Saturday, August 31, 2013

Yesterday I was Thankful; Today, I'm Crying....

Okay, sorry to be a one trick pony with one leg but this leg of mine keeps me focused on it all the stinking time. And then, there are days like today: Yesterday I was talking about how lucky I was to have this happen to me. See, the leg hurt but it was a constant.
   Today I want to scream. I want someone to stop this incredible pain. And it's not just the bad leg: I've apparently pinched a nerve in the good leg because of how I'm favoring the bad leg or just because I did and now I have shooting pain through the good leg which is very very unbearable and I'm not sure what to do about it. Maybe I'm dehydrated, maybe I have been sleeping wrong: I get the pain in the good leg every morning but then it goes away. This time it didn't go away. I mean I got to the supermarket and I was sweating and shouting Mother McCree! at the top of my lungs to no one in particular in the car on the way. And once in the supermarket--where I comported myself in a much more refined fashion--I nearly feinted from the stabbing pain. Let's just say it was bad enough that I bought two thank you cards and a beard trimming scissors (since my old beard trimmers are now reduced to wound-wrap cutters) and then split. I mean, I didn't go shopping for the food I went to get. I didn't stop for gasoline, didn't stop for smokes, didn't pick up wine--three, four stores all skipped just so I could get in the car and stay in the car and pretty much scream to my heart's content.
    So yeah, I'm lucky this happened to me, but let's just say that today is not my luckiest day, okay?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Something to be Thankful for...

Well, this might seem a little strange to you, and it certainly seems freaking weird to me, but sometimes I just look at my flesh-eaten leg and think about how lucky I am that it happened. I mean, yes, it stinks and has taken up a very large part of the last nine weeks of my life--and will, if I'm lucky--take up another nine (more if I'm not lucky) before it's genuinely gone and I can go back to the jungle.
   Buttttt.....I could have lost my leg or my lower leg at least, and there were several discussions about that among legitimate doctors in Iquitos. So I didn't--and knock on wood I won't--so that's fantastic.
   And the infection could have gotten into the bone, traveled and killed me, and that didn't happen either. So that's another great thing.
   Then there was the chance to live with something like this. An awful lot of people live with bad things that take up a lot of their time, I mean a lot, and it has been important for me to be in those shoes, not for a few days or a week like most times, but for so long like this. And then there has been the pain: A lot of people live with pain daily. By the minute. I've been living with it 24/7 for 9 weeks now and it teaches you something. I'm not sure what yet, but I feel like I'm learning a kind of patience I've not had before. And that includes the patience to not take that pain pill just because you can, or not ask for the morphine in the hospital just because you can. Being out of it when the pain is bearable is not my cup of tea. I'd rather hurt some than be spacey all day. So there is something to learn from that too.
    And then I have had this flesh eating thing to a pretty extreme point--which means that you guys who've seen the picture have probably learned that it's not something you need to do--though I think a lot of you are probably at least a little jealous (HA! A LOT JEALOUS!) of the manly look this thing had at its worst. I mean, you could throw up just looking at that bad leg. (The bad thing is that the surgeon says he's so good he ain't gonna leave a scar when the grafting is done. I told him I'd kill him if he did that, cause I earned a really good, manly, scary scar.)
    And I got a chance to meet an awesome surgeon who took my wound very seriously but didn't take himself seriously. And a lot of great nurses and other doctors at Huguley Hospital, and my great great at-home nurse (she's more of a curandero--healer--if you want my opinion) Georgia, who just knows what to do, when to do it, and how. Fantastic!
    And then because the pics got circulated on facebook and other social media I wouldn't even know how to use, probably 20 people I have not heard from in years wrote notes and that was wonderful. I mean, it's too bad it took this for that to happen, but I'm glad it happened and it would not have had my leg not gone bad.
    And I've lost 20 pounds, so for the dope (and you know who you are) who has referred to me in print as "the obese guy", well, I'm not even fat now. And I was never obese. But I've lost 20 and am gonna lose another 15 by the time this is done if I can keep walking hard (short bursts because the leg starts to hurt after a quarter of a mile or so, making me rest for a few minutes) a couple of miles daily.
    And though I was only drinking 1/2 pint of whiskey a day (none on Sunday) for the last few years, I've cut that out this last month, and hardly had any aguardiente in Iquitos this time around, other than the first three days there, which were sort of party days that ended up with my head probably lolling on the table in front of strangers on the boulevard. Ah, nuts, so I ain't perfect, eh? But still, nice to take a break from hard liquor, though I am having a couple of glasses of wine every day. Not too much, just a couple/few glasses.
     And I got to stay in a great hospital, Huguley, which I wouldn't want anyone to have to do, but if you do, go to Huguley. And the hospital eliminated a large portion of my bill--though with all the docs and labs billing separately I'll still owe $40,000-$50,000 by the time I'm done with the next hospital stay and next surgery (surgeries). Still, they knocked off a lot and that's pretty spectacular and I have no idea why they did it--maybe pity, maybe I just got really really lucky, maybe they just liked me, maybe the leg was so disgustingly cool that they chose me, or maybe (and this is probably closer to the truth) they knew that paying them $100 a week for the rest of my life would never pay the bill, so they cut the bill to keep me from being too much of a deadbeat.
    And I could go on. See what I'm getting at? None of this would have happened if I wasn't lucky enough to have these crazy flesh-eating bacterial infections. How lucky was that?
For the record, those infections included:
Pseudomenas (no further identification on the culture chart I have);
Proteus (no further identification on the culture chart I have);
Morganella morganii;
Aeromonas hydrophila
    Okay, thanks for listening. Don't ever get this, okay. It's really painful and scary. But still, some fantastically wonderful things came out of it. And that's good.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Something I Just Wrote for

