's going to be a long, slow road. None of us gain a great deal of weight overnight and we are not going to lose it that way either.

So, when's a good time for YOU to take stock of your personal medication condition?

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