Select Page

The thv-shapedboth Wednesday, February 5, 2020

You ready to go man? Cause it’s go time, and we’re ready. You ready?

December 18, 2019

The chills returned about 7 o’clock. Violent, uncontrollable shaking that sent me reeling for my bed — the only place where the shaking stops. Two nights ago I pulled out a second down comforter to help, and it did, but the relief was temporary. As with any fever-based illness, nighttime brings the dreaded cycle of freezing to death, shaking uncontrollably and then burning up and ripping off everything. I’ve experienced this cycle before, everyone has. But time it felt different. Harder, more severe. My teeth shook in my mouth. 

Each of the three (long) nights preceding the 18th were the same. Each morning I would awaken drenched in sweat, praying as I came to consciousness that the pool of liquid under my body was a sign that my fever, and this illness, had finally, permanently broken. But while the the fever was temporarily gone, the cough would return. As did the headache, and the body aches.

I don’t have a problem with doctors, it’s just that in the last four or five years I’ve had no reason to visit one. I’ve always been healthy, which isn’t to say I haven’t had a few scrapes in my 60 years. Most of these were self-inflicted wounds resulting from undeniably bad choices. At age six, I had pioneered a maneuver whereby I would stand on the toilet seat and bend over to place my head low enough in the adjacent sink to get a drink of water from the faucet. (I guess I couldn’t reach the sink in the kitchen.) My technique worked flawlessly and went undetected by my mother for quite some time until one day I slipped (on something wet, maybe?) and my head made contact with porcelain hard enough to split open a gap that required four stitches, just over my left eye.

At 12, I demonstrated to some neighborhood kids how I could navigate a hairpin turn on my 10-speed — hands-free (otherwise, who would watch?). I misjudged the angle, overshot the turn (badly, for the record) and hit the curb, flipping over the handlebars and coming to rest underneath a split rail fence. As I dug myself out from under the boards and looked down toward the source of immense pain I saw that I had nearly ripped the skin entirely off my left middle finger, revealing a few inches of pure white bone. This miscalculated demonstration resulted in a half-dozen skin graft/reconstruction surgeries over the course of a year in a successful effort to save the finger.

Later, in college I had inguinal hernia surgery; it’s worth nothing this was through no fault of my own.

And then a great medical hiatus occurred. Decades passed without so much as stitch. Some colds along the way, back issues, poison ivy — but nothing that would require medical intervention. However, now I was sick. So fucking sick that not going to the doctor was not an option. Besides the obvious desire to not feel horrible or shake uncontrollably or wake up in a pool of sweat, there were three other very important reasons why I was desperate to get better: 1) in two days my three sons and daughter-in-law were arriving to spend the holidays in Louisiana; 2) in three days I was hosting a holiday dinner party for 14 people; 3) and in five days I was hosting the Chumley Family Christmas Eve dinner and hootenanny attended by six wild-eyed, sugar-addled children and another nine or ten adults.

December 19, 2021

When the urgent care doctor entered my examination room her first remark was, “Hello, Mr. Chumley. What’s going on with you today?”

I listed my maladies: cough, fever, chills, sweats, head and body aches, bad attitude and dislike of most humans.

“Sounds like the flu. Have you had a flu shot?”

“No.”

“So let’s get a test to see if you have it, and we’ll go from there.”

I needed that test to be negative. Needed. My holiday plans — and responsibilities — would come to a conspicuous end if I had the flu.

“Your test is negative.”

“That’s good news.”

“It is. I want to get an xray of your chest to see if you have anything going on there.”

“OK.”

“The remote radiologist reviewed your xray and she doesn’t see anything, but when I look at it down here, see this area?”

“Yes.”

“I see what could be the onset of pneumonia. The radiologist doesn’t see it, but she doesn’t have the opportunity to see the patient in person.”

I found this comment to be both hilarious and disturbing.

“I look that bad, really?”

“You don’t look good. Sorry to be so blunt.”

