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Three score and ten or more

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Finnish Stuff

Finnish Stuff, That First Intense Day
I promised I wouldn’t do a “day by day” on our adventures in Finland, but the first day remains so vivid that I am going to break my word. If you don’t want to hear about a day more or less divided between heaven and hell, skip this one. Some of this is in my first post about Jan’s illness, but it may be included again.

At about t (heck, not about, exactly) two ten A.M. October 2, 2006 I awoke to hear Janet screaming in pain. I jumped out of bed and flipped on the light to see her sitting up with her fists clenched in pain with her arms across her chest. I moved to sit beside her and the only word she was able to say was DOCTOOR ! !. I asked (in futility since we had no land line phone in the house and our cell phones didn’t work in Finland) if she wanted me to call a doctor or take her to the doctor. TAAKE!! was her reply. I asked her what was wrong and she said “Back - chest, - head - exploding”

I pulled on my pants, shoes and socks, and found a caftan and shoes for her, then placed my hands on her head and gave her a blessing. (This is a Mormon thing. Most male members of the church are members of the lay priesthood, and we believe in the words of the scripture in James, 5:14,15: “ Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick.” . )

I am an elder, I had no oil with me, and there weren’t two of us elders, and I had no clue where I would find another, but I blessed her as an elder and her husband, and I had faith. It had to be enough. I put on a shirt and put my arms under her shoulders then helped her out to our little rental car latching her seat belt. Locking the house, I backed out of the driveway and started out into Isnas, only realizing when I arrived there that I didn’t have a clue how to find a doctor. I pulled into the fire station and pounded on the door, but there didn’t seem to be anyone on duty. The next possibility was to drive into Porvoo which is a pretty good sized city and try to find a doctor there. I expressed my worry, and Janet said “Red crosses on street signs, - Hospital”. With gratitude for thinking by one of us I screamed out onto the road to Porvoo. It is a curvy, hilly two lane road with several villages along the way. The speed limit varies from 40 to 60 km per hour. I drove it between 80 and 100 km per hour, muttering under my breath at the patchy fog that made topping a hill really treacherous. I confess that I prayed under my breath that a cop would stop me then lead me to the hospital but I had no such luck. I went around one curve with a real lurch about 4 or 5 k from Porvoo and Janet reached and touched me on the chest.

“It wouldn’t be good if we both got to the hospital in an ambulance” Jan struggled to say.

I took the hint and slowed to a somewhat more reasonable speed. As I got into town I looked up at every street sign and found no red crosses. We reached the other side of town and came to an ESSO truck stop where we had had dinner once. I rushed inside and asked the girl behind the counter (in English of course) where was the hospital. She indicated that she didn’t understand, so I tried again in my failing Finnish. She gave me some rather complex instructions that I only partially understood, but “cross the bridge” was clear, so I went back the way I had come, crossed the bridge, and on the reverse side of all those signs was a red cross and and arrow. Ignoring what I understood of the directions I set off to follow the signs. I came to a main intersection in about a mile, and the sign for the hospital indicated a right turn. I turned, and even stopped at the stop light on the next intersection. I drove down that road until the business buildings all ended and we entered some housing developments. Further down the road I concluded that I had somehow missed the hospital when I came to a cross road, and noticed that a car stopped, and someone in uniform got out. Assuming it to be a policemen I turned and screeched on the brakes to stop behind the car. I then jumped out of the car and ran toward the person in uniform, who put her hands up to her face and began to scream. It was not a policeman it was a teen age (or slightly older) girl who was delivering newspapers. I tried to calm down and said in Finnish, “Sairala (hospital) Missa on Sairala? ( where is the hospital?)”

She lowered her hands and gradually understood the urgency then pointed the direction I was going and said in English “About half a kilometer, there is big sign”.

Away we went, turning into a parking lot that turned out to be for employees, then I backed out (thanks for the reverse gear) and went down the lane till I saw the sign that meant Emergency Room. I stopped in the driveway, and two doctors came out. I indicated Janet in the passenger seat, said “heart” (in Finnish) and they put her on a gurney and took her inside. Another man came out and told me in English that I couldn’t leave my car there, and showed me where to park. By the time I got inside, they had her hooked up to an EKG and were taking blood. One man, doctor or nurse, I never was sure asked me for name, address, symptoms and all those things. He then asked if we knew anyone in Finland.

