Some Bugs I’ve Met Along The Way

Aug 16, 2011 by

Some Bugs I’ve Met Along The Way

Or How To Make Friends With Methicillan Resistant Staphylococcus Auerus (MRSA)

I bounced from one side of the hard ambulance gurney to the other as the sleek red and white van raced for Palmdale Regional Medical Center, siren and horn blasting traffic out of the way. I looked back and there behind us was the Lake Los Angeles Fire Department’s EMT Truck, its red lights flashing. I was aware of all of this activity because some invisible jolly giant had decided to sit on my chest, ho, ho, hoing me to disaster while causing some severe discomfort. I felt as though I had a huge bubble in the middle of my chest and that if I could just get up a good burp, I’d be fine. As no burp was forthcoming, the emergency crews decided I had better be looked at by the specialists at Palmdale Regional Medical Center. Horns blasting, sirens screaming, red lights flashing, the best of Lake Los Angele’s “finest” got me to Palmdale Regional Medical Center in record time.

ambulanceThe EMT, a wonderful young man who had struggled through school while working at another job to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician, tried three times to insert an IV post in the back of my left hand. It is quite painful (to me) and each attempt he apologized for not being able to hit the vein. After three attempts he decided to wait until we got to the hospital. The top of my left hand looked like a piece of raw meat.

The ambulance driver turned into the boulevard wide driveway with its water efficient desert landscaping. He slowed and carefully took us to the emergency entrance at PRMC’s brand new facility in our high desert city, the pride of everyone who lives here. It will eventually offer 231 beds (all private rooms) with every modern medical machine and treatment known to man. At the present time there 121 beds available so the hospital is working at about half capacity. Walking into (or being wheeled in) is very much like entering the United Nations. I heard very nearly every accent of English as the Emergency Room personnel inserted an IV and got me ready for examination.

The first doctor I saw was a very pretty Irish lady with a crew of four following her every move. They determined I was not going to die within the next few minutes so everything slowed down to nearly a walk. I was stripped, gripped, then slipped, into a hospital gown, you know the ones I mean one of those that when you move and you’ve just “mooned” the world.

Suddenly I was in the company of a doctor who checked me over, asked me some questions in accented English, and admitted me for an overnight stay.

At least I thought it would just be an overnight stay. By the next morning, after an uncomfortable night in a bed that didn’t comfortably accomodate my 250 pound frame, another doctor came in and said they were going to keep me through the day to perform a series of tests. He said I was suffering from Acute Coronary Syndrome, otherwise known as “the Poor Man’s Heart Attack”, which explained why I couldn’t get the giant off of my chest. About ten minutes later the same doctor came back and said they needed to do an angiogram.

The angiogram requires a small slit be made in the femoral artery near your groin and a long probe, with a camera on the end, is inserted up into the arteries and veins near your heart. The doctor looks for any plaque buildup or other obstructions to blood flow and, as in my case, when he found some he then did what is known as Angioplasty. Same probe only this time with a small balloon on the end and the doctor expands it where there is plaque, causing it to adhere to the sides of the artery and increase the blood flow.

Everything went like clockwork and twenty minutes later the assistant physician was applying heavy pressure to the slit in the artery to stop the bleeding. Because I am on Cumadin (a blood thinner) it took longer than most but within another twenty minutes I was being lifted back onto the uncomfortable mattress in room 106. Donna and Wendi were there as were a host of other family members.

The doctor came in and said it went well, that he found a small amount of blockage but took care of it with the Angioplasty and that if there were no further complications I would probably be released the next day. The rest of my stay that first time was spent enjoying some really good (for a hospital) food, resting and getting through the night with a minimum of pain killers and dreaming of how wonderful my own bed was going to feel when I got home. I was finally released around noon the following day.

I was surprised that there was so little evidence of surgery after the Angiogram and Angioplasty. I knew someone had been fooling around near my private parts but there was no pain or other indication of surgery. I luxuriated in my favorite recliner at home and began what I thought would be a short recovery period and then back to Jackson Lake for some trout fishing.

