A Brush with Eternity

This is an account of my bout with pneumonia and staph, which, so far as we know, was not related to the Covid pandemic.

When I came down with the flu in February, I followed my usual procedure and went to bed and had a lot of fever dreams. Usually I sleep for a few days and I’m over it. This time, when my housemates took me to the Emergency Room, my blood pressure was approaching zero and my kidneys had nearly failed.

I recall the ER surgeon explaining to me that they were going to cut open a little reservoir in my neck to get more fluids and antibiotics into my system. “And,” he said, “if we need to we can use it for dialysis.” I remember thinking, “Well that’s handy.”

It wasn’t easy going in, but it did turn out to be handy for lots of other injections, transfusions and other invasions. I was getting intravenous antibiotics through my arms, and they had to find a new location every few times, so my forearms were pretty tore up.

I was diagnosed with pneumonia and a staff infection which made a ‘craterous’ surface in my lungs, i.e. a moonscape. My lungs were very sore and every time I lay down, I would cough convulsively, and the coughing was very painful.

The antibiotics weren’t working well because of all the fluid trapped between my lungs and my ribcage, so they made a hole and put a tube in there and drained out about a liter and a half (gross!) of pussy gunk.

Meantime I had an irregular heartbeat they call A-fib and my pulse rate was bouncing around all over the place 150, 120, 80. I had a monitor about the size of the old porta-phones in a pocket in my hospital johnny, and there were people in a room down the hall monitoring.

One time this nice volunteer, an older Scottish gentleman, offered to take me for a walk. He was very cheerful and reassuring, and in my fragile state that meant a lot. While I was walking with him, the people in the control room saw my heartrate return to a regular rhythm.

Then it went back to A-fib. I don’t know if it was the heart irregularity, but I thought at the time it was, that altered the whole universe of my dreams. Dreams have their own architecture and their own language, even if the architecture can’t be described and the language can’t be translated. That all changed for me and I was in another universe and it was very disorienting.

I was helped out by those cable stations the play the same program over all day and all night. Even if I didn’t follow the plot, the familiar voices and theme music gave some sense of an ordered universe. My favorites were Law and Order SVU, Chicago PD, American Pickers, and Sex and the City.

Once I woke up thinking I was on a Revolutionary War battlefield, and I was urging the nurses to treat those poor blighters over there; they’re worse off than me.

After they drained the gunk, I was much better, and I could sleep, so after two weeks I was discharged to a nursing home, where I got thirty more days of IV antibiotics. Fortunately before I left they put in a port – a ‘mini-Hickman’ in my chest so the nurses didn’t have to dig around in my arms.

Life at Care One Northampton was very congenial. There’s something to be said for lying in bed all day and having your meals brought on a tray, with cable, wi-fi, and books. The units on each floor were segregated, so I couldn’t get down to the gym, but I started walking laps around the unit – 260 feet. Ten times is half a mile, twenty is a mile if you make up the extra 80 with a partial.

So now I’m home in quarantine. I came home to a room that had been cleaned and organized by my cousin Kate and my daughter Sarah, which was delightful. The Millstone Market has a clever system for curbside pickup. The weather’a been wet and cold and dreary, but the sun came out today and I took a walk down to the river.

I know I’m lucky to have recovered, and lucky in the timing. I was admitted to the hospital on February 23. Another month and I’d have been in the middle of the pandemic. So I’m thankful to all the people in the medical community that saved my life and took good care of me when I needed it. Now those very same people are working tirelessly and risking their lives to save others.

Like Mr. Rogers used to say: Look for the helpers.