The New Normal

This is the new normal:  Wake up at 5, or 6, or 7, and take the medicine out of the refrigerator. Depending on the time and where I have to be that day, maybe go back to bed for an hour. Or maybe get ready for work while Bud sleeps. After an hour, we’re both up. We sleepily assemble what I call “the works”: two syringes of saline, one of Heparin, the IV tube, the bag of Vancomycin, some alcohol swabs. We make sure the syringes and the IV line are clear of bubbles. The tube from the port in Bud’s arm goes straight into his heart and, as the home health-care professional pointed out when she taught us how to do this, we don’t want to pump air into his heart. I don’t really want to pump anything into his heart, but nonetheless, this is what I now do, twice a day, at regular 12-hour intervals: send 1.25 mg of high-octane antibiotics straight into my husband’s blood.

It started as a freak accident: We were camping on Catalina over a month ago, Easter weekend. Bud was with Cole in the brush, looking for marshmallow sticks. He lost his footing. He swung his hand to regain his balance, and his right middle finger sailed straight into a spine of a palm tree. The inch-long needle broke off in Bud’s knuckle, going up his finger and almost out the end of his nail. I could hear him cursing a quarter mile away.

Long story short as I can make it: Baywatch arrived. Yes, that Baywatch. Two guys in an ambulance who were very nice, and very proud to tell us that yes, the TV show was based on the Catalina emergency response system. Handsome, brawny – typical paramedics, but not TV stars. And no, they were not authorized to remove foreign bodies embedded in human bodies. We could try ourselves – they handed us some tweezers. And so began my attempt to be Nurse Evelyn.

Needless to say, it didn’t work. So Bud luckily managed to hitch a ride that would take him the three-hour drive to Avalon from Two Harbors, while Cole and I figured out what to do, beginning with cancelling the marshmallow-roasting party we had planned for that night.

Eventually, after stopping for some sightseeing with the Catalina oldtimers who had kindly given him a ride, Bud made it to the hospital in Avalon. The doctor there couldn’t get the thorn out either. That made my ego feel slightly better. So Bud had to take the next ferry to a mainland ER. I felt worse again.

And thus began the crazy, stressful, roller-coaster medical odyssey that continues to this day. My 10-year-old and I had less than an hour to strike our entire sprawling camp and get on that boat with Bud. From there, it was hurry up and wait. The ER at Torrance also couldn’t, wouldn’t take the thorn out. Three days later, the hand-surgeon specialist couldn’t, wouldn’t take the thorn out. Where was Androcles when we needed him?

Bud learned to work with the thorn. But it started doing all kinds of weird things. His finger, and then his hand, and then his whole body, started swelling and breaking out into blisters and hives. He was having a reaction to the medicine, either the pain pills or the antibiotics. So he stopped taking both. It got better. Until it got worse. The hand specialist took a culture. The infectious disease specialist told Bud he had a staph infection in his bone. His options: Twice-daily infusions of antibiotics for six weeks, or cut the infection – in other words, his top knuckle – off.

Honestly, we were siding with amputation. Bud’s already missing the top third of one finger; would he really miss another? Bud said he only used his middle finger while driving. Six weeks of antibiotics cut into our plans to travel to Europe this summer, and sounded like a lot less fun than castles and chateaus and cafes.

The surgeon wouldn’t cut it, literally. He also, finally, tried to extract the thorn, but after much digging around in Bud’s poor finger, he couldn’t find the damnthing. Who knows where an inch-long piece of palm tree could have disappeared in one digit? So twice daily now, Nurse Evelyn has become quite adept at pushing the syringes into the port in hubby’s arm and connecting the IV. Patient is doing well. Europe looks like a go, if the antibiotics don’t kill him first.

Life’s paradigm shifted. Suddenly very little seems important compared to the need to get those bubbles out of those syringes, and make my loved one better.

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