Thursday, July 24, 2014

None of Us Lives Forever

This is a rare picture of me during my medical odyssey during 1959 - my friend Lar just sent it to me
During my illness I had put on 40 lbs (up from my usual 160 lbs) to top 200 lbs. This is the "fat" me. After my illness I returned to 160 and have been in the 160 lb to 170 lb range for the past 55 years - by the way, note that even during the darkest days of my medical prison I still could smile - we only get one life folks - this is it - make the most of it

When we're young, we don't think about dying.  We think "That's just something that happens to old people".  Of course we're aware that we could die in an accident, war or even murder but the odds of that happening to us are so far beyond our comprehension as to be non-existent in our lives.
I know that's the way I thought when I graduated from high school in June of 1959 and tried to join the Army.  Then something terrible happened.

I failed my Army physical.  I was told that I was born with a hernia and the Army would not accept me unless I had an operation to remove the hernia.  

I had the operation.  Two weeks after the operation I became so sick with sledge hammer like headaches I couldn't stand.  My Mother took me to our family doctor (Samuel Specter, MD, for the record books) who dismissed my symptoms as "it's all in his head!"

Being a 17 year old timid kid from a small town in the Fifties (no Internet information), what did I know?  I believed Dr. Specter and thought I really was imagining things . . . but I till had the pounding headaches.

Then one night I awoke to what I thought was the mother of all wet dreams, my left side was covered in a sweet-sour smelling, reddish purplish sticky mess.  "What was this?" I thought?  My wet dreams before (I didn't know about masturbation, remember . . . I was a timid small town boy in the Fifties) weren't this BIG and they weren't THAT color or SMELL.  Then I noticed that my incision was OPENED!  

My parent's bedroom adjoined my bedroom.  I called out "Mom!" She came in and saw my open incision (about eight inches opened) and went to the bathroom to wet a wash cloth to wipe me off. She called the ambulance.  Apparently my condition wasn't my imagination. Thank you Dr. Specter for the misdiagnosis.  

An ambulance arrived.  The emergency medical personnel lifted me from my bed, sans my shorts but with my T-shirt.  Strangely, my open incision, as big and gaping as it was, didn't hurt . . . in fact I felt no pain at all but I was sick to my stomach with fear:  


Back then in the Fifties, ambulances were different than they are today.  Today's ambulances like like Brink's trucks.  Back then the back was almost all glass.  

The emergency guys loaded me onto a gurney (still without my shorts but I did have my T-shirt - oh how well I remember leaving my house without my shorts), and (thankfully) put a sheet over my lower parts. 

They put me into the ambulance and backed down the driveway and onto the Chester Country Hospital.  They took the route through the center of Downingtown, my hometown.  I remember oh so well looking at people on the dawn's early light on the main street in Downingtown as it was awakening from my horizontal position on the gurney with only a thin sheet covering my lower body.  I was thinking "I wonder what they're thinking happened to me?"

When the ambulance arrived at the Chester County Hospital, it went around the back and drove into the entrance below the hospital.  There was a sign above the entrance that said:




And a list of about ten other life threatening contagious diseases that they were depositing me into the midst of.  What was happening to me?

I found out the next day (my Mother had to tell me, God forbid the doctors or the nurses would inform me of ANYTHING - this was the Fifties remember?) that I had a staphylococcus or "staph" infection.  Of course I didn't know a "staph" infection from any other kind of infection.  Below is the Mayo Clinic definition of a "staph" infection:

Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.
But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into your body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections.
Treatment usually involves antibiotics and drainage of the infected area. However, some staph infections no longer respond to common antibiotics.

Note the second paragraph "staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into your body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart."

I was lucky.  Because I took so many aspirin (which I do to this day), apparently that caused my blood to become so thing that my incision burst open.  It wasn't until several years later that I was told that if the staph infection had entered by bloodstream I wouldn't be here today.  I would be dead.  Even so, I spent the next six months in and out of the hospital, enduring three more operations to "clean out" the wound only to have the staph infection return and the doctors to reopen the wound.  