She prescribed a course of antibiotics and steroids, and said we’d start with injections now. I was to start taking the pills the next day.

“It says here on your chart that you’re allergic to penicillin. What happens when you take it?”

“I think I broke out in a rash once when I was a kid, but, honestly, that diagnosis is probably 50 years ago and I don’t think I’m actually allergic to it.”

“One of the antibiotics I want to give you right now can be problematic for people who are truly allergic to penicillin. But it’s very effective at treating pneumonia, and we can monitor you for a reaction.”

“What kind of reaction?”

“Worst case, anaphylactic shock. But we have epi pens. So there’s no need to worry.”

“Of course.”

When the nurse arrived to administer my my injections his behavior, appearance and movement convinced me that Carrot Top, the red-headed comedian, had fathered a child with Kathy Griffin, the red-headed comedienne, and that they had fed the child growth hormones and red hots throughout his formative years. Chuck, we’ll call him Chuck, was a prodigiously sized man-child with a swirl of bright red hair and a demeanor that would make his laugh-seeking parents proud. I also thought it was possible that Chuck clandestinely micro-dosed cocaine during office hours.

While my description of Chuck veers toward the sarcastic, I appreciated his efforts to comfort me with humor. I took the bait, and we immediately fell into a slightly medically irreverent reparte. 

“OK, you’re getting two shots, and one of them is NOT going to be pleasant.”

“Are any shots pleasant?”

“No, but this one is special. We can only get this antibiotic, Rocephin, in powder form so we have to mix it with a liquid here in the office. We use Lidocaine to make it less painful. But it’s still going to hurt. And it takes a long time. Not a good combo, huh!”

I don’t know what I said next.

“So drop your pants and put your hands on this table. Do you want the easy shot first, or the easy shot last?”

“Easy first.”

The first shot, steroids of some kind, was mostly painless. A little sting at first, but after that I didn’t feel the medicine entering my thigh. Start to finish, six seconds.

Chuck prepped my right hip for the next shot. As he swabbed my firm, youthfully supple skin I glanced over my shoulder to get a glimpse of the syringe laying on the table. The tube was filled with a copper-red liquid that appeared to glow, and as I peered more closely at the contents of the plastic tube I thought I could see a tiny mirage of  Satan’s face inside. He was laughing.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah, go for it.”

In the milliseconds of time between the end of my answer and the needle penetrating my firm, youthfully supple skin, I considered the possibility that Chuck was attempting to make the injection worse than it actually was. That way, I could say, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad!” when it was over and we’d both laugh awkwardly as he left the room.

And, I was wrong. Chuck wasn’t pretending to be a dinner-theater version of Freud. He was letting me know as best he could that this was not going to be a good time.

Without exaggeration, the antibiotics felt like molten lava cascading slowly down the inside of my thigh. A conservative guess on my part puts the duration of the injection at just over 11 minutes; an impartial observer would say it was more like 20 seconds. Either way, it was painful as fuck.

So much so that halfway through the shot I said, “Oh, hell,” and my right knee buckled a little.

“Hang in there; we’re almost done!”

As I was pulling up my pants Chuck was standing in the doorway, looking at me. “You OK?”

“Yeah. I’m good.”

“I’m going to leave this door open just in case, you know, you go into shock and die!” And we both laughed again, awkwardly.

The antibiotics and steroid injections proved to be miracle cures, and in two days I felt fully recovered — in time to perform all my holiday chores and enjoy with my family. I took all of my oral antibiotics — except for the last three pills. The fourth to last pill got stuck in my lower esophagus because I didn’t drink enough water, and the lower section became inflamed. It’s a condition called x. So I opted out of the last three pills…

Sunday, January 26, 2020

My good friend David Davis and I led a team of 12 men who over a four-day weekend in North Zulch, Texas, prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for 80 men. These Men of Service weekends as we call them are a lot of fun to staff, and after four days everyone is ready to go home. As Sunday morning turned into Sunday noon, the cough that I had experienced in December had returned. I had noticed a few intermittent coughs over the previous week, but chose to believe they were “normal.” Now, however, the cough was accompanied by a low-grade fever. I wanted to chalk this up to fatigue, but mid-way through my four-hour drive home I knew I was getting sick again. There was no denying it.

