September 13, 2018
“Scars are simply modern battle wounds. Sometimes the enemy happens to be inside us.” – Andrew Grey
“With all due respect to my surgeon, in a perfect world he would be out of a job.” – Russ Ramsey
Today is an absolutely gorgeous day here just outside of Silver City, NM- there’s a touch of a cold front coming, a hint of petrichor in the air, and the sky is staging a breathtaking visualization of clouds so puffy, it looks as if the heavens are bleeding cotton candy- or as we like to call it out here, Wednesday. Truly, this place is breathtakingly gorgeous in it’s unblemished splendor. I seriously cannot think of a more perfect backdrop in which to find myself in regards to recovering from an unforeseen and highly traumatic surgical procedure, that being the amputation of one of my lesser toes, along with a good portion of my foot as well.
On the additional downside, I’m currently laid up on prescribed and strictly enforced bed-rest, so for someone like me who’s a full-blown Type A personality, it’s essentiallyan exercise in making sure I don’t go completely batshit stir-crazy, so thank Allah for PBS online and Netflix as a panacea towards keeping my sanity in check.
A small, yet relevant to our story side note: I don’t know who’s responsible for discovering new content for Netflix, but they scored a South Korean zombie movie called “Last Train to Busan” which is a holy-scary-motherf**k-balls flick which will literally make you wet yourself, no lie. I still haven’t finished it yet, and I’ve been purposely watching it durirng the day, with all the window-shades up- that’s how intense this thing is. I may take a cue from TV’s “Friends”, by following Joeys advice, and putting my TV in the freezer, where the horror can be contained safely.
After all, my copy of “The Shining” is already in there, and I’m sure it could use the company. Lord knows, I could use some.
See, one of the negatives about landing in a new town is that you essentially have no network to lean on, until you’ve gone and made some new friends, which is kind of hard to do when you’re doing your best impression of John and Yuko at The Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, circa 1969. It’s even more stressful when the original game plan was to be a house husband for a brief moment in time, and then run free to go seek fame, fortune, and the occasional complimentary box of Ding Dongs. But as John Lennon once soberly said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
And boy, did Life happen with a vengeance. If it had been the game or the cereal, I probably would have come out on the other side with nothing more than the loss of two excruciatingly boring hours with my relatives and a mid-level sugar high, but it didn’t work out that way, so help me Bob.*
*[During the mid-19th century, “Bob” was used as a euphemism for “God,” as in “So help me, Bob!”. According to Google N-grams, the idiom came into substantial use towards the end of the 19th century. Isn’t learning about the lexicon fun? Of course it is, because knowing is half the battle. And hopefully the next World War will be more like a quiz show, in which case… you’ll do fine.]
It all started (perhaps) back in Phoenix roughly two months ago or so- in a moment of abject non-thinking stupidity, I stepped out onto my then concrete balcony in the middle of the afternoon, and badly burned my feet. That in and of itself was bad enough, as the concretes baseline temperature was probably bubbling around 135 degrees, but due to the severe and chronic diabetic nerve damage in my legs, I did not feel or realize the massive harm I had inadvertently self-inflicted until several hours after the fact. By that point, the bottoms of my feet looked like a truly wretched cheese pizza. You know, like the ones that Papa John’s makes? But in my case, the carnage was delivered without the arrogant racism or the exploitation of highly undercompensated workers.
It still sucked, however.
Visually, and literally, my feet were toast, and it was horrifying to look at. Cross a flattened Shar-pei with Freddy Kreuger and glue it to my soles, and you’ll get the general idea that I’m going for here. In the end, I was off my cooked feet for three days, and the burns eventually healed nicely, or so I thought. See, here’s the deal- I don’t know if what happened recently stems from this particular incident, or if it was another factor entirely, due to the fact I was so focused on our move, that I literally tuned out everything that wasn’t directly involved with it.
In hindsight, that was obviously a massive cock-up.
