Continuation of the ten-year sinus infection

If you’re a new reader to this site, this is Chapter II (and hopefully last) of a two-part  saga. I suggest you first read the previous post “The saga of the ten-year sinus infection….”

But first comes my latest story.

The man-eating saguaro

“Ladies and gentlemen and young’uns, welcome to Galiuro Ranch, named for the mountain range to my back. My name is Rowdy Mitchell and I own the ranch. It’s been in our family for over a hundred years and my son is itchin’ to take over. ‘Course he has another year left at University of Arizona and I ain’t so beat up that I’m ready to retire.”

The newest crop of dudes had arrived throughout the day and they were now gathered around the fire pit. A few were standing but most were seated on log benches that surrounded the pit.

“I’m sure that Erica gave you a good tour of our facilities. She better have since she was born and raised here. She’s our daughter and will be goin’ to U of A in August. We have nearly a thousand deeded acres and another five thousand in BLM leased grazing land. Plus, we have access to the wilderness area. Tomorrow I’ll lead a horse trip around the ranch for all of those interested. This is rugged country and southeast Arizona is hotter than Hades and we’ll have pack animals with picnic lunch and plenty’a water.

“Now, I want to warn you about the critters and plants we have ‘round here. I’m sure y’all know about rattlesnakes and ya’all need to stay away from them. At least ten feet. We also have coral snakes but they’re rare. Pretty snakes with red, black, and white stripes. Stay away from them ‘cause they’re as dangerous as the rattlers. Mountain lions and bobcats won’t usually bother people but watch yer kids ‘specially if you see kittens since their momma will be nearby and you don’t want to get ‘tween a threatened she-cat and her little ones.

“Most of the lizards are harmless but Gila Monsters can be mean and dangerous. If you see a big, pretty and colorful lizard, get away from it. Tarantulas are big furry spiders but are harmless. We also have Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders ‘round here so my advice is to avoid all spiders.

“Darn near all of the plant life in the desert is armed against intruders, like yer rose bushes back home. Trees, shrubs, and ‘specially cactus have spines and thorns so don’t touch ‘em until yer sure ya can without gettin’ punctured. The cholla cactus is the worst – there’s one in that planter over yonder – and if you get tangled up with one you can get hundreds of those little needles and let me tell ya they’re painful and a chore to remove.

“Now, I gotta warn ya about our man-eatin’ saguaro. If you go around this little point of land and go up two little arroyos there’s a little cove or bowl. The entrance is only ‘bout ten feet wide but it opens up to about a fifty-yard diameter. There ain’t nothin’ in there ‘cept a few hundred chollas and a big Saguaro. Stay away from that bowl ‘cause that Saguaro is a man eater.

“That’s ‘bout all I have’t say. Any questions?”

A boy of about eight years, dressed in brand new cowboy duds and showing a bit of fear in his face, raised his hand. A few of the adults were smiling and trying to hide their grins behind raised hands.

“What’s yer name son?”

“D-d-donny, sir.”

“Where ya from, Donny?”

“P-p-portland, sir. Oregon.”

“Okay, Donny, what’s yer question?”

“W-w-well, sir, about that saguario. How do you know it e-e-ats people?”

“It’s pronounced suh gwahr-oh. We don’t know it’s a man-eater but back afore my kin settled here another man had claimed the land. He only lasted a few years and left in a hurry ‘cause one of his wranglers had been eaten by that Saguaro. After my great great grampa settled here, one of his wranglers went missing and all they found were his clothes layin’ in front of the saguaro. Other people ‘round here have gone missin’ and their clothes always wind up by that cactus. Now, we ain’t sure that the saguaro eats them but they shor ‘nuff disappear. Except their clothes. None of our wranglers is brave enough to go into that little cove to find out. And I ain’t neither. So stay away from that place.”

The following morning the chow hall was about half full when the Blanchard family occupied one end of a large table and scanned the menu.

