health and wellness

l’eau

“Be like water; water has form, yet is has no form. It is the softest element on earth, yet it penetrates the hardest rock.” Bruce Lee

Inside I was a desert. Arid. Dehydrated. Dangerously so.

You’ve heard the mom’s rule to drink at least eight cups a day, although that’s not based on any hard science. The Institute of Medicine, a scientific research organization, says women should drink at least 11.4 cups of water a day. For men, it’s higher: 15.6 cups per day. But, according to the CDC, 43 percent of Americans drink less than four cups per day. That includes about seven percent who drink none. I’ve heard that as many as 75 percent of Americans walk around dehydrated and don’t even know it.

Dehyration is bad news, especially if you are sick, as I had been for weeks. Wiped out by a nasty virus, I ran between teeth-chattering chills and sauna-like sweating. I was too weak or too lazy to sit up to drink. All I wanted was to curl up and sleep. Big mistake. When I couldn’t shake a high fever and difficulty breathing, my doctor sent me to a local hospital ER. There doctors ran a slew of tests, one of which indicated what they said were ridiculously high lactic acid levels, an indication of severe dehydration.

health and wellness

off kilter

In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with stealth and balance. — Patti Smith

The pile of discarded, used tissues lay beside my bed in a little mountain of white. My raspy breathing reminds me of the value of air for which I struggle. Each coughing jag is a dagger in my throat and chest. For more than two weeks, I have been “under the weather.” My immune system, the shield supposed to protect me from the viruses floating around, is full of holes. My work and my life have seemingly come to a halt.

health and wellness

the profound impact of time

There is a long hallway on the backside of St. Joe Hospital’s Reichert Health Center. It runs like a tunnel to various rear sections of the medical center complex at St. Joe’s: there is Pain Institute just inside to the right of the wide sliding doors that whoosh efficiently and quietly aside as patients walk or roll in on wheel chairs. If you go straight and then left you enter the broad main lobby of Reichert, which pulses with the comings and goings of the ill and relatives and doctors and nurses throughout the day.

health and wellness

seems like everything used to be something else

The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.- Aristotle

The “e”, “d” and “c” keys are impossible.

they rest on my keyboard just as they always have. it is not their fault they are now icons of despair. the middle finger keys’ places are not meant to have any meaning other than being letters set in rank according to someone’s long ago sense of how frequently words require their use. their presence more than any other letters reminds me that now is a different time, a sort of post-finger apocalypse where the entire typing and writing landscape has changed.

a fraction of a second’s inattention using a table saw, rushing to finish a home project, cost the middle finger on my left hand its life. my carelessness using one of the most dangerous of tools even in safe conditions doomed this useful and loved digit.

now the index finger, my middle one’s smaller neighbor, will bear a double burden. it unnaturally will have to take on much the work the middle finger so easily accomplished.

new mental gymnastics are required. the first few words i started to type were awkward. the first “e” i pressed didn’t happen. it was there. i saw it and naturally my brain told my middle finger “press ‘e’ .” the “e” didn’t respond. there was only air. i stopped typing in that moment and thought about the significance of not only my missing middle finger, but missing fingers for everyone. how different things now will be. my left hand is bandaged so even simple tasks like hitting the shift key and a letter at the same time are not really going to happen.  i know this is a temporary adjustment. but it’s significant nonetheless. i will have to adapt to an unfamiliar way of doing something that has been an intrinsic part of my life since i took my first typing class in eighth grade.

the worst part may not be actually losing my middle finger.

the worst part my not be actually losing my middle finger. on Saturday evening my wife and i had sushi with her parents. i ate as i always eat sushi, with chopsticks. but this time i used my right hand (i am left-handed). it was an adaptation that happened as if automatically. something i just did in order to eat. i wasn’t perfect, but i didn’t have the other-handed awkwardness one might expect.

the darker part is the haunting vision of the moment when the rotating saw blade chopped though flesh and bone.

the darker part is the haunting vision of the moment when the rotating saw blade chopped through flesh and bone. it plays over and over in my head, especially at night just as i lay down to sleep. the past few days, just as i close my eyes, like some horror movie opening on a big screen, i see the churning blade rising up through my finger. the alarms in my head are screaming. i see blood shooting out like auras of sun spots in all directions. i feel the chunk-chunk, chunk-chunk as the teeth scrape the bone. i cannot pull my finger away. i amth watching as if i were watching someone else’s horror. suddenly the pain kicks in and i sweep back to now. in my vision i pull my hand away, scream to whomever is in earshot-“CALL 911!” the burning in my hand rises. i feel faint as i bend over, squeezing my right hand over my left. someone places a blanket over my hand to stem the bleeding. just before they do, i see my poor, trusted middle finger dangle, like a fallen, dying soldier. massively raw at its base, as if gnawed by piranha.

