Hell of a ride I’ll tell ya…Hell of a ride.
Two days after being released from the hospital, I finally have the energy to catch folks up with what happened. From the heart, Lynn and I so appreciate the support from so many last week. Not just family and long time friends, but so many RV ers at this event helped Lynn navigate what she said today was the biggest crisis she’s ever faced. Again – Thank You…It meant so much to be flat on my back in a haze in the hospital reading positive Facebook comments even though I didn’t have the energy to reply. After leaving the ICU, Apple Face ID wouldn’t even recognize me and I’d get exhausted even typing in my password.
Disclaimer – my memories of these seven days in the hospital are more or less out of order snapshots. The best description of how it feels to me are that of a View-Master, that old plastic viewer where a finger click would bring up a different image.
We arrived in Lake Havasu, Arizona on Saturday for eight nights of parties, educational events, and seeing / making new friends. Scheduled events included a neon party, 80’s prom party, mead making class, margarita throw down, food trucks, e-bike test rides, big ass fires, open mike night, dueling pianos, a draft beer bar and GTFO donuts. All of this was at Sara Park’s Rodeo Grounds and feature more than four hundred RV vehicles and more than eight hundred people.
That first night was the 80’s Prom Night party and I felt fine and we had a lot of fun. Who knew what was about to happen?
Sunday Funday included a Bloody Mary event where everyone brought a garnish to share with the group. Armed with my personal bottle of Clamato (first introduced to me at sea by the Julie that our rig is named for) we enjoyed a few afternoon bloody Caesar’s with new friends.
Later on Sunday my face felt a bit flushed but I attributed it to not wearing sunscreen. After dinner I had 101.6 fever which held in place through the next day. I only stepped out of the rig that evening to watch thirty minutes of The Status Crowes, a wonderful acoustic duo (more later on Michelle and Chuck’s generosity). Chuck delivered an amazing version of the Johnny Cash song I’ve Been Everywhere and Michelle’s stripped down take on Desperado gave me chills…the only good chills I’d have this week.
I knew I was sick and also knew that we are around hundreds of people. Though we had flu shots, I could only imagine that nevertheless, I must have the flu, so we visited a Walk In Clinic at 10:30 AM on Tuesday. Those of you that saw my last Facebook post saw that I was awaiting the results. The nurse came in and said that I didn’t have the flu, but that they wanted a urine analysis to see if I had a UTI. The problem was that they had no functioning toilets at that moment. By this time, I was sweating so much that my jeans, belt and shoes were soaked. I was crashing, but did not realize it. I told the nurse to turn her back and she said that they couldn’t allow me to do that. Finally as I’m starting to shake, they send me into the employee bathroom for the urine sample. I hand it over, telling Lynn that I immediately needed to sit in the Jeep and turn on the heated seats to warm up.
Pretty much the last thing I remember was Lynn at the door of the Jeep telling me to come back inside but I was shaking so hard that I couldn’t move.
Lynn here (as Jim luckily doesn’t remember this part). When I got to the Jeep, Jim was in the drivers seat. I brought him some Tylenol and Motrin from the clinic. He could barely get it in his mouth he was shaking so bad. I figured it was the fever and in 15-20 minutes it would kick in and he would calm down. Next thing I know he is pushing the cruise control buttons and just acting very strange. He does finally stop shaking so I tell him we need to go back in to the clinic to get a shot of antibiotics for the UTI. When I get around to his side of the car he looks at me like he has no idea who I am or why I am there. He is trying to grab and touch things in the car again. I finally get him out and he wants to walk in the wrong direction. He looks at me and says “No!”. I tell him it is me and he needs to trusts me. He is wobbly but I grab his elbow and drag him in the front door. When the nurses see him they immediately tell the receptionist to call 911. They sit him down and take his temperature. 106.7! They strip him down and put ice packs all over him. He tries to stand up. He tries to take the ice packs off then grabs at the paper on the exam table. Clearly he is completely out of it. Then he proceeds to projectile vomit all over the nurses.
The paramedics arrive and I can hear them saying “Jim, you need to open your eyes. Jim, can you hear us? He is unresponsive.” They load him on the gurney and wheel him out. I ride in the front of the ambulance and continue to hear them trying to get a response from him. Nothing. They announce on the radio we are code 3. Turns out we are across the street from the hospital. Literally. So our ride was a whole .3 miles. Whew! We roll in and I am escorted from Trauma 2 to a conference room.
I sit there all alone for maybe 10 minutes when a nurse comes in and asks what happened. She leaves and says she will be back soon. When she comes back in 20 minutes she tells me that they have Jim sedated and on a ventilator. She said he did not stop breathing but was having trouble. So I go in to Trauma 2 and there is my husband with a tube down his throat. His face is purple and his temperature is still 105.6. They say they don’t really know what is wrong. We are in the ER for maybe 2 hours when they finally say they have a room ready in ICU for him.
Damn…hard for me to read that let alone think what Lynn was feeling. First thing I remember on early Wednesday morning was opening my eyes to the sight of a nurse who told me that I was in the hospital and she was taking care of me. I realized that I couldn’t speak and then Lynn arrived around 8:00AM. She understood my three messages – 1) Are You OK? (Yes) 2) Did I die? (No) 3) Take a photo. (Are you SURE?) The way she describes that photo, I’m not ready (maybe ever) to look at it. Below however are two pics from the ICU room. One shows the eleven different IV lines plugged into my spine, leg and arms. As the doctors had no idea what my issue was, they were treating multiple scenarios. Overnight they have even done a spinal tap. A few hours later, they removed the breathing tube (a unique sensation to say that the absolute least) and as Lynn recollects, I immediately developed a fetish for ice chips due to the soreness from the tube and the dry mouth. Turning the focus to Lynn…can you simply imagine? She’s in the middle of the Arizona desert, husband in ICU with no diagnosis and has to go back to our cold and dark motorhome – all alone. We are both so grateful that Xscapers friends sat with her when she needed company.
