Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An infection of "unknown etiology"

Bite the inside of your mouth while gnawing on a steak and healing takes place almost imediately. The inside of the spine is so much less likely to be exposed that there is little defensive mechanism especially against the pantheon of germs that tend to hang out in even the most sterile operating room.

While a surgical procedure that had failed at the University of Washington was completed successfully at Moffet, Jean was now running a high temperature.

I am not sure what the official name of a bug doctor is but one came to Jean's room and assured us that although they did not know exactly what pathogens were involved he would concoct a cocktail to "to whom it may concern".

Jean was injected with a dye that mingled with the infection and was wheeled to a lab containing an assembly of arcane scanners. The one they used on her resembled a kettle drum. A screen showed the infection congregated in various parts of her body particularly the lower abdomen.

The brew made up by the bug man clicked in over a period of days and that crisis was behind us. Some residual loss of hearing in one ear resulted.

At this point I had moved into Jean's hospital room on a cot provided by the hospital. It was a bit of a strain on me. The clean up crew came through about six a.m. and I was expected to have my bed made and my stuff in order subject to inspection by the head floor nurse.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Did we blunder into a rerun of a Twilight Zone?

It was all very surreal.

A phone call, a physical, and zip within days we were transported from our daily lives to the office of Dr. Charles Wilson, neurological guru, yes, the world's foremost specialist in brain and spinal surgery. From his aerie on Twin Peaks in San Francisco he attracted neurological residents as well as patients from all over the world.

July 4th, 1985, as the staff of UCSF's Moffet Hospital did their workups on Jean I sat at an eight floor hallway window at dusk looking over Pacific Heights at the tops of the columns of the Golden Gate Bridge. As the skies darkened, I could see the canopy of sky rockets a part a fireworks display celebration at the Presidio.

The surgery, it was explained, consisted of inserting a tube the diameter of household sewing thread from the skull down the spine to the lower abdomen where the previously blocked spinal fluid would be absorbed and eventually excreted.

The work was done with the use of microscopes. The residents commenced the surgery exposing the site for"Charlie" who stepped forward to do do the fine work. I was told that on a typical case his job was finished in about three minutes. Because of the intensity of his concentration, he seldom exceeded twenty minutes on a case.

The morning of the surgery arrived. I was told that Jean would probably be taken to pre-op around 8 so I was there early. About 7 the nurse came in and said to relax the surgery would be at 10:30. A procession of nurses commenced with various workups. About 10:00 am the anethesiologist came into introduce himself and get some backround. Toward 11:00 a gurney arrived, the transfer was made and I walked as far as the door marked "authorized personel only".

Time wore on. I told the nurses I was going to the cafeteria for lunch as the noon hour had passed.

Seated at the table with my tray I glanced around the room recognizing the anathesiologist lunching at a nearby table. As he appeared to finish his meal I approached and asked him for news of my wife's case.

He informed me that some emergency situations had come up and it might be a while. He advised that I speak to the nurse in charge of pre-op using his name to request to be allowed to sit with her patient.

She took me into a room larger than most gymnasiums. The light was subdued. Along the walls and down the center were rows of gurneys, possibly one hundred or more. Each with a somnambulent form covered with a white blanket and a drip bag at its head dispensing anathesia.

Jean recognized me but promptly went back to sleep. An aid brought a chair. In the dim light I soon began to nod. The quiet was interupted from time time as a group of people in green uniforms with green hair nets, green booties and masks approached a gurney examed the paper work and wheeled the patient presumably into one of the surgical theatres. As the hours wore on an occasional new patient would be pushed in but on the whole the room began to appear empty.

At 5:45 with only two or three others still in the room, through the sea of emptiness the green men approached us and the sleeping Jean was scooted to the surgery entrance. I fell back returning to the eighth floor thinking about an article I had read in Readers Digest suggesting one have operations early in the day as the doctors tired as the day wore on.