This really started last summer. I had been looking for a job for months, and finally landed a grunt-monkey gig dragging boxes and stocking shelves at The Compleat Strategist. Demeaning, dirty, exhausting work. I had been out of the workforce a long time, and was ashamed of how much it took out of me. I knew that if I just toughed it out, I’d break the horrible hold that a decade of sedentary existence behind a computer and a drawing board had on me and prove myself tough enough to live with myself.
You know- a man. Macho. Tough. Capable. Not weak. Not sick. Not me.
It was a bad time; I would come home sick and shaking. Several times my animal urged me to quit, but we needed me to be bringing in some kind of regular money- and I had serious pride issues about giving up. So I kept at it – even doing my last two weeks after I had found a MUCH better job and given notice. Monkeys like me are eminently disposable and replaceable there, but they had never crossed or cheated me… so I slogged through the last two weeks as they doubled my workload, trying to squeeze every drop of sweat out of me they could, so they could wait a few weeks (and save the money) to hire a new chimp.
But this was not just being out of shape I was fighting. It was a decade of no health insurance, fear of doctors, denial and neglect. I had advanced kidney disease and gastroparesis by this time (diabetic complications) as well as some vision loss- and pushing myself through this without medical supervision or advice was making these conditions worse. But I was too busy trying to tough it out and maintain my denials of the problems to know that. I mean, doesnâ€™t everybody vomit every morning, and maybe two or three times a day? “Nope. Nothing wrong here.”
But the day came, and in September, I started a great new job. Things were looking up- I was bringing in enough money that it mattered, the job was complex and challenging and I was well suited to it. I had autonomy, authority, and a job I understood with a skill set that supported it. I felt useful and complete- I was happy. And then, best of all, I got health insurance… and I had no excuse not to immediately exploit it.
I started finding out new and unpleasant things- and started changing my life accordingly- The transitions were tough, especially changing insulin prescriptions; and I found out what was going on with my eyes. Diabetes (and other ill health factors, but it all starts there) meant my retinas were not getting enough blood… so they were growing new blood vessels to provide it, The problem was, they did not belong there, were interfering with my vision and were exposed and fragile. Laser treatment was necessary immediately, because if they broke, they would bleed their fragile little hearts out into my eye, where they would cloud the vitreous gel which fills it and I would not be able to see. (Take note- this fact is important for later.)
A few months later, we moved. I was struggling with my health all through autumn, and it was getting tougher as winter came on. I was on a new insulin prescription, and it was a drastic change – I had several blood sugar crashes while attempting to master it. It was the beginning of March when we took our new apartment in Brooklyn, a bedroom bigger than our Bronx sublet, and closer to Manhattan. Definitely a step up. My animal had packed her heart out for the month preceding, as she was going to be in Europe on business during the actual move.
I am blessed with good friends, old and new, who came to help- enough to break into squads- one to help me lug crap in cars and an overstuffed moving truck, and one to stay behind a scrub the place down so it would be in some condition to return to Sir C, from whom we had been subletting for about 2 years. Even with all the help, I was physically wrecked by the time it was over… and all these things (undetected complications, exhaustion and unfamiliarity with the new prescriptions) added up to my worst insulin crash- I had never passed out before and this time I was alone. The last thing I saw was the front door rushing up to greet me as I blacked out trying to answer the door.
I lay there for two hours, semiconscious and helpless. Luckily, my landlord had arranged to let a plumber in, so when she could not open the door and my responses were not coherent, she tracked down my animal, who gave her a friend’s number to call and told her to call the paramedics. I was dangerously close to brain damage when they arrived. A friend of mine saw me to the hospital and back some seven hours later. During the fall I had hit my head and damaged a toe (which I could not feel). A few days later I noticed the discoloration, and saw a podiatrist- he informed me I’d lose the nail, there would be some weeping and swelling, but that would pass and I would be fine.
This was not true.
My weakened condition encouraged infection- and when one had started, others started, and I began to fall apart hard. My animal returned from Europe and did her best to take care of me, but I began to miss more and more work and the vomiting became constant- I could not walk two blocks without stopping to puke. Two weeks later I was vomiting blood, and checked into New York Hospital.
Two days with a tube up my nose later, things were under control- but this is when the real changes started. I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a condition defined by nerve damage to the digestive tract. Essentially, my system no longer knows when to digest food, so it simply secretes acid full-time, causing vomiting and bleeding. It is, however, a manageable condition. The other revelation is how rapid the decline of my kidneys had been- the kidney disease was fairly advanced. They were functioning between 20 and 15% capacity- again, manageable if not pleasant. My injured toe had become infected, and that infection had spread to my other foot and my kidneys, which made all my other conditions worse, so that it all essentially conspired to lay me low.
I spent two weeks in the hospital, and the turnaround in how well I was feeling was drastic, although I was perpetually exhausted. I was on IV medication for six weeks after leaving the hospital, taken through a shunt in my arm. I was not well, or anywhere near it- but the vomiting and nausea were controlled and I could function.
Then, very abruptly, my symptoms came back. I wrestled with it for a weekend, unable to make my blood sugar come back down no matter how much insulin I took. When it climbed to 600 while I was pumping vast quantities of insulin to no effect, I relented and went back to the hospital.
The IV medication had damaged my kidneys, and they were now malfunctioning at such a critical level, I had a minor heart attack. Life was now going to change drastically.
Two weeks in the hospital, and I had started dialysis. The change in my state of well being was dramatic, as years worth of poison was dragged out of my bloated carcass. I am 50 pounds of poisoned water lighter now. Dialysis 3 days a week, several associated minor surgeries, 9 prescriptions. I got to go home.
I’ve been recovering my strength and sense of humor since, have started to be social again, and am aggressively trying to get stronger. Now, remember those extra blood vessels in my eyes? I told you to remember them… well, the fall I took the day after my move caused them to leak, and my eye had filled with blood- I was effectively blind in my right eye. It had been the least of my concerns while it happened, but it was an issue that had to be addressed. Luckily, my ophthalmologist is a god. He performed a vitrectomy– one of the weirdest experiences of my life. The fluid was drained from my right eye- shriveled up like a raisin- and laser work done, then it was reenlisted and filled with a new transparent gel.
I was awake the whole time. Numb (thank the Dark Mother for that little gift) but awake. Bizarre. I am undergoing laser treatments on my left eye to ensure the same problem does not occur there. It’s going to cost me some vision- areas of my retinas get destroyed in the process- but better some than all.
Right now, my worst day is still better than my best day a few months ago. My energy levels are rising, and I am getting a lot of what I lost back. I am remembering how to be playful, for example. Hopefully, all the dark circuits will light back up in time.
My animal is the reason I am still here. I cannot express the level of dedication and love she showed me, making me well- despite exhaustion, depression, stress, and in some cases, despite me. Her efforts have been Herculean. I only hope that in time I can make it up to her.