This past week was one I’ll not soon forget. And if you go back and read the last few weeks’ worth of journals, I suppose you could argue that you could see this coming.
As you may know, I’ve been managing through some vicious left leg/butt pain for the entire month of May. Last Saturday (May 22), I actually felt as though I was coming out of it. Working at Delaware Speedway, I was getting around better than I had all month. My left calf muscle felt cramped, but my leg felt more functional. I was getting up and down the grandstands just fine.
When I felt sore again on Sunday and Monday, I was disappointed but not surprised. Monday was a holiday here in Ontario and I wanted to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. I started by mowing the front lawn for the first time this year, dragging my left leg around like Igor and catching my breath every few moments when the pain would strike. But I got it done.
In the afternoon, I took my boys to play mini golf and though I didn’t play, I limped along as best I could and completely enjoyed watching them. The best part was after we returned their putters. We bought a couple of slushies and sat out on the patio, under the shade of a tree, and just enjoyed each other’s company. Funny faces were made. Laughs were had. Good times all around. Yes, my leg was hurting but I was happy and content nonetheless.
I later went to KG Records for a rehearsal with Kev and Alyssa. Though I was hurting, I managed to find a place in a chair that felt okay, and we went through a mix of our own songs and some cover material to add into our show. The results were predictably rocky (because we’re just getting started with the rehearsals) but very encouraging. Alyssa sings beautifully. Kevin’s playing is incredible. And though I’m the least talented, performance-wise, of the three of us, I believe my passion and sincerity propels the songs forward. We have a good mix. It was an encouraging session.
The down side was that I was completely exhausted after the rehearsal. Upon returning home, I still had to collect and take out the garbage, a task that darn near killed me. By that time I was in a lot of pain and, looking back now, I should have been able to see that something was wrong. I was too tired and irritable.
After I finished the chore, I laid on the couch for a while to rest my leg and gain back some steam. Following that, I cooked myself some late dinner and it was then that I noticed my neck and jaw starting to ache and feel a little swollen. I decided not to think much about it and went off to bed a short time later.
That’s when the wheels came off.
I awoke around 1:30 a.m. with pain all over my body. I couldn’t turn my neck or nod my head. Any movement shot vicious pain through my leg. But I was too weak to move myself around with my arms. I felt nauseous. I was freezing cold; shaking and chattering my teeth uncontrollably yet sweating all over the place at the same time. My wife Tracey was scared at what she found when I woke her up. I’m still not sure how we got through the rest of the night, but I remember her bringing me some Tylenol and that I somehow got back to sleep.
When I woke later that morning, I knew I was in trouble. I just didn’t know how bad it was going to be. By mid-morning, I’d called my family doctor and made an appointment for 2:00 that afternoon.
I couldn’t stand or walk let alone drive, so my hero of heroes, Wray “Big Dog” Ramsay (my father-in-law) came back from work to take me to the doctor. Funny, we’ve each done that for the other a couple of times. There’s little better than being able to count on family.
When we arrived at my doctor’s office, I needed a wheelchair to get into the place. They looked at me and decided quickly that I needed to be at the hospital. They sent us off to Emergency with the benefit of a call to let them know I was coming.
Poor Wray. I tossed my cookies on the way. I had a container to spit it into, but it still can’t have been nice, trying to drive while I was next to him, throwing up. At least I’d not eaten anything that day so it was all water. In fact, now that I think about it, the whole thing is kind of funny.
Me: “Blleeeearrrgghhhh! Wray … [huff-puff-huff] … I’m sooo sorry. Bleeeeauuuuuuughhh!”
Wray: “That’s, um, okay. Maybe you can dump that out the window.”
I did so, probably to the dismay of the motorists beside and behind us.
Me: “I’m so sorry Wray. I think I got it all in this container thing – blaaaaaafarrgghh!”
Wray: “Don’t worry about it! Don’t worry about it!”
We arrived at the ER and Wray went right in, retuning moments later with a staff member equipped with a wheelchair. They set me directly inside, put a mask on me, asked me a few questions and before I knew which way was up, I was in an “isolation room.”
I now know that their main concern, given my symptoms, was that I might have had meningitis.
I was soon swarmed by various hospital people. Blood was taken. An IV was put in (which was later relocated two more times). Questions were asked. And asked again. And again. I was just trying not to throw up.
