Wednesday, June 25, 2014

getting out

My last post was all about getting sick, the doctors and nurses at Vanderbilt trying to make me better, and the consequences of both that and the illness itself. I was in the hospital for a little over three weeks before I got the all clear to go home.

I should preface this by explaining my mental state throughout the hospital stay and the subsequent six weeks at home. The easiest thing to say is that I was foggy. There's a feeling you have right when you wake up from a long night's sleep: your brain can't keep up with the world, you feel almost as if you are swimming thru time instead of flowing with it, and memories have a hard time sticking. This is how I felt all the time, right up until just after mom left on March 18th.

They let me go home. But not before suggesting I spend another week in a rehab facility. They thought it would do me good to have around the clock care from medical professionals. I couldn't imagine something I would have rather done less. When the lady who brought this up to mom and me left I broke down. All I wanted to do was to be home, to not be in a hospital bed anymore. Not use a bedpan, not have to eat hospital food, not have people coming in every four hours taking my blood sugar, blood pressure, and the blood itself. So we decided that I was OK to go home, and they let me go home.

The next portion of my journey is split into the first six weeks of being home, and everything after that. During the first portion my mom took care of me, staying in my old bedroom. She changed my dressings every day, she helped me in and out of the wheelchair I had to use in order to keep my leg elevated 24/7, took me to the hospital for multiple doctor appointments, took care of my medication, fed me, cleaned up the bedside commode after use, and pretty much just waited around for me to need something. Because the infection (MRSA) was what it was I was prescribed Vancomycin. "Vanc," as the health-care folks, call it, is great and terrible all at the same time. It isn't effective as a pill, so has to be administered intravenously. The upside is that it gets right to work, the downside being that I had to have a PICC line put in my right arm. Three times a day mom would have to flush the line, hook up the medicine, wait for ninety minutes, unhook the IV, and flush it again. We did this for those first six weeks.

As I mentioned earlier, this whole time I was in a fog, like I had just woken up. Because of that I don't remember many of the details. Lots of folks visited and talked to me. My voice slowly got stronger and recovered from the surgeries. But I was surprised when Mom asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday: I thought there were still a couple of weeks to go. This wasn't the case, it was just a few days away. I started piecing together the time missed and figured that I had "lost" about two weeks of time at home. Thinking back I can't figure out if I was just unable to make new memories or if my life had become so monotonous, so much the same day after day, that time just blended together.

During those weeks that I'd forgotten I watched a lot of netflix and slept even more. I wasn't fun to be around, was unable to access my emotions, and was totally dependent on others to stay alive: for news from the world, for normality, for life itself.

But right around my birthday I started coming out of it. I remember Jess giving me a very nice wallet, I remember going to Barista Parlor and the piles of friends who showed up to make number 27 a good one. Hannah, Phillip, and Linus came over and brought me cupcakes. And that night we watched Back to the Future (I think? I'm pretty sure that was around the right time).

A couple of days later they took the PICC line out (simply by me having my arm straight and pulling: it came out quite easy for something that was a direct line to my heart), prescribed me a new antibiotic, and sent me on home.

It's a challenge for me to write about this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was awful. I wasn't myself, was aware of it, but unable to do anything different. Secondly, my brain was so scrambled that I can't recall things in the correct sequence. Since my writing style is very stream-of-consciousness it's difficult to put things down in a way that makes sense.

That brings us to just after my birthday, March 15. Next time I'll attempt to bring us up to the present, which will be far less exciting. Only one surgery, lots of coffee shops, and that's pretty much it.

Some closing thoughts/facts:

-I had to be catheterized twice. It's no picnic when those things come out, guys.
-I was on a feeding tube for the majority of the time while hospitalized. The fed it up my nose, down my throat, and seated it in my small intestine. Taking it out: not fun either, but I felt I could breathe again which is awesome.
-By no means am I out of the woods. Not saying this to bum anyone out, it's just the truth. We're waiting to see if the infection is going to come back. I can walk on my leg, but these next couple of weeks are big. Prayers and thoughts go a long way: thank you.
-During those first six weeks I was so out of it I couldn't read. I would try, but was unable to remember or process what had happened on the page. I also bought a couple of video games on my PS3, and a pink GameBoy and Pokemon Blue off Amazon.
-I'm sure there are other things that I'm missing. I'll let you know what they are if I remember them.


Monday, June 16, 2014

the story so far

It's been a while since I've written anything, for a couple of reasons. It's mostly because I didn't have a computer that worked, and I'm not so 21st century that I'll blog on my phone. But also because, starting January 18th, I got sick.

A warning: I was really sick, and it was really hard for me and for those close to me. I'm trying to be as honest as possible here, which may be hard to digest. If you don't want to remember me in the hospital or remember me sick, you may want to skip this post. I'll understand: I don't want to remember those things either.

