Monday, January 25, 2010

Not Taking Your Health For Granted, by Lee Kelley. Part 2

I figured it would be a good idea to give the guy I play with in town, Craig Campbell,,a call to let him know what had gone down with the road gig and that I will be back to work in the next few weeks after fully healing. Figured it was wise to take that much time off from this gig since it was a club gig of usually about 3 to 3½ hours of playing with about a 20 minute break in the middle. I didn’t figure I could pull off that long behind the kit with just a couple weeks of healing.

Guess what happened?? Craig had decided to make a change as well, keeping the guy who was subbing for me ! That was actually more of a shocker than the first blow, but I figured my health and how it was affecting my outward treatment of others, was what contributed to this as well.
Ok,…what do I do now?? My health has knocked me out of both my main gigs. Once again, my wife said don’t worry about it, just heal and then get back out and network. That’s what I have always done if something has knocked me back…just pull up the bootstraps and head back at it. This was a bit different of a feeling though.

While the hernia was healing and my mobility was getting better, I still couldn’t shake the problems with my stamina. I was still finding myself winded over the least little things. Having to sit down on the bed after going upstairs just really baffled me, but I figured this would go away over time of healing. I also guessed the weight I had lost from inactivity or loss of appetite would come back on in time.

With reality setting in that I had NO work at this point, other feelings started to seep into my psyche. These were feelings that I normally do not have to deal with as I am a pretty “Up” person, although emotional, as most passionate, artistic people are. These were dark feelings, scared feelings, worried feelings. The kinds of thoughts you have when the carpet you have been walking on comfortably for 20 years of playing has been pulled out from under you.
Then the questions start to come to you:
“What am I going to do?”
“Will I be able to find some more work?”
“Is there more work to be found?”
“How am I going to contribute to my upcoming marriage?”
Those are just a few of the things that began to run through my mind with so much time suddenly on my hands. The scariest question that continued to pass through my mind on an almost daily basis was this…..
Are my days of playing drums for a living over?? Let’s be honest, popular music has always been a kind of “Young Man’s Game.” At 40 years old, healing from a surgery and the gigs I had done, this is not an easy thought to keep out of one’s head. More to the point, that thought is SCARY AS HELL. While it is difficult to put into words how dark the thought got, just know that the worst did pass through a couple times.

These thoughts and questions began to send me into a bit of a depression on many days. As I said before, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees and had NO idea how I would walk out of these problems. Denay just stayed by my side in every way possible and then some, reminding me again and again to just enjoy the well needed break from everything and, most importantly, to enjoy our upcoming November wedding and Honeymoon cruise. I tried my best to take her advice and keep focused on all that lay ahead of us. The wedding quickly approached, turning my thoughts more positive as the days passed. Denay continually helped in holding my chin up and suspend my heavy heart to a better place.

We married in the middle of November, surrounded by a gracious bunch of family and friends. The following day we took off for our week long cruise in the Caribbean. All this positive activity in my life with my now wife really pulled me out of the darkness that I had experienced in the past month and a half. I felt GREAT ! Only got winded on one excursion on the honeymoon in which we had to run about 200 to 300 yards through woods. Other than that, my indigestion that had been with me since my early 30s was the only real discomfort I felt.

Denay and I came back home and I began to set my mind to “Getting Back In The Game” the only way I knew how, go back out to start networking and sitting in again. Basically, just letting people know I was looking to get back into playing. This sent me back to square one of playing for a living in Nashville. Not only had I been off the radar for 2 months, I had been off for so long that my formally callused hands were completely smooth. This was the first time for that since before high school when had no place to practice during summers in South Carolina.

Anyway from then though Christmas, I picked up a gig here and there. Got through the first part of December, had two wisdom teeth pulled right before Christmas. Denay and I went to visit my family for the holiday,…all without much of a problem. My weight was still lower that it had been in years, but was stable. The acid reflux I had dealt with for years was still there but seemed to be somewhat under control taking antacids after every meal, or when needed. I was still getting a little winded but it seemed to be improving with time. We came back from Christmas in the Carolinas on December 26th in time for me to have a split double shift in the downtown honky tonks the following day, 2pm-6pm at one club, and later that night from 10pm-2am at another club up the street. Showing her unyielding support, my wife decided to come hang out during these gigs.