By the time I arrived home at 8 p.m., all I could do was fall into bed as the shaking returned. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Around noon I returned to the same Urgent Care facility that I had visited in December. I felt tired, completely exhausted. My throat hurt and my body ached. I guess I could have been angry that I was sick again, but I was just too goddamned sick to exert any energy in that direction. As I sat in the waiting room, I watched a mother and four-year-old walk through the front doors. She turned right, walking toward the receptionist to check in her son, and he, having noticed me sitting alone at the other end of the room, turned left and walked in my direction. In one hand he clutched a party bag that apparently contained candy. I made this astute analysis because in his other hand he was carrying a partially unwrapped, partially eaten piece of candy, and in his mouth he was carrying several more. 

He stopped a few feet in front of me, his eyes locked on mine. He was sizing me up, not so much to determine if it was safe to sit beside me, but whether or not I was a worthy recipient of his sugary bonanza. As his mother explained to the receptionist that he was at a school party, and unexpectedly vomited, the young man made the decision to share both his candy and his soul. He hoisted himself into the chair beside me, pulled over as close as possible, reached into his bag, and pulled out a piece of candy and extended it with one of his sticky paws.

Spiritually, this was a profound and precious moment, this young child sharing his largesse with a sick stranger. But virally, it was a like the movie Contagion. I was sure (this time) I had the flu. And I didn’t want him to be inside in my disease radius. At the same time, I wasn’t so sure about his situation either, although the unlicensed physician in me would feel safe with a prognosis of stomach bug combined with a sugar overdose. 

“Ronny! Oh, sir, I’m so sorry. Ronny, let that man alone. He don’t want none of your candy.”

As his mother moved across the room toward her child, no doubt frantic to to whisk him away from the contagious, mumbling man, he slowly placed the piece of candy on my leg, never losing eye contact with me. I think he was saying, “this is going to help, mister. Trust me.”

I checked in with a new PA but the same old symptoms: cough (now pronounced), fever, chills, aches, sweats. Impatience. Crabbiness.

I insisted on another flu test, and was perplexed when the test again proved negative. Why was I sick again, just five weeks after my last illness?

“You have a viral infection, Mr. Chumley, and there’s really nothing we can do other than prescribe palliative care; I’ll write you a ‘script for an inhaler and some cough syrup. Take Tylenol for the fever. And drink plenty of fluids.”

My doctor told me that she would also give me a prescription for an antibiotic, but I was only to take it if nothing else was working after seven days. Think of it, she said, as a sort of insurance policy in pill form.

The last thing she said as I was leaving the office was that the viral infections they’ve “been seeing” are uncomfortable — and can last two weeks, sometimes longer.

“Hang in there, and let us know if you get worse.”

mkp work deadline

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

I had several deadlines to meet on Tuesday, and I struggled to maintain focus to finish these tasks. After completing my work, I told the person who acts as my supervisor that I was getting sick again, and would likely be offline for a few days. I cleared my schedule so I could get in bed and stay in bed, and that’s when another project — one that I’ve worked on each year for the past four years — arrived on my virtual doorstep with a typically short deadline. To finish the project on time, I would need to work 8-10 hours every day for four or five days, editing video and designing printed materials. The timing couldn’t have been worse, but I wanted to complete the job because I believe in the mission of this non-profit, and because I didn’t want to disappoint my client. It’s also a nice check. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

I worked from bed all day, but I’m struggling to focus. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Again, I worked from bed, but I’m starting to wonder if I can finish this job. The voice of the doctor is bouncing around inside my head, “it’s a viral infection and you’ll be uncomfortable for possibly two weeks.” I am fully subscribed to the diagnosis; I’m only suffering from a viral infection and while uncomfortable, I should be able to work through this.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Work becomes impossible, and I have to do something I’m loathe to do: throw in the towel. I called my client and told her I was too sick to work; she would have to find someone to finish the job. And with only eight days remaining until the event, that person would need to take over immediately. Her response was a relief: take care of yourself, she said, we’ll find someone who can handle this. Just get well!

