Friday Firesmith – Surgery

On Sunday night, December the 8th, a fever raged inside my body, without any clear cause for it. The last week prior or so was spent with an unsettled feeling, my digestive system wasn’t happy, and I didn’t have an appetite at all. I have two hernias below the belt, wherever my belt is now, I lost it in all the shuffle, and I assumed all pain and suffering was due to those issues, the hernias not the belt. So I made an appointment with the doctor for the 10th, and Monday wasn’t such a bad day. I still wasn’t hungry so I went the day resting, but not eating. Hell, they might work on the hernias on the 10th so there was no reason for me to do anything that would slow down the process.
I have, or rather, I had, a certain disdain for the medical profession. You walk in, they give you pills, you walk out and come back to get more pills. The PA was a very young woman who looked twelve years old, but there were a couple of things. The first is she immediately didn’t believe the pain and the hernias were related. The next thing was she ordered bloodwork. She talked me into a CT scan of my guts. I gave the blood and then went to be processed by the scan people. It was a very warm day, eighty degrees outside, but I felt like I was freezing; my body couldn’t regulate my temperature.
The PA called me: Mr. Firesmith where are you right now?
Me: At the scan place. I have to drink the Kool Aid to get scanned.
PA: Do not leave until you see me again. Your white count is through the roof. (Her voice was sharp and professional.)
Me: What does that mean?
PA: You are a lot sicker than you think you are. You have an infection. If we don’t get the white count down your kidneys could stop functioning.
Me: What?
PA After they do the scan bring me the file, please.
Me: Can I go get something to eat first?
PA: No, I’m trying to get you admitted to the hospital. I’m trying to find a surgeon.
Me: What?
PA: Listen to me. If we can’t get your white count down you’re going to lose your kidneys.
Me: Whoa.

I get scanned and for the first time Perforated Diverticulitis is said aloud. There’s a hole in my colon and it’s leaking raw sewage into my body. The PA has the hospital waiting for me, and she found a surgeon for me, too. I walk into the hospital to find people waiting for me there. Bloodwork, IV, and then there’s the surgeon.
The surgeon is a young man with the attitude of a gunslinger. He’s professional yet friendly, but he’s also looking for a fight. He tells me I have two problems, both of which are intertwined. My WBC is rocketing. I have an open sewer in my body. He can’t go in to close the sewer until the WBC comes down. But this is a man who has a plan: Put me in a hospital bed, and flood my system with antibiotics. Bring the count down in two, maybe three days, and then go in with the knife.
This is a starkly honest man: The count keeps getting higher and my kidneys die. I’m too old to hope for a donor. Dialysis will keep me alive, but the white count is, in and of itself, enough kill me. How soon? If it keeps climbing? Very soon. We’ll put you in ICU and hope we can save you.
The upside is I haven’t eaten in three days. The sewer isn’t leaking into my system because there’s nothing there to leak, or at least not as much. For the first time in my life, I am in a hospital, and I’m staring down some cold hard truths about the future.

At seven the next morning the surgeon returns with light in his eyes. Your WBC dropped twenty percent. Let’s go. We go in, shut down the sewer, IV you with antibiotics, and we fight a one front war that we’re already winning.
Okay, when?
Now. I have a team in place.
Right now.
The man’s optimism is infectious, and if I am going to die, it’s going to be fighting, not waiting.

Two hours later, I wake up in a bed, stoned as hell, and I can feel it. The surgeon returns, once again, shakes my hand, and tells me the operation went perfectly. Everything went perfectly. They took my plumbing out, cleaned everything out, and soaked it. The infected area was cut out and the gap stitched together. Perfect is a word that keeps coming to mind.

Chances of survival? The question startles him now. Good, very good, damn good, we got it.
That was Wednesday, December the 11th. I spent five days in the hospital, and every day the WBC was lower than the day before. That twelve year old looking PA saved my life. She went above and beyond trying to figure out a problem instead of assuming the patient, me, was right. The woman had me in a hospital room with a knife fighter before I even realized what was wrong.
The surgeon did something few medical professionals will do; he changed his mind about what he was going to do, when new data arrived. The man pounced on an opportunity to go in and kill a problem quickly. Both of these medical professionals were able to talk me into doing something that needed to be done, and quickly. They went after this thing like it was personal. I’m alive now because of this.

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I’ve got one hell of a scar and some pain. But I am quite alive, and I feel better right now than I have in a very long time. I’ll be down for a while yet, but the wound is clean, and I’m taking it easy.

