Thursday, December 29, 2011

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 6

Remember how I mentioned that cup that one of the nurses kinda-sorta implied that I might want to spit into, and how I blew her off? After day two of my confinement in the negative pressure room, I asked somebody when I would be free to have other people visit. Trelina was allowed in (I guess they figured if she hadn't caught my cooties yet, she wasn't likely to), but I was thinking in particular of Jasmine. I hadn't seen her in three or four days at that point, and that's just about my limit. The DTs get really ugly from that point on.

So this nurse-or-doctor (they were all sort of blurring together) informed me that getting out of the room depended on them finding out what was in my lungs. And their ability to do that was hanging entirely on me giving them four phlegm samples. What? Nobody told you that?

I had only given them one so far. I had to produce three more and wait for the results before I could get out of that room, and I was already going stir crazy. I learned that day that it is possible for a man to hone his will into the singular goal of producing and expelling phlegm, even when it feels like a Giger Alien is trying to burst out of his chest the entire time. I was focused like a freakin' laser, man. They'd bring me a cup, and I'd be calling (okay, moaning) (okay, whining) for another one before they even left the room.

It was another day and a half before the results came back, saying that I would not kill anybody with my lung fungus.

(Trelina and I just figured the timeline for all this out before I sat down to write this, and I cannot believe that it wasn't longer. It felt like I was stuck in that negative pressure room for more than a week. In reality it was only three or four days.)

So I got to see my kid again. Trelina's sister (who had come up to stay with her and help until I was out of the hospital) brought Jasmine to the room, and she ran around and explored and didn't destroy too much of the machinery keeping daddy alive. I still couldn't get out of bed or interact with her much, but at least I got to see her.

Now the doctors had identified all the invaders in my lungs and knew what they were up against... but they were also coming to realize that the drugs alone weren't going to do the trick. My right lung had cleared up by this point, but after five days of getting firebombed with antibiotics and anti-fungals, my left lung was still teeming with infection. Finally, somebody made the call to send me to the sawbones. It was going to take surgery to get all the crap out of my chest.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 5

I'm going to backtrack for a second here, because Trelina reminded me of some stuff that went down that first night in the hospital. And when I say she “reminded” me, I mean she told me about things that I don't remember at all. Whether that was because of the drugs or the infection, I'm not sure. Regardless...

The first night in the hospital, after they'd quarantined me, I was moved out of the little alcove in the ER and into a sealed room approximately the size of a broom closet, also in the ER. I stayed in there for a couple of hours, and then was moved into a negative pressure room in the ICU because (and this is the part where my memory fails me), my breathing and general well-being had declined severely over the course of a couple of hours. Trelina had gone home with Jasmine at this point, and she got a call telling her that I'd been moved and, “Hey, if your husband doesn't start improving, we're going to have to intubate him.”

Meaning they were planning to put a tube down my throat and have a machine do my breathing for me. On second thought, I'm glad I don't remember this crap. A lot of what's stuck with me from the two weeks I spent in the hospital is the aggravation and the sleepless nights and the cabin fever, and it's kind of a blessing that stuff has overshadowed just how hairy it got for a little while there.

At some point, the antibiotics must have started working and my breathing must have improved, because I never did get that tube, and I was eventually moved into another room in the hospital proper – still a negative pressure room, because they still didn't know if I was contagious or not, but at least I had a TV.

(For those that don't know, a negative pressure room allows air to flow in, but not to go back out the same way, so that sickos like yours truly don't infect the rest of the hospital. Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation of how it woks.)

They also weren't sure about how they were going to treat me. There was some talk while I was in the ER of doing surgery to drain the infection out of my lungs, but once the antibiotics and antifungals started kicking in, the constantly changing parade of doctors I was seeing seemed to be in agreement that they could lick this thing solely through the judicious application of drugs. Of course, they weren't sure yet, because they hadn't been able to identify all the different bacteria that had set up shop in my chest cavity. They got around this ignorance by firebombing me with every antibiotic they had... and it worked to the point that I started to get better, but there was still a whole bunch of infection in my chest that just wasn't going away.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 4

I spent most of my first day in the hospital in one of those curtained alcoves that pass for patient rooms in ERs. Trelina had to leave eventually to pick up Jasmine, and it was about that time that the attending doctor decided that it might be a good idea to semi-quarantine me, just in case whatever plague was filling my lungs was contagious. They closed the door and decreed that anybody who came inside had to wear a surgical mask. They even tried to get me to wear one, but I just laughed my wheezing, half-conscious laugh at that. It was hard enough to breathe without installing a filter over my face, after all.

A nurse came in at one point and had me breathe some medicated mist through a tube for a few minutes. This was the first respiratory treatment of literally dozens over the next couple of weeks. When we were done, she left me with a plastic cup and mentioned offhandedly that I might want to try to cough some phlegm up into it for analysis. As she didn't make it sound urgent, AND I didn't have to cough, AND making myself cough hurt like a bitch, I took this for a suggestion only and ignored it.

This will be important later.

