Weird stuff happens to me. Often, that weird stuff has to do with animals. Like the time I wound up in the ER because a cow I was hand-milking jumped into my lap when a co-worker opened her stall door and her calf ran out into the aisle. Or, the day, not so long ago that a rat climbed into my bed and bit me on the toe and I wound up, yeah, in the ER. Or the story (told here) of chasing a bat around the house wearing a hoodie and oven mitts … or was it work gloves? I don’t remember, but there was no ER trip that time.
The strangest story (and the one my dad, bless his soul, used to love to tell) began on the 20th of September, 2008. The Day Of The Sheep.
Simon was a Scottish Blackface wether ram (“wether” meaning, for those unfamiliar with sheep lingo, that he had been castrated). I’d known him since he was a newborn. He belonged to my good friend Wes, who is the director of New York Wildlife Rescue and Northeast Llama Rescue and Barnyard Sanctuary. I am secretary of said organization, and this day we were planning to visit a local festival for a fund-raising event. At the time, we would bring some of the gentler animals, those who loved people and petting, and set up a little petting zoo. Simon was a very sweet sheep, one of the friendliest of the bunch, and a really good boy. He honestly didn’t mean to do what he did that day.
And yet, what he did set off a chain reaction that I am still dealing with today. In fact, I am once again battling an outbreak of that scenario, on medication, and fighting to keep my body from eating my leg.
You heard me right. “Eating my leg.”
Simon, you see, didn’t think he wanted to go in the trailer that day. The other animals were all in, but at the last moment Simon decided to veer off and object. The trailer was set up in the barn door. One side was well blocked off, but on the other there was a sheep-wide gap where the animal could have escaped. So, Wes asked me to just stand in the gap and not let the sheep get by, turn him around, and he would steer him back into the trailer.
It worked. Sort of. However, after he walked up to me, and before turning around, Simon pressed his curly horn against my right shin. He pushed hard, but not terribly hard. It hurt, but I didn’t think much of it, really. He wasn’t trying to injure me, he was just sort of asking me to move. I got him turned, he realized that his attempt had been foiled, and he hopped into the trailer. He had quite a nice day after that.
I, however, didn’t. By the time we reached the fairgrounds, I had a dark bruise and a lump growing where his horn had connected with my leg.
By the next day the bruise had spread down into my ankle, and the lump had grown. The pain was excruciating, and I was resorting to using crutches. (Even then, I went with Wes on a rescue mission several hours away, to help pick up a group of, believe it or not…sheep.)
Within a few days, I was calling the ER, and being sent to a doctor on call, who referred me the next day to a surgeon. A raised black bump, like a large blood-filled wart, had grown in the center of the inflamed area, and the doctor was certain I’d developed a bizarre infection. The surgeon lanced the thing.
To make a long story short, I spent two months in the hospital, not getting home till just before Thanksgiving. I was in a wheelchair, and all of the skin on my lower right leg was gone. The problem, it turned out (after weeks of doctors having no clue … one even suggested anthrax until I convinced him that the sheep was in perfect health) turned out to be Pyoderma Gangrenosum. It is an autoimmune disorder which I’d apparently been harboring quietly in my body until the trauma from Simon’s horn, and the subsequent damaging of the tissue by the surgeon, activated it.
It was slowly brought under control with massive doses of prednisone. The lesions, which for a long time didn’t want to heal, were finally helped after I started using Manuka Honey on the dressing.
The suggestion of Manuka Honey, interestingly enough, came from my dear friend Lin, who had used it on her Saluki Hermione, after the dog developed wounds from an orthopedic apparatus that was stabilizing a broken femur. Lin, of course, is the friend who passed away in 2015, and her special heart-dog Ryder came to live with me. Hermione? Ryder’s mother.
I was many, many months in a wheelchair, with lots of drugs and lots of pain. It was a couple of years before I could walk without crutches, and many more years before I dared go through my day without heavy padding to protect the fragile scar.
And now, while I am trying my best to keep my dear Ryder comfortable and happy as cancer slowly takes him away from me, while we are dealing with a COVID pandemic and a country that is torn apart by political lies and strife, while we are facing financial hardship in part due to what the virus has done to our society … the Pyoderma Gangrenosum is back.
My Monster has crawled back from under the bed and bitten me in the leg. A couple of weeks ago, while making my bed, I scraped the bottom of the scar on the wooden bed frame. At first it was “just a bruise,” I thought, but then the inflammation began. Now, there is a lump in the middle of that inflammation that threatens to break through and release the flesh-eating demon. I am again on prednisone (which is doing a number on my heart arrhythmia as I write… flutter flutter bang) and I have my bandaging supplies, including a jar of Manuka Honey, lined up for the moment the lump opens up. I’d hoped that hitting it with prednisone would prevent that from happening. However, the pain has increased daily, the inflammation has spread, the lump has grown, and that hope is starting to fade.
I have had other outbreaks over the years, the worst being in 2011 after Hurricane Irene decimated our little rural county. I had been down in the village, with flood waters receding, helping to distribute clothing and necessities to people who’d lost their homes and workers who had come from all over the country to help save our community. My leg objected loudly, and I was back on the steroids and honey dressings to try and get it to re-grow some skin. I’ve had smaller resurgences as well, both on the leg, and a couple of little spots on my abdomen. This time is by far the worst in many years.
During the original ordeal, I kept a blog (actually an Evernote notebook) of the journey. It helped me deal with the pain, depression, and emotional turmoil caused by this bizarre thing that lives inside me. My Pyoderma Gangrenosum blog has been updated recently. I do warn, however, that the images (especially the ones from those first months of the original event) are disturbing, so please don’t click if you’re squeamish. I discovered, during a follow-up visit with my specialist, that some medical classes were using my blog as an illustrative example of a rare skin disease progression. I also have a number of YouTube videos online, which I’ve been told have helped others dealing with this disease. Pyoderma Gangrenosum, according to most sources, is a very rare disease, and yet over the years I have met quite a few others who have suffered with it.
I write this post for a similar reason. My weapon, and my solace, have always been words. I turn to them when I need to meditate, to calm my nerves, to clear my head. It helps me to release some of the fear and anger, the sense of hopelessness, if I can pour it all out into words. And maybe, just maybe, someone out there dealing with Pyoderma Gangrenosum, or another disturbing condition, will find this post and know that they aren’t alone.
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