On Sept 18, my hubby’s birthday, we checked off an item on our “some day list”…. we went snorkeling in Bali, Indonesia off the Menjangan Island.
That day as we left the dock with our gear, our fabulous guide and captain I remember thinking, “Wow how did I get here? How was I in Bali about to swim in the bluest waters I had ever seen?”
I snapped a picture of my husband as he sat looking at me with a twinkle in his eye. It was going to be a day to remember.
We snorkeled and swam for over two hours. We saw “Nemos”. We held hands as we floated, pointing out the most amazing colorful fish I could ever imagine seeing.
It was the perfect day.
That night I slept like a baby and when I woke on Tuesday morning Blair told me he wasn’t feeling well and that he had been up during the night. After a day in the sun on Monday, a few drinks with dinner, a sunburn – we thought it was dehydration. We had a lazy day and hydrated him as he slept off and on. At some point during the day I noticed a sore he had on his leg where a scab had fallen off, was starting to get red and was showing signs of an infection and I suggested we go get it checked when we arrived in the city the next day.
After a very uncomfortable drive across the province for Blair, we went to the hospital. He was admitted immediately and diagnosed with cellulitis – a skin infection. Just as we had suspected. A few days on IV antibiotics they said and he would be ready to return home to Papua New Guinea on Monday night as planned.
As Wednesday turned into Thursday and Thursday into Friday I watched him get sicker, watched his small sore get bigger and his leg start to explode with rashes, blisters and heat.
Questions, enquiries, frustration, anger, bumbles by the doctor and nursing staff had me turning towards his employer for help.
Within hours of reaching out they had their Emergency Response team working to have him evaluated for medical evacuation to the closest specialized facility they could find.
That was on Sept 22 – our 33rd wedding anniversary. Our vacation of celebration had turned into a nightmare.
On Saturday morning we were flown with an ISOS (International SOS) doctor from Bali to Singapore as the largest volcano in Bali was threatening to erupt. As I looked out the window of the hospital watching the pavement turn white from rain and what we were told was ash, I remember thinking how life changes in a blink of an eye. The medi-evac team was due any moment, the lights were flickering in the room and the ground was rumbling from little earthquakes. The volcano was a great representation of what was happening inside me.
Ambulances, stretchers, ISOS people, rushing, by passing line ups, flight spent looking out the window and wondering “WTF is happening? HOW can this be fucking happening?”
Within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital we met the head of surgery; an MRI and PICC line (similar to central IV line) and surgery were scheduled. As Blair was whisked away to start the process I was taken to a hotel we had booked on the way to the hospital in the ambulance to drop off our luggage and belongings.
After walking into the hotel and being helped to check in with the ISOS assistant we were whisked away to a special lounge for “afternoon tea”. I was a walking zombie – I had no idea what was happening and why in gods name were they taking me to afternoon tea when my husband was alone in a hospital in SINGAPORE….(A story for another time).
When I returned to the hospital we met part of his team…. An Orthopedic Surgeon and an Infectious Disease Doctor. Being with specialists like these doctors was nothing new for us as we had been with them many times for our daughter and yet this time it was completely different.
I was standing alone beside my husband’s bed, as he lay holding my hand.
He was not standing beside, supporting each other as we had done so many times. He was sick, had sepsis, and we were in a state of shock.
The doctors spoke – I listened.
Emergency surgery. Bacteria. Necrotizing fasciitis and it is aggressive; it is angry. We will be equally aggressive. Very high white blood cell count. Excessive C reactive protein. MRI showed 2-3cm deep of tissue destroyed. Will need multiple surgeries. We will cut open both side of his leg and leave it open. 4-6 weeks in hospital.
Our goal is to save the leg but we will take it to save his life.
This will get expensive. It is a freak accident; the perfect storm. Be strong and patient. Call your family.
The more they spoke the weaker I felt and yet had to be strong.
I walked beside his bed to the operating theatre, as I had done many times in the past with my daughter, again wondering how I got there. As we said goodbye, we cried, reassuring each other it would be ok, that we would get through this and yet having NO IDEA what the coming weeks would bring.
I walked out of the hospital feeling heavy, in shock, scared and alone. Our children were waiting for word on what was happening. As their day was beginning in North America, in Singapore it was 7:30pm Saturday evening.
How was I going to tell our kids their dad had “flesh eating disease”?
Who was going to comfort them? Who was going to comfort me?
Five surgeries in two weeks, massive incisions, skin graft, countless blood work, negative pressure wound therapy – pumps, countless IV antibiotics, pain meds, waiting, drug reaction, wound inspections, frustration, more waiting, bandage changes, hours and hours at the hospital, prayers and love that flowed in from all around the world, sleepless nights, anger, tears, lots of digging deep inside for strength and then having to dig deeper when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, surrender, letting go of any control I thought I “should” have, caregiving, nursing, supporting. It was so much.
The exhaustion and aftermath are huge.
As I sat on the plane on our way to Toronto to start rehabilitation, I cried. Once again overwhelmed that WE MADE IT. We conquered an angry, aggressive bacteria that tried to devour my husband’s leg, tried to ruin the life we have worked for.
His leg is not pretty. There are many scars – some you can see and some you can’t. It will be a constant reminder of what we went through and yet I am so filled with gratitude that he has his leg and that we made it this far. Gratitude for the amazing people who helped us from Bali to Canada. So many started as strangers and now will never be forgotten. Gratitude for Our Children, my tribe, our family, our friends, strangers… more on that later.
I wrote this two weeks ago and never posted it, as it has been a tough go maneuvering a very taxed health care system with private insurance.
These past months have been such a heart wrenching, exhausting, scary journey with no time to process it or let it all settle.
I left my home September 1st to go on a writing retreat and vacation in Bali. I have not been back since that day. I have slept in hotels, hospital rooms, some one else’s bed every night for 2.5 months. Vacation clothes and snorkel gear have since been sent back to Papua New Guinea. This weekend we head to Nova Scotia to continue rehabilitation & healing. My intention is to soak up some good fresh air, ocean smells and to heal the wounds no one can see.
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