Column: Running Into a Memory
My wife and I were waiting at the bar of a restaurant when we bumped into a memory.
We were meeting an Englishman friend of ours for supper. Despite having lived in America for many years, our pal still has a strong English accent. We don’t hold it against him when he spells “center” as “centre” or tosses in a superfluous “u” when he says “color.” It’s fun to hear him pronounce “vitamin” and “aluminium.”
As we waited for our friend to arrive, my wife glanced across the restaurant and said, “Oh my gosh! There’s somebody we know!”
I looked in the direction she had indicated. She was right: Waiting for a table was Dr. Wendell Hoffman.
It had been 29 years since I’d seen Dr. Hoffman. Which, I suppose, is a good thing.
“You should go say hi to him,” urged my wife. Her instincts are seldom wrong, so I took her advice.
I walked over to the good doctor and introduced myself. I asked if he remembered me and he replied, “Of course! Hydrogen sulfide exposure in a manure pit. What year was that? 1988?”
He was correct. A thumbnail version of the story behind the story is this: On July 10, 1988, I climbed down into a manure pit on our family dairy farm to unplug a pump. Shortly after entering the pit, I started to feel woozy. I had begun to beat a hasty retreat when the world abruptly faded to black.
The pit had contained hydrogen sulfide gas. At high concentrations, this invisible toxin can cause instant death. At lower levels, it can result in a swift loss of consciousness and pulmonary edema.
My parents found me floating face-up in the manure and summoned rescuers. I was hauled out of the pit and spirited to a local hospital where the attending physician informed my family that there was little hope for my survival. My wife’s instincts told her otherwise. She insisted that I be airlifted to a larger hospital.
At the larger hospital, a team of doctors was assembled to manage my care. Most of them had “ist” attached to their titles, such as pulmonologist. It’s easier to simply say that I had a lung guy, a gut guy, a brain guy, and numerous other specialists. Dr. Hoffman was my infectious disease guy.
My stay in the hospital lasted well over a month, but I wasn’t there for the first few weeks of it. Yes, I was technically present, but the combination of anoxia and narcotics scrambled many of my perceptions regarding that time.
Shortly after I arrived at the hospital, Dr. Hoffman wanted to know what sort of microbes were present in our manure pit. He cultured a manure sample and found that the answer was “about everything imaginable.”
Dr. Hoffman visited me daily in the ICU. He was kind, concerned, and always asked, “How are you feeling, Mr. Nelson?”
Dr. Hoffman and the other physicians on my critical care team had to carefully orchestrate my medications. This drug was needed for that, but it might interact with some other substance I was receiving. Another drug would cause my temperature to spike while yet another might mess with my blood pressure. And so on.
At one point, there were as many as nine IV bags hanging from the poles parked beside my bed. The tubes running into and out of me were a feat of plumbing that rivaled the inner workings of the Death Star.
When I spoke with Dr. Hoffman recently at the restaurant, he smiled at me kindly and asked, “How are you feeling, Mr. Nelson?”
I replied that I was just dandy and apologized for letting nearly three decades elapse without giving him an update. I thanked him again for everything he had done.
“Yours was a very difficult and interesting case,” said the doctor. “It was certainly memorable. I’m glad that you turned out so well.”
We chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. As I was taking my leave, Dr. Hoffman asked, “Would you mind if I pulled your chart and reviewed it? I have an infectious disease conference coming up and I think your story would be a fascinating one to be presented.”
I said of course he could. After all, I’ve been a walking, talking medical experiment ever since July of 1988. What’s one more pass under the microscope?
I rejoined my wife and our Englishman friend soon arrived. We told him about bumping into Dr. Hoffman, he said, “Wow! I bet he’s one of your favourite people.”
“He is,” I said as I squeezed my wife’s hand. “But I admire anyone who refuses to give up on me.”
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.