"What …?" I rose from my chair, wondering what he forgot to take to his first-ever-shower in our newly renovated space. I slid the bathroom pocket-door open a foot or so and peeked in. "What do you need?"
Tall, scrawny, and buck-naked, he stood outside of the steaming shower stall, his hand clutching the top rail. "Could you look at my foot, please?"
"Sure." I pushed the door farther open and stepped inside. Mike turned his back to me and lifted his right leg to the rear, revealing a small spot of blood on the towel we used as a mat.
I bent down, cradling his foot in my hands. "Well, there’s a little hole here, toward the outside of your foot. Let’s cover it after your shower and then we’ll keep an eye on it."
I left him to shower while I dug through packing boxes labeled BATHROOM until I found our collection of bandaging supplies.
By the time Mike was dressed and his foot bandaged, we had discovered that the puncture in the bottom of his foot was likely caused by his custom orthotics. Made of leather, they were now aged and beginning to curl on the front corners. His feet, numbed by diabetic peripheral neuropathy, had not felt the initial injury. I quickly insisted that he no longer wear the orthotics, and he agreed. He tossed them into the garbage can.
I inspected the wound the next afternoon and applied a fresh bandage. The day after that, the wound was bigger and weeping fluid.
On day three it showed no signs of healing. "I think we’d better get the doctor to look at this," I said. "It’s not getting any better."
"Okay …" Concern crossed his face. And mine. Our eyes met in silent awareness of the unappealing possibilities that lay ahead.
I called our internist’s office in Seattle, asking if Mike could be squeezed in soon, and got an appointment for Fridaytwo days away.
The internist sent us up one floor to see a surgeon, the same one who aspirated my cysts each year. We waited to be worked-in, and left with another appointment to see him in a week, and instructions for me to clean and dress the wound twice a day.
Our next appointments were twice weekly, and I was cleaning and dressing the wound three times a day. During the third week in May, we made three trips a week to Seattle and back. The hole continued to enlarge, with a dark purple color spreading out from it. The cleaning-out with cotton swabs and hydrogen-peroxide repulsed me, but I faithfully did it. And worried. And thanked God that Mike, with his bad eyesight and long, stiff legs, wasn’t able to twist his foot enough to see the bottom of it. When he asked for a mirror, I changed the subject. I didn’t want to increase the anxiety he tried to hide from me.
During the last full week in May, the surgeon recommended amputation. "I want Mike into the hospital first thing Monday morning. Don’t go anywhere over the weekend, and continue the cleaning and dressing."
We went home with heavy hearts that day, accepting amputation as the only option, but not wanting to think about how that would change our lives. Cleaning and dressing the hole, now more toward the center of his foot and big as a fifty-cent piece with rounded edges, was no easier. I could see raw flesh recessed within that hole, yet there was no bleeding or fluid draining out. With each new dressing the wound looked worse. Dead. Rotten. The dark purple coloring had now crept into the top of his footit was as if I could see it spreading, hour by hour, minute by minute. Surely his entire foot would be purplish-black before Monday.
"How’s it look?" He would ask me, staring at the now discolored top of his foot.
I knew he must be fearing the inevitable. For as much as I wanted to hide the truth, I couldn’t lie to him. "Not good," I’d respond, attempting to hide the repulsiveness and fright that filled my being.
Once Mike was admitted to the hospital, my tension eased. Momentarily. Test after test took up that entire day, and again the next and the next, with no results being shared with us. I’d leave for home around nine o’clock and arrive there by ten-thirty. I’d let the dog out for a bit, grab the mail out of the box, then call Mike to let him know I got home okay. With the dog back in for his dinner, I’d throw something together for myself. Sometimes it was breakfast cereal, which often grew soggy while I fielded phone calls from friends, asking about Mike’s condition.
Each morning I would hook the dog outside, shower and shampoo myself, bring the dog in and head for the hospital for a long day with more tests but no answers. And each day Mike turned more and more yellow. I would pester the nurses, the aides, and doctorswhoever entered his room, "What’s going on?"
All were politely noncommittal.
Thursday started out the same, except my patience was low. I grilled the first doctor who entered Mike’s room: "What’s going on? What have all the tests shown? Why is he so yellow? What’s going to happen?"
The doctor raised his hand as if to stop my patter. "Slow down. I’ll tell you." He stepped closer. "As you know, we’ve been running a lot of testson his heart, his circulation, his blood and so on. We know that the liver has shut down for some reason." He glanced at Mike, then back to me. "That’s why the jaundice, or yellowing of the skin. We’ve been trying to determine what anesthetic he’d be able to handleone that doesn’t use the liver to clear out of the body. You understand?" Mike gave him a nod, then turned toward me.
"Not entirely." I needed clarification. "My mind is picturing all kinds of horrible diseasesare we talking cancer, or what?"
"No, no." The doctor began. "Not cancer. Blood tests indicate the presence of Hepatitis B, which is most likely the problem with the liver. We’ll do a biopsy a couple of weeks after his surgery. The pathology on that will tell us what’s going on. We do know the foot is gangrened, which only surgery will stop. Good news is we have found an anesthetic that will work, and have scheduled the amputation for tomorrow morning at eleven. The surgery will take about two hoursif all goes well. He should be back in his room an hour after that. Any questions?" He turned to Mike, then back to me.
Mike’s eyes narrowed, his chin rose and his lips grimaced, outwardly betraying his brave façade.
Before he could rip into the doctor about it, I blurted out the question. "What do you mean ‘if all goes well’?"
Mike winked at me, as if to say thanks. His grimace softened.
"He should do well," the doctor continued. "However, with his overall health compromised—by his diabetes, his congestive heart failure, his Hepatitis B, plus whatever else might be going on with the liverthere is always a chance of complications."
I didn’t want to hear more. "When will they take him out to prep?"
"Ninety minutes ahead," the doctor answered. "So be here around nine if you want to see him before surgery."
"Okay, I will. Thank you."
"You’re welcome." He backed up, patted Mike on the knee and added, "Don’t worry. You’ll do fine." Mike managed a smile and a weak thank you, but he didn’t look confident. I stayed with him until nine o’clock, then headed for home.
Within minutes I was merging with traffic on I-5 North. The hypnotic back and forth motion of passing vehicles soon relaxed my consciousness enough for the buzzards of old to return once again. What if he dies? How will I survive? How will I pay the bills? How can I get the house financed when I don’t have a job?
Dear God, please help me. Give me a sign ... I don’t think I can survive much more.
The buzzards accompanied me the full ninety minutes home to my usual late-night routine. Usual except for a check from Social Security waiting in our mail boxMike’s disability benefits had been approved!
Thank you, Dear God.