MONDAY, MAY 17, 2010 3:56 PM, CDT
Right Choice #14 (Written May 17th)
I’ve been home a week now – a week surrounded by love. A week full of supportive neighbors bringing food and coming for cheering visits. A week full of hugs from loved ones. A week of sleep and rest and healing. A week, however, still full of drama, pain and worry.
Depending on how you look at it, an argument could be made that I’ve caught every lucky break a person in my situation could catch. I was in the big city rather than out in the bush when the crisis occurred, thus keeping me from going septic from a perforated bowel – or ending up in an even scarier medical center.
I had enough medical experience to realize I needed to get myself out of the hospital before something critical and permanent to my health occurred. We had the financial wherewithal to cover the required medical expenses up front, not adding financial constraints to medical decisions. Phil was with me when I became ill, and Jeff was able to fly over and be by my side. The on-call doctors and our doctors back home were wise and responsive, as was the staff at the hotel. Lots and lots of lucky breaks, for sure.
On the other hand, an argument could be made that luck was against me. I was in a third world country when I fell ill. The health care situation was terrifyingly dangerous. The students had to go on with their journey, and head on home leaving me all alone. Dangerous side affects from the conditions under which I fell ill occurred – paralytic ileus from the surgery, hygienic concerns and trauma induced panic attacks. And on top of these unlucky events – upon my return, I was laid low with a full-blown staph infection. And insurance doesn’t yet know how to handle the tens of thousands of dollars worth of costs we incurred.
So, in the end I am at peace with the fact that luck was both for and against me. And I’m pretty realistic about the fact that life continues to be life, offering me up more drama perhaps than others, and giving me ‘more than my fair share’ of both blessings and challenges. I’m fairly convinced that this whole ‘character-building’ that comes from hardship might be a bit over-rated, and I am absolutely convinced that I’m allowed to have my own opinion on this matter, so please, don’t try to change my mind! You are welcome to your opinions, I’ll hold fast to mine for now. J
I think it was the staph infection that brought me to this conclusion. I am a strong individual. Of this I have no delusions. But as my health declined on Monday, and I became more despondent, suffered from more pain, and was unable to leave my bed on Tuesday, Jeff became worried. We were both expecting a return home power bump, a quick turn toward strength and healing. Unfortunately just the opposite occurred.
I tried to logic my way through my pain, exhaustion and lethargy. I had pushed it too hard transferring from one hotel to another, perhaps. The trip home had just been too much for me, of course. I was still suffering from intestinal instability – unsure whether this was from a parasite I had curried home with me, or my body’s continued rebellion from the trauma it had endured. I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Just adjusting my position in bed caused an aching similar to what I imagine a semi-truck driving through your abdomen would feel like. I was sure more sleep and rest was the answer.
I had visited my local doctor immediately upon my return on Monday and things looked okay, stable she felt. She did threaten me with horror stories of the great risks I would be taking if I attempted to push myself for the next two months. She’s been my doctor for fifteen years…she knows me. Healing from this type of surgery takes time, she cautioned. Take that time and let your body heal, she admonished. Was sitting up for lunch with my dear neighbor Linda been considered pushing it too hard? It didn’t seem so.
Wednesday dawned, however, to show me how mistaken I was in my assumptions that I just needed more rest to get well. As I hobbled to take a shower, I noticed that my abdomen was increasingly distended. Of course this is a pretty typical middle-aged malady) as any of us who have reached the ‘over the hill’ point can attest.) Though normally I wouldn’t expect it to occur overnight – and certainly not when I was unable to eat due to the nausea and discomfort I faced. Worse, I saw a growing, inflamed circle of red extending from my incision. Infection oozed (sorry, once again, for the horror movie graphics, these illnesses are not for the faint of heart.) Red spots formed along side my incision site and down my leg. “Not good,” the genius inside me noted.
