Xoterica 39: The Splinter (Part 2)

Artemis Sere The Unstoppable Staph SS-SG-00600

“Know the difference between a catastrophe and an inconvenience — To realize that it’s just an inconvenience, that it is not a catastrophe, but just an unpleasantness, is part of coming into your own, part of waking up.” (Bruce Lee)


I was really looking forward to the 4th of July extended holiday as a time of recharge, chillaxation in the sun and reflection on the events of 2022 so far - my 2nd converter-jacking, my covid, my dental surgery.

I really needed a reset away from the madness of my own life.

Instead of celebrating independence, I was reminded how truly dependent I am - on friends, family, loved ones, the medical system, and courage. Instead of recharging, regrouping and reassessing, I celebrated dependence with my foot up and regrets about my carelessness.

I spent many hours angry at myself for causing all of the hours lost to the accident. Hours paraded around naked in a poorly-tied gown with an IV cart. Hours strapped to an uncomfortable bed bound with tubes and tickers.

Hours imagining how my Dad felt when he was in this same position fighting for his life. I always imagined that I would create a metal sculpture to capture my last moments with him... the groaning face of agony, the myriad of tubes treating him like a drug puppet, the barely working catheters both giving and taking life. It was a goal of my #metalmorphosis that I never achieved.

In my head, a constant mental rotation of

"How did a splinter get me here?"

"What could I have done differently?"

"What should I learn from this?"

In reality, the answers are far more complicated than stitches and two-weeks off of my foot. Some wounds caused by time and society never fully close.

And some wounds don't show up until you least expect them to.

Closures and Openings (July 18, 2022)

I slept for at least 13 hours following discharge. In the days that followed, my theme was rest, elevation of my foot, and adaptation to life changes that followed my stay at Regions Hospital. I slept a lot and downed meds as if they were my new candy.

When closure day came on Monday, the stress wasn't about the procedure, but getting to the facility. The Specialty Care center wouldn't let me rideshare to the appointment, even if I had pickup covered. They also couldn't provide alternate transport for those without a wealth of options. With one handful of family members in the area and numbered accessible friends, my options on Monday noon were shockingly limited.

Thankfully, my girlfriend worked her butt off to get off early so she could take me herself, but it made me realize how isolated I've become. Wrapped up in my own little art world. Consumed by the drama and stress of these odd days.

The world is burning and I have been mostly silent. Too silent, I suppose. In posting these blogs, I realized that it's been almost nine months since my last one.

That will change. I have written much and shared little lately, been a passive spectator in these troubled times.

The closure procedure was fast and painless, especially with the anesthetics. I was given crutches, a post-op boot and more painkillers and wheeled back to my regularly-scheduled life, a very different person than the one who simply got a splinter in his foot.

As with anything, the answers drove more questions.

An Imperfect Science

In reality, shit went from urgent to emergent fast - within days.

I did what I thought what right with heading to the Urgent Care first instead of a Hospital, and it turned out to be a bad decision.

The first Urgent Care doc ordered x-rays on my foot, but didn't see a foreign object because wood doesn't show up on x-rays (only MRIs), so he didn't see a poisonous foreign body lodged beneath my skin. He prescribed useless antibiotics and sent me home, telling me to come back if it got worse.

The second Urgent Care doc looked at the state of my foot, painted lines to track infection growth, and gave me new, more aggressive antibiotics to fight the infection, telling me to come back if it got worse.

Less than a week after the first Urgent Care visit, I was in the Hospital getting an MRI and foot surgery scheduled. It went from uncomfortable to "worse" faster than any Urgent Care doc expected - but they were relying on an imperfect picture of my foot that didn't show what was really going on beneath the skin.

When I ask myself the question of "what could I have done differently", I don't have a good answer (besides 'wearing shoes'). I think the greatest fault lies on Urgent Care docs not insisting I get an MRI sooner, even if it required a Hospital visit. A week less of the infection timeline could've got me into surgery quicker and without such painful complications.

But I acknowledge that medicine is an imperfect science run by imperfect people involving imperfect patients.

Speaking of imperfect patient, the visit turned out to be about more than just an infected splinter in my foot.

