Winter in Florida

It’s been a bit since my last update.  This entry covers several months, so it is pretty lengthy. I stayed with my parents at their place in Florida for the winter. The picture above is of a sunset in Florida. I apply some symbolic meaning to it below.

We arrived on December 12th, a month later than we would have liked.  The delay was due to an illness I was battling as well as the lengthy process of trying to obtain a new power chair.  We were initially waiting for the chair, but it was taking too long, so we left with the understanding that it would be ready for me when I returned. Most of my time in Florida was uneventful, so I’ll stick with the highlights of my winter. Unfortunately, the fun and good times I had were completely overshadowed by health-related trials and set-backs. Therefore, these are more prominent in my mind and will take up most of this journal update.

In February, we discovered that there was a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) place in the small town where we live when there. I have a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and it (HBOT) has been documented to help repair damage done to the brain. However, it is quite expensive and insurance won’t cover, so the cost would come out my own pocket. Also, it would take quite a commitment on my part, as well as my parents, since I’m dependent, because the therapy called for 2 one hour sessions a day separated by two hours, for twenty days.

Nevertheless, on February 18th at 2 in the afternoon, I went for my first session. I knew that hyperbaric chambers are used to treat the bends. The bends, also known as decompression sickness, mostly afflicts divers who ascend to the surface too quickly. Therefore, I found it ironic that sessions in the chamber are called dives. They had a lift that placed me on a bed that slid into and out of the chamber. Kind of like a drawer in a morgue.

The first few dives were pretty intense as the pressure on the ear drums is so strong.  It’s so intense that you wonder if one or both ears are going to pop and get severely damaged. It’s similar to the pressure one feels as an aircraft ascends, only much more extreme!  During the first few sessions I had to have them pause the dive while my ears adjusted to the pressure. When I was finally able to go to the bottom without stopping, I felt like I achieved a small victory.

My ears were constantly plugged now and at times I wondered if they’d ever unplug. To pass the time in the chamber, which was a clear tube, I watched DVD’s on a screen that was on top the chamber. I had to read the captions because the chamber didn’t allow external noise in.

On Friday, February 24th I noticed what looked like a bite on my arm, not far from a wound that had scabbed over. Saturday night I had high levels of anxiety, indicating that I was fighting an infection. So Sunday afternoon, I had my parents drive me to the Emergency Room. I was diagnosed with cellulitis, discharged with a prescription for two antibiotics, and told to make an appointment with my primary care physician. It took me some time to understand that what I thought was a bite was actually a manifestation of staph infection that I had earlier picked up while the wound was open, either at the gym or the hyperbaric facility.

By Tuesday, two days later,infection had worsened. The site of the infection was bubbled out and looked terrible. We headed back to the ER, and by the time we made it there, my right forearm had swollen so much that it looked like Popeye’s. At the ER, I received IV antibiotics, and then they lanced an abscess that had formed in the infected area. An abscess is a collection of pus that has built up within the tissue of the body. Lancing is when they take a scalpel and cut into the wound in order to get the pus out. I was advised to keep my appointment with my primary physician, Dr. Kihn, the next day, because he would show my dad how to clean and dress the wound.

On March 1st I went to Dr. Kihn’s. Apparently, his office had lost some records during a computer transfer and he was lost. He didn’t remember me. I mean, come on! I’m pretty memorable! Anyway, he asks what I’m there for. I tell him what happened and ask if he would clean and change my wound and show my dad how. He said. “We don’t do that here. I’ll refer you to a surgeon.” I thought, “What!? You’re an M.D. but you aren’t equipped to clean and dress a wound!” He opened the bandage, looked at it, removed the packing, didn’t clean it, inserted some fresh packing and referred us to a surgeon, who was able to see us at 11:30 am the next day.

