Persistence: Never Give up Hope … Life Can Be Messy
My apologies to those who have followed this blog. The past two years have been a bit messy. At each junction, I truly believed it could not get worse. It did. How bad can it get? I talk about Hope all the time. Hope is not possible if we do not employ persistence as our foundation. Let me explain.
At the end of June 2021, I ate something vile. I’d had food poisoning on vacation in 1971. The symptoms were the same. What tasted so good going down opened the door to four hours of brutal vomiting and diarrhea. All I wanted to do that late afternoon was to get in a hot shower.
I walked over to the shower/tub combo and leaned down. I turned on the water and then stood back up a little too quickly. The room began to spin.
There is Little Hope After A Brain Bleed
It was amazing how calm my mind was as everything began to slip away. Like most seniors, I’m taking blood thinners. My first thought was, “Brain Bleed.” We are 18 minutes from the Colfax ambulance. That would be too long if I fell and hit my head. I glanced over to the door to the hallway, thinking, “If I can just get over there, I can sit on the toilet before I pass out.” (Some say “Persistence” is my middle name.)
That’s the last thing I remember.
Mike, my husband, said he was coming down the hallway. He saw me leaning back against the door to the hallway. I had both hands balancing my back against the door; my left foot was raised on the toilet bowl. He told me he heard my leg bones break before I hit the floor. I’m not sure I’d label what I did as persistence, but I landed on my butt while protecting my head. That was a good thing.
The neighbor sat on the floor next to me when I regained consciousness. I could see the fibula bone end pushing up the skin on my leg. She told me to be calm; the ambulance was outside. I must have been out for about 20 minutes.
Sacred Heart Hospital
Covid has messed everything up for a very long time. This would be no different.
I asked why the ambulance pulled off to the side of the road. The EMT told me the closest hospital in Menomonie was closed to new patients due to a COVID-19 overload. They asked where I wanted to go. I quickly requested Luther Hospital in Eau Claire, where my Mayo Clinic doctors practiced.
It was a “No-Go.” Luther was filled. They would take me to Sacred Heart. It was one of the luckiest days of my life.
The doctor in the ER came in to explain that I had broken both my Tibia and Fibula. The Tibia had a verticle break the length of the bone, and the Fibula had a clean horizontal break.
I hesitated for a moment. My parents taught me to never argue with superiors, including doctors. I’d saved my head from hitting the vanity and splitting open; I needed to be persistent and get this right, too.
“I think I broke my foot, too.” My voice was so tiny. Why was I always so afraid to speak up? The abuse of my childhood left deep scars.
The man’s face turned white, and he told the nurse to scan my foot. Sure enough, the big toe and the third and fourth metatarsal bones were broken.
A Doctor Who Listens
The doctor was about the same age as my two sons, fifty or so. He sat in a chair beside the bed and explained he would put a plate and screws in the Tibia bone to stabilize it.
“It won’t work.” My voice was tiny and scared. I reached for my purse and pulled out my cell phone. I scrolled through the pictures until I found one of the most recent skin tears on my left shin. (The fourth in two years). It ran the span of the Tibia from just above the ankle to above the mid-shin. The picture was of a huge gaping hole in my leg.
“That tear healed over only a month ago. There were three others in the same general area before this.” My voice was getting stronger. “If you try to put in a plate and screws, the stitches won’t hold. I guarantee you they won’t. The skin is as thin as Saran Wrap.” Even if you try to glue it, it’s a huge mistake. The wound won’t heal on that new skin; I’ll get an infection and lose the leg.” My voice had reached high-school science teacher strength.
That is called persistence in the face of possible calamity.
It’s Bad, But my Team is Exceptional
He sat quietly. “Let me do some research.” The doctor got up and left the hospital room. Throughout the night, I heard him talking to one specialist after another in the hallway.
“Okay. We have it figured out. We will do surgery and put a large cast on your leg. Medicare won’t pay for the operating room since we won’t use the plate and screws. We’ll set up a portable X-ray and have an anesthesiologist outside the operating room. I’m going to make this work for you.”
I was nervous as they wheeled my bed to a dark hallway outside the surgical suite. What could go wrong?
In the end, nothing went wrong. The cast covered my toes up to the top of my thigh. I’d had a complete hip replacement on that same leg about 2 1/2 years before the break. I’d told him about that, too. I’m sure he was attempting to stabilize the entire leg. That cast would cause me a boatload of grief in the coming month.