I hadn’t been here in forty years. I couldn’t remember any of the names of people I had met at the Temple Open-house the day before. The only name I could think of was an American, whom I knew lived in Finland and who owned the FMA (Finnish Mission Alumni) list where I had first learned about the Mormon Temple Open-house which had brought us to Finland (see archive October 30, 2003). I gave him the name, and while the other folks worked on Janet, we went through the phone books, in futility. He asked me if I knew where the man worked and I told him that I thought my e-mail friend worked for Nokia. He nodded wisely, went into his office and came back moments later with a cell phone number. I called it several times and no one answered so I went back into the room where they were working on Janet. She was fairly coherent by then, but still in great pain. The EKG was perfect, her blood gasses were good and they were beginning to ask her what she had eaten that day, to see if it was a digestive problem.

I suddenly had an inspiration, or a vivid memory. In 1991 I had a problem that involved double vision, loss of balance, and all kinds of strange symptoms. My GP sent me to the Medical College of Georgia where they tested me for almost everything. One of the tests was a complete cardio work up, which concluded that I didn’t have much of any problem there, but the cardiologist said that they had great difficulty catherizing the heart because I had a “tortuous aorta”. He said that an aortal aneurism was a serious possibility for me and that if I ever had swelling under my shoulder blades and intense pain across the upper back I should go immediately to an emergency room and tell the doctors that I probably had an aortal aneurism. I related that to the doctors, called their attention to the fact that these seemed to be Janet’s main symptoms, and asked if they had checked her for an aortal aneurism. “We were just going to do that.” said a young blonde lady whom I assumed to be a doctor, and they took Jan’s gurney away.

While they were gone I used the computer of one of the doctors to access the webmail program of Georgia Southern University, and sent an e-mail to all of my children letting them know what had happened and that their mother was on the way to the hospital. The doctor then tried again to help me contact someone in Finland. No one answered the number that I had, and I was beginning to get desperate when a man in a black uniform with a green glowing vest came in and said that Janet was ready for transport.

In about ten minutes they had given her a CT scan or a sonogram or something, had diagnosed an aneurism and had generated an ambulance with appropriate personnel. The lady doctor came in and told me that they were transporting Janet to Meilahden Sairala (Meilahti - Maria Hospital, the hospital of the University of Helsinki) in Helsinki immediately and that Meilahden Sairala had some of the greatest heart surgeons in the world. (I found out later that she was completely accurate, but I wasn’t so sure right then.) I asked if I could go with Jan in the ambulance and one of them pointed out that I couldn’t leave my car in the emergency room parking lot. “You can follow the ambulance” one of them said.

I went to the ambulance driver, told him that I would follow him, and he laughed, “At the speed we will go, we cannot be responsible for your safety.” I looked at the doctor who said I could follow the ambulance and she shrugged.

The ambulance disappeared almost instantly into a siren filled void, and they took me aside and gave me directions to the hospital in Helsinki. It took about ten minutes to Xerox a map segment, draw on it with a marker and give me directions to the main highway. I had driven from Helsinki to Porvoo several time on highway 18, a thruway, but they told me to take the main Helsinki Highway, Highway 7 (It wasn’t till a couple of weeks later that I learned that they were the same road, which, if I had known, might have simplified things.) I took off again, at a high speed, (legal here, the thruway speed limit was 120 km, and many cars seemed to consider that a suggestion.) and went into Helsinki where I got thoroughly lost, and spent over an hour finding the hospital. (Thanks to some dishonest young men at a shell station where I bought 37 Euros worth of gas, paid cash, got very good directions, and when I checked my receipt they had rung up 3 Euros and 70 pennies and, I presume, pocketed the rest.)

By the time I got to the hospital Janet was already in surgery. They sent me up to the seventh floor which is the cardiac ward, and people ran around a lot trying to get me information. I did get to use a computer there, and try to update what I had sent to the kids, letting them know that she was in surgery, and the diagnosis, but that I didn’t know much more. I tried several times to contact the man from Nokia, and finally one of the doctors asked me if he had a wife. I recalled that he did, and what her name was, because she frequently posted on the FMA list. He came back with a cell phone number for her, I called, and she answered (I later found out that the first number I was given, though it was in his name, was the six year old daughter’s phone and she only answered it when she was expecting a call. We Americans have a lot to learn about a true cell phone culture.)

I called, identified myself as a Mormon and a participant on the list, and asked if I could talk to her husband. He had already left for work, (it was still really early, before 6:00 A.M.) So I asked if her husband had some consecrated oil (I have mentioned its use) and if she could get some and bring it to me. She said that she would be right there, and she arrived in what seemed like no time at all.

In the mean time, they had taken me to the second floor, which had the cardio surgery waiting room and the ICU, so that when she arrived she had to hunt me down in the waiting room. In she walked, a lovely friendly woman who appeared to be in her early thirties, whom I had never met. She brought me the oil I had requested, introduced herself, told me a little about her family and sat quietly beside me, keeping me from going insane.

