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.
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.
PA: Listen to me. If we can’t get your white count down you’re going to lose your kidneys.
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.
Now. I have a team in place.
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.
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.