Here’s a little rerun from Ron K., a long-time reader who didn’t get a flu shot and almost didn’t live to regret it:
It was a dark and stormy night . . except for the stormy part.
I’d been under the weather for two or three days. I was kicking myself for not having gotten a flu shot, but Christmas was less than a week away and I had stuff to do. After a day or so, I began to feel really crappy. The scary thing was, my urine had turned red (kind of a rust color) and smelled really awful. I couldn’t sleep because every time I tried, I started coughing horribly. So I decided I’d better go to the urgent care.
I was there for about about 90 minutes before I was seen . . . about standard. I gave a sample for a urine test and waited another half hour or so.
Finally a doctor (maybe a nurse practitioner) came in. I had “nothing to worry about,” only “the flu” and a urinary tract infection. I was given a couple of prescriptions and sent on my way. I remember getting the medicine, and taking it. I remember it didn’t seem to help. I remember shivering and being unable to stop.
Next thing I remember was being in the desert and the light was a bright gold color, (yes, I’m serious) but that’s a story for another day.
I was trying to open my eyes. I saw the face of my girlfriend but she was sideways and very close. She was saying something like, “He’s awake.” I started to ask, “What the hell is going on, where am I?” but I couldn’t talk. There was something over my mouth! Oh Dear God, not over my mouth, in my mouth. What the absolute fuck! I reached up to my face, but I couldn’t reach, my hands and arms were pinned, someone or something is holding me down. I tried to move and I couldn’t. No matter which way I rolled, I couldn’t move. Panic set in. I’ve always been terrified at the prospect of being unable to move, being trapped. (Tears fill my eyes and I can barely talk, just remembering.) I began to try to go all Incredible Hulk — pulling the bonds with all my might, twisting my arms, my shoulders, my wrists. Trying to push with my feet, with my legs, but all they did was flop around. No strength! Jesus Christ! What the fuck?! Fuck. Fuck! FUCK!
Then Denice’s face was back, telling me everything’s okay. “You’re in the hospital,” she said. “You’ve been really sick. You’ve been in a coma for 10 days. We’ve been worried sick.”
10 days? 10 days?! I would’ve screamed, except for that tube.
It was another 36 hours before they removed the tube and I could ask questions. It was almost New Year’s Eve, and there was a terrible winter storm across the South. It seems that I did indeed have the flu, but I did not have a urinary tract infection. Instead, my flu had become pneumonia and the pneumonia caused my blood to turn septic. When I was admitted to the emergency room, I was coughing up a rust-colored foam. My heart rate was 160 beats per minute. Emergency room staff thought I was going into cardiac arrest. They told Denice two hours later would’ve been too late. They’d intubated me and hooked me up to dialysis. The coma was induced to keep me from unconsciously ripping the tube out of my mouth, like a too-real and very personal version of The Matrix. It took those 10 days to beat the pneumonia and clean my blood well enough to get my kidneys functioning on their own.
After leaving ICU, I spent a week learning how to eat and drink without choking, how to move my arms (to this day, my right arm doesn’t work as well as it once did. I have extensive neuropathy — in my right arm from my shoulder to my fingertips).
I spent a month in a rehabilitation hospital, where they taught me how to walk again (albeit with a walker) and how to go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, cut my food, comb my hair . . . with only one functional hand. The next four months, I had in-home rehabilitation that included tiny electric shocks to my quasi-dead arm. The neuropathy causes constant pain 24/7, like intermittent electric shocks or burns from my elbow to my fingertips. Although I haven’t been diagnosed, I swear I have PTSD. What do they call it, hypervigilant? Whatever it’s called, I jump at loud noises –not just jump, but come out ready to fight. When I go to the dentist and he tries to put in one of those foam block things to keep me from biting his fingers, I choke and cry and beg him to take it out.
And then I cry from shame when they do.
(If the text has been occasionally weird, that’s because I dictate to voice-to-text software now. One-handed typing doesn’t cut it.)
This has been my Christmas story — a cautionary tale, kids. I went from zero to dead in a handful of hours. Get that damn flu shot now! Because there is no tomorrow.
And here’s Ron’s update:
Cut to “five years later.”
I’m doing fine. That’s what I always reply when someone asks how I am. And it’s kind of the case. Haven’t touched a cigarette since that ‘night before Christmas’ five years ago. Don’t really drink any more, either. Well maybe a sip of champagne at birthdays or special occasions, but I never finish the glass. I’m 50 pounds lighter! My girlfriend of 20 years and I finally got married and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
Then again, I sleep with a CPAP, not for snoring, but so I can sleep through the night without waking up feeling like I’m choking. I have a good laugh as I carry it through security. I still have neuropathy in my right arm. I can curl the fingers, but my hand never really gets warm and when I wash my hands it feels like cold water being squirted in my armpit (for real!). I take a medication, not a pain killer, but something that affects nerve impulse transmission, at least that’s how I understand it. Sometimes you feel like you’re off balance and you’re not as sharp as you wish and occasionally pain breaks through. I make a clown face when everyone turns to look when I jump as an unseen someone jabs a needle into the bone of my hand. But it’s way better than being tranq’ed out of my mind on opioids or worse, feeling like my arm is on fire from elbow to finger tips.
But that’s not the worst part, I joke. I’ve still got PTSD, too. It’s not just for war veterans, I guess. I jump literally a foot in the air at loud noises and turn, infuriated, to identify and kill the culprit. Well, the lethal impulse is pretty much gone now, but I fight the urge to adopt a fighting stance. Scares the hell out of the wife and the grandkids, then we make a joke about it and I gurgle out a laugh. I was terrified during the Covid years and really still am, but I take every freakin’ shot as soon as it’s available. More vaccine than blood in my veins, I joke.
Well there you go, STILL my cautionary Christmas story. I went from zero to dead in a handful of hours and I’m STILL reminded of it every minute of every day since. Really, no joke, get that damn flu shot now! Because there is no tomorrow.