Medical Emergency Gives Special Meaning to Thanksgiving

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 23, 2010

Every day at sunset, a shy bird flies to our patio and rings our bronze bell. And two days ago, a nurse did a happy two-step to help celebrate my medical progress.

These are two of life’s little joys that I probably would have overlooked in the past. But a recent medical challenge has made little things very important for me on this Thanksgiving.

I hear the bird in the bell most evenings. I wait for it. The bell rings just once when the bird lands on the clapper to roost for the night, and I smile.

Every evening at sunset, a bird lands on the clapper of a bronze bell on our patio. The bird roosts up inside the bell for the night. It flies away at sunrise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

I thanked the visiting nurse for her happy dance. Her medical skill helped my leg grow new skin. The wound is closing. I now can resume my exercise routines. There will be a scar but it is smaller than the large piece of infected flesh the surgeon removed.

The nurse changed my bandage several times each week. She and my doctors have been a vital source of encouragement since I fell off a ladder and injured my leg last summer.

That was when I collided with mortality, the glass wall that is always there, from birth to death. I don’t consciously think about living forever, just as I don’t think about dying.

I think about it now. It came to mind that July day I fell. That was four months ago. I ended up with a Wound Vac machine stapped to my leg and an IV tube in my arm. I hung up my overachiever’s cape, my Superman cape. I was grounded. I felt as low as the heels on my sandals.

We canceled our return trip to Ireland. I spent weeks rereading my favorites from my collection of U.S. history and nonfiction. I ordered a few more books. I studied the photos I shot in Australia, Colorado and California. I updated my iTunes collection. I surfed the Internet. My Best Friend later surprised me with more access to the world – she gave me a new iPhone. Very cool.

For the first few days of this unexpected adventure, I was flat on my back in a Phoenix hospital. Doctors were baffled the first day or two. It took a little time to identify the staph infection eating at my leg. I had scraped my leg when I fell.

Streak of inflammation

As medical workers began treating me with a broad spectrum of antibiotics, I began wondering about the future. I enjoy walking, hiking and daily exercise. Where is this medical adventure taking me? Will hiking be limited?

A streak of red inflammation began climbing up the back of my leg past my knee. It retreated in the face of a wide spectrum of antibiotics.

Over the next several days and weeks, my world took on a clearer focus. I began to understand more clearly the day-to-day challenges faced by others with chronic health issues. Simple tasks become complicated when you are saddled with medical equipment.

I lost a few pounds because the antiobiotics killed my appetite. Cantaloupe and melon became my meals de jour.

I started seeing medical workers differently. I had always appreciated their work, first as a journalist writing about their achievements, and later as they treated my Best Friend during her own medical challenge a few years ago. But in my emergency, I saw their strengths and weaknesses with more clarity.

I made it a point to thank the medical workers for their round-the-clock care. I asked them why they entered such a demanding career when they often receive little appreciation. They said they enjoyed helping others.

I was disappointed one day. An otherwise compassionate nurse, as she inspected my wound, sucked in her breath and looked away from my leg. Then she walked off.

Limping down the hall

Maybe she was having a bad day, but she was the only medical worker who hesitated. Every other nurse, doctor and technician was eager to help. Two therapists, the day after leg surgery, helped me limp down the hall for exercise. One of the new nurses thanked me for the opportunity to treat my injury. Her eyes sparkled with compassion.

While recuperating, I discovered a press release on the Internet from the Centers for Disease Control. It said the reports of MRSA, a bacterium resistant to most antibiotics, in U.S. hospitals are down 28 percent. That is good news.

The next day, I came across another report about antibiotic-resistant infections. The news came from Great Britain, where medical experts say a new “super bug” has been identified. Doctors are finding it in patients returning from India where they traveled for low-cost surgery.

Eight days after I was hospitalized, I was released. My Best Friend drove me home. Visiting nurses arrived often each week. One nurse changed my Wound Vac dressing. Another changed the IV for the antibiotic.

Pulse of a teenager

A few weeks after my return home, my Best Friend reminded me about my Superman cape. Her encouragement echoed that of the visiting nurses. They said I am healing quickly and that my pulse and blood pressure are those of a teenager.

Cool, I thought. I still have some invincibility.

Hanging up your overachiever’s cape was only temporary, my Best Friend said. You are healing very well. Soon, you’ll be yourself again.

