Author’s Note: On February 16, 2014, I was at home with our youngest daughter when I felt what I assumed was an insect bite on my upper right thigh. After a night of vomiting, diarrhea, and a very high fever, I awoke to find my leg swollen, bruised, and black in some places. We rushed to the hospital where I learned my kidneys had shut down, I was on the edge of septic shock, and that no one knew what was wrong with my leg. I had a fever in excess of 105 degrees. It was not a bite of any kind The initial blood samples came back negative for everything, and the staff made a critical phone call. The infectious disease specialist arrived, took one look at me, and starting giving orders. He saved my life. I spent four days in ICU and another week in the medical ward as my leg healed enough to go home. The damage could have made me a special effects model for any zombie movie. I stayed home until May and tried to piece together my shattered confidence after a brush with mortality. It’s been a long road back. (Photo My oldest daughter and I watching an episode of Doctor Who on day seven in the hospital, 2014)
It’s been a year today. A whole freaking year. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about it. I still check my bruised, discolored leg a couple of times a day. There are days when it’s sore. Other days it itches. I have small bumps that appear and move around (most likely fat globules from the destroyed tissue). There are often times when the infection site is still warm to the touch compared to the rest of my skin. My leg tires easily and I have to live with the knowledge that because my lymphatic system was damaged, my right leg will not heal as quickly as it had before. Infection could attack me there again because my immune system was compromised.
It’s pretty damned unsettling, really.
I’ve moved past a lot of the”Why me” questions. I spent the first several weeks at home last year wondering that while I stared out the window on a cold, snowy Colorado winter. That I made it through without dying, or at the very least the loss of my right leg, is nothing short of a miracle. The doctors still do not have a definitive cause of the infection. We know that what ever it was, the drugs that kill Group A Strep worked. As my doctor put it, even Lysol kills Group A Strep. This is a good thing. I had blood drawn at least three dozen times over the course of my hospital stay and at-home care. None of those cultures – NONE – came back with a definitive bacterial cause for what happened to me. I spent nine months on antibiotics, all told. We can’t be sure that its gone. I have to live with that everyday. Some days are harder than others.
When I had my last Army physical, there were two different schools of thought. The civilian doctor I saw looked at my recovered leg with his mouth agape. “How in the hell are you still on active duty?” He looked at me when I shrugged and then wrote up documentation that caused another follow-up with a military doctor who wrote everything off as leg pain and ordered me to physical therapy. Then, I had an official email that asked me whether or not my condition would last longer than the ninety days forecast. I responded that I have this to deal with for the rest of my life. They’ve been quiet ever since. Really makes you wonder if anyone really cares outside your friends and family.
So what do I know, and what do I still not know?
What I know is that I survived. 2014 was an incredible and mind-boggling year. I nearly died. I returned to work and learned I’d been promoted to arguably the last Army rank I’ll ever see. I had an offer on a novel, and I turned it down. I then had a second offer that I accepted. I know that my circle of friends and my Tribe were what got me through all of the bad times. I’ve thanked many of them over the past year, and I’m reasonably sure that my attitude to recover would not have been as positive as it was without them. I know that I am loved, care for, and somehow alive when it could have easily gone the other way Truly, death could come for any of us at any time. More than ever, I understand that. More than ever I know that I want to do more with the time I have. There are stories to tell. There are memories to make. There is my family to enjoy. Life is a very good thing we take far too much for granted.
What I don’t know is more than what’s above. I don’t know when it will be possible to go a day without touching the scars and shaking my head about the whole damned thing. I don’t know when I won’t worry about getting sick. I don’t know how much longer I’ll have to live under a protocol where if I get a fever over 101 degrees that I have to go to the emergency room. I don’t know what it was and as such I cannot fight it. That drives me batshit crazy. I like cause and effect. I can take action to rectify something that has gone amiss. In this case, I cannot. I feel so powerless and without control at times but somehow I keep moving past the doubts and the feeling sorry for myself. Life is way too short for that kind of thinking. I’ve seen that and it’s changed my attitudes and some of my behaviors arguably for the better.
My biggest challenge right now is what I will do next. I’ve filed paperwork to leave active service at the end of the summer. I have to go and find a job – this writing thing does not pay the bills. There is a whole new chapter to my life unfolding before my eyes. Meeting it head on is my goal. That doubt is the largest thing I don’t know, but I am not scared by it anymore. I’ve stared far worse things in the face and come away better for it. I’ve had some great friends whose encouragement brought me through more than I could eve share with them. They know who they are, and I am so very grateful for the things they’ve said. The first amazing bottle of IPA one of them brought over. The writer friends who gathered on my couch for a writing group meeting while I could not get out of the house. I am forever indebted to all of you.
While I recovered, I asked my friend James A. Owen for a posterized quote he’d shared. I taped that quote to the underside of my glass-topped writing desk so that I can look at it every single day. It reads:
You have a greater destiny than this.
You’re meant for greater things than this.
And if you want to beat this, to overcome what you’re grappling with,
You are strong enough to do it.
And if that’s the choice you make,
it’s possible to live a wonderful, extraordinary life.
That’s what I know. What I don’t know doesn’t scare me like it did a year ago. Whatever happens this year, and in the years to come, I know that I can choose to live a deliberate, fulfilling life. I may not know my destiny, and I may never be the writer I want to be, but I know that I am loved, that I have friends who have my back and will not let me fall, and I have the will to take on whatever comes my way.
Tonight, my family and I celebrated life. We played video games, broke out the crayons and colored together, and my wife and I shared a couple of glasses of really good wine. Snow is falling outside and our little corner of the world is peaceful and right. What a difference a year makes.
Just how much? Given the incredible events of the last year, its only fitting that I share that today I “delivered” a second novel to a publisher in the past year. Details will come very soon, but I cannot focus on them. I’m intending to get two more books to publishers this year. There is short fiction to write and more conventions to attend with my friends and family. That’s the best part of celebrating life, and I’m going to make the most of it.