Friday marked the third day I haven’t eaten, and the first day that I notice something wrong with my vision. It’s hard to explain, but imagine your field of vision as one seamless screen, left to right, with no separation or division. Mine, instead, was starting to divide in the center into two “fields.” This division wasn’t absolute, not a void or chasm. It was an area, wider at the top than the bottom, v-shaped if you will, where the normal vision existed except that it was stretched. The same colors and light existed in this space, but very little detail. Even when I moved my eyes left and right I couldn’t see what would normally exist in this space.

It’s just a viral infection. I’ll be uncomfortable for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

I called my friend Judd to talk a little shit about the Super Bowl. We both despise Tom Brady, and even though he wasn’t playing it was an opportunity to say to one another, “Fuck Tom Brady.” I mentioned that I was sick as hell, and that my diagnosis was a “viral infection.”

“Holy shit, Timmy, Teresa had that same thing and she was sick for three weeks. Good luck, buddy.”

As my physical condition deteriorated, I continued to hear the doctor. It’s just a viral infection…

Monday, February 3, 2020

I haven’t eaten in five days, and I think maybe a little food will help me to feel better. Maybe that’s going to help. The closest, easiest food is a What-a-burger chain about two miles away. I dressed and left the house for the first time in six days.

I drove slowly and deliberately. I feel dull and listless, and I’m aware of how distorted my perception is of everything around me. I don’t think it’s safe for me to drive, but I’m careful.

I navigate my way to the drive-thru lane and I’m sitting behind a Lexus SUV that’s ordering. I move forward and order: What-a-Burger and strawberry shake. The car in front of me has moved forward one position, and I pull up behind her. I put my foot on the brake, holding my position and I must have looked down because when I felt my car bump the Lexus in front of me I was not looking up.  

She immediately exits her car, looks at her bumper and says we need to pull over in the parking lot because “there’s some damage.” She also said, “my husband is in the insurance business and he’ll handle this.”

When her husband arrive a few minutes later he said, “I’m in the insurance business and I’ll handle this.” In my estimation, the damage was negligible. one small piece of decoration was disconnected. I was moving maybe 2 miles per hour when I bumped her. “This’ll be about $1,500 I imagine.”

Mr. insurance insisted on calling the police to get a report. I gave him my credentials and mentioned that I was sick. He looked at me and said, “You don’t look like you’re feeling well. You can leave if you want.” And I did. Slowly.

When I got home I put my burger and shake in the freezer and crawled back into bed.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

I don’t remember a lot about this day. My father texted and asked if I needed anything. I know this because I have the texts. I responded that I just needed to sleep.

That night I began to hallucinate. In my mind I saw my illness in the form of a chart similar to the Threat Alert graphic used for terrorist activity., where the worst condition is red and stacked under it is the next worse condition, orange, and so forth. In my situation, there were three illnesses, A, B, C. I contracted Illness A first; it had been with me the longest. Illness B came second, and Illness C had attacked me most recently. Just a day ago. 

In order for me to get well, I understood that I had to clear these illnesses in the reverse order in which they arrived. I had to clear Illness C first. It was the newest. When I Illness C left my body, I could then start working on B. When it was eradicated, I could work on A, and when it was cleared I would be well.

