Back on My Feet Again

The View From Here

I am struggling right now through one of the most difficult periods of my adult life, and it’s all because of a simple misstep I made in a parking lot, four months ago.

On May 7, I came out of a drugstore here in Austin and, while making my way through the parking lot to my car, I tripped over something or perhaps just laid one foot down wrong. I fell forward and instinctively crossed my arms over my chest to protect myself. I landed hard on my right elbow, and as bad luck would have it, ended up breaking a small but relatively important bone called the olecranon. I had to go to the emergency room, where I was told I really needed surgery to pin the bone in place.

That surgery was successful, but the surgical wound became infected. To make a long story short, I have been battling this infection ever since, and have undergone two additional surgeries on the area, called I and Ds, which stands for incision and drainage. Both times the infected tissue was cleaned out and removed, but the first I and D didn’t completely take care of the infection.

After the second I and D, my surgeon took a much more aggressive approach to treating the infection. This is where the real fun began. First, my wound was not sutured during surgery. It was left open and packed with an antibiotic dressing. For three weeks, I had the pleasure of going to wound care every day to have the wound cleaned and the dressing changed. Now I have graduated to just going every other day for the next three weeks — oh, joy!

At the same time, I’m wearing a “fanny pack” containing a battery-operated pump and a bag of antibiotic fluid that is administered intravenously 24 hours a day through a catheter that was installed in my chest during the most recent surgery. I get to change the antibiotic bag every day, too, as well as going to the clinic once a week to have the catheter site checked and the bandage changed.

The catheter is uncomfortable and the new routine wears me down. It’s hard to believe that all of this was caused by a simple misstep in a parking lot. The bone that was broken has long since healed; it’s just the infection that is causing such havoc. It has truly brought home to me the precarious state my health is in. My surgeon said that the break could have happened to anyone, but it’s my depressed immune system that is making it so hard for me to throw off this infection. And my immune system is depressed because of a number of drugs I’m taking just for my rheumatoid arthritis — drugs which, I have to add, are not exactly doing a bang-up job of controlling my disease even though they seem adequate at providing negative side effects.

If I sound a little bitter, I admit I am feeling that way right now. I think people who don’t experience a chronic illness may not fully realize how thoroughly such an illness affects a patient’s life. Those of us with RA can’t throw off the little things that would hardly affect a person with a normal, healthy constitution. If you have a friend or family member with a chronic condition, consider this the next time they have a cold or an injury that they just can’t shake off. They may need a little more of your sympathy and patience.