Roy Exum: Yes, I’ve Been There

Thursday, September 23, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The email comes my way from a nurse at Erlanger Hospital: “I wanted to thank you for the columns you have written recently regarding the need to get vaccinated. If people could see the COVID-affected patients that I see every day in the hospital I believe they would run to the nearest health department to get the vaccine. It is the worst thing I have ever seen. Watching young, previously healthy people begging for help and there is little we can do other than intubate. They all say the same thing near the end; “I can’t take it anymore, I'm worn out.” If your column has motivated one person to get the vaccine, it has been a success.”

Did you catch the line, “I can’t take it any more…? I am worn out”? Trust me, I’ve been there.

My curse is infection. When I was in a Jeep wreck in 1971, my wounded elbow developed osteomyelitis, a bone-blood disease. (Napoleon Bonaparte died from it.) Back in the 70s, my disease finally went dormant, only to awaken in 1990, and has been present ever since. I’m up to over 175 surgeries, am missing my right leg, my right arm is ornamental, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to ‘throw in’, to stop the roller coaster so I could pitch my satchel.

Luckily, there is something about human beings that deplores quitting. Most COVID cases are not lethal, thank God, and I have found that with God I can bear up to darn near anything. But I also know, this from experience, that a person can get so sick they honesty no longer care what tomorrow will bring. One afternoon in Mayo Clinic’s ICU my arms and legs got so incredibility cold it was almost unbearable. I later found out the circulation had quit yet at the time I was so sick I didn’t care. I can easily understand how a COVID victim can fall prey to such despair.

The trick in any critical moment is to remember God is still in control “… and He don’t sponsor no junk.” In bad times I “play the clock.” This is to say about 3 o’clock, I make a deal with the Master that if He will spot me 8 o’clock then I’ll die. Of course, around 7:00 I’ll ask for an extension, say until midnight. Then at 11:30 I ask until daybreak and so it goes. The best part is during the clock game the vancomycin and the daptomycin will begin to get a better grip and then the day nurse comes in and looks like Farah Fawcett. Brother, God is good.

Back in the day of 8-track tapes, I had a basket full of the funniest you ever saw. I’d drop ‘em off to the sickly and every one of them will attest humor is the best medicine. Everybody’s favorite was the Candid Camera classic, “What Do You Say To a Naked Lady?” Oh mercy the reactions were so priceless you would hardly notice the damsels.

There are millions of mechanisms to get your mind off how badly you hurt or how terribly you feel. Years ago, I enrolled in a 30-day “pain program” at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. They spoke of “disassociation” where you get your mind into some book or movie that is so spectacular that it numbs the fact you hurt. Well, none of it works very well for me … I got “disqualified” in three days when X-rays showed my elbow was broken in three places … by muscle spasms or whatever … and I went to surgery instead.

Ironically, “disassociation” I’ve used ever since. When life deals you lemons, drink lemonade. Read John Grisham’s latest book, try to work a crossword puzzle, get on the computer, and tour the news sites. Believe it or not, one of my greatest escapes is writing on Chattanoogan.com. The top newspaper columnists write four times a week; I write every day. So, help me it’s my psychiatry. I’m happiest when I’m busy … having nothing to do is awful.

For years my “Indian name” at church was “How’s-Your-Arm.’ I’ve always wanted to answer … it will be much better if we don’t discuss it. I’ve found that if I don’t talk about my hurts, they hurt far less. I think so many survivors, be it cancer, heart, COVID, are a lot the same way. “It happened, we dealt with it, and it’s over … you think Milton’s the answer at quarterback?”

Yeah, I’ve been there. Forgive me for being repetitious but my favorite number is “24” and my favorite word is “yet.”

Whenever anything bad happens – anything – trigger the 24-hour clock and do nothing for the first day if the emergency will allow it. Knee jerk reactions rarely work, but in 24 hours you’ll have a better look at the problem, a better stance from which to face it, and a calm approach. With COVID this doesn’t work, you seek help immediately. But more times than not, there is the 24-hour window for reflection and its decisions are the best.

‘Yet” is easy. “I can’t seem to get well.” “My blood pressure won’t come down.” “The nurse won’t call back.” Now … put a “yet” at the start of every sentence. Anywhere there is a “can’t” in your life award it with a yet and you’ll soon cancel the “cant’s.” Your happiness will cause you to heal quicker. You’ll be more fun for your family and your positive vibes” will always be better than your whine.

Last thing: Never ever complain. Eighty percent of people had rather not hear it and 20 percent are glad you’re getting your due. Never whine because to feel sorry for yourself will pull you down into the muck and mire of the evil ones. Never wince. Never cower and never give up. The tide will turn when you least expect it. Pack a surfboard.

royexum@aol.com


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