You’ve heard of Greensleeves. You’ve heard of Big Foot. Put ’em both together and whatdya got?
It all started last Saturday, or maybe Sunday. I can’t remember. What I do remember is the cut I got while I was washing dishes, or maybe slicing veggies. I didn’t see it happen. All I know is, I looked down, and saw one of those gaping maw type wounds where the skin at the tip of my right ring finger was like the upper and lower lips of a snake, if a snake had lips.
Damn! I cursed as I squeezed a little blood from the mouth of the pink serpent (don’t think dirty now), then shambled to the bathroom and irrigated the cut with alcohol and a put a bandage on it. I went back to washing vegetables or slicing them whatever it was I’d been doing in the kitchen.
Couple days later, I’m making my morning coffee, and notice a little twinge in the cut finger, a little higher up from the wound, which is healing nicely. I glance at the nailbed and see a small red spot, nothing more. And I remember reading something about flesh eating bacteria, which is a misnomer since the bacteria eat anything that’s put on their plates: muscle, sinew, nerve.
So down I sit at my desk, and on I Google about the bacterium of the offending caste, only to learn it’s called necrotizing fascitis, and that it’s accompanied by probably the most graphically horrible pictures of rotted human body parts I’d ever seen. A couple hours later, after visiting every website applicable, I have all the diagnostic criterion down, and am seriously concerned that, though this type of infection is very rare, I just may have an unhealthy dose of it.
Now, I’m obsessed. All day long, I’m checking the wound. I’m examining the progress of the red tissue on the left nailbed on the ring finger of my right hand with a pair of glasses, one of two different magnifying glasses, under either direct sunlight or the LED lights in my bathroom and kitchen. Next morning, I’m making an appointment with my PA, a jovial dude who realizes I may be more in need of a mental health referral than a medical one.
“It’s probably just referred pain from the nerve you nicked at the end of the finger. Your body’s fighting off infection, and that can be a little uncomfortable. But keep an eye on it just in case. Look for redness, tenderness, swelling, pain, especially in the joints. And fever or chills.”
I bend my finger to the palm. “Look. It’s stiff!” Then I realize. “Oh, it’s the wrong finger.”
If those symptoms come, go to the walk-in clinic or the ER right away. We’ll be out of the office until Monday.” Christmas was this Friday, and this was Christmas Eve Eve. I hate those kinds of holidays.
Before I’m even home, I’m testing the joints for stiffness and swelling and the dreaded red disease. I’m back online researching number of days of before onset, prodromal symptoms, words my PA may not know about. I mean, he didn’t really check that red spot, and it wasn’t all that red when I’d seen him. It is now. Didn’t sleep a wink all night, up every hour to check the progress of the wound because the websites say that it can grow by the hour. I set up an examining chair in my kitchen. In between boring episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which I use as telesthesia to help me sleep, I scare myself with-, well, with fear. I pray, but hear no answers to my prayers.
The older I get, the longer I stay on this 8 month self-imposed Covid confinement, the loonier my hypochondria becomes. Delusions, neurosis, conversion disorder, factitious disorder, OCD, phobia with panic symptoms: my true disorder has many names. In the time of Covid, it’s only come on stronger. And with my recently passed 59th anniversary on this planet, it’s gotten worse.
I resolve to avoid the ER out of fear of Covid contamination. I laze around on Christmas Eve day, watching Leave It to Beaver reruns on my poor man’s cable, a channel with endless reruns from 50 years ago called MeTV. The Beaver must’ve been 30 years old in this episode. He was about 6 feet tall, and his voice was lower than his older brother, Tony Dow’s, or his father’s, Hugh Beaumont’s, and even Barbara Billingsley his mother. I swear, Jerry Matthers was using a walker in this one. Then its Perry Mason and then Matlock. I half-dozed to try ‘n get some rest.
Then I decide to make some coffee and make a day of it. I take off my socks. It had been a blisteringly cold night, with endless winds gusting through my thin bedroom walls, so I’d doubled up on the socks. I stepped into the shower and look down at the tops of my feet. And they’re green. My feet are friggin’ green. I’d been wearing blue socks and I hope maybe it’s dye from the socks, so I try to wash it off, but they stay green.
Gangrene. Isn’t that where the term comes from, it’s wonderful hue, because the green is ganging up on you, and ‘grene’ is some sort of Medieval spelling of green? I call and ask my nurse friend, Michael, what color gangrene is. “I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve never seen a case.”
I drive to the ER, calling my sister and telling her where all all my important papers are. We’re both fighting back tears as I drive to my death.
“It’s a blood infection. It’s sepsis and I could be dead within 24 hours. My sister agrees. She tells me about Jim Henson. Jim Henson and his Muppets. They died of this.
I arrive at the hospital and get my temp taken at the entrance. I tell the ER bouncer who takes my temperature. She is all of 21. “I have a blood infection,” I tell her.
“Ooooh,” she says with a shiver.
I tell the ER check-in guy: “I have sepsis.”
“Ooooh,” he says.
What seem to be your symptoms?”
“I have green feet.”
I start to joke about it. “I’m half of Christmas.” “I’m the Jolly Green Giant. But I’m not well-hung like him. Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas! “Not doin’ too bad. I gotta spend Christmas alone, but that’s a high class problem compared to my green feet.” I might have to have my feet amputated along with my finger. Which will I miss more? I mean, it’s Christmas, and I have green feet. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
I go to my stall in the ER, and the hospital is surprisingly empty. The nurse comes in and makes me take off my boots and socks, of course. She takes a look down and tells me that it looks like I have a bruise.
“But it’s on both feet, see?”
“Well, let’s let the doctor decide,” she says as she walks out.
“Sorry. Sorry! I wasn’t trying to argue!”
The doc comes in, and I relate my terrible tale beginning with the cut in my kitchen sink and how I might have flesh eating bacteria which became a case of sepsis. She examines the finger in a cursory way, then takes a glance ay my feet. “It looks like a bruise.”
“What about necrotizing fascitis?” I wonder.
“It might be a shoe fit problem,” she diagnoses like a shoe salesperson, probing my toes.
I had run around in the cold and snow yesterday, checking out my neighbor’s property while they were gone for Christmas. I’d been wearing my house slippers, which might’ve explained why my feet were blocks of ice all night.
I had come all this way to learn that I had green feet because of a shoe fit problem.
I recalled, a couple years before, eating peanut butter or getting stung by a bug or some such thing, and my face and throat went beet juice red, and I drove to the ER in the middle of the night. The MD took a look at me in the same empty, small town emergency room. “Sir, you have a rash,’ he said, and left to attend to a gunshot victim at the other end of the ER. There was only the one other patient there that night. I’m looking at this electronic marquee in my stall that has the name of the other patient along with mine. It says: Joe Smith: Gunshot wound. Mike Just: Rash. Have I done this again?
What do I learn? That things could be so much worse than they are. That they’re not nearly as bad as I think they’ll be. That I think and assume so much that ends up being wrong. That facts are often more innocent than I construe them to be. That things usually work out in the end. That when it seems God doesn’t answer or isn’t listening, God’s working things out for me. That I am not a doctor.
I drove home, and had a good Christmas after all. I was grateful for shoe fit problems and nailbed injuries, rather than flesh eating bacteria and sepsis. Everything works out pretty good in the end. Things could be a thousand times worse than they are. I’m grateful for the problems I have today. I’m grateful for what I have, for what’s been taken away, and for what I’ve been left with.