Like Father

Over the course of the first couple days in the Hospital, checks were run regularly on my vitals. Blood sugar and pressure were both running high. After tests were performed, I was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic with high blood pressure.

Strapped to tubes and focused an injured foot, I had little idea what that meant - for me. I'd seen it in my Dad, watched my Grandfather wither away from it, and encountered friends with it, but was shocked that I was now part of that dubious club.

I don't know when it started, don't know how long I've had it. Blood sugar problems could've been behind the scenes for years as I consumed carelessly. But I've honestly never known the blood sugar highs and lows that most insulin-necessary diabetes suffer. My pescatarian life has been mostly comfortable. One too many sodas, for sure, but I don't have a sweet tooth anymore and am not a foodie thanks to my history with UC.

A little bit of me suspects this covid angle suggested by CIDRAP, as the timeline jives, but don't have true proof of when blood sugar started running high.

Again, I have to be angry with myself for not getting levels checked after my Dad died from diabetes. I understood his pain and struggle, but not in the context of living it.

A splinter from my past infecting the present.

Living it has given me a whole new appreciation of the disease. How my diet has completely changed to align to keeping blood sugar down. Multiple blood draws daily to monitor glucose levels. Taking things slower and more deliberately to lessen blood pressure. Managing stress and hunger pangs.

While healing from a wound, sore toe joints and infection-bruised swelling, I'm also having to undertake new dietary habits, check vitals multiple times per day, and take more pills regularly than I have in my life.

All of this from an inch-sized splinter.

Infection

I think we each hold splinters that are infecting our ability to live long, strong and healthy. The splinters are kept sanitized by positive reinforcements from culture and advertising, but the infection of greed can be seen in our ads alone.

The cost of being a care-free consumer in modern society is our lives - from the unhealthy foods and lifestyles pushed our way from birth, to the constant rotation of promotions that are sure to secure your death.

Strapped to a hospital bed, I watched daytime TV for the first time in decades. I was dismayed by the ad content directed at viewers during that window.

Ads promoting food terrible for humans, featuring people who most likely are diabetic and/or have an array of health issues that would keep them from eating what they're promoting.

Misleading, manipulative ads targeting seniors.

Ambulance-chaser and class action ads.

And countless advertisements for new drugs to fight Ulcerative Colitis, a condition I beat the last time I took my health into my own hands. It seems as though medicine is no closer to finding an answer for this debilitating condition. I made it out if its grasp; this time, though, I fear the meds have me.

As three different antibiotics worked to beat bugs back in my system, I found that propaganda is still a powerful form of infection that probably contributed to who I am now.

Wake-up Puncture

There is a hard road ahead for me. The visions of my Dad and Grandfather dying as a result of diabetes haunts me. Their gruesome ends are the stuff of my nightmares.

At a year-and-a-half away from 50, I have a greater sense of my fragility.

I never imagined that I would end up like my Dad, but I should've seen it coming. More proof that I'm not a seer, just a normal creative human with a keen aptitude for words, and good artistic vision and intuition, who is sometimes too smart for his own good, sometimes prone to stupid mistakes that result in suffering and surgery.

Pain is part of the plotline.

So is making better choices.

This splinter was not a catastrophe, not the end of my world. But it was a wake-up call to be more cautious and less careless, be more deliberate and less chaotic, be more here and less there.

There is wisdom in this splinter, and I will embody it.

Artemis Sere The Unstoppable Staph SS-SG-00600
Artemis Sere The Unstoppable Staph SS-SG-00600 (Full)

Xoterica 38: The Splinter (Part1)

Artemis Sere SS-SG-00600 The Unstoppable Staph

“Know the difference between a catastrophe and an inconvenience — To realize that it’s just an inconvenience, that it is not a catastrophe, but just an unpleasantness, is part of coming into your own, part of waking up.” (Bruce Lee)

At the beginning of July, I was starting my Independence Day vacation and was walking carelessly around my yard barefoot. Barefoot is nothing new to me - I've played soccer barefoot, walked around lakes without shoes, and enjoyed the Earth at my toes without incident or injury for the whole of my life.

Confidence creates carelessness.

