Jim’s Knee Story June 3, 2011
The last 7 months of our lives have been a complete roller-coaster. I know many people who have endured much more painful trials, and my point in writing this is not to tell you how bad it was, but to tell you how good God is.
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First, a little background information. When my husband, Jim, was in high school, he experienced an injury to his knee that the surgeon described in his report as “catastrophic”. It ended any hopes and dreams he had of being an athlete in any sport. He had several surgeries and had parts taken from his good knee in order to rebuild the damaged one.
He lived with that rebuilt knee for 20 years. The pain continued to get worse and he ended up in this horrible cycle of not exercising because of the pain, gaining weight because it hurt to exercise, and the pain increasing because of the added weight on his knee.
In November of 2009, Jim finally decided that it was time for a knee replacement. Only 37 years old, he was by far the youngest person in the joint replacement class he had to participate in before surgery. The surgery took several hours longer than expected due to the extensive damage, but he recovered well and was walking without crutches within 2 weeks. His physical therapist was very impressed and often commented that she wished all her patients recovered so well.
So, life returned to normal for us, and Jim was happy to be able to walk without pain. In September of 2010, Jim quit his job of 17 years to return to school full time. We were making some adjustments in our lives, but things were going well and we were settling into a new routine. In November of 2010, all that would change.
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In mid-November, two of our children, and myself, all had strep throat. Jim got it too, but being the tough guy that he is, he didn’t want to go to the doctor. He finally decided to go, about a week later, when he developed a high fever. He was diagnosed with strep and given antibiotics. That was November 22nd. The next day, he stayed home from work because he still had a fever and wasn’t feeling well. In the afternoon, he was complaining about his knee aching and laid down to take a nap. When he woke up an hour and a half later, this is what his leg looked like:
A scary thing to wake up to.
I gave him the doses of antibiotics every morning and every night. One Sunday night, when it was time to give him his dose, I knew I shouldn’t do it. I just knew that the antibiotic was what was making him so sick. I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted that if I didn’t, he would figure out how to hook it up himself. I know now that he was being unreasonable because he was too sick to be thinking clearly. I should have insisted, but instead I gave in and gave him the medicine. I woke up at 4 am to him throwing up. This continued virtually non-stop until 7 am when I figured if I didn’t get him into an ambulance, I was going to be calling the coroner.
Once at the hospital, it was determined that he was in kidney failure. He was admitted to the hospital and all the antibiotics were stopped. Here’s what I shared on Facebook about it:
Well, I think I’ve been holding it all together pretty well, then the alarm went off on my phone to remind me to take Jim’s antibiotic out of the fridge. I’m glad the kids are with my mom tonight because I pretty much just started sobbing. I’m feeling scared and overwhelmed and the person who I lean on isn’t here.
Jim is so sick, he’s stopped teasing and joking with anyone. I’ve literally never seen that and it scares me the most. He is covered in a horrible rash. It’s now covering his face; it’s on his eyelids, mouth and ears. He cannot stop vomiting. He has horrible abdominal pain (hoping that’s just a result of all vomiting). He has a fever that’s ranged from 101-103 and they have no idea why. His kidneys aren’t functioning as they should either, and again, we don’t know why. They did some tests today because they were concerned that he may have an infection one of his heart valves. They are also checking for blood clots in his leg. They have switched his antibiotics and pulled out the PICC line that he was getting his medicine through.
The other thing that is causing extra stress is that Jim hasn’t been able to work. It’s a work-study job, so no sick pay. He doesn’t make a lot of money, but it’s just the extra we need to make it from month to month until he finishes school. With that gone, I’m trying to figure out how we are going to eat and put gas in the car until he can get back to work. Both of our cars have something wrong with them. I can drive them for now, but I don’t know exactly what’s wrong, so I don’t know if I’m causing more damage by driving them, or if I’ll break down at 5 am on the side of the road.
I’d love to be able to take some days off work to be there for Jim and to take care of the kids, but I used all my available time back in September when I had ankle surgery. I’m just exhausted and so overwhelmed.