Ten-year old Jimmy leaned near his brother and whispered, “I think we oughta tell ‘em.”

Bobby, his twin brother, replied with an equally quiet, “Shush.”

“Tell us what?” asked their mother with that stern sound that she meant business.

Jimmy, the meeker of the twins, began to talk and the words flowed out. “Well, we kinda snuck out after everyone was asleep last night and went to the cove and we went in and saw the chollas and that big ol’ saguaro and it’s really tall but it only has two arms and it holds them up like somebody bein’ arrested and we went closer and the arms started to squeal like that wagon wheel did yesterday and the arms started to come down like they were gonna grab us and we ran all the way back to the cabin and crawled under the covers.”

Their father asked, also sternly, “Did you see any clothes on the ground?”

Bobby had the hang-dog look of someone who had been caught. “Yeah. It was pretty dark but we could see piles of something that looked like clothes. Some of ‘em were small like they belonged to kids.”

Wrangler Luke, standing at the coffee bar, turned to his partner Andy. “Boy howdy, looks like the new laser-activated hydraulic system the boss built for that fake saguaro works pretty well.”

“Yep. Let’s go check out the video.”

Back to the saga

Continuation of the ten-year sinus infection

So there I was, my body violated by a catheter and movement hampered by a bag attached to my calf. Sleeping was nearly as bad since rolling over necessitated rearrangement of the tube. The good news was no nocturnal trips to the john. It was ten days before the urologist had a slot open and that appointment was postponed several days. The nurse filled my bladder through the tube, pulled the catheter and stood me in front of a flow meter; no luck. Not a drop.

The urologist entered the scene and gave me two options: a full-time (but hopefully temporary) catheter or a self-cath routine (the preferred method since it reduces the chances for a urinary tract infection.) I opted for the latter and, after a lesson on the proper procedure, was loaded up with disposable catheters, surgical lubricant, and Neosporin.

I gotta tell ya, that ain’t the funnest thing I’ve ever done. Imagine if you will, inserting a plastic tube up your urethra, through your prostate, and into your bladder. My first attempts were brutal, probably caused by uncertainty (or outright fear) but once I was able to refine the technique and get past the mental problem, there was only pressure, which intensifies in the prostate.

The first day I self-tapped three times and the last one included a good amount of blood; I figured I’d call the VA the next morning about that but I didn’t get the chance. The next morning I woke about five and staggered into the kitchen to start the coffee. My brain was out of sorts making me forgot what I was doing and I leaned against the countertop. That’s where I passed out – onto a ceramic tile floor. My dear bride managed to get me erect and I promptly passed out again. And again, this time hitting the glass-topped breakfast table with my elbow. She finally got me into a chair where I had less chance of being hurt if I fell again.

The three cats came to investigate the first time and seemed to be anxious about me being on the floor. The third time, when I hit the table, was noisy and the cats scattered, not to be seen until we returned from the ER.

A call to our son, who luckily was awake, and he was there in a few minutes. Another call to TFD and three trucks rolled up a few minutes later. So we had the three of us and nine firefighters and EMTs in our breakfast nook. My BP had collapsed to about 50 over something and I was dehydrated. I drank a few gallons of water while one ENT wrapped the bloody abrasion, which was about three inches in diameter, on my elbow.

To save several hundred dollars in ambulance fees, my son drove me to the VA and stayed until my wife could shower and drive out. After a quick triage I was given a room and since I hadn’t cathed yet that morning, another permanent catheter (called a Foley) for the bladder and an IV for rehydration. To make sure I was stable, I wasn’t released until about two PM – not a fun way to spend eight hours. Somewhere in that time span the blood and urine tests came back and I had a urinary tract infection.

Finally back home where I had to live with the Foley for a few months. A few days later (actually I noticed it in the ER but sloughed it off as being bed bound all day) my upper thigh began to ache, enough to cause serious limping when I walked. My first thought, being of that certain age, was a broken hip until I realized I wouldn’t be able to walk with a broken hip. I figure when I collapsed those three times, I pulled a muscle in my groin. It healed on its own after a few weeks.

