Article Overview:   When you spit up blood, you wonder if you're about to die from some deadly disease like SARs or TB or lung cancer.   That happened to me a week ago.   Now,  seven days later, I'm home and on my way to recovery.  I owe my recovery to an Angel of Vigilance and to the VA Hospital.


Wednesday--May 21, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 616
Spitting-Blood Terrorism
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZER0, NEW YORK, NY--Terrorism comes in many forms.   One of the most frightening is when you spit up blood.  

Terror is spitting up blood

       The sight of bright, vermillion fluids ejecting themselves from your lungs when you cough is enough to drive all the Osama Bin Ladens, Saddam Husseins, and Kim Jong Ils from the spotlight.    Suddenly, your entire focus turns inward--to the Beast of Viral Terror stomping, clawing, ripping and tearing away at your lungs--leaving a bloody trail of ravaged tissue to remind you that your health, that sense of "internal security" has just been invaded by "alien forces" bent on destroying your confidence in your own mortality.
      I awoke a week ago coughing and hacking.    At first I didn't think what I saw was blood.  Denial sets in when you see the blazing color of red in your sputum.   So you hack and cough at least three more times, stunned, shocked and then the fear sets in.
      T.B.!   Lung cancer!   SARS! 
      I sat for long moments in the quiet of the early morning holding my head.  My wife beside me was finally asleep.  My hacking and coughing had kept us both awake.  I saw my doctor the day before, had X-rays and was diagnosed with pneumonia.    That was before the blood.
      Sweat beaded on my brow.
      Nearly ten years ago I collapsed, was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with colon cancer.  I had been bleeding internally, and had to have four pints of blood pumped into me before they could operate.   They cut a section of my colon out and I underwent a year of chemotherapy.   I studied the mortality tables despite advice against it.   Cancer patients are urged not to dwell on the negatives, and the mortality statistics chop of a number of years of "normal life."   When you are a member of the deadly "C" Club, you are shoved into another category.
       Insurance companies "red-line" you in a sense, isolating you in the "cancer category."  It is not unlike having been convicted of a felony and whenever you fill out a job application you are forced to remind the world that you are no longer a member of the "healthy community," but rather an outcast--a "victim" of a disease.   Euphemistically, you brag that you are a "survivor," but like those from concentration camps, you still have a tattoo on your arm, and the realization that no matter what you do the rest of your life, inside you is the scar of cancer's terrorism--and you are vulnerable to another attack from the Beast of Cancer.

I was thrust back into my own holocaust as demons danced in my mind

      So when I spat up blood, I was thrust back into my own holocaust.   Demons of  thousands shapes and forms danced delightedly in my mind, shouting at me that I was again a victim of some deadly al-Queda-like attack within my vital organs.   I saw armies of Terrorists massing forces in my chest, killing my defenses, weakening my resolve.
      Perhaps the most difficult time in any sickness is the space between the onset of an illness and its diagnosis.   During that "dead zone" the mind conjures a multitude of options, all of which lead into the jaws of the Beast of Terror.   I walked that gangplank, stared down into the ocean boiling with sharks and was sure the doctor would tell me the worst.
      I taxied back to the V.A. Hospital in Manhattan, located at 23rd and 1st Ave.    I was admitted to the Emergency Room where a crew of highly professional and efficient nurses and doctors examined me.  
      My wife sat with me.   Also a "survivor of cancer," she and I have shared the wrath of the Beast of Health Terror enough times to know that no matter what we think something might be, it always could be something else.   The fly in the ointment for me this trip was that my blood pressure had dropped to dangerously low levels.  I usually run at the higher side.   Blood in the sputum, low blood pressure--ah, what else I thought.

