Saturday, April 01, 2006

2342 A grieving widow

We met about 10 years ago while walking in the mall. It's an exercise thing in many malls of the United States. They open early; people retired or on their way to work stop and walk a mile or two inside free from dogs, bad weather and bumpy roads and cars. She was very quiet, rather short and thin, maybe 65 and he was jolly, very tall, with a shock of white curly hair and about 80. Gradually we started chatting as we passed while we mall-walked. Then I didn't see their red SUV for awhile. When she came back, she was alone. He'd died. She told me they'd married late--when she was about 45. They'd had a wonderful marriage and his children who were adults when they met were very supportive.

Today I was wandering the aisles of Giant Eagle. Oh, how I hate that store. I can never find anything, and had given up on the third item completely. But there she was. So I approached her and reintroduced myself--neither of us remembered the other's name. I knew she had remarried, because I'd seen her and the new husband also walking at the mall, holding hands and just the happiest of love birds, within a year of her other husband's death. I inquired and she said he'd died in February. His death was so recent and her grief so palpable that I just waited the 15 or 20 minutes while I heard to whole story about a non-malignant growth pressing on his brain causing memory and speech problems.

Oh, the neurosurgery was a complete success and she and the children (her step children from her previous marriage) were very encouraged. He was sitting up, walking, talking. Then he was moved to a general care area and immediately began to deteriorate. She came in two nights later and he was coughing and his dinner was cold. He was moved to a nursing home for "therapy." So doped up on antibiotics and pain killers all improvement from the surgery was lost. I'll spare you the details, but it turns out he soon died of pneumonia and a urinary tract infection, she believes, from poor care. Several times while he was still in the hospital she had asked them to elevate him more because her father had died of pneumonia after surgery.

Of course, I have no medical training, but it does seem to happen often. Infections unrelated to the disease or surgery that brings the patient to the hospital, I mean. Annals of Surgery 2001 135: 847-857:

"Pneumonia (infection of the lung tissue) is a serious complication that sometimes occurs after major surgery. It causes such symptoms as fever, shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain. It often requires treatment with antibiotics and lengthens the time until the patient is well enough to leave the hospital. Pneumonia after surgery is a very serious problem because 20% to 40% of affected patients die within 30 days of surgery. If physicians knew which patients are most likely to get pneumonia after surgery, they could target efforts to prevent this complication. Pneumonia is more common after certain types of operations, and older and weaker patients are more likely to get pneumonia. As yet, physicians do not have a reliable method of identifying which patients are most likely to get pneumonia after surgery."

Would seem sensible to me to not worry so much about identifying which patients might get pneumonia, and pay attention when their wives or children are raising the alarms.

1 comment:

Priscilla said...

How sad. Her heart must be so broken.