My first hospital stay, in which they didn't expect me to survive and in fact the first night the 13 year old boy on the other side of my partition (to individual rooms for us infectious patients) died from his meningitis infection) was spent behind chicken wire glass in the sub basement of the hospital.  My Mother and other visitors could only "visit" me by kneeling on the ground outside and talking through the ground level window that was protected from breakage by said chicken wire. 

Maybe because I was so young and, otherwise relatively healthy before the medical establishment got their hands on me and gave me a life threatening infection, I was about to leave the contagion unit after two weeks.  

I was sent home.  But then the headaches returned.  My incision swelled up.  The staph infection was back.  Back to the hospital.  This time they put me in a semi-private room.  Apparently someone in the medical bureaucracy didn't panic this time and realized that perhaps I would infect other patients.

Thus I spent most of the summer of 1959 in the Chester County Hospital.  I was so sick and tired of being in the hospital at one time I planned to escape with the help of two "Candy Strippers" (young students who volunteer to help the nurses) who took a liking to me.  I was going to catch the Short Line bus from West Chester (where the hospital is located) to Downingtown (where I lived).  The Candy Strippers got a coat for me (it was winter by now) but I didn't have pants or shoes, only a bathroom (which I still have by the way) and slippers.  I remember thinking "What will the bus driver say when I get on the bus with my bathroom hanging out below my coat and me wearing only slippers?" 

I thanked the Candy Strippers (who were really quite taken with me I have to admit) and abandoned my desperate plan to escape the hospital.  Folks, I thought I would never get out of that hospital alive.  But you know what, I did.  I did get out and lived to tell about it.  I dodged my health bullet and am now here fifty-five years later to bore tell you all about my close encounter with medical malpractice with death.  

Thus it is with some familiarity that I now read the blog posts of three individuals that I know well.  I will not mention names here to protect their private but all three are undergoing their own medical "adventures."  Their seemingly non-ending visits to doctors, hospitals and encounters with misinformation, mis diagnosis, and hopefully eventual cures.  I sometimes comment on their blogs but I really don't know what to say which is often the case with knowing someone who has a serious medical condition.  

I hate to say "I know what you're going through" because no one, of course, knows what they're really going through unless they go through it themselves.  I was very fortunate in that I had little pain during my medical adventure but I did feel trapped. I did feel like "Will I ever get off of this medical treadmill?"  I remember looking at other people and envying them going about their regular lives, oblivious to the trap that I was in.  I'm ashamed to admit it now but there were times I resented them and their "regular" lives.  I can imagine any one of these three men thinking the same thing today and I have to say, I can't blame them.  There too was a time when I believed I would never have a normal life again.  That I was cheated out of life that so many others took for granted and, in my opinion, didn't really appreciate. But then I got better. I was lucky. I got a second chance.

I don't know what the future holds in store for any of these three men that I know, like and respect but I do hope that each of their situations stabilizes and they can again enjoy life.  

All three of these men blog.  I follow their blogs, sometimes commenting, sometimes not.  Sometimes I just don't know what to say.  Recently one of these men posted this quote by the  well known and respected theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking:

Believe what you want to folks.  I respect all peoples and their beliefs but this is my belief.  This live we're living? This one right now?  This is it.  There is no God.  No one is directing our existence.  No one is going to reward or punish us for how we life our life today in the mythical, so called "after-life".  There is NO after life folks.  THIS.IS.IT. 

As Stephen Hawking said:
"We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful."  

Stephen Hawking
With all the bad in the world, there is good.  More good than bad I hope.  And we police ourselves.  There is no Grand Design.  There is no Master Manipulator.  We are it folks.  Make the best of it and be appreciative for the time we have and hopefully when we leave, we leave the world a better place for our presence.  

And to my friends who are caught in this medical maze, my best wishes for you.  Not prayers because I don't believe prayers solve anything except convince yourself they're effective but my hope that your life's journey continues many more years.  Life is just a series of obstacles one has to overcome.  Make the best out of any situation and do not despair.  And I have to say, all three of my friends are an inspiration for the way they are handling their individual situation.  