Dear All: For a long time I wrote stories from Peru for which was a fantastic and one-of-a-kind website against the drug war in Central and South America. The guy who started it, Al Giordano, used to write for the Boston Phoenix, a very well respected and award winning alternative weekly out of Boston. One day he up and left and went to Mexico to cover drug war events there. It was a ballsy move. 
   I used to feed him some good material from when I had The Cold Beer Blues Bar in Iquitos on the toughest port in town. Now he's feeding me: He asked me to write something about the problems journalists in the 3rd world face. This is what I wrote: I hope it's okay:

The Dangers of Journalism 101

Journalists who don’t run with the pack routinely face difficulty and danger

By Peter Gorman
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

August 26, 2013
I’m sitting in my office in bucolic Joshua, Texas, about 20 miles south of Fort Worth, where I work at the alternative weekly. Bucolic is what it was when I moved to this little frame house on an acre-and-a-half 12 years ago. These days I look out at the country road being widened and listen to bulldozers tearing up part of my yard and creek for 10 hours a day to make room for an entrance ramp to the new high-speed toll road being dug next door.
I can’t go too far from the noise for too long because several times a day I’ve got to put an IV carrying antibiotics into the pick line in the crook of my right elbow, and each bag of IV formula takes a couple of hours to empty out, leaving me sort of chained to my computer and the window overlooking the earthmovers tearing my place up.
I’m taking the medicine because on my last trip to the Peruvian Amazon I picked up a boatload of nasty flesh eating bacteria that ate a good portion of my right calf. I mean a pound of flesh or more. If all goes right, I’ll just need a couple of skin grafts to complement the two operations I had during a two week stay at a local hospital and by end of November I should be good as new—or good as a 62-year-old reporter with no insurance and $80 grand in hospital debt can be.
I got the infections, called Arco by the locals on the Ucayali River, while taking a group of mostly middle-aged tourists out to the deep jungle for just over a week. It’s something I do a couple of times a year, partly because I love teaching people about real life in the Peruvian Amazon and partly because I like to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the region politically. Recently, for instance, oil companies got together to convince Ollanta Humala, Peru’s president and a man who was alleged to have some character, that it would be good to reopen up the huge reserve on the Ucayali to new oil exploration—something that would utterly devastate the region. By chance I was there when the oil company representatives sent speedboats up every river in the region inhabited by even a single indigenous family to call for a meeting in the river town of Jenero Herrera to discuss how much money the oil companies would hand out to the indigenous in return for an okay to drill in the reserve. The companies promised speedboats to take the local leaders to Herrera for the meeting, where they would be plied with aguar diente—cane liquor—presents, money and so forth.
What the oil companies also did—on the same weekend as the meeting in Herrera—was to invite the elders from every indigenous group in the region to come to Iquitos in traditional dress to dance and be photographed for a Peruvian Tourist Office event.
Which means that there were no headmen/elders at the meeting about opening up the Ucayali reserve for oil exploration. And since it was all arranged properly, the headmen and women and elders who went to Iquitos to show their traditional costumes had no idea that there was a meeting about selling off the reserve’s oil rights that same weekend.
In that particular case, there was enough opposition to the oil company’s proposal that it was put on the back burner for the time being. How long that “time being” will last is anyone’s guess: Probably only until the oil companies come up with another scheme to try to convince Humala and the authorities in Loreto state that there is a good deal of money to be made by ripping open the reserve.
In a country like Peru there are endless opportunities for journalists who keep their ears to the ground: There are new medicines being found, water and mineral rights being sold out from under the people to whom they belong, archaeological sites being discovered monthly. If you’re a journalist and you find yourself there—or in Bolivia or Colombia or Venezuela or Brazil or almost anywhere in South America—you almost can’t help but run into good stories on a regular basis.
But you will also be putting yourself into some level of harm’s way when you cover those stories. That’s a given. You want to cover indigenous protests in southern Peru? You’re certainly liable to be tear-gassed at least. You want to talk with the oil company representatives and call them out on the Ucayali reserve scheme? They’ll flat out physically threaten you.
Journalists who cover cutting edge material, the politics of repression or wars or covert operations have always been at risk. It’s part of the job and part of the joy of the job. The risk, the danger is all part of the rush that makes some journalists work. Others, those who thrive at writing obituaries or covering PTA meetings, find their joy in other ways. But the photojournalist swimming with white sharks to get that perfect picture, or the writer who heads into Darfur when everyone else is running away from Darfur, well, they are daring, ballsy, fearless and they humble someone like me. I’ve been in a number of risky positions but it was often the result of circumstance rather than choice: When I got to Lima for the first time in 1984 I knew I was headed into a civil war zone, but I had no idea that I’d actually be in one, getting gassed daily, having police strip search me on the streets of the Plaza d’Armas, or ducking into doorways to avoid gunfire. In New York once, doing what would have been the first major story on crack from an insider’s point of view, I found myself forced to make a choice to be beaten—probably very badly—by a dozen or more members of an angry wolfpack of teens that took me for an undercover cop or running into a gun battle on Times Square holding my right hand as if it was a pistol while I screamed “Police! Drop your weapons!” (By luck the real police appeared while I was still a half-a-block from the gunfight and they had real guns and got everything under control before I was faced with the decision to chicken out and run away.)