Another emergency call was placed to my doctor. The receptionist told me to come in straight away, they would work me right in. And they did. “Not good,” my doctor noted. I had contracted a staph infection and it needed to be urgently contained. A culture was taken to understand what type of staph infection a patient from South Africa might contract so that the proper antibiotic could be administered. Meanwhile, I was placed on the best guess proper antibiotic that required dosage every six hours – and yes, if I could wake up to take it in the middle of the night that would be best. My pain medicines were adjusted as well, so that I could get a bit of relief from my ever-present abdominal ache.
Kevin drove me to and from the doctor this Wednesday. A side benefit to my illness was the additional time I had with my teens, and the additional attention they gave me. While picking up my prescriptions from our pharmacy, the one that had served as a life-line during Kevin’s extended illness, our pharmacists were not amused to be dispensing yet more necessary medicines to attend to yet another medical drama in our family. Their sympathy meant a lot to me. Seriously, how many people feel as if their doctors and their pharmacists are an integral part of their family? But here we are.
Most significant for me, however, was the conversation Kevin and I had on the way home. He is an incredibly smart kid, and picks up on subtle connections at lightening speed. As he drove, Kevin noted that we had both suffered from intestinal obstructions. He found it interesting that at first the doctors in South Africa had thought perhaps I had gastritis…just like the first diagnosis physicians had considered for his pain. I thought back to our flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and could now empathize with the pain he had struggled through in mid-air. How on earth had he endured such excruciating pain for such an extended period of time?
Kevin also found it, hmmm, maybe ironic in a sad way, that in a third world country the doctor had run just the right test in just the right way to identify my obstruction. This same test wasn’t run on Kevin during his multiple emergency room visits. When the test was finally run (incorrectly, I should add) weeks into his hospital stay, the findings were disregarded.
Rhetorically, Kevin asked how it was possible that my problem was identified and corrected within one day in a third world hospital while he, being treated in the richest country in the world, was left to languish for nearly a year – which, for those of you that know the story, created additional life threatening complications for nearly an additional year. I’m glad Kevin’s question was rhetorical. There clearly was no answer to his question, short of meaningless platitudes that would bring him no solitude.
Kevin’s other bit of remorse was the fact that I was the one that ended up with the cool scar he had hoped to gain as evidence of his battle. And so I told him that my scar will officially and forever be named the ‘Kevin Whiting Memorial Scar.’ Who knows, I may get crazy some year and have the title tattooed onto my abdomen to convince him that it is indeed his scar.
The antibiotics that Kevin and I picked up didn’t work right away. I was alarmed the next day to notice the infection spreading beyond the black marker boundary line I had drawn to track its progress. While the adjusted pain medications helped me feel more comfortable, the increased level of infection left me wiped out. A follow up call from my doctor assured me that this was normal. I would get worse for a day, then stabilize for a day or two, and then I should begin to see a receding of the infection symptoms. And so over the weekend I finally began to feel a bit better.
Yesterday I walked with my friend Charla out to the corner. I greeted neighbors who had come out to welcome the spring-like weather, and I took a shower as well. It had been a long time since I had walked and showered on the same day, so this was my sign of increasing strength. I was able to sit up to visit with my former student Ivan, the young man who had come to stay with the kids when I had first left for South Africa so many weeks ago, and after a nap I was able to sit with the family to see who won ‘Survivor: Villians vs. Heros.’
Survivor seemed an apt way to end the day, for indeed we are a family of survivors. At times reality television shows seem ridiculous, for as someone (famous I would imagine) noted, “It takes a real storm in the average person’s life to make him realize how much worrying he has done over the squalls.” And these shows so often focus on the squalls, giving contestants no true test of the real storms life tosses in front of us. Yet watching these contenders face the storms of their choosing, it helps remind me that I need to keep choosing between the real storms and the squalls at which to focus my worry. Right now that real storm might be the fact that my staph infection has not completely receded, even after completing the full course of the antibiotic. The results from the culture should come back today to see if additional medicine is necessary in order to whoop this thing for good. That will be my yardstick for measuring whether this latest setback is a storm or a squall. I’ll keep you posted.