151 Band

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Part 3: Up To Date

It was merely a week after my transplant that I was discharged from the hospital and sent home.  That week included exercise, pain management, meetings with doctors and pharmacists, and yes, a bit of anxiety.  At first, I thought that one week out from the transplant may have been a bit early because I was still exceedingly weak and required assistance to just walk around the room or to go to the restroom.  But, the doctors knew best and I was discharged with an arm full of medications, instructions, warnings, and even a good dose of encouragement.

Arriving home was surreal.  I had been gone for a month and while it was home, I saw it in a new light.  I saw home as a sanctuary; a place to heal and a place to get my head and my spirit right for what was to come.  The process of healing from a transplant can be pretty arduous and there are a multitude of things to remember.  Fortunately, there is actually a handbook that I can refer to upon occasion to refresh my marginally depleted memory.

The first day home, I got comfortable on the couch and then decided to try and make it to the bathroom.  I was issued a walker so I tried to use it to help me stand up but my legs were so weak that I just collapsed on the carpet like a rag doll.  I couldn't get up but somehow I found the humor in it and began laughing.  "Oh, how the mighty have fallen," is what I muttered under my breath, followed by a brief prayer, informing God that I "got it," that I see that humility was going to be my friend and humility and I would become very close over the next few weeks.

Carolyn helped me up and eventually, I made it to the bathroom, but not without pain and frustration. I confess that the level of pain was astronomical and nothing seemed to work to curb it.  There were moments when I thought that there was something severely wrong, but was reassured by my transplant team and my wife that what I was experiencing was normal; I had just had major, major surgery and it would take a while to get back to the "new normal."  

I've had occupational therapy, physical therapy, and have tried to stay as active as I could as the pain subsides and affords me the opportunity for mobility.  I've even overdone it a couple times only to be set back a couple days in terms of progress as a result.  But with each passing day, I could see and feel myself getting stronger and able to walk without the aid of a walker.  

There have been some emotional sticky places as well.  They usually take place when pain is almost unbearable and my frustration hits the roof.  I admit that I questioned why I had received the miracle of a second chance when clearly, I wasn't up to the task.  Somehow, I've made it through thus far.  I've continued to fight and push towards the goal of being self-sufficient completely.  My kids were at the hospital with me and spent a great deal of time with me but now, the routine is back in play and I don't get to see them; particularly Heather and Matt who live out of state.  My youngest two are working and schedules are a bugger.  Makes it a little tough, but thank God for FaceTime.  

I have some friends who have been unbelievable through this process and they deserve a shout-out to say the least.  Steven and Jen Jones have been there by my side at the hospital and have been regular visitors to the Gorilla's Cave since I came home.  Jen underwent a double lung transplant a couple years ago so, we're kindred spirits of sorts.  Many of the things I experience now, she once did as well.  They have been a blessing beyond measure and I can't adequately describe how much it means to me.

Even my sisters-in-law flew up from California to be here with me, to make sure I don't do anything stupid and to ensure I stay on target and on track.  Debbie and Sandy are two truly remarkable women who have been selfless and caring to a goofball like me.

To all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes my direction, and those who have paid me a visit, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate you and your kindness.

Now, the battle rages on.

Ron "Gorilla" Black

Monday, May 14, 2018

Part 2: Post Transplant Weirdness

Dr. Kohli, one of my surgeons.
When I was wheeled into the operating room, the last visual was that of my family and friends, all cheering me on and hopeful that all would be good.  I admitted to everyone there that I was scared beyond description; no room for pride or shame at that point.  They understood and were very encouraging.  The last thing I remember about the operating room was being transferred to the table and the anesthesiologist telling me that he was injecting the anesthesia into my IV.

I have a great deal to be thankful for.  My family, the surgeons, and all of the doctors involved in my transplant.  They are amazing people with incredible God-given talent and they saved my life.  

The next series of events are a blur because I was pretty heavily medicated and it was tough to distinguish between what was real and what was imagined.  I do remember waking up with a respirator, a catheter, and some weird tube thing that went down into my stomach.  I was a bit panicked because for a few moments, I couldn't remember why I was there.  I also remember a 7' tall, German woman named "Hilda" standing at the foot of my bed laughing and making jokes with me about my health and circumstances.

