Several years ago, my friend Elizabeth Burke and I rowed twice a week through the Seattle winter. We ventured out without fail as dawn was breaking - rowing two single shells or a double. We'd row from the Fremont Bridge to the Chittenden Locks and back, or maybe across Lake Union and on to Lake Washington. Sometimes we'd come back to our home at the Lake Washington Rowing Club and wipe the ice off our boats. But we always came back with an irrefutable sense of moral superiority! We'd done it again!

Rowing - particularly Rowing Through the Winter - provides a richness of metaphors...instructive in my life as a Family Physician and the Home Dialysis CarePartner for my profoundly ill husband, Steve Williams. Now that Steve is gone, rowing reminds me of consistency and focus - so critical during grieving. Rowing requires balance, as does my life.

Row with me this winter. Linda Gromko, MD

Thursday, January 13, 2011

From the Perfect Row to 911: All in a Day's Adventure

On Tuesday morning, Catherine, Kim and I took a triple out to Lake Union and on to Foster Island for what must have been the perfect winter row.

When my cell phone went off, I answered. It was the NW Kidney Center - calling to see if I wanted to reschedule my husband's Peritoneal Dialysis Training because of a weather front moving in.

"Let's leave it as is," I said. "We can reschedule if the weather looks dicey later today. Besides, I'm in a boat right now. But I'll call you back if I get concerned."

I knew how much effort had gone into coordinating the training, as Steve was making the switch from Home Hemodialysis to Home Peritoneal Dialysis. In addition to making transportation arrangements for him on the Access Bus because of his wheelchair, I had made numerous schedule revisions for my own patients at my medical clinic.

The day progressed without event, and Steve started our Kidney Center training at 4 pm, We hadn't noticed, but the weather front came in with a vengence during the evening. It was snowing hard, coating the streets.

We loaded up Steve and helped him into the Access Bus. I white-knucled it to Lake Forest Park along the snowy freeway, my Suburu climibing up the moderate hill to our home without hesitation.

An hour later, I got a call from the Access Bus driver. They were chaining up in the International District! By midnight, the bus got to Lake Forest Park. But the driver couldn't get the bus up our hill - it had snowed quite a bit more by then.

The problem is, of course, that Steve isn't portable. He has one functioning limb - his right arm. Could his power chair navigate up our hill without slipping back or toppling over? Worse, the driver told us that  because of liability constraints, he couldn't assist with getting Steve up the hill.

"Let's call the Fire Department!" I offered.

Minutes later, the same firemen who has assisted us in a medical emergency back in August came to dig out a path and hover behind Steve as his chair chugged up the hill. He made it! We were relieved to get home, relieved to have started the Kidney Center Training that represents a hopeful new chapter for Steve - and relieved to stumble into bed.

What a day! Nothing much surprises us anymore.

Take care,
Linda Gromko, MD

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