How I Got Gangrene
(and lived to node about it)
So there I was, a young, passionate Summer Camp Counselor, full of vim and vigor. And there he was, an 11 year-old boy standing on the end of a log that had fallen into the lake, attempting to cast his fishing pole. Well, fishing line, he was holding on to the pole.
My experienced eyes as a Summer Camp Counselor immediately told me that the log was very rotten and therefore also very slippery. It even had these tooth like jagged branches sticking out from it at all sorts of strange
radials, each severed branch rotten in its own right.
So, with my best Summer Camp Counselor, authoritative voice, I suggested that the young boy try fishing from another, less precarious position. I stepped to the edge of the bank to help him in, and true to my Summer Camp Counselor instincts, he did slip. But he did not fall. I caught him.
And then I fell. Into the water
And directly on top of a jagged branch.
(If you don't like gore you may want to skip ahead..well, to the end I suppose)
The aforementioned branch punctured lower left calve a good couple of inches. So, I pulled myself up out of the mud and began to remove the larger chunks of wood from my leg. I then hobbled my way to the Health Lodge to visit the camp EMT. So we don't name any names here, let's call him
Disgruntled. As he was. Some take great pride in being a Summer Camp Counselor, but others, alas, are unable to stand the four month stint in the woods. Disgruntled was one of the latter.
In fact, unbeknownst to me, he was packing to leave when I came to see him. The last kids left in a day, but we were supposed to stay for another week while we packed everything away. Disgruntled inspected my leg, said he couldn't see any more splinters, and sent me away. I informed him that while he couldn't see any more splinters, I could certainly feel them, and also reminded him that the log was very rotten.
I came to see him the next day because my leg was very red and somewhat swollen. He gave me a stack of bandages and said to change them myself. That night, after the last camper left for the summer, he bolted. The
following day I began working to help take down the entire camp, but changed the bandage frequently, as instructed.
The next day I awoke to a calve swollen to the size of a grapefruit. It was also turning a myriad of colors and filled with all sorts of stuff that I'd rather not talk about. As a trip to the hospital was a two hour venture,
it would take a while for me to get there now that the Camp Director had seen the rather messy state Disgruntled had left things.
In the meantime, my friend Gill, who was something of an amateur medic, volunteered to put me under the knife. His Swiss Army pocket knife, which he
sterilized with a match. I commented that really, give the state of my leg, that wasn't really all that necessary. Sort of a cows and barn doors kinda thing.
So, I was set up on a cot. Hannah, Derek, Chris P., and Sandy other Summer Camp Counselors each took a limb and held it down. We were sadly, one could even say painfully lacking in anesthesia. The pain was so intense I had to fight to keep from clamping my jaws down on the steel frame of the cot, focusing on nothing but the amount of damage that would do to my teeth should I lose self-restraint.
Finally, I was cleared to go to Saranac Lake Hospital. Now, let me tell you about Saranac Lake Hospital. Emm, maybe not, it might give you cause to truly fear our Health Care System. Suffice it to say, this hospital's number one claim to fame was its collection of fishing lures. Fishing lures which had been removed by hospital staff from the faces and parts of clumsy would-be anglers.
At least they had Novocain.
But first I had to take a three day regimen of antibiotics just to get the infection to go down far enough for my flesh to hold stitches. Right now it was more like black, soggy bread. So, I returned to my tent as the
Hobbling Summer Camp Counselor with the Rainbow-Colored Leg Wound. And three days later I returned to Saranac Lake Hospital. Novocain is not a wonder drug, but at least at here they could strap me to the cot to keep me from
gouging my eyeballs out Oedipus style. Or the eyeballs of the guy who was digging around in my leg with what I swear were a pair of pliers. Not like surgeon's grips, but pliers. The kind of rusty type you would keep in the
toolbox in the back of your truck if you were a medic at Saranac Lake
Well, he did find a few more splinters. Most of them the size of pocket change, one all the way around the far side of the bone. Then he proceeded to cut away all of the rotten portions of my leg. This left me with a small
bloody canyon where my calve muscle used to be. As I was leaving, he mentioned how lucky I was to have come in when I did. "Another day or two," he said, "and that gangrene would have spread in your whole leg, and the
only thing we can do about that is amputate."
Well, except for the fact that I got my own EMT certification and from now on I take care of myself. Oh, and the following year at camp the laws changed two weeks into the summer, requiring them to not one, but two camp
medics. And, it being too late to hire someone new, I moved out of my small canvas tent and into a large warm cabin with, get this, electricity, running (hot) water, a refrigerator, and for some reason, inside the fridge, two cases of Hershey's Chocolate Bars. I had my leg, I had my chocolate. Life is good.