It was bizarre.

Apparently, I tried to take out the respirator but the nurse stopped me and at one point, I made the decision to follow my wife into the hallway of ICU and succeeded in ripping out an IV.  I don't remember it at all, but I do remember the blood stains all over the sheets and my blanket.  I was told later that they had to restrain me because I was being, well, bull-headed and determined to get out of the bed.  I was also informed that I wouldn't believe them when they told me that I had made it through transplant surgery.  I didn't believe that I had received a transplant so quickly and that I had survived.

When I began to gather my wits to some degree, I realized that I had actually received a transplant and that the events of the previous days were not imagined, but real.  The hallucinations stemmed from the fact that I was loaded with steroids from the procedure and the different types of pain medications contributed to my confusion.  Yes, I was confused and bewildered.  At times, I felt like I was in a video game like MW3 and trying to identify spies and enemy infiltrators.

Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

The staff at Integris are phenomenal.  The ICU is intense and the nurses are exceedingly professional and business-like without losing a personal touch.  The nurses and staff on the floor I was transferred to (7 East) were like angels.  They explained what had happened, what to expect, and the plans for my eventual discharge.  They fully explained the milestones that needed to be reached, they were responsive to my questions and concerns and I have to tell you, they made me feel as though I was in good hands.  And I was.

My wife was a champ; overseeing the madness that had ensued and scheduling folks to come stay with me (I wasn't supposed to be alone) and make sure I didn't fall or anything.  She stayed on top of the medication questions, she developed a plan for after-care, and she is nothing short of phenomenal.  I am blessed beyond measure to have such a wonderful human being in my life.  She has been able to juggle her work, my issues, and keeping everyone on track and she does so gladly.  She is a giving spirit, a kind soul of which you don't meet every day and I'm proud and humbled that she is my wife.

My kids were all there except for my oldest who plans to come out to visit within the next couple months.  It was a revelatory experience and each day brings new insight and a different perspective on life itself.

Of course, I will share those with you too.

Until next time...

Ron "Gorilla" Black

Monday, May 07, 2018

The Impossible Became Possible

I went to the hospital for a routine procedure that was to take a couple hours.  It was late in the afternoon and I remember the beige decor of the room as I headed out on the hospital bed.  Once in the procedure room, the doctors moved quickly; like a well-oiled machine.  Next thing I know, I'm out like a light.

What was to be a 2-hour procedure took much longer and it was evident that something had gone wrong.  I was informed that the procedure had complications and that I had bled profusely, requiring 8 units of blood.  The doctors had been on the phone with my wife who was on her way and informed her that I might not make it.  She informed them she was 15 minutes out and the doctor told her that I might not make it that long.

I made it.

My liver had been in far worse condition than we anticipated and the aggregate result was that I was put on the transplant list immediately.  My skin color had begun to change, my eyes were yellowing as what was left of my liver was trying desperately to function.  The doctors informed my wife, my family, and me that I would be staying in the hospital until aa transplant would take place.  What normally takes months was going to be attempted within a few days.

The impossible was about to become a reality.

The first liver offer didn't come through because the liver wasn't a fit.  Disappointed, I figured that it would be days before another would come through.  Literally, within hours, two more offers for livers come forth and while the second didn't work out, the third did.  

I was wheeled down to the area outside of the operating room, surrounded by family and friends as they cheered me on.  An impromptu chant of, "Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose" came forth and made the nurses laugh.  The last thing I remember about the operating room was that it was very white and clean.  

When I woke up, the room was completely different.  Rather than the beige curtains and decor, it was crimson.  For a moment, I thought that I had been transferred to OU hospital or something.  Tubes ran in and out of me, helping me to breathe, to get rid of waste, and to keep stuff out of my stomach.  It was a shocking experience.  When I was informed that I had a transplant, I didn't believe it and was sure that everyone was lying to me.  The meds were working hardcore.

I was in the intensive care unit, by the way.  I was in good hands. The whole staff on the transplant team are amazing people.  Kind and caring, I can't imagine a more prepared team.

