A week ago Tuesday, I was freelancing as a CD/Copy at Havas Tonic in Tribeca.
Early that morning, I noticed that my left elbow seemed a bit swollen and as the hours progressed my arm was turning more and more red.
Thinking it might be a simple bout of bursitis, which I had experienced once in the past, I showed it to a colleague. The look on his face and all the others who glanced over as he practically choked in shock belied the fact that I just might have been taking my situation a little too lightly.
"Get to a hospital immediately," "Hurry," "Don't dally," "Get the f**k out of here," were just a few of the suggestions shouted from the peanut gallery. I hadn't had so many people begging me to leave since the last time I poked my head into one of my daughters' sleepovers.
Still thinking a hospital visit would be both overkill and a time killer, I booked an appointment for a couple of hours later at my HCP, close to my home in NJ.
When I arrived, the attending Nurse Practitioner and I chatted a bit, but when I took off my shirt, exposing my arm, she had the same look everyone else had back at the agency. Then her focus turned to my heart rate. "For someone who seems rather calm and collected, your heart is really racing right now." She did a quick EKG and traced around the edge of the redness with a marker, before echoing the others: "Get to the hospital immediately. I will call and tell them to expect you."
Ten minutes later, I'm being wheeled into a private room in Morristown Medical Center's Rapid Treatment Unit. An IV is being inserted into my good arm at the same time blood is being drawn from it. Doctors from various departments are stopping by, including Infectious Diseases, all seeming a bit more stressed out about my condition than I am.
My arm starts getting worse. The redness extends well beyond where the Nurse Practitioner had drawn her line. It's getting redder and swelling up even more. Like my heart rate, my white blood cell count is now also through the roof.
I'm told that I have cellulitis and an abscess of the upper arm and forearm. They don't know what strain of bacteria has gotten into me, so for the next 4 days they pump in numerous antibiotics via IV, hoping that at least one of them will be the charm.
On Friday, they wheel me into surgery for an "Irrigation and Debridement." They make a large incision, wash out and remove all of the infected matter (including my bursa sac) and insert a sponge to fill the void. This also serves as a filter for a tube that leads to a little vacuum machine that would become my new best friend for the next couple of days. I'd lay in bed, thinking every few minutes that little bugs were crawling down my mattress before realizing that they were actually little bits of drainage being sucked from my elbow through the clear tubing and into the vacuum machine.
On Monday, I'm brought back into surgery; they remove the sponge, clean the abscess and wrap me up to go, like a take-out order. A culture that had been taken at the time of my first surgery showed that I was only dealing with a simple staph infection that could easily be treated with oral antibiotics.
After seven days in the hospital, a litany of antibiotic IVs, and two surgeries, I was released without any restrictions. The whole thing was like going from 0 to 60 then suddenly stopping on a dime.
What an experience, being a patient: The calm. The chaos. The sleeping. The being awakened at various times throughout the night to be poked and prodded by techs taking blood or nurses changing IVs. The awful feeling that "patient" is becoming your identity.
But I couldn't have asked for a better outcome.
Now I want to help improve outcomes for others like never before.
Back when I made the move to pharma marketing, I understood there would be obstacles that any creative person would find frustrating: regulatory issues, ultra-conservative clients with a stubborn aversion to trying new things...did I mention regulatory issues?
Part of the challenge is to satisfy the needs of such clients, while also gently coaxing them to push the envelope, if even just a little bit. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't. But you try. Even the "safer" work can still derive from unique and engaging human insights that make it just ever so different, compelling, engaging, and free of the typical solutions that make too much of today's creative output vanilla and interchangeable.
My experience this past week has made me more passionate than ever about what I do for a living. The opportunity to walk in my targets' treaded hospital socks served as a reminder of just how important it is to understand their needs, feelings, confusion, frustration and expectations. We have the ability to make a difference in patients' lives.
I wouldn't wish my recent experience on anyone.
But in a weird way, I'd recommend it to everyone in our business.