it all was so surreal, movie and real life coalesced. a bad dream. i do not cry. i am embarrassed, scared, angry at myself for  rushing, for not being more cautious. i’m worried what my wife will think. what will my kids feel? dad, the freak with a lobster claw for a left hand. all these thoughts running through my head. all the while the intense burning of my wound.

but when i try to sleep is only the moment where blade and flesh and bone interact that stirs me. haunts me. the replay is so vivid, so real. i sense the rotating blade against bone. i feel the burn. i see the blood. it only lasts a couple of seconds before i wake, trying to stir to consciousness and away from nightmare. it cycles through once or twice before i am able to sleep. i don’t know if it is fatigue or the narcotic pain reliever or both. i don’t care. i welcome the peace from this horrible stupid accident. this lapse in judgement and precaution. it didn’t just cost me my middle finger. this accident is a scar on my psyche. i know it’s not fair to put it into the same silo as servicemen who suffer PTSD from wounds caused by war–not even close and i’m deliberately trying to avoid that comparison–yet something lingers.

i am a DIY homeowner who overstepped a safety boundary.

i am not a soldier. i am a DIY homeowner who overstepped a safety boundary. who tried to do too much too quickly without taking precautions. i set the stage for this exact situation to occur. all the stories one hears about people exactly like me getting injured while using power tools and i am now one of the many, a statistic compiled in an emergency room.

“diagnosis: TRAUMATIC APMUTATION OF OTHER FINGER(S) (COMPLETE) (PARTIAL).” as i stare at the notes from the ER, i get a sense they were written for someone else. “amputation” is such a vile word. as disgusting as any ever spoken. now i am forever connected with this loaded term.

i went to the garage this weekend. the table saw lies quietly on the concrete floor, like some sleeping dragon after a meal. dried blood spatters the table and dots the blade. i was anxious about table saws before the accident. now i am more so. it’s crazy to be irrational about a tool. it’s not a sleeping dragon. the saw has taken an anthropomorphic leap. maybe i have to have a villain. i do not wish to power up this tool agin.

i will look at the empty space on my left hand, knowing that my moment’s inattention caused that. the stitches eventually will be taken out. the wounds on my hand eventually will heal. i’m not so sure about the collateral damage in my head.

the journalist david moranis, said:

i believe that life is chaotic, a jumble of accidents, ambitions, misconceptions, bold intentions, lazy happenstances, and unintended consequences, yet i also believe that there are connections that illuminate our world, revealing its endless mystery and wonder.

maybe it was time for my middle finger to get ground up in that saw. maybe i needed to suffer this trauma to grow. who knows what doors will open with this new awareness i possess. sure, i lost my middle finger. i could have lost all of the fingers on my left hand according to the ER doc. somehow the damage was limited. i still have NINE fingers, including two all-important thumbs. there’s solace in that. i got off with a warning, a speeding ticket in the fast lane of my life. i still don’t know what to make of it all. i guess i’ll figure it out.

 

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essayist’s post-script: it has been seven months since I last wrote in this space. i have had a serious case of writer’s block. or maybe i’ve just been experiencing life without a pen in hand (ironic seeing the above essay). these seven months have felt oddly; i often felt that i had lost my voice and didn’t have quite the words to say. i hope this is a return to regular writing in this space. as always thank you for reading. if you have any response, feel free to write in the comment box after every post or drop me a line at christianRward@yahoo.com. – cw

health and wellness

awakening in the room of “what if?”

I am sitting in the waiting room of the hospital’s CT Scan facility. The furniture is classic office lobby chic. The walls are papered with a soft green fern pattern. The floors are oak instead of the sterile, polished tile found in other sections of the hospital.

The decor is designed to help the rest of the patients and me feel calm, less worried. I feel like I’m surrounded by death-in-waiting.

I look around at the pleasant hues and warm wood. The attending staff are all bright, as if buoyed by superficial optimism. I am certain It is part of their job description. Portray pleasantness and cheer. Then there are the cancer patients, some so unable to walk they have been pushed here on hospital-issued wheelchairs. Some have oxygen tanks on the back, and tubes run up to their noses.

I feel like I’m surrounded by death-in-waiting. I see sad people staving off the inevitable.

