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Back injury doesn't compare to cancerPosted Wednesday, July 14, 2010, at 12:30 PM
Dwayne Schintzius, the only basketball player in SEC history (Florida) to collect over 1,000 points, 800 rebounds, 250 assists and 250 blocks before embarking on a nine-year NBA career, said it best recently: "One crazy journey. ...I'm alive bro. Nothing can beat that."
Schintzius, the fifth-leading scorer in the history of the University of Florida, said this after recently battling and conquering leukemia, which pales in comparison with the tale that I am about to tell about myself and my recent medical woes, but a story I still want to share.
After a 53-day absence from my job here in the sports department at the Greene County Daily World (that number almost seems obscene), I returned to my crowded desk (a stack of papers I never seem to file) Monday morning with a smile on my face, realizing just how lucky I am. My co-workers made me feel very welcome, but I was hoping for a comeback gift (a German Chocolate cake would have been fine), but I was glad I did not have to fill out a W-2 or show ID. I guess you only get gifts when you leave for good.
Because of the great work of my partner Sports Writer Rick Curl (the only one who threw barbs at me on my first day back), the organization skills of Editor Chris Pruett and the efforts of many, I am sure that the general public didn't even know I was gone during the tournament run this spring. The last local hurrah of Bart Berns, Drew Gambill and the march to the state again by the Linton-Stockton softball team was covered without a hitch. Thanks to all who were summoned.
As hard as it is for me to believe, the last day I worked before becoming ill was May 20.
At first it was thought that I had shingles (Warning the rest of this story could make some squeamish). As the welts on my back grew bigger and out of control, I was being treated by a local nurse for that. In turn that became almost two weeks of something going awry and out of control and essentially I was not being treated for what ailed me. I was losing strength as it became painful just to exist, not to mention messy (more on this later).
Finally on Saturday, May 29, two days before Memorial Day, my childhood friend David Lawrence drove about 90 minutes to pick me up and then drove another 90 minutes to take me to the emergency room at the VA Hospital in Indy.
It was kind of a strange ride as these welts were leaking and I could not wear a shirt. My chunky, white torso was sort of covered by a tacky orange blanket, which was becoming soaked with gunk oozing from my pores. I kind of felt like an adult version Linus from the Charlie Brown gang. I don't know who thought they needed their blankey worse.
After being admitted to the VA (that meant they agreed with me that something was wrong), it was a shockingly quick process. I sent David, who I have know since we were 6, home and told him I would give him an update.
It would come much quicker than I could anticipate. Just five hours after admission, I was being rushed into surgery, which included doctors who were summoned off of holiday leave to operate.
All I remember is waking up about two hours later with a very large hole on the left side of my back. I do remember a very nice nurse named Kathy Weber, who gave me ice chips as I tried to comprehend my plight.
I was told they did an "I and D," incision and drainage. Whatever caused this (nobody ever knew for sure, although they suspected the infection could have been caused by something as simple as one in-grown hair), it left a hole about nine inches wide and about seven inches deep in my back, if my calculations from centimeters to inches is correct. I heard someone say they had to go down near the spine. That was a little too scary for me to comprehend.
After five days in the hospital, I was sent home on June 2, thanks to David Lawrence again, with a strange but miraculous contraption called a Wound Vac Machine.
A special dressing was applied to my back three times a week (thanks to home health nurse Kenisha Simmons and VA wound care specialist Norma Bangel for their excellent care and expertise) and a tube led from my back into this machine, which extracted the gunk from the wound and sped up the healing process. I won't describe what this looked like.
I had to wear this gadget (which had a shoulder strap and 10 feet of tubing) 24 hours a days for a little over a month, trying not to get the hose tangled in my easy chair or making sure I had it charged up going back to the VA. When I got stronger and was able to venture out to the store or pharmacy, people thought I was on oxygen, even though this machine came nowhere near my face.
Earlier this month, it was deemed that the depth of the wound was virtually skin level, meaning it was time to get rid of the Wound Vac. That was the good news.
There is still a gash in the back that is in the process of healing. The dressing has to be changed every day. The bad news is my wife is stuck with changing it. But to her credit, she does it with a smile on her face.
During this whole process and for the immediate future, I am on a 10-pound weight restriction. When you go to the store, this eliminates buying a case of beer or pop, which weighs slightly over 20 pounds.
A seedless watermelon, as a former melon farmer friend of mine told me, weighs about 16 pounds.
After a Google search, a gallon of milk is about 8.5 pounds, thankfully just under the limit. I have searched for a lot of things, but never that.
Once recently at Walmart, I asked the clerk to bag three items that would normally go in one bag to be placed in three separate plastic sacks. Man did I feel old after I told her of my weight restriction, or was it just embarrassment.
My five-gallon gasoline can has been cast aside and has been replaced by two, one-gallon cans. A gallon of gas weighs about 6.5 pounds, or so I have been told. Now I can easily fill my mowers without fear of reprisal from my VA nurse.
I have learned a bit about gravity as well. I can push a load of laundry without lifting the basket and can pull trash bags in a single effort, like Superman's "in a single bound."
My wife Trish and my daughter Taylor have been great helping me a great deal but as I got stronger, my health care professionals wanted me to be active and do more. So I tried to get creative despite restrictions.
The biggest negative of this whole ordeal was my $446 cell phone bill, but I gladly paid it as family and friends stayed in touch at an unbelievable rate, wanting to know my progress.
As well as my family and David and Leisa Lawrence, I cannot thank Gene Hall and his family, Erich and Kathy Blevins, Chris Stitzle, John Hamilton, who mowed my yard during my time in an easy chair in front of the TV watching House reruns and the NBA Summer League, Becky Brown, Sue Johnson and Bill Richardson for their deeds and kind words during my plight.
Reporter Joey Johnston of The Tampa Tribune said that the 41-year Schintzius laughed when he realized that cancer led him back home to Florida to be near family and friends, including some he did not even know he had.
Although it is silly to compare what I have been through to the 7-2 Schintzius, who lost 57 pounds during his battle with cancer but has regained 27 (I lost 26 and have regrettably gained 4 that I did not want to gain back), I can relate to a few things Johnston wrote about Schintzius.
"Life has been hard. Life has been good. You can laugh when you know there's a lot more living to do."
B.J. Hargis is sports editor of the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or email@example.com.
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