You wish you could say things got better from there, but they didn’t.
Big Dan was off the boat, having been around the world as a merchant marine. When he found out you were in the hospital he immediately made the long drive to visit. You heard his booming voice coming down the country hospital corridor. “Is she in this one?”
Thump-thump-thump of techno.
Big Dan kicked open the door and burst into the room like sunlight through curtains. Tris was right behind him. They danced, they stripped. The nurses clustered in the doorway to watch, applauding. You and Wife laughed hysterically. The boys were hammered at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
“Damn girl, what the hell happened to you? You like like shit,” Dan said.
True. You did look like shit. Skin was pale and sticky, hair greasy. You stank. Could barely stomach food. A raging antibiotic-induced yeast infection raged in your loins.
Oh those antibiotics. The doctors kept switching them on you.
“Once we find the bacteria’s sensitivity, you’ll be on them for three weeks. A nurse will come to your house twice a day to administer the drug through your pic line.” Yeah, your pic line—the tube they’d threaded through your arm and up to your heart because, they said, the drugs would otherwise burn the walls of your vessels or something.
To make mattes worse, the nurses had taken away your morphine button. So you’d lay there tossing, moaning, begging the arms of the clock to spin faster.
“Do you think maybe you could send someone in here early with some medication?” Wife would ask. “She’s really in a lot of pain.”
Pain, another problem. They’d removed your drain days ago, but your pain was increasing. A lot.
“Please,” you begged. “Please, can I have something for the pain?”
“I’m sorry,” they’d said. “Your doctor doesn’t want you on the morphine button anymore. You have to get accustomed to oral medication because that’s all you’re going to have when you get discharged in the next day or so.”
Yesss… discharged—released tom the hospital.
Wait, no! They couldn’t. Not then. Not when you were feeling the way you did. Days earlier, maybe that would have been possible, when a physical therapist had come to your suite to get you started on a rehab program. You had been able to move your leg at that point, even touch it to the floor.
Not anymore. As soon as the drain came out, the fluid came back. Now, all there was was pressure. Pressure and pain.
Around day number eight in the hospital, you started sobbing. Wife lifted her body out of her chair and draped herself over you, as though trying to protect you from unseen elements.
If there’s one thing you’re good at, it’s pain. That is what made you a particularly exceptional rower. While your competitors rolled over and succumbed to their lactic acid baths, you could kick into another gear, turn the screw tighter and tighter until the wood splintered. This is why you could row through infected hands, tendinitis, a bruised tail bone, stress fractures, costochondritis, and two herniated discs. You were also no stranger to trauma, as you’d taken a baseball to the face, rolled a car, been thrown from, stepped on, and bit by a horse, sprained your neck, torn open your knee, had one ankle blown out and another twisted almost completely around. You’ve fallen out of trees, even thrown yourself off a roof. You weren’t even shy about taking a pair of scissors and cutting away the keloids from your ear piercings, or jamming and gouging your fingers into the holes where your wisdom teeth had once been, to drain the infection that came about since you had decided to do four E-bombs the day after your surgery and dance your body and immune system into oblivion. Too much? Nahhh… You were a downright extremist and masochist in everything that you’d do. This is why you’d drink yourself to the point of vomiting three nights a week in high school, why you’d binge on anything—powders, huffers, uppers, downers.
Even spicy mustard. “Your a masochistic eater!” your teammate once exclaimed, regarding you with horror as you twisted uncomfortably in your chair, imagining that yellow goo burning and oozing out of every orifice.
…anyway, back to the point. You were crying in the hospital because for the first time in your life, you couldn’t lick the pain. It hurt that much. You don’t have enough words to describe it.
One evening shift nurse took pity on you and slipped you extra meds—god bless her!—but that was it.
You spent your last days in the hospital in a fog—some altered reality. People came and went. Phone calls were made, papers were signed, drugs administered. You don’t remember any of it, really. Vague memories of Wife and two nurses trying to help you get out of bed so you could pee—the mesh hospital-issued underpants that became caked with your anti-fungal medication—a shampoo hairnet to clean the stink out of those snarls.
…and Wife, sitting by your side, holding your hand, kissing your face, taking care of everything.