Those escapades pale in comparison with journalists who’ve faced real danger. Just this week, Matthew Schrier, a freelance photographer who was held and tortured by Syrian Islamists since December, managed to escape his captors; a young female photojournalist was gang-raped in Mumbai, India, and Liu Hu, a journalist in China was detained by police after accusing a senior official of being negligent with his public duties.
Every week journalists put their lives on the line to get the real story, the one the journalists who stay in the hotels and chat over Beefeater martinis always miss. The crew at Narco News is a good example of a team of reporters covering events that could frequently cost them their freedom or lives. But if you are a real journalist, and if the story appears, it’s hard to turn away, despite dangers. In the early years of, I owned a joint called the Cold Beer Blues Bar on one of the toughest ports in Iquitos, Peru. It was the only place in the whole city where you could get ice cold beer, good food and listen to blues music on my second hand stereo.
It was the kind of joint that ex-pats and adventurers loved: Just getting to it meant passing through a gauntlet of dozens of dock workers who’d spent the day carrying twice their weight up a steep, muddy slope and rewarded themselves with aguardiente (grain alcohol) laced with kerosene and a few pipes of pasta, unrefined coca base ubiquitous in Iquitos as it makes it’s way down to Colombia to be refined into cocaine. Both it and the aguardiente were nasty stuff and arguments and fights were regular sights outside my windows and doors—and they frequently spilled inside. The regulars included well-intentioned environmentalists, loggers, dope dealers, riverboat captains and a host of ex-pats on the run from something. The regulars also included a lot of U.S. special forces, DEA and a couple ofCIA and other, even more mysterious types—people whose job it was to keep an eye on the dope dealers, loggers and the rest of my regulars.
At the time, from 1998-2001 primarily, the US had several safe houses in Iquitos. There was the Coast Guard safe house, which housed special forces guys who were training Peruvian river coast guard in interception of river craft; there was a Marine safe house, a Green Beret safe house, an Air Force safe house, and a DEA safe house with a rotating crew of agents who’d been sent to the armpit of Iquitos from the U.S. to straighten out their acts before they’d be allowed to return to Philadelphia or Boston or wherever they initially worked and messed up.
Everyone of those soldiers, spies and agents knew I was a journalist. They all knew I’d worked for High Times magazine for years. They all knew that if they got drunk and told me what they were up to that I’d write it up and send it out to Al Giordano at Narco News and it would be read by tens of thousands of people within days. So the smart ones kept their mouths shut about their assignments. But some of them, after a dozen quarts of beer and a couple of shots of local whiskey on the house, just couldn’t help themselves. And they wound up producing a few good stories that I believe saved a lot of innocent lives. When theUS Army decided to build a secret base in Peru—not far from Iquitos and right on the Colombian border—to contain Colombia’s FARC rebels (the base in Manta, Ecuador was public knowledge but the base outside of Pevas, Peru was not), well, Narco News published the story and that killed that project. When a team of former Navy Seals came into Iquitos to clear a section of the Putumayo River and then planned to kill every man, woman and child who fled into the river when US and Colombian jungle forces attacked the FARC and pushed them south—a secret plan ready for implementation by the time the former-Seals (read: mercenaries) arrived in town—well, all it took was one of that team to get drunk and explain the mission to the bartender—me—at the Cold Beer Blues Bar, and up it went at Narco News. Which killed that mission and had me threatened by some serious US personnel. When the famous missionary flight was shot down outside of Pevas—a small town 90 miles downstream of Iquitos with no internet or phone service at the time—well, Narco News published the story that the shoot down was a set up to bolster then-new-President George Bush’s position that there were lots of drug planes in the Amazon. And since Narco News got it right, Mike Ruppert pushed it to the point to where then-US Rep. Cynthia McKinney called for and supposedly got a moratorium on the long-standing US drug plane interception program in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.
As a side note, though Narco News didn’t publish it, this reporter was later asked to prove that the program was still in effect, and did, which led to the dismantling of a CIA operation based in Lima.
I mention those few stories—and there were others—to present the idea that sometimes stories that carry inherent danger simply fall into a reporter’s lap and there’s nothing the reporter can do in good conscience but verify and report them—even at the risk of personal injury. And there was plenty of risk. My business suffered when the US made my bar off limits to all US personnel (an order ignored by some of the special forces and nearly all of the DEA agents, at risk to their own positions and careers). But my family was threatened, I was roughed up a couple of times and was later told—though I could never verify it—that some people at Langley were considering simply disappearing me for being alarmingly annoying. Still, even in the face of threats, what reporter worth his salt could ignore those stories when the facts presented themselves right across the bar?
For this reporter personally, stories I write for the local alternative weekly in Fort Worth are sometimes slightly terrifying. Once a year for the last couple of years I’ve been asked to make several border crossings into Mexico to gauge the tenor of the drug war just across the border. Sometimes writing stories about the dangers of fracking for natural gas—and with Fort Worth being the epicenter of urban drilling, we’re at the front line there—has brought threats. More frightening has been doing a series of stories on corruption in my county, which has led to several fairly high political resignations and the firing of several local jail guards and other county personnel who’ve threatened my kids, my ex-wife, and my own house with firebombing. But the corruption was so thick when I moved to Joshua, in Johnson County, in 2002 that it would have been a crime to ignore it. And writing about it, despite the potential danger, has led to some long overdue changes in the way things are done here. As a reporter you have to make the choice to either do those stories with your full heart or simply run away from them. And when you learn the truth and then are able to verify that truth, well, running away doesn’t seem to be an option—given that running away or ignoring the story will mean people suffer at the hands of those in positions of power.
