One bottle, 3 notes about the coronavirus

We all think about our work.

And some years ago, it occurred to me that one role of the newspaper columnist is to leave notes of a particular sort to future readers.

The notes should describe not so much the facts of life, which the remainder of the newspaper covers, but the experience of everyday life as it is being lived.

Today, I’m leaving behind these three notes in a bottle about some of my friends.

A strange new normal

Amputation is an abrupt word.

Particularly when it’s applied to a foot you have always been attached to, just as it has been attached to you.

In Doug Gibson’s case, it’s his right or, as he thinks of it, bass drum foot — the one he says “makes everything go” when he sits at a drum set.

That it must come off to save his life is an immense deal to a guy who’s so much a drummer that, by rights, his last name should be Ludwig, Tama or Gretsch, not Gibson.

In this space on Oct. 20, I provided my most recent CliffsNotes summary of Gibson’s medical chart, which is thicker than an unabridged dictionary with stories of the damage diabetes can do and the pain it can inflict.

His medical history includes two kidney transplants – one donated by wife, Sonie – and one pancreas transplant. The osteoporosis that has developed because of anti-rejection drugs has, in recent years, triggered a series of breaks on his left, or high-hat leg. Cracked ribs also resulted from an unintended run-in with the Gibsons’ beloved (that’s right) rescue dog, Clyde.

And there has been more: Blood pressure issues have caused three strokes, all of from which he is well recovered. And, 18 years ago, there was that major bypass operation to provide blood flow to the lower part of his now endangered bass drum leg.

Gibson tells the story about this latest issue in his customary entertaining form, this time with a disclosure and a question.

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Because he is required to drink at least three liters of water, he says, “Guess what I’m doing at 3 a.m. every day?”

About two months ago, he started stubbing his toes against the legs of the bed on his return trip from the porcelain bowl.

“It looked like somebody beat my feet with hammer,” he said.

To his wife, those toes looked just like they did “when he almost lost his leg the first time,” just before the bypass was done.

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic added drama to his latest hospitalizations. One trip to the OSU Wexner Medical Center had Gibson sitting anxiously for hours in an emergency room full of sick people, some not wearing masks – in a body whose immune system has been permanently suppressed to preserve his transplanted organs.

During the angiogram of his troubled bypass, his surgeon inserted his stents to try save as much of his right leg as possible. But the procedure also triggered an aneurysm near his left groin, spreading a dark bruise from his left butt-cheek (to use medical terminology Gibson chose) down his leg.

All this transpired while the Gibsons were carefully socially isolated to avoid exposure to the coronavirus — and while Sonie’s School of Dance, which provides their main source of income, was closed, producing none.

As much as they have been through in 37 years together, this challenge seems a shift to a more difficult version of normal.

But Sonie says an essential thing – perhaps the essential thing — will not change: “You’ve got two choices: You can either not get up in the morning or get up in the morning and face what you’ve got to do.”

Both have taken heart from the hundreds of encouraging responses to Sonie's Facebook updates on Doug's condition; from the darling videos of support posted by dance school students; and from A Go Fund Me page, Support Sonie's Studio and Sweetheart!, that brings Sonie to tears.

Still, she is wracking her brain to consider how the dance school might reopen safely, when enough families might be comfortable to send their children, and a sheaf of practical considerations to keep them financially afloat.

Doug has been at work, too. While shocked by the prospect of his amputation, “I have looked into drummers with prosthetic legs,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing what they have done.”

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“This is all new territory to the kid here, but if it’s possible, I’m going to be the guy to do it.”

And he’ll have to do it by putting put his best and prosthetic bass drum foot forward.

A respectable finish

“He was either gonna live or die right there in my lap.”

About 15 years ago, my friend Denny Reed was waiting to find out which.

The life in his hands was Couper’s - pronounced the same as Cooper but spelled the way it is because when the six-month-old puppy arrived, Reed was redoing a coupe-style pickup.

Coupe came home with Brenda May, who had been with Denny for about a year at the time, and the dog soon settled in.

The food was decent and there were places to get out of the weather. Although the master’s “I am master” voice was as much Doberman as human, on most days the master barked at Coupe about as often as he cooed-and-snuggled him.

Then came the one day in his whole life that Coupe jumped a fence, an act of daring that made it possible for him to dash in front of the car that hit him.

Denny took the next week off work and spent most of it holding the dog.

“I was just giving him a chance,” Denny said.

