Friday, December 31, 2010

A Reflection - Best Doctor in Chicago - Dr. Thomas Grobelny

I've been blessed in life. I had spent most of my life ----- healthy. 

I am currently writing a lengthy piece on my trials and tribulations on a year in the life of my health, but I wanted to take this moment, on this day, to say happy birthday to myself!  One year ago today, I had the experience that has become one of the more notable days in my life (understatement).

After a couple of decades of life in Los Angeles I found myself back in my hometown of Chicago. After a series of stressful situations I felt my physical health declining shortly after I had returned home. I was tired most of the time and began feeling completely drained by almost anything in any given day.
It was one year ago today that a Wingspan Humanitarian stent was placed in my left carotid artery. If it had not been for a pupil (the left one was smaller than the right one) I might have stroked out, or died for that matter, but being aware of my body, I knew something was wrong. I arrived at Advocate Christ Medical Center on Tuesday, December 29.  The room was a bit cold (it was a frigid night in Chicago) and my roommate for the night was trying to "hook up" with someone even though she had a seizure the night before. Needless to say, this all made for an even more bizarre night in life. I kept telling her she needed to rest. I sounded like some 90 year old talking down to a youngster.      

Multiple numbers of doctors were in my room the night of, and the morning after my arrival. Very "touchy," "tricky" and "rare" were some of the words flying out of their mouths. How on earth did this happen to me?  I don't know, and the medical experts don't know. I kept wanting to take notes (it's what I do) and I fixated on the fact that I hadn't had a pedicure in some time. My toes looked dreadful. I'm not even a girly-girl (I never have manicures, but I do get pedicures), but for some reason I was thinking about my toes! I thought I might die, but my mind was drifting in directions that make absolutely no sense. I found a pad of paper with a pen and the hospital provided comfy beige socks (probably at a cost of $30.00 per pair, but at least I covered up my toes).  Problem solved. Well, not exactly, since my carotid artery had a 90% dissection! The right carotid artery had a dissection as well, but miraculously that one healed on its own.  

The morning of December 30, I had an angiogram which confirmed the 90% dissection.  I was not a candidate for this type of health issue. I never smoked a cigarette in my life. I drank, on average, one glass of wine per month (white wine, since I didn't want to stain my teeth). To be completely truthful, I do have an Amstel Light on St. Patrick's Day every single year. I live in Chicago!  St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in Chicago with beer.  I'm sure St. Patrick is not proud of his namesake day. I hadn't used a drug since the summer that Paul McCartney was singing about "Silly Love Songs" ( a little bit of pot during one summer!). I had always maintained a normal weight.  I exercised. I was athletic. I had never even been on a birth control pill which is one of the top reasons why a woman under a certain age would have a issues with arteries.

On December 31, neurointerventionalist/neuroradiologist (say that three times),  Dr. Thomas Grobelny placed a stent in my carotid artery. He is affiliated with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois. If you and your primary care physician would like more information on this type of procedure, you can contact Advocate Christ Medical Center at 708 684 8000.

We have superb health care in the United States. This is by no means, a political statement. We have gifted clinicians on all fronts, exercising their expertise, skill and craft. Our current medical technology is beyond amazing.  Forty years ago, I most likely would have died shortly after my initial diagnosis.  By the way, I may drop dead in ten minutes, but then so may anyone reading this post.

I feared losing my abilities to think, remember, walk, talk and see. I like me and I didn't want to lose me. I'm here and I'm alive and well.  I was not afraid of death one year ago today and I'm not afraid of it now. I am secure about the eternal life concept. In some ways, I wanted to die. Death would be better than stroking out, but I wanted to live. My mother is still alive and she needs me. She has already lost children and the thought of her burying another child was heavy on my heart. I wanted to live since I am burdened with the notion that I've not accomplished enough. I still have places to go, horses to ride, rivers to raft, lakes to sail, books to read, people to help, dogs to walk, bikes to cycle, restaurants to try.

I remember asking the doctor right before the procedure (a non-invasive procedure - as I said, medical technology is unbelievable) if I would live a normal life.  He didn't pull any god-like persona out.  He looked at me with compassion in his eyes (after he told me to quit asking questions) and said I cannot guarantee that, but yes, I believe you will live a normal life.  When it comes to diagnosis and treatment, I trust Dr. Grobelny implicitly.  How many people do you trust implicitly? 

Having said that, you have to be the main keeper of your health care, since medical offices are busy and often understaffed.  Just a reminder to stay on top of your own health care and ask questions! Follow-up and follow through.  Be aware of and know your body!


The smiley face symbol from the 1970's is one of the most beautiful sights in the world (just looking at it makes me feel good) and it represents my life at the moment. 

Thank you to all of my doctors (my primary care doctor is an excellent physician who is genuinely concerned about your health). Thank you to Dr. Grobelny. Thanks for taking the single worst couple of years of my life; and then turning life into one of the most powerful experiences ever. Life is good!  Enjoy every single moment! I am a walking miracle. Thank God!  Be aware of your body!  

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2010 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Volponi, The Big Horse - Origins in Chicago

If you’ve never read a book before it is a new book to you.  “The Big Horse” by Joe McGinnis (“Fatal Vision” “Cruel Doubt” are among his best-selling non-fiction books) was published in 2004, but I had never even heard of it prior to a recent trip to my library.  Thank God for public libraries.  Every once in awhile you come across an amazing  find and this book proved to be that find.

“The Big Horse” isn’t so much about a horse (2002 Breeder’s Cup Classic winner, Volponi – the Breeder’s Cup is to horse racing what American Idol is to spring television) as it is about the man who trained that horse.  P.G. Johnson was born and raised in Chicago and worked some of the small tracks before eventually training up the ladder to the major racetracks in America.  In spite of his induction into the racing hall of fame, Johnson only had one big horse and that was Volponi.  To racing people, the big horse indicates accomplishment, not size.  If it were by size, there would be lots and lots of big horses.  

You’ve heard this story before, but in the hands of a skilled writer like McGinnis it is as fresh as a strawberry in a California May.  I love thoroughbred horse racing’s history and I enjoy watching the giants of the sport go the distance in today’s sport as well, but it is always the back stories of this sport that pull me in.  The drama, the poetry of a life lived.  Horse racing enthusiasts are a rare breed.  McGinnis details his initial love of the sport by starting off the book with the recollection of watching Dark Star beat Native Dancer in the 1953 Kentucky Derby.  That had to be a dark day.  No pun intended.  Native Dancer (a.k.a. the Grey Ghost) was one of the greatest race horses in the history of the sport and he was taken down that day (not literally, thankfully) by a dark horse, well, in this case, a dark star. 

Tracks started to shut down all across America in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  The sport was now a dying art and its stars were no longer going the distance. Bold Ruler, Sword Dancer, Tom Fool and Round Table were either still in the breeding shed or they were dead.  The sport needed stars to stay alive and few stars were out there.

P. G. Johnson’s story starts out in Chicago.  Back in 1941, several months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Johnson got a job at the Midway Riding Academy. The Academy was located at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.  The riding facility is long gone, but in those days, Johnson got to the location via the elevated train.  There were no thoroughbreds there and the only thoroughbred he could find was one that ended up in the Union Stockyards.  The horse’s name was Song Master and he wasn’t much of a racehorse, but he was a genuine Thoroughbred out of Canada.

McGinnis continues to pour little nuggets of life onto the pages of “The Big Horse” and even if this sport isn’t a passion of yours you will enjoy reading about Johnson’s life.   It’s a superb book with its roots deep in the heart of the city of Chicago – North and South Side.