Writing about a local abusive jail guard who later threatens to firebomb your home is something you expect going into the story. A reporter knows that he or she is vulnerable in that sort of situation and weighs the pros and cons of what might happen. An African-American reporter covering a private white supremacist convention would know he or she is taking a big chance. But not all big chances are visible. Sometimes things just get you by the throat and they come as such a surprise there is no way to avoid them.
Right now, for instance, I’m trying to work this right calf back to health. It’s been nearly two months so far and will be a couple of months more if I’m lucky. And I wasn’t even covering a hardcore story. As I noted earlier, I’d taken a group of people out to the deep woods. In the week prior to their arrival, while organizing the trip, I’d worked with an Anglo woman who’d been raped and robbed by a business partner, intervened with the oil company representatives of a couple of oil companies on behalf of some indigenous friends of mine and pitched in with several other things that never materialized into a story. It didn’t matter to me. The trip with my guests into the jungle would provide material for a new book on ayahuasca, the jungle medicine that works on physical, emotional and spiritual levels, and that was my focus. Anything else I ran into would be gravy.
Now I’ve got to make an admission here: Whenever I take a small group into the deep jungle I ask the Universe (use whatever name makes you happy there) to not let any of them get hurt. There are, after all, things like electric eels and anacondas and cayman in the waters where they swim and bathe. There are extremely poisonous spiders and lots of jergons—pit vipers—around. There are vampire bats by the hundreds and stinging ants and all sorts of things that can leave somebody truly messed up. On this last trip alone, for instance, one of my indigenous Matses friends came down with an unknown disorder that left him puking blood and needing emergency hospitalization and six liters of blood and as of now he’s still touch and go and still no one knows what kind of bug it was that got him. And we buried a friend’s child after she died from being bitten by a viper. So danger is everywhere. Which is why I ask the universe not to let anything happen to any of the guests—and then I add that if something bad has to happen, well, it ought to happen to me, since I can probably deal with it better than someone who’s due back at work in 12 days.
The universe, being generous, has thus far never allowed a guest to have anything seriously awful happen to them. On the other hand, I’ve been bitten by a bushmaster, had my intestines explode, had a spider bite so poisonous that it opened holes all over my arms and legs from which poured poison. And I’ve had some mysterious flesh-eating bacteria a couple of times.
With that experience, when I noticed on the day after I came back from the jungle with my first group—and about 10 days before I had a second group to take out—a familiar flesh-eating bacteria on my right calf, I didn’t pay it much mind. I started in on antibiotics and let a couple of members of my jungle team who are experts at jungle medicines clean the wound several times daily. But this time was different. The wound kept getting worse, and by the time I took the second group out I was injecting myself several times daily—into a semi-permanent IV pick—with antibiotics a doctor in Iquitos had prescribed. And my team was still washing the growing wound diligently with tree bark extracts and other known plant medicines that cured Arco.
Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work and by the time I returned to Iquitos part of my right calf had begun to turn gangrene. I stayed in Iquitos for two weeks getting treated several times daily, then returned home and sent some photos of the huge wound to a very good doctor friend of mine in Alabama. He told me to get to an emergency room immediately. “Don’t finish your coffee. Just go,” was his order. I did and within hours had the first of two operations. My leg after the dead skin had been removed looked like something you’d see in a Hollywood movie about shark bites. There was just not a lot there.
It’s on the mend now after a second operation and lots and lots of antibiotics. The doctors say I picked up an unusual combination of four separate flesh-eating bacteria, each of which is immune to most antibiotics, which is why I’ve got so much medicine running through me.
I have faith that this is not my time to lose my leg or life. I have that new book on ayahuasca to finish and I’ll have to be in Peru in the jungle to do that. My guess is that by January that’s where I’ll be.
If I’d have known this would happen, would I have still gone on that last trip? Even knowing there was no fantastic story to write? Of course, because the next time there might be a very important story to cover. And shying away because I might get hurt, or because somebody might firebomb my house would probably leave me more vulnerable than just doing the story and getting it out there.
Publisher’s Note: Back in the 1980s, when one could count the number of reporters doing serious investigative journalism to expose the so-called “war on drugs” on one hand, Peter Gorman was one of those pioneers. In 2001, when Narco News was sued by narco-bankers in the New York Supreme Court, Peter rallied to our defense, which was eventually successful, when so many others remained silent.
Now Peter is in some trouble: In response to the severe threat to his health and livelihood, directly related to his important work in the Peruvian Amazon, his friends and readers have launched a crowd-funded campaign to get him the medical help he needs to be able to walk and do field reporting again. It is still more than $5,000 dollars short of its goal. I am making a donation, and ask each of you to consider doing the same, by clicking this link. We all need this pioneering authentic journalist back on his feet again. – Al Giordano.

