I eat healthily. I don’t smoke. When I drink, which isn’t often, it’s in moderation. I exercise four to five times a week. I sleep relatively well, don’t do drugs, buy organic, eat my weight in kale, and drink my weight in kombucha (okay, almond milk lattes too). Living a life centered around wellness is one of the most important things you can do, but one of the most foolish things you can do is foster the belief that this somehow makes you invincible.
This is going to be a lengthy post, so let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Last week I treated myself to a new pair of expensive Nikes. (This post is not meant as an any sort of attack against Nike, as I believe this could have happened with an ill-fitting shoe of any brand.) This past Thursday, I went for a long walk with my friend and her dog. It wasn’t a hike. We didn’t even run. It was just a simple stroll. As we chatted about relationships and whined over our lack of money, I could feel the backs of my ankles blistering. By the end of our walk, I was walking on my tiptoes like an idiot, because the friction of the shoe against my ankle hurt too much (even though I was wearing socks). When we got back inside, I yanked the shoes off my feet in relief and saw–not to my relief–that I had bled through my socks. Major ouch, but nothing that hadn’t happened to me in the past.
Fast-forward to Saturday, early-afternoon. For the past couple of days I’d been walking around with bandaids on my feet, only mildly uncomfortable from the blisters. It was only normal blister pain; you know how it feels. I went back to Nike and exchanged the shoes, shopped around a bit, picked up a kale salad to take home. (I am such an LA cliché sometimes.) As time passed, internal pain in my left foot began to emerge. By the time I got home, walking had become increasingly difficult. I started to limp. “Damn, this one blister is killing me. Look, I can hardly walk,” I said to my stepdad. It was strange that one foot was healing, while the other was getting progressively worse. I should have known right then that something was wrong.
My friend came over later that night. We ordered vegan takeout (again with the LA cliché, what can I say?) and then went out to pick up some dessert. I had us stop at Rite-Aid on the way back so I could pick up some Neosporin and blister bandaids. My friend and I were laughing at how ridiculous I looked as I hobbled around Rite-Aid, practically crippled. This was back when it was still funny, before I had any inkling of how serious this annoying little blister could become. Back home, we lay on my bed talking as I examined my foot. It was incredibly swollen. I saw the redness spreading upward, but didn’t really think about it.
Close to midnight now. My friend had gone home. I was getting ready for bed, my foot now killing me. I could hardly walk. It was extremely painful to put any sort of pressure on my left foot. I ran the bath with hot water and dipped my feet in, cleaning both blisters with soap. In retrospect, this probably only aggravated the problem, but all I could think about was tending to my wounds. Afterward, I hopped to my bedroom on my right food and collapsed into bed.
Come 3:30 in the morning, I got up to use the bathroom, except the up part was not possible. The pain was excruciating; I bit back tears. So, down I went. I sat on my bedroom floor and literally scooted my ass to the bathroom. Alarm bells were sounding in my mind, but they were still pretty far off in the distance–too far off to force me to wake up a relative.
When I woke up again a little before 7:30, exhausted because I’d hardly slept a wink, I scooted to the bathroom on my butt again. Standing on one foot in front of the sink, I brushed my teeth and washed my face. My mom was out of town, so I texted her to call me as soon as she woke up. When I saw my stepdad walk by in the hall (luckily he’s an early riser) I called him into the bathroom and explained to him how bad it had gotten. “And look at this line creeping up my leg,” I said to him, pointing out the strange mark that was snaking up my calf. He took one look, and then: “We need to get you to the ER.”
I got pushed through the emergency room in a wheelchair, where the on-call doctor saw my flaming foot (I’ll spare you those photos) and immediately admitted me overnight. I was shocked. I had to spend the night in the hospital? What?! Couldn’t they just give me some antibiotics and send me on my way? No, they couldn’t, because the infection was spreading–quickly. Cellulitis can be life-threatening if it reaches vital organs or spreads into a person’s bloodstream. Already, my infection had spread overnight from my ankle region to about three quarters of the way up my calf. Oral antibiotics wouldn’t have cut it. I needed an IV, as soon as possible. Rotating rounds of Zosyn and Vancomysin–heavy duty stuff. When I realized how serious this infection was, my thoughts went from “Great, I have to stay here overnight and I’m going to ruin all the good bacteria in my gut” to “Hurry, stab my vein and shoot me up NOW!”