On the fifth day, he was about to give up when Couper showed an interest in food, drink and life, making his first paw-falls on the road back.

Fast forward 15 years to about two weeks ago - during the total COVID-19 shutdown. At age 16, Coupe’s back legs gave out. And Denny knew it was time.

A friend went along with him to the Vet, then helped with the digging on the hillside.

There Couper joined Poppy and Sammie, who also had been strays. Zar is the only one who should be there that isn’t. But he is represented by both his mate, Sammie, and their pup Bingo, which really was his name.

In Bingo’s final days, Denny postponed the inevitable for the three weeks and wheeled the dog outside in a wheelbarrow every time nature called.

The look Bingo gave him that final day brought an end to that.

“I shouldn’t have waited that long,” Denny said.

So, he did not repeat the mistake the last time Coupe’s life was in his hands. And the dog trinkets his cousin Connie sent over from Columbus for Coupe’s grave helped to recall the many good years of his companion’s life.

“Still, “It’s hard,” Denny said. “It’s like your kid.”

That death’s timing made it harder. For one, the diabetes that almost killed Denny once also makes him more vulnerable to the coronavirus , so isolation meant isolation.

And when it came, it nearly doubled down on a more difficult isolation.

Brenda, who for 17 years had been there to help in hard times, passed away in November, just before the holidays.

Her ashes were scattered near the honeysuckles up on the hill, and the bare-knuckle loneliness of her loss was just easing its way into something more like solitude the day Coupe’s legs gave out and Denny had to do what he had to do.

“I don’t have many friends, and those are some of my best friends up there,” he said, nodding his head to the hill.

I let the silence fill in for a few beats, then asked a question only a good friend can, a serious question wrapped in jest.

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“Among your best friends, where might I rank among the dogs you have buried up there?”

Denny tilted his head down, showing the bare patch scraped out during a self-inflicted COVID haircut. Then he paused about two beats, turned his mustache up into a smile and said, “Oh, you’d be in the top quarter.”

Coming attractions

If the name COVID-19 were not claimed, it might have cropped up as the name of a theater multiplex with a somewhat odd number of screens.

My friend Pat Drews’ experience might serve as a preview of coming attractions there.

A little background is required.

On Aug. 11, Pat was riding his Ducati motorcycle to the Sunday breakfasts we share with a few other folks, and a car pulled out in front of him. He laid the bike down, slid and passed out right after his helmet hit a bumper.

Luckily, rest, rather than surgery, was best for healing of his spine’s two cracked vertebrae. And while there were some concussion issues, they were minor, causing him less discomfort than the brace that held his back and neck in place.

To help fill the downtime, he and his wife, Sandy, who is disabled, were healthcare tag team partners for a while. Just as one was getting out of a hospital for some reason, the other was going back in - sharing worries of all the incoming bills along the way.

Pat returned to work briefly after his injuries had healed and arrived at his April 30th retirement from Springfield Regional Medical Center in good health and spirits.

So, he filled his backpack, headed for a wildlife area in Southern Ohio and made a full day of it.

Like many, he’d wondered whether a three-week respiratory infection back in February had been a brush with COVID-19. If so, perhaps that had been that.

But as he sat in his chair at the end of his day out in nature, he started to get what he calls “four-blanket chills” for the number of layers he put on without feeling warmed.

Sleep brought a measure of peace, but he woke in the “puddle of water” his fevered body had poured into sweat-soaked sheets.

The next day, with his fever at 102 degrees “Sandy kind of looked at me,” Pat said, and he saw everyone’s fear of COVID in her eyes.

She was worried for him and herself. Both shared the risk factor of age, and her disability is due to a disease that compromises her immune system.

A COVID-19 test for him was a no-brainer.

But it proved difficult for them to shut off their brains in the days before the results came back – a period during which he was still “getting all of these fevers and chills and occasionally getting sick to my stomach.”

The day the results came back negative, Pat found “this big, big bruise on the back of my right arm.”

He had checked for ticks as thoroughly and carefully as he always does the day of his hike, but found none. The best surmise is that, somewhere along the way, a tick in its tiny nymph form got under his skin.

Although a course of antibiotics did the job, the experience provided the two of them with a preview of COVID-19’s coming attractions.

Theirs was a glimpse into the worries we are likely to face if, as expected, a COVID-19 surge coincides with the arrival of the seasonal flu.

At that time, while awaiting the results of their tests, others are likely to see what Pat and Sandy Drews saw in one another’s eyes.

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