Roughly a week and a half after we arrived at our new home just ouside Silver City, NM, my left foot started puffing up, and despite our best efforts, we could not get the swelling to go back down. At first, I wasn’t too worried- after all, one of the side effects of the drug I take [Lyrica] to keep my nerve pain in check is localized swelling, and I have, over the years, dealt with this symptomatic annoyance/pain-in-the-ass from time to time. But when a red “bloom” started appearing over the surface of my foot, I called my Phoenix-based endocrinologist who in no uncertain terms told me to, and I quote: “get your damn ass to a hospital… NOW”
Did I mention that when I left to go to the hospital at 8:30 that night, it was both raining cats and dogs, and that I had no idea where I was going? Thank the corpse of Steve Jobs for whomever he tried to steal my Samsung’s far superior GPS from, for it directed me like a champ to the Gila River Medical Center, which is roughly 20 minutes from my house.
Disturbingly, the online reviews on this place were uniformly terrible, but after my solo experience with this facility and its fkng amazeballs staff, I’m inclined, no, I wholeheartedly hold the opinion that not only are these ‘sour grape” reviews, they’re also most likely from people who as customers in the retail sphere, have those angular haircuts and the resting bitch face that screams “I’m going to need to talk to your manager Karen, because I: didn’t get what I want / you’re not psychic / how dare you not kiss my ass fast enough”- you know, the same people constructed of hubris and human pudding-skin that go into an In-and-Out Burger, and are incensed that they have to wait six and a half minutes for their fresh food to be cooked?
This place not only has the best care I’ve ever received, but the best support staff, the best surgeon(s), and the best damn nursing team I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with in regards to what has been one of the most horrible and wholly terrifying situations I’ve ever found myself in, minus my near-death experience, back in 2009.
When I originally checked in, I thought to myself that at worst, I’d be hospitalized for a night at best, while I received some strong antibiotics and took in a few of those bags of saline us diabetics seem to like so much. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things worked out. I was immediately admitted, had numerous vials of blood drawn, was x-rayed, and then directly clued-in that not only was there was a massive infection in my foot, which had crossed the line into being septic, but was now filling my leg with gas gangrene* from the ongoing necrosis.
*[Gas gangrene (also known as clostridial myonecrosis and myonecrosis) is a bacterial infection that produces gas in tissues in gangrene. This deadly form of gangrene usually is caused by Clostridium perfringens bacteria Myonecrosis is a condition of necrotic damage, specific to muscle tissue.]
At this point, I was starting to think that perhaps, things had gone a bit awry, and that I probably wasn’t going to be on top of checking off any of the items on my to-do list for a while. Sure, not losing my leg or my life was important, but I had intended an entire day centered around binge-watching America’s Test Kitchen, and now thanks to this, I feared I was never going to find out how to make a properly light and tasty macaroon. Don’t give me that look… they are a bitch to make, and you know it.
As do the French, who I’m quite sure, did this to us on purpose. Some people just hold onto grudges forever, evermore the pity.
But to get back on the proverbial track, after a few more hours, the ER doctor, first name of Sharon, comes in with the full diagnosis, and lets me know that the orthopedic surgeons will talk to me first thing in the morning, which honestly, freaked me out even more than having my foot filling up with necrotic gases and flesh for some reason. It might have something to do with the fact that so far, I’ve managed to keep most of my stock parts, and as a recovering Catholic, I’ve always wondered if God issues penalties for showing up at the Gates without everything he gave you originally.
Hopefully, that’s a question that will be answered a long time from now, and if He starts getting persnickety, I’ll remind him that he’s the one who gave me diabetes in the first place, and then we’ll see how good his sense of humor is. After all, he’s responsible for both the platypus and the aardvark, so I really like my chances here.
So, with that scalpel of Damocles over my head, I eventually turn in for the night, as truly comfortable as I could be with an IV line stuck in my right arm while laying in a strange and weirdly narrow bed, thinking about my decomposing interior. Some advice for all the hospitals out there- invest in a few Purple mattresses, and save patients the trouble of having to find the “sweet spot” where one needs to nestle correctly in order to get some restful sleep. Just a thought.