With the meds for the UTI, I totally lost my appetite and wound up surviving on Ensure for a few weeks. On the brighter side, as our local news anchors tend to say after reporting on a massive wreck on I-10 with multiple injuries and deaths, I dropped twenty pounds in a week. My belly was flat and my face, legs, and arms all thinned out.

One of the most irritating things about using the Foley was that the weather had changed from warm to hot – shorts weather. I wore shorts around the house but to go anywhere, even to the mail box, required pants to conceal the bag from prying eyes.

I went back to see the urologist at the end of that period and still couldn’t pee. He highly recommended that I go back to the self-cath routine, which I was somewhat hesitant to do after my first attempt. He convinced me and I began to cath every time I had the urge to pee. Five or six times a day. It didn’t take long for me to perfect the technique and now the anticipation is worse than the procedure. The entire procedure is less than two minutes but the sanitary requirements (washing before and after) extend that to eight to ten minutes.

Each time before I cathed, I would attempt to go on my own and after a few weeks the plumbing began to work. A few weeks later I returned to the urologist for the procedure where he runs a TV camera and a flood light into the bladder. The nurse and I had developed a rapport – she’s a Norwegian from North Dakota, as is my wife, with a great sense of humor.When she started to insert the local I asked her if she was using a garden hose, which resulted in a good laugh from both her and the Doc.

He ran the camera and light into the bladder and turned the tube 180 degrees to find out what he expected – my prostate is slightly enlarged and partially blocking the urethra where it exits the bladder and enters the prostate. This allows some urine through but squeezes and closes up the urethra before the bladder is empty. He essentially said this is common in us old guys.

I will see him in October for another flow test and if I haven’t improved significantly we will discuss surgery. If I do have the surgery he said he will provide a pillow since the pressure coming out will be so strong it will force me backward and knock me on my butt. So I asked, “Ya mean I’ll be able to stand in front of one tree and pee on the one behind it?” Got another laugh.

Well here it is, six or eight weeks later and I’m still not able to void completely. At first I was leaving about 200 cc in my bladder and now I’m leaving about 100 cc (the rest comes out by the catheter). But, I seem to have plateaued at that level. The doc said I need to let my bladder rest, so I still cath three to four times a day and let my bladder suffer the rest of the time.

Somewhere in that time span, probably about eight weeks after my collapsing episode, my right elbow (the same one that I bruised) blew up like a balloon. I figured it was bursitis that developed after the drugs for the UTI finally wore off. It is now healed and looks normal with no more fluid under the skin.

Then about a month ago I noticed my vision was becoming foggy so I called the VA optometry department and the nurse asked if I slept under a fan. Yes. If I rinsed my mouth after using the asthma inhaler? No. I killed the fan and began rinsing after using the inhaler. I also began using eye drops to moisten my eyes. My vision has partially returned to normal (about 90% in my right eye and 70% in my left eye).

The best news is that my brain is functioning better and was able to write a story (the yarn at the start of the post) and I have three more in the thinking stage.. Hopefully all of the little problems have solved thenselves and I can concetrate on healing my bladder.

Now it’s off to visit with the old warriors from 3rd Marine Recon.

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The saga of the ten-year sinus infection, or four trips to the ER

Some of the followers of this blog may have noticed that I haven’t posted for several months and that I have been rather quiet regarding email and Facebook. The reason for that can be seen in the title of this blog. I will delve into the specifics in this post but for those who would just prefer a story I’ll post the story first. Since I’m still not up to writing, this is one I wrote a few years ago.