Now most of you who will read this are very aware of the situation, but some may not know the exact circumstances. Or you've heard part of the story, but not in a clear way. So I'm getting this out for that purpose, but also just to get it out. Over the past nine and a half months I've learned that there isn't one way to deal with trauma. You try something, and it might work. But it just might not work the next time, so you try something else. For me it's a "throw it up against the wall and see what sticks" sort of operation. Not fun, but it does need to get done.


On August 31st of last year I got hit by a car while I was on my motorcycle (1999 Honda Shadow, 750 ACE). There should be a post all about that on this blog, so if you're interested in what that experience is like you can take a look. After almost four months of healing my doctor cleared me to get rid of my crutches, and start thinking about going back to work. I joyfully complied and started hobbling around Nashville on two legs, no longer needing to use my hands to walk. I held Jess' hand while standing up and walking for the first time one Friday night as we walked to a movie. Things were really going well, looking up, showing signs of a return to normalcy.

Shortly after I ditched the crutches my leg began hurting. It started just as a dull throb, nothing really of note. I figured it was just me using a leg that hadn't been used in four months. The pain, however, continued to get worse. I went back to using my crutches because it was simply too painful to walk without them. On Sunday (the 12th of January) I nabbed an unfilled prescription for Percocet and made my way to a couple of pharmacies to get it filled. Wallgreen's and CVS were both out of the drug, but luckily Kroger had enough to get me through. The following Tuesday I went to sleep, just wanting to ignore the pain and get thru. I woke up in the middle of the night, something I hadn't done since the accident, and decided it was just too much. I went to the ER at Vanderbilt and was seen by a doctor in about thirty minutes. They took a X-ray and there was nothing special to note so they sent me home. I asked for a muscle relaxer, hoping that was what was wrong. The next day Jess and I had a dinner scheduled at Hannah and Phillip's place, something the four of us had been looking forward to for a while. To Jess' surprise I said we should go. This is when my memory starts to fade: I remember crutching up to the house, I remember sitting on the couch, I remember eating only one taco, but the things that I didn't focus on are a haze. I think we were supposed to play a game, and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep for part of the evening.

The following two days I barely remember. I looked back at the texts that I sent, and half of them are a jumble of nonsense. One of those days I asked Jess to bring me food (or maybe she offered?) and she came to take care of me. I remember asking for fruit and veggies, and I remember her making me Tomato soup. My memory goes totally blank starting around that time, I don't remember from Friday on.

When I started to wake up I was going crazy. I'm not using colorful language to make a point, I'm not trying to overhype my situation. I was, by definition, going thru delirium (ICU Psychosis is another term, and terrifying thing to search on google). I first remember being in a dark room, what looked like a basement. I was shackled to what I thought was a bathtub, with a window directly in front of me. I was thirsty, my throat hurt, and I couldn't speak very well. I started forming plans in my head to get out: I needed to be out. I pleaded with my nurse to free me and transfer me to a new hospital, because in my mind I wasn't getting the correct care. This seemed to last forever. After dosing off I woke in a different room, this time it was light and just off a river. I was concerned that I was going to miss a play that I was a part of, that I was going to let every one down. I needed to get to it, and asked anyone around me to let me go because I couldn't let every one down. Let me be perfectly honest: this was the worst day of my life. I couldn't use my brain, and I was lost. Even writing about it is a challenge. I'd take getting hit by ten more cars if I never had to do that again.

After these delusions I started to really wake up. It was Saturday, a week after I'd been taken to the hospital. Jess had come over to my house a week before and I was, mentally, gone. Freaking out, she called 911 and got me to the care I needed. In a very real way she saved my life. She hates when I say it, but it's the truth and needs to be said sometimes. Once I came to my senses I found myself in a hospital room in Vanderbilt, the SICU (Surgical Intensive Care Unit). This was the same room I'd been in the whole time, dispite my memories of being in different places. My mom was there in the room to welcome me back to reality, and had been there since Monday. She told me my Dad was just down the hall with Sam, Melissa, and my two nephews Jake and Caden. Jess was working (I think). Mom explained everything to me: I was extraordinarily sick. During the crash I had apparently picked up MRSA, which is basically mean Staph. The MRSA hung around in my bone for a while then kicked into overdive, ending up in my blood, urine, and lungs (sepsis they call it). In response to being so ill my brain basically said "nope, no chance of us handling this. Gonna take a break and come back later, hope that things get better." The MRSA led to Necrotizing Fasciitis, which killed a large portion of the soft tissue around my ankle and some just below my knee. I had been thru five surgeries during my time away. The doctors went in and first removed the rod and bone graft that were now slammed with infection. They then would take a look at the leg, see what was dead, and cut it away (called debridement) in an attempt to save my leg. Though I had started coming out of my delirium I was far from out of the woods. My doctor explained to me the severity of my situation: they had never seen something like this, and amputation was still on the table. There was a plan to save the leg, but it would be a very long and painful road. I needed to consider what I wanted to do: get rid of the leg and be walking again in six weeks (with a prosthesis) or get a muscle and skin graft, and hope that it takes and be walking in maybe six months.

