Thursday, August 29, 2013


Some time in early August, I awoke to the most peaceful and "right" feeling I have ever experienced. It was the ultimate wake-up call.

The Children's burn unit ventilation was constantly acclimatized for temperature and the air flow regulated for infection control purposes, and I was often chilly. This, and fever, lead to shivery day-dreams of hot summer sun against blue sky, of sitting on the grass eating a perfectly ripe peach with juice running down my arms and dripping off my elbows. After one of my very wet bed-baths, Muriel and Suzanne would turn on the over-head infrared heat lamps to chase my chills.

But this night I was welcomed by the most gentle, enveloping warmth imaginable. Every cell in my body was infused with it.
I was on my right side, facing the wall and the counter where I had accumulated the daily necessities within reach since I had not left my hospital bed in about 3 weeks;  toilet paper, magazines, tooth brush, peanut butter, notepad and pencil to mark off the days like a jailed convict, plus the medical supplies. I could only maintain that position by holding on to the bed rail and having my left leg scissored over and in front of the barbecued right one, as any pressure caused it to scream out in pain. The staples holding the skin grafts in place were constantly uncomfortable,  and the section of calf muscle that had been cut and pulled up to fill the cavity left in the joint was an extremely bizarre feeling and still causing me stomach-turning cramps.

My eyes opened to perceive rays of light of every possible color, emanating from a source over my emaciated shoulder, behind me. I was able to turn my head and upper body just enough to see him, sitting in the chair beside my bed.
It was not surprise that I felt, but an acceptance, a deep knowing, that he had always been there. I think it's what Oprah would call "an AHA moment".
My Papa Cleary died when I was 12 from pneumonia after the flu. It is from him that I inherited green eyes and prematurely white hair, a love of words and laughing at ourselves. And yet, there he sat.
We chatted while he rolled and smoked a cigarette. In life I had never known him to have smoked. He told me about Father, who up until that moment had been a closed book, a closed mouth. He told me how being the middle boy of three had been hard on him, how his mother's sickness and death from colon and stomach cancer while her children were still young had affected him, molded him into a man that could not show affection to the children in his life beyond the age he had been when he lost his own mother. Recounted the times he took "Buddy" to work with him instead of sending the dyslexic and dejected lad to the one room school house.
Papa told me to go easy on my father, that the reason he had barely visited me in hospital was because he was afraid of doctors and diagnoses because of how deeply hurt he had been as a boy. And here I was, representing everything that scared the living shit out of Father.

Struggling with the physical exertion of my Cirque de Soleil pose, Papa told me it was alright to turn back towards the wall, that it didn't make it any less real if I could not see him. And so I turned my back to him, but only physically, for my heart thirsted for this refreshing drink of knowledge he offered.
Next he told me of things astral, said that it was really my grand-mother, his wife, Gladys, who was "watching over me". Since she died when my father was 11 or so, I had never met her and knew her image only from a few photographs. The dear souls worried that I would freak out and question my own sanity if she appeared, dismiss the message as a mere hallucination. And so it was Papa who came to visit.

He told me it wasn't my time yet, that I had more important things to do. He said I'd get sicker, much sicker, and that I'd want to give up, but that I had to hold on. So I did.

"Sicker" meant blood poisoning with an infection circulating throughout my body, which settled back in the knee joint, causing septic arthritis and bone infection. I continued on daily iv antibiotics for a further 6 months once I was able to leave the hospital on the night before my 17th birthday in October.

Wearing a full leg brace for support, I had to relearn how to walk while catching up with my missed course work and manoeuvring, on crutches, a 2-storey school that had no elevator. I had lost 40 pounds and had no energy to spare beyond sheer survival. To say I was exhausted some days is an understatement. I can remember lying in bed one morning that winter and not being able to get up. I just cried. Yes, my whole life had changed and none of it had been by choice, but  I felt guilty for years about being that weak, about breaking down in tears. Wuss.

And so I just got on with life and plowed ahead, as was expected of me, with my comfortable blinders on. It's just easier that way.

Or so I thought.

Wrong again.


  1. A burst of light in a nightmare that seems only to get worse. The world works in mysterious ways.

    Thanks for another amazing chapter in your amazing story.

  2. Oh Andrea, you write your story so vividly, I can see it, I can feel it and I teared up over it. You've been through so much. It is great to know that there are guardian angels watching over us though.

