By Christopher Cudworth
The Ibanez guitar is not my favorite (the Martin my daughter owns is better) but it has served me well as an instrument of mostly personal expression. As one associate put it, “I’m not a guitarist. I play songs.”
Even that humble aspiration of playing songs on the guitar is now weeks or months away thanks to an apparently necessary surgery on the middle finger of my left hand.
It all started with a sliver that guided some sort of infectious microbe into the heart of my middle finger and turned the joint septic. First the convenient care center took a look and then a hand surgeon followed by a doctor of infectious diseases. Initial treatment with oral antibiotics failed, and that meant surgery where they knocked me out and laid open the finger like a beached whale.
The war going on inside my finger was something unimaginable. To further stoke the imagination, I stumbled on this bit of information from a scientific article titled “Can organisms evolve the ability to evolve?” The article proposes that infectious disease organisms are always seeking a leg up, as it were, on our body’s defenses. It’s a subtle game of cat and mouse:
Like all infectious microbes, B. burgdorferi make proteins that appear on their surfaces. To fight off infection, the immune system learns to recognize these proteins, latch onto them, and kill off B. burgdorferi cells. In a counter-move, B. burgdorferi sometimes changes its surface proteins, a feat that requires it to change its very DNA. Luckily, B. burgdorferi bacteria often carry a bunch of unused DNA, called cassettes, that are able to quickly become working DNA, offering instructions for making different surface proteins that are unrecognizable to the infectee’s immune system. Sneaky!
As my finger swelled it became so painful it would not bend. Then the surgeon’s office put splints on it. Now the finger was a numb, sore digit worth little more than a few keystrokes on the QWERTY board. I forced them to set the splint back far enough so I could type.
Then came three solid weeks of self-administered antibiotic infusion. 3 hours a night at one point. Lying there on the couch with a drip bag hanging from the metal stand.
The finger became the focus of all my being. The 3-hour infusions required all my time in the evening. The PICC line in my arm prevented me from running or riding my bike. Doctor’s orders were to prevent sweat from building up beneath the clear bandage. “PICC line infections are really serious,” the nurses warned me. “Because they go right near the heart.”
Great, I thought.
No longer was I in control of Chris in the Key of C. I could not run or ride, and could barely even type for my work, much less play the guitar for fun.
Yet I knew enough not to get miserable about it. A depressed person is not as likely to heal as well. That is my belief, anyway.
So I sank into the sofa with the remote and the dog by my side whilst watching both the TV and the IV.
Finally the regimen let up when the infectious disease doctor actually ramped up the medicine to something stronger. That inch-long injection of yellowish fluid went straight into the PICC line. It messed with my innards though, and the doctor told me to be sure to eat probiotics like yogurt to keep a balance of good bacteria with bad.
I lay awake one night listening to my intestines and stomach gurgling as the food got liquefied. Something was definitely out of whack. But you keep on with the regimen because that is what is supposed to heal you.
Finally the weeks wore down and the stitches in the finger came out. Then the PICC line. Now the scabs are peeled from my finger but the digit is still stiff, numb and thick. It’s going to take a while to get back to the Key of C. I’m just an ordinary player, but sometimes the extraordinary circumstances of life remind you how good it can be to be ordinary.