On Thursday, I got to experience a whole new sensation – getting a catheter removed…Not painful per-se, but extremely odd. And, note to self, in the future don’t ask medical techs to show you devices like that after the fact. Somewhere in that time frame, I received CAT scans, chest X Rays, ultrasounds on my heart and other organs I don’t remember. Later that day, they moved me to a private room in intermediate level care. I spent the next two days there but don’t remember much other than frequent blood draws, blood sugar tests and vital sign checks. Then the hallucinations showed up to say hi. The problem is that they didn’t want to leave. I’m thrilled that they are gone now, but remain fascinated at how they occurred.
Around 12:50 AM I became convinced that there was a politician declaring his candidacy for governor. I’m getting pissed off and asked a nurse tech why they were speaking outside after midnight. He assured me that it was completely quiet outside and I went to sleep completely confused. The next day (Friday), Lynn spent nine hours with me and documented some of the bat shit crazy things I said and hallucinated. Here are some of the beauties. Remember…if you are laughing its WITH me, right?
Is that real? No, you are real…I hear Tony Bennet. Now Taylor Swift. I can sing along…There are fleas crawling all over a green wall…Oh! Acrobatic planes flying over New York City…Yes, we can get a discount at the pharmacy. My phone number is 843-737. Wait. What is my number? Sorry. I was on hold for so long and I am in the hospital that I forgot. Did we hang up?…I thought that you were backing up the rig. We are too far that way…Facebook was born in 1973, right?…10 fans picked a ribbon…97. No, not 97. I gotta shut up. People think I’m crazy…Hello? Thought I heard a knock…I asked the nurse if there was a bar on the floor above me playing all that music…Next light…I was not selling. I was buying…
And then that night came a cavalcade of beyond-intense hallucinations. These were accompanied by the ENTIRE 1987 Billy Joel album Kohuept, recorded in Russia. Growing up a huge Billy Joel fan, I immediately recognized his voice and the Russian comments between songs. I was perplexed as how this was possible. Was my Bluetooth connected to something? I don’t have that album in any playlist, nor had I listened to it since the late 80’s. Regardless, I’m hearing it perfectly. A bit scary, but the doctor said that all of my major organs, including my brain, took a hard hit and earlier that day he had assured me that this would subside. Finally and most spectacularly, came the visuals. Moving colored dots became different shapes. Cloud would drift by, then morph into waves of fog. There was a round covered bucket of some sort in my room and when I looked at it I’d see and hear round balls swirling around the lid in different directions. I’d look away and they’d stop. Except one ball that swirled relentlessly for hours f-ing with me. Hell of a way to take an acid trip was a most excellent Facebook comment to me. It was indeed a hell of a trip.
OK, so what the hell happened? I had septic shock, courtesy of a condition with the inglorious name Leaky Gut where e-coli bacteria permeated through the tissue between my intestines and reached my blood stream. That was filtered my my kidneys causing a UTI. Then the infection spread throughout my body causing me to crash. The ICU doctor said this condition has a 50% mortality rate and that I was fortunate to survive. This condition is rare and is exacerbated by extreme stress and a lowered immune system. (Someone owes me a bottle of Lagavulin, Stat…)
Starting in the early days of my bottled water days (mid 90’s) till my last day at 3M, e-coli played a significant focus in educating our customers. Go figure that’s what almost kills me ten months into retirement. We worked so hard to exit the work force early having seen co workers get ill and not enjoy the fruits of their labor. We sell the house…Lynn’s in the desert with close to 60 feet of vehicles and I’m here with septic shock? Just crazy.
As a generous measure, the hospital was nice enough to throw in a small fan, water cup and pneumonia, so I’m chowing down Levofloxacin, an antibiotic that besides treating UTI’s and kidney infections also handles anthrax and the plague. So, I suspect I’m covered for most everything right now.
I arrived home to an Xscapers poster, signed by what looks like more than a hundred well-wishers, most of whom I have never met. Two of my favorite comment were “I Don’t Know You, Live To Fix That, OK? ” The other was “Way To Get Popular! So thrilled that you are on the mend.”
Also, there was the little matter of moving a 44,000 pound / 43 foot motorhome to a new campground once the rally ended. In a conversation with Lynn, Michelle and Chuck, people that we had a single five minute conversation with offered to move Julie. Wow…That’s taking on a whole lot of effort and responsibility to help people that you really don’t even know. They have a 40 foot Tiffin motorhome, so its very similar to ours. Lynn followed along as Michelle drove our rig through three tight downtown turns that would have me sitting up straight and hyper focused. Their gesture was as sweet as their music. Also, Scott and Carole drove to the hospital, pickled up the Jeep keys from Lynn and then walked (yes, remember it was across the street) to the Urgent Care clinic and brought the Jeep back to Lynn at the hospital. Wow…all around.
I’m listening right now to Billy Joel’s final song of the Russian album (this time with the music actually there through my Beats headphones). Interestingly enough it was Times They Are A Changing, written by Bob Dylan I have plenty of physical recovery to do and lots to think about in terms my post workforce identity. I’ve long been concerned that the traits that served me so well at work wouldn’t be ideal as a full time traveler. Before retiring, Lance, a respected 3M mentor said “Jim – You’re gonna need hobbies. Not just one but multiple.” That sage advice is sinking in.
Last week’s events seem like quite the catalyst to do some serious inward exploration…I’ll leave it here for now. Night.
Lynn’s 2 cents – Sorry to disappoint, but I have no words. Just so thankful Jim is still with us and I am ready to move on. Better days are ahead!