While walking, a piece of wood punctured hole in the pad of my right foot, just below my big toe. While it certainly was a splinter of some tree or mulch, it was large and solid enough to act like a nail. 

This two-part blog details the last three weeks of my life since the injury. It includes some graphic pictures from the event, as well as art that has resulted from the accident. It's included as part of my edgy #xoterica series due to the aggressive reflections that have arisen from this dark, excruciating event in my life.

The account is lengthy. Strap in. Wear adequate shoes.

Thanks for learning about my splintering.

Urgency Rising (July 5, 2022)

The puncturing itself wasn't nearly as painful as what followed. Despite my best efforts to clean the wound and keep it sanitized, it quickly became infected. In days, the infection grew to the point where my right foot bruised and swelled, and it became difficult to walk. With nightmare of gangrene and losing my striker foot, I headed into an Urgent Care facility.

Tuesday following the 4th of July was busy at the Clinic. The Lobby wan't full, but bustling and busy by the stated two-hour wait. I knew I was in for a bit of a chill. With no headphones an a dying phone battery, I had to do something very uncharacteristic:

Wait in silence in a crowded lobby.

In the Lobby, I met an older lady who also was in the Clinic with a foot issue. Her attention was drawn to me based on my painted toenails. She appreciated my work, even more that I painted my nails myself, as I have been since 2007 in memory of a beautiful little almost-stepdaughter named Natalie who used to practice painting nails on my toes.

As we talked more, I discovered that she was a retired 3Mer. I also learned that her husband Chris Berg was a retired 3Mer who had died recently from complications of Ulcerative Colitis.

I told her about my 13-year battle with the condition, my hellish life for decades, and my history with 3M, and she was startled by the serendipity.

Like my friend Randy who died from complications of Chrons a decade ago, her husband's UC condition got progressively worse, even with a colostomy. He died from a paralyzed colon, never enjoying the freedom I found with my fight against the horrible condition.

I was pulled into the observation rooms, never to see or speak with her again, but that interaction gave me strength for what lie ahead.

Eventually, a young, scruffy doc named Quinn made it into my room. He took a look at my foot and ordered x-rays, eventually diagnosing a staph infection. The infection had yet to take strong hold, and he prescribed Cephalexin and told me to stay off my feet while it was healing.

I hobbled back to my car through a now-crowded lobby, sure things were going to turn around, even though the pain was starting to get intense.

Artemis Sere Splinter 752022

Urgency Undeniable (July 8, 2022)

A few days, more foot redness and lots of pain later, I went back to Urgent Care because I thought the antibiotics weren't working.

I was right.

A veteran, harried doctor named Rachel was next up to view my foot's progress, and it had deteriorated greatly in three days. The areas of infection had expanded across the front of my foot, and it had swelled up to my ankle, to the point where it looked like I was wearing a prosthetic foot. My toes ached from swelling, especially my big toe, whose ligaments were tortured by liquid that was filling beneath the skin in every direction.

Doctor Rachel drew outlines around the affected areas and told me to return if the redness reached beyond the borders. She prescribed a new antibiotic for me (Doxycyclene) and sent me on my way.

The pic below shows the aggressive movement of the infection in 3 days - soap included. 

Artemis Sere Splinter 782022

Emergency (July 11, 2022)

Over the weekend, the infection did not abate. The soreness from my toes grew stronger, and my ability to walk was greatly compromised. Ibuprofen no longer had any effect on the pain emanating from the injury to my foot.

I was hopeful and patient all weekend that the new antibiotics would make a difference, but they did not – for a very good reason, which you'll see soon. For days my girlfriend told me to go to the Emergency Room, and early that morning, I made my way to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. She was nervous about the growing infection, and so was I.

I dutifully tried to let the Doxycylene work, but could no longer wait.

I entered on Monday morning and didn't leave until Thursday afternoon. The doctors that reviewed my injury in the Emergency Room immediately scheduled me to be admitted. Over the course of the next day, I had an MRI, blood tests, and many other tests to see what was going on with my foot. The infection hadn't yet spread anywhere else in my system. I wasn't running a fever, or weak or nauseous; just in pain.

The MRI revealed what many of us suspected – that there was more than just an infection in my foot. There was a foreign body stuck in the wound that was driving the infection.

