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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rowing Stabilizes a Sad Week

I disconnected Steve from his overnight Peritoneal Dialysis this morning, administered a nebulized bronchodilator treatment to him, checked his blood sugar, gave his morning medications, then updated the caregiver who arrived at 7 a.m. - just in time for me to get in an early morning row.

It has been a hard week. Steve was in the hospital for two days, getting a tune-up for the respiratory infection that has plagued the whole family. The problem is that Steve's lack of mobility from Critical Illness Myopathy/Polyneuropathy impacts everything - including his ability to clear the pulmonary secretions that healthy people do without thinking.

When I left this morning, Steve was holding on to reality only "lightly." He was on Whidbey Island, and it was March 30. The narcotic cough suppresant which allows him some rest also muddies his mind.

We are planning on going to a movie tomorrow via Access Bus; we missed last week because of his hospitalization.

As I row the little single shell to the Locks and back - beautiful water and a light rain stalling politely for my return to the dock - I wonder how many "dates" there will be ahead of us.His medical vulnerability is obvious, but the movie dates are clearly the highlights of Steve's week.

I know I am burdened by "Anniversary Phenomenon." It was just one year ago that Steve had his thirteen hour open-heart surgery to replace a strangling Aortic Valve and bypass blocked coronary arteries. That at-once horrifying and miraculous surgery snatched Steve from certain death, leaving him to a non-ambulatory recovery with a lucid, bright mind, clouded only by times of acute illness or narcotics.

I know I am troubled by unexpected sad news about an old friend. I am challenged by the day-to-day realities of just staying in the game. It is simply a hard, sad time. And there is nothing to do about it, nothing to change.

We just wish things were different.

But then, there is rowing - the methodical, meditative refuge where every stroke provides a "do-over" opportunity. Rowing with the traditional stability of baseball, or graduation day - the things you can count on to provide comforting familiarity - no matter what is going on in the rest of your life, or the rest of the world.

I wonder if it was Elizabeth's wisdom or clairvoyance that nudged me back to rowing after my Bainbridge hiatus. Perhaps she forecasted the need for relief on the horizon.

It's nice to be back.

Linda Gromko, MD

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