Charley Sanders

Judge Roberts was not a big man but, dressed in a black robe and seated above the courtroom, he looked imposing. “Mister Sanders, I am confused by your actions. You’re ninety-one years old, served honorably and heroically during the war with two Silver Stars and a battlefield commission. You stayed married to the same woman for over 60 years and cared for her in her final days. Your record is impeccable. Not even a traffic ticket. Baseball coach and boy scout leader. With only an eighth-grade education, you had a successful career as a salesman and business owner. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why you thought you could rob your own bank and make your get-away in a wheelchair. The jury has found you guilty of bank robbery. Do you have anything to say in your defense before I sentence you?”

“No, sir.”

“Mister Sanders, in consideration of your crime–armed robbery is a serious offense–mitigated by the circumstances of your age, health, and clean record, I have decided to impose the minimum sentence allowed by law. Fifteen years. Court is adjourned.” The gavel resounded in the hushed room.

People began to shuffle out of the room. Charley wheeled around and waved to many spectators and spoke to others. He was surprisingly cheerful for someone who would spend the next decade in a prison cell.

Officer Brad Balich, a friend of his granddaughter, approached the defense table. Raymond Kelly, his long time friend and now his attorney, looked at the police officer. “Can I have a few minutes with my client?”

“Sure, Mister Kelly. I’ll be waitin’ right here”

Raymond knew Charley hated to have his wheelchair pushed, claiming he was still strong enough to get where he needed to go. He led the way to an adjacent interview room and closed the door behind Charley. He pulled put a chair and sat facing his friend.

“Charley, you told me when you were first arrested that you would tell me why you did this. The trial is over. Let me hear it.”

“Well, Ray, you know Martha was in a nursing home for over four years. She received mediocre care–one night she fell and couldn’t get up and it was four hours before anyone checked on her. The food was mediocre and usually cold. She shared a room with another lady and got two baths a week. Most of her clothes were stolen. Medical treatment was extra and billed to me. It cost me over $4,000 a month to keep her there and she was treated like a piece of livestock. To me, it was like a prison.

“Our son–you know Fred–has really struggled since that drunk T-boned him. It’s tough for him to operate machinery with his left arm and leg all mangled the way it is. Katherine can use some help, too, since her husband broke his back when that horse throwed him.

“What you don’t know is that I have advanced cancer–non-operable. If I go in a nursing home, what little money I have left will go to the home and the hospital. I won’t be able to leave anything to help out my kids.”

“So… you robbed a bank so you would go to prison?”

“Yep. Now I’ll get free medical care and probably better food. The prison has a decent library. Free clothes. They have internet connections and I’ll be able to stay in contact with my family and my old war buddies. I bought a dad-burned laptop and I’m gonna write the true story of what happened on that God-forsaken island and those other battles. I’ll have plenty of time to write before I die.”

“You old codger. You had this all planned out, didn’t you?”

“Yep. Decided when Martha was in that home that I didn’t want to live like that.”

“And, that’s why you demanded that I not bring up the fact that you shouldn’t be charged with armed robbery since your gun wasn’t loaded.”

“Ray, I’ve hunted my whole life and I was damn good soldier in my day. Do you really think I’d forget to load my gun?”

Back to the blog post

About ten years ago I was diagnosed with a sinus infection and a few months later I entered the VA system with diabetes and neuropathy as a result of Agent Orange exposure. The sinus infections arrived with some regularity (spring and fall) and gradually became more severe. About five years ago an infection traveled into my ear canal and blew out an eardrum. That resulted in my first ever trip to the ER and my being deaf and stoned for a few weeks. Apparently I don’t react well to drugs.

My general practioner at the VA referred me to an Ear/Nose/Throat doc who began treating me twice a year with steroid shots in each nostril – way up each nostril. The ENT referred me to an allergist who ran the prick tests and discovered I’m allergic to cats (we have three) and just about every plant that grows in the Sonoran Desert. He started the series of allergy shots although subsequent sinus infections seemed to gravitate to my lungs and he refused to give me shots when my lungs were infected. So, the shots became somewhat sporadic.

