The Bright Side of Almost Dying (Part I)

(In these posts, I will recount–in a rather lighthearted tone–the infection I had a year ago, and the treatment and hospitalization I went through.  Herein, I might edge a little closer to the TMI line than you’d like, and I use the word “nardsack” frequently.  “Nardsack” amuses me, and since I’ve had to regrow mine…well, you’ll see.)

One year ago tonight, I was in St. Anthony’s Hospital, a couple hours post-surgical, with various organ systems on the verge of failing.  That was my first night of a five week hospital tenure, during most of which I was subjected to 16 hours a day of IV antibiotics and various “wound treatments” that make me cringe to remember.

Needless to say, the past year has been a metaphysical roller-coaster ride, especially when I had numerous friends shuffle through that fabled door at which I stood.  I could write about how happy and grateful I am to be alive today, but I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of mentioning that over the past year.  I’m sorry I seem saccharine when my Things on Tuesday posts always end with “Ten fingers, ten toes, one belly button, and a steady pulse,” but I’m more aware of those gifts now.

I could also write about the extremely nasty infection I had, all the pain and yuckiness and having to regrow parts as if I were some sort of starfish.

I won’t do that, either, other than as is necessary for narrative purposes.

The past few days, I’ve been mindful of this date, and the significance thereof.  I didn’t know how I’d manage.  I’d never been this close to dying before.  Sure, I was on my way a few years ago, drinking enough alcohol to render myself flammable, but I hadn’t ever come to the brink.  Yesterday, I was sort of maudlin, detached, a little freaked-out.  Today, I realize that–despite all the nasty, painful parts–there was also a good bit of comedy, some things that in retrospect are pretty amusing.

I choose to remember the funny bits tonight.

Okay, there’s nothing really funny about Fournier’s Gangrene.  There are two parts of the male anatomy no man would want to have turn gangrenous.  In me, this involved the second of these parts, which is just below the first of them.  Basically, there was a multiple bacterial gang war going on in my nardsack, which swelled up to the size of an eggplant.  No, I’m not exaggerating.  This was very uncomfortable, to say the least.  Especially doing things like driving a clutch or, say, walking.  Or sleeping.  I managed to make it to my doctor on Wednesday of that week.  He diagnosed scrotal cellulitis, and he prescribed Levaquin, a big-ass oral antibiotic.  He was going on vacation that Thursday, so he made something verrrrry clear to me: “If you notice any dark spots or weeping discharge, don’t call the office.  Go straight to the hospital.” No problem, doc.

Other than the awkwardly gargantuan swollen pain melon in my pants, I was enjoying NyQuil-esque brain activity.  I later found out this was because my kidneys weren’t working very well, and I had lots of bizzaro chemicals not being filtered.  I took the Levaquin, as well as some lovely NQ gelcaps, and I kind of tossed and turned my way through Wednesday night and Thursday.  At one point Thursday night, I was trying to sleep on my side, when I felt a small trickle of liquid hit one of my thighs.  Uh-oh.  I blotted it away with a Kleenex.  It was a sickly grey-green color.  I recalled what the doctor had said about “weeping discharge,” so I decided to investigate whether I had any dark spots to complete the winning quinella.

While this made perfect sense to me at the time, I soon realized that the human male is not designed to see the bottom of his own nardsack.  Ingeniously, I did the only thing I could do: I used my camera-phone to take surveillance photos of the area.  In my mind, my trusty Motorola Razr was a U-2 spy plane, scoping out missile bases on Cuba, or checking Soviet troop movements.  Sadly, given my bacterial intoxication level, this was not all that easy.  Truth be told, I’d have had better luck lying naked outside, hoping a keyhole spy satellite passed.  (I know the infrared would’ve been off the chart).  Finally, I got a clear shot that showed two quarter to half-dollar-sized enemy encampments.

Aw, fuck.

I’d gone online, of course, as soon as my doc said the words “scrotal cellulitis.” I saw some pretty rough pictures, but the few articles I found talked about this “Fournier’s Gangrene” thing.  I read enough to know that A) this is what by doctor was afraid would happen; B) Fournier’s had a mortality rate of up to 75%, and C) I did NOT want any part of it. (One site reported that “Without early treatment, bacterial infection enters the bloodstream and can cause delirium, heart attack, respiratory failure, and death.”)  As in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the surveillance photos didn’t lie.  I knew I had Fournier’s.