This story by Peter Gorman was supported by a grant from The Fund for Authentic Journalism.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Selfish Pat on the Back for Myself

With the leg event in Peru I nearly forgot that I got some good news as well. First, my first Social Security check came in while I was there--not bad and well deserved after a life of labor in candy stores, art galleries, driving a taxi in New York City, cooking and then chef'ing in NYC restaurants, working as a journalist, and all the rest. Heck yeah, I took it early. Why not?
   But that was only one good thing. The others were a couple of awards I won. I took 2nd Place as Print Journalist of the Year in the Houston Press Club's annual Lone Star Awards--and then also took a 2nd in the same Press Club's Politics and Government story category.
   The big one, however, was a 1st Place in the national Association of Alternative Weeklies' award fest in the Public Service category for three of my features related to the Keystone Pipeline Tar Sands issue. That was the award my boss Gayle Reaves was most proud of--and I agree. This is a real self-congratulatory remark but also true: National Awards in categories like Public Service for a series of articles means you've changed the national dialogue on a given subject. Influenced it at least a little. And what that really means is 1) you had a good editor (always vital!); 2) you had a great copy editor (Thank you, Margaret!); and 3) the dozens of extra phone calls you made after you already had enough material to write the stories were worth the time and effort.
   If I am ever asked to give one single tip to young journalists it would be "Make 10 more calls than you think you need. And then make 10 more. One of those people is going to tell you something related to your story that you had not considered at all, and that something is going to make your story shine."
    Okay, nobody's asking me, but that's what I would say if anybody did.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Good Day Yesterday and It's Spilling Over