There's a lot more to the story and I plan to share it with you over the next few days.  I want you to walk away from this piece is that the impossible became possible for me and it can for you too.  I didn't know if I believed in miracles in the sense that regular guys like me can be touched by the Almighty, but today, I do.  How everything took place, the timeline, the availability of transplant donors, and the miraculous way how an unquestionably difficult surgery was completed were all evidence of the presence and mercy of the Creator.  

More to follow.

Ron "Gorilla" Black

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Teacher Pay? Problem Solved

"The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct."  The theory of Occam's Razor applies here in the great state of Oklahoma where teacher pay is concerned.  Yes, it is a fact that our teachers are morbidly underpaid and deserve more than what they are getting in terms of compensation as well as respect.  This being the case, I believe that our indifferent legislature has an answer right at the fingertips but are frightened to touch it.

The bottom line:  Our administrative costs are too high in public education.  It's time to reduce the number of school superintendents and consolidate their respective district administrative functions.  Seriously...why does Oklahoma City need like 6 of them?  The answer is that it's not necessary.  And no, I'm not talking about consolidating schools so the rural districts can ease up on the panic that somehow their schools will lose their identity.  That kind of thinking reminds me of the Dillon Panthers from Friday Night Lights.  It's ridiculous and the time is now for real, demonstrative change in how we educate our kids and how we pay for said education.

Anyone who tells you that we can't consolidate administrative functions is flat-out lying or they have kissed a final farewell to their minds.  

Courage.  It requires courage to lead and it requires courage to do the right thing by our students.  Enough is enough.  Teachers don't need to go on strike; they need the legislature to do right by them and develop some testicular fortitude.  

Of course, that's just my opinion and I could be wrong.   But I seriously doubt it.

Ron "Gorilla" Black

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Mayor, New Outlook

First, congratulations to former State Senator David Holt for his victory yesterday.  He is a young face who claims to have new ideas but also wants to ensure that the projects for the city that Mayor Mick started are seen through to fruition.  Basically, that means for the first couple years, he's going to be another Chamber lap dog.  But right now, there is a legitimate argument that it may not be a bad thing.  Sure, we are missing out on a lot of concerts to Tulsa because of the supposed "Thunder game conflict," but Holt may be the cat to change that.  He won with a significant percentage of the one (79%) and that is, to me, a mandate.  He has a lot of work ahead of him and while we all wish him the best, we'll still be watching.

While at the hospital yesterday going through the initial screening process for transplant eligibility, I had an interested political conversation with someone who was genuinely concerned for the immediate future of the country with a guy like Donald Trump as our POTUS.  I listened intently as I found myself agreeing with her on many levels.  First, I agree that the pro-Trump movement was just as much an anti-Hillary movement.  People in this country were terrified of what Hillary could have brought to the table and the Benghazi disaster still looms large in the minds of veterans and those who are currently serving in the armed forces.  Second, Hillary came off as shrill and cunning whereas Trump just comes across as arrogant and not intelligent enough to truly be cunning.  Lastly, the fear of Trump's ego is becoming a reality whether we want to believe it to be so or not.  He's a loose cannon and has pushed the envelope where international diplomacy is concerned.  He needs lessons on being a statesman, not a blowhard.

I began the process of transplant eligibility yesterday and while the meetings were long and informative, I felt a bit overwhelmed.  I'm not jumping the proverbial shark here, but I consider it to be a huge blessing to even be considered for transplant.  It's a long and strikingly action-packed process.  Liver transplants are particularly weird because you only have one and if your liver fails, everything shuts down.  The counselors at Baptist were kind, caring, and I am in good hands with them and with my wife as my primary caregiver.  It's going to be a long process, as I have said, and it could take weeks or even months to get on the list and with the amount of testing that is still left to be done, it's very possible I could be disqualified from the list.  One never knows, but I suppose this is where faith comes in handy.

I'll keep you posted.

