Monday, February 22, 2010

Who needs toes, anyway?

For those who like gory medical details, you’re going to love this post; for those of you who waft toward the squeamish or are reading during lunch, I suggest you skip this one for now.

My father, at nearly 93, has the constitution of an ox… a team of oxen… no, make that a whole herd.  That old warhorse of a saying “whatever does not kill me makes me stronger” has suddenly taken on new and wondrous meanings with my Dad.  Take his toes, for instance - you might as well, since he’s losing them soon, anyway. 

The thing that started this whole last, latest, probably final crisis was the perfect storm of peripheral vascular disease and diabetically compromised circulation, combined with his critically severe aortic stenosis, which is officially his “terminal condition.” 

Due to all this, last October, he developed an infection in his left big toe.  This led to a toenail removal (gruesome, don’t ask) and a foot that seemed to be slowly healing, but then stopped and went the other way.  There was an anemic collapse and hospitalization right after Thanksgiving, then the discovery in early December that he had practically no blood entering his left foot at all. 

In order to save his foot, and therefore his life (since he could hardly survive an amputation), the vascular surgeon recommended an operation to open up the arteries in his left leg.  Four and a half hours into the two-hour operation, things went very, very wrong; pear shaped, to quote my Anglo/Australian friends (I love that expression, even though it also describes my body). 

To make a very long story a little shorter, he came home from the hospital much weaker and his circulation barely improved.  His toe was bad and getting worse, the problem spreading across and up his foot, too. This is when we were told to expect him to have days, maybe a week to live. 

Family flew and drove in, good-byes were said, his liver swelled up, his color faded, and then… he got better… again. 

His toes continued to die, due to lack of circulation, but to our utter amazement, they went into a state we had no idea existed: “dry necrosis”.  Instead of the pattern I had been walked through and prepared for: tissue death, infection, gangrene, sepsis, death (of which I have since learned is officially called “wet necrosis”), his body wisely chose the dry variety. 

So the toes on my father’s left foot are slowly turning black and becoming hard and dry, literally mummifying themselves while still attached to his foot.  For now.  If things progress accordingly, his toes will eventually become as hard as wood, then snap off, his body performing its own, non-traumatic amputation of non-essential, non-living tissue. 

How completely weird and weirdly wonderful is that?  His formerly swollen foot is now back to normal, and only reddened half way up. He is not in pain because the nerve cells have died, too. 

He is an ox, a whole team of oxen.  I should like to have his genes … oh, wait, I do!

1 comment:

  1. so funny...I'm holding a bowl of cereal about to read, but will hold off due to your warning! I'm coming back later though! Ali


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