The wait seemed eternal, and periodically, nurses or other attendants came by to tell me that things were going well, and I should help myself to the boxes of fruit juice in the waiting room. Finally someone came by to tell me that the surgeon would be with me in just a few minutes, and that the operation was over. Shortly, Dr. Kaarne came into the waiting room. He is a big, fair, balding, shambling man with a very kind smile, and what seemed like enormous hands. He spoke quite good English and he sat directly opposite me and told me that the operation had been successful. He took out a pad and some colored pencils and drew me a picture of the operation, showing that he had replaced a large section of the ascending aorta with a Dacron tube and had done a small bypass to bring additional blood to some part of the heart.

I am afraid that I was growing visibly impatient, so he shook my hand and that of my new friend and told me that Janet would be down to the ICU in about fifteen minutes, and that I could see here as soon as she arrived. “I will come down and tell you when she is here,” he stated, and then he went away. Fifteen minutes elapsed, and he did not come. Thirty minutes elapsed and he still had not arrived. A bit later I told my friend (I am not using personal names because I didn’t ask permission. I may change these later) that I was going to go down and see what is keeping the doctor. Just at that time, he appeared in the door, this time with a surgical mask hanging around his neck. He snatched it off and came into the room. “We have had complications.” He said softly, as my heart sunk through the floor. He then told me that as she arrived in ICU and they were hooking up equipment she began having an atrial fibrillation. They tried using the electrical paddles to stop the fibrillation, but they were not effective so he had had to open the incision in her chest and massage the heart manually. As he finished and was cleaning up, she began to fibrillate again so he had to repeat the procedure. “We are going to take her back to the operating room to check the blood supply to the atria,” he stated. “We must take steps to prevent further fibrillation.” He then dashed away with surprising swiftness and I went out into the hall to see what, I assumed was Janet, being hustled away.

The next few hours went by with agonizing slowness. I tried to read the magazines that were there but my Finnish was not yet that competent, and what I did read seemed to be books for physicians about heart surgery , which, of course, I wasn’t sure I wanted to understand. An eon or two after he left, he came back into the room to give me the word that I most wanted, that Janet was still alive. “I gave her a double bypass, using the vein from her leg,” he stated, and, like a goof I assured him that I understood bypasses, that I had received a quadrupal bypass several years ago. He held up his hand to indicate that he was there to provide information not to converse generally, then continued, “We have not closed up the incision in her chest, but have put a mesh plate over it in case there was some kind of reoccurance, and we should have to open her up again.” Then he said the key words, “We kept her in the operating room until we were sure things were stable, she is now in ICU and you may go see her. She is doing well, we think, and seems completely stable in view of the fact that she has had three serious thoracic surgeries in about seven or so hours.” I asked the doctor about how this would be paid, and he said that he thought that probably they would bill my insurance, and then the hospital, the Finnish government, and the U.S. government would work it out with me. I told him that I had a credit card with a 30,000 dollar limit, but he told me that they probably didn’t want my credit card. I also asked the doctor what he would estimate to be the time Jan would be in the hospital, and he stated that the earliest possible departure would be November 3, one month away.

He then led me to the ICU, which was much different from the ICU departments I had seen in the past. It was not separate rooms around a central desk, but an ICU ward with four beds like spokes on a wheel, each bed and patient having his/her own nurse sitting at the foot of the bed with his or her eyes fixed on the multiple computer monitors which framed the head of the bed. Janet was lying on her back, unconscious, of course, with tubes, IV s, and wire sensors attached all over her. I told the nurse that we were going to have a prayer, so she pulled the curtain around Jan’s bed. My new friend held her hand while I anointed Jan’s head with the oil that had been provided, and again I placed my hands on her head, blessed her that her nurses would be wise and that she would be well cared for, and that she would live to leave the hospital. I confess that I was a little surprised at the confidence in my own voice when I said that, because it just slipped out of my mouth. Since Jan was totally unconscious it couldn’t have made her feel better, but it made me feel better. Then, for the first time, I began what became a sort of a routine or ritual. I sat beside her bed, held her hand and sang lullabies to her, concluding with the song that had become “Our song” when we were dating, and which I had sung to her at the wedding reception. Our Love is Here to Stay, “ It’s very clear, our love is here to stay. Not for a year, but ever and a day. In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay, But, Our love is here to stay” That’s not all the words, but I probably would be in some kind of copyright trouble and you would all doze off if I wrote all the lyrics. I am sure that the other residents of ICU for the next twenty one days probably got really tired of the song, but she wasn’t in the hospital a single day when I didn’t’ sing it to her (along with some other stuff) and have a prayer with her.

