Catching a Blue Moon

Many’s the year that plans for the summer holidays get diverted or rearranged. But last year it was more like my entire summer got prorogued. Instead of writing away at my cabin-in-the-woods on Gabriola Island, I spent two months tethered to an IV machine dripping 303 ml of pure penicillin into my system each day via a tiny, blue tube, 42 centimetres long, fished through a vein to a position just above my heart. An infection in the knee no one can explain. Repeatedly they ask if I’d had an insect bite, a cut or injury of some sort until I begin making up stories: I’d aggravated the knee driving an old half-ton truck with a stiff gear shift; I’d taken up break dancing, gone on a bender. In the end, the orthopedic surgeon admitted that a third of the time they haven’t a clue how a joint suddenly gets infected. But their best guess is my arthritic knee started it off — never mind neither the knee nor I had any inkling of the arthritis part, not that we are experts. One thing led to another all the same, and did so extremely quickly.

It arrived out of the blue, in other words. Positively inattendu. And the blue moon came in August.

I was in the hospital four weeks. After a night in Emergency, I was sent upstairs and into isolation. I assumed this had to do with the knee infection. Not so. It was the superbug I’d caught in 2009 ringing the alarms, an antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus infection (MRSA) still detectible in my system though inactive. It meant hospital staff had to suit up when they came into my room. And this delivered — I slowly realized — a degree of protection from the general swill of bugs circulating outside my isolation unit. Isolation goes both ways, you see. Bottom line: The Blue Moon that gave me Strep B thought to include a private room.

There were two operations before my knee was clear and I was mobile enough to be discharged. Back I went to Gabriola equipped with a portable IV pump as there was another four weeks to go on penicillin. My friend Sandy took me in for the duration though neither of us knowing what that was going to mean. August was rehab month undertaken in the shade of an elderly cedar tree overhanging the porch outside Sandy’s back room.

That whole time I felt I had a handle on things. On what was happening to me, and what I needed to do to help the process along. In reality, I had no idea what kind of trouble I was in. I was a total bust as an advocate for myself, never asking about the dangers I was facing. No one tells you when you are having a brush with death, by the way. The infection that lodged in my knee and slid down into my calf could have gone very badly. Like, spread through the blood stream into bone, kidneys or the heart, wreaking permanent damage. So when the doctor came to tell me that the tests clearly showed the penicillin would work, I first noted they were deploying the heavy artillery, and second that the news was a Big Thing. He was beaming as if delivering a death-sentence reprieve.

A few weeks later, another doctor commented that I had excellent odds for making a good recovery. “You’re young, healthy and you have your leg,” he said. He also was beaming. So the narrative was there, if buried in daily details. (Have my leg???)

When I hit the hospital my first thought had been Thank god for Tommy Douglas. How inestimably awful to be sick and out-of-commission indefinitely knowing it was going to ruin you financially. My second thought was Thank god I got the first chapter written. Subliminally, I was not thinking about chapters or books. I was on the road to an unknown destination, and relieved to be with people who knew what to do and whose job it was to do it. Indeed, up until the last few days I was deliciously content to be exactly where I was. In hospital. My body understood even if I didn’t. Chapter two could wait.

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