On the upside, I was delighted to discover that the hospital food was unexpectedly good, [thank you, Brett!] and that the hospital had a never-ending supply of two of my favorite snacks- graham crackers and pudding, in the standard two flavors of course, that being vanilla and chocolate. I’m not sure why this is, but hospital pudding in my opinion, always tastes better than home pudding. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, maybe it’s just projection, but anytime I’ve been in the hospital, I figuratively wreck whatever stores of the gooey goodness that hospital may have. It’s literally my favorite thing to eat, and I’m pretty sure my nurses wondered what my obsession with it was. Sadly, it’s a diabetic thing, and they’ll never understand.
The next day, a stocky, rather refreshingly blunt speaking, and according to Ashley, “attractive” surgeon (if you like that ruggedly handsome kind of thing, that is) by the name of Dr. Roberto Carreon, comes in to talk to me, letting me know with no hyperbole what will be involved in regards to what eventually turns out to be four surgeries in ten days, or to put it another way, I spent at least four hours sleeping the light fantastic, and don’t remember a thing… at all. I can’t recall the name of the two doctors who did my anesthesia, but they dropped me as if I were a flaming rock.
And amazingly, when I woke up in post-op recovery, I was in fact, startlingly clear-headed, not nauseous, and completely tuned-in. My gut instinct tells me that I can safely bet on the option that these two could easily make a pitcher of Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters out of various items one might find in the average kitchen, and not even break a sweat while doing so. What was unforeseen and ill-fated, was that an old nemesis and I had to meet again prior to my first surgery, and unlike when I was hospitalized in 2009 for a case of rampant ketoacidosis, I was unfortunately conscious when said reunion took place.
Enter the Foley catheter swaggering into my life yet again, drunk on urine and bitterness. What exactly is a Foley catheter? Well…
“A Foley catheter is a thin, sterile tube inserted into the bladder to drain urine. Because it can be left in place in the bladder for a period of time, it is also called an indwelling catheter.”
A few minor quibbles here in regards to this portrayal? On the surface, this charmingly phrased description seems as sterile as the medical accessory itself- what it neglects to mention is how and where it’s inserted to gain access to that reservoir of liquid gold. The last time I had one of these inflicted upon me, I wasn’t entirely lucid when it was inserted, due to mental impairment caused by exceedingly high blood sugar, but I was this time not that lucky, as I noted earlier.
I don’t think it would be overstating the point to mention that I, like most men throughout the ages, have spent a great deal of my life defending the ol’ spawn-hammer from harm, when I haven’t been bragging about what it can do and how awesome it looks while doing it, that is. Seriously. I wrote a piece about posing nude for a fellow artist once, and it was literally the talk of the town for weeks. Nobody seemed to appreciate the signed 8×10’s though, in retrospect.
Regardless, It’s exactly the first thing they teach you on the playground- that is, to protect your Everlasting Gob-dropper from all enemies, be they sucker punches, that horizontal bar on men’s bikes that was placed there by Satan, or errant foul balls. So, when in the moments preceding my surgery I was informed that I needed to vacate my bladder and wasn’t able to do so to the nurse’s satisfaction, I really didn’t think about the end game, to be quite frank.
After all, what was the worst that could possibly happen?
Note to self: in the immediate and long-term future, STOP ASKING THESE KINDS OF ASININE QUESTIONS. SERIOUSLY. JUST STOP ASKING, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND COUNTRY. After about 20 minutes trying to get my bladder to do it’s job and falling far short of the write your name in the snow line, an issue I’m going to blame on middle-age performance anxiety, a very cute, and very young, nurse walks in with the Foley kit, and plainly tells me that this is going to happen.
Ask the universe an idiotically phrased metaphorical question, and boy, will it return with an even shoddier answer, I kid you not.
This is mainly why it and I don’t go out carousing anymore. Well that, and the difficulty in securing a reliable bail bondsman. As I’m getting prepped for the procedure, she states that I should “prepare for some discomfort”, to which I make a flippant comment about it getting caught in a zipper once (true story) and there’s “no way it could be worse” than that.