Wonderful idea but a few little things had to be taken care of first. Such as a temperature of 102.6 and rising five hours after I got home. As I began to fade Wendi called 911. The next thing I knew I was back in the hospital with a crew of doctors and nurses working furiously over me. According to Wendi, who watched the whole process, they brought me back from the brink of disaster and readmitted me to the Intensive Care Unit where I was watched minute by minute.

By Midnight that night my left hand was the size of a baseball. I had no knuckles, just some little stubby fingers poking out of a throbbing hand. I called the nurse and she took one look and immediately called the doctor who ordered more tests and then came into my bare Intensive Care Unit room wearing a special protective gown and gloves. He said, “It’s MERSA”. My heart stopped beating for a second and then started again as I questioned the doctor.

You mean the ‘SUPER BUG’, the one that there is no cure for and can kill you?”

The doctor shifted uneasily on his feet as he said, “Yes, that’s the one, but we can control it with antibiotics so the fatality rate is much lower than it was a few years ago.”

How did I get it”, I asked?

Again the doctor answered uneasily, “We don’t know exactly how you got it but it exists as a bacteria in everyone’s nose. One sneeze at the wrong time when a wound is exposed, it gets into your blood stream and “voila” you’ve got MERSA. We are going to treat your case in a very aggressive manner with huge, some call them A-Bomb, doses of antibiotics, for the next two weeks. We know it is in your blood stream and your bladder, we must prevent it from going into your heart where it could infect the wire to your pacemaker and the heart muscle itself. If that occurs then we will have to remove the pacemaker and keep it out for six weeks while we treat that area for infection. The other area of concern right now is your kidneys. If it gets into your kidneys it could cause “Kidney Failure” with all of the associated problems that entails, so we must be aggressive and try to stop this infection from spreading any further in your body.”

I jokingly asked, “What will you do if it gets into my heart, remove it for six weeks?”

He didn’t laugh but said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. If that occurs there could be serious consequences…”

So there I was, an (almost) eighty year old man who had lived life to the fullest, being told I was in deep doo doo…Not the most reassuring thing to be told by a doctor but I decided to look on the bright side. He told me that I could be treated at home. That meant I wouldn’t have to sleep on the mattresses that weren’t made for a portly fellow like me. Then he said, “You’ll be isolated at home too though. You will not be able to sleep in the same bed with your wife and all other good practices of isolation will be followed or you will be returned here for treatment. Mr. Strobel, I cannot express myself any more emphatically, you must follow our instructions to the letter if there is any hope of containing this disease.”

That got my attention! I assured him I would follow directions and be a good patient. My daughter, Wendi, was already receiving special instructions on how to care for me at home. The Doctor left and was followed by a middle aged man that I supposed was another doctor. Turned out it was the janitor with his disinfectant filled mop at the ready. He began to swab the deck in a very professional manner. I asked, “What is your name sir?”

He turned to me with a broad smile and said, “Vincente senor”. Then as he worked we talked about him. Vincente is a college trained Electrical Engineer who worked all over Europe and Canada installing high voltage lines across every kind of terrain imaginable. He owns a large farm in Columbia, South America but drought caused him to have to seek employment away from his home and family. He worked eight years in foreign countries installing the electrical lines then ended up here in America where the best he could do was janitor for a small hospital in Lancaster, California. Vincente said, “One, maybe two more years and I’ll be able to go home.”

It was finally agreed that I could go home under very strict rules of convalescence. A hospital bed was ordered for my use at home but this one had a fairly decent mattress so I slept pretty well. I eventually got off the pain killers which stopped the hallucinatory dreams and I suddenly felt much better about life in general.

Going through an experience like this is life changing. One suddenly is faced with one’s mortality and the prospect of dying becomes crystal clear in one’s mind. It’s not that I am afraid of dying, it’s the worry of what I would leave behind. Who would take care of Donna? Who would finish my unfinished novels? Who would gather my writings into an organized anthology, the story of my life and why I thought I was put here in the first place…All of those things bounced around my fevered mind as I struggled to get over this deadly disease. With the help of so many friends, their prayers and good thoughts, I am on the mend and will be back to full strength before you know it.

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