Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lord Have MRSA on Me

I've just spent five days attached to an antibiotic IV drip at St. Vincent's. Apparently, I contracted MRSA (Methicillin–Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) by either direct or indirect contact with another infected person. Sexy, I know.

Last Thursday night, it felt like the bridge of my nose and my left cheek bone were broken. When I awoke, the pain was duller, but seemed to have moved outward. My left cheek was warm and it felt slightly swollen. I went to work and as the day progressed, I knew something was up. I had been visited by MRSA before -- about two and a half years ago. There was an small epidemic of it in the city, and it was targeting a "select group of gay men engaging in certain activities." I could be more specific, but I'm not in the mood right now. Regardless, over the course of six months I had approximately 10 or 12 MRSA outbreaks. They were localized and looked and acted like incredibly painful boils. A couple of months of unbelievably strong antibiotics and they disappeared. This time, however, it was different; it wasn't acting like the MRSA I knew, so I had no idea.

The problem with MRSA is that it is resistant to most antibiotics. It moves quickly and can be incredibly dangerous if it gets out of hand. I went to see my doctor -- HIV physician to the beautiful, gifted and talented -- Dr. Paul C. Bellman. He thought it might be a bacterial infection that had somehow made its way into my nose or tear duct. He put me on a 45-minute antibiotic drip and then sent me out the door with a script and a warning -- if it worsened, I would have to go to the ER. I was sure it was already getting better, so I left, filled the prescription, took my first dose and slipped into that type of sleep only afforded those fighting infection -- quasi-Zombie.

I was aroused by Chinese banter drifting into my studio windows from Essex Street. I stretched, yawned and opened my eyes, uhm actually one eye. The left one refused to budge. The image in in my bathroom mirror was a cross between the Elephant Man and that Hunchback guy from the Disney cartoon. The left side of my face was twice its normal size. I spent a full 15 seconds desperately trying to twist my mind into some shape that could somehow rationalize what was before me as "not worse" than the night before.

Mental gymnastics failing, I burst into tears, which (annoyingly) could only gracefully drip from my right eye. I can be a tough little fuck when the cameras are rolling, but the definition of a bitch sissy behind closed doors. I thought I heard distant strains of "will I lose my dignity" slowly filling the room as the cast from "Rent" (the younger original Broadway version, not the much older version that limped through the film) made their way up the stairs of my Lower East Side walkup, white sheet in hand to cover me up just like Angel. My brain instantly hit the "play"button on the "Death by AIDS-related Complications" mental video it uses to inflict terror. It's a film I know well, having seen its debut screening in 1984 when I first heard of "gay cancer." Of course, it was on Beta then, but it has faithfully been transferred to VHS then subsequently digitally restored on DVD. The scenes are always the same, but the color is more vivid than ever.

I snapped out of it and started dialing Dr. Belman. I paged, paced, waited, and dripped tears (unevenly). Fuck. I dialed the Ex. Damn, damn, damn. He answers and although I manage to start out strong, by the end of the conversation, I'm a mess.

The Ex, as exes do, seized this moment to become completely sane, loving and reasonable. Damn, damn, damn. He walked me through a checklist and promised to meet me at the St. Vincent's ER. He was there when I arrived, and twice a day every day I was at the hospital. I learned a lesson about not having expectations and about acceptance. I was also reminded that I always have what I need in the moment that I need it. "It" may not come from where I think, or even want, it to, but it's there. And, in fact, it never looks like I think it will.

In my experience, illness is the universe's not-so-subtle way of saying, "sit down and shut up." I tried to do both. I left the hospital recharged and grateful. And still a bit rattled about how quickly one's life can change.

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