My stay in the Veterans Hospital was a lesson in respect of illness

       The week before I had been in Clayton, New York, on the Canadian border, turkey hunting with a friend of mine.    I watched three cows being butchered while I was there, and got right in the thick of it taking pictures and interviewing the farmers who raise and eat their own meat.   Maybe a drop of blood had gotten on me--Mad Cow Disease?   I heard just that morning meat from Canada was banned from the United States because of that disease.
      "Blood in your sputum?  That's normal for pneumonia."
      The nurses said it.  The doctors said it.  
      My wife, Lori,  and I looked at one another with disbelief.   Lori spent her life as medical technologist and microbiologist working in hospitals and had never allowed the relationship between blood and pneumonia sink in.   She had feared I was finally manifesting some of the symptoms of the lung cancer from my years and years of heavy smoking.   I thought at first it was a conspiracy, some way the doctors were mollifying the true diagnosis, covering up the fact I had some horrible ailment they wanted to keep from me until the last moment.
       To our relief we were both wrong.
       Apparently, I had some virus that attacked my lungs, creating pneumonia.    They hooked me up to IVs, pumping antibiotics into me as they decided whether to admit me.    Because I was short of breath and dehydrated, they chose to put me in the hospital.
       My stay at the Veterans Hospital was a lesson in respect for illness.   The ward I was on was filled with veterans far worse off than I.    I studied them over the next four days and realized what I had compared with what they suffered with was minimal.
       I almost felt guilty taking up a bed.    The man next to me looked like he was on his last legs.   A day after I was in, they couldn't get him to respond and wheeled him off to intensive care.   Up the hall was a former airborne paratrooper with congenital heart failure, and all the fluids in his body settled in his testicles, blowing them up to the size of watermelons.
      Across the hall was another vet with a distended liver.  He was as thin as a rail except for a huge bloated girth.  He cried all day and night.   When I asked my wife why they didn't sedate him, she said there was a limit on the amount of morphine that could be given, and too much would cause death by congestive heart failure.    I heard the symphony of pain sing to me.
       The nurses and doctors were incredibly caring.    I thought about the work.  Each day they came to work with the sick and dying, many of whom had little chance of recovery.    I wondered how they did it.   My wife had worked her last five years in a respiratory ward in a hospital in California where mostly older people came to die.   The job broke her spirit, for the daily futility of keeping people alive so they could die another day was unbearable.
        I began to feel lucky I had what I had.
        The Beast of Health Terror had its deadly claws sunk deep in my fellow vets.  I wondered about their stories. 

My wife was at my side throughout the ordeal

      My wife was at my side throughout the ordeal.   It was comforting to have her there, sharing her love and affection since I was surrounded with so much pain and suffering.  I noted that she was one of the few visitors, and the most consistent.    I realized that love is healing, and her constant concern for me, her friendship and warmth was the best antidote to the Beast of Terror.
       Across the hall, for days, the man with the ravaged liver moaned the name, "Barbara" over and over, making me wonder about the pain he was suffering in his heart for someone to give him the comfort my wife was giving me.
       Besides attacking the body, the Beast of Health Terror also preys on the emotions.   The sense of loneliness and isolation must invite demons of the mind to rise from the caves of human sadness, and stir one's Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
      My wife offered me the Courage, Conviction and urged me to take the Right Actions to battle the Beast.  
      My daughters called and kept in close contact, issuing me support, but it was my wife, a Sentinel of Vigilance, that spurred a good portion of my recovery.

While in the hospital I watched CNN's story about the "Devil Docs"

      During my stay, I watched the small television provided every patient.  One of the shows on CNN was about the "Devil Docs," American doctors in Iraq who set up emergency medical support in the desert to treat wounded civilians and American troops.    It was an amazing example of how American health care can provide life over death in the most severe conditions.  I watched the Devil Docs perform operations in tents, saving lives amid the swirl of sand and hail of bullets.   They worked on the front lines, in the path of the Beast of War, salvaging the waste of war.
       I was glad I was a veteran. 
       I felt the Beast of Terror had a tough time penetrating the walls of the VA Hospital, for the men and women of the military had an extra resolve--something bred in them from their military service that gave them more Courage, Conviction and Right Actions to fight the Beast.
       Also, I sensed a respect among the staff for us all.    They knew we had served our country, and many of us risked our lives for them.

The blood I spit up was the Blood of Vigilance

       I thought about the blood I spat up.   In a way, it was the blood of all the warriors who had ever fought any battle.  It was the Blood of Vigilance--a sign that life is fragile yet repairable.  
       Yesterday, I was discharged.   I am still on medication.   My body is on the upswing, but the memory of the battle is fresh.
       Love and respectful care helped me.
       Then I heard through my daughter that a number of people she knows have had a similar experience--a pneumonia with blood in the sputum.   
       I didn't have SARs or T.B., or lung cancer.  
       I had another wake up call.
       I had another face-to-face with the Beast of Terror.
       And I learned that love from my Sentinel of Vigilance--my Angel of Vigilance--my wife, had as much or more healing effect than all the antibiotics and IV fluids I was given.

May 14--Binary Teenage Terrorism

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