By that evening, they'd moved me into a sealed room in the hospital proper and started getting serious about filling me with pain-killers and antibiotics. I was only sort of aware of the fact that I was still under quarantine, partly because my head was still fuzzy from the pneumonia, but mostly because the quarantine room wasn't at all different from a normal hospital room. I even, I was told, had a sweet view of the hospital helipad from that room, even though I never saw a helicopter coming or going.

I've often thought that if I ever had to spend any time in the hospital, I would use it to catch up on reading and writing. What better time to do that than when you're forced to lay in bed most of the day anyway, right? The thing I didn't take into consideration was that I would be so uncomfortable that it essentially made those activities (or anything that required more than ninety seconds of concentration), impossible. Fortunately there was a TV on the wall, and even though there wasn't a DVD player attached to it, I did have some basic cable channels. Thus began my two-week Food Network and Travel Channel marathon.

I did eventually spit into that cup the nurse had left me, but when they brought me another one, I just put it on the bedside table and forgot about it. Nobody had made a big deal about it yet, and coughing still hurt, so I just laid in bed for the next day or two, No Reservations flickering on the opposite wall, and waited for the doctors to decide what to do with me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nominations Open for Pulp Ark 2012

Nominations are open for the 2012 Pulp Ark Awards. Please consider nominating HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD, VOL. 2 in the following categories:

Best Collection/Anthology
Best Short Story (if you've read the book, pick your favorite)
Best Cover Art

Here's how it works:

1. Send your nominations to by December 31. The entrants with the most nominations will be added to the ballot.
2. In a couple of weeks, you'll get a ballot. Vote for your favorite from the options listed and send the ballot back.
3. There is no step 3.

Most importantly: Anybody can nominate, but only the people who nominate are going to get to vote. So please nominate us if you have the time.

The full details, including a complete list of available categories, are here:

We will return to more talk about my stay in the hospital next time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 3

When we got home, Trelina told me to go inside and get in bed while she took care of Jasmine and the luggage. Still out of it, I went in and sort of shuffled around in the kitchen for awhile until Trelina once again directed me up to bed. When she'd finished taking care of everything else, she had to actually help me onto the mattress, as any activity on the left side of my torso was enough to set all the pain bells ringing. I remember crying out as I put my back fully on the bed, laying there gritting my teeth and gasping while Trelina stood over me without any idea of what to do. She wasn't alone in that.

(Also - and I mention this here just to fully illustrate how much the first couple days of November sucked - we found out that night that we couldn't use the upstairs bathroom, the one closest to our bedroom, because every time we flushed, water poured through the kitchen ceiling. We had to go down two floors to the basement if we wanted to take a leak. Welcome home!)

I managed to get in and out of bed on my own during the night, and even to sleep a little bit, but I didn't feel any better in the morning, so we got dressed, dropped Jasmine off at a friend's house, and went to Howard County General.

It was like how I imagine JK Rowling must have felt after finally finding somebody willing to publish her silly little book about kid magicians. The doctors could tell immediately that something was seriously wrong with me. They EKG'ed me and X-rayed me and I got the obligatory IVs, just like in Phoenix, but nobody was shrugging their shoulders and going, "I don't know... muscle pull?" Even the male nurse said something to the effect of, "Dude, I'm not a radiologist, but your lungs look awful!"

I was asked a battery of questions by half a dozen doctors... who obviously weren't comparing notes because they were all asking me the same things. "Where've you been?" "What've you been doing?" "Got any history of lung problems?" "Are you HIV positive?" "Why are you so sick and your wife and kid aren't?"

The radiologist finally made the call: pneumonia in both lungs, along with an abscess on the left lung that looked like it had been there a long time. I saw some of the original CAT scans of my chest cavity, and the left lung was 2/3 full of infection. I have no idea how the doctor in Phoenix missed all that, or if it all just manifested in the three days between ER visits. In any case, I was going to be in the hospital for a while, and Trelina had a lot of calls to make.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 2

In retrospect, I'm not sure why I didn't go back to the hospital at some point over the next two days in Phoenix, because I was nearly incapacitated with pain, which had spread over my left side and chest by Sunday morning. Probably I didn't want to lose another day of vacation just so they could tell me to ice the shoulder again, but I was losing time in other ways. On Monday - Halloween - I skipped out on seeing Trelina's parents that morning so that I'd be able to go trick or treating with Jasmine that night. As it turned out, I spent most of that night first stretched out in my sister's recliner and then in her spare bed. No trick or treating for me.

My memory of those days is foggy, but the real problems started on Tuesday, when we were packing up to fly home.

You remember how in Inception, Leonardo Dicaprio talks about how you never go anywhere in a dream - you're just in one place one moment and in another the next? That's what that Tuesday was like for me, like photographs of a day rather than a single continuous stream of activity.

Click. I'm getting out of bed. Click. I'm in the shower and Trelina's poking her head in to ask if I'm alright. Click. I'm staring at my breakfast, with no desire to eat it. Click. I'm at the airport waiting to board. Click. I'm on the plane.