I see sad people staving off the inevitable. Each of us is waiting our turn to lie in the confines of  the CT scanner. Soon will be my turn to stretch out and slide in and out of the plastic, humming white ring as it shoots its rays through my body. A computerized voice will soon tell me “Hold your breath” and then “Breathe.” My mission is unequivocal: Will the picture the radiologist sees to be clear.  I want not a single blemish to show up. Just normal, healthy organs.

This is my first visit in a year. It is number five since my left kidney was removed in June 2011. Each of the previous scans has been devoid of any cancer cells that so ungraciously took host on top of my kidney before. I haven’t felt more healthy, more vigorous. Things are going my way. Yet, as I wait, I think a visit here is an automatic way to erase all the good I have worked so hard to build. I am not supposed to be here, part of this group of sickly, older people whose time is quickly falling away. Still, here I am. We have more in common than I care to admit.

This is a room of “what if?”

This is a room of “what if?”

I shudder from drinking two large styrofoam cups filled with ice water and the contrast that will be activated by the CT scanner’s radio waves. The cold comes from the inside out and adds to my nervousness. Everything rides on what happens at 10:40 am with my scan.

Clear and the sky is blue again. Life is good. But a tiny spot? Everything changes.

What if? What if they find something today that wasn’t there a year ago? What if cancer comes back? What if this tightness in my chest is not nerves but the malignancy of a new batch of cancer? What if all my efforts to change my internal dialogue from hugely negative to healthy has been for naught? What if my diet and exercise hasn’t done shit to prevent cancer coming back?

I am faced with these gigantic and unanswerable life questions in a barrage as I sit with these other cancer patients. I can’t tell if my new co-CT scanner colleagues are yet cancer survivors like me or are still in battle. Are they scared or have they accepted their states? Are they getting better or are their fights with this pervasive disease going not so well?

What if this is the beginning of the end for me? What if my life is reaching its end point? What if I have to accept that I won’t live the 30 or 40 years more I have planned for?

I am told to take my necklace off. My hands shake and it’s hard to unhook.

Soon my turn. I am led to the back by a pleasant CT tech named Meagan. She directs me to a dressing room where I change into patient scrubs. I am told to take my necklace off. My hands shake and it’s hard to unhook.

“Can I help you with that?,” Meagan asks. But I push her off.

I lie on the sled and the tech begins prepping me. She swabs alcohol on my left arm where she’s pinpointed a target vein. I feel the bite as the needle for the IV is inserted. The IV will carry the rest of the contrast so the CT can pick up cancer cells with its x-rays.

The contrast is like a warm river flowing through my veins. I feel like I’m going to pee myself.

The tech leaves for her control room and instructs me to raise my arms as the machine whirs. I close my eyes. I will my body to be clear. The contrast is like a warm river flowing through my veins. First in my arm. Then it quickly spreads through my chest, abdomen and pelvis. I feel like I’m going to pee myself and my tongue feels metallic.  The sled and I slide in and out of the CT a few times. “Hold your breath,” the robotic voice tells me. My worry has been replaced by calm. My breath is even. I have done all I can, I think. There is nothing more to do.

It is over. Three minutes is all it took. The tech pulls the IV and gives me a small bottle of water.IMG_1035 - Version 2 Drink, she says. Drink a lot. I get dressed again. My legs are wobbly. My mouth is dry despite guzzling the water.

I walk back out through the waiting area. The same sad faces. The same miserable people drinking their “berry contrast shakes”. They wait their chance on the answer machine–the CT Scanner. Outside the air is warming. The first real spring day in a while, I think.

I drive to Trader Joe’s for groceries and more water. All this tension has made me hungry and insatiably thirsty. Shopping slowly brings me back: this is what normal feels like. No cancer here. Just vegetables, fruit, pizza dough, coffee. Free samples.

A little later I am sitting in the Trader Joe’s parking lot drinking water and gobbling trail mix. My phone rings and it’s my doctor.  He says: “We so often have to deliver bad news. I wanted to deliver something good for once. Your CT was completely clear.”

COMPLETELY CLEAR!

My heart rushes. I text my wife: “Doc called. COMPLETELY CLEAR CT.”

There is the other side of What if? and it is just as likely, if not more likely, than cancer. Life unfolds with all of its possibilities again.

What if? I realize there is the other side of What if? and it is just as likely, if not more likely, than cancer. What if my scan is free of cancer?  These moments are  like a new lease. Life unfolds with all of its possibilities again. This is worth celebrating. This is worth living.

My fears, trepidation and worry have not been answered. Instead, news that I am healthy. Validation of the life I now lead. My head is good.

IMG_0020 - Version 2

 

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