After ten days in the hospital, the news finally came. They’d found the right antibiotic. You were going to be discharged that day.
“I’m not ready to go!” you said hoarsely, eyes bugging out of your head, disbelieving.
Wife wheeled you out of the building, wincing for you every time the chair hit a bump, a crack, a dime—anything in its path. It took you ten minutes to lift yourself into the back of The Rig. Then another thirty to try and get “comfortable.” No amount of blankets, pillows, coats, towels, or bags could be positioned adequately to stabilize your leg.
Your first doctor hadn’t been joking. When a joint is septic, it cannot be moved.
Wife drove tensely for two hours back to Seattle, eyes flicking to the rear-view mirror more than to the road. “We’re almost home!”
This must be what Hell feels like.
Away from the eyes of your nurses, you threw back double the painkiller prescription. Twenty minutes later, you did it again. Then one more pill, for good measure.
Caregiver was not at the house when you pulled into the cul de sac, but your poor old dad was. He rushed around opening doors as wide as they would go, pushed threatening objects and furniture far away from your path.
Your hired nurse arrived just five minutes later—walked through the door with Big Dan, who had shown up at the same moment. There in the basement bedroom, all eyes were on you.
“How are you feeling?” the nurse asked.
You told him you’d just emerged from the seventh circle of hell.
“I hate to tell you this, but you’re going to have to go back to the hospital.”
No, please. Just amputate it. Don’t make you move again.
“You have a fever of 102.6 degrees. It could be a sign that the infection is spreading.”
An ambulance arrived to pick you up.
Your new hospital was much more state of the art, and a three minute drive from Big Dan’s house—which wound up being a mixed blessing. Wife sat with you in the E.R., then in your examination room, where a nurse asked for your symptoms. You explained that you’d only been out of the hospital for three hours, that you had septic arthritis, and that your vag was afire.
“It could be a urinary tract infection. Can you pee in a cup?”
They offered you a catheter.
Okay, maybe you could.
Everything that had been done in the Anacortes country hospital was repeated. Blood and site samples, X-rays, MRI, documents, intakes, and your morphine button.
What a wonderful button.
But as the days passed, things didn’t improve and your nurses had turned up the morphine interval to the highest rate it would go. You were given new medications which made you piss and sweat orange, not to mention smell like moldy cheese.
Wife stuck by your side—even crawled into your bed with you to hold you after you’d begged her. A couple times, Big Dan crashed drunkenly into the room to raise hell at three in the morning, then pass out in a chair. The nurses did not take kindly to this habit.
On the third day, you met with your nurse practitioner, who was tall, black, flamboyantly gay, and an expert in septic infections. He gave you the news. Anacortes had discharged you at the peak of your infection. Your numbers were finally starting to drop, but not very quickly. You would have to be on antibiotics twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week—for eight weeks.
Eight weeks! Kiss August ’07 goodbye.
“We’re going to hook your pic line up to a pump that you get to wear… kind of like a fanny pack,” your nurse practitioner said.
You frowned. “No… not a fanny pack. I make fun of kids in fanny packs!”
Your nurse laughed, then continued. “You’re not going to be able to take a shower. Keep it out of the bath. You can have a nurse—or your wife—come by to change the bag and the batteries each day, but a nurse has to change your dressing each week.”
“I can do it,” Wife said.
Just like that, she came to the rescue.
Wife deserves a lot of credit. After having her own dreams that summer shattered by a mysterious injury that no one could diagnose—suffering the boredom, the monotony of each day, alone, waiting for you to return home from work—enduring the incessant stream of negative comments from her immediate family about her life choices—feeling anxious about her sputtering relationship and her ambiguous sexuality—she put everything on hold and devoted all her energy to looking after you.
Because you couldn’t leave the bedroom, everything had to be brought to you. New clothes, meals, papers, friends, movies. She went shopping for you every day, prepared your food, helped you to the toilet, helped you dress yourself, brought you ice packs for the swelling, new towels to replace the orange-soaked ones. She washed you—half-carried you to the bathtub, stripped you, eased you into the water, where you sat crumbled over yourself, dizzy, feeble, scarcely able to run a washrag over your skin or clear away the muck oozing from your vag. She sponge-bathed you. Back in the bedroom, she brought you your toothbrush, a spit bowl, and water to rinse.
