4:30 p.m., December 3, Advent Sunday. I felt the moment happen before I saw it. Stepped over the smallish fallen pine tree. Knew Buck would pick it up and clear it from the path. Some frisson of alarm rang, but it was too late. I turned in time to see blood running from a gash in Buck’s right hand. The pine tree was still springy. It twisted as he tossed it, bounced back and drove a sharp, hidden stob into his hand. I looked at his face. He seemed surprised. We knew something bad had happened. It was a shocking end to a wonderful walk in the woods.
We both wanted a do-over of this random moment that would put Buck in the hospital in less than 36 hours, that would knock us out of our usual orbit, but life doesn’t often dispense mulligans. Whatever grace there was to be, it would have to come in the midst of worry and inconvenience, of pain and the imminent threat of loss.
The stakes could hardly have been higher. Buck was born with a congenital left-hand amputation. A serious injury to his right hand rang all the alarm bells.
I pulled a couple of clean tissues from my jacket pocket. Buck used them to stanch the bleeding and held his hand aloft as we turned homeward. We irrigated the v-shaped tear and puncture with hydrogen peroxide, cleaned it up, and once the bleeding stopped, spread a thin layer of Polysporin on the wound, put a gauze pad over it and twisted gauze around his hand.
We debated heading to Urgent Care for stitches, ultimately opting not to go. Monday night, Buck and I looked at his hand and decided to go have it checked out at the Emergency Room soon as our morning meeting had concluded. As soon as the county engineering team had gotten into their vehicle to leave, Buck showed me his hand and arm. It was swollen from the fingers, palm and wrist and very warm to the touch. I fixed a peanut butter sandwich lunch to take along for the ride to Pensacola’s West Florida Hospital’s emergency room.
West Florida’s emergency room is well-staffed with brisk, cheerful folks in Kelly green polo shirts. Other ERs I’ve visited over the years are permeated by the torpor of tired staff and sick or injured people, punctuated only by the fingernails on metal screech of arriving ambulances. West Florida’s ER’s subliminal, comforting message came through loud and clear: “You’re here now. We know what to do.” The green shirts, tucked into khaki slacks, give an impression you’ve stumbled into a gym with a team of personal coaches who will shape you right up. Not nearly so depressing as the usual ER.
Within minutes, a nurse with eagle eyes spotted the homemade bandage on Buck’s hand and strode over, pointing at it. “What happened?” Buck gave the short form. She nodded, seeming to already know what she was seeing. “Are you signed in?” We both nodded. “They’ll get to you soon.”
And they did. First a guy at a station entering Buck’s information into the computer, getting him in the system, then three folks in glass windowed room taking his blood pressure, pulse and temperature, adding more data into the computer, all the while studying him, his missing left hand, his injured right one, noting he has a big birthday coming next week. Next up was an x-ray, then a closed door discussion with a physician’s assistant named Troy plus a nurse in the room. More questions, a look-see.
“I want Dr. B. to see this. If she agrees it’s what I think, we need to start you on I-V antibiotics right away.”
Buck and I blink. He says, “Here in the emergency room? Outpatient?”
“No. We may start it here, but you’ll need to be admitted.”
We look at one another. That’s all. We just look.
Then up and out into another sub-waiting area. Within moments, a small woman in a white coat rounds the corner, walking briskly, Troy leaning down and talking rapidly while they head straight for us. “Hello, I’m Dr. B.,” she says, smiling as her serious eyes look at Buck’s hand, wrist and arm. “This is what concerns me.” She places the tip of one finger on Buck’s wrist and traces a faint blush pink line up his arm to just past the elbow.
I know I must have turned several shades paler. I hadn’t seen it before, but now I couldn’t unsee it.
“Follow me,” she said. The diminutive doctor let us across the hall into a ward-like area with hospital beds, each of which could be curtained off for privacy. We didn’t see her again, but were handed off to an internal medicine doctor, several nurses and technicians. By the time we got admitted and Buck was wheel-chaired up to Room 625, he had received a full dose of intravenous Zosyn and Vancomycin. Because of the slow infusion protocol, the Zosyn takes anywhere from four to seven hours per bag, while the Vancomysin infuses in just over an hour.
The next several days were a blur of round-the-clock infusions, blood draws and anxiety. That first night, Tuesday, I left Buck in the hospital about 8:00 and went home to rescue poor Lou. I let her out to run around, fed her and myself supper, then packed a bag for Buck and me and returned to Room 625. The room had a small vinyl love-seat with a clever pull on one end so it could be lengthened and turned into an ad hoc sleeping surface. Buck and I talked until past 1:00, then I napped until 5:00 Wednesday morning and went back home to minister to the pup. By this time it had begun to rain, a precursor to the cold front that brought a rare snow fall this morning in northwest Florida.
Buck and I talked before I left the house to head back over. A doctor making rounds told Buck he would need to stay “a couple of days” to make sure the blood infection was killed by the antibiotics. Thinking it through, I realized two more nights of running up and down the road between Buck and Lou wasn’t wise, especially with nasty weather. I called Spanish Trail Veterinary Hospital (and dog hotel), made reservations for Lou, and took her with me when I left.
Buck was discharged mid-morning yesterday. He never ran a fever, not even a degree; never had chills, says he had no pain. But, he swore a blood oath he was busting himself out of the hospital yesterday, with or without doctor consent. Luckily, it didn’t come to that.
We’re home. Home, that amazing wonderful place with the killer pine trees lurking in the woods.