The doctors were initially confused by the situation. They weren’t sure whether or not the issues were related. Matters were made worse when they saw the eczema on certain parts of my skin. It’s something I’ve battled my entire life, but they didn’t know that and so they began to worry about it as well. I kept telling them, “That’s not why I here.” They kept telling me it didn’t matter, that they were concerned about it anyway.
After a few hours, they decided to give me a “lumbar puncture,” which is about as much fun as it sounds. It’s a three-inch needle into your spine, designed to go through the disc and draw out spinal fluid to determine whether or not there is an infection.
They gave me freezing shots in my back, but not enough. I told them I could still feel everything, so they gave me more (but only after I spoke up). The doctors argued about how the procedure should be done. I wanted to tell them to take their arguing into the hallway and come back when they were sure, but I was still trying not to puke.
At first I was on my side, curled into the fetal position to stretch out my back. It hurt my leg to be like that, but I could deal with it. So they went on with the procedure … and screwed it up. They put the needle in very slowly. You can’t really feel it but you know it’s there and you can feel the pressure. And I truly did feel it when the needle clearly hit a spot it was not suppose to hit, shooting immediate pain through my spine like I’ve never felt before. I yelped. Everyone in the room yelped in response. And they yanked out the needle.
They waited a few minutes and then decided to try again. This time they sat me up, my legs dangling over the edge of the bed and my arms hanging over a tray table. The position hurt my left leg quite a lot. I told them so. They didn’t seem to care. Into my back went three more freezing needles. Then in went the three-inch needle, for the second time.
My left leg was screaming in pain. I told them. They told me not to move. I told them, “I don’t care what you tell me not to do. I’m telling you the pain in my leg is killing me. I don’t care about the needle in my back. I can’t keep sitting like this!”
Their solution was to shoot me with morphine (in my right arm) at the same time as the needle was in my back. It did not help.
I breathed my way through it and we got it done. I’m not sure how to describe the leg pain other than to imagine the worst cramp you’ve ever had and multiply it several times. Or, imagine having a three-inch needle in your spine and not caring because your leg hurts so much. A horrible feeling.
A short time later I was taken for hip and chest x-rays, and then sent back into my isolation room, a concrete tomb with bright lights but no clock. No one was allowed in to see me unless they’d gone into a “pre-entry” room where they put on a mask, gloves and full-body gown (like a trench coat made of a giant yellow translucent hair net).
Bless his heart, Wray stayed for hours, knowing little about my condition and having no company at all in the waiting room. Eventually he came in to tell me they were going to keep me overnight and so he was going home. This was around 9:00 or 9:30 p.m.
I was told later that my sweet Tracey, who was at her parent’s place with our boys, was horrified when her dad returned home with nothing more than my shoes in his car. “Where’s Kevin?!” she gasped. And then reality started to sink in for her that it might be a bit of a rough week. Poor Tracey.
Back in the ER, a nurse was attending to me every few minutes, changing IV bags, taking blood, checking my blood pressure and taking my temperature. They could not get my fever down.
Funny, a couple things I’m just remembering from that time: I was begging for water. I had been left alone for a while and my mouth was drier than I could ever remember. I knew they were worried about my nausea but I was desperate for a drink of water. I didn’t know if they could hear me but I began pleading, “Please! Someone … water! Please! Water!”
Eventually they brought me a tiny sip. I asked for more. They told me I could have more in a half hour. And when that time came, I was right on top of it and made them bring me more.
Hours later, they’d seen I’d not ralfed-up the water so I suppose they figured my stomach was settling. They’d done their needlepoint on my back and taken the blood and all of that, so I asked the nurse if I could please have something to eat. She brought me a turkey “sandwich.” It was two pieces of white bread with two thin slices of turkey-like meat inside. And that’s it. She brought me a little packet of Miracle Whip, so I drowned the sandwich with it and began to chew. From that experience, I remember two things:
1 – It hurt to chew because my jaw was so sore
2 – It tasted like the best thing I’d ever eaten
Funny how your priorities change when you’re down-and-out. Water became the sweetest drink. And a dry and barren hospital-issue turkey sandwich became a delicacy. I was just that tired and desperate.
A little while later, without any warning, they whisked me away to another part of the facility and dumped me into a room that would become my home for the next three and a half days. I was too zonked out to notice and appreciate that it was a private room. For that I was embarrassingly fortunate. But I do remember thinking, “Wow, this bed is way more comfortable than the emergency room gurney.” I didn’t feel too rosy about that bed for long though.