Well, yesterday was a good day. Some friends started a crazy "help gorman" page with pics of my leg to disgust people and holy mackeral! People I don't know have responded with all sorts of cures, some money to pay medical bills and who knows what all. And that is going to allow me to keep paying the home care specialist, whom I think is fantastic and whose word I trust, to come to the house even when she's not officially paid for it. That's great, because when she changes me and says the wound looks good, I feel confident. When a friend, whom I adore and who has been a fantastic help, no fooling, through all of this, changes it, well, I'm still nervous. Probably shouldn't be but am.
   Then the kids came over last night, including cousins, and I did a little yard work--which Chepa took over with wonderful exuberance, freeing me up to swing the kids on the recently repaired tree swing. Man, I love that swing. It turned his house into a home for Madeleina years ago and when it was not working--broken rope for more than a year--we all suffered. Why did I delay fixing it? I don't know. I couldn't find the rope I wanted and so just let it stay broken. Then I finally asked someone in a store what would be a good substitute and they told me and Italo climbed the tree and got the rope in the right position and bam! the swing was fixed and last night the kids' laughter was the payoff. Worth the pain and I'll never wait to fix it again.
    And then the kids went wild with chalk mush: They like to take the big chalk and soak it till it becomes a paste and then smear it all over the porch, the big rock, the truck, the front door. Makes a mess but makes for a lot of joy so it too is worth the pain.
    And now this morning, with my computer and phone back on after nearly 48 hours without them because a road crew cut the line, I was able to answer mail, read my newspapers and all that morning stuff. Great to be connected again. And then, for the second day running, I took a two hour nap. I think it's just the meds getting to me. There are heavy pain killers and heavy antibiotics. I've cut the pain killers by about half and will get off them by the end of the week except for those times when I really need them. But silly as it sounds, just allowing myself to take a nap with no end in sight--like if it went three hours I would not get up cursing that I lost the day--takes a lot out of me. I've never allowed myself anything but short naps so this is new. I guess it's part of the healing process to learn to let myself go with the injury. Learn to love yourself, Gorman. At least learn to let yourself take a two hour nap now and then...
    And in an hour I'm going to see the surgeon to get his take on how things are going. And I hope he's pleased. That would be icing on a very fantastic 24 hours.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Yeah, well, you got me talking, so here I go...

There are two things I want to say about this trip that hint at how generous the universe is. The first occurred when after the second trip one of my guests said he had bought too many presents for friends and that he needed to unload some things. He gave me a bag with several tee-shirts, some aspirin, bug spray and so forth--which I divvied up among my team. But then there was a beautiful metal container of something called Bag Balm. It's something you put on cow's udders so that they won't crack and hurt when you milk them in cold regions of the country.
   Who the hell could I give that to? My team isn't very sophisticated and I could only imagine explaining what it was to one of the women: She'd open her blouse and tell me to apply it to her nipples for sure. Not okay.
    So I wound up keeping it with the idea of throwing it away. And I kept trying to imagine why a guest would bring a pound of cow udder softening ointment. I mean, if you had a million guests in the Amazon, how many would bring that? None. None.
    But then I developed a nasty sort of indent on my right calf below the wound just where the sneaker hit my swollen ankle. And you know what? Nothing in the huge med kit I carry would work on that damned thing except Bag Balm. So thank goodness that the universe tapped one of the 11 people in the world who have Bag Balm on the shoulder and told him to bring it to the Amazon because someone was going to need it.
   That's a universe that sees what's coming down the pike and gets it handled ahead of time. Amazing.
    And then there was the sneaker incident. Before all my trips, after all the packing and preparation is done, I go out and treat myself to a pair of new sneakers. Generally New Balance or Air Jordans. Not fancy, just $50-$60 buck sneaks. That's the official last thing I do before it's time to go, and I generally do it on the afternoon of the day before I leave for Peru.
   So I went to the place where I usually buy sneakers, but they had no size 11s in anything I wanted to wear. So I went to a second place. Same thing. Out till next week. Third place, same thing. It was like a conspiracy. So I wound up at Academy Sports and darned if they didn't have single size 11 in Air Jordans, Nikes, New Balance or anything else. All they had was a single pair of regular looking 11 1/2 wides.
    Madeleina told me to keep looking. I told her we were in the fourth store and that was all I was gonna do. So I bought the sneakers that were way too big for me--and don't you know that just two weeks or so later when my leg started to break out it swelled up to where I needed 11 1/2 wides?
    Who's running this universe anyway? And if they know I'm gonna need those sneaks and so make all the regular size 11s disappear on the day I'm shopping, well, couldn't they also arrange for nothing bad to happen to my leg?
    No. That's selfish. It should be enough that the universe saw I was going to need the oversized sneaks and sort of forced me to get them. That should be enough for me.
    Thanks, universe! You certainly work in wonderfully mysterious ways! Glad to be part of it.

