Monday, February 03, 2020

DOB -- The New ID

None really, except as another ID
What’s your date of birth? That’s increasingly how the world knows you. Mine is April 7, 1951. Even to get meals in the hospital they ask me for my DOB. I spent most of last week there for a chronic medical condition you never heard of: Buerger’s Disease. That’s not to be confused with Berger’s Disease which is a kidney problem. Mine, with the “U,” manifests in blood vessels. I get aneurysms and blood clots —so far all in my left leg — and I’ve had seven bypasses over the past 35 years all in the same place (so far), inside my left knee. 

Vascular surgeons take veins from other places and make them into arteries to get around the clots but I’m running out of suitable veins. Last week, my new surgeon used plastic to firm up an aneurysm and a fabric tube to channel blood. This incision is fifteen inches long. There are scars up and down both legs from groin to ankle. Nearly all of us have something we struggle with. This is my thing.

My brother, Dan
The only other person I ever knew with Buerger’s Disease was my brother and he was dead at 57 by which time he’d lost all his fingers and both legs above the knee. He couldn’t stop smoking and it’s tobacco products that accelerate the disease. I could, so I still have all my parts. For that, I’m grateful. Blood is still getting to my foot — today — so it’s still alive. I’m learning to stay in the day and today is good. I’m getting around with a walker; soon I’ll graduate to a cane; then to a limp. After that I hope to resume running — not too far. I don’t get enough blood down there to go far, but I can still go few hundred yards before cramping up. I hate doing it, but it feels good afterward.

Between three and four million people were born in the USA during 1951. Divide 3.5 million by 365 and you get 9589 born on April 7, 1951. At my 50th high school reunion last fall, I learned that about a third of my class of 1969 are dead. That would be 3164 of the 9589 Americans born on my birthday leaving 6425 — approximately how many Americans born on 4/7/51 are alive today. Darn few of them are named McLaughlin, so, that’s how I’m known: “McLaughlin 4/7/51.” At 68, I’ve lived about 25,000 days. How many more? I don’t go there. I stay in this day.

I’m asked about my birthday so often I’ve started making light of the question. “You don’t have to get me anything,” I answer. “Just a card or a happy birthday on Facebook is fine.” At least dozens, maybe a hundred times lately, I’ve been asked if I’m allergic to anything. “I’m developing an allergy to Democrats,” I’ll quip. Some people chuckle at that, but most declare vehemently: “No politics! That’s off limits.” “Okay,” I say, “How about humor? Is that off limits too?”

Another thing I’ve been asked a lot is: “Have you had any anxiety or depression lately?” First I just look at them for a second, then say, “Only when I watch the debates.” Most let that go without getting upset.

My brother and I were each diagnosed with Buerger’s Disease when we were 33 years old. He was born April 1, 1955 — almost exactly four years after I was. We had identical surgeries by the same doctor at Mass General. We were even in the same room four years apart. I stopped smoking but continued going to pool tournaments at smoky pool halls and my disease progressed. My aneurysms and clots diminished only when I gave that up too. My brother couldn't quit tobacco and ultimately died after enduring 52 separate amputations. From him, I learned the power of addiction.
Me in the middle. Dan second from right.
Near his end, he was contacted by one of the Florida attorneys involved in the multi-billion dollar tobacco settlement of 1998. Though Buerger’s Disease is rare, it’s very easily linked to tobacco in all forms and he wanted to represent my brother in another lawsuit. For him to appear in court minus so many of his parts would, of course, be dramatic, and the tobacco companies would likely settle long before that. He wanted me to join the suit but I refused. That caused a rift between us. I always knew smoking was bad and so did he. No one forced us to do it. The suit was thrown out, but not because of his death. The attorney could have continued on behalf of his estate. It was because of something to do with the statute of limitations between when he was diagnosed and when his suit was filed.

I have a cemetery plot and a stone engraved with my birthdate. Someone else will arrange to engrave the next date. No hurry.


Allan said...

I am along time follower of your articles over the years.
I will be 84 on the 17th of this month. I also just spent some time early Jan, in the hospital with pneumonia, and I can relate to being asked my D.O.B. several times a day.
I am very fortunate to be in very good health at this moment.
You are still very young and I hope that you have a long life ahead of you.
As you know we are so very fortunate to have medical help available to us that was not available to most just a few years ago.
My best to you and your family from another Irish man formally from Mass,

Kafir said...

Just after reading that you have Buergers Disease today, I learned that Rush Limbaugh announced he has advanced lung cancer. I believe highly in our country’s medical industry but will also be praying for you both.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thank you Allan and Kafir. I'm getting better slowly but steadily.

Kafir said...

Uh, oh! Even though I don’t believe that catastrophies come in 3s, I just learned that Dr. Jordan Peterson almost died. He spent 4 weeks in an ICU unit after a paradoxical reaction to benzodiazepine. Fortunately, he will recover.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks Kafir, but I'm not sure belong in such august company.