  3. I was fascinated when you told me the story about your grandfather a few years ago, and I'm just as fascinated reading it in your blog today...

  4. Thank you all for reading and taking the time to comment. I realized it was an era in my life that needed to be re-visited.
    Welcome aboard, Pauline!

  5. " I continued on daily iv antibiotics for a further 6 months "...

    Daily, IV, for six months after discharge??? And how was that managed, did you need a home care nurse?

    This is unbelievable Andrea, your story's a nightmare that never ends!... :-(

  6. Hey L,

    Yes, iv antibiotics for 6 more months. CLSC refused to send a nurse because I was "able to get around", (school and physio on crutches, non-weight bearing). We had it arranged to go to the Lachute hospital ER every evening for my i.v. push, which itself took about 15-20 minutes. Since it's a small hospital and a quiet town, most nights we didn't have to wait, but of course on a night when there had been a car accident or something, we waited up to 3 or 4 hours, but it wasn't often.

    So Dr. Dorothy Moore (I had Mills while I was admitted, but Moore as an out patient) would have to order the antibiotics through our pharmacy every 2 weeks, which had to be sent by courier from Toronto because it wasn't available here (resistant bacteria, so it was a new cephalosporin they had just come up with, though old by now. I think it was Cephotaxim or something like that). My parent's insurance wouldn't cover it, so they were paying out of pocket. Each day's dose cost $70, one bigger bottle and one smaller bottle. One night when they called me in, my crutch slipped on the snowy floor and I dropped a bottle and it smashed. My mother, who didn't trust the ER to store my stash there, had to drive back home for another $50 vial. She was not amused. After that we kept a spare in the glove box of the car! After a few months my mother's insurance began paying 80%, and when the lawsuit was started the insurance company also sued the hospital/doctor for their 80% back.

    I had a contracture from the intense physio trying to bend the knee, (too much bone pain to try and relax, muscles were in a constant spasm) so over March break it was arranged that I be admitted back at the Children's for an old polio therapy called dry traction where my leg was placed in some kind of frame and then wrapped in some non-slippery rubber material kind of like an Odor Eater. The frame was then attached to weights like regular traction, except there was no pin in the bone, just the pulling from the surface. I had to lay in bed like that, only getting up (which meant undoing the whole thing and redoing it back up again)for short breaks and to use the bathroom. Anyway, one month of traction worked and with daily blood work they decided the osteomyelitis was probably gone.

    But as you know, the joint was destroyed by then and so I had the total knee replacement at age 19. Now that the risk of amputation was gone, the only other option to a TKR was fusion. I may be faced with fusion if and when my next TKR fails.

  7. I'm in shock every time I learn more about your ordeal. My brain goes, "Eh? What?? You mean, like, there's MORE?? Is it POSSIBLE?"... And the CLSC refusing to send a nurse, that just takes the cake. You're a victim here, you and your family have been put through the worst ordeal, and they're making you go to Emerg every evening??? Talk about f****** morons!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (that makes me soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo mad, I'm getting all worked up here) I just can't get over this, MAKING you go to the hospital every day. Poor you, and your poor mother. I don't mean to be a demoralizer, but this is a very, very sad on-going story... I just can't digest that this criminal is living it up in NY, like nothing ever happened, and you're the one paying the price for his crime. If I'm feeling this way, I can only imagine how YOU feel... (I better stop here, I'm getting too angry. F****** bastard.)

  8. Andrea, I was feeling very low this morning-- my son's getting to the point where he can barely get up off the floor (and he's only 8)-- and somehow I ended up at your blog. I so needed to hear this. How you survived pain-- physical, emotional, pain from parents who can't show love-- and to know that the universe can show mercy in our darkest hour and send a message. I feel like your blog just did that for me, in a smaller but no less miraculous way. My grandpa Joe died of pneumonia when my mom was 3. I recently had a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses ask me who I would like to see in the afterlife (which I don't believe in) and I said, Grandpa Joe, while thinking to myself, there is no chance I will ever meet him, this is just a very painful thought. This was just 2 days ago. Now I have read your post... miracles do happen. Thank you for the tears and for the hope. You are a living miracle. I'm lucky we happened to stumble across each other.

    1. Oh dear Ruth, you've gotten into the Bailey's fudge, haven't you?
      You should share some with the Jehovah's Witnesses. ; )