I’ll continue to post updates on Facebook about Jim’s condition.
Thank you for your prayers and support.
Within an hour of posting this, a family had come and picked up both of my vehicles and left me one of theirs to drive, and another family had delivered a check for $1,000. That’s right, I said one thousand. I’m getting all choked up just thinking about it. I was completely overwhelmed.
My next Facebook update came a couple of days later:
Praise God that we finally have a diagnosis and plan of treatment. Jim has acute interstitial nephritis (AIN) caused by an allergic reaction to the antibiotics he was taking. AIN is an inflammation of the kidneys that causes kidney failure. We saw a kidney specialist this evening (Tuesday) who thoroughly reviewed his case and spent a great deal of time with us. He is confident that Jim’s kidney failure is temporary and he should not have any permanent damage. Normally, to treat this, they stop the drug that is causing the reaction (which they have done), and start giving steroids. But, because Jim still has the infection in his leg, and steroids reduce the body’s ability to fight infection, they have decided it’s best not to give him steroids. This means that it will take longer for Jim to recover from the AIN. The doctors are still concerned about the infection in Jim’s leg and are keeping a close eye on it. Part of the problem with the infection is that they have not been able to determine which bacteria is causing the infection, so it’s difficult to treat. If the leg gets at all worse, they plan to transfer Jim to Portland where they have doctors who specialize in infectious diseases. So, he’s not out of the woods yet, bet we are beginning to see the light.
The plan at this point is to keep him in the hospital for the next several days. They will closely monitor his kidney function and the infection in his leg. We are praying that he will be home by this weekend in time to see the kids’ Christmas program on Sunday.
We are also praising God for giving us the most amazing friends and family. Many people have made sure that all our needs have been met this week, from taking care of our boys to taking care of our cars to filling our fridge to being a shoulder to cry on. I believe there are several thousand people praying for Jim from across the country and around the world. I am overwhelmed by the love and support we have received.
Thank you for you continued prayers,
All of Jim’s skin was turning deep purple and sloughing off. We joked that he looked like Pigpen from Peanuts because everywhere he went there was a cloud of skin surrounding him. He didn’t want the kids to see him, or have any other visitors. He didn’t even want to talk on the phone. For anyone who knows my husband, you know this is all very out of character for him.
During that week, even though I was terrified, we experienced some of the most amazing blessings. I came home one day to find my freezer full of meat, and dinner in the fridge, I just had to heat it up. I came home another day and someone had cleaned my kitchen and done all our laundry. It was all folded neatly on the couch and I just had to put it away. Some of my amazing co-workers gave us enough money to pay our mortgage payment for December and January, get caught up on all our other bills, and buy the kids some Christmas presents. Someone else gave us a Christmas tree. I just cannot even tell you how every single need we had was met and exceeded.
Jim didn’t make it home from the hospital in time to see the kids Christmas program at church, but thanks to Skype, he was able to watch it live from his hospital bed. He finally came home on December 20th. We made daily trips to the hospital for Jim to get his antibiotics, but after about a week, the rash was coming back. Because his leg was healing, the doctors decided to stop all antibiotics and allow his body to fight what might be left of the infection.
We were happy to have him home with us on Christmas, but he spent most of the day sleeping in a recliner. Looking back now, he doesn’t remember much from that day or any of the weeks before of after. His kidney function had returned to almost normal, his fevers were gone, and his leg appeared to be healing. Still, I knew something wasn’t right. I just knew we weren’t out of the woods yet.
On Monday, January 3rd, Jim left for his first day of winter quarter at school. He returned home hours earlier than expected and he looked like death when he walked through the door. Here’s another Facebook update from that week:
Jim has had a huge set-back this week. Monday morning, he was feeling well and went to work and school. He came home early because he was cold and his leg hurt. He had a fever of 103.4 and his leg was red and swollen. I took him back to the hospital. They did a ton of tests, started him on 2 new antibiotics, and admitted him. Yesterday was a day of waiting for test results. Today, they drained fluid out of his knee and found that the knee joint is full of infection again. Tomorrow, he will go back to the operating room and have all the artificial parts of his knee removed. They will put a temporary spacer between his thigh and lower leg. He will be on crutches and unable to bare weight on that leg for 6-8 weeks, until the infection is completely gone. Then, he will have another surgery to remove the temporary spacer and rebuild what the kids call his, “robot knee”.
