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

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rowing Away from Delirium

My husband, Steve, had his leg amputated on Thursday - the result of poor diabetic circulation complicated by an elevator "bite" which occurred on a movie date a few weeks ago.

I've always known that a tiny blister could result in an amputation for a diabetic. I was simply astonished at how fast Steve developed three coal-black gangrenous toes and a dusky looking forefoot. It was horrifying.

Steve always says that "no good options" is a hell of a motivater. True enough. There were no good options. He did have some choice as to whether the amputation would be done below, at, or above the knee. Below is better for later ambulation.

The "look" of an amputation is startlling - even for a physician. It's unnatural. It's permanent. When he's in his power wheelchair, everybody sees that he's disabled. But with a stump, we all see that there's no going back.

Don't get me wrong. Steve has done beautifully with Physical and Occupational Therapy. He's gotten much stronger than he was when he was discharged from Cherry Hill in July. Steve will get a prosthesis for the amputation, and continue to work on standing - and later walking.

But today, I needed to get out of there. Out of the hospital with Steve and his drug delirium. Out of the nursing unit where our world had irrevocably changed three-and-a-half years ago, when Steve crashed perilously into the depths of kidney failure.

I took the slender LeMieux single to the dock, and rowed steadily out to the Locks - taking my water break as I rowed around two of the "Deadliest Catch" boats. How that program has provided diversion for us during our Home Dialysis runs! I watched reruns even last night, as Steve slept - awakening occasionally through his drug fog.

I rowed past a group of "Learn to Row" students in wherries - glad to be past that tenuous time. And I waited as the 60+ Mixed Eight rowed earnestly past my shell - hoping someday to be skilled enough to row with them.

Thank heaven for rowing. If anything can get me through this time, rowing will be the secret.

Linda Gromko, MD
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