I usually put a lot of photos on my blog posts but decided not to on this one.  Photos will return in future posts, that's my style.  

An update I just received on one of my friend's blogs that I follow.  I'm sure he wouldn't mind me putting this link in.  
See here for Scott's blog.  

We both were diagnosed with prostate cancer at about the same time.  Scott had responded to my post on Inspire about how painful the procedure was for taking biopsies. I was lucky and mine was contained.  Scott's situation was different. 

If you care to, visit Scott's blog and express your support for him.  I suggested that he start a blog to help himself through his ordeal.  His blog may not be the most sophisticated but it is real and true and I know he would appreciate hearing from you.



Jon said...

What an incredible story! I remember you writing about this long ago, but it's even more chilling to read about it now. I truly don't know how you survived but it certainly seems like a miracle. Perhaps the fact that you were so young had something to do with it. In retrospect, the medical profession seemed so archaic back in the 50's. I remember when I was six years old and two California doctors diagnosed me with leukemia. They said I wouldn't live to see 14. I still don't know what the heck I had, but it was probably severe anemia.

Anyway, I'm so glad that you survived to tell about your horrendous ordeal! I feel so sorry for everyone who is going through their own medical problems, like Scott. It's difficult to know what to say, but my thoughts and prayers are with them.

Breenlantern said...

It is never easy when we have to deal with medical issues, and it is normal to resent those healthy around us, spared similar struggles. You have had more than your fair share of healthy struggles, so it is a testament to your kind nature that you still feel compassion for others. I'm glad you've survived it all, and I hope to, too; I also hope the same for those other bloggers (Whom I suspect I know as well.) *hugs*

Ron said...

At my age now, any days I have left in good health I consider a bonus and I am extremely thankful for. I am saddened though to know that friends or acquaintences of mine who are ten, twenty and thirty years younger than me are now going through their own medical ordeal. I've had my good times. In fact I've had more than my shaer of good times and even to this day, continue to have a very fullfilling life both sexually and emotinally. I know I am very fortunate and sometimes I feel guilty. Not all the time but sometimes. :)
Several years after my staph infection, a cousin of mine also contacted a staph infection. She wasn't as fortunate as I was and the infection entered her bloodstream and she died. Her death was so sad because she really was a wonderful person and an identical twin who left a husband and a small child behind. Another one of my cousin's wife contacted a staph infection which she still suffers from to this day, years later.
I hope you move past your present medical condition and years from now, when you're an old geezer like me you can write about your good luck and gratitude for living so long and having such a good life.

Ron said...

I think I survived because I was so young and mainly because of all the aspirin I was taking for those excruiating headaches. Those aspirin thinned my blood thus causing my incision to burst open and let out all that pus. I still remember the sickenly sweet smell of that pus. And you are so right about the medical profession being so archaic back in the 50's. When my Mother took me to our doctor, he was acted annoyed and even angry that I was complaining (and believe me as a timid 17 year old my complaints were very mild). Years later he did apologize to my Mother but never to me. The bastard almost killed me. I've never forgotten him or what he looked like. Something you never forget.
I too am glad I survived. Just look at all the "waves" I've caused that wouldn't have happened if I wasn't here? :)_

Raybeard said...

For reasons which I hope you'll understand, Ron, I had to skip a lot of this post - as well as comments and replies. But in the top pic you actually look (despite circumstances) really HAPPY! In fact, unless you're still hiding stuff away or hadn't yet had a chance to post them (which is entirely possible), I don't think I've ever seen you looking more full of glee.

Ron said...

As sick as I was and near death, my default attitude is always a smile and HAPPY! Now that I've reached the grand old age of 72 I'm especially happy. I just hope when my Time comes, it's not too long or painful…..or humiliating like my friend Bob McC. Quick and easy I say. Thanks for your comment Ray.


Raybeard said...

Amen, Ron.