Friday, March 26, 2010

On Blood and Bacteria

Looking over my topics I find I haven't commented here about what happened last summer -- the summer of 2009 which turned out to be the "summer from hell."

Not long after my birthday in June I awoke on a Saturday morning with severe back pain. It took my wife nearly an hour to get me up so she could take me to the hospital ER. After a brief exam the doctors at Desert Regional Medical Center gave me some Vicodin and sent me home. The next morning the pain was worse and we ended up in the ER again. This time they referred me to a Pain Center here in the valley. 

At the Pain Center the doctors discovered several things I didn't know. For example, I had some scoliosis in my lower back. After some preliminaries I received the first of three epidural shots for the pain. The first did nothing for me and I spent two weeks taking Percoset and sleeping in a recliner in the living room. A second epidural brought some relief but the pain was still excruciating.

Our family doctor had some other concerns for me during this painful period. Even before the back pain I was experiencing low grade fever and night sweats. That was a concern to our doctor and she couldn't put her finger on what was causing it. Cat Scans, X-rays, and blood tests revealed nothing. She finally referred me to a Rheumatologist. Since I didn't have rheumatism I couldn't figure out why. This new doctor, however, was very thorough and during a lengthy interview asked if I'd had a blood culture. My answer was negative. She immediately prescribed a trip to the lab on Thursday, July 16, so they could work up a blood culture. We headed out for Arizona over the weekend so I could speak at Camelback Christian Church. We returned home Sunday evening to find the message light on our phone flashing to tell us we had a message. It was the lab calling to tell me the blood culture revealed some bacteria in my blood and I was to call in if we got home before 6 pm. We got home at 6:15 so we had to wait another day. 

I had an appointment for a third epidural Monday morning, July 20, so we headed out to the Pain Center for that shot. We returned home in the early afternoon to find two voice mails on our system. Both told me to go to the hospital ER immediately where I would be admitted to the hospital. Upon arrival tests were begun and by evening I was awaiting a room assignment.

Tuesday the doctors began running me through a battery of tests -- CAT Scan, MRI, Echocardiogram, and a host of other tests. By Wednesday a diagnosis was reached, a surgeon selected, and preparations were underway for surgery on Friday. The diagnosis: endocarditis. The tests revealed two clusters of bacteria lodged on my aortic valve. The bacteria had eaten through the valve and, as the doctors told me later, I was in heart failure and had been for some time. Had either or both of those two clusters broken off from the valve and hit my brain I would be either an invalid or dead. For that reason the doctors did not wait and on Friday, July 25, an excellent heart surgeon gave me a "bovine valve" to replace the damaged one.

I didn't think about it at the time but later I realized that to perform the surgery, the doctors had to stop my heart so they could work on it. Even now I shudder to think that the doctors literally had my life in their hands. 

Recovery time went fairly well. I had a couple of incidents of atrial flutter that slowed things down a bit, but overall the folks in Cardiac Care got me up and about fairly quickly. I returned home to continue a month of inter-venous antibiotic treatments. Following that I began collecting fluid around and in my right lung. This necessitated the draining of that lung. This is accomplished by running a needle through your back and into the lung. The first time doctors drew off 1,440 cc of fluid; the second time it was over 2 liters and they still didn't get it all. So, I was on prednizone which quickly cleared up any inflammation contributing to the fluid build up. 

At this point the recovery continues. It's been slow -- at least it seems like it to me. I still tire easily. Nonetheless, I am pretty much back in the swing of things. I've got students in my history courses from Manhattan Christian College, Dallas Christian College, and the Consortium of Christian Colleges. I preach each week at Camelback Christian Church in Scottsdale, AZ, and I started teaching a Bible School Class the first of the year.

It has been an adventure but one I'd just as soon not repeat.