Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Feed Your Head.

(When last we left our unusually-shaped heroine, she was learning that her slowly-healing head wound would necessitate a trip into the OR within a week)

I will say this; the plastic surgeon was absolutely mesmerized by my skull. Had I put a wee little plasma-screen TV up there and shown first-run movies, he couldn’t have been any more attentive. Did I say “He”? I meant “They”, because within a few minutes, he had brought his medical partner in to gaze at my head and get another opinion. He then took a digital picture and sent an email to his mentor at UCLA, in order to gather another opinion.

It’s humbling to realize my next appearance in print won’t be as a writer but as the lead article in the Journal of Cranial Anomalies.

They all came to the same conclusion; the skin was healing, but the bone sticking out put me at some great risk of a bone infection. “Osteomyelitis,” the surgeon pronounced, “is very serious. The treatment would be several weeks of IV antibiotics.”

This is good news. Because I handle bed-rest so well.

He tapped at my head some more.

“Have you been experiencing any pain?”

I thought, but did not say, “You mean before you started going all Tito Puente on my head?” Because he didn’t seem like the type for levity under these circumstances, and my habit of joking when nervous might make him think I’m starting to rave from bone infection. The thing was I was dazzled by the change in circumstance. I had been fine, I had been healing, and now it turned out I was neither. Or, rather, I was healing wrong and had some tragically low standard for “fine”.

He was talking about the MRI I had to have immediately, so as to rule out infection before surgery when a new and ugly thought occurred to me.

I asked “How long is the recovery time afterwards?”

He answered, as I imagined he would, “That’s impossible to say until I see what’s going on in there. I’ll have a better sense after the MRI.”

I said flatly, “I have a scheduled trip to climb Mount Whitney in the first week of August. I’m not going, am I?”

He flinched as if I had suggested removing the bump myself in the garage with the power sander.

“Oh God, no,” he said definitively. He then replayed what he had said in his head and must have remembered each American is endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that he couldn’t actually stop me from walking a long ways.

“Put it this way. If you were my sister, I’d argue very, very strongly against it. At the very least, a deep unhealed incision at that altitude would be very risky.”

Since this whole mess began because I chose to ignore the idea of the “Recovery period”, and because I have no real desire to have another plastic surgeon six months from now taking more digital pictures of my head, I will take him at his word. Within twenty minutes, I had a potential bone infection, a date with an operating room, and a big old STOP sign made just for me sitting at the Whitney portal.

I’ve had better hours.

As I drove home, I puzzled. Why had the doctor I had been seeing for nearly five months not noticed this potential risk? On top of everything else, was I going to have to find a malpractice lawyer? No, I decided; I was a casualty of the age of medical specialization. My original procedure was done by a dermatologist, and all follow-up care was done by him. Derma means skin; he watched the skin and since it was healing, albeit slowly, he didn’t see a problem. A plastic surgeon is a…surgeon. He sees all situations as variations on the question “Where should I cut to best correct this problem?”

[Had I somehow been in a proctologist’s office, he would have diagnosed the world’s most unexpected hemorrhoid]

If it hadn’t been for the fact that I did some reading that night and determined I actually was at some risk for a bone infection, and already knew I have the sort of medical luck which attracts the secondary problem which dwarfs the primary predicament, I’d have just let the healing take its course. But the bump needed to come off almost as much as I needed to be able to wear a new hairdo, so the die was cast.

I will say that the worst part so far has been calling Jill, my hiking partner, and giving her the news that the mission was aborted. She was nothing but gracious and supportive; she reminded me Whitney would still be standing there in September, and if not September, next year, which shows the kind of person she is and what fabulous taste I have in friends.

The MRI the next day was just the fetid little cherry on top of the rancid sundae. I had to drive an hour across town to be told by a sullen receptionist I was late and wearing the wrong bra (Any metal parts at all in one’s bra drives the MRI machine wild with desire, I guess. One must wear a sports bra). After leaving me to cool my heels a bit while pondering my tardiness, not to mention my under-wireness, she finally allowed me in.

They popped me into an MRI tube, which gives you the temporary sensation of either being a chambered bullet or Crest toothpaste. And then the noise began. I’ve had an MRI before, and I remembered it sounding like when you throw Keds in a dryer, but either I had put on a romantic glow on the event, or they were doing something entirely different this time.

All told, I spent about a half-hour in the machine, and I must tell you that I spent nearly all the time trying to figure out how I was going to describe the sound to you, and this is the best I could articulate.

Imagine chattering teeth.

Imagine them next to your head.

Imagine they are fifteen stories tall.

The plastic surgeon’s final words to me had been “I’m really worried about an infection. If you feel swelling around the bone or a headache at any time, please call the office.”

While I knew in the logical part of my brain that no one with a bone infection was likely to have kept up my schedule for the last three months, I had spent the better part of the previous night trying to decide if my head was swelling. And you know, if you obsess long enough about something, you can usually find it; I was completely convinced I had cranial swelling. Now, thanks to the Empire State Building of teeth, I also had a nice grinding little headache.

I had Osteomyelitis, I just knew it. I drove home saying brave and stoic things to myself like, “Oh, what’s a few weeks in bed?” and “You’ll finally finish your Christmas stocking” and “Now you’ll have no excuse not to read Proust”.

I was halfway done with the trip home when my doctor called.

He started with, “Hi, how are you?”

I answered smartly with, “I believe you know better than I do.”

But, of course, he didn’t. The results weren’t sufficiently clear, and he wanted me to go back to get another MRI on Tuesday. It was now Friday.

“But,” I whined. “What about Osteomyelitis? Should I be looking for any other symptoms? My feet sometimes itch when I hike, is that known to be a symptom of...“

“From the preliminary results, I think you’re safe. I just want to be absolutely certain before we close this up.”

He paused, and I could hear the bustle of his office behind him.

“You’re kind of an unusual case, you know.”

I smile for the first time all day and said quietly, “You have no idea.”


Blogger Karen of TX said...

Oh, Quinn, I'm so sorry. I'm also vaguely suspicious that you might somehow find a way around this, deciding that lower barometric pressure might take the stress off a healing wound or something of that ilk. So listen to the doctors and take care of yourself!

3:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pshew! It does sound like the absolute-possible-worst-case-scenario has been avoided, and for that I wish you many hearty congratulations.

But of course, for the rest of it...here's a hearty

"Get well as soon as the knife is put down and this whole thing can be put behind you..."

All of us over here on the East side will be sending ceratin mountain-sized quantities of positive vibes towards your head.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you must be put to bedrest, please assure all of us that you have a laptop and can keep blogging. On a more serious note, have you thought about another opinion? Your blog fans are worried!

1:06 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

(Had I somehow been in a proctologist’s office, he would have diagnosed the world’s most unexpected hemorrhoid)
That TOTALLY cracked me up!!!! I hope everything turns out ok. Love your blog!!

3:22 PM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

Everything will be fine, Quinn. =)

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly Quinn, you had that thing removed in March (not a stalker, I went back and checked)! I'm glad that the ENT had interviened. How is the voice?


9:32 PM  

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