It started on Saturday, a little over a week ago. I had just come back from the chiropractor and was settling in for a pleasant Saturday morning, doodling around on the computer and whatnot before I headed off to the shelter in the afternoon. I was in the process of feeding the menagerie (including my sweet foster dog Marco), the first step of which is giving Gizmo his allergy medication. I wrap the pill in a meaty little pocket and sometimes smear it with peanut butter if he initially balks. On this particular morning, he was particularly ornery and did not want the pill, no matter how many times I put it in front of him, on the floor or in my hand. He finally had had enough and lashed out, catching the fleshy bottom part of the middle finger on my right hand, digging in his teeth and whipping his head from side to side for a couple of savage shakes.
After the cursing and tear-inducing pain, I ran my finger under cold water and did the usual cleaning and bandaging. I put some ice on it and, when I went to the shelter later that same day, I made sure to wear gloves from the moment I got there. But somehow, infection got into the puncture wound that Gizmo’s tooth had caused. That night, watching “Fury Road” with my daughter and her brother, alternating 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off with ice packs, my finger just kept getting fatter and fatter with an escalating throb.
By the next morning, there were streaks up my arm, indicating a traveling infection. It being Sunday, my regular doctor wasn’t in, so I walked over to the local City M.D. The doctor there was concerned, even suggesting that I might want to go to the hospital now for “a few days” (!!) of IV antibiotics. Ultimately, they were able to hook me up right there in the office, after taking some x-rays to ensure nothing was broken. They sent me home with a prescription and said to come back on Tuesday.
Sunday was Mother’s Day. The weather was pleasant, at least in the early part of the day, and my daughter and I drove out to Pinelawn Cemetery, where my mother’s ashes are in a niche (next to her parents – it was a promise I had made to her on the day she knew she was dying that I would keep them all together and visit often). Afterward we had lunch at Cheeburger Cheeburger, served by a kid who looked a little like a low-rent Channing Tatum (one of my daughter’s favorite “boys”) and I really didn’t give my finger much of a thought, other than making sure to keep it elevated because whenever it hung down, it pulsed painfully. I actually thought it might be getting better.
On Monday, the streaks up my arm were gone and the swelling in my hand had subsided. The finger at first seemed better, but by the evening it had turned into an excruciating mess, cherry red infection in the flesh around the wound straining at the skin at the base of my finger. By the time I went back to City M.D. on Tuesday, I knew I was in trouble. They sent me directly to the emergency room, where I spent four hours in the waiting area feeling frustrated at having to sit for so long but also sympathetic to the people there who were clearly worse off than I was, with my measly infected finger. I was finally brought back and put in a room, where I had to put on a gown, get more x-rays and get hooked up to the IV that would be my “best friend” (said the nurse) for the foreseeable future. Darian showed up with some yummy food but I couldn’t really eat it. I hadn’t eaten much all day and so had a raging hunger headache on top of it all.
When the hand doctor arrived, I thought he was actually kind of cute, and we joked about which character he would be on “Grey’s Anatomy” (I thought he was plastic surgeon Jackson Avery; he thought he was Dr. McSteamy; I told him McSteamy was dead but he was the one who had taught Jackson Avery everything he knew). Then he proceeded to put me through paroxysms of pain I don’t think I’ve ever felt before (with the possible exception of when I had kidney stones), digging into the puncture wound with some kind of sharp metal tool (tweezer, perhaps?) to clear out the poison. Darian was contorting over in the corner, feeling sympathetic pain as she watched him torture her mother with a hint of a smile on his face.
Eight hours after I had first arrived, I finally ended up in a double room with a nice older woman with a foot infection, who told the same damn story to anyone who would listen (I must have heard it at least 20 times) about how she would give “holy hell” to the social worker if she didn’t let her go to a rehab center rather than home because her daughter was ill and wouldn’t be able to take care of her. There was also some ranting about the medication she needed costing a thousand dollars a pill at the rehab center but her daughter had researched it on the web and it was only $15. Compared to what replaced her when she finally succeeded in getting transferred to her preferred location (at $50 a pill), Roommate 1 was a peach.
New roommate: stereotypical Long Beach white trash, Motley Crüe groupie (still, in her late 40s), recovering drug addict with a 30-year-old daughter with three kids who’s a plus-size model and a son in jail who DID NOT SHUT UP the entire time I was there, whether she was on the phone or talking to her herself, or the aides, or, later, to me (despite no attempt on my part to move aside the closed curtain, mind you). (To add insult to injury, she kept forgetting my name.) Her TV was on top volume (I was using headphones and still heard her TV more than I heard my own), she kept playing snippets of (loud) rock music on her phone, and the whining and complaining and cursing didn’t stop until she finally fell asleep at around 11:30. But at 5:15 a. m., here comes the light, the TV (loudly), and the talking, all over again. She evidently spilled coffee on her bed so she had to wash out her pajamas in the bathroom (“Hope you don’t mind my wet pajamas hanging from the bars near the toilet” – like I had a choice).