And fresh flowers every day.
For two weeks you saw no real improvement. You were not well enough to even sit up for more than ten minutes without feeling sick, so even changing location to a couch in the living room was not an option. So sick that food simply didn’t agree with you, your body wasted away. Your leg shriveled up pathetically next to your other one—your leg, possessing the dominant rowing muscles—what had been your livelihood.
You were bored, depressed, uncomfortable. You watched movies all day with a complete lack of enthusiasm, unable to roll even onto your side, as the force of gravity on the joint would not permit it. The fluid in your elevated knee accumulated, spread through your leg, up into your hip, into your back. It was an unhappy aggravation to your old back injury.
Then there were the twitches. They’d happened two or three times before, in your second hospital. Always, when you were on the brink of escape into blissful sleep… twitch! Muscles in your leg would spasm, and the jolt of the movement felt like a sledgehammer.
They started off infrequently over the first two days at home. But then, at nights, they would occur every ten minutes. You’d awaken with a scream or a gasp, then immediately burst into tears. Wife woke with you every time. You were afraid to sleep, afraid of the next twitch—which always came.
All the morphine, Oxy, Valium, and Cyclobenzaprine couldn’t keep them at bay. You spent your days in a constant fog of painkillers, unable to read or focus on anything.
When you woke up in the middle of the night from the sound of your own weeping, you’d lay there in the pitch darkness of that basement bedroom and moan deliriously until Wife would stir. She’d click on a lamp, grab a book—John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air—and read pages until you fell back asleep.
Eventually you got over the orange sweats, and even seemed to get used to the twitches (almost), but the nausea was always present and the pain killers were an absolute necessity. You took stool softeners and choked down all the fruit you could manage, but the meds turned your shit to stone and your cried in the bathroom as you tried to crap out razor blades.
You said you would have traded your back injury and a year’s worth—no, make it two—of rowing tests for the sepsis any day.
But finally, the time came. It’s always just a matter of time. You started to improve. You were sitting up, crutching around, taking short trips in the back of The Rig to the movie store (which took everything out of you). You started to eat again (after Big Dan came over with a little bud). You even managed to start studying for a personal trainer certification.
But it was too soon for physical therapy. Your leg still could not make contact with the ground, which made most exercises impossible. Come back when you could straighten your leg again.
Pictures of you from that time–when you were finally able to walk again–show a pretty (sad) looking girl with a black bag (a satchel, not a fanny pack) attached to her arm, crutches that later became a cane, and a pale complexion.
Just around the time that Wife started losing her mind (week six), you were well enough to take a trip with Big Dan and Neal out to Banks Lake, where you documented beer, hot dogs, sour kraut, and everyone swimming in the water, skiing, inner-tubing (well, not you, since you had your antibiotic pump)… It was a three-day trip—the only taste of August ’07 offered to you. But you took what you could get.
Afterwards, you and Wife dreamed about the life you would build together in Boston.
She had one last year of school to finish, so you would gladly join her, find work as a personal trainer (you had studied for your exam fully hopped-up on morphine), and share an adorable studio apartment in the middle of Back Bay. You were scheduled to fly to Boston the day after they removed your pic line. You’d already cleared it with your nurses: day 1 of week 9.
In the meantime, your strength improved and your love for Wife swelled. How much she had done for you! How amazing she had been. You’d kiss her passionately, and if the pain wasn’t too bad, you’d even attempt a little light fooling around.
But she wasn’t interested. Not really. Furthermore, she couldn’t reciprocate (even if she had wanted to) because your nether-regions had been absolutely devastated by the antibiotics.
So the bickering resumed, after being put on hold for so long.
Then your nurses told you that you couldn’t leave for Boston. Not for another month.
“Your pic line has to remain in your arm for another month, in case the infection comes back.”
“I told you that I was leaving. You said everything was okay!”
“I don’t know who told you that,” your nurse replied soullessly.
Your heart broke (it tends to do that). Jesus, what next? Wife had to go back to school. You would have to spend another month in Seattle, completely alone, without even a job to distract you.