I was thirty-one the year of the car wreck. Now I was in my 70s. At one point in the hospital, I whispered to my husband, “I can’t do this again.” It takes an incredible amount of grit and persistence to suffer through what it takes to get your life back. I wasn’t sure I could do it at this age.
I contracted a severe “Superbug” UTI infection the first week in Rehab. That should be no surprise, as they had me using a bedpan. (huge frowny face here.)
By the second day in rehab, a nasty rash plus weeping blisters covered my leg under the cast. Somehow, I get into trouble when I mention this to the doctors at Mayo. Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis told me these rashes were a Lupus (autoimmune) reaction to trauma. I’d had them before. I thought I’d go insane from the itching this time.
It wasn’t until week two that I started hopping on my good leg while carrying that twenty-pound cast on the other leg out in front of me. I did everything I was asked to do through the pain. By the end of week two, the nurses informed me the insurance company was unhappy as I wasn’t meeting my goals. What goals? I was doing everything the staff asked me to do. It wasn’t my fault the first week was lost due to the UTI,
I received a call from a nasty woman from the insurance company. She was angry that I wasn’t answering my phone. (The room phone was across the room from my bed. At that time, it took three people to get me and the heavy leg out of the bed. There was no way I could answer the phone.) She told me I would be kicked out in a few days and that I’d better talk to my husband to get the help I needed at home. What?
The Nursing Team Unites
What would happen to me if I got kicked out in week three? I had no idea how to bathe or wash my hair. How could I possibly take care of myself? We live out in the country on a lake. It wasn’t like I could get county nursing to stop by every day.
The nurses at Rehab prepared a 75-page report on the extent of my injuries and why I needed rehab to continue. I hoped the insurance company would allow me to remain for two more weeks. I’d lost one week with the UTI infection already. Somehow, I knew I could find the strength to learn everything I needed to stay safe during another 14 days of intense therapy.
My persistence was not going to pay off.
All that day, I played the numbers in my head. If insurance refused to cover me, I had enough to pay for the room and the physical therapy costs. That’s when they told me I could not receive physical therapy after the insurance cut-off. I could stay at the facility under private pay, but no physical therapy training was allowed.
I couldn’t believe it! Something is seriously wrong with a system that won’t allow you to pay for your costs.
It only took the insurance company a few hours to deny the 75-page report, confirming I needed continued assistance and supervision.
All of us worked long and hard. Each day, my right shoulder hurt more. The constant abuse of hopping on one leg with the walker hit my shoulder hard with each jump forward. It now hurt more than my leg. My persistence in reaching Medicare’s goals was not paying off.
They only allowed me to stay in rehab until the end of week three.
Be Persistent: Learn to Read the Billing Code
My best advice for avoiding my outcome is always to check the billing code. The one used when I arrived at the hospital was a ‘simple Fracture of the lower left leg with Osteoporosis.” I will remind you I broke five bones in total. There was nothing simple about what happened. The UTI infection wasn’t considered.
The insurance company did not care about the pain when I used my right arm and shoulder. Hammering that shoulder daily was the only way to get around and meet my goals. The pain when I sat down was a non-starter. (Eventually, it was determined the tailbone was severely bruised.
Insurance did not budge on their decisions, even after the threats to my husband or the lengthy report from the nurses. Their representative also lied to my husband and told him she had every right to call him because I had signed a medical directive. My lawyer says doctors must declare you incompetent before using that document. I’m amazed Mike didn’t have another heart attack; she scared him so badly.
Home Where Hope Thrives
Rehab taught me to hop upstairs backward to get up the steps into my house. (Remember, I had to hold the cast out before me.) The thought of jumping up steps on one leg backward scared me to death! I couldn’t have done it if my right leg had broken. That old brain injury from the car wreck has always affected my ability to control my left body functions.
Someone should also explain to patients the process for backing up/turning around with a walker. Less than 24 hours after returning home, I got into a tight place with the walker and tried to back up. That doesn’t work. Thankfully, my husband was right by my side and caught me as the walker lifted off the ground.
Mike was always there after I returned home. He learned to cook and do the laundry. Granted, my underpants were always turned inside-out in the drawer, but I still had one good arm! Hope for a full recovery never left me. I owed everything to Mike and intended to return 100% to him. A friend had tears in her eyes to match mine when I told her no one had ever loved me so deeply in this life.
