Friday, December 04, 2015

The Summer of my Discontent, or A Series of Unfortunate Events

     Last January I went to my dentist for continuing work on a new bridge.  At Christmas I had experienced discomfort in a tooth, and I asked him to look at it. Examination revealed a septic abscess in the gum beneath a temporary bridge. He went in there and cleaned it out after giving me an antibiotic and a prescription for more, to be taken over the following week. Within two weeks, I was falling down at home, in the classic tv "help I've fallen" mode of collapse.  After the third or fourth episode I phoned my almost-ex wife and she insisted that I report to the nearest emergency room, one of which happens to be three minutes away. They told my I had hep c and sent me home, where I immediately resumed the falling spells, at which time my wife piled me into her  car and sort of raced to Northwestern Hospital on Chicago's near north  side. The ER people there discovered that my liver had become infected by its own abscess ( livers can be so jealous! ), and I was admitted for  surgery. The procedure was modestly invasive, consisting of poking a hole into the liver and inserting a drain tube, sort of the opposite of a turkey baster. The tube went in just under the rib cage, lower right side, and the incision was tiny.
     After a week of monitoring and testing I was sent to Warren Barr  rehab pavilion for recuperation. Sometime into that stay I developed severe diarrhea which turned out to be the notorious C Diff, short for the French words which originally named it. They could have called it Les Miserables for graphic accuracy. It's an uncontrolled and continuous churning of intestinal violence requiring  diapers. Bathrooms are of no avail in that the patient has no warnings and no time for a short walk.
     After a month and lots of antibiotics, things had calmed down enough to allow a course of physical rehab designed to regain strength and mobility. I had lost about twenty pounds, most of it muscle. Warren Barr's therapists taught me to walk and climb stairs, and within another month I was deemed ready for release.
     Back at home I resumed my normal routine and was okay for about a week until the C Diff reasserted itself with violent authority, causing lots of unpleasant accidents as I tried to buy groceries and walk from my parked car into the condo. This will not do, said my wife when I called for medical advice. ( She is a type one diabetic who has dealt with hospitals and doctors for almost sixty years. Her guidance and patience saved my life.) Through connections in her job, she got me into the University of Chicago Hospital where, so we thought, I could receive a fecal transplant, a near immediate cure for C Diff with a 97% success rate. The transplant consists of inserting purified feces from an anonymous donor or helpful kinfolk.  It can be placed with an enema or through an esophagul tube.  Somehow the new feces reacts with the infected stuff and kills off the bad germs, so to speak.
     But not  for me. For reasons still unclear I did not have the opportunity to go the easy route and was put on a new regimen of various antibiotics. By this time I had lost another twenty pounds and was beginning to resemble a concentration camp survivor sans tattoo. Furthermore, when interviewed by a team of UC physicians I was asked about alcohol use. I assured them that I had not had a drink for five years due to interference with a drug said to calm spinal injury foot pain. To that point, I told them, I had enjoyed about two after-work beers a day.  "You're an alcoholic, " says one doc, and his accusation went went unchallenged by the others on the team. He repeated and enlarged upon this absurdity, ignoring my objections. I have never reported this unprofessional outrage to the hospital, and I doubt that any of the staff is reading this so the jerk will go on his delusional way without rebuke.  I cannot comment on his ethnic or religious status, but he didn't look like a Baptist prohibitionist, "not that there's anything wrong with that".
     Back to Warren Barr for more "rehab", now nothing more than about thirty pills a day, frequent blood tests and a fresh diaper every couple of hours, 24/7.  My room was off limits to anyone not wearing hazmat gear, and my food,  which until now had been predictably lame every where I went, now went though a "mechanical" mill and was served with an ice-cream scoop.  This diet was due to muscle loss in my throat.  Nothing on the plate could be identified. Bread was in a cup, eggs were yellow and carrots were orange. Meat was gray or brown and a green scoop could be just about any veggie imaginable. Worse still, the portions were often baby size, and I bad to call the kitchen for more.  Invariably, this was delivered by someone un hazmatted and presumably neither germ free nor somehow incapable of spreading my own germs around the kitchen and other parts unknown. It's no wonder that dozens of rooms down the hall were marked off limits.  C Diff must be a local industry.

     Isolated in my room from the rest of the facility, I had no opportunity to regain my ability to walk or lift a heavy book. I stayed that way for two months until at last one morning an administrator walked in to tell me I would be released in two hours and should start  packing. Earlier that week,  a team of social workers and therapists had evaluated me and assured me that my insurance and medicare would carry me forever, so the eviction came as a surprise.
     The C Diff had been cured by drugs, and I was given a supply of antibiotics to take home until the latest round had been completed, so I wasn't at a total  loss. I had even arranged for a $500 cleaning of my condo bathroom and surrounding floors, earlier contaminated by bad aim.  The clean up team was by coincidence to arrive at about the same time as me.
    I asked Warren Barr for a free cab ride home and returned to an apartment swarming with fruit flies, an epidemic still not resolved after almost two months.   They were even in the freezer. I found some rotting food in a bowl, pitched that and cleaned everything I could see with eyesight compromised by weakened muscles.
     This is a highly edited and condensed version of my summer of discontent, but the general picture survives, even though my Cadillac's battery has not. Two other cars have gone separate ways, and that phase of hoarding is now at an end, praise jesus.

1 comment:

Mythbuster said...

Sorry about your ordeal, Jim. I hope we will see you in June?

Roger C. CoW '61