[ See: “Idiotic assumptions.” Subheading: “Things morons say.” ]
Those of you who are squeamish, might want to skip ahead a bit, due to the metaphors I’m about to lay down. But before we begin, let’s look at what the dictionary has classified the definition of discomfort as. It states it to be: “an absence of comfort or ease; uneasiness, hardship, or mild pain, anything that is disturbing to or interferes with comfort.”
Now, if we use this depiction as a base, it would foreshadow that what I was about to go through at best, would be minimal, both in pain and effort, right? As I stated earlier, I need to STOP ASKING THE COSMOS THESE KINDS OF ASININE QUESTIONS. Especially where the safety and well-being of my Rogering Ramjet is concerned. First they applied an antibiotic- it stung a little, but overall the sensation was not too bad, and it rather easily falls under the banner of discomfort I was just talking about.
Hell, this part I could do all day standing on my head. Sadly however, next comes the part that the demon Guyota* himself obviously scripted out of spite, that being the insertion of a flesh-rendering tentacle from Hell.
*[In Guanche mythology, Guyota is the principal malignant deity, and is said to be represented as a black dog, accompanied by demons, also in the form of black dogs]
The only way I could accurately describe the pain of this procedure is to say it felt like someone casually took a red-hot razor-studded sewer pipe, and decided to shove it up my wookie-blood-sword sideways, as hungry ferrets wrapped in fish hooks and wearing ice skates, pole danced to Rammstein, while simultaneously swinging nail-studded baseball bats- in essence, IT F*****G HURT… A LOT.
More than watching Tom Cruise as Jack the Forest Boy in Legend. More than suffering through Denise Richards mutilating her role as a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough. It hurt worse than watcthing our tangerine-colored president attemptng to string a coherent sentence together, and that’s a gift that keeps on giving, sort of like Deadpool if he was afflicted with Herpes.
It was intense, to say the very least.
I’ll never experience childbirth, but I’d have to assume it would feel like this, if after the kid was born, they decided to thrust it back into the womb with a cannon, after outfitting it with golf shoes, sandpaper mittens, and Saber-tooth tiger fangs. I once wrote about going through a procedure like this before when I wasn’t lucid, but the end conclusion I came to then remains the same as now- if in the future it becomes imperative to insert one of these again to drain my bladder, either knock me the f**k out first, or just leave me on top of a mound of Sham-Wows to slowly drain, as nature intended.
Just a simple request, ok?
So a few moments after this little side-trip through the plains of Gehenna*, the surgical team comes to get me, and within mere minutes, I was knocked out colder than a tiki torch wielding Nazi at a Black Lives Matter rally.
*[In the rabbinic literature as well as Christian and Islamic scripture, Gehenna is a destination of the wicked. This is different from the more neutral Sheol/Hades, the abode of the dead, See? You learn something new every time you read me.]
Eventually, I wake up, looked over by a delightful nurse with a really good sense of humor, and that strong sense of professionalism that I mentioned earlier. After a few enjoyable minutes of post-surgery banter like you do, Dr. Carreon comes into the recovery area, and he looks serious. Almost grim, in fact. Downright solemn. One might even say somber, if one were so inclined.
Obviously, he was there to deliver the best of news.
[See once again: “Idiotic assumptions.” Subheading: “Things morons think.” ]
He however, does not bring tidings of non-necrotic joy as hoped, but states that despite his best efforts, the operation exposed the cheerless reality that the tissue damage was far more extensive than originally predicted, and the infectivity had actually progressed into the bone in two different locations- this was not good on so many different levels, and I’ll inform you as to why. Diabetics as a rule, have a lot of varying issues to deal with when we get sick, our healing factor being the top key for most of us.
For me, my immune system has always been a double-edged sword- I generally don’t show symptoms until I’m already very unwell, and the nerve damage I suffer from can mask the severity of wounds until they become considerable tribulations, as was the case here. Essentially, I appear to have Wolverine type healing abilities, but my immune system these days seem to be as fortified as Supermans when he’s inadvertently been tricked into wearing Kryptonite Speedos.*
*[And you really should try them- they’re surprisingly comfy, the radiation keeps your nether region warm and cozy, and the best part? They glow in the dark.]
