Frost-bitten

It’s -35 degree with the windchill today.

During the lunch hour, some co-workers got on the topic of frost bite and how dangerous it can be. The cold weather and the words “frost bite” bring more than the images of black toes and dark read ears to my mind.

At this time four years ago I was sitting in a hospital waiting room to see my brother. He was in ICU, defrosting. It’s quite the story.

As a recent post-divorcee, my brother decided to indulge on Valentine’s Day 2009 by drinking his feelings. A totally normal thing to do. However, my brother is also a diabetic. Needless to say, a few rye and coke’s in, he was a ball of fuzz, blubbering on about who knows what to his friends in the wee hours of the morning. His friends, all under the assumption that he is now completely sloshed, pack him up in a cab and send him home. The only problem is, by this point, all the houses start to look the same and he can’t quite spit out his address. The cabby drops him off at what is presumably his home and drives away. After a few attempts to get into the house that looks like his house but isn’t his house, he falls to the ground and nestles into the snow for what would be the cozy coma he would spend the next 12 hours in.

Fast forward to 10am when the owner of the house that looks like my brother’s house but isn’t my brother’s house comes out to go to work. He sees my brother lying in the snow and does what any respectable human wou….no no wait, no he doesn’t. He kicks my brother out of his way and proceeds to go to work. I know, pretty rude huh? Three pm, this dude returns home and finds my brother still lying unconscious on his front steps, could you imagine? The nerve of my brother! So he finally calls the cops AND the news to complain about said incident.

Meanwhile, back home, my parents, Tony, and I are all chatting about the wedding we had attended the previous night when the phone rings. I can hear my Mom’s frantic response as she scrambles her shit together and tells me to go to the hospital. We arrive to be told to say our good-bye’s as my brother’s body temperature plummets to a chilly 23 degree celsius.

I’ll never forget walking into that room in the ICU. There was my brother, laid out on a slab, looking like a yellow Shrek. Parts of his body were black, and he was twice his regular size. He had tubes and machines hooked up all over his body, including the one taking out his blood, warming it, and putting it back in. I don’t care how many episodes of ‘House’ or ‘ER’ I watched growing up, nothing can prepare you for that shit. I was in complete shock. I think I was in there for all but 1 minute before I had to leave. I touched his arm and told him I loved him, to which he responded with a series of twitches. That shit still haunts me. I gotta give it to nurses, because I could never do their job.

Hours went by as his heart rate slowed, his internal organs began to shut down, and the prognosis went from bad to worse. The next morning though, things started to look up. By some miracle, this son-of-a-bitch was coming around! (Mom, you’re not a bitch, you’re actually one of the greatest people I know, I’m just doing it to keep it light and not über depressing, love you!) There were a few touch and go moments throughout the week, like when his kidneys shut down and he needed to be on dialysis, or when his lungs filled with fluid and needed to be drained. But he made it. He came out of his induced coma after about 4-5 days (he was put into a coma because of the damage done to his nerve endings. We were told that if he were to come out of the coma, the sheer pain could be enough to send him into cardiac arrest). I remember going in to visit and him trying to talk with a breathing tube in as his eyes watered from thawing. Once he was able to breathe on his own they removed most of the tubes, except for the IV that pumped morphine into him. He was hilarious to be around those couple of days as he commented on how pretty the ceiling was and why they had 4 clocks in his room all beside each other (there was one clock).

He was eventually transferred to the burn unit where he underwent weeks and weeks of physiotherapy, skin grafts, and close monitoring. They would remove the dead skin as he shed like some sort of reptile, only his skin didn’t grow back. He was left with huge wounds that looked like ground hamburger meat. He had to have the flesh from his calves transferred to his knees as there was absolutely nothing left of them. He had skin grafts to repair and replace the skin on his hands, legs, and feet. He did end up having his big toe amputated – doesn’t sound like a big deal until you see him trying to balance in the sand on a warm summer day. His foot was also a disgusting mess for weeks as the skin grafts didn’t take and infection took over. The worst part of it – visually – was seeing the bandages removed by home care 3x per day to reveal this awful mess of a foot, tendons and all. Imagine having to turn up the tv because the sound of the vacuum sucking out the infection of someones foot is just too loud.

It was a long road to recovery and is ongoing. My brother still struggles with the tingling feeling in his extremities on cold days. He’s susceptible to sunburns on his fresh 4-year-old skin. His hand is paralyzed, his balance is off, his knees are weak, and his diabetes is worse than ever.

So why did I share this story? Well, after sharing it with my co-workers, one said to me that I should share it because it brings awareness to how dangerous frost bite can be. Another told me that there’s incredible stories and weirdness in every family and the more we share, the more normal we all feel. I’m not embarrassed at all by this story. It’s a survival story. Every February is a reminder of the time I almost lost my brother. Every cold wind that rips through me reminds me of how his body must have felt lying cold in that snow. It’s a scary thing to almost lose a close member of your family in a tragic or freak accident.

Now you might be thinking, whatever happened to the asshole who left him outside? Absolutely nothing. Unlike the laws about leaving pets outside, there are no laws to leaving a human being outside. Unless they die, then you can charge them. But nope, this guy walked away with nothing but a shitload of bad karma (hopefully). I’ve often thought of writing to him, or even sharing this story in the paper hoping he would read it.

So dress warm, resemble the Michelin tire guy, plan safe rides home, monitor your Diabetes. All that good stuff.

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