Wednesday, April 29, 2009

around the corner

Sometimes, you have no idea what's around the corner. This came oh so clear to me in the exam room of an urgent care center in Surprise, Arizona.

After leaving Alaska following long distance nationals and an end-of-season backcountry ski trip, I headed down to Arizona for some days in the sun, on the golf course, with the grandparents. Setting foot in Arizona, I felt a little pain in my lower leg. But it was nothing, especially compared to taking in the sights of arriving back to the continental United States after three months abroad. Soon, in the comfort of family, talking motorcycles with Uncle Shane and the prospect of having a handful of unstructured, relaxing days ahead, the little leg pain I felt soon melted away.

A day later, I'm in a medical center waiting room, wondering what I'm doing here. In several directions my focus is interrupted by the deep, almost sinister, coughs of young'ens and elders battling bronchitis. "If I don't need to be here now, I'll probably need to be back here in a couple days" I remember thinking before getting agitated about whether my insurance would cover this little visit to the doctor.

In time, the doctor arrives. "I don't think it's much of anything but.." I begin to say but don't finish. Just the look on the doctor's face tells me its more than nothing. "It's good you're here right now," he begins. "It's real good this looks contained. You have cellulitis. This is a skin infection that starts with a scrape, a cut, insect bite or hair follicle that becomes infected by bacteria. This might not sound like much but this is serious stuff. Because it's in the lower leg where blood flow is low we need to hit this hard. I'm putting you on two very powerful antibiotics. We'll get this cleared up in a week. Ten days maybe. Call me in three days, tell me how the treatment's coming along."

Three days go by. In these three days I get a little worried. The leg doesn't look better. I've got the swelling of edema going on, the pain's still there, the redness hasn't gone away. Once again, I head to urgent care. It's Easter morning. The bronchitis patients must be hunting easter eggs or sleeping in. Either way, they're not here. But my doctor is. This time I don't say anything. He doesn't say anything. I know this isn't good.

That morning the culture results come in from the lab. They read, "explosive growth." The big needles come out, as do the liquid antibiotic. If we weren't messing around before, we really aren't now.

Two days later, I'm back in Washington. The liquid Rocephin seems to be working. I stop in to see my primary care doctor. He wants to have my leg opened up, and "irrigate it out." I almost thought he was talking about the acres of apple orchards in blossom around town.

The coolest part of surgery came in getting injected with linocain and getting to watch the surgeon cut into my leg. Very rarely do you get to see a professional ply their trade with a real, meaningful outcome depended on the volitional skill of another; both Dr. Rossi's and my attention singularely centered on the task at hand.

And the worst part. That's easy. It's came in making sure the wound, the hole in my leg, heals from the inside out. Twice a day I pack into the wound as much medicated ribbon into my leg. This ribbon acts like a wick, drawing out the bacterial evilness from my body. Medical professionals call this tunneling. I call it a disgusting process that leaves me feeling a little nauseous and dreading wound dressing change time.

Now, life is trending back to normalcy. First, I just rested. Then I started kayaking in the Columbia River. Then came running on the underwater treadmill and cycling. Now I'm back jogging with the middle school tracksters. This weekend I'm headed up to Whistler for a week of skiing at the Olympic venues. It hasn't been the April I envisioned. But you know what? Sometimes you have no idea what's around the corner.

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