Sunday, July 3, 2011



When I stepped laboriously into my driveway the other day, it was the first time I had been home in five months. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
I felt like a great chunk of life had passed me by. The seasons had changed without me. Inside the remoteness of intensive care, the real world doesn't penetrate.
Mary and I departed for a Florida condo the last week of January. We had a grand time since the weather was superb after the chilly winters there in previous years.
Then came a pain on the right of my belly. A mystery pain! For decades I have travelled the world without a medical problem, but I do recall limping around Cairo and Jerusalem because of a savage attack of gout. (Before I knew of allopurinol.) Lately, I have felt crummy in Cuba for two days, and then the year before in Florida I hadn't felt great for a week.  But I returned home and had doctors inspect me from stem to stern.  So I felt cleared to go just about anywhere. Indeed, in January I had fished on a remote stretch of the Amazon in Brazil where the nearest doctor and hospital were hundreds of kilometres away.
Fortunately, my heart, which has been a bit of a problem for five years because of wonky electronics, beat away steadily and only a few times decided to goose in some extra beats.
I described all this to my Toronto doctor over the phone. He said I should find a doctor in the St. Petes Beach area where we rent the condo. But I felt better within a day. Indeed I swam lengths regularly in the medium-sized condo pool. Just days before I knocked on death's door, I swam 150 lengths with two breaks.
But my appetite disappeared along with my entire evacuation system, if you catch my drift.
So Mary and I left a few days early so it would be an easier drive to home and the inevitable round of medical probing.
We took the scenic route north, not I -75 to the west, because it is prettier and a bit shorter. Which is why we were going to spend the second night in a motel in a town in West Virginia. I had never heard of Princeton but now I will never forget.
I felt crummy so I thought a hot bath would help. Big mistake! It took Mary and me about half an hour to lever me out of the tub. Then I decided that even though I had only spent one night in a hospital in my entire life, I should go to the nearest one now.
I saw the white expanse of the bed behind me in a mirror so I backed up to have a rest before we went in search of a hospital. Another big mistake! There really was no bed so I fell flat on my back. Mary then dressed me in a nice track suit (which was cut off in the hospital) and we hobbled into the hall. There I folded up like I was in a Disney cartoon.
Mary went running and returned with two enormous black gentlemen - you would normally avoid such giants at midnight in a small-town hotel - and they awkwardly picked me up and carried me into the elevator. Since the Good Samaritans didn't know what they were doing, I fell face down.
I came to with two sets of paramedics prying at the elevator trying to get me out. Since I was wedged in a corner face-down and there was a chance I had broken my back, they moved with extreme care.
They took me to a small hospital where doctors said I needed a specialist...actually plenty of specialists. So in the morning I was taken by ambulance to the Charleston community hospital while some nice nurse volunteered to drive my car there so Mary could ride with me in the ambulance.(She laughed off our thanks, saying it was southern hospitality.)
That was the first of my many bumpy transfers from stretchers to a big board to beds where the staff sling you like a sack of flour and you pray you don't bounce off to the floor.
The experts determined that I was deathly sick from a variety of ailments. Countless guesstimates rather than real diagnosis! They guessed about gall bladder and even threw in typhoid because of my fishing in Brazil.  Perhaps cancer of the liver. I argued weakly that since I had fallen three times just getting to hospital,  it was possible the gouges on my liver were from that.
So they did a biopsy, or something, since so many tubes were stuck in me over the weeks, I lost track and felt like a glorified pin cushion. No cancer! I then was slid in and out of expensive tube scanners, after being tossed around going to and from the probing. At least they were sure I had pneumonia and  evil liquids sloshing around my gut.
Mary and my three sons had to cope with this since I was so out of it, I talked to machines in the middle of the night, thinking they were nurses.
Meanwhile, the Canadian travel insurance company wanted me to be evacuated by air ambulance to Toronto, far away from those incredible U.S. medical bills.
And that was only the start of the worst experience of my life.

No comments: