Christopherson Column: A life’s worth of insight squeezed into 9 days

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    The front line.

    Before the pandemic ushered in modified definitions of longtime familiar words and added a litany of words and phrases to our daily conversational vocabulary, referencing the "front line" conjured war-time images in the mind, of two opposing forces battling it out tooth-and-nail, with each trying to gain ground and force the other to retreat. It was a valiant scene, but also barbaric and brutal.

    COVID-19 has forever changed the meaning of "front line" across the globe. We don't know the vast majority of them personally, but we know there are people bravely doing battle at the front line in order to push this wily, wicked virus into retreat mode once and for all, while putting their own physical and mental well-being at risk.

    But, as I’ve been forced to realize recently, when you get sick – and it doesn't have to involve being stricken with COVID-19 – that mysterious, almost mythical, always moving front line gets mighty up close and personal right quick. It’s right outside your hospital door. It's in the room with you. It's in your body, it's in your head.

    I can count on one hand the number of minor injuries and minor medical procedures I've experienced in my five decades. A broken nose, a separated shoulder, elbow tendinitis...     

    But, boy, did the significance of my medical history ramp up in a blink.

    In late February, a stomachache that lingered most of the day and from the very first pang of pain seemed ominously different than previously experienced stomachaches went into overdrive overnight. Early in the morning, I did something that, for a doctor-fearing, mule-level stubborn person like me amounted to raising a white flag: I woke my wife and told her I was in trouble.

    She rushed me to RiverView Health's Emergency Room. There was a CT scan, the results of which meant I'd be admitted for at least a couple of days as RiverView's medical team and my own body determined the next steps. Two days later, on Saturday, I underwent surgery. Friday afternoon, March 5, I was finally discharged, after nine days spent in RiverView's new inpatient wing.

    What a difference nine days, a mere blip compared to the expanse of a lifetime, can make...

    I had to give it all up. That included my white-knuckle death grip on my pride, and I had to let down all of my defenses, shove any embarrassments aside, and come to terms with the fact that I was sick enough to necessitate not only hospitalization, but surgery that requires an often agonizing and frustratingly slow recovery. And these people fighting the good fight on my front line? From the trio of nurses who have been at it for decades, to the RN who's 22 – the same age as our oldest son – and the other dozen-plus nurses and CNAs and nursing students that I met and even got to know a bit...they've all seen it all already, and then some. They’ve been there, and done that.

    And yet, it seemed at times that they were there simply to ease my state of mind as much as they were there to conduct necessary procedures and give me medicine in the hope that I would eventually turn the corner. When my confidence was at its lowest and my spirits were fading, they rallied to the cause and filled my positivity void.

    I let despair creep in. Ongoing pain and discomfort and isolation can do that. Writhing in a bed that would never be comfortable no matter what position I tried, even though my current state meant that any significant movement would jolt my nerves with lightning bolts. When I knew the medication could only do so much and that I wasn’t due any doses for hours and yet I still felt awful...when I realized it was up to me and my body to start to crawl back, there were dark moments. For me, rock-bottom was watching an episode of "Highway to Heaven" on a cable TV channel known as "Cozi-TV” one afternoon.

    My stellar wife was in predictable top form, juggling hours with me along with her work responsibilities and required puppy walking. She refused to let me get too down, always offering up another romantic stroll together around the inpatient unit, while often making sure we paused a few moments to bask in the glorious sun pouring in through the windows at the end of the hallway. My wife, the Goddess of Vitamin D.

    But because of the pandemic, she was my lone permitted visitor over my entire stay. But when she had to step away, my front-liners stepped in, showcasing their uncanny ability to know when it was best to give me some meds or check my vitals and slip out of my room quickly and quietly, or when they needed to carve some time out of their schedule to linger and just chat with me for a while, about anything.

    When I started to rebound, although my wife was captain of my cheer squad, the RNs, LPNs,  CNAs, nursing students, phlebotomists…and, lest I forget, the physicians, were right there with her, celebrating my road to recovery and countdown to going home.

    It all adds up to an experience that’s very enlightening, but more than anything else, humbling. If you've never gone through anything like what I recently endured, I certainly wouldn't wish it upon you. But I can say with confidence that it changed me forever, for the better.

Mike Christopherson, Crookston Times managing editor