Friday, December 12, 2014

Chapter 13, part 1: Recovery

All students returned back to campus Sunday night.  Lacey arranged to sleep on the floor in our neighbor’s room so Mom and Ruth could stay with me one more night.  Ian even stopped by to check on me.  Even through the fog of the painkillers, my heart leapt a little when I saw him.  

Pain woke me up just after dawn Monday morning.  I gingerly touched the bandage over the incision on my throat.  It was strained tight, and I could feel a hard, hot lump bulging out above it.  

I climbed down from my loft and tiptoed around Ruth’s sleeping bag to the edge of Lacey’s bed where Mom slept.  I shook her shoulder.  “Mom.  Mom!  Something’s wrong with my neck.”  Somehow hearing the edge of panic in my voice scared me even more.  I started to cry.

Mom groggily sat up in Lacey’s bed.  Somehow Ruth slept through everything.  

Mom inspected my neck and frowned.  “I’m going to call Dr. Curtis and see if we can get your followup appointment moved to earlier in the day. That angry red swelling doesn’t look good to me.”  

I sank back on the bed and wavered in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, half listening to my mom work her way through the automated phone system at Dr. Curtis’s office.  

A stabbing pain and hot rush of liquid down my neck jolted me awake again.  My white button-front pajama top was stained greenish yellow and red.

“Mom!”  I screamed, waking Ruth.  

“What’s wrong with Giselle?” she said, and started to cry.

Mom whirled to look at me, then spoke more urgently into the phone while attempting to comfort Ruth with her free hand. “Yes, in fact, it appears as if the incision just ruptured.  Of course.  We can leave right now.”

Mom staunched the flow of blood and pus with fresh bandages, then helped me change into a clean shirt.  I stood and moved to pull off my sweatpants.

“You can just keep those on,” she said briskly.  “No one will care that you slept in them.”

“Okay, where are my shoes?”

“I have them here.  You can put them on in the car.”  A few minutes later we were speeding to Avondale.  The leafless trees that whizzed by the windows of the rental car were etched black against a heavy gray sky.  

Dr. Curtis came in, cheerful as always.  “So you had a little excitement this morning, did you?  You know, I didn’t want to frighten you, but I was secretly hoping that would happen.”

“I’d rather have known it was a possibility,” Mom said.  “Why were you hoping for this?”

“Well, yes, I am sorry.  I thought that the infection would likely build up again and would need to drain.  Now that it ruptured on its own, Giselle, you have a natural channel and we don’t have to insert a shunt.”

“So now what?” I asked.

“I have some good news,” Dr. Curtis said.  “We’ve identified the bacteria that caused all this.  It’s a relative of strep, but actually a very common environmental bacteria.   What’s unusual is that it got into your system.  I searched the literature and found that most cases of infections with this particular agent follow a surgical procedure.  Have you had any medical procedures in the past year that might relate to this?”

“Only dental surgery,” I said.

“Ah yes, your wisdom teeth, right?  That slipped my mind.  I’d be willing to bet that there was some error in cleaning the surgical equipment used to extract those teeth.  I don’t usually suggest this, but it very well could be a legitimate case of malpractice.  Worth pursuing I would think.  Yes.  But before we worry about that, let’s get you better.”

“How?” Mom asked.  “Antibiotics haven’t done anything so far. What do you recommend next?”

“Never fear, Mrs. Gottlieb.  Our friends at Ohio State didn’t just identify the bacteria at fault.  They found the right combination of newly developed antibiotics to kill it.”

“And if that doesn’t work?” I asked, needing to know the worst case scenario.

“Well, then, we may have to amputate your jaw to save your life.  But I’m confident it won’t come to that.  Three months of these two antibiotics and you’ll be fit as a fiddle.  I’ll be transferring your case to a colleague of mine.  He’s an infectious disease specialist and will take good care of you.”

We filled the prescription for the antibiotics and I took the first doses.  Side effects began on the way back to campus.  We had to pull over to the side of the road so I could vomit.    

“It’s not too late to come home with me tonight, you know,” Mom said as she cleaned off my face.  “I even checked with the Dean and he said you can finish the rest of the semester’s courses online.”

I didn’t feel quite ready to be without her, but I also didn’t want to go home and give up now that I had hope of a complete cure.  I was sure the antibiotics would work.  When this was all behind me, I knew I’d regret leaving school.  

“Mom,” I began, “I need—”

“I know.”  She gave me a hug. “You’re staying.”   

The three of us cried together when Mom and Ruth left for the airport that evening.

The side effects mostly subsided after the first few days, except for a strange metallic taste in my mouth.  Still it was obvious the antibiotics were working.  The lump shrank day by day. 

 Soon I no longer had to wear a bandage on my neck to catch the drainage.  The exercises Dr. Curtis showed me to loosen my jaw worked.  Within two weeks I was back to eating a normal college diet.  

Daddy immediately followed up on the malpractice suit and the dental surgeon settled in record time:  all expenses plus $10,000 for my pain and suffering.  I had fun dreaming about what I could do with that money, especially as Christmas approached.  A trip for me and my closest friends to Disney World?  A new car?  

It wasn’t all selfish … I also thought about what to get for Ian to express my gratitude and growing affection.  Soon I had the perfect idea.