These infections really affect me. First, by reducing my energy level to about 75 percent of normal. I wind up sleeping nine to eleven hours a day and drag my rear end around the rest of the time. Second, they fog up my brain so that my memory and thinking ability is almost nonexistent. It’s frustrating to stop writing in the middle of a sentence because you are unable to figure out what the back half is supposed to say.

Last year I had four sinus infections and the last one, starting in November, refused to go away. The ENT scheduled me for roto-rooter surgery for March 19. I guess the surgery went well and the doc said he pulled a lot of gunk out of my sinus cavities. He told me to ice the bridge of my nose to reduce swelling but the first time I gently put the ice bag on, my nose started to bleed uncontrollably. Thus, the second trip to the ER with blood dripping down my face onto a bloody polo shirt. The ER doc packed my nose with extra packing that extended out from my nostrils a good half an inch. They were complete with strings for easier removal but made me look like I had a tampon up each nostril. That visit was about eight hours.

Then my bladder decided to quit operating. I hear this is fairly common (or at least not rare) after surgery because of the drugs they use during surgery. After a couple days of that, it was back to the ER for the third time. They inserted a catheter, which is not a fun experience and it seems the nurse either wasn’t overly adept at it or had a sadistic bent. After six hours I went home with a bag attached to my lower leg and a larger bag to use when I went to bed.

Naturally, after my sinuses were cleaned out our weather was perfect. 70s and 80s during the days and 40s and 50s during the night. No heat or A/C required, perfect for open doors and windows. But, alas, Palo Verde and Mesquite trees were blooming along with several desert shrubs. This triggered more allergy symptoms although I seem to be keeping them in check with daily nasal rinses and numerous squirts of saline solution. The ENT seems pleased with his work and I will see him again in August.

Not only that but the warm weather triggered the switch from jeans and long-sleeved shirts to shorts and polos. But, with the bag attached to my leg I was hesitant to go outside in shorts. I limited trips as much as possible and even pulling/spraying weeds in the front yard or walking to the mailbox required long pants. And the constant pressure on my prostrate from the catheter was made worse by sitting upright, restricting car trips to only those necessary.

That pressure also made sitting at our dining tables difficult and so all my meals were eaten in my lounge chair where I could recline a bit and relieve the pressure. I was also unable to sit comfortably in front of the computer. Luckily I bought a tablet a few years ago for traveling and was able to check email and Facebook, although I found replying difficult with my fat fingers trying to type on that tiny keyboard.

I’m improving but still not recovered. This post is long enough so I’ll post it and start the second (and hopefully last) episode of my experience with the medical profession.


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November 11

Tuesday is Veterans’ Day as everyone should know. It began as a celebration of the end of WWI and evolved into a day to honor all veterans. It’s deeper to me than just being a vet since I know a lot of names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall as well as having kin in every war America has fought from the Revolution on to today.

WWII vets are dwindling in number, as are Korean War vets. Vietnam vets had a greater chance of surviving wounds due to helicopter medevacs and great inroads in field medical care. However, the decision to use chemical defoliants (namely Agent Orange) is causing these vets to die younger. We also have losses from the War on Terror and many vets to recognize. Many of them are suffering from exposure to depleted uranium used in artillery shells as well as to burning petroleum products.

If you know a vet, tell them thanks for their service. It wouldn’t hurt to bow your head in remembrance of those military members who died while serving this great nation.

As important to many (and more important to some) November 10th has more significance. It’s the birthday of the Marine Corps and is usually celebrated formally and boisterously – if you consider that to be an oxymoron, you’ve never been around Marines.

The Marine Corps was formed 239 years ago to fight the British. It evolved over two-plus centuries from sharpshooters in the rigging of tall ships to a corps of shock troops unequaled by other nations. I’m damn proud to be a Marine.

If you know a Marine (or see someone wearing Marine gear) wish them happy birthday. And, just maybe raise a glass to them.

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