But even given all that bad news, Dr. Carreon was still holding on to his optimism about saving my pinky toe at the time. He wasn’t going to give up, and the course of antibiotics seemed to be working overtime to bring down both my fever and sweep the legs out from under my necrotic infection, so it seemed I was heading in the right direction… or so he and I hoped.
I’d like to go off tangent here for a moment, for as I noted earlier: “This place not only has the best care I’ve ever received, but the best support staff, the best surgeon(s), and the best damn nursing team I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with in regards to what has been one of the most horrible and wholly terrifying situations I’ve ever found myself in, minus my near-death experience, back in 2009.”
What I failed to address in regards to my glowing review was this-what separated this particular experience from my earlier medical misadventures was the humanity expressed in relation to my individual care. Not once did anyone forget, even for the briefest of moments, that there was an actual person on the other end of the diagnosis, and this definitely applies to Dr. Carreon.
Right to the point, definitely straight-shooting, and always firm, I never at any time felt the need to question his skills, his perception, or his resolve. In fact, when he had to deliver the unwanted, yet necessary information that saving my toe was indeed impossible, I felt the metaphorical weight he was carrying. I would opine that’s not just the hallmark of a truly great doctor, but in the end, an even better human being.
Regrettably, the outcome of the first surgery led to my being hospitalized for a total of eleven days, which to be accurate, was not even remotely part of the original plan. To note, twice I was informed that I might be able to go home the day after a procedure, only to have those hopes dashed against the rocks as each subsequent surgery revealed that the necrotic infection was hanging on to my toe and more disturbingly- my bone, like a spurned ex.
In order to correctly express my feelings regarding this analogy at those particular moments, I shall qoute another eminent Wayne, that being the one and only Wayne Campbell of Wayne’s World fame: “I lost you two months ago. We broke up. Are you mental? Get the net!” Grimly, I had finally reached the point where I was going through surgery number three, hoping against hope and praying that this time, I’d have truly good news to wake up to.
[ See yet again: “Idiotic assumptions.” Subheading: “Things morons pray for.” ]
Sadly, that was not the case to be. Dammit. I just knew being a recovering Catholic was going to bite me in the ass someday. Yet another side note for which I am terribly sorry- as a lapsed, but documented anyway by the nursing staff as a member of the “my holy trinity beats your singular God” club, it’s not uncommon to be visited by various clergypersons while vacationing unwillingly in the hospital. Most of the time, these interactions are fairly pleasant- somebody full of grace and goodwill comes into your room, gives you a free spiritual tune-up if so desired, and on the way out, generally puts in a good word with their main deity seeking your speedy recovery.
All things considered, not a bad return on your non-investment, if I say so myself.
And as far as life’s circumstances went, my experience was no different- I was visited in the style of Charles Dickens, by three such holy folk. The first, a very nice lady who was also a Protestant but didn’t carry the grudge against us pen-pals of the Pope, was super agreeable, very uplifting, and when the moment came to alert her deity as to my cause, laid her rap down like a mother-freaking boss. I’ve been to African-American churches in the South that while passionate as heck, didn’t rock the testifying half as hard. I’m of the mindset that this woman has God on speed-dial, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t swipe to the right when she calls.
He wouldn’t dare, methinks.
The third spiritual visitor to visit me (I’ll address number two in a moment) as I engaged in a split second of inner reflection, was a Lutheran, who was, and I say this honestly, cool as f**k. I would totally party with this guy, and that could ultimately happen, because Lutherans are what Catholics could be if they’d just lighten the hell up. My GF Ashley has commented more than once that in the bitter end, I’m really a closeted Lutheran who happens to possess better Icon statues, and she may just be right, if I were to give it serious pause.
As I said, he was cool as f**k- we talked about motorcycles, motorcycle crashes, and about his four kids, one of which was central to the discussion of both bikes and unforeseen accidents, and it was, as I said, a totally cool moment. No prayer at the end though, because Lutherans as a rule, aren’t super pushy, but he did wish me a speedy recovery, which I still appreciated. Mainly because at this point, I can’t switch teams- I have a ton of the merchandise and most of the collectibles.