I chose to keep the leg and go the hard road, because why not? Worse case was it wouldn't work, we'd lop off the leg, and I could scare kids by taking a fake leg off when I get old. Best case I have some cool scars, an awesome limp, and maybe get to use a cane for a while. They took a muscle from my back and hooked it up to my leg, around the ankle, and moved part of my calf from the back of my leg to the side. The sliced off a layer of skin from my right thigh and grafted it over top of those two muscles. When all was done I'd been in surgery for eight or nine hours, in my ninth surgery to date. I thought it wouldn't be any harder than getting hit by a car: I was not correct in that assumption. If you're given the choice, I'd suggest picking the car.

After the surgery they had to check the bloodflow to the graft every hour for a couple of days, then every two hours, then every four, and so on. They expected me to get out of the hospital in two weeks after, but ended up letting me go at just under one. Healing is easy when you're young, and in the situation I was in you learn to be thankful for everything you can be.

In a later post I may go into what life looked like after the hospital, though right now living thru both the hospitalization and recovery is a little too much for me emotionally. But I do have one last thing to add.

I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams with the people who have, seemingly, wondered into my life and stuck around.

My family is incredible. My mom uprooted her life for two months to take care of me, and my Dad has worked his entire life to make sure that something like that was possible. My brother and sister-in-law brought their young children to Nashville to see Uncle Luke, and showed them how to handle a scary situation head on with courage. These people continually bombard me with more grace and love than you can imagine, and I am better for it.

My girlfriend Jess, having only been with me for two and a half months, practically stopped her life to hang out in a hospital with a man who wasn't there. Then she put up with one who was emotionally unavailable and sometimes even mean. Then, when mom left, she changed his dressings every day and took him to the doctor. Then, she let him start doing things for himself. All the while working full-time. She is an amazing woman, and I'd encourage you to get to know her for yourself. She works at Crema, go in and be nice to her. Order something other than a Cuban and leave a good tip.

Zach and Brad, forever linked because of similar beards. They are the type of guys you hope you get to hang out with: never thinking of themselves, and willing to do anything. Brad brought my mom coffee when she couldn't leave my side, and Zach drove me around for months and made me get out of the house.

Hannah, Phillip and Linus are a constant image of what I've wanted for years and I wouldn't want to do life without them. Hannah baked a cake for Jess and brought it to the hospital to celebrate her birthday, Phillip shows me every time what it means to be a man and also have faith, and I don't think Mom could have done what she did without seeing Linus every once in a while.

Jimmy and Daniel came and tried to pry my sick brain out of reality with games and laughter about the situation. They let me open magic cards, and showed love by just showing up. I'm thankful for their success, hope they have more, and look forward to more D&D sessions.

The folks at Crema have been encouraging ever since I got hit by that car. Asking how I'm doing, following my recovery, and supporting Jess and I as we try to figure out how two exceptionally single people can be in a relationship together. Thank you for being there, for making coffee, and for bringing it to me so I don't spill it all over your floor.

I have an incredible job (when I work) at Barista Parlor, and it wouldn't be half of what it is without the folks that work there. Andy has been one of the finest bosses I've ever worked under, it's been a joy to lead with Chelsea, Lee, Emily, and Chris, and I have grown from my relationships with fellas like Brock and Draper. Can't wait to see where we go, and glad the new guard of folks that have joined our ranks get to go with us.

My buddy Ian brought me the paper, bought me books, and sat and listened to me while I whispered my somewhat drug-induced and slightly off thoughts. I'm jealous that he's at camp now, but I wouldn't want him anywhere else: give those LDP's hell buddy.

And there are more people who were seemingly on the outside of my life who slipped in and showed care: Andrew, Jonathan, Chris and Marion, Jessica, and so many that I can't (but should) remember. I should include the parents of pretty much everyone on this list, as well as anyone those parents know.

Thank you for reading this, I hope it sheds some light on what it's like to be sick. If you know someone who is going thru something like this the only advice I have is this: just show up. Let them see your face. Everytime someone new came I felt my world expand back out a little, get a little bigger. That small room on the ninth floor of the critical care tower at Vanderbilt felt more a part of the world, and less like an isolation pod. I hope to keep writing and hopefully I can do so in a clear way that shows what life has been. Know that I don't do this for pity, or so that you'll look up to me: no need for that. I need to get it out, folks want to hear, and it's as simple as that. When you get sick you have a couple of choices: get better or don't. I wanted to get better, didn't like the idea of not being alive, so I headed that direction. It was really pretty simple for me.

Again: thank you. For reading, for being a part of my life, just for being.