I struggled through the night, trying to feel comfortable, sleeping little. I napped for a couple of half-hour stretches between 5:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., when they brought me breakfast. I remember being very glad that they’d brought coffee and 2% milk, exactly what I like at home. Of course, the coffee was horrid but it was hot and I was glad for it. The rest of the food was brutal but I ate what I could.
Later that morning, I got to speak with my wife for the first time since leaving the house the day before. I found out she’d been calling the hospital constantly, trying to find out what was going on. Ironically, she knew more than I did and I was there!
I later rented three days’ worth of phone usage ($8.08) and they hooked up a giant white phone that looked like it had come off a decommissioned submarine or something. Still, that phone was my lifeline for the next few days.
I don’t remember much else about the first day except that it consisted of trying to stay comfortable and staring at the walls, as I didn’t have so much as a book or magazine to keep me occupied. What I do remember is that my face and neck swelled up to a hideous extent. I got a look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day and was shocked. It became even worse the next day but began to correct itself after they took me off the general IV fluids, leaving the tube in solely for direct delivery of the antibiotics.
Through my blood work, the doctors were able to determine that I was male, 36 years old, from London Ontario. They found that I loved to read, cheer for the Detroit Tigers and that I had some kind of nasty infection of unknown origin. My white blood cell count was way down (or up – whichever one is bad).
They didn’t know what was the cause of my leg pain so they ordered an MRI, which was done on Thursday night.
Now let me tell you about the MRI: it sounds like something slick and cool that professional athletes visit all the time. In reality, it is a claustrophobic’s nightmare than rattles and bangs for 45 minutes while managing to scare the daylights out of you the entire time. You are strapped to a stretcher (they even taped my feet together) and told not to move again for three quarters of an hour. Hands across your chest, you’re then shoved into a tube barely bigger than the size of your own body. No moving. No escape. And no space.
But, I decided, it was all for the best. So I closed my eyes as soon as they started to put me inside the machine and I used every bit of mental willpower I’ve ever had to keep my eyes shut until after they brought me back out. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to look and see just how tight the space was so I could describe it more vividly later on. But I knew better. I knew that if I looked, I would panic. But I did not. I was proud of myself.
I also was given and ultrasound test on my left leg to rule out blood clots or an abscess.
On Friday, I improved a great deal and was entirely frustrated to not get so much as a phone call or message relayed through the nurses on behalf of the doctors. They never came to visit and they never told me what was up. My family members were in a panic, wondering what the MRI would show. But on Saturday morning, I found out it was a herniated disc. I could go home with a prescription of antibiotics and the promise to take it easy and to continue to try and strengthen my back after I was better. Needless to say, I was relieved beyond words and thrilled at the prospect of returning home.
Before I go any further I want to share with you just how completely grateful I am to the nursing staff at that hospital. For three days, a male nurse named Ed became my closest friend and confidant. At first I thought he was a little aloof and absent-minded, perhaps too much so for his own good. But we quickly grew to have a good chemistry in terms of our communication and his personality traits that initially worried me became part of his charm. Go ahead and make whatever joke you want about me being cared for by a male nurse. I don’t care. I am so entirely grateful to Ed and I will be until the day I die.
A team of female nurses were just a great to me. It’s just that I only saw one of them – Nancy – more than once, so Ed sticks out in my mind more because we shared so much time together. Working the overnight shift, a nurse named Catherine was completely kind and compassionate to me while I suffered through my worst night in the joint. She tried everything she could to make me comfortable and was far more patient than I could have asked.
Another Kathy looked after me my last night there. She and I didn’t interact too much because I’d figured out the routine by that time and was improving. I didn’t need as much attention. Still, she was very kind and I could tell that she and I would have gotten along swimmingly if we’d shared more time together.
And then there was Nancy, who I mentioned before. She looked after me overnight on Thursday night and I was sorry to see her go. She had a quick wit and a sort of “don’t mess with me” kind of charm that was really just an act; she was exceedingly kind, compassionate and efficient. In fact, Nancy’s reappearance gave me a boost when I needed it most.
Friday night, I went to bed not knowing when I might ever get out of there, but also knowing that Ed was not going to be back on Saturday. That made the thought of staying even less appealing, having to come up with a whole new routine with another nurse. But when I awoke from my three-hour sleep on Saturday morning, there was Nancy, turned around from a night shift Thursday night to a day shift on Saturday. She doesn’t know this, but I was elated to see her. At that time, I was frustrated and angry that the doctors had not been around to see me the day before. I wanted to go home worse than ever. But when I saw that Nancy was there for the day, I thought, “Okay. I still want out of here, but I can deal with it with her around.” I intend that as a very high compliment to her.
