During the past month there is not one square inch of my body that hasn’t been scanned, X-rayed, or magnetically imaged. From the gray hair on my head to my old toe-nails, a long parade of doctors and their technicians have been equally mystified as I have been the sickest I can ever remember. Just like the late Lewis Grizzard famously said, “Elvis is dead and I don’t feel very good myself.”
But after spending the last two weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, it seems I am the result of a “perfect storm” of medical maladies and, after running a gamut of emotions from picking my pallbearers to saying goodbye to my dog, things are finally looking up. If today’s meetings with the Infectious Disease folks turn out like I hope they will, I’ll be back home this weekend, eager to play the role as the Luckiest Guy in America.
I was perfectly minding my own business in mid-May when I woke up with a throbbing shoulder. I first thought I had slept funny and gotten a “crick” but, later in the day, when X-rays revealed my humerus was broken, things went south in a great hurry. It was found I also had a compress fracture in my back and six broken ribs and suddenly mean-sounding words like multiple myeloma and blood cancer were being bandied about.
I was nauseated, exhausted, and the pain kept getting worse. Doctors were as mystified as I was and, when one diagnostic test after another proved negative, I hurried up to Mayo’s where the same bafflement and curiosity reigned supreme through one test and MRI after another. Nuclear scans and constant blood tests did no more than prove I didn’t have any horrible diseases but couldn’t identify the reasons for what I figured was my impending demise.
Mayo doctors quickly focused on my right arm which has been so plagued with osteomyelitis that I have undergone 132 surgeries since 1990. My humerus – swollen, inflamed and broken – drew the most attention but blood studies confirmed the mononucleosis I had battled during the winter was back with a vengeance. Add the pain and the nauseating medicine to control it and I was a wreck.
Through it all, I got hundreds of emails urging me to stay strong, to feel the buoying winds of healing prayers, and that I did. Today I am the latest answer to prayers – some from complete strangers – because Mayo doctors believe it just may be all of the problems added together are what presented the puzzle. The theory is the broken shoulder created the pain, the narcotics caused the nausea, the “osteo” brought the wretched side effects, and the pile of negative tests added the anguish.
There has never been a question I am still awfullly sick. Just to watch me try to dress was akin to some contortionist perform at Cirque du Solieau, and the fact I have had to force down food has me under 190 pounds for the first time in 35 years. But I’ve never had a fever that would register, a white blood count go awry, or the first inkling of a question under one of those giant MRI cylinders.
The best theory that will accompany me back home is that I must have rolled over during my sleep and my now-brittle humerus was at such a crazy angle it broke. Ever since my elbow was finally removed for good, my humerus has just sort of “dangled” and, without a good brace, it flops around in directions unknown.
The first thing the Mayo people did was to devise a custom brace that has already diminished the pain. And the sole prescription I need to fill is for “time.” Nothing can be done for the shoulder or the ribs – instead to pray for grace as the bones heal in about six weeks. “Mono,” called Epstein-Barr virus by those in the know, could take longer with bed-rest and quiet as the only guidelines.
The good news is that there is “no way” I have any of the terrible diseases that Google says will only get worse while the prayers I have felt assure me I’ll get better. Oh, the doctors have warned we aren’t out of the woods but at least we’ve found the path towards the sunshine. For the past two weeks I’ve been in bed by 7 p.m. every night and, while I’ve gulped down more Gator Aid that the Minnesota Vikings, I feel like I’ve just played all four quarters against the famed Purple People Eaters of old.
There are still some mysteries unsolved, such as how does hydrocodone know to the precise minute when four hours is up? And why, at a place where there are such heart-wrenching sights, it is impossible to feel sorry for one’s self, do I get a pass while my new-found patient-buddies are hardly as fortunate. All you can do is pray – hard – and I am the latest proof that is the biggest medicine of all.
Soon I’ll swing back into my routine, writing every day and sharing laughter, but the guy who said the hard times make you appreciate the good ones was a right as he could be. It is predicted there will be measurable rain in Minnesota for the 12th straight weekend and folks here are depressed about it . After the past month I understand that, but, brother, if you keep your grip on the rope, the sun will eventually shine. I’m going to be just fine.