With all this going on and how taxing the hyperbaric treatments were on my parents and I, I decided to tell Stephanie, the owner and operator, that I had to quit. I couldn’t handle the schedule anymore. She stressed how good HBOT was for wounds and suggested that I try 90-minute sessions, once a day to finish out the treatment course. I agreed. So on March 1st I started with the 90-minute sessions. I was able to watch full movies now, without stopping at the end of an hour treatment to pick up later.

On Thursday, March 2nd I saw a surgeon. Dr. McNamee (Mac-Name-y) by name, a black guy and a very cool cat as I discovered after my initial visit. On this day, Dr. McNamee looked at the wound, and started probing around with a scalpel. He then declared that he’d have to cut deeper because there was still a considerable amount of pus in the abscess. He proceeded to numb the area and went plenty deeper than I thought was necessary. But I’m not a doctor. He then packed the wound. At first I was skeptical that he needed to cut deeper. However, after my dad removed the packing and repacked for a week with white puss exposing itself on the packing, I knew that the surgeon was correct. Later that evening, we went to the For King and Country show, at the Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Florida. It was an awesome show with a special treat, 116 affiliated rapper and Tampa native, KB performed with For King and Country on several songs. I’ve been a fan of KB since I came across his stuff in 2010 or 11.

My sisters Laurie and Nikki flew down on Wednesday, March 6th. The next day, Nikki, Dad and I went to the Strawberry Festival, where we saw Needtobreathe perform.

My last hyperbaric treatment was on Tuesday, March 15th. Nikki and Laurie flew home the next day. But they wouldn’t be gone for long.

On Friday, March 24th I had the best workout I’d had in about 5 years. I thought the HBOT might be paying off as I was feeling stronger. However, I was unable to sleep that night and my right arm felt like it was on fire. Like I had sunburn, but I hadn’t been in the sun.  When I got up the next morning, my right hand was weak and numb, like it was asleep, and my thumb was pulling inward making it difficult to grasp things. I can’t give a thumbs up or extend my fingers individually, except my pinky. However, I can extend all my fingers when I open my entire hand. It’s still weak and numb as well.

My right hand, though crippled, was really one of the only appendages that I had become comfortable and competent using. Now I was faced with yet another set-back. Even though I suspected that this was something that had happened because I had overworked my body at the gym, we made another appointment with Dr. McNamee for Thursday March 30, to make sure that the staph infection hadn’t returned and was causing problems with my hand.

Thursday, March 30th was Dad’s 73rd birthday and here he and Mom were taking me to yet another doctor’s appointment. Dr. McNamee said that the wound and infection were healed. When I brought up the problem with my right hand and mentioned that I planned on going to the ER, he said, “Don’t go to the ER. You’ll just get a doctor who’s on-call for that day. Let me contact a physiatrist for you.” Less than ten minutes later, while we were still in with Dr. McNamee, the physiatrist’s office called my mom’s cell phone. They must’ve asked who the recommending physician was because Mom said “McNamee,” and he says, “MacDaddy.” I laughed out loud, and said, “nice…I like it!” Gave him a fist bump, then he was out and I had an appointment with Dr. Jassal for the next day.

But before I proceed, later that afternoon, as Dad was helping me walk, my sisters and their husbands Steve (Laurie’s) and PJ (Nikki’s), came racing around a neighbor’s house carrying ten “Happy Birthday” balloons for Dad’s birthday. We knew that they were coming down for a cruise, but we didn’t expect to see them until after. We went out for lunch to celebrate.

Friday, March 31st I met Dr. Jassal. He was a pleasant man, about my age. He prescribed a steroid pack, to be followed by a 30-day supply of anti-inflammatory medication, ordered an MRI on my neck and scheduled a follow-up appointment for the next Friday, April 7th.

I had the MRI done, and a week later had the follow-up appointment with Dr. Jassal. He went over the results of the MRI, informing me that I have some stenosis, my C5 and C6 vertebrae are inflamed and there’s a pocket of spinal fluid where it doesn’t belong. Dr. Jassal didn’t know if the pocket was from my previous TBI or something recent, so he said that I should see a neurologist when I get home. He prescribed another steroid pack, just in case, as well as another month of anti-inflammatories. Ironically, my neck didn’t really hurt until after he went over the MRI, indicating the neck pain I’ve felt since is likely psychosomatic. But knowing this didn’t decrease the pain in my neck, which now snaps, cracks and pops with slight movement.

