182 Days Later
SIX MONTHS AGO, ALMOST to the day, I contracted a raging staph infection in my arthritic right knee. It necessitated an ambulance ride to the hospital, emergency surgery, and four weeks in a rehab facility where the staff (different spelling) was exemplary and the food not all that bad.
I think the culprit was Staphylococcus aureus. That happens to be the most common species of this infernal little bug and causes a whole raft of ailments, some extremely serious. One kind of staph is the dreaded “flesh eating” strain, methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). Fortunately, I did not have that germ, but the one I got was scary enough. It invaded not only my knee, but my blood, urine, and the doctors had to run a test to make sure it hadn’t found its way into my heart. That could have been quite deadly. But tests were negative.
Staphylococcus was first identified in 1880 in Aberdeen, Scotland, by surgeon Sir Alexander Ogston in pus from a surgical abscess in a knee joint. A knee joint! How’s that for a coincidence? Wikipedia also has this delightful little factoid to add: an estimated twenty percent of the human population are long-term carriers of S. aureus which can be found as part of the normal skin flora, in the nostrils, and as a normal inhabitant of the lower reproductive tract of women. Now there’s a reason for safe sex if I’ve ever heard one.
And according to the CDC: commonly called a “flesh-eating infection” by the media, necrotizing faciitis can be caused by more than one type of bacteria. These include group A Streptococcus (group A strep), Klebsiella, Clostridium, Escherichia coli, and Aeromonas hydrophilia, in addition to our friend Staphylococcus aureus.
When I was first admitted to the rehab facility, I could not walk. I could not even stand. It was late in the day and all anybody wanted to do was get me into a bed, deal with the paperwork and everything else in the morning. It resembled a scene from “Planet of the Apes.” My memory is fuzzy; at the time I was groggy from not enough sleep and drugs. I remember a forklift kind of device that carried a large net on the business end. They wrapped me up in the net and hauled away. “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty nurse!”
I took that ride only the one time. After I was settled, they used what’s called a “stand aid” to get me from the bed to the wheelchair, and back again. According to the manufacturer of the Spryte Stand Aid, “it is a transport assist unit which is designed to encourage active participation from the patient. Patients pull themselves up into the standing position, using the middle bar. The padded split seat swings out and away as the patient stands, and can be swung back into position to offer support during transport.” At first this was an exceedingly painful process I did not look forward to, but as my strength increased, it became more tolerable, even second-nature.
[Left, back home again. Photo by Jenn Libby.]
Eventually, with the help of physical therapy, I transitioned from the “stand aid” to a walker. Joyous day! I no longer had to wait around while they requisitioned the device and found two aides to work the contraption. Although I was cautioned, often, not to attempt the walker without supervision, it was my walker, always at hand, and much easier to summon one aide than two.
Part of my recovery entailed a bag of antibiotics delivered intravenously several times a day, for which my stay in rehab was necessary. After two or three weeks, the IV was finished. Blood tests revealed that all the staph had been killed. I was reasonably adept at getting around with a wheelchair and walker, so could, finally, go home. There would still be months of outpatient therapy, home assistance, but the progression to independent living was now steady and inevitable.
Today I can hobble on my own two legs. With a cane, I am impressively maneuverable. I’ve long ago abandoned the wheelchair. I still have my walker at hand during those times when I am simply too lazy or tired to make any semblance of an effort. Did I mention that I can drive ... once again? I can go up and down steps. Get into my car. Run over to the grocery store. Using a shopping cart for added stability, I can buy my own groceries. On warmer days (which have been abundant this winter) I can sit outside on my back porch and throw balls for the dog.
Speaking of which, I have terrific neighbors of whom I cannot thank enough. All during my incarceration, they would take turns coming over, feeding the dog, letting him out to play for a good long time, often with their own dogs. They kept the yard clean. They’d regularly report to me that all was well, setting my mind at ease, certainly helpful to my recovery. Thanks Jenn, Jason, Diane, Bob, Bruce, Nate, Ed, Gail ...
After my return home, the dog would get a bit hysterical when I’d go out. Understandable. But he’s since gotten over the separation anxiety and is back to normal. Once when I was still having outpatient physical therapy, the therapist was working with me on bed exercises. I was prone. She was standing next to me on the floor. The dog leaped onto the other side of the bed and sat there, staring fixedly at the therapist as if to say “Watch it! Make one wrong move and your ass is mine!”
Amazing how dogs know these things. Until mid-December, while I was dependent upon the kindness of strangers, he was extraordinarily patient with me, ever by my side. If I slept all day, he’d sleep all day, too. If I was late for dinner, he took it in stride. Now that he realizes I am almost fully ambulatory, it’s one urgency after another. Sun’s almost up! Let’s go play! I’m hungry! Your dinner looks good! Gimme some!
One hundred eighty-two days later. I relocated the “Perihelion” office, which was upstairs, downstairs into my former dining room. I only ever used the dining room once, years ago when my parents had to stay in my tiny house for a few days because their mansion was victimized by an ice storm (no electric). This was at a time when winter still behaved like winter, mostly. I moved the office because I couldn’t do stairs. Now that I can, I admit to like having the office downstairs. It resembles the situation room at the Pentagon. Three computers, two monitors, stacks of bookcases, an overhead fan, clocks, lights, printers.
I’m going to convert the former upstairs office into a hobby room. That now resides in the dusty, dank basement. I never liked going down there much. The basement stairs are a nightmare, even before my injury. The dog refuses to go down the basement stairs, and I can’t blame him. So whenever I’d be working on a model truck, we’d be separated. Now I can cut, paint, trim, and sand while he snoozes at my feet, or chews my sneakers. Delightful.
Sam Bellotto Jr.