My metamorphosis into a Kafkaesqe bug
by Anne R. Allen
Yes. I’m back!
A lot of readers have asked why I’ve been missing from the blog for the past five months, so I promised I’d detail my tale of woe when I returned.
It’s kind of a long story.
One that might have been written by Franz Kafka.
It could begin like this:
“When Anne R. Allen woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, she found herself changed in her bed into a monstrous vermin.”
So began my metamorphosis from successful writer to the reviled creature known to the medical profession as a “patient.” After a couple of nasty falls left me unable to use my legs, I spent two and a half months in two hospitals and three nursing homes, mostly getting worse. From mid-July to early September, my health continued to deteriorate as I was shunted from one facility to another, without a diagnosis.
The horrifying news of thousands of deaths from Covid-19 in nursing homes and hospitals didn’t help my physical or mental health.
I felt as helpless as a bug turned over on its back.
My Metamorphosis—The Cockroach Suit
After several unexplained falls at the end of June, which resulted in a lot of back pain, I woke up on that fateful July morning with wimpy, unstable legs. When I used the toilet, I was unable to get up again. I ended up having to call 911. (Not my most dignified moment.)
Because I’d called the paramedics to rescue me from two falls over the previous few weeks, I hit their rule of “three strikes and you’re out.”
Or rather I was in…the hospital.
My life turned into a nightmare as I was drawn into the medical vortex. There seemed to be no way out, despite some heroic attempts to rescue me by my friends and family. (Special thanks to my two Elizabeths!)
Luckily, I don’t remember a good deal of what happened. Hospital brain fog and medications kept me pretty out of it.
But I do remember being forced to wear a huge, hard-shelled cockroach outfit, otherwise known as a clamshell back brace. It was a huge, egg-shaped torture device made of hard plastic that cut into my underarms and breasts and made it impossible to do anything but scream in pain.
One facility refused to let me even sit up in bed without wearing the diabolical brace, so I lost strength in my whole body, not just my legs.
It was as if I’d been changed into a real bug.
A “Difficult” Patient
The cockroach suit was ordered by the doctor who first saw me in the emergency room. He thought my paralysis was caused by a minor fracture in a vertebra in my upper spine. He hadn’t got the memo that science doesn’t recommend immobilizing a patient with an inflexible brace anymore. Especially for a minor fracture. Most of the occupational and physical therapists who visited me said braces like mine hadn’t been used since the 1960s.
Then the doctor immediately declared I needed back surgery.
When I asked for a second opinion before going under the knife, he was furious. But because I know back surgery can be iffy and dangerous, I stuck to my guns. I’m so glad I did, because it turned out the fracture had nothing to do with my paralysis. It was the result of one of my falls, not the cause.
But that meant I got labeled a “difficult patient.”
Lost in Hospital Brain Fog
The hospital also labeled me a diabetic, which I am not. I suppose they figured if you’re overweight, you must be diabetic. So every 4 hours somebody woke me up to prick my fingers and test my blood sugar. They were always amazed at how low it was. Luckily, nobody injected me with insulin, which would have killed me. I found out this week that false diagnosis is still on my chart. Grrrr.
Then, to make things a little more fun, they stopped my prescribed antidepressants.
Meanwhile, they didn’t contact my doctor or access my medical history. The hospital doctor kept saying he was my doctor now. He had no interest in the extensive blood work my doctor had ordered the week before my hospitalization. The report on that lab work would have done a great deal to help with my diagnosis.
So I sank into a fog of depression and pain. After a stint in the first hospital, I was shunted off to one nursing home after another.
In one, a nurse did ill-advised surgery on mysterious blisters on my feet. The wounds from the blister surgery festered, resulting in necrosis, which meant more surgery in yet another hospital.
It wasn’t until I got to hospital #2 that a doctor finally figured out my body was fighting a massive infection. That’s when I finally got intravenous antibiotics and started to improve.
Some Humanity Returns
When I finally escaped from nursing home #3 (against their wishes) my own doctor was shocked. None of the facilities had notified her of anything going on with me except the foot surgery.
She had no idea I was now a paraplegic in a wheelchair, requiring 27/7 care.
She feared I was suffering from a kind of “hospitalitis.” My body had deteriorated so much during the two months of medical incarceration, I couldn’t even sit up without help and my arms and legs were covered with bleeding wounds from the constant blood draws and rough handling.
My doctor’s theory that inflammation from the infection had caused the muscle weakness in my legs was confirmed by a neurologist.
Both doctors affirmed that almost everything that happened to me after I got on the medical treadmill caused me harm.