I was still in a lot of pain, but based on what I found out later, I'm pretty sure I was also a bit oxygen-starved at this point too. Poor Trelina had to take care of me AND Jasmine for that long (thankfully non-stop) trip home. Most of my "awake" periods started with her saying my name sharply because she could see that I was starting to go glassy-eyed.

As with the rest of the day, I don't remember much of the flight home.I'm pretty sure I didn't actually sleep, and I'm certain I was in agony, but the blackouts - or whatever they were - ended up being a blessing. I'm sure if I hadn't been checked out most of the time, that I couldn't have made that flight home. I would have been writhing in the aisle and screaming the whole time.

Getting off of the plane and getting our luggage was a bit of an ordeal, but Trelina handled it without much help from me and got us to our car without incident. She wanted to take me straight to the ER, but it was after midnight and I just wanted to try to sleep. So we went home, deciding that if I didn't feel miraculously better in the morning, the hospital was going to be our first stop.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 1

At the end of October, the family and I took a trip to Phoenix, AZ. Trelina and I both went to high school there, and we still have a lot of friends and family that live in the area - and since we hadn't been back in a few years, there were still plenty of people who needed to meet Jasmine. Our days were going to be pretty full, but the Big Event for the visit was the big Halloween party/bonfire/hootenanny my cousin Mike was throwing out on his ranch on Saturday night.

We arrived on a Thursday, and those first two days went pretty much according to plan. We got settled in at the hotel (which wasn't as centrally located as I'd intended, but still not THAT far from the action) and managed to see my sisters - one of whom had driven over from Texas just for the occasion - and have a nice dinner with a few select friends on Friday night. Jasmine was even sleeping well, despite the fact that that kid NEVER sleeps well unless she's in her own crib.

Saturday, I woke up with some pain in my shoulder. Specifically, it was under my shoulder blade, and it hurt when I took a really deep breath. I'd had this type of pain before, though not this intense, and I decided it was probably just muscle strain from sleeping on a strange bed and pillow. After breakfast, I went to the hotel gym and ran a couple of miles on the treadmill, trying to work out the kink. Afterward, I was exhausted out of all proportion to the effort of the workout, and I laid down for a quick nap. When I woke up, the pain in my shoulder had multiplied and I was now dizzy and nauseated if I tried to be any direction but horizontal.

One of the nice things about being back in your hometown for a visit is you've usually got a vast number of willing babysitters. My sisters took Jasmine while Trelina and I spent most of Saturday in the emergency room. They IV'ed me, X-rayed me, and probably did other horrible things I can't remember (more on that next time) and finally decided that I was right all along - it was a pulled muscle. The doctor on duty suggested I load up on Motrin and maybe ice the shoulder. The pain would take care of itself in a couple of days.

I wasn't feeling up to partying after all this - the pain seemed to be getting more intense by the hour, as did the difficulty with breathing - so we picked up Jasmine and went back to the hotel. We had missed my cousin's party, and caused my sisters to miss it too, and even though that seemed like the absolute nadir of the trip, things would start to suck a lot worse before we got on the plane home.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Podcast Recommendation: Decoder Ring Theater

I like podcasts. They break up the "monotony" of listening to the same 1500+ songs in my iTunes library over and over again. I want to talk about (and recommend) some of the podcasts that get me through my commutes.

First up: Decoder Ring Theater (

Decoder Ring Theater is an old-fashioned, full-cast radio show, mostly featuring adventures of the super-heroic Red Panda or the hard-boiled detective tales of Black Jack Justice. With these characters as the anchors, DCR also occasionally do special done-in-one (or done-in-two) stories set in other genres - sci-fi, horror, etc. - as part of their Summer Showcase series.

The bombastic style of some of the voice work, especially in some of the earlier episodes, may be a little off-putting to those who've never listened to Depression-era radio drama before (such as the Green Hornet or the Shadow or any of the thousands of others); and some of the storytelling in those same early episodes is a little rough as Red Panda creator Gregg Taylor works out how to tell an action story with dialog and sound effects and nothing else. (You can tell he hit a rough patch when he resorts to third-person narration, which, to his credit, is only once or twice in those first 12 episodes.) If you can get past that, though, DCR has a lot of fun to offer. It's not all superhero-y Red Panda stuff, but it's all rooted in pulp-style genre material.

Surprisingly (because I would have sworn I'd take the superhero over the PI), I slightly prefer the Black Jack Justice stuff to the Red Panda, probably because Black Jack uses a first-person narrator, making it a little easier to follow. I haven't cared as much for the anthology-style Summer Showcase episodes, but that might just be me wanting to get back to the Panda and Jack. (Summer Showcase did feature what's probably my favorite of what D.C.R. output I've listened to so far, though - a one-shot sci-fi noir called I.D.0 that has more than a little Blade Runner in its DNA.)

Episodes are generally between 20 and 30 minutes, and there are A LOT out there. I've listened to dozens of these things, and I'm still back in 2007 in the archives. The Decoder Ring Theater podcast is available for download from their site and all the major podcast sites. Or you can just subscribe through iTunes, like I do.

Decoder Ring Theater isn't going to be for everybody, but those of you who dig old-time radio shows are in for a treat.