More than just a puncture wound, there was a splinter than needed to be removed.

Surgery was scheduled for the next day.

Artemis Sere Splinter 7112022

Surgery (July 13, 2022)

The next 24 hours was the type of hell that reminded me of my Dad's last moments. He died from complications of diabetes in 2019, and his hospital stay was an uncomfortable one before his passing. I now understand why he was so exhausted as he tried to fight for his life: the hospital experience isn't a restful one.

I had multiple IV drips pumping two different antibiotics constantly, switching off throughout the day and night as they would run out.

I was given Oxycodone every 6 hours for pain, which put me in a dreamy state throughout the day and night.

Multiple tubes and instruments used to measure the fight against the virus.

The constant vitals checks every 4 hours. The HEPA baths. The blood draws. The custodial staff visits. The food staff visits. The education staff visits.

Drifting from Discovery Channel to CNN, from learning new shit to learning shitty news.

The numbing stream of medical and pharmaceutical ads and ambulance chaser promos.

By the time of surgery, I was happy to have the operation. I was wheeled to the OR and remember little after that due to the cocktail of anesthetics. I remember eventually waking up and being told that they found the foreign body and were able to extract it.

All were positive about the procedure, but let me know that the wound was still open and had been packed with gauze that would need to be removed before I left. A small procedure would take place the following morning to remove the packing. I wouldn't be put under for it, but have local anesthetic.

Additionally, I'd need a follow-up surgery to close it. That update also came with the greatest news I'd heard in days:

Discharge.

Artemis Sere Splinter 7132022
Artemis Sere Splinter 7132022
Artemis Sere Splinter 7132022

Homebound/Hellfound (July 14, 2022)

The day following surgery I was booked for discharge. While I thought I was through the worst of it, the most painful experience in my life was yet to come: extraction of packing that was put in the wound to keep it open following surgery and before closure.

About six inches of gauze was inserted into the open wound during surgery that had to come out before I left the hospital. With a foreign object no longer in my foot, everyone involved expected a quick (but manageable) procedure to pull the guts out of the wound.

Three injections of lidocaine foreshadowed the agony ahead - a shot between veins at the top of my foot, a shot next to the wound, and another on the underside of my foot. Each shot sent me writhing and twisting, on top of the surgery pain that was pre-existing.

Eventually, the wounded area of my foot was numbed, but proved little aid against the excruciating pain of having a string of puss and blood-soaked gauze pulled out of the cut. There wasn't a face on the pain chart that symbolized what I went through; ten is red-faced representative of the highest level, but as I neared fainting from the pain with every inch of tug, I would advocate that are levels beyond ten.

Like a careful but apprehensive seamstress, Resident Spencer unfurled the gruesome string, stopping every inch so I could recover and refocus my strength. The other resident massaged my agonized leg, but it was little compensation for the hell I was enduring. The last inch got stuck and required an extra emphatic tug. I braced for the coming pain and told him to "Go".

I'll never forget that final tug and last inch, a rush of pain so intense that only my decades of dealing with UC pain could compare. It is amazing that I didn't pass out from the pain.

I wanted out of the Hospital bad enough to fight to stay conscious. A hospital is a great place for treatment, but a horrible place to rest and recover. With vitals checked every four hours (sometimes more when nurses didn't coordinate), antibiotics switched out every couple hours, and regular blood tests following every drained bag of Venkomyacin, it is impossible to actually get better during a short-term stay.

I suppose the 13 years of daily, painful UC has given me pain tolerance that is enviable. I didn't accept the colostomy path of Randy or Chris, nor the drugs that doctors teased me with that they claimed would make me better.

I found my own path back to balance.

Sadly, to be human is to be broken. We exchange our flaws as the years rage on. We beat one seemingly insurmountable obstacle only to be faced with exponentially more. We find equilibrium just in time for it to be compromised by heavier elements.

Hours following the packing procedure, I limped out of the hospital on crutches with a bag full of medication and another surgery on the horizon: stitching up the wound.

(Xoterica 39: The Splinter Part 2 coming soon)

Artemis Sere SS-SG-00600 The Unstoppable Staph
Artemis Sere SS-SG-00600 The Unstoppable Staph