The docs were only concerned about my leg on all my follow-up appointments. No one paid much attention when I complained about my shoulder and tailbone pain. I persevered in getting attention to these new pains, but it didn’t pay off.
At that point, I could not work on my blog. Honestly, I could barely take care of myself from day to day. And yet, Mike was always there for me.
The Cast Comes Off
My time was up, and the cast finally came off. Walking was difficult. I tried to walk as much as possible each day. I persistently did all the exercises the physical therapy department gave me. The progress was slow but steady.
I inflicted two more skin tears on the poor left leg that fall and winter. The first was when I got into the shower. I always led with my good leg, but the left leg didn’t make it over the tub’s edge this time. It was a significant skin tear. Blood poured into the tub as I decided to continue to shower. At least I wasn’t bleeding all over the floor or carpet. When I finished my shower, I wrapped the towel around me and called for Mike to gather my medical supplies. I’ve become quite adept at appropriate pressure bandages to control bleeding.
The one thing I didn’t mention to anyone was my concern that all the accidents were happening on the left side of my body. This was the side of my body I couldn’t always control after the car accident and brain injury. After the coma, I kept my left arm in a sling for a long time as I couldn’t move it. When I’d walk across a room, I’d suddenly have no control of my left leg, and I’d fall.
As I entered the realm of a “Senior Citizen,” I couldn’t help but wonder if the “workaround” I’d done to retrain my brain was beginning to fail.
The second skin tear was a medium event. (Meaning it healed in roughly six weeks) compared to the previous one, which took over two months. I was climbing up on a chair. I had one hand on the back of the chair and one on Mike’s shoulder. He was holding the chair steady. I needed to get something out of a tall cabinet and prove I could do it.
I led with my good right leg, but when I tried to pull my left leg up, it slammed into the chair’s wood frame.
Again, I worried I could no longer control my left leg properly. Still, I didn’t share my concerns with anyone.
My shoulder reached an unbearable pain level by 2022. None of the docs would listen, so I referred myself to an Orthopedic Surgeon. It was now nearly a year after I broke my leg. He immediately ordered a CT scan. I had torn my rotator cuff in three places. I researched, which told me rotator cuff surgery is unfavorable for more than six months beyond injury. In addition, there was a very high risk of a blood clot. I chose to continue to do exercises at home and not the surgery.
Persistence paid off. By early summer, I had regained most of the use of my right arm. Granted, I had to be careful, but it worked.
It was nearly two years since I’d been out in the yard. I knew my flower beds probably needed some TLC, so I tested my abilities to regain my life.
There were tons of weeds in all the flowerbeds. Mike had been so busy caring for me and everything else that the flowers were overlooked. Some of the weeds had dainty white flowers on them. I wore gloves as I pulled them out by the roots. It felt wonderful to do something so ordinary.
By that evening, I had blisters on both arms. The following day, the blisters ruptured, and yellow fluid poured down my arm. I went to the ER, and they put me on a prescription for steroids.
Three days later, I felt better and went to the shed to get something.
I’m in my seventies now. Why had I never heard of ground wasps?
I stepped on a ground wasp nest.
As the wasps swarmed me, I knew I couldn’t run. I was walking in the underbrush of the tall pines. Any wrong move and I could break my leg again.
Suddenly, I heard myself talking to God. I thanked him for the poison “whatever” and the steroids I was already taking as the wasps stung me repeatedly.
I later discovered I had been pulling up poison hemlock.
Things took a turn in August when we received word my brother was hospitalized with a brain bleed. No one knew whether he fell, hit his head on something, or had a spontaneous attack. He had one surgery, then a second brain bleed and surgery. He fell and broke his hip when released to a nursing home. Things weren’t going well.
It would be several months before we made it to Mississippi to check on him. He remained in the nursing home, and his wife said he had difficulty getting his words out. I knew how hard that was after my head injury.
My heart ached for my big brother, and I couldn’t do anything about it. He relived what I experienced after the car wreck when I couldn’t get my words out. When I did manage to talk, the words came out backward. How would he sound when I finally saw him?
I’d set an appointment with a nurse practitioner to check out the latest skin tear. I wasn’t sure I was doing everything right. It was much larger than any of the others. While she checked it, I suddenly said, “I’m concerned about that, but I have a scab on the other leg that never seems to heal. I think I’m more worried about that.”
She immediately checked the right leg and made a referral to dermatology. Long story short, it was skin cancer, and I had surgery to remove it. For the first time, I was suddenly thrust into doing wound care on both legs simultaneously.