It then occurred to me that I was going to have to do something about my own situation. I only had my cottage for seven days, four of which had elapsed, and the prospect of driving back and forth seventy plus kilometers every day was a little daunting. I asked Jaana (I have got to give her a name, “my friend” is getting tiresome) if she knew of a nearbye hotel that might be reasonable. (We had priced hotel rooms before we came to Finland and found nothing for less than about 170 Euros, but I assumed I could do a little better by shopping for something small, around the hospital.)

“You’ll come home and have dinner with us, and we’ll see,” she said. I thanked her and asked directions to her house, and that was, I think, the first time I realized that she didn’t have a car. She had taken a cab, and her house was over fifteen kilometers away, so she volunteered to drive me in my car to her house. “Easier than giving directions.” She said. She was right, considering that I had been lost in Helsinki for an hour while trying to get TO the hospital, and that my driving had been less than stable and legal.

It was almost a twenty minute drive to her house, and I reflected that if I had tried to drive it I probably would have ended up in Kentucky. Soon after we arrived at her home, her children came home from school, and her husband came home from work. I was immediately taken into the family, and before bedtime her youngest was calling me grandpa. They had four children, all girls, ranging from mid twenties to six years old. The children slept in two bedrooms with bunk beds, and they removed one of the upper bunks to the living room to make me a private bedroom (I was not fully sure at the time where all the girls slept., certainly not in one small bedroom),but my hotel worries were over. Her husband drove me back to the cottage near Isnas, where we removed all of Janet’s and my belongings, and left the key in the door. He also provided a telephone so that I could call the resort management and check out by telephone. I am pretty sure he also went with me to the hospital also that evening so that we could give Jan a blessing with two elders present, but that could have been the next day.

When we got back to his house, he had Skype on his computer so I was able to call many of the members of my family directly and tell them what had happened, and reassure them that things were better than they had sounded in my e-mail. It was quite late that night when their family gathered together for family prayer (in which I was included), and we made our ways to bed.

There are not many people in this world who would take someone whom they only knew by a few e-mails on a mailing list and a shared membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints into their family and inconvenience themselves so much, but these folks did. I will be forever grateful both to them and to my Father in Heaven who, I feel, led me to them (or them to me).

I will be back in a day or two with a couple of posts on the rest of our stay in Finland, but this time, I REALLY promise that I won’t try to do a “day by day” description.


At 9:46 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

This is one of your best essays ever - maybe the passion sharpened your writing - it was enthralling.

When I first heard of Janet's symptoms, I thought "aortal aneurism" but then you later called it a "stroke." I'm sure your prayers helped keep her alive because that is usually fatal.

"Our Love is Here to Stay" is one of my favorite songs. They just don't make music like they used to.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

She did have an aortal aneurism. It wasn't till several days later when they were trying without success to arouse her that they did a CT scan or MRI (I was not clear which) and discovered that she had had two separate small strokes (one of the nurses told me that strokes were not uncommon with atrial fibrillation and with manual heart massage)

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

Richard, your ability to write is wonderful for the reader ... me. I loved this post.

I was shocked when you said she had an AA. Like Patrick, I have heard that they are usually fatal. God has other plans for you and Janet.

"Your song" is beautiful and the deep love in your marriage is moving and an inspiration.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger opit said...

Riding on the edge of personal disaster sharpens one's appreciation for life's gifts. Random acts of kindness are a lift for giver and receiver both.
I caught your comment at bluegalinaredstate. Nice to find your journal again.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

We do they laying on of hands (by the elders) in our faith, too. Interesting!

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Norma said...

I read parts of your story earlier, but while everyone else is complimenting your writing (which is always superior), I'm thinking that anyone who travels ANYWHERE should always be prepared with a list of phone numbers of church contacts, hospitals, meds, and all their log-ins, as well as where land line phones might be available. You of all people should be able to write up a list of rules for travel for the rest of us!

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Norma, I knew at the start that some things in this post would be repeats, but I couldn't edit and tell the story. A list of does and don'ts for the traveler is a good idea, I'll work on it. Off the top of my head, it is important to realize that Medicare is a non-thing outside the U.S. so it is important for anyone my age, (or any age) to check your health insurance (or supplementary policy) to see if it is in effect when you leave the country. The government has a site (I've lost the URL through computer incompetence but will get it) under the state department that lists all kinds of "trip" med insurance companies. It is important to know that some of them limit their services to specific areas. It is also important to check on medical transport. MEDEX is a company that has been recommended to me. If something happens and you have a policy they will come get you and take you(or your corpse, or your loved one who is incapacitated) home, or where you specify. I will never go anywhere where I have not checked to make sure I have a cell phone that works in the country. (I have found that a lot of cell phones work from country to country but you may have to buy minutes after you get across the border. Check on hospitals as well.

The State Dept. Site has a directory of all sorts of medical issues, passport issues, what to do if you are arrested etc.


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