A Yankee Notebook, Columns

This Can’t be a Good Sign

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – For decades I’ve preached the virtue of experiencing one new thing each week. This has resulted in an occasionally exciting life so far. But the one this past week was a bit more than I’d planned for or even thought about.

After a series of falls (six) since the beginning of January, I enjoy the almost constant companionship in my house of my lovely candy-apple red four-wheel walker, Herschel. An ever-ready silent partner in mobility, he helps me to my feet after extended periods at my desk, and then props me through the first wavering steps that all old folks are accustomed to. He carries the groceries from the back door into the kitchen. He waits beside my bed during the night to assist my occasional forays the two dozen steps into the washroom. He’s become invaluable.

Thus it was a surprise, a week ago Sunday, to find myself lying in an unaccustomed place – it turned out to be on the floor between the bed and the recliner – at dark o’clock in the morning, with no idea or memory of how I’d gotten there. Like the fictional deacon in Holmeses’ old poem “The Deacon’s Masterpiece,” I paused briefly, “…perplexed at what the — Moses — was coming next.” Yep, there was the fabric side of the recliner to my left and the bed frame to my right. Getting up was going to be impossible. Besides, my feet were all tangled with Herschel’s wheels.

I reached up and grabbed my cell phone from the bed stand. Four o’clock. A bit chilly, too. A couple little triangles of sheet and fleece pulled down from the bed would help a little, if I didn’t move. I’d wait till after six to call my son-in-law to come pick me up on his way to work. Then I tried to make my peace with the hardwood floor.

Todd came, got me standing with my hands gripping Herschel’s, saw me safely into the shower, and left, promising to check in soon. I settled into my daily routines, but wondered what in the world had happened. My left leg was swollen and sore as a boil (a prophetic comparison), with a dark line running up under my skin to a large, tender lump in my groin. “Hmm,” thought I to myself, “this can’t be a good sign. But how in the world did I end up on the floor with no memory of getting there?”

The answers, according to my confidants, ranged from a TIA (transient ischemic attack) to a stroke to a heart attack. So after a day of repeating the most common last words of old Vermonters, “I’ll give ‘er another night and see how she does tomorrow,” I drove up to the emergency room. I had assured Kiki I’d be back home in probably an hour or two.

Three days later I drove cautiously to my daughter’s house to pick up Kiki. The emergency room at the hospital, which had swallowed me, is an amazing place. Put you into a cubicle, collect your outer clothes and put you into a johnny; questions, vital signs, follow-up questions, blood samples from both arms, one of them off to the lab for culturing, and here’s transport to take you upstairs. Brain scans, X-rays, heart monitors, intravenous antibiotics. It all took more than that hour or two.

It was (still is) an infection. Something called cellulitis. Not cellulite (the bane of beach-going ladies), which is something quite different. Started in my left foot, as far as I can tell, and was on its way up to better grazing grounds when I ended up on the floor and took that as a sign that maybe something wasn’t quite right.

The organization that it must take to run such a place must be intense. The computer, of course, is essential to its success. Everything came with a printout, from my medications to lunch (which, by the way, was outstanding). And everyone seemed to have a particular role. Everyone, that is, except the short-staffed and overtaxed nurses, who do everything from helping folks on the pot, to injections, to soothing distressed souls to plugging in USBs and adjusting each patient’s television set.

On my way home at last, I stopped at the pharmacy for my oral antibiotics. The flood had apparently wiped out several other pharmacies, so it was a bit of a wait for the meds to come through (imagine the scenes behind the scenes!).

My new weekly experience is slowly becoming history. Foot’s still swollen and red, and a side effect of the antibiotic is diarrhea (oh, the joy!). But I’m already looking forward to the next experience. As they say in Blackjack, hit me easy, dealer.

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