I’m still missing the Judas Iscariot coin collection, but I’m pretty sure I can get that online for around 30 Shekels of Tyre, if I play my prayer cards right. And with that, we come to spiritual visitor number two…
Oh boy, do we ever.
By and large, I don’t consider myself a sincerely religious or even somewhat of a pious individual, despite one of my close friends noting that in their opinion, I was more of a Christian than I liked to let on. I’ll let that observation rest there for a moment, because anybody who knew me well in my pre-forties would witness without hesitation that I was no more a pure representative of Christian values, than I was of the Mariinsky Ballet.*
*[The Mariinsky Ballet is the resident classical ballet company of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies.]
Granted, I wasn’t a horrible person, I didn’t do drugs, or drink, or smoke, or treat women with disrespect, but my apartment at one point did hold the moniker of “Wayne’s Home for Wayward Strippers”, so take that as you will, with as much salt as you like. When it gets right down to it, I’m fairly agnostic, except in times of extreme duress- then I tend to fall back on my extensive collection of crucifixes and rosaries, along with an almost endless array of Hail Marys:
“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Factor in that to this day my best friend of close to twenty years still refers to my morality meter as “Gumby” and you can see what a prior reputation can do to your current one. Does God exist? I honestly don’t know what I believe at this point in my life- I do however, loathe having any form of religious fervor directed towards me, and I react even worse when I observe people using their faith as a sword to hurt or deny others their inherent humanity. I despise hypocrisy under any appearance, and when people attempt to use the Bible as justification or rationalization for their biases or hatred, I characteristically will introduce a new and painful way of acquiring fiber into their lives, by jamming the good book down their throat.
And here’s where we meet the number two advisor- an older gentleman, representing as he put it, an “independent” church that split from the Baptist body politic, IE: a church that interprets the Word in a way the main church doesn’t agree with. To say the interaction was awkward would be underselling it by miles. I was condescended to, informed what a true Christian was, the undertone being that Catholics barely made the cut, and when the obligatory deity beseeching was enacted, the suggestion that I needed to find my “way back to God” was slipped in at the end, because there’s nothing I enjoy more than to be lectured about my level of faith, or the lack thereof, by an arrogant, self-centered SOB who seemingly took offense at the fact I support LGBTQ rights, and think Trump is an unqualified ass.
How aggravated was I? Let’s just say that if I truly had two good feet at that moment, at least one of them would have been jammed up his ass, and the other would be kicking some humility back into him. I’m not a violent man by any means, but give me a NERF bat, and I would have made the magic happen at that particular point in time.
Gah. Nothing so vexing than someone who pimps Jesus like as if he were soap.
That annoyance having been addressed, let’s get back to the post-op meeting with my surgeon. When I woke up after this, my third surgical procedure, the news was sadly grim- Dr. Carreon looked as if his soul had been crushed, and it was exceedingly obvious that he thought he had failed me. [good news doc- you didn’t] The toe definitely had to go, and there was (pardon the bad pun) no bones about it. As you can imagine, this was not what I wanted to hear, but it also wasn’t like I hadn’t been prepped for it, to be quite honest.
So, after talking to the doc, and later on Ashley, we wind up scheduling the separation of my metaphorical Tito Jackson from the rest of the Jackson 5. The surgery went off like a fine Swiss watch, and just as before, there were no major complications in regards to the anesthesia. Mentally, I was alternating between being zen-centered to suffering minor freak-outs, but overall, I was adulting like a badass. The day after the procedure, I was finally discharged, and able to go home, where I was then and now, semi-confined to my bed for the duration of the healing process.
And since I am currently flat on my back, this seems like an excellent place to take a break, And when we come back…
I get to see what my foot looks like, contemplate what story I’ll tell as to how I did lose my toe in the future, and discover that using a walker is far more complicated than one might think. You know… riveting stuff.
“You go in through the front door of the hospital and depending on how successful your treatment is, it determines whether you leave through the front door or in a box out of the back door.” – Steven Magee