damage control

Skin, our largest organ, there to protect us was failing me. The surgeons were doing damage control and the damage was a step ahead of them playing a game that no one knew how to win.

Weeks stretched into months as I endured surgery after surgery. A staph infection called MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) was making its rounds in the hospital and it was only a matter of time before I was its next target. I was an easy one. I had open wounds, a compromised immune system – the perfect candidate for this super bug. Anyone could have given it to me. It can live on door handles, floors, almost any surface. People can carry it and never know. It’s resistant to antibiotics, so it’s difficult to get on top of. I got infected and it wreaked havoc with my recovery.

It’s August and I’m in trouble. My backside can’t heal. I have skin grafts that aren’t sticking. Skin grafts are where two layers of healthy skin, the epidermis and the dermis, are taken from the body and transplanted to that same body’s donor site. This is all done under general anesthesia. I came to know this as harvesting.

I’ve had skin harvested from my head, my arms, and my back multiple times. When I first heard the word harvest in conjunction with my skin it was all wrong, harvest normally conjuring up images of Thanksgiving, farms, of leaves red and gold. Now harvest meant healthy skin shaved from me to stretch across the parts of my body that were open, vulnerable to infection and death. After each surgery I looked different. A small mole from my back was transplanted to my leg. The skin from my arm was moved to wrinkle over my rib cage. My skin was stretched and stitched looking like gingham. I am a carefully woven patchwork quilt.

Harvesting was painful, but necessary. It saved me over and over again.

My doctors came up with a proposal.

“Since your backside isn’t healing and you lie on your back and bum all day every day, let’s put you on your stomach for three days at the least and five days at the most. We’ll put a little extra morphine in your IV to make you more comfortable.”

I said yes without hesitating. What choice did I have? This is my best shot. I need to heal and my butt is killing me.

The nurses took on my challenge as well attempting to make me as comfortable as I could be under the unusual circumstances. Lying on my stomach for three, possibly five days wasn’t going to be an easy feat.

I woke up after surgery on my stomach, arms at my sides positioned to recover, my back pad stitched to me.

I could barely move only able to move my head to the right or left. The nurses rigged a mirror for me to keep me in a TV coma. They faithfully topped up my morphine allowing me to sleep more and leave me in a fog. I didn’t see many visitors preferring my TV and morphine instead. I needed to conserve my energy for the marathon I was in.

Three days dragged by. The doctors communicated through the nurses. How was I doing? Was I done? Could I handle one, maybe two more days? Again, I said yes. I had to do this. If I could use sheer willpower and what little strength I had to help me I would use it.

I stayed on my stomach for five days and the grafts took this time. My body precariously stitched together was holding. I was going to make it.

18 thoughts on “damage control

  1. Christy

    Wow, I got chills reading this Heidi. You are one strong woman, you know that, I know. But it bears repeating – you are amazing.

  2. Intense Guy


    That had to be an ordeal and a half. How long after the car accident was August? If I saw a date – I'm very sorry I've forgotten it.

    I shake my head in amazement at your strength and at your family's strength. I know we do what we have to do – but so very few people have had to do anything like this.

  3. Heidi

    christy, thank you. as always you are so kind.

    intense guy, it happened in early june of 98.
    thank you. you, like christy, are always kind with your words.

  4. Anna See

    wow, heidi. describing your body like patchwork is so vivid and i can only imagine how those days seemed like an eternity.

  5. lisa mertins

    heidi, just another note to let you know how uplifting your courage was at that harrowing time. you are giving people that suffer in other ways more strength than you may know…

  6. Cookie

    Ouch! That sounds horrible. Funny I should read this today. I just had a mole removed yesterday and was complaining about those few stitches. Can't even imagine what you went through.

  7. Kate Coveny Hood

    You had so much to process on so many levels – physical, mental, emotional… I see even more now why you have been a motivational speaker. To live through that with such grace and humor and to become the positive force that you are today is quite literally amazing.

  8. Linda Sue

    What Kate said! YES! So many levels of dealing, growing, enduring, and coming out of it all as amazing as you are…WOW! Your writing gives me a glimpse of what it might be like but you have spared us the incredible pain really- I mean I don't feel too bad…sort of like I am being dosed with morphine to get through it…without the itchy after effects of the drug. Is that intentional in your writing? You are good!!!!

  9. Heidi

    amisare, hi! and thank you…so much.

    lisa m, wow. thank you. i truly appreciate that.

    cookie, hey, i get it. it's sometimes the smaller things that hurt the most. hope you're feeling better soon.

    kate, geez. you're making me blush. thank you. really. thank you.

    linda sue, i always love your comments. this one made me think! it isn't intentional. i think i'm afraid to get too graphic with it all. will it make people squirm…that sort of thing. i already feel like i do that, but your comment made me question whether i should say more, dig deeper. hmmm…i'm going to have to think about this some more. 🙂

  10. Suz Broughton

    I can't even imagine doing this, Heidi. I like that you're taking us step by step in little pieces. Keep it up!

  11. kendalee

    "My body precariously stitched together was holding. I was going to make it." This image really struck me Heidi – heartbreakingly vulnerable and so brave all at once. What came to mind was a picture of you held together by stitches other than just the physical ones – the courage and strength of your own character, the care of your amazing doctors and nurses, and the love of your family, Scott and friends around you… all that you've described before. Deeply touching.

  12. Live More Now

    Heidi – hello! and Happy New Year!

    I want you to know I read your posts, and I am totally overwhelmed and don't know what to put in a comment.

    But know that I think you are so brave – for your attitude, and for putting it all out there.

    Love you!!

    (and thanks for the welcome back! ;))

    I'll get there!

  13. Heidi

    suz, i always love hearing from you. i find comfort in it – that you're here with me reading the words telling me to keep going. it helps. thank you.

    kendalee, thank you for this. you have such a way with words and your thoughtfulness knows no bounds. thank you.

    lmn, thank you. i don't know if i've reached the extent of 'putting it all out there' yet. it's hard to know what to stick in and what to leave out. i write some of these posts and afterward think i should have added this or get stuck as to how detailed or graphic i should be… anyway…i'm rambling. happy new year to you! i'm looking forward to your next post. no pressure. 😉

  14. Lynne

    Hello Heidi,
    That was difficult to read, as so much of it has been. I've had a catch up knowing I had to devote some proper reading time here. I can't visit you if there are other things going on and I'm likely to get interupted, it's too intense. And you deserve 100% of my attention.
    All the best to you in this new year.

  15. Heidi

    lynne, wow. i'm touched and honored. thank you. all the best to you too!

    bernthis, i think you are just fabulous. you know that, right?

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