We arrived in Mississippi in February of this year.
My brother still couldn’t communicate well. He became frustrated quickly, but the two of us understood each other. The majority of the time, I could guess the word he couldn’t get out. His sentences were simple and short. He frequently waved his hand in the air rather than answering a question.
One day, when I arrived, he had his eyes scrunched up.
It was apparent he was in pain. It looked like the same pain I experienced when my brain swelled.
I couldn’t find a nurse, so I asked an aide to let the nurse know he had a massive migraine. I’d been in Mississippi for several weeks without seeing a nurse, but I assumed there must be one. I was persistent in requesting someone to pay attention to his headaches.
I turned off the lights in the room and closed the curtain. It helped.
The migraines continued when I visited him. I purchased a razor and shaved him. (They weren’t doing that) Then, I asked about his hair, but the aide responded they were only required to wash it once a month…what?!?
I went to see him early in the morning on Fat Tuesday. A nurse and a doctor arrived in the room shortly after I arrived. The nurse told me she was concerned that when she washed his hair the previous Friday, a large amount of fluid ran out of the hole still open in his head. The doctor said they were trying to get him accepted into a hospital.
After they left, an aide came into the room. She picked up the pillow on his bed and held it up for me to see. There was a large yellow stain on the pillow.
“It looks like this every morning.” She sounded so frustrated. Was she upset about having to change the linens?
I was frightened. I sent a message to his wife to let her know what was happening. It was mid-afternoon before he was transported to the hospital in Ocean Springs. They did several tests on him, and by about seven in the evening, he was taken to the neurological unit of the Mobile Hospital.
I learned later the yellow spot on his pillow was spinal fluid. It was no wonder his head hurt so bad. My persistence had not paid off. If it had, they’d have done something a whole week sooner.
It’s not often I become angry, but I was furious. I could never find a nurse for all the weeks I’d been coming to see him. I’d been told he had an infection in his head, but I had no idea it was a superbug infection. I’d shaved him and carefully cut his hair around the open wound on the side of his head. As far as I could tell, they weren’t washing his hair or doing anything to treat the infection or open wound.
It was now much more difficult to see my brother. I had to drive to Mobile, Alabama, and my PTSD couldn’t get past driving in an unfamiliar city. It cut down the number of times I could visit him.
Thankfully, I had met the librarian at the University where he worked at some function at the University. She offered to take me to see him. It was a godsend!
He had the third surgery on his head, but this time, they had to remove a large segment of his skull. The infection had already permeated the bone.
He was still hospitalized when our rental ran out, and we had to return to Wisconsin. My heart was broken for him and his family.
You would think nothing else could go wrong, but it did.
I ran into an air filter while carrying laundry up to our bedroom. The skin tear on my left leg was the largest so far.
Shortly after the skin tear, I had my dermatology appointment for a complete body scan. They found a spot on my chest that was also cancer and scheduled surgery. Two days after that surgery, I discovered I had a molar that shattered under a perfect cap. The cause: I’d been clenching my teeth for over a year while I slept due to the high pain levels between the leg and the shoulder.
That nasty old tooth wouldn’t allow itself to be pulled. It had to be dug out, piece by piece.
The Current Situation
It’s been a continuous period of doctor appointments for me. Currently, I have no open wounds. That’s something to be grateful for!
They say I have some seriously clogged veins. I see the cardiologist on Friday, and I’m not looking forward to it.
Mike is my primary concern. He had to have an artificial heart valve replacement in the 90’s. There is something serious going on with his heart. He can’t walk down the driveway without becoming winded. Mike is scared, and so am I. He will see his cardiologist next week, and they plan to schedule an angioplasty.
On top of everything else, his daughter was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Hope and Persistence March On
So, this is why you haven’t heard from me since I broke the leg. There have been just too many crises to handle.
God has been so good to us. So far, we’ve come through everything. I believe that’s the “in sickness and in health” part. Our persistence has paid off.
What I’ve learned is how strong my faith is. We have consistently faced every crisis, and with God’s help, we’ve made it through every single one.
My brother is in my daily prayers. I hope you will also honor him with yours.
Whatever life holds, I cherish every minute with the remarkable man I’m married to.
As for the books…I have two in the editing process. They may remain there for some time.
Well, I have my diagnosis of Aortic Dissection. They intend to monitor for the short term.
Mike will undergo an angiogram this coming Friday. At this point, they are talking about A-fib and Tachycardia.