One night in the hospital turned into two, and the reality of my situation truly sunk in. I’ve always talked about how important it is to be grateful, but I hadn’t realized how ungrateful I actually was until this experience put everything into perspective. My stepdad, a man with severe white coat syndrome, had stayed with me for four hours in the ER on Sunday morning. My mom had rushed back into town upon news of my condition, and ended up sleeping both nights of my stay in a stiff fold-out chair next to my hospital bed. My biological dad spent hours in an uncomfortable chair in the corner, reading one of his spiritual self-realization books while complaining about the hospital room’s poor lighting. I couldn’t possibly love these people any more. I received a multitude of texts from family and friends, and my cyber friends from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition extended an outpouring of love and get-well wishes over Facebook. My spoiled little butt didn’t want any hospital food, so my parents and my younger brother made numerous trips to my favorite restaurants, bringing me back everything from almond milk lattes and kombucha, to sautéed kale and raw hummus. My nurses checked in on me all hours of the night, calling me “sweetie” and “darling” and making sure I was never uncomfortable or in need of anything.
I have a life–that in itself is a blessing. But I also have a life full of love. I have people who would do anything for me. I have legs. I can walk. I had an IV in my arm for two days, and now I get to go home with a ten-day prescription for oral antibiotics. I don’t have to carry a tank around for the rest of my life, or be poked and prodded every day. I don’t have to know what it feels like to live without a limb, or be given a window of time in which I get to live out the rest of my existence. I reside less than ten blocks from an incredible hospital. If I get sick on a Sunday morning, there are people who immediately bust their asses to get me healthy again.
This infection could have killed me if I hadn’t gotten it treated fast enough. I can talk about the downsides of antibiotics all I want, but I owe my life to them now. Seeing that line rapidly making its way up my calf was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.
Every day starts out like any other, and every day has the potential to rock your world completely. Live each day like it could be your last–because it really could be. Cherish the people around you. I not only thought about the fragility of my own life in this situation (and how enormously happy I am to simply exist), but also the fragility of life in general. If this can happen to me, it can happen to someone I love. Life is delicate. We know this, but we don’t always get it. We read sad articles, watch tragic movies, hear heartbreaking stories on the news, and we might even cry over the tales of these unfortunate strangers, but we’re still disconnected. We wipe our tears and go make a sandwich, because after all, it wasn’t us. Let me tell you, and I know you’ve heard it before, but this next piece of wisdom can’t be said enough. This is the rule: Scary, life-changing events can happen to anyone. The exception: Not you! Nobody is the exception. A seemingly insignificant blister on my foot could have ended my life–a blister, for crying out loud!
Don’t let a single day go by in which you’re not grateful for your life, whatever it may be. Do you have hands? That’s an incredible freakin’ thing. Do you have eyesight? Step outside and look at the sky. Is it gray and smoggy? Great! If you can see it, it’s beautiful. Do you have someone you can kiss today, say “I love you” to? Do it until they want to tape your mouth shut. Can you breathe without a tube in your nose, eat without feeling nauseous? Is your lifespan undetermined? Relish that feeling.
I’m sitting in the hospital right now, so incredibly grateful for the IV in my arm, the bruises on my skin, my full stomach. I’m alive. My doctor okayed my release this morning. Not everyone I’m currently sharing this hospital with will be leaving today, and some won’t ever be leaving. I’m incredibly lucky, and life comes down to luck more often than we realize. No amount of kale could have kept me from getting this infection, and at the rate it was spreading, no amount of positive thinking could have forced that line on my leg to start moving in the other direction. Those intravenous antibiotics kicked some serious ass. I’m thrilled to being going home, of course. I’m thrilled to shampoo the three-day grease off my hair and wash my face, I’m thrilled to sleep in my plush queen bed tonight, and I’m thrilled to be able to move again…but more than anything, I’m just happy to be.