He is very depressed about this set-back. It means weeks and weeks of antibiotics, and months of rehab. He doesn’t do sick well at all. The kids are missing him terribly, and I am struggling as single parent. Jim’s surgery will be sometime Thursday (1/6/11)afternoon. I think he would welcome phone calls Thursday morning, but I don’t think he’ll be up for visitors or calls again until at least Friday.
Besides all this, there are all the normal frustrations and headaches that come from owning cars and a home and having kids. We have been well taken care of by our friends and family. I am learning to depend on other people for help, which is a very hard thing for me to do. I don’t give up control well at all. Our family is so thankful for all the help we have received. To name a few, we’ve had money put in our bank account, gas put in our vehicles, presents for our kids put under our Christmas tree, food put in our freezer, our laundry done, our kitchen cleaned, and so many prayers said I couldn’t even begin count. I know we have people praying for us from our little corner of the world all the way to the other side of the world. It’s humbling, it’s overwhelming, it’s amazing. I have moments where I break down and cry for a while. I have moments that I’ve yelled at the kids when I know better. And, I’ve had moments of complete frustration with Jim, even when I know there was nothing he did deserve it.
So, for my birthday this year, I’d like to request my husband home and healthy, my furnace to work, my kids to behave like angles, a nice long bubble bath, and a return to our normal, boring life.
During this week that Jim was in the hospital, we were having extra cold weather. Temperatures were dipping down to near single digits, which is very cold where we live. Of course, this was the week that our furnace quit working. I was hoping for something simple that I could fix, so I bought a new thermostat and replaced the old one. It still didn’t work, so I tried re-wiring the furnace to the thermostat. It still didn’t work. A wonderful family in our church heard about our need and sent a furnace repairman to our house and paid the bill. Just another of the many blessings we experienced.
Jim came home from the hospital about a week later and we settled into the new “normal”.
We have a busy few weeks ahead of us. Jim goes to the UW Medical Center on Monday. We are bringing along a sample of the “bugs” that grew out of Jim’s knee. If I understand everything correctly, they want to do some genetic testing on the bugs because they still aren’t sure what they are exactly. He does not have MRSA, but he does have some sort of staph infection.
Jim is feeling good and getting around okay. He’s been able to get to school and even work a few hours. He has antibiotics running on a pump through his PICC line 24/7. The only time we disconnect it is for him to take a shower. He spends a lot of time at the doctor’s office. His PICC line keeps getting plugged and he has to have clot-buster put in the line, wait 2 hours and then they pull the clot-buster back out. It is a long and boring process, and, unfortunately, not something we can do at home. He has a home health nurse that comes once a week to keep an eye on things and change the dressing on his PICC line.
So, after months of carrying around the little pump and making several trips to the infectious disease doctor at the University of Washington, it was determined that Jim had a strep infection in his knee. Most likely, in the process of trying to get rid of it, he also ended up with staph in his knee and in his blood. Once they were sure the infection was gone, they took him off the antibiotics and then we waited. After about 2 weeks, they took a sample of knee fluid and cultured it to make sure nothing was growing in there. About 2 weeks after that, on April 6th, Jim had surgery to reconstruct his knee. The surgery took 6 hours. He recovered very quickly and was home 2 days later and not taking any pain medicine.
Now, here we are almost 2 months later and he is doing wonderful. He’s been riding his bike with the kids, and working in the yard. Jim has been able to pass each quarter of school, despite missing quite a bit of class. He takes his finals this week and then he’s 3 quarters down, 4 to go to complete his program in energy technology.
His work study job ends in a week and then he is unemployed for the summer. I’m not worried though, because, if I’ve learned nothing else from this, I’ve learned that God will abundantly meet all of our needs.
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Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.