I began the afternoon gig feeling positive but a little winded. As I’ve done for years, I just played though any sickly feelings I may have had until, about 2/3rd a way through the gig, I couldn’t fight it and had to excuse myself from the stage. Immediately upon getting in the bathroom, I got violently ill, throwing up black. This went on for about 30 minutes. I eventually gained composure enough to finish the gig, but knew I couldn’t do the second gig. The weakness was overwhelming. Got a sub for the late gig and Denay and I started heading to the truck. Going up the hill from the clubs, I got violently ill once again. Denay said, “That’s it, you are going to the doctor on Monday.” I didn’t argue as I knew I had hit the tipping point of something serious.

We got to Dr. Beckham’s office as soon as possible on Monday. He immediately noticed my weight loss and ran blood tests on me. They found me to be suffering from severe anemia along with a massive loss of blood. He said I was missing about 5 pints of blood, which is about half the blood in the human body, and the fact that I walked in of my own accord, and was sitting up talking to him, was unbelievable ! He admitted me to the hospital at once to get an IV in me to replace the massive amounts of diminished blood while also scheduling an Upper GI Endoscopy (EGD) to find out what was causing the blood loss. I lay in the hospital the rest of the day with the IV feeding me blood, my wife at the bedside the whole time.

Over the previous months, I guess my skin color had very slowly turned very white and sickly looking due to the blood loss. Because my wife and I were with each other almost all the time, we didn’t notice this extreme change. As my blood supply was being replenished, Denay began to notice the rosy color coming back into my hands and my face.

The next morning they took me down and put me under for the EGD. I awoke several hours later to Denay looking very distraught. They had found a bleeding ulcer at the bottom of my esophagus cause by years of acid reflux. That wasn’t the worst news, but, Denay said that it might be CANCEROUS!!!! Yes, she had been informed while I was out that her new husband might have esophageal cancer.

Now, I don’t know what made me feel like this, but I had a feeling of calm come over me. I looked at my wife and said, “It’s not cancerous.” I don’t know why but I just KNEW. She relaxed a little and the Doctor of Gastroenterology, Dr. Lee, was notified that I had come around.

Dr. Lee came in to give us the news. While the ulcer was massive and the cause of the internal bleeding, upon further inspection, the ulcer was NOT cancerous. She told us I would be put on prescriptions of both iron pills to help sustain my blood levels and a double dose of Nexium each day to get the acid reflux under control along with subsiding the ulcer. Denay and I breathed much more at ease knowing this was the cause of my weight loss and stamina problems and that with the correct treatment, everything will be alright. I just laid back and continued enjoying the O-positive cocktail being fed into my veins for the rest of the day until I was released.

Since then I have continued to take the medication advised by my doctors. My stamina problems went away almost at once and my weight is back up and then some, especially with my appetite completely restored. I recently had a follow-up EGD to see how the ulcer is and am happy to report that it is almost non-existant !

On the gig front, I am back in action in a great way. The new artist gig is with a new artist, Jeremy McComb. . It is exciting to play with a younger, newer, more enthusiastic artist on the country music radar.

Also, Craig Campbell called me back to play with his band. That was a nice surprise to return to the band that I had spent the better part of the past 3 years. Other work comes in on a weekly basis and things are looking more positive every single day.

Personally, my wife, Denay, and I continue to build our new life together.
Spending as much time together as possible each and everyday. I make sure to thank her on an almost daily basis for understanding what I do for a living and the crazy schedule that comes along with it. I can safely say, if it wasn’t for her love and caring support, I would absolutely not be here to write this article. She literally saved my life….without a doubt.

For years and years, music and playing was the end all, be all, of my existence. Due to the medical problems I went through, my focus has changed for the positive. While I will hopefully always be lucky enough to make my living playing music and experience the joy of creating that music, I want to give as much of myself to my family, and home life as possible, while continuing to work.

In closing, I can give a little advice to those of you who may be going through any type of trouble that may affect your health or your playing status:
First, if you think you may have health issues….pay attention to any warning signs and please get to a doctor and have them addressed. They are there to help you but you HAVE to be the one to walk in and see them.

Second, keep playing fun in your life. If you are in a gig that just makes you miserable, maybe it is time to look for a change somehow. How you change it is up to you but there is no sense in staying in an unpleasant situation. It can only drag you down along with those with who you come in contact. We ALL started playing music because it was fun….Keep it that way.

Finally, remember that those who love and support you come first. I am talking of your family and true friends. These are the people that will be with you through the good times and the tough times.

May you all have more good times than bad times. Good luck and Good Groovin’ !
Lee Kelley
Nashville, TN