Monday, June 20, 2011


I wasn't alarmed at first, it was all so subtle. Jim's symptoms were explainable: as a headcold diminished a mild flu began, thus the headaches and malaise. Too much yardwork ached in his muscles. Extra stress kept him from feeling clear-headed--and Jim was certainly stressed.

Roxanne's x-ray in the emergency room.
Jim's mom broke her hip on May 17. Not a fall, not an accident. Roxanne had been standing in her bathroom, reaching for her walker, when a week-old ache turned into screaming pain. She couldn't move a step, she could barely keep her 100-pound body upright. She leaned on her walker and used all she had to reach for the phone--a phone she rarely kept with her. A time-warp later brought delayed EMTs (there was confusion at the station because another call was made at the same time by another resident). The belated medical workers worked gently to get her on a stretcher. She moaned and cried out in pain. It was a complete bone break; the top of her femur was centimeters away from the ball that rests in the hip socket. By evening her hip was replaced.

The small emergency room was crowded with
family and medical people.
Jim wanted to be with her at the hospital--his entire family was. Someone called him with a report every time a new medical person visited. But he was too unwell to be there that night. Anxiety can do that, I thought.

During the next three weeks Roxanne recovered well. She moved from hospital to nursing home, enjoyed her physical therapy, dreaded the food, took pleasure in the company of her roommate. Jim wanted to visit but got sicker. Was he worrying more? Stressed out about her long-term options? Even as Jim despaired over his mom's situation he was convinced his own health would be fine.

Symptoms continued to get worse. In addition to muscle aches and fogginess there was now groin tenderness and swelling. I'm not a worrier but this caused concern. He thought he worked too hard mowing the neglected ditches, pressing his body into the mower's handle. Maybe it's a bruise, he suggested, an irritation. Then fever, building to over 102 by evening. I googled, read about hernias, and called a nurse. "You need to bring him in," she said.

Men visit doctors less that women. Jim visits doctors less than most men. He wasn't about to go to urgent care because he felt fluish, even with the unexplainable, enlarging inguinal swelling. I compromised, "If this fever isn't gone by Monday, I'm taking you to the doctor." How often have I heard that men don't live as long as women.

Two days later Jim himself was finally convinced. Now rash had begun, the swelling doubled, and a red circle haloed an old tick bite, a tick that Jim now recalled pulling off weeks before. He was weak, shaky with chills and fever, pale and sweaty, couldn't eat. The doc could see him at 2:30.

Capacine, the
actress who
played Angel,
wasn't strong
Doctor Gregory knew more about Wisconsin ticks than your average entymologist. Both of his daughters had had Lyme; he'd seen many cases. His puzzlement was over the swollen inguinal lymph, but the treatment was obvious: an immediate shot of Rocephin, followed by a 15-day order of Doxycyline. "And come back tomorrow for another shot."

Although tick-borne illnesses respond quickly to antibiotics, Jim had one more bad night. He tried to hide his uncontrollable shakes as we watched the color-coordinated world of Duke in Alaska. (Jim is fond of John Wayne films and this seemed like a healing therapy.) But when the fever hit 104.5, I insisted on a visit to urgent care. Michelle Bonet (aka Angel) may have charm, but Jim was finally willing to go.

This story, like Duke's, has a happy ending. Two weeks have passed and Jim is well enough to again vow to avoid doctors. Roxanne is pain-free, mobile with her wheeled walker, and happily living with Jim's amazing younger sister. Jim might manage to worry less about her -- instead he's worrying about his sister.

And Roxanne and Jim have a strange new bond: they are both finishing Doxycycline prescriptions this week. An odd coincidence, but then, Jim and his mom have always been close.