I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to drive myself to the hospital.  I couldn’t really sit up straight, nor could I put my legs together or operate a motor vehicle.  Plus, I’d been increasingly stoned for four days.  The beauty was that this was all happening about 5 AM.  I called the doctor’s office, and told them what was happening.  They called and woke up Dr S, who was filling in for my doc, and he called me back.  I filled him in.  He told me to come into the office around 0900, and he’d see me immediately.   I called my parents around 0700, and my dad agreed to come drive me to Dr S.  I figured I’d take a shower, just to wash away some of the steady “weeping.”

Here was another problem.  I could hardly breathe when I moved.  Since that Monday, when I’d thought I was battling the flu, I’d been drinking lots of water.  I was hardly urinating any of it away.  I managed to squeeze my legs together sufficiently to get on the scale.  I’d gained 22 lbs in four days, despite hardly eating.  This extra fluid sapped my stamina.  I managed to rinse off, then climb out of the shower, and lean on the counter for a few minutes, gasping for breath.  I settled down enough to walk back into my bedroom and collapse on the bed.  Another ten minutes, and I was able to pull on a pair of old sweatpant shorts and a t-shirt.  Rest.  Then I packed my laptop and phone, made sure I had my insurance card, and walked the 20 feet to my front door.  Rest.  I stepped gingerly outside, and leaned against the doorframe while I locked up.  Rest.  Walked ten feet to the stairs.  Rest.

Ever try to walk downstairs when you can’t put your feet near each other? It’s tricky.  I made it to the bottom, flushed and breathing hard.  Rest.  Then fifteen more feet to my truck.  I opened the door and climbed in, collapsed in, more accurately.  Anyway.  I called my dad to tell him we’d be forgoing Dr S’s office, and going straight to the hospital.

When he finally arrived, he was a bit taken aback, to be sure.  I’m sure I didn’t look good, and the whole “holy crap, if he falls, I’ll never catch his Hagrid-sized ass” thing didn’t help.  I managed to get into the back of his Honda Odyssey.  Sweet.  It was a cool morning, and we had the windows up.  I remember we made it about halfway to the hospital when I started smelling the gangrenous “weeping.” Yuck.  We waited awhile in the waiting room, then I got taken back to the ER proper.  The nurse was really cheery, despite my sad condition, and she drew blood, gave me an IV, and gave me the smock/gown thing to wear.  The ER doc came in, lifted up my gown, looked down, winced, and said, “You have something called Fournier’s Gangrene.  I need to call a urology surgeon.”

She went away.  My dad went outside to call my mom or go eat lunch or something, and I realized I was absolutely tripping balls (no pun intended).  The ceiling in St Anthony’s ER had those suspended panels that were white with little speckles in them.  I was seeing words flashing in the speckles, sort of like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind.” They were making little nonsense sentences, which amused me to no end.  Dr D, the urologist, showed up, poked around, and told me we’d need to go to surgery ASAP.  I was amenable.  It seemed like a good idea, if only so this whole agonizing pain thing would stop.

Again, I was left alone, just tripping on the flashing word dots on the ceiling.  I got wheeled back to the pre-op area.  My mom–a nurse–had arrived and came back with me.  An anesthesiologist came by to check on me.  He checked my teeth, as if I were a racehorse, asked me some questions, then left.  The guy looked like he was 20.  Awhile later, another anesthesiologist came by, rechecked my teeth, asked me the same questions, then left.  I still don’t know which one knocked me out.

About every 15 minutes, there was a bird sound out in the hallway.  It was early on the quarters–it seemed to chirp at :55, :10, :25, and :40.  I never did find out what it meant.  Probably some sort of reminder tone for the docs and nurses.

My mom left, and I was left alone, benignly looking at my flashing word speckles again.  Strange how they followed me from the ER to pre-op.

Then it was show time.  A couple orderlies came in and wheeled me along the corridors.  We got into the OR.  They put a mask on me, and next thing I remember, somebody was telling me to cough.  I did, and they yanked a giant tube out of my throat.  Holy SHIT! That’s probably why I’d been having trouble breathing! I’d somehow ingested a plastic tube.