Ron "Gorilla" Black

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How It Started

I sat in the emergency room wearing one of those wickedly uncomfortable and highly exposing gowns as the room spun around me.  The causal factor for my visit was a bout of throwing up blood and lightheadedness.  I had no clue what was wrong, but I knew that blood is supposed to be inside the body, not outside the body.  What I was told next terrified me and made me almost pass out.

Either that, or the morphine for pain was taking over.

The doctor was a short man, his accent making his dialog difficult to understand but a few words stood out to me and caused me to break out in tears.

"You have about three years left, Mr. Black," he said.  This was in 2012.

I had been diagnosed with fatty liver disease that had developed into cirrhosis.  Ironically, it was a result of diabetes and not alcohol consumption but devastating news nonetheless.  From that point forward, my life was different in just about every way.  

I changed my diet, changed much of my lifestyle, and did everything that the doctors told me to and now, I've outlived that emergency room doctors prediction.  So, there.  It's been a hell of a ride and I never imagined for a moment that I would be dealing with issues such as chronic pain and gastrointestinal issues on a daily basis.  It took months, but the result was that a balance was struck between medications and dietary changes.  Hell, I even eat turkey burgers now.  

I was informed last week that the process could begin to get me on the national transplant list but that process is long and tedious.  I'm plenty healthy right now and pretty doggone functional most of the time.  I have good days and I have bad days, but overall, every day is looked at as a gift; a moment of grace extended to me by the Creator to let me hang around with you folks for another day.

I have my wife to thank for her immeasurable patience and as this process continues, a year from now, I may have a new liver and for that, I'm pretty tickled but scared at the same time.  She's been there to reassure me and lift me up when I am emotionally drained.  I also have to thank my bandmates for their support too.  There have been rehearsals after procedures where I had to sit the whole time and just take it easy and they are completely understanding.  I have some of the best friends a man could ever get and I feel very undeserving at times.  Nevertheless, I'm thankful.  

I have plenty of time left so don't freak out; I just wanted to share a little bit of what I'm going through and maybe y'all are feeling it too or no someone struggling as well.  It's not over, the fight rages on and we've completely got this.  I'm even blessed with the energy to perform with my band on weekends and entertain some wonderful people.  Life may be painful at times, but it is very, very good.

Now, you're caught up to speed and you know how it began.  I'll probably share more as it progresses so you can see the difficulty accompanying the whole transplant process.  It's going to be a fun trip.  Buckle up!

Ron "Gorilla" Black

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Crazy Week Ahead

This is going to be a hectic, yet fun week ahead.  Doctors appointments, production of a new edition of Gorilla Bytes Podcast, and a wicked gig on Friday at CeeGee's in Edmond with my band (151 Band).  It's crazy, but like most of us, I recognize the blessing that it is.

This week, we'll be facing the ramifications of the government "shut down," and frankly, many aren't going to like my opinion in the matter.  First, I don't think it's the Democrats who are to blame completely, nor do I believe that it is the President's fault.  Both parties are proving that there is a leadership vacuum of Biblical proportions.  Second, it proves that career politicians who are entrenched in the process of bureaucracy need to be sent home this November.  Lastly, I plan on talking about this in depth on this week's podcast.  It's a mess no matter how you look at it.

What do you think is going to happen in the State Legislature in Oklahoma this year?  Already, we've seen some silliness in bills being filed like the one by Nathan Dahm declaring that all wildlife is the property of God.  Yes, you read that right.  We need legislation, apparently, on what most of us knew in Sunday school class by the time we were 5 years old, but Senator Dahm who claims to be a freedom legislator, is trying to pull off a nanny state theocracy coup with this rhetoric.  How about Dahm take some time and do some good for the state of Oklahoma - including taking care of the "least among us."  Certainly, there will be more self-righteous pandering going on and don't be surprised if you don't see Pastor Paul Blair running for office again but in another district than where he ran before.  He's hungry and wants to be a legislator because apparently, being a pastor is boring.

I'll be talking more about the gubernatorial race on this week's podcast and I'll take a look at the Democrats who are running; though it's more of an exercise in ego-building because this red state won't be electing a Democrat for Governor anytime soon.

Of course, these are just my opinions and I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

Ron "Gorilla" Black