It was a series of unfortunate events
In October 2019, my family had a party at my house to celebrate my dad’s retirement, my parents’ birthdays, and their anniversary (October is a big month for them). It was a splendid affair, it was, with tacos, German Chocolate Cake (my dad’s favorite), a sea of Miller High Life, one of the greatest Halloween music playlists ever, and plenty of familial commiseration. At some point, however, my seventeen-year-old nephew partied a little too hard and decided it would be a good idea to use the handrail up the stairs to my third floor as a brace to leap over a baby gate keeping the small children from falling down the stairs to my first floor.
He broke my handrail and left a rather large hole in my wall.
Don’t fret. He survived relatively unscathed. The party continued and… eventually… I fixed the handrail. This, and much of what I touch on throughout today’s post is recounted in more detail here.
November was quiet while I worked on fixing the handrail. I am no handyman, as my wife will gladly pronounce to the world every time she gets a chance. So keeping that in mind, I decided I was going to go about fixing the broken handrail and hole in my wall the right way. For me, this required lots of time, patience, and YouTube videos... and several calls to my dad. After false starts aplenty and one or two… or three mistakes, by Christmas, I succeeded in my endeavor and had a handrail again.
One thing though… like a scene from a horror movie, like a strange and eerie predictor of what was to come, before I finished with the final touches, I injured myself scraping away some extra plaster from a broken brace. It was a small wound. Somehow I slipped and the old knife I had been using found a home near the base of my left thumb. I took care of it with antibiotic ointment and bandages and promptly forgot it happened, so caught up in the revelry of success and Christmas as I was.
Less than a month later I developed a strange welt on my thumb near the point where the knife had punctured my skin. Though officially the doctors are unsure if the injury and the welt were related, I don’t see any other possibility. But hey, I’m no physician. Anyway, my primary care doctor recommended another doctor, who wanted to cut that sucker out. It could, after all, have been anything. So he prescribed some antibiotics and scheduled my first surgery of 2020. Little did I know what was to come….
February 6 brought the surgery and my first extended leave of absence from work. In an otherwise uneventful month, I was cut into and a strange globulous infection was removed from my hand for study.
A few days later, the infection returned.
More medication was thrown at me and a second surgery ensued. Still, the doctors did not know what it was and I was sentenced to more time off of work as they loaded me with various medicinal cocktails and discussed how fascinating I was. At one point my primary care physician told me the one thing no patient wants to be is interesting to their doctors, then followed it with, “You’re the most interesting patient I have right now.”
Meanwhile, this curious flu-like disease was popping up in the news. COVID-19.
Maybe you’ve heard of it?
It was in March that the doctors figured out that the infection was a strange and rare thing called mycobacterium chelonae. A slow moving beast, mycobacterium chelonae required a serious regiment of antibiotics for the foreseeable future…. I’m still on them.
But wait! There’s more!
In addition to my own health issues, the world had its own. COVID-19 had become more than an occasional news story. It was everywhere. Literally. And people were dying. Businesses were closing. Schools were shutting down. Hospitals were changing their rules. And I was, once more, stuck at home, not working — or rather working far less — and every time I visited my doctor for one appointment or another, I was alone.
For the previous twenty years, I had a partner in everything, so to be alone every time I went to the doctor during this time of growing anxiety was… not enjoyable. I know it may seem a small thing to many, but for me it was not, especially after I did my research on mycobacterium chelonae and learned it was such a dangerous infection that I could, eventually, be on IV medication, have a PICC line put in me, and have a weekly appointment at some sort of medicinal injection clinic. Fortunately, that never occurred.
Unfortunately, something worse did.
April offered me a brief reprieve from all of my health woes so I could watch as COVID-19 was systematically ignored by the powers that be. Do you remember those bygone days of yore when they were telling us things were fine and that we were out of the danger zone? They were a lot like today….
My reprieve was false because the particular strain of mycobacterium chelonae attacking my hand was a strong, sneaky son of bitch who was secretly growing in me once more. By May, I needed a different regimen of drugs and another surgery.
For those keeping track, that’s number three.
This is where shit gets crazy.
It was shortly after this surgery that I had a intensely painful “heart incident” which, one sunny spring afternoon, led me to an emergency room. My son, who was seventeen at the time, had to drive me, with my fifteen-year-old daughter in tow. Due to COVID-19 restrictions though, they could only drop me off.
As my terrified children pulled away from the drop-off, I rampaged into the Emergency Room, wailing about my pain, which radiated from my chest and was the worse thing I had ever felt. A mass of doctors and nurses hooked me up to a mass of machines. I never thought I’d be used to that.
By the time I left, seven hours later, I had been poked, prodded, and x-rayed so much, I didn’t think it was possible to be poked, prodded, and x-rayed anymore.
To be fair to the doctors and nurses, there was good reason for all the poking, prodding, and x-raying. First of all, there was the aforementioned intense pain, and the medical professionals simply did their jobs and took it seriously. Second, some of the antibiotics I was on for the infection (you haven’t forgotten about that, have you?) could cause what pharmacists referred to as “heart issues,” so a deep investigative dive was required. During this investigation, they determined it was not my heart causing the pain, but my gallbladder which had become little more than a calcified rock in my abdomen due to reasons unknown but possibly related to the several medications I had been on for the infection.
Though I was stuck there for hours with the television in the room on as if of its own accord, I can only remember seeing one show: Evil. I had never seen it but in this particular episode, a character was strapped to a hospital bed dying while demons messed with his mind.
If I hadn’t been in so much pain at the time, I may have noticed the Alanis Morissette irony of my situation while the character in the show struggled against monsters and the doctor returned with a final test result of the night to tell me that, though my gallbladder was an issue, there was something worse, there was something definitely wrong with my heart.
The mycobacterium chelonae was under control, nevertheless June became the month of tests. Blood tests, MRIs, X-Rays, stress tests, you name it, I suffered through it. Of course, it was at this point a radiologist, my primary care doctor, a cardiologist, and a cardiac surgeon agreed. I had bicuspid aortic valve which was making my heart swell. Born with it, I had somehow managed to live nearly 43 years without noticing.
Those days were over, unless, of course, I wanted to die before I was fifty.
A week before I turned forty-three, I met with the cardiac surgeon who wanted to fix me as quickly as possible. We scheduled a Ross Procedure for August.
Recovery. I watched a lot of television and read a lot of books. The latter only after my brain was released from a heavy, heavy fog of painkillers.
More recovery… and the scheduling for November of my fifth surgery of the year: gallbladder removal.
I type this article and I wonder, if my next twelve months are anything like my last twelve months, “What will this surgery lead to?” and to be perfectly honest, I’m a little scared.