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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

While I was sick

I spent two months in one of these

OK, since everyone is so depressed about the election and cursing their fellow Americans, I think I want to talk about when I was sick. Now, I've avoided this for a long time, because it was really painful, scary and like one, long nightmare. But since November 3 is a new year for me, I now can write about it.

So if I don't think having George Bush as president for four more years is the worst thing on earth, as much as I dislike it, well, here's why.

I got sick around the end of last year. What started out as a sinus infection became a full blown reaction to gout medication I was taking an pennicilin. Drug reactions can happen at any time, well this one did.

I was dangerously dehydrated and had to be admitted to the hospital.

I stayed for a week, and went home. Two days later, I went back, much sicker. It took them days to figure out what was going on, as I bounced from ward to ward. A scary fucking thing, believe me. It was a rampaiging infection which attacked my heart and brain. While I wasn't dying yet, another week, and this would have been Jen's blog permanently.

The surgeon came to me on a Thursday night, pretty late. He said "Steve, we need to peform a mitral valve replacement. Soon. We really don't want to wait."

Now, I'm laying there, unable to do anything but shit in a bedpan, with a catheter in me and sicker than a dog. He makes it clear that this is not optional surgery. They are going to cut me open and I had better get right with it.

Of course, if it was just surgery, that would have been OK.

Nope, there are the tests. The angiogram, the tube down your throat, the MRI and the nasty milk shake the make you drink. You want science fiction, fuck Stargate, go to a hospital. They can keep you alive by acts of man which amaze.

While the infection was rampaging through my brain, I would start to wander off, see pictures in a whole new way. People where there were only flowers

When a heart surgeon says we're going to need to operate, we're at red alert.

So they do the operation, I wish I could tell you what happened, but since I was asleep at the time, all I know is that I had a tube down my throat and woke up 70lbs lighter. Notice how Bill Clinton looks like he lost a lot of weight. Heart surgery does that for you.

Of course, my kidneys were shot by the stress of the operation and disease and stopped working. I had expected that in 10-20 years, not two. To add to this, I now get dialyzed three times a week, four hours at a time. If you have kidney disease, I highly recommend it. Some of the nurses are cute, when they aren't cracking jokes in Tagolog. Also you feel a lot better in the end. Why so long? Because I'm still fat. And yes, I'm young and healthy enough to get a transplant, but not right now. I think I've been through enough shit right now.

So by February 2004, I was a bed ridden, heart/kidney patient who spent my days watching TV and listening to old people scream at night. Oh yes, the infection caused residual pain in my hands, right thigh and left foot. Oh, and I couldn't taste anything. Besides, the antibiotics I had taken, made me sick as a dog. I couldn't keep a meal down.

But it was the screaming old people which unnerved me. Even more than the transexual nurse I had. Who was actually really nice. The screaming old people were like being in a horror movie. Oh man, did that unnerve the hell out of me. Every night, for nearly two months, between fitful sleep, I would hear old people scream, mostly in dementia.

Jen was a real trooper. She hates hospitals, but actually came to see me several times. The first time was the most memorable, since I was in an isolation ward because of the infection, and she came in full gown and mask. She held my hand as I lay there with a tube down my throat. IV's in my arms, a ventilation tube down my throat and not eating. I must have looked like hell. It took a lot for her to do that.

Then there was the time the hospital robe was a bit short. Embarassing to say the least, since I was naked underneath.

The bright spot was watching the Super Bowl. The nurses wheeled in a TV and let me watch it. That was such an act of kindness my heart still aches over it.

My friends were wonderful. They were so loyal, so supportive. It really took me by surprise that they would remain as loyal as they did, because illness can drive people away as well as bring them together. I was so lucky that it drove people to me and not away.

I was unbearably optimisitic when I was sick. It drove my mother nuts. But it wasn't me being sunny. It was me coping with the nurses. Grumpy people get treated like shit. They get their meds late and doctors often miss their illnesses. I was upbeat because of that, and because there was no reason to be angry. There was no reason to be mad because shit happens. What matters is how you deal with it. When bad things happen, you can either curse the world, or work to be better. Anger can kill you as dead as a bullet. So instead of cursing my fate, I decided to embrace all of the kindness and decency I had seen in people.

Which is why I'm happier now than I've been in years, healthier now, feel better about myself. An illness can either be a ending point or a starting point. And if I had been a cop or teacher, I might have taken it hard. But I'm not. I'm a writer. And I get to write.

So I've seen the worst that people can see, 9/11 and personal illness. And in each of those amazingly dark times, I've seen the best in people, not the worst. People rise to the occasion.

When I was in rehab, I met people who were greviously injured. People living in wheelchairs, not using them as I did, as a break. I met a man who broke his neck falling down the stairs and was a quadriplegic. I met another woman who was in the hospital for a year, after surviving a car crash, coma and losing inches from her leg. A year of unbearable agony. All I needed to do was walk again. But the thing was, they were happy, they were working to get as well as they could. They didn't quit, didn't give up. And it is easy to give up and die. A lot easier than you think. You have to fight to stay alive.

But you know, when I finally got home, two months later, weak and still puking up meals, still in pain, there were 18 boxes from Amazon. I'd gotten a lot of cards, but the 18 boxes were of books, electronics, movies, all kinds of nice things. My family didn't believe it, and neither did I. The kind of generousity I had experienced was beyond words.

And when I got home, not a week later, Jen's stepfather died in a truly gruesome car crash. A terrible tragedy. I was too sick to go to the memorial service, but it was still hard to deal with.

It is easy to be cynical about people, easy to dismiss them. But when you see how decent people can be, you never quite have such dark thoughts about them again.

There was no overnight cure. I used a wheelchair for months to get around. I'm now just moving about freely, starting to exercise and feel good about myself, physically. But it took time, and that time made me a more patient person, a calmer person. I can wait now, because I can relax. I can see more sides of things now. Maybe it's because I'm, turning 40 next week, maybe because I was so sick. But to be honest, while I am so disappointed Bush won, I see a lot of good out there. Not in a myopic way, not in a pollyanna way. We're going to have to fight the theocrats tooth and nail, every day.It's not about Bush any more, but the people behind him. The people who would truly destroy America.

But I see so many good people. So many people who finally embraced their responsibility as citizens. Who stopped sitting on their hands and seeing nothing but bad. And to work for good is good and makes you good, even if you do not win the first time out.

We built this network of blogs and Air America and 527's in two years and gave the GOP a fearsome run for their money. And give it two more and we'll do it again. and win.

Josh Marshall has a really good post about the future of the Democratic Party. He said he wondered if people would walk away because we lost. And he was told no, because this is where you build a movement.

You do not build strength in good times. You cannot. It is the hard times when your character shines through. I know some of people here bitching the loudest care the most. And they have to use that passion to remake what they love. Not hide, not walk away.

Because I learned in the most stark way possible that you cannot quit when things do not go your way. And IV tubes and ventiators and a foot long scar on your chest define not going your way far better than an election. No politician is going to tell you he has to cut you open to save you and you don't have to pray that politician is on his game that day.

Compared to the last year, another year of Bush is not what I've wanted, but I've seen worse.

posted by Steve @ 2:15:00 PM

2:15:00 PM

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