I wonder if those people realize how much of a positive impact they have on people’s lives in such a short amount of time?
In any event, my sweet Tracey arrived with my boys to get me shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. I finished my last bag of antibiotics through my IV, Nancy removed the needle from my arm and we were on our way. Funny, for just a moment it felt bittersweet to leave. I’d been ill and these people made me well again. I was confined to one room for several days, but I was lucky to have it and everything in it served me well. As I prepared to leave, I experienced an overwhelming rush of gratitude for all that had helped me through the challenge. I found Nancy at the nurse’s station, gave her a somewhat awkward hug (I don’t think she’s used to that) and hobbled off behind my loving family.
Before I forget, I just want to right down a few random remembrances from the hospital stay. I admit this is purely for my own benefit. I want to be able to remember these things and chuckle when I am old and gray. Here goes:
- When I arrived, I was in such pain that the nurses could not get my shirt off (so that they could put me in a hospital gown). They asked me if they could cut the shirt off. Trouble was I had my Detroit Tigers no. 54 Joel Zumaya t-shirt on. I told them, “I don’t care how much I scream from the neck and jaw pain, but you get that shirt off of me. Do not cut my Joel Zumaya shirt.” Haha. Juvenile, yes. But I still have my Zumaya shirt.
- One of the things Tracey brought me to help cope was our mini DVD player. During the course of my stay, I watched the “Making of” the original Battlestar Galactic, the first two episodes of “Nash Bridges” and an episode of “Due South.”
- The book I was reading through my stay – “Hell’s Aquarium” by Steve Alten – got soaked when one of the nurses left an ice pack on it. I’m still not finished it, but the book is still readable, even though it’s still a little soggy in a few spots.
- There are no cell phones allowed in the hospital. But they had several free wireless internet feeds available. So I asked Tracey to bring me TWIKI, my Blackberry. I never made or received a call, but I was able to check email and Facebook (which I only did through the wireless network). I’m still not sure I should have had TWIKI there, but I am so glad I did. He was my connection to the rest of the world. In some cases, I sent out Facebook messages in the middle of the night just to try and keep me sane. I was careful only to use TWIKI when no one was looking.
- The first full day I was there, Ed the nurse was on my case a little about showering and shaving. I hadn’t shaved since Saturday, so by Wednesday I was looking a little like one of the guys from ZZ Top. I was still very sore and didn’t bother until the next day, which made Ed happy to no end. It was funny to me that he cared so much that I looked clean and tidy.
- When they were putting the “lumbar puncture” needle in my back, after they’d screwed up the first time, they got to a certain point and said, “Good. We’re done.” I asked, “You’re done?” They responded with, “Yes, we’re done.” Seeing as my leg was in total agony, I began to straighten up to gain some leg relief. The doctors screamed at me, especially the lady doctor who had been irritated with me before. She yelled, “Kevin! What are you doing! Don’t! Move!” I said, “I thought you said we were done?!” She said, “I meant that the needle is all the way in. I still have to take the sample and pull it out. Sheesh. Be STILL!” Nice, huh? I said, “Gee, I’m sorry. I took ‘we’re done’ to mean that – I don’t know – we were DONE!” That doctor and I will not be exchanging Christmas cards. Our relationship is done. By that I mean finished. Completed.
- People that visited me: Tracey, Eddie and Jaden; my Dad and Stepmom, Barb; my business partners Jeff and Dave; my good buddies Kevin “KG” Gorman, Ken Alward, Derek Botten, Lisa Brandt and Rob Sharpe. My father-in-law, the “Big Dog” got me there in the first place and stayed with me in the toughest part, the very beginning. And I am so grateful to the countless people who called and emailed their support.
- A rough needle-count estimate: Three placements of the IV; at least 6 blood samples; 6 shots of morphine; 4 shots of blood thinner (two of them in the stomach); 6 shots of freezing fluid in my back and 2 “lumbar puncture” 3-inch needles. That’s 27 needles in 4 days, and I’m not sure: I may be forgetting a few. But 27 is enough.
So now that I’m home, what of our CD project and everything else? Well, KG was working on the CD while I was cooped up. However, going into this week we were balancing on the razor’s edge with a number of behind-the-scenes issues. We are now behind. I’ve already looked into several scenarios but priority number one is to get well for another long haul. I’ll see what I can figure out in the next couple days, but we already know this about the No Schedule Man:
He gets there when he gets there.
If he gets there at all.