“Go immediately to the emergency room. I can’t help you here,” said the doctor in Urgent Care. It was my first day of vacation in Key West (about a week before going to Florida Audio Expo) and I felt ill.
If you believe in omens (I don’t), then you would have guessed something bad was going to happen. The flight from LaGuardia airport was diverted at the last moment to Miami. A cold front had hit the airport just before wheels down and the pilot had decided to head north for safer air. Sitting next to me was a retired dentist from Long Island. He suffered from lone star tick disease, which develops when a lone star tick bite transmits a sugar molecule into the body that causes an allergic reaction to meat. My seatmate told of his lower lip turning blue and curling up into the size of a soupspoon. This occurred every time he ate meat. He subsequently discovered that if he loaded himself up with antihistamines before eating, he could eat meat, but this played havoc with his gut and his belly swelled up. He was stuck with fish and chicken for the rest of his life. The things you learn on a plane.
Finally, two hours later we landed in Key West.
Fran, a friend of ours was participating in the annual polar dip so we visited her on Higgs Beach. Doing a polar dip in tropical Key West doesn’t quite have the icy punch of the one done on New Year’s Day in Coney Island in Brooklyn, but it was for charity so we cheered her on as she plunged into the frigid 70-degree water.
Afterwards, we lunched at a place called Louie’s on the Atlantic side of the island. Sitting at the bar and drinking far too many gin and tonics, I got talking to a burly gentleman who was a farmer from upstate New York, near the Finger Lakes. He grew high-grade barley on his farm and sold it to many of the micro-breweries in the area. The high elevation of his farm (2,000 feet above sea level) was ideal for growing this strain of barley. He also grew corn for animal feed and used Roundup weed killer to cultivate it. He had been farming all his days and he described a constant battle with weeds and bugs. Roundup solved all these problems. He swore it was safe to use and apply. He also had a hundred head of beef cattle, 99 heifers and one bull. He said the bull was very happy.
Walking around Duval Street, the main drag in Key West, I felt some tightness in my chest. It was Super Bowl Sunday and the bars were jammed with fans; most were drunk. This tightness persisted and because I had already suffered from heart disease, I went to Urgent Care. The minute I told the doctor my symptoms, he ushered me off to the emergency room in the Lower Keys Medical Center.
A tip: if you need to go to an emergency room, go on Super Bowl Sunday. The place was deserted and I was seen to immediately. I was whisked in, stripped, stuck with stickers and prodded with needles. Blood was taken and shot off to the lab and then a radiologist arrived and took X-rays. This all took moments and then the doctor arrived. He was a tall, lean man with a beard, and startlingly, was using a walker to support himself. After he had taken all my info, I asked him why he was using a walker. A kindred spirit, he asked if he could sit beside me on my gurney and told me this tale.
“I was hiking in Israel and Jordan,” he said. “One particular day we walked for most of the day and then had to line up and wait and wait to enter Petra in Jordan. By the end of the day I had been on my feet for over twelve hours. When I removed my boots, I found I had a scratch on my right heel. I cleaned it and applied antiseptic but upon returning to the US, I saw that it wasn’t healing so I went to the hospital and spent two weeks receiving intravenous antibiotics. It did not heal and the wound grew and grew.
Would you like to see photos?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied.
He opened his phone and after some scrolling, showed me a photo of a scratch about half an inch long.
“Would you like to see it after two weeks?” he gleefully asked.
Equally delighted, I said “sure.”
He scrolled further and produced a photo of his heel with a wound the size of a baseball. The flesh had rotted away, the bone was exposed and yellow pus oozed from the center.
“Nasty, isn’t it?” he asked. I nodded in agreement.
“I am diabetic and it wouldn’t heal so there was nothing to do but take the foot off. Would you like to see my prosthesis?”
As if I had a choice. He pulled up his trouser leg and removed his artificial foot, which had been attached to his stump with a suction cup.
“I actually can balance without using the walker, but during physical therapy I discovered that my knees were shot so I had them replaced; as it turned out, I had to have my gall bladder removed too.”
I was admitted and spent a sleepless night in my room. Every hour someone came in, woke me up and took my blood, blood pressure and other vitals. They were checking for troponin, a protein which is released into the bloodstream when the heart muscle is damaged.
I had to wait until three of the same blood tests came back negative before they would consider letting me go. Even with the interruptions, the care I received there equaled the care given to me in New York. Fortunately, everything was fine and after arguing with the doctor, who wanted a cardiologist to visit me, I returned to my vacation in Key West.