I ate some ice chips, then got wheeled into my new home in ICU.  It was a nice room, I suppose.  There was supposed to be a view, but it was behind me.  I was hooked up to a Dilaudid machine, where I could push the button and have a few drops of hydromorphone enter my bloodstream.  Suh-weet!

The urologist-surgeon guy came in after awhile, lifted up my gown and poked around at his work.  I asked him what was going on.  He told me they’d had to cut away about a quarter of my nardsack (note: he didn’t say nardsack, but I insisted on using that word, to my parents’ chagrin and embarrassment), and that I was on a cocktail of IV antibiotics to battle the infection that still raged.  “It’s a good thing you came in when you did.  If you’d waited another 24 hours, you probably wouldn’t have been saveable.” He turned to leave.  I pushed my Dilaudid button and said, “Light up a room and then leave,” but I don’t think he heard me.

(Tomorrow: How Nigel (who wasn’t real) got me through, and Abby (who IS real) got forgotten)

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22 Responses to “The Bright Side of Almost Dying (Part I)”

  1. Stupid Emma just googled Fourniers Gangrene and now isnt going to be able to eat her dinner, thank you tom. P.S Congratulations on surviving and all. ❤

  2. Hon, there's a reason I didn't include photos. 😉

  3. And thanks. I'm glad I survived, too, or we never would've been neighbors, and then I wouldn't have been able to ruin your appetite.

  4. I'm so glad I didn't google it. Thank you, Emma, for taking one for the team.
    I'm also glad you've survived.

  5. This is a riveting tale, better reading than serialized Dickens. I'm on tenterhooks waiting for the next bit…

  6. I suddenly get thankful for being a girl… although I do tend to loose my girly spare parts. This just sounds SO painful. I'm really glad you're here to tell us about it. ewww… I HAD to google it too… dang curiosity.. ewwwww.

  7. So how did it happen? It just showed up one day? CRAZY. I would've been inconsolable. Good for you and your level head, I guess….

    I'm glad it wasn't too late. 🙂

  8. That's quite the story. Glad that it all worked out for you.

  9. I'm glad you decided to stick around. Warm fuzzies all around.

  10. Holy crap man! That is extremely full on! I'm glad you made it.

  11. Thanks, Laurie. Sorry about the tenterhooks. That can't be comfortable. 😉

  12. So how did it happen?Nobody really knows. It's a pretty rare disease–my doctor has only seen one other case in his career. I'd thought I had the flu that Monday, then that Tuesday, I noticed some swelling. I made the appointment with my doctor then. Wednesday I went, and Friday afternoon I was having surgery. In retrospect, I'd rather have spent Christmas in New Orleans.

  13. I'm glad too, B. Thanks for helping me through that time. 🙂

  14. Sorry you Googled it. I couldn't make this thing up. Stay warm during your 6.5 hour days. 🙂

  15. Ta. I'm glad too. The more Aussie neighbours I have, the better things will turn out.

  16. Omg, tom. (I know I am not telling you anything, but) you are incredibly lucky to be alive!!!I'm finding this riveting reading…in a scientific way. I'll be googling F's G as soon as I finish reading Part Deux!

  17. I know I am, Lauri, and I'm incredibly grateful. I know you're a scientist and all, but some of the FG images are a little icky. Just so you know. 😉

  18. Meh, they were icky, but only in a "that's gotta hurt" kind of way. Sigh. I hate to see/imagine people suffering. That's why I hide down in the lab instead of being a nurse! Thank the gods for people who can be nurses! 😀

  19. I had one murse who bugged the crap out of me. He worked five or six twelve-hour nights in a row, and he was always complaining about his job. Granted, I wouldn't want to be a nurse either–for the same reason as you–but I had the misfortune to be the only patient on the floor who could talk. Gah.

  20. Wow, was that a year ago? I remember Ali being very worried about you in the hospital. Seems like yesterday.Here's to a better 2009, one without nardsack trauma and other near-death experiences.Funny article, too. Loved the stuff about U-2 spy photos.

  21. WOW this is a very interesting story. Thanks for sharing honey….

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