2015? Still Counting Blessings from 2014’s Near Misses

It’s usually a minor annoyance to me when people constantly say Christmas is “for giving thanks.” Holidays can mean whatever people want them to mean but to me, Thanksgiving is for expressing gratitude and Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Christ. However, as 2014 closes, I realize I needed more than one holiday for appreciation because this past year, life and limb were at stake—quite literally.

It’s very tempting to simply say, “Dear 2014, you suck. Go away. And don’t come back.” But that would be the wrong perspective. Negativity begets negativity. The correct perspective for me is, “I came so close to disaster personally and in my family, that I thank God every day we are all still intact.”

I used to measure the passing of yet another year by what happened professionally for me and those around me. What happened politically in Connecticut, Massachusetts and nationally? How is the country progressing in eradicating poverty and homelessness? How safe is the country…or the world? Or even so self-absorbed as to ask, how did my writing or TV appearances go this year?

This past year was different. 2014 was the year my family had its biggest challenge yet. My Dad—a good and decent man—fought and won a third battle with cancer. In fact, he kicked its ass. It was by far the most serious bout. Meticulous, daily preparation for surgery combined with a herculean effort by my Mom enabled him to win. Life-sucking chemo, multiple trips the wonderful doctors in the Berkshires and the mind-altering surgery itself in Boston to remove the tumor were no match for these two. Mom and Dad 3, cancer 0.

B&W hosp doctors

Of course I realize there is always a chance of reoccurrence for him but even if that happens, my money’s on the tough, old Irishman. But I don’t worry about that. It may have taken a hard, deep realization of mortality that comes only with being so close to losing a loved one but I have a new appreciation for the lives of the people in my family.

Meanwhile, my personal 2014 accomplishment is that I am standing on my own two feet. That may seem like a pretty low bar but it’s good enough for me given that I was in a hospital bed this past summer, hours away from having my leg amputated. It sort of made some sense at the time since I didn’t have much of a foot left after surgery to remove the effects of a flesh-eating type infection that ravaged most of my left foot. Fear of the infection returning and possibly shooting through my body was real. That would have meant I’d be inspecting the potatoes with a step ladder and I’m really not ready for that.

This medical problem actually dates back to 2010. It was then I suffered a spinal injury in a fall at my Wethersfield condo. One of my vertebrae is now a piece of hardware. It was so bad a doctor at Hartford Hospital told me at the time, “This is devastating news, but you’re never going to walk again.”

As I tend to do, I took that as a challenge. I spent the next 12 months in a wheelchair but I could still feel my legs. With hard work, the greatest nurse, physical and occupational therapists a patient could ask for, I now walk unassisted and I’m fully mobile. I’m not flying down center ice with the puck anymore but I can’t have everything.

Another unfortunate, lasting problem the injury caused me was severely reduced vascular capacity in my legs—the blood wasn’t getting to my feet properly. Low blood flow, low capability to fight off infection.

I didn’t have any reason to suspect this problem until, sure enough, a blister on foot in 2013 just wouldn’t heal. In the spring of this past year, it turned into a “Gas Gangrene” infection. It’s nasty. Medical literature uses terms like “flesh-eating,” “fatal if untreated” and my favorite, “amputation.” A surgeon cut out the infected parts of my foot which was about half of it. He pressed me to consent to immediate amputation of the leg below the knee.

It sort of made some sense since I didn’t have much of a left wheel remaining anyway. Fear of the infection returning and possibly shooting through my body was real.

To me, what happened from that pre-surgery night until today is nothing short of a miracle. Doctors don’t like to use that word, they simply say they can’t explain it. They’re reactions ranged from “NO (bleeping) WAY! (younger doc) to “Remarkable!” (older doc) to “You should still let me take the Black and Decker to it” (ok, I made that one up but we’ll get to the doc that wanted to do that in a moment).

I could say it was simple luck or my stubbornness in refusing to believe I would lose my leg—I’ve grown quite fond of it over the years—but the only explanation I have is that the love, prayers and positive thoughts from literally hundreds of people (thanks Facebook) kept my body and therefore my mind whole.

At literally the 11th hour, a doctor saw “some small signs of healing.” My rock who was with me the whole time (and whose out of the country, previously scheduled trip made me delay the surgery because I wanted her there for it, allowing it time to begin to heal) demanded the pompous surgeon drag his chief-of-vascular-surgery, Harvard-Med-School-faculty butt back in. He eventually showed up and tried to convince me I should still let him do the surgery. I felt like telling him, “The only way I’m losing my foot in a few hours is if I break it off in your ass.” I settled for the simple, “Umm, I think I’ll skip it.”

In the end, with near continuous care and more prayer, my foot is nearly completely healed and I am fully mobile.

I have a wonderful cousin whose husband is a minister. They live in Indiana but visited me here in Boston in the summer when it looked like my leg was a goner. I saw them again at my uncle/godfather’s funeral (the year was not without its great losses). I asked him if, as a man of great faith and God, he could explain how my foot has pretty much regenerated itself. He just sort of smiled and said he had not seen anything like it.

I think somehow we both knew the real reason. On to 2015!