“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.
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.
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.
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:
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)