We left Florida for Michigan on Wednesday, April 19th and arrived home late Friday afternoon. It was the roughest, most uncomfortable ride because of my neck.

The Monday after we got home, I had my mom call and make an appointment with my neurologist, Dr. Kovar. Unfortunately, his office was unable to get me in until May 31st. However, they put me on the cancellation list. Meanwhile, my friend Sue recommended that I see chiropractic doctor Rod McLane. Dr. Rod had used low level laser therapy on Sue and it saved her from needing surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that she suffered from. She no longer suffers ill effects from the syndrome!

Therefore, anxious and eager to try anything that might correct the weakness and debilitation in my right hand and relieve the neck pain, my mom called and made an appointment for a consultation for my dad and I, on Thursday, April 27th. My dad has been suffering from stenosis in his lower back since last fall and it has caused sharp pain and numbness in his left leg. During the consultation, Dr. Rod first explained that low level laser treatment does not work on the lower back, but said he also has spinal stenosis and uses an inversion machine to correct the problem. He then told me that they’ve had success using low level lasers to correct problems originating in the neck. Dad and I made appointments for the next Monday.

On Monday, May 1st, Dad and I went to Dr. McLane’s for our respective therapies. He treated me first using an adjuster on my neck area, then he used skin surface laser that felt like a low-level tattoo gun, and finally, he positioned a non-touching laser light to point at my neck for five minutes. My sister Laurie sat with me during those five minutes, while Dr. McLane started on my dad’s treatments, which consisted of of some manual therapy first, after which he was placed on a machine that stretched his back and legs. Dad and I receive 2 treatments a week.

On the morning of Monday, May 8th, Dr. Kovar’s office called and said they had an opening for the next day at 2:30.  May the 9th was my mom’s birthday, so once again I had my parents in a doctor’s office on one of their birthdays. Dr. Kovar said that the MRIs we bought back from Florida were low quality, and he began to examine me. His examination was much more thorough, more hands-on than Dr. Jassal’s had been. He pushed around on my neck and right shoulder, asking questions regarding the pain. He concluded that my first rib was out of place, which didn’t make sense to me because I thought my first rib was at the bottom of my rib cage. Turns out it is located above the collar bone and wraps around the neck like an open shirt collar, or more like a priest’s collar, but open in the front.

Dr. Kovar asked how bad the pain was and if I’d be okay with steroid shots. I indicated that I’d be fine with it, and he gave me 5 shots spread throughout the pained area. Before we left, he ordered physical therapy and we have an appointment for a new set of MRIs on May 26th. The next day, he called to see how I was feeling after the steroid shots and to set up an appointment for a nerve test, to see if I have a pinched nerve as well. The nerve test is scheduled for May 31st.

As promised, I will now apply some symbolism to the picture above, explaining what it means to me. After enduring the hardships of life in this fallen world, in this broken body, sunsets remind me that this isn’t all there is.  One day the sun will set on this life and I’ll wake up in the dawn of eternity, forever free of the pain, turmoil and heartache of this world.   Knowing that I am not my body, but a soul in a body and that I was made for more than this world, “…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) I know that God is working all things for my good (cf. Romans 8:28), and preparing me for a more blessed eternity with Him. The knowledge of the this gives me hope and helps me to get by during the hard times.

Stepping back down to the temporary future, I am slated to speak at Port Huron Northern on Thursday, May 18th. Once again, it sounds like we’re going to be joined by Geoff’s sister, Crystal. I know I’m blessed and encouraged by her presence. I hope the audience is equally blessed! Oh, I almost forgot, on May 5th the guy showed up with my new power chair. You know I’m cruising in style. I also got a new manual chair!