A Plot-twisting Cliffhanger That Leaves Me Breathless and Hospitalized
“Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home. …
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall.”
Although I fall light-years shy of the realm of gospel music aficionado, certain songs of that genre move me like no selection from any other music category can. Such is the case whenever I hear Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” Independent of the singer — from the iconic bookends Mahalia Jackson to Elvis Presley, passing through less notable renditions liberally sprinkled in between — its magic never fails to stoke a spiritual high inside me.
Last week, I referenced it in a blurb I wrote for my church. The theme of the piece was the Christian responsibility to ease the burden of the downtrodden. Central to that altruism is the sharing of the restorative potential when one avails themselves of the unsurpassed grace of God’s hand, stretched in all our directions, waiting to be grasped.
Hours later, at 4:45 on the afternoon of April 26 — ground zero, or GZ — while riding in an ambulance, the lyrics were directed inward. I began praying the words for myself. Later, I thought this entire episode could best be shared in the trendy fashion of flashback, then fast forward, a tactic employed by many of today’s screenwriters.
Five days earlier: I awake with an inordinate amount of mucus percolating in my airway. The quantity isn’t the only conspicuous thing about it. It is much thicker than usual and seems to flow from an inexhaustible reservoir.
Two hours later: Emergency room nursing staff rotates through the ER suite assigned to me. My first impulse is to deduce that there is some novelty associated with my condition. Turns out it is the computer I brought with me that is the attention grabber. Being reasonably certain I’d be admitted, I have the foresight to have the paramedics tote along my speech generator. I’m not the “ER whisperer”; my device is.
Four days prior to GZ: Fresh off a restless night battling the continued phlegmy onslaught, my wound care nurse takes my vital signs and listens to my lungs. All is within my ALS-induced baseline. Armed with that reassuring information, I figure the buildup is a passing anomaly.
Four hours post-GZ: I am admitted to the hospital for aspiration pneumonia. It is my second hospital stay in three years. In 2019, I suffered from a similar lung trespass. That go-around was preceded by a lower oxygen saturation level that landed me in the intensive care unit. This stay, while dealing with a less advanced pneumonia, is complicated by a proliferation of pressure sores clinging all along my undercarriage.
One day before GZ: After spending a weekend incessantly coughing, the nurse is present for a scheduled dressing change. However, this time my oxygen is low and my right lung sounds “suspicious.” Both an in-home X-ray and a next-day house call by the doctor are scheduled.
The morning after GZ: I am visited by a veritable cavalcade of hospital personnel. A particular highlight is the session with the same speech pathologist who advised on my ability to safely ingest food and beverage in 2019. Her input resulted in a decision to only nourish me via an enteral feeding tube. This time, we agree that I know and accept the risks associated with my greatly diminished chewing and swallowing functions. We review the basic precautions to avoid choking. I’m then approved for the guaranteed weight-loss program: hospital “soft diet” food. Chalk up a minor victory for the good guys.
One hour until GZ: My doctor explains my options. Since the X-ray confirms that I have pneumonia, I can either remain at home, treating it as best as antibiotics can on their own, or I can go to the ER, where the treatment would be multidimensional and as dynamic as necessary.
Three days after GZ: I’m back to breathing without the aid of an external oxygen supply. I’m enjoying the frictionless comfort of an air mattress. As all pieces of the treatment puzzle are trending positively, I contemplate my discharge.
Twenty minutes to GZ: With input from a few others, I debate the best course of action. Sensing my aversion to a perhaps unnecessary, but certainly expensive, hospital inpatient trek, my doctor seals the deal: “If you’re wrong about going, it costs money. If you’re wrong about staying, it could cost you your life.”
Four days after GZ: My latest X-ray is back. My condition has improved, but my lung retains a little residual “junk.” I’m here for the weekend.
Today: I had hoped this saga would be resolved before publication, but I’m brushing up against my deadline and remain hospitalized. I’m a cliffhanger praying for a happy ending.
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