Throughout the night I obsessed over the progress of these three illnesses. At some point I thought I had cleared Illness C, but I couldn’t be sure. The thoughts in my mind were frenetic and nonsensical, stoping and starting and crashing into each other. I would cling to one idea believing that I was holding something tangible, only to have it evaporate and spawn another and another and another.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

When I woke up Wednesday morning I called my father and left a voicemail: “I need to go to the Emergency Room.” Whatever this was it was bigger than me. Armed only with an unused bottle of cough syrup and an inhaler I was losing ground by the hour. I hadn’t eaten in seven days. My vision was distorted. I couldn’t think clearly. And I had started hallucinating. 

My father drove me to the ER and sat with me while I was admitted and the various tests that could be performed in the lobby were performed. Temperature, pulse, blood pressure. Urinalysis. Blood work. In a few hours I was placed in a room and visited by the ER doc. He examined me and even though I don’t remember receiving it, he ordered a CT scan of my head. After the CT scan he ordered an MRI, a 40-minute test that I also do not recall. Around 6:30 pm — six hours after I arrived — the doctor came into my room.

“You have something going on in your brain that is too complicated for us to deal with here. I’m going to send you by ambulance to the Neurology Center at LSU Health. I’ll get you out of here as quickly as possible.”

Later, when I was reading my medical records, I discovered the various diagnoses he recorded. Among them was aphasia, a condition that was unfamiliar to me until February, 2020:

Perhaps because of the aphasia, or because I had completely surrendered to the care of medical professionals, I had no discernable reaction to this statement. No fear. No “oh, wow” or “really?” I didn’t care. Whatever the doctors said needed to happen I was on board. I just want to get better.

At 8 o’clock I was strapped onto a gurney, slid into an ambulance and uncerimoniously hauled off to LSU Neurology, where, upon arrival I was delivered to a room in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit. I didn’t feel like I needed an ambulance, but as I learned, that transportation assures you’ll be placed directly into a room — no check-in or registration.

I met my ICU nurse, Emily, a person I would come to appreciate more and more over the next few days. She helped me into a traditional hospital gown, the only clothing I would wear for the next nine days. IVs were started in both arms.

My father, who had driven home while I was en route to the Neuro Center, returned. Around 10:30, give or take, a resident from the Neurology Department came to my room. He wore yellow scrubs and stood with his back against the wall. One leg was bent at the knee, and that foot was pressed against the wall.

“We have the results of your scans from the ER and we believe you have an infection in your brain. We’re not sure exactly what type of bug it is, but we’re working on that. We will have more information tomorrow.”

This is my best recollection of that conversation. He spoke quietly, and looked very tired. I don’t remember asking questions, but I can’t imagine I didn’t. Despite an absence of information, I at least understood that for now, whatever was going on in my brain wasn’t so urgent that intervention was imminent. I was stable, and I was being taken care of. Now I just needed to sleep.

My father left, and for an hour or so a variety of people moved in and out of my room, hanging bags of saline, vancomycin (antibiotic) and kepra (anti-seizure). With tubes in both arms, it was very inconvenient to get out of bed to go to urinate. And I didn’t want to use a portable urinal, so I said to Emily, “I guess you should just catheterize me.”

“Ok, I’ll be back in a minute.”

I’ve never had a catheter before. And I surprised myself when I suggested it. But my balance was off, I felt too sick to walk, and I counted three bags of fluid dripping into my veins. Without a catheter I wouldn’t get any sleep.

The catheter insertion was briefly uncomfortable, but not painful. And it was not otherwise awkward. It was just another procedure, and I was relieved for it to be in place.

I told Emily my head was hurting and she returned with meds that relieved the pain and helped me fall asleep. Throughout my stay I never had to negotiate pain medication; if I was in pain the meds were available. 

I was barely prepared for the whirlwind that transformed my Intensive Care room as two fully scrubbed anethesiologists burst into the room like they were the Beastie Boys leaping on stage to begin a show. leaping on stage to In an instant, the energy in my Intensive Care room went from 1 to 11 as two fully scrubbed Anesthesiologists burst into the room with a level of enthusiasm that bordered on chemical