I’m alive. I’m alive. Someone told me I might not be, just over a week ago, and I felt it. But not this time, Death, may be soon, but right now, I am alive.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

40 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Surgery”

  1. had two hernias removed a year ago ,also have a long scar on the chest from my spleen taken out 19 years ago but its not long as that scar yikes! they really split you open I can tell you scars do fade over time ,best wishes always

  2. What I don’t understand is the mindset of contempt towards the medical community. Well, I do and I don’t. I know what I am about to say will be making this political, but the biggest reason why the medicine has a bad rap is that they are seen as treating the symptoms rather than working on the cure, because there’s not as much profit in having healthy people walking around for hospitals. The incentives for prevention and cures cannot be changed in an industry that operates on a for profit system. As of now, being informed about one’s own health is the best medicine. I don’t mean self diagnoses from reading WebMD, but becoming knowledgeable on things you yourself can control.

    The easiest part for you is done. The surgeon did his part, now your biggest challenge will lie in how you decide to change your diet. I assume a dietitian will meet with you if they haven’t already. But I still suggest you do your own research into that. I don’t mean finding tasty recipes, I mean understanding how the food you eat maintains your health. If I recall correctly, you not only enjoy eating but you also enjoy cooking. You will most likely have to make some sacrifices in your diet but you should be fine if you approach it the right way. I’ll stop with the preaching here and finish with a few lighter comments.

    One, don’t bad rap PAs or nurses, they seem to know more than the doctor and in fact, most doctors delegate much of their expected responsibilities to them. You probably will see more of a nurse than the doctor while you heal. Two… staples? Wow. I’ve seen use of a “super glue” to close up bodies nowadays. It doesn’t require another visit for removal and you’re not left with Frankenstein-like scars. Three, I’m no surgeon, nor have I played one on TV, but that top to bottom scar is surprising. Usually opening the chest means work on the heart and/or lungs. I would’ve figured that the real work would’ve been lower, around the diaphragm and intestinal area. Having said that, I’m a bit surprised I don’t see any holes used for drainage tubes. But as I said, not a doctor and hoping they didn’t leave any Junior Mints behind.

    Take care and stay vertical.

    • CAI, I am properly chastised. Mostly, the doctors I’ve seen, and the PAs, just want to sell you some drugs. But then again, this was my first time of really needing something life saving. The nurses in the hospital were really, really, great.

      I’ve enjoyed good health most of my life. I could afford, at least I thought I could, some level of arrogance. This has brought me low, and it has humbled me.

      Onward. The incision was made that big so they had room to take everything out, soak it in antibiotics, then put it back quickly. I could care less about the scars. My days of being a supermodel are pretty much long gone.

      And yes, more fiber, please.

      • I see…wash and rinse those parts. Hmmm, I think Santa has just the gift for you this year.
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  3. Mike, I’m glad you’re still with us and I’m looking forward to many more years of your contributions to B&P. Good luck.

  4. You’re alive and the world is better for it. I don’t comment much, don’t always agree with what you write, but I do look forward to reading it every week. Glad you’re making it through this tough chapter in your life. Hope you have many more good ones before your story ends.

  5. Wow! Congrats!?! My husband has a long scar on his stomach, and if children see it, he tells them it’s a pirate scar. Happy Holidays!

  6. Wow, what an ordeal! Very pleased you’ve come through it OK MIke. My Dad had a similar set of circumstances (The sewer leak scenario) following bowel cancer, sadly he didn’t make it, dying a couple of weeks after the diagnosis. Sounds like the doctors and nurses did a great job. I shudder to think what the bill was. When Dad left hospital after the first cancer bout his total bill was $6 for some tablets! Seriously! Australia’s public health system is pretty awesome.
    All the best and have a great Christmas, especially as you’re alive to enjoy it..

    • Marcus, I’ll take a hit on this one but I’ve got insurance so it won’t be that bad. Sorry your dad didn’t make it. The doc told me if I had waited another day it might have been too late.

  7. Jeez Mike, I’m glad to hear that you’re back in the game again. Why is it that just after retiring, the warranty on the body goes into jeopardy? Get some rest — I’m sure (just like you readers) the pups will be happy to have you back on your feet. Have a restful and happy holiday season with Mom Firesmith and the furry Firesmiths.

  8. Glad to hear you’re feeling better. Close call. My wife has had a number of back surgeries of the years, I told her she should get a tattoo of a zipper over the scars… Sounds like a good idea for your scar too! Merry Christmas and here’s to a great new year for all of us.

  9. You were lucky you had such a good PA. I wish my doctor two years ago would have been like her:
    I had fever (above 39C/102F) for a few days and the perineum area did ache. The only “recipe” he gave me: “have bed rest, this goes away by its own”. After ten(!) days I managed to convince him to have bloodwork done. A few hours later I got a phone call by the doctors office: “you have to come in today. We usually close in ten minutes, but is in half an hour possible?”. My White Blood Count was above the roof, so I – like you – got admitted to hospital faster than I could think. There they found the reason for the WBC: I had an more than egg-sized abscess that would have emptied into the abdominal cavity a few hours later…
    It’s a funny feeling when the hospital rearranges around you and the Chief Physician himself does the rearranging of the operating theatre schedule.
    Fortunately I (just!) didn’t need to have my innards rinsed. Unfortunately my scar is in an area not usually shown to small children or women not already extremely close to 😉

    Glad to hear you are getting better.. Take it easy in the next days and let others do as much as you can live with. I took more than a month to fully recover and yours was an even closer call. If you need to stop writing for a few weeks – or write shorter essays – then do so. Surviving something like this is like a second birthday.