Been Gone Long Time, but Back Now


Well, I've been gone a long time, longer than I intended, and darned if there isn't a good hair-raising story to explain it.
    First off, hello everybody! Nice to sort of see you! Nice to be back.
    I went to Peru in mid-June to take two groups of pretty intrepid travelers into the deep jungle. As per normal, I asked the universe to make sure that nothing bad--snake bite or whatever--to happen to any of the guests. In return I suggested--as always--that if something bad had to happen, well, it ought to happen to me, not them. They're on vacation, after all, and even if it's a vacation meant to change their lives it's still a vacation, with most of them having to go back home and get to work within days of finishing my 9 1/2 day Jungle Intensive course. And I think most people who've taken it will admit it's a pretty intensive course, not a lollygag in the park.
    The trip went fantastically. Naturally, on the first couple of days in Iquitos I partied with my friends in Iquitos and drank too much--scaring the shit out of a few of the guests who'd come early. I told them I'd be cool during the trip but they weren't sure. Ayahuasca, however, or her spirit, told me to be very cool as something important was going to happen on the trip and I would need to be alert 24/7 to deal with it. So I was. I drank hardly any aguar diente--cane liquor--on the trip, and I mean hardly any, and yes, some big things happened. On one of the medicine nights three different guests needed me to get them through rough patches, for instance, and they were rough patches full of fear for those people. They got through, they always do, but when it's happening, when you are lost in the universe or reliving things you've tried to suppress, well, it's very frightening. And my team and I are pretty good at not interfering but still being able to ground people in that circumstance until they've got enough courage to walk through the scary space and deal with it.
    Despite those difficult moments, the trip was spectacular. I think those guests will be calling me in the next several months to say they've been changed considerably and no longer fit into their lives like they did and can they come out to the house for a few days of work to help them adjust to their new skin.
    And I got back to Iquitos praising the universe for nothing really bad having happened. Yes, there were a couple of poisonous snakes but the guests didn't even see them before my team had taken care of them--which, in the jungle, means killing them, because if you don't kill them now, they'll kill you later. It's horrid but once they get used to hanging around where people are, they become a very real danger that has to be eliminated. (Sorry, pit vipers, but you know the rule: If you don't let us see you, you're welcome to live a long life. If you show yourselves, you will be killed.)
   Anyway, on the first night back from the jungle I had a drink or two--didn't even get high--with Alan Shoemaker and some of the guests and a few of my team and I was thrilled that I hadn't gotten a bad spider bite or anything else. It was fantastic.
   Unfortunately I woke up the next day with furious red lines streaking my right calf from my knee to my foot. I mean angry streaks that indicate to me a flesh eating bacteria. Damn, I thought, because I don't like those and I've had them enough to say that honestly: The bacteria just make holes in your body and they hurt like mad. On the other hand, I've had enough of them to think my body and some basic washing and antibiotics and some good jungle medicine would take care of it, like always.
   Well, the second night they'd gotten so bad that Alan Shoemaker sent my man Jorge Flaco to my room to take me to a local clinic to have a look see. They put me on an IV antibiotic drip and gave me some special cleansing fluids and such.
    This is what it looked like after just a day or two:

