The Month I Died: Caring For The Bedsore On My Butt
I woke up from a coma with a literal second asshole.
When I woke from a coma after a month, my body was different in many ways. There was a 40-pound weight loss. There were tremors that left my hands shaky, unable to craft even a simple text message. There were weeks of dried, unpicked boogers waiting to be excavated. Lovely, I know.
However, part of the miracle of my story is just how quickly most of my functions recovered. I suffered no brain damage. My kidneys, previously shot, returned to full strength. I had to do a lot of physical and occupational therapy, but within a few weeks of leaving the hospital, my body was 90% back to normal.
Most of that 10% involved tending to lingering wounds. As a result of the tracheostomy that had been placed in my neck to assist breathing, I had a neat little slit beneath my Adam’s apple that needed cleaning and dressing — but the trickier wound was in a much more uncomfortable place. I had what’s known as a pressure ulcer one centimeter wide and two centimeters deep on the crack of my ass.
At this point, I should warn you: This story is not for the squeamish. I should also say that as much as it may pain you to read about this in black and white, I can assure you having a bedsore on my asscrack in real life was no picnic, either.
This lil’ boo-boo on my butt was the result of a combination of factors. I first fell into the coma in my Chicago apartment, where my roommate found me lying faceup on his bed. Apparently, I had crawled to his room in the midst of vomiting as ketoacidosis (hella high blood sugar) set in. Because our schedules were mismatched and we weren’t often home at the same time, he likely found me almost 24 hours after I first got sick. That’s a lot of time to lie on my back meat in one spot.
I was admitted to a hospital unprepared to deal with a patient with my level of trauma, and thus, my first hospital bed was not of the therapeutic variety. It was essentially a flat pad — perfect for allowing my new wound to fester.
Fortunately, I was transferred to a hospital in Cincinnati several weeks later. There, in addition to physical and occupational therapy, my everyday routine included something called mist therapy to sterilize and heal my bedsore. The therapist would come in with a cart that held a machine containing various solutions administered to my sore via a nozzle. I would turn onto my side so the therapist could spray my wound with this mist for 30 minutes, while I usually drifted off into a peaceful sleep. Let me tell you: You do not truly know pleasure until you have felt a kind woman spraying and gently wiping your grown-up ass for half an hour. There’s not a lot I can recommend about the experience of going into and coming out of a coma, but mist therapy tops the list.
Unfortunately, the mist therapy ended with my discharge from the hospital, and the task of sterilizing and dressing my wound twice a day fell to my parents. Being a 30-year-old man who needs his mommy and daddy to fix his bottom for him is a humbling experience, though it certainly made me see them in ways I hadn’t before.
At this time, I had the distinct displeasure of visiting the wound clinic, where care for my delicate backside would continue. The wound clinic was a nasty place. Few of the other patients in the waiting room had the courtesy to hide their wounds in discreet places on their bodies like I did. Wherever I looked, I saw big, gauzy dressings soaked through, barely covering large, open sores, mostly on legs. I am clearly superior to these disgusting people, I thought, as I writhed uncomfortably in my seat to avoid sitting directly on top of my newly-created asshole.
And the smell. Motherfuck, the smell! It was like we’d all taken a trip to a candlelit spa gently suffused with the scent of Inside-A-Six-Month-Old-Cast.
It was at the wound clinic where I learned that “abrasion” was a medical procedure and not just a word you hear in news reports of assault and battery. My doctor had to examine the wound’s progress and, if necessary, abrade it to ensure it healed properly from the inside out, rather than just superficially. That meant numbing the area and scraping parts of my wound open again. I thought this was counterintuitive and, frankly, unnecessary. Then I was reminded that I did not go to medical school and had, in fact, put myself into a coma through mismanaging my diabetes, with the help of unchecked alcoholism, and perhaps I didn’t always know what was best for me. Perhaps a little more pain could lead to deeper healing.
On my last visit to the wound doctor in Cincinnati, I learned my bedsore was healed. I still had to be careful not to put too much pressure on it as the scar tissue grew in strength — but this was the clearing of the final obstacle to my return to Chicago. All told, my post-hospital rehabilitation had taken only a month. I could start rebuilding my life in earnest.
For me, my painful posterior pal was a physical manifestation of the distinction between my bodily recovery from the coma and my recovery recovery from addiction. The former was relatively brief. The latter will continue as long as I’m alive.
I liken my addiction to a seeping black ooze for which I am the imperfect container. I am full of holes, and now that the holes representing alcohol and drugs have been patched, the recovery process unveils more subtle, previously-unnoticed holes where the ooze seeps more forcefully through. Here is a hole for food. Here is a hole for sex. Here are holes for anger and the kind of extreme judgment I exercised in the wound clinic waiting room.
With each new hole I discover, I think ruefully, Great, I’m deficient here, too — instead of recognizing that the simple act of dealing with these higher-order issues is a sign of how far I’ve come. Just like my bedsore, I need abrasion, too — of the psychological and spiritual variety.
My default tendency toward discouragement was magnified in August 2016. I was on a long summer walk when I noticed more than sweat in my boxer briefs, accompanied by a slightly sharp pain in my buttcrack. When I got home, my partner Hope took a look, and sure enough, my wound had reopened slightly. The oozing coming out of me was literal. Again, if this hurts you to read, know I physically felt the pain that’s making you cringe.
When I saw another wound doctor in Chicago, he didn’t have a satisfying explanation for why it reopened. The cause may have been pressure from the weight I had regained since waking up, or any number of factors. He scheduled me for abrasion and showed Hope how to dress the wound.
Hope is an incredibly patient and kind partner. Suffice it to say that while I wallowed in self-pity, thinking, Even the parts of me that heal don’t stay that way, she graciously changed the dressing on my wound every day.
When I went back to the doctor for my abrasion, the nurse inspected my wound and, instead of numbing the area, left the room. Shortly afterward, the doctor entered. I thought I was about to hear that I was beyond help, for I had certainly developed a fully-functioning second rectum. Instead, the doctor said, “Well, there’s nothing we can do for you, because there is nothing to be done. The wound has closed on its own, and in a few months, it should be as strong as it ever was.”
I was elated. I told Hope, who was certain she had a healing touch. There was no guarantee of permanence, despite my attempts to obtain one from the nurse. I asked her about every possible outcome, and she assured me things looked very good. I said things looked good last time, too, so what would keep this wound from reopening in another year and a half? She told me, “I think it’s best to stay positive,” demonstrating just how little she knew me.
My pressure ulcer has not reopened since. Sure, anything could happen. I could gain a bunch more weight or twerk the wound open again (I think I’ll confine my club moves to the arms-heavy John Wall for now), but I am starting to accept that there is no permanent solution. I am staying vigilant and maintaining my recovery. If nothing else, I know this: I can heal.