Michael’s journey with palliative care
Michael Hartman had been receiving palliative care for about a year when we asked if he would consider documenting over several months how palliative care had an impact on his life, so readers could learn more about this medical specialty.
Michael generously agreed! He was happy to tell his story and hoped it would help others overcome any hesitation about considering palliative care. These are his six journal entries.
On January 8, 2021, I had a heart attack that saved my life.
Doctors put in a stint, and I was on blood thinners. My hemoglobin was low, indicating I was bleeding internally somewhere. They found the bleed and stopped it, but two weeks later my blood count was low again. I required five units of blood and was hospitalized.
On January 20, I had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. A few weeks later, I started chemotherapy. The oncologist told me if I’d gone another six months without treatment, I would have died. That was a hard pill to swallow.
I got a blood infection and was in the hospital again for five days. When I got out, I started chemo again, and the oncologist suggested I talk with Dr. Harriman, medical director for Harbor Palliative Care.
At my first visit with Dr. Harriman, he gave me a checkup and asked about my concerns and my level of pain. I was very weak and in a lot of pain, so he prescribed medication, which helped take the edge off. By my next visit with him, I was doing one hundred percent better. I was stronger and able to do things. I was fortunate not to get nausea or diarrhea from the chemo, but I had a bad runny nose. This was at the height of COVID, and if you were continually wiping your nose, people looked at you like you were sick.
Dr. Harriman prescribed a nose spray, and in a few weeks, my runny nose cleared up. About a week after I started on that med, a nurse practitioner called. They always call me to follow up and ask how I am doing. It’s wonderful.
After about two months, the pain meds weren’t working like they should. When you’re dealing with pain, it’s hard to have a good day. It’s hard on a person’s family, too. Dr. Harriman and I talked about anything I was doing, like heavy lifting, that might be making my pain worse, but nothing added up.
We decided to change up the pain med regimen a little, and things improved. Fortunately, I have not had side effects from the pain meds. I also tried different doses and taking them in different combinations and that helped a lot.
Over the last year, I went from being diagnosed and being so ill, to taking chemo and getting the right combination of pain medications. I was actually able to enjoy last summer. My wife, Linda, and my daughter and I took a trip to Arizona in the fall of 2021. We went to the WWII 390th Air Force Bomb Group Memorial Museum on the grounds of the Pima Air & Space Museum, in memory of my dad, POW George Hartman, Jr. It was a promise I made to him when he was alive. Then we went sightseeing and to the Grand Canyon — a place I always wanted to see. And we enjoyed the warm weather.
In February, a new oncologist suggested I see a surgeon to remove a tumor. But the surgeon recommended we leave it alone because my quality of life would go down. I had a break in chemo for almost six weeks. That was good in the beginning. We took a vacation in Florida. But after a month, I started worrying that tumors were growing. So my doctor got me back on a three-week regime of chemo.
Today I am feeling better after having chemo about a week ago. Usually I feel tired afterward, but not sick. This time I feel a little ill.
If I don’t feel better, I know who to call. I’ll talk to the Harbor Palliative Care physician’s assistant and see if there is something I can take for my symptoms. It is so nice that I can call or go in and talk to someone. All of them – the PA, the nurses, the doctor – they are all very comforting and supportive. They listen and offer help. That is so important. They always ask if there’s anything else they can do for me. They always want to be sure I’m comfortable.
They make my life so much better, because I am not living with pain. I have also been blessed with a wonderful family and relatives who support me.
We’re planning to spend as much time at our cottage on Wolf Lake as we can this summer, and we’re hoping to go up there this weekend. I’ve been going there for more than 50 years. It’s where I met Linda, almost 45 years ago. It’s a beautiful place, and I feel good there. I call it the healing powers of Wolf Lake.