The Unexpected Present

Relapse and Rehab Road to Rehoboth


When Monday came around after an excruciating weekend of grass pollen, Yuri woke up unable to breathe. Early and mid-mornings are known to be the worst times for pollen release, but when the EMTs arrived at 6:30 a.m., there was no question of his difficulty. In the ER, his nephrologist immediately requested to send him to the U.M.E.S.M.C.E. in Easton. The Dragon’s tail seems to lash one final swipe at Yuri before being sent to sleep in its cave.

It was three weeks since Yuri returned home after the severe bout with the autoimmune Dragon. I saw the look on the revolving door of doctors covering for one another during the American obsession– holiday weekends extending into vacation week. They didn’t know what was coming. Neither did we. It almost swept him into its fiery currents with a tsunami force– attacking his vital organs menacingly with a vengeance for not getting him the other two times with near-death experience.

I knew Yuri did everything he had to do to comply with the protocols and procedures for a medical discharge. Coming home was paramount. I set it up as a healing home, ready for his recovery. Those three weeks were Phase I of his recovery period, not as easy as imagined when you say he’s come home. It was just a rollercoaster ride as the ER and ensuing hospital stay, this time without nurses to take vitals, give out scheduled medications and follow doctor’s directives. Doctors would say to Yuri, “You look good. You don’t look sick. But exhausted.”

Our days were filled with follow-up doctor visits and outpatient treatments. Nights were long and uneasy. I was on high alert for any sound-signaling movement. There were times at 2 a.m. that Yuri and I would sit at bedside because neither could fall (or feared to fall) back to sleep.

Physically exhausted. We learned more about his inner workings, especially the sinus situation that triggered an autoimmune attack. It’s a slow burn– taking five to six weeks. It was enough time to have been averted. He did prevail, and we have an excellent team in place. His nephrologist monitors his progress, noting my Sudoku puzzle book while I wait for Yuri’s treatment to end. “It’s good to do the puzzles you can find solutions to,” she mused.

Yuri’s systemic vasculitis remains a puzzle, although we strongly suspect irritants turn into inflammation. Then it triggers a range of incidences culminating in organ damage. Vasculitis targets vital organs, lungs, and kidneys first, followed by the heart, and finally, the brain. Along with the discovery of trigger allergens, there are air pollutants and pollen. Eventually, I heard about corn pollen.

When your immune system mistakes corn or a corn product for something harmful, your body identifies the allergen and signals the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals. In response, the immune system releases immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to neutralize the allergen. Sometimes it goes haywire, and antibodies run amuck. Corn pollen. Who from New Jersey would think corn would be harmful to someone recently hit with respiratory trauma? We think of corn as a Norman Rockwell painting. American. Thanksgiving Day. Corn on the cob. Corn dogs (never ate one).

The largest United States crop in terms of total production is corn. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 460,000 acres of grain and silage corn were harvested in 2021, with an annual output of $442.5 million. We didn’t know this moving here. Cornfields surround us—field corn. Rows and rows of thick field corn are reaching sky-high—allergen pollutants. A powdery substance produced by flowers of seed plants that fall from a tassel, pollen represents millions of individual, nearly microscopic grains—estimates of the total number of pollen grains produced per tassel range from 2 to 25 million. A whole field may take 14 days to complete the pollen shed. At the same time, the U.S. government measures pollutants such as the wildfire air quality reports, but not pollen. It has become a problem for Yuri’s health. Another decision, do we stay or do we go? And if we had no choice, where to?

When Barbara and her husband Jonathan generously offered a house they were renovating, I felt it was our salvation. Yuri and I saw it last year when it was stripped to the studs (Barabara does demolition and design). He was a bit nervous. Her excitement entranced me. She, like me, is a visionary. We can see the end result and plan how to get there. Barbara and I are born designers. She is the contractor-producer. I’m the spatial cadet and set designer.

Just as we did in our job as production artists for an insurance company, we had to be designers first envisioning the blank space, our canvas, with stories that fulfilled the client’s assignment. Then be able to execute the project efficiently—detail in every aspect for the printing press. We were tech chicks in a Mad Men’s advertising world. Ninja women. If we were to be in business, it would be the Designer Syndrome, with Barbara sculpting the interior and exterior into an accessible living space with a tiny footprint. I would take that tiny footprint and turn it into a personal mood board that spotlights the character and personality of its inhabitants beyond the formal interior design trends.

For everything Yuri and I have gone through in 28 months of near-death experiences from an autoimmune attack triggered by the spike protein in the Pfizer shot, our interior living space helps us overcome physical and health challenges. It has our “note” and a material convoy of things that not only support our daily needs but also serve to define who we are. Some items have more usefulness and importance than others. Some tell our story in every corner I am able to exhibit. Everything is hard, but we’re handling it, juggling emotions, making lists and decisions, staying focused on the immediate situation, calculating the various outcomes, and filling out forms for the Advance Directive. We’re not there.

Yuri is on the hospital tarmac waiting to be transferred to a Rehab in Rehoboth. He will be in a space where the salt air can heal his lungs from the grass and tree pollens and wildfire air quality detrimental to people with respiratory ailments. This latest twist could have gone bad. But it didn’t. Kudos to the front line – EMTs, ER personnel (Chestertown and Easton), his doctors, and nurses at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Medical Center in Easton. Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes. Amen.

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