RD Armstrong

You Have Two OptionsChoices

It all began rather innocently ; at least that's how I saw it in my befuddled brain. I had a blister on my foot which, for some reason, was taking its own sweet time healing. In actuality, the blister was more like a crater, a quarter inch deep and a little bit bigger across than a quarter. It kept oozing pus and blood, no matter how much Neosporin I put on it. As I was working on a job, and couldn't afford to stop, I just kept changing the dressing and hobbled around on my toes, hoping it would get better.

This is when the Stupid White Man's Disease kicked in.

After about a week of this foolish behavior, I noticed my foot had started to swell up. It began to look like one of those Pickled Pig's Feet you see in the soul food section of your neighborhood market. This was followed by my lower leg swelling to about double the size of my other leg; and then my knee, which became so swollen it resembled a reddish brown grapefruit half. And still I hobbled on, thinking that it would go away (perhaps by magic). Finally when my knee began to get dime sized purple and blue splotches on it, I knew I had to go see the Doc.

At the walk-in place on Willow, the Doc looked at my foot and said it looked funky but was fixable. He kept asking me if I was diabetic and I kept saying I didn't know. But when I showed him my knee he kinda freaked out and said I was gonna have to go to the ER. I told him I didn't have that kind of money or insurance and he said I'd have to go to the dreaded Harbor General (the place where all the po' folks go… where you could catch more diseases in the waiting room than you could just about anywhere else + there was a 12 hour wait to see a doctor).

So I screwed up my courage and drove myself over to Torrance to HG. I think I still thought they'd check me out and give me some antibiotics and antiinflammatorys and send me home. I had a bad case of SWMD. I got there at 3:30 PM on 11/24. It wasn't until 6:30 AM the following morning that I finally got someone to tell me what was going on. I was cranky from lack of sleep and food and (what seemed to me to be a lack of) follow thru by the staff. I practically pinned a Dr. against the wall and said, "Either you tell me what's going on or I'm out of here!" That's when he dropped the bomb on my skinny white ass… he said; "You're a raging diabetic with a blood sugar rate of 320 (out of a possible 400—normal is around 110); your blood pressure is 189 over 90 (now its 121 over 60); you've got a septic infection in your knee; there might be a blood clot in your leg; and there's a distinct possibility that you might lose your foot!" He said I was going to be admitted to the hospital in an hour or so and that I should go back to the waiting room and wait my turn like a good little guy.

Well, needless to say, I was dumbfounded. I'd never been in a hospital before and I knew if I didn't go now there was a strong possibility that the next time I came thru the front door I'd be wearing a toetag and a black zippered bag. An argument broke out in my head which went like this: you know you want to die and here's your chance! Wait, wait! I know I talk a lot about wanting to go sooner rather than later, but I don't know if that's really true…Life hasn't been a bowl of cherries, for sure, but too many people are depending on me, to just give up now would be stupid.

I made a few calls to let my mom and a few of my friends know where I'd disappeared to and waited for my name to be called. Soon I was in the main ER (apparently the room I'd spent the last fifteen hours in was merely a triage area) wearing nothing but a gown and on a gurney with monitoring devices plugged into my chest and an IV drip of potassium fluids and antibiotics going into my arm. A string of Docs came by, each saying the same thing as the one before, some trying to assure me that it would all be ok, some making me think that I was a living pariah ruining their morning. I soon lost track of the time and would only know if it was day or night by the changing light (tho the first 25 hours I had no clue). They X-rayed me and checked me for blood clots, which was kind of cool – they used an ultra-sound device and I could hear my blood flow – it sounded like some Pink Floyd special effects. Good news, no blood clot…just a swollen leg. Then I was parked in an exam room for 6 hours or so before being told that I'd have to go to another hospital since there were no rooms available. In my mind's eye a little calculator was guesstimating how much all this was going to cost, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. I was playing on their court now, so I had to play by their rules. Their rules suck, btw.

So, I ended up in Rancho Los Amigos, a county hospital in Downey. I came to call it The Circus. I was in a room with 3 other guys. Two Hispanics, myself and a guy from Somalia with round the clock supervision by some homeland security guards. While the rest of us were on a diabetic regimen (2000 calories a day), he was eating 3000 + calories a day. Sometimes his guards would sit up all night long watching TV, eating burgers and fries and talking a blue streak while we tried to sleep. My bed was next to the door they'd go out to take a smoke and they had a nasty habit of leaving it ajar, even after they'd come back inside, so I spent a number of nights freezing my ass and trying to sleep. Fortunately, my fevers kept me warm and the T3 (Tylenol with Codeine) that they gave me for pain let me drift in and out. Eventually, I worked up the nerve* to let it be known that I didn't appreciate their shenanigans.

Imagine a room with TVs blaring Spanish language shows and 60s reruns of Get Smart and Star Trek. Then add the beeping of drip monitors and chattering nurses. Finally mix into that being awakened every so often so they can change out your IV, check your blood sugar and shoot you with insulin. I don't think I got more than four hours of sleep a night for the first 5 nights. The food was lukewarm, overcooked and bland. But, at least, I still had my right foot…the two Hispanic guys were not so lucky.

My primary Doc, a Sikh, complete with turban and beard, named Dr. S, had said to me on my first morning, "You have two options, I can cut off your foot or put you on antibiotics…" and the way he looked at me, I thought he was going to whip out a Scimitar and cut it off, right there and then, on the bed. I think I dreamed that night of him dancing down the hall with that Scimitar in his hand and a sash around his waist with severed feet hanging off it like so many souvenirs. I quickly said something like, please sir could I have door number two? Thus began my adventure with the medical business. It started on 11/25 and ended on 12/09, almost two weeks later to the day.

Now, I'm taking high blood pressure meds, vitamins and two kinds of Insulin that I have to shoot into myself after every meal and before I go to bed. I'm on a 2000 calorie a day diet and I've had to quit drinking alcohol (the least of my worries at this point). My heel is mending quite well and the incision that Dr. C made in my knee last week (to drain the infected fluid—all 16 or so ounces of it—is also healing quite well. I have a removable cast that looks like a boot, that I have to wear 24/7 (including while I sleep), except when I'm changing my dressings and/or bathing.

I checked my blood sugar, made my first meal tonight and shot my Insulin for the first time by myself. In a while I will check my blood sugar again, have a snack and give myself another shot, all before trying to go to sleep without the cacophony I have come to know in the last two weeks. It'll be weird not being poked and stabbed by nurses, but I hope I'll make the transition, eventually.


* I was a scared rabbit for the first week at this hospital, this being my first full immersion in the medical biz; so I didn't know if I had any rights at all, since I was existing on the County's dime. I have subsequently come to know that I have rights, but they are rights that must be constantly fought for, as nobody has the time to be concerned about what happens to you. The system makes you think that nobody cares about you, but really, they just have so little time to give each patient…


RD Armstrong, AKA Raindog, began his most recent incarnation as a poet in the early 90s. He has 21 chapbooks, 9 books to his name and has been published in over 300 poetry magazines, anthologies, blogs and e-zines. He also operates the Lummox Press which published the Lummox Journal for 11 years; the Little Red Book series and the new RESPECT series of perfect bound collections of poetry. Since 1995, Raindog has labored to serve the world of small press poetry and continues to do so to this day. Visit his website at www.lummoxpress.com.