Pretty nasty, right? And I was thinking it would go away. At the clinic they wanted to know how long I'd had it and when I told them it was less than two days they could not believe it and several docs came in and began talking about taking the leg off.
   No thank you.
   I returned to the clinic for the IV three times a day for three days until the woman who owns the bar I use as my office when I'm in Iquitos--Miriam, owner of the bar El Noche on the boulevard overlooking the river--grabbed me by the hair and dragged me to her car and took me to her doctor, who turned out to be very good. He said the antibiotics I was using were not strong enough and gave me a regimen of three different drugs, along with some vitamins and probiotics to help my stomach deal with the antibiotics.
   And then four days later it was time for my second group of guests to arrive and they did and the doctor gave me clearance to go to the jungle with them. Now don't kid yourself. I was not going to do a lot of hiking with them, but I still thought it important to be there with them to explain things. And then I also took the boat ride and short walk to help collect the ayahuasca and admix plants our curandero, Jairo, was going to utilize in the medicine. And it was important that I was there when they drank the medicine to make certain they knew they were being taken care of--they had a great deal of faith in my team, and several of my team are "watchers" when people drink, but I think I lend just a touch of extra protection, maybe just because I speak English or because they know I've gone through whatever they are going through.
   Other than those occasions, though, I was just a talking head who helped out cooking and answered questions. And during the trip I kept up the IV antibiotics (with the help of a generous recently-retired anesthesiologist who changed the IV location every couple of days) and my team washed the leg with different plant--and animal--extractions daily.
    I wasn't getting better but I didn't think I was getting worse. Nonetheless, the damned thing didn't look great and by the time I came home about 15 days later--during which the doc sent me to a wound specialist for washing daily, which included lots of medicines and such--it had gone a little gangrene. This is what it looked like by the time I got home:
Well, I sent that photo and some others that Chepa, the fantastic wife/ex-wife took on the night I returned and sent them on to my doc in Alabama who told me "Good God Man!!! Get to an emergency room now!"
   I took his advice the next day and to my surprise they told me they needed to operate. When? That night. No, no, no. I left the hospital against doctor's orders and went home to explain to Chepa and Madeleina and the boys that I'd be gone a few days and what was happening and where I'd be and then I went back to the hospital. The first of two operations, called debriding, was done the following morning. We started at 7 AM with a CAT scan to see if the infection had gone into the bone--in which case amputation would be called for--and luckily, it hadn't. And the surgeon at Huguley Hospital was great. Don't know how to judge surgeons but I liked him right off the bat. I got a needle in my lower spine at about 8 AM--along with something that put me in a very foggy heaven during the operation, and when I woke up at 9 AM I was being wheeled back into my room. They showed me what it looked like at about noon. This is it after they took away the dead black and yellow skin. It's gross so close your eyes if you like.
I mean, I had flesh eating bacteria before but never never never ran into something this freaking hungry. Hell, that's about half-a-pound of meat gone!
    I spent 13 days in the hospital and had a second operation to get rid of more dead skin on the sides and back of the wound, then they sent me home. So I've been back from Peru since August 1, in the hospital from August 2 until near midnight of August 14, and in a freaking fog here at home for the last few days.
    That's my excuse for not writing and leaving you all out in the cold. The damned pain pills and the antibiotics sap my strength and I'm on the IV three hours a day--four hours including set up and clean up--then have a two hour nurse visit to clean the wound, then spend an hour getting the meds ready for the next round--hell, having this is nearly a full time job!
    By luck, my surgeon likes that I walk and so I walked--gimped to be honest, with the leg fully wrapped so as not to get more bacteria and not make people puke at the sight of it--between 2 and 4 miles daily during the last 9 days at the hospital. And I'm walking about a mile or so here at home, plus doing regular housework and cooking and such. Had a great barbeque on Sunday, for instance, with shrimp and ribs and chicken and marinated and barbequed broccoli, asparagus and cauliflower and a knock-out key lime pie that my friends Michael and Dian made--though I'm sure it was Dian who did the actual making with Michael doing the store runs to get the necessary limes and such.
    And now I'm healing. If things go well, I will keep my leg up some, rest some, live life some and after a few weeks get a skin graft. I asked them to take the skin from my stomach but they said they don't want fat so they're going to take it from my bicycle-honed thighs. Oh well, I was just trying to get in a little liposuction at the same time I'll be getting a skin graft or two.
    Since this whole thing started I've lost about 20 pounds and I'm aiming to lose another 20 so that I will be back to being thin and strong after too many years--about seven--of being a fat pig. And then I'll spend 10 years paying off the hospital bill. They said they'd be patient. Nice.
   Anyway, that's my story. Hopefully, I can get back to other things--like Marco having decided to move back in here when I wasn't looking--in the coming blogs. I just needed to bring you all up to speed. I hope you didn't mind. Cause this leg is really taking almost all of my brain space at the moment.
   Thanks for listening. Time for another hydrocodone and then another IV. Ah, the life, eh? Ain't it grand and mysterious and fantastic?