Roommate No. 2 was annoying in and of herself, but there were other infuriations, primary among them being that I JUST WANTED TO GO HOME. I wanted to leave on Wednesday, after one night in the hospital. Dr. Hand was pleased with how the finger was healing and said, as far as he was concerned, I could leave, but he deferred to the infectious disease doctor. She showed up a couple of hours later and sentenced me to ANOTHER night and day of IV antibiotics even though everything was going well. “You don’t want to mess with the hand,” every medical professional I saw warned me, and my diabetes didn’t help matters.
I had a chronic headache from the moment I arrived until the moment I left, finally, on Thursday. My blood pressure spiked due to the stress and the infection, so they prescribed blood pressure medication that I don’t need and that ended up giving me a wicked sore throat as a side effect. I couldn’t sleep, the food (a carb-controlled diet, of course) was god-awful and no matter what position I put my bed in, I could not get comfortable. (Like an idiot, I forgot to tell Darian to include my journal when she brought some clean undies and my computer and iPod. I’m pretty sure I would have felt immeasurably better if I could have vented on paper. I might have even managed to write a few “reserve” blog posts to use for slow weeks. But I wasn’t that smart.)
Fortunately, I didn’t have much work to do, which was both a good thing (I wasn’t really missing anything important and no one was clamoring for me to produce documents or run a closing) and a bad thing (I was already having a quiet month and no work = no money). The other major stressor, of course, is the cost of it all. In my infinite wisdom, at the beginning of the year I had increased the deductible under my health insurance to $6,750 in order to reduce my monthly premium. At the time, I had figured that I had never met my $2,250 deductible before and I was still getting things like doctor visits, lab tests and prescription drugs covered, so what difference would it make if I raised the deductible to $6,750 and paid $100 less a month in premiums? Well, the joke was on me. Who knows what three days and two nights in a hospital are going to cost me, with every pill and shot and blood test running up the tab, and seeing no fewer than three different doctors? I am assuming that my deductible will finally be met, but where am I supposed to find $6,000?
By the time I finally got home Thursday night, after literally three hours of torture waiting for the release papers to come through, to enjoy a Wendy’s Son of Baconator and a bacon-and-cheese baked potato (finally! Something I could eat and ENJOY), I felt like I had been through the wringer but was happy to return to the comforts of home and my familiar old life. Sure, I had to soak and have Darian wrap my finger a few times a day, and I have to continue taking antibiotics, which are wreaking havoc on my stomach and related regions (and also my mouth – somehow my mouth constantly feels like I’ve eaten the saltiest of salt bagels, and no amount of beverage or even ice cream can soothe it). And it sure was nice to sleep in my bed.
Spent a rainy Friday catching up with myself (and also treated myself to a late afternoon nap). Saturday, we went to my daughter’s cousin’s first birthday party, an extravagant and spectacular affair with a barnyard theme that featured a couple of hours of live animals. [An aside: At the party, while I enjoyed barbecue (while trying not to get my finger bandage dirty) and partook liberally of the spread of adorable snacks and desserts), my miserable week somehow rubbed off on my daughter’s sister. She managed to sprain her ankle playing volleyball on the front lawn and completely missed the animals, including a pony ride, because her dad (my ex) had to take her to the emergency room. Poor kid. I feel for her misfortune.]
And how did this week from somewhere-close-to-hell finally end? In a fender-bender in major traffic on First Avenue, being tossed around the back of the Posh Pets animal transport van after being cut off by an Uber driver who yelled and screamed and threatened but then said “Never mind” when it turned out he didn’t have his license on him. I landed knee, then head, and I think I jammed my bad finger at some point in my forward tumble. But the good news is that Marco got adopted by a lovely family and, apart from the crash, a late spring day in Union Square with good people and lots of creatures was kind of a pleasant way to end a really long seven-plus days. I’m looking forward to sheer uneventfulness this week (and maybe a few hours of work).
A humble postscript: All this whining about my infected middle finger and two days in the hospital have given me a much greater appreciation of the suffering of my dear friends and family members who have been through the gauntlet of cancer treatment. I truly have no clue how bad it could be. My experience represented only a tiny fraction of what they had to go through (and, in some cases, continue to go through). Hospitals are horrible places, but admittedly people do emerge from there and begin to feel better. On the other hand, being in the hospital also reminded me a lot of my mother and how she spent her agonizing last months, shuttling between a hospital bed and a rehab bed and slowly losing her mind. I can easily see how that happens as well.
One final thought: As miserable an experience as being in the hospital was, the people there – the nurses and aides, and even the volunteers – were, without exception, pleasant and helpful, to the extent they could be given hospital red tape and protocol, which by their nature are frustrating for everyone. Nurses and aides just have to deal with the bullshit on a daily basis, so they’re not as bothered and in fact retain their senses of humor and a gentleness of spirit that is perfect for soothing exasperated people like me.