    • Engy, I was very happy the way things moved for me. From the time I hit the door of the hospital until I was down on the table a lot of people were trying to save my life. That surgeon seemed very focused on my case. Maybe he liked the challenge, but I’ll take it.

      Writing takes my mind off the pain. I’ll keep that up, but not much more. My body is saying slow down. I shall!

    • Richard, Mom was firmly in control of the pack. With Mom at the helm they were tame as tame, and behaved wonderfully. Mom May be 81 but she’s not taking any crap off a dog, and Budlore is HER dog. The woman has been through a lot in her life and this was minor. We lied to her as long as we could about how bad it really was, but mom knew.

  10. A case of you saw the right people at the right time. There is only one state in Australia that has PA’s as such, first point of call is the General Practitioner Dr. They are usually pretty good, but blood tests can take a few days to a week to come back. If the symptoms are serious the Dr will write a letter to an ER dept, requesting to be seen by a surgeon if they have private insurance.
    Two tiers of hospital/medical treatment here, the public one which treats anyone free of charge and the private one which is not mandatory where we pay insurance. Problems with the public ones, are the long wait lists for elective surgery, whereas privately it is performed pronto. I’ve worked in the industry and wait lists kill.
    Back in the 70’s when the national public health for all was introduced, people especially pensioners dropped out of their P/Ins, told the public system would care for them. One of them being my Dad at 70, was diagnosed with gall stones, and put on a wait list. Months after waiting, a stone went through and ruptured his bowel, landing him in ICU, and like you with a massive infection. after a tense few days when we prepared to say goodbye, he was operated on successfully, and went on to live until 91.
    With my first baby, things went wrong at the end, and I had an emergency caesarean, cut from the navel all the way down so they could get bub out quickly. Obstetrician told me I was lucky to be alive and have a live baby.
    Another case of right time right place right people. Take it easy in recovery, after all your inners have been lifted out and put back, it takes a good 8 weeks to start to feel good. Sleep lots and take good care of you.

    • SandG, that PA saved my life. She fought like hell to get me into the hospital and found the right knife. I’m giving her a gift card for Christmas so she and her family can go out to eat!

  11. Sounds like you had a great PA. I’m glad she was in the right place at the right time as well. She obviously knows her stuff.
    I’ll bet the dogs are glad to see you back. There’s nothing like getting slobbered on to make you feel better faster. I know when I had surgery, my dog wouldn’t leave my side once I got home. She just knew.

  12. It’s scary how quickly one of the myriad of systems in your body malfunctioning can be fatal. If it can happen to a guy like yourself, who’s in pretty good shape from doing all the yard work the hard way, plus running/jogging, it’s a wake up call for everyone.
    I guess you survived because god wants you to take care of his puppies.

    The bad rap for the medical profession is caused by Big Pharma, Insurance companies, and for profit Hospitals, not the doctors and nurses, they are still doing a hell of a job. The last 2 years I was in the hospital for a few days 3 times. Each time as soon as I got home I sent flowers to the nurse’s station closest to my room. I can’t say enough good things about those angels.

    • Bruce, the nurses were awesome! They did a lot to keep me on an even keel. Overall, despite the fear and pain, it was an experience that taught me a lot about how things work when they do.

  13. I thought being cracked open for coronary bypass was bad but you have that beat. Glad you’re doing ok. I hope you feel better soon.

  14. Of the many things that I have learned as a Paramedic is that:
    Never, ever ignore a Fever! Sepsis is now being taken much more seriously in pre-hospital care than before, but there is still a long ways to go.
    Never, ever, ignore Pain, especially pain that last longer than it should.
    If a child is abnormally quiet, WORRY!

    This too shall heal, but with time. Glad to know you came out okay and are now resolving to make changes.

    • David, lessons learned. I’ll never ignore a high fever again. I should have gone in a week earlier and this would have been a shorter story. Or waited a week, and shorter still!

  15. Mike, Glad you’re ok and well enough for more verbal battles ! Everything being equal, it’s best to avoid doctors and hospitals, but there are a few hero’s out there who care for us with diligence and compassion.
    Looks like you’re well on the road to recovery. Hang in there !!

    • F-16 Guy, I agree that doctors and hospitals should be avoided. Modern medicine is mostly “go home with these pills and you’ll feel better soon” when you were going to feel better soon anyway. But on occasion, that line of thought might get a man killed. I was very lucky to have who I had where those people were!

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