It was the last week of June, 2017. We were on our bi-annual camping trip. Along with both our daughters and their families we were at the Platte River Campground in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We had been planning for months for this week. We all had arrived on Saturday. The plan for Sunday was to go to church that morning (Yes we go to church when on vacation.) and explore Mission Point in the afternoon. We went about our day and everyone seemed to be having a great time. But I just didn’t feel well. Something just wasn’t right. I had worn jeans since we were going to church. I’m just not ready to wear shorts to Sunday morning worship. Once we got back to the campground I changed out of my jeans into shorts. While doing so I noticed my leg was swollen more than usual. It was feverish and red and was hurting. I asked Mary to check it out. She thought I ought to check with my doctor. Based on the symptoms my doctor thought I either had a blood clot or cellulitis and that I should go to the hospital. We did go to the hospital in Traverse City where I was admitted and spent the remainder of our vacation. Doctors were unable to find the cause of the cellulitis. There would be several more bouts of cellulitis over the next few years.

In November, 2020 I began to lose my energy and appetite. The swelling in my legs was getting worse. It appeared that the cellulitis was back. By the day after Thanksgiving I was so bad I wasn’t getting out of bed. I finally decided I should see someone. We went to a standalone emergency room. 

Any time your legs are swelling they suspect a deep vein blood clot. They did a doppler sonogram of both legs. They also did some x-rays and then a CT Scan. The doctor decided I had cirrhosis of the liver. I needed to be hospitalized. I was whisked away by ambulance to the Valley Baptist Medical Center. They began to treat the cellulitis with antibiotics and diuretics. An internist began seeing me for the liver. He ordered several tests. I was given an upper GI where they discovered a number of esophageal varices. Varices are abnormal, enlarged veins in the tube that connects the throat and stomach (esophagus). The doctor banded a number of varices. Essentially they put a plastic band around these veins cutting off the blood supply to prevent bleeding. They also gave me a colonoscopy, which is always fun, especially when you can’t get to and from the bathroom on your own. December 5, they finally sent me home on antibiotics and diuretics.

Over the next several days the redness and swelling in the legs got a little better. But overall I was slowly getting worse. Finally on December 23, I returned to the hospital where I would remain for the next 31 days. Soon after arriving at Valley Baptist Medical Center for the second time they discovered that not only was my liver failing, my kidneys were also failing. My condition was critical. The Nephrologist said that he did not recommend dialysis because it was too risky. Apparently during dialysis your blood pressure could drop critically low when your liver and kidneys were compromised at the same time. He said he had been doing this for over thirty years and had never seen a patient with my issues have a favorable outcome from dialysis. So the options were die a slow death as the kidney and liver failures began affecting other organs in my body or do dialysis and die suddenly. I needed more information.

I had changed internists. The one I had in the first visit was underwhelming. So my Primary Care Physician recommended a different one. He was a younger guy and when he came in to see me he was all decked out in his Texas Longhorn gear. I liked him right away. After talking with him we agreed that doing dialysis was worth a try. I would rather go down fighting if I had to go down. The goal was to get my kidneys well enough that I might be ready to travel. Mary and I had decided we needed to get back to Michigan where one of our daughters lives and where we have many friends. After a number of sessions of dialysis and some physical therapy I was finally strong enough that the doctors thought it would be safe for me to travel.

The Texas leg of this journey was challenging but we figured it out. When you are so sick and you are outside your established community there are a lot of unknowns. The kind of emergency we were facing would be a challenge anywhere but honestly I think being on the road elevated it a bit. But there were several things that helped.

Being “Winter Texans” was a help. We were among a community at Park Place Estates RV Resort where people, many people were willing to lend a hand and did. Being part of the Christian Resorts Ministry was a huge help. They gave us spiritual and emotional support. Some of our team members in CRM had been through similar situations and provided wise counsel.

It would be impossible to measure the importance of the help our daughters were to us while we were in Texas. They both came for a week to help out after my first hospital stay. Just having them with us made us better. But they did a ton of things to make the experience better for us. They came back  to Texas during my second hospital stay, on Christmas day, and stayed weeks. They did not leave Texas until we did.

The medical institutions and professionals who worked on me were awesome. The emergency center was thorough and right on with the initial diagnosis. The Valley Baptists Medical Center was excellent with only one exception. 

The food was terrible. There are a few reasons for this I think. I had no appetite. I was very sick and food just didn’t taste the same. I was on a renal diet which operates on the philosophy that if you enjoy it, you can’t have it! But the real problem was that during my entire stay I never once had a hot meal. Not even once! A few times my meal was tepid. But never hot. One day a team of doctors came in and among other things told me I was malnourished. Even now that is astonishing. Anyone who has known me any length of time could ever believe I would be malnourished. But I was. So these doctors told me that someone from nutrition would be in to see me. I said “great! Because they are the reason I’m malnourished!” That’s how bad the food was. 

The hospital staff were fantastic. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch. My kidney doctor was great. Even though he was skeptical about giving me dialysis he was all in when I said I wanted to try it. Almost every day he came to see me. Now this guy was the medical director of the entire hospital so he had plenty to do. But he was very diligent with his visitation. Now don’t blink while he’s in the room or you might miss him. Unless you had questions he was usually in the room no more than a minute if that long. If I had questions he was more than willing to spend more time. Otherwise he was gone in a flash. In fact I began to refer to him as Flash to my nurses and the Green Team.

The Green Team is a group of medical students who do rounds in the hospital each day. Valley Baptist is a teaching hospital. This team varied in size and in level of education and training. As far as staff goes these folks were among my favorites. Early every morning, sometimes before 6:00 AM, one member of the team would stop by my room to gather information about me and how my night had been. Then three or four hours later they would be back with additional members of the team. There would be anywhere between three and six people come during these visits, I really enjoyed these visits. They were young and curious and were genuinely  interested in my welfare. It was my goal each day to get a laugh out of them. I was pretty successful. I told them of my YouTube videos doing standup and many of them actually watched my act.(Search Larry Q Allen on YouTube) One in particular began to urge me to develop some hospital humor. It was the Green Team who ultimately gave me the clearance to travel back to Michigan.

I have always thought highly of nurses. One of my dad’s sisters was a nurse and I always loved her. Having spent so much time in the hospital I value them  exponentially more. Every nurse, without exception, was fantastic. The nursing assistants, phlebotomists, housekeeping, the entire hospital staff were all top notch and I am thankful for them. Under terrible circumstances they made my life better.

Being hundreds of miles from family and friends made this journey more difficult. But folks in Texas rallied around us and gave great support and help. These folks had only known us a couple of months but they acted like lifelong friends. Again I can’t overstate how important the help our daughters were to us when they traveled to Texas. Being full time RVers made the situation more challenging but not impossible.

In my next blog post I’ll talk about our journey to Michigan.

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