Well, yes and no. I do heal quickly. I always have. But this unexpected adventure has shown me my mortality. My old self has a new outlook. I have seen that life is priceless, that life can vanish in a heartbeat.

This time, I was lucky.

My plans now are to remember the little pleasures of our adventures together, like:

• Locating the room at Hotel del Coronado that, so the story goes, is haunted.

• A morning walk in the rain on a beach in Maui.

• A walk at sunrise in December on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

A walk along the rim of the Grand Canyon, especially at sunrise when canyon walls explode with color, is an experience to cherish. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

• Camping on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona, where a summer lightning storm brightened the night.

• Hiking West Fork Trail in Sedona, Ariz.

• Admiring nature’s tapestries on Canyon de Chelly’s sandstone walls in northeastern Arizona, and the ancient shell fossils that are found on the high Mogollon Rim near Payson.

Shell fossils can be found on the Mogollon Rim in northeast Arizona. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

• Sharing meals in a local restaurant after walking through the castle ruins in Cashel, Ireland.

• Meandering the streets of Dublin.

• Studying the headstones in a cemetery on Ireland’s west coast.

A church ruin is the sentry in a cemetery on the west coast of Ireland. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

• A daytrip by catamaran to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

• Going “croc spotting” at sunset on the beach in northern Australia.

• Collecting blisters and a sore neck hiking in the Muir Woods National Monument, staring up at the giant redwoods’ cathedral-like atmosphere north of San Francisco.

• The drives between San Francisco and Monterey, Phoenix and Santa Fe, or San Diego and Newport Beach, enjoying each other’s company with the scenery flying by.

• Meditating on benches in the solitude of the California missions.

• Watching seals play in the waves at Point Lobos on a gray day south of Carmel, Calif.

• Sharing visits to historic hotels.

• Visiting the war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

• Attending the 2009 Inauguration on a cold January day on the National Mall.

• Walking Boston’s Patriot Trail and appreciating the start of an experiment called democracy.

• Lounging on Puget Sound ferry trips.

• Savoring lunch at Salish Lodge & Spa, where the dining room overlooks scenic Snoqualmie Falls east of Seattle.

Salish Lodge & Spa sits above Snoqualmie Falls, which falls nearly 300 feet. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

My medical adventure is ending well. My surgeon and my visiting nurse discharged me this week. No more trash bags wrapped around my leg every morning to protect it in the shower. I have been inspired to continue a ritual I started years ago – greeting each sunrise as the start of a grand new day.

I will make more time for more hugs, spontaneous dances in the kitchen, and holding hands and sharing sunsets with my Wife/Best Friend.

I will:

• Appreciate the music of the wind in the trees and the hummingbirds that stop to hover and stare me down.

• Celebrate every personal milestone, large and small.

• Ignore the personal demons that occasionally taunt me for taking early retirement from the newspaper industry. For 30 years, the news business was a fantastic ride. But in 2006, it was time to crash through the chain link fence and stretch my writing skills.

• Continue expanding my creative energies, which includes renewing my interest in photography.

• Focus on the journey my Best Friend and I started after our first date in Arizona.

• Add more menus to our already healthy diet.

• Follow through on our dreams of spontaneous road trips, collecting memories and visiting the grand lodges in the West.

• Share more smiles and laughter.

• Remember how fortunate we, as Americans, are in these times of terrorism.

• Plant flags in cemeteries on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

The journey continues. Normal skin color should return to the long purple scar on my leg.

There are many more wonderful memories to collect on life’s merry-go-round.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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Nov 23rd, 2010

5 Comments to 'Medical Emergency Gives Special Meaning to Thanksgiving'

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  1. sara fleury said,

    Mike – this is inspirational, and perfect timing as I go into a holiday weekend with a boatload of work to take with me. I’m glad to hear you’re on the mend, and stopping to smell the flowers (or stare down that hummingbird). Cheers.

  2. Stephanie Jarnagan said,

    Mike, I agree with Sara — this was a very inspirational post. Best wishes for continued healing and for continuing to recognize life’s little pleasures and making new memories with your wife/best friend. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Peggy Hodges said,

    Happy Thanksgiving, Mike! Wonderful post encompassing so many of those great moments in your life. Hope there are many, many more with your best friend.

  4. Beautiful post, Mike. And all the best to your FULL recovery and return to life! Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Mike, I loved reading about your journey. You have such a wonderful outlook that is inspiring. Continue to collect those memories and I shall endeavor to do the same. All the best to you and your Best Friend. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

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