Saturday, February 19, 2005

2:17 AM

dropping onto the bed, cane on the nightstand, lifting my right leg up and sticking the pillow under it, grab the bottle, pop the lid, swallow the pills, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Vicodin to kick in, hurry, hurry, hurry, oh God how my leg hurts, my back, my shoulder, my hand, my memory -- no, stop -- stop it --

A hospital bed, years ago. An IV and a PCA button taped to my right hand. Eileen holding my left.

"Greg... do you want to tell me what's happened?"

"Do you want the whole saga or just the basics?"

"Just what you want to tell me."

I closed my eyes and leaned back into the pillow as I collected my brain and tried to decide where to start. I was getting tired. "My mom told you I had a stroke?"

Eileen nodded. I could see fright spreading in her eyes.

"Well, I didn't really. It was an infarction, like a stroke or a heart attack, but..." I rubbed my face with my right hand and tried again. "Okay. There wasn't a stroke to my brain. There was a blood clot in one of the arteries to my legs."

Her fear started to dissolve. "What caused it? Do they know?"

"They've got some ideas, but nothing's for certain. I'm supposed to see a guy from Hematology on Monday; he's going to see if I have some kind of heme factor -- a blood condition -- that makes me clot more easily or something like that. You'll like this part, though -- I've been an ex-smoker since Monday night."

She just smiled. I was touched by her completely refusing the chance to say I-told-you-so -- and by her accepting the fiction that quitting had been my rational decision instead of one forced on me by circumstances. I also felt kind of dirty for not admitting that I'd been smoking much more heavily during the past few months.

"But the blood clot -- what does that mean? I mean, it was in your leg, how did you get so sick? Your mom said you were in the ICU. "

I started to answer but a sudden crescendo of pain took my breath away. I clenched my teeth to keep from gasping. I looked up to the door; Eileen nodded and went to close it. I pushed the PCA button while she was up. She sat back down and squeezed my hand again.

The morphine bolus hit, and I had to wait for the first dizzy wave of relief to to pass before I could speak again. "Well, it happened pretty quickly. My leg started hurting... last week, I guess, and the pain got so bad I ended up going to the ER. They did some tests and they found out there was a blood clot in one of the major arteries that supply the leg." I pointed to a spot just in front of my right hip. Eileen nodded. "This was on, um... Monday night.

"They tried to use medicine to break up the clot, but it wasn't working quickly enough. So they did an operation on Tuesday morning to take out the clot. Well, it turned out the clot was worse than they had thought. And during all that time the clot was in there, the muscles and the other tissues in my leg weren't getting any oxygen."

"Is that why your mom thought they might have to...."

"Amputate? Yes. When she came, I don't think they knew exactly how much damage had been done. But they did do the operation in time, so they didn't have to amputate."

"Oh good! So what comes next?"

"Well, they won't have to amputate, but... some of my thigh muscle died because its blood supply was cut off for so long. I had more surgery..." -- I thought for a moment -- "...yesterday. It's called debridement, they take out all the dead tissue. They're going to go back on Monday and check to make sure they got everything."

"So three operations in one week."

"Yeah." I looked down at the PCA button.

Eileen gave my hand another squeeze. She followed my gaze to the button and then followed the cord back up to the locked pump. "You're still having a lot of pain, aren't you."

I looked up at her and then looked away.

We sat in silence until Eileen asked, "So what comes next?"

"Well, surgery on Monday, and if all goes well that will be it. Then... finish the antibiotics, get back on my feet, and then some rehab, and then..." I shrugged. "Back home, back to work."

"I'm so glad you're okay," she said. And her smile was so lovely, so full of relief, I couldn't help smiling a little myself.


Blogger Sanlin said...

You're a strong man, Doc. I've always quipped: "Writing is cheap therapy." But, really, it is good that you *can* write about all of this, instead of keeping it bottled up inside of you.

Hindsight must be a strange and bitter pill, though (literally and figuratively), knowing that this was one of the last times you were able to think that things would 'be all right...' ...or, at least, the same as they were, before the infarction.

Things *can* still be all right, Doc, but you have to do what you're doing--finally grapple with what's happened in your life. I don't mean the physical reality you face every day. It's everything else I'm talking about.

Taking meds for physical pain is one thing, but using them to mask/dull emotional, mental and spiritual pain is another. You're a bright fellow... You know the difference. Just as you know what it means if you, a truth-seeker, not only lie to yourself, but start to *believe* those lies.

So, keep talking, Doc. Like I've said before, I have good 'listening ears.'

I have no idea what's going on in Eileen's life, present day. Worst case scenarios: well, you're a doctor, I don't have to go into those. Or, she could be married with several kids, by now. Or, she could have forgotten about you (not likely, you're not a 'forgettable' kind of guy, Doc). But, it's equally possible, maybe she's been wondering about you, all these years, the way you've been thinking about her.

If you ever do anything to find out, steel your heart for the hard possibilities. And, don't go for 'shock value...' Give her some advanced time to absorb the person you are, now, rather than the one she remembers from years ago. You have a sweet and compassionate soul, Doc--that's one vital thing that has never changed. Let her see the 'real' you, not just the surface armor you've built up to fend off idiots, fools... and people who see a bit too deeply into your soul.

This mortal life is too short not to tenaciously seek joy and the harmony of complimentary souls. You already have a wonderful, loyal and true friend in Wilson. The Ducklings are going to be very impressive when they grow into their full strength and abilities under your careful, redeeming tutelage. And, who knows what other good things (beyond ‘givens’ like kittens and rainbows ;-) LOL) this life holds for you, still, if you open yourself up to them? And, yes, if you open yourself to what’s good, beautiful and wondrous, you’re automatically open to the opposite alternatives, as well. But, that’s the way the system works. No one can choose what happens to them. All we can choose is what we do and say in relation to our experiences and how we conceive of them in our hearts and minds.


February 19, 2005 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! Backstory! Yes! *dances*

Word to Sanlin.

Although, where would any of us be without our pain?

Okay. *sits back* Tell me more.

would probably be in the same place...could definitely be in worse places

February 19, 2005 10:56 PM  

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