I don’t mean to say all hospitals and nursing homes treat you this way. I went to one care home where they taught me to get around in a wheelchair and “toilet” on my own. (Yes. That has become a verb, alas.)
But I lost all those abilities when I had to go back into the hospital that insisted on the cockroach suit. I’m only now getting my strength back with the help of physical and occupational therapy.
I Get by With a Little Help from my Friends
During my two months of medical incarceration, I had no access to a computer—and limited access to my own brain because of drugs, lack of sleep, and that hospital brain fog.
Meanwhile, this blog would have died if it weren’t for my fantastic blog partner Ruth Harris and our multi-talented webmaster Barb Drozdowich. Plus all the knowledgeable guests who have filled in for me here.
Ruth fielded all the guest blog requests, which come in daily. 99% come from people who don’t read our guidelines, or choose to ignore them, so they’re self-rejecting, but others are great, so she couldn’t miss any of them.
Ruth also kept up her own monthly posts.
Barb, who is a tech wiz as well as marketing expert, also helped schedule guest posts. She not only wrote a great post herself, but did all the tech required for putting up each blogpost.
I’m grateful to all the guests Ruth and Barb invited to write for us: Sue Coletta, David Brown and Michelle Barker, Dave Chesson, Nate Hoffelder, Will Hahn, Debbie Burke, Mara Purl, Rachel Thompson, Paul Dinas, Becca Puglisi, Khaled Talib, Ev Bishop, and Robyn Rosie.
My first “return” post comes in Thanksgiving week because I want to express my gratitude to everybody who has kept this blog alive in my absence. Partners, guests, readers, commenters, retweeters—I’m grateful to you all!
I plan to post at least once a month for now, and hope to be firmly back in the saddle in the New Year.
I’m steadily improving with physical therapy, and I’m thankful for my therapists and caregivers as well. I never would have made it without them. When I finally got home after my ordeal, I was completely bed-bound, unable even to sit up. I needed 24/7 caregivers, so my savings depleted fast.
But now I can transfer to the wheel chair and wheel around the house and even out to the patio.
A lot of gratitude goes to my friend the Wordmonger, aka C. S. Perryess, who built ramps to my front door and patio, so I can go outside and breathe our fresh sea air. I’m sure it helps with my recovery. So do the veggies he brings me from Farmer’s Market every week.
I still don’t know when/if I’ll be able to walk again, but I’m working toward that goal. This week, I stood up with my walker and walked a few feet. It felt like a major triumph.
Don’t Ignore Your Body!
So why should other writers pay attention to my tale of woe? Because this kind of thing can happen to any of us as we age. Especially if you do what I did and work at your computer up to 18 hours a day.
If you’re blogging, keeping up with social media, and writing novels and nonfiction all at once, take lots of short breaks to move around. Pay attention to Ruth Harris’s advice on how to take care of your back. and what Rachel Thompson told us about keeping mentally healthy as we progress in our careers.
Too many hours of sitting without getting up and exercising is a recipe for bad health. I don’t think any of this would have happened if I’d set a timer to get me up every 20 minutes, as doctors and physical therapists recommend.
I would have been more aware of my increasing leg weakness and would have seen my doctor sooner.
So don’t do what I did. It can lead to very bad places. Places where you might have to wear a cockroach suit and feel like a giant vermin.
Good Things to Come
Barb and Ruth and I have lined up some great guests for the next few months.
In December, we’ll have visits from word specialist Kathy Steinemann, and The Critique MD, Christine Carron.
In January, we’ll host the annual “Crystal Ball” post from agent Laurie McLean, founder of Fuse Literary Agency. We’ll also have posts from creativity coach Lisa Tener and intellectual property lawyer, Joseph Perry.
For February, we’ll have a Valentine’s Day post from Irish humorist Tara Sparling and a return visit from the Digital Reader’s Nate Hoffelder.
I plan to be back with lots of advice on craft and marketing. I’m also working on Camilla Randall Mystery #8, Catfishing in America. Getting back to fiction writing is helping my recovery enormously.
Take care of yourselves, everybody–so you don’t turn into cockroaches!
BOOK OF THE WEEK
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Murder and mayhem (and a bogus agent) at a California writers’ conference.
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Nearly broke and down to her last Hermes scarf, she accepts an invitation to a Z-list Writers’ Conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California, where, unfortunately, a cross-dressing dominatrix named Marva plies her trade by impersonating Camilla. When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, Camilla must team up with Marva to stop the killer from striking again.
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