Arceus is watching over me.
I don’t remember how old I was when I got my first IV. I know I was scared out of my mind, though. I actually hid behind the exam table in the hospital and instructed my mother to tell the doctor I stayed home. Eventually the ruse was discovered, and I was hoisted aloft. I looked to the left as my mom told me about the movie “Arachnophobia” while my doctor inserted a tube in my right arm. This was, as he called it, a “tune-up.” These things are occasionally necessary for CF patients like myself, and this would be the first of many. Because it was my first line, and my first time on whatever medication I was getting, I had to stay in the hospital for something like a week. Normally I would have hated every second, but back then they had a room in the pediatrics wing for kids that had toys, magazines (like Highlights and Ranger Rick), and a small TV hooked up to an NES. I played that system every day I was there.
If you’re unfamiliar with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), I’m not surprised. It’s not one of the “sexy” terminal illnesses like AIDS or cancer or heart disease. It affects a very small portion of the population. If you’d like the whole story, the Wikipedia page is informative. The short version is that it’s caused by a genetic flaw that influences the body’s ability to regulate mucus. It’s thicker in CF patients, which leads to a ton of problems: chronic lung infection, infertility, pancreatic issues, and digestive problems. Because CF is caused by a huge number of CFTR gene mutations, different patients can have different severities of illness. I’m in pretty good shape considering my age and bacterial load, but plenty of CF patients don’t survive to adulthood, and most eventually require lung transplants.
Back to that hospital stay, though: there weren’t a lot of games to choose from on that NES, but Milon’s Secret Castle was among them (somewhere, Jonny Metts’ ears just perked up). I played the hell out of that game but never beat it—I question whether you actually can beat it! They also had Zelda II and Castlevania II, games that are surprisingly similar and, perhaps not surprisingly, regarded poorly. I don’t remember if I had my Game Boy during that period. I don’t really remember playing it, but I don’t remember a lot about my first few IVs. Many years later, during another hospitalization, the pediatrics wing had a mobile TV set hooked up to an SNES, but there were only two games: Super Mario World and Star Fox. I played both religiously, but Star Fox was my jam. I never beat it, but I remember being floored by the graphics and music (I still am).
When and if a CF patient reaches a certain age, the prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus in the lungs drops off as a new, more problematic bacteria starts moving in: Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This is a chronic bug, and once a CF patient acquires Pseudomonas, they never get rid of it. I’m on two different antibiotics just to keep it suppressed, but even then it will sometimes flare up, which requires an IV drug to dropkick it back to equilibrium (it happened three times last year). CF patients need lung transplants because the body’s immune system is constantly fighting off these bacterial squatters, and their ongoing feud produces scar tissue in the lungs themselves. Alveolar walls become stiff, mucus clogs up airways, and sometimes (like with me), an entire lobe can be taken over by bacterial redcoats.
Thankfully, since we know I tolerate the IV drugs extremely well, I’m usually sent home after getting my lines now. I deliver my medication myself—usually just by screwing a bag of meds onto the exposed cap of my line, unclipping a clip, and there you go. And when I’m home, I can play SNES all I want, and my library of games is much better.
My rate of hospitalization has actually decreased through the years, but I still go back all the time for blood work, radiology, sputum cultures, etc. And while I can’t drag a TV screen with an SNES along, I do have my handhelds. Recall that I had three separate week-long stints at the hospital last year—once for my first really bad Pseudomonas flare-up in eight years, once for that nasty brain abscess, and again for my initial—and now ongoing—brawl with a brand-new bacteria: Mycobacterium abscessus. That first hospitalization, which lasted six or seven days, was made a little easier by the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, a system I had no real excitement for. But hey, I was in the hospital (“suffering”) and I guilted my wife into getting one for me. I had a gift card so she only had to pay half the cost. I told her not to get a game, since I was not thrilled with the launch selection. I loved that thing to death. If there were trophies for the AR Games, I would’ve gotten Platinums on all of them.
Needless to say, the 3DS was there for my subsequent hospital stays. I take it with me whenever I go in to get tests in case there’s a wait. I can get a few rooms cleared in VVVVVV, at least. I’m not limited to handhelds at home, although I do have a fondness for them. I spend a good amount of time doing breathing treatments. I have a whole setup at the kitchen table for them, and I entertain myself during this (sometimes 45-minute) routine with a host of devices. In the past, it would’ve been my GBA or DS, DSi or PSP, and now 3DS or Vita (or iPod Touch). If I’m in the mood for a meatier experience, I just unplug my compressor, drag the whole shebang to the end table next to the couch, and play a console game. That takes a little more effort, though—juggling the nebulizer and a two-handed controller and my tendency to sink into the couch produces some awkward positions. I also tend to breath shallowly while gaming (no idea why), and the whole goal of these treatments is to inhale the aerosolized meds deep into one’s lungs.
“Long and deep!” my wife will scold, meaning my breathing.
THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID, AMIRIGHT?
Actually, that’s one of things I’m looking forward most to on the Wii U: my wife can do whatever she wants, even watch The Real Housewives of Who Gives a Shit, while I do my meds in the kitchen and play a console game on the GamePad. Well, assuming the range isn’t too limited. There’s not a wall between the kitchen and the living room, but there’s probably 30 feet between myself and the TV, and there’s a couch between us. It’d be great if the GamePad still functions at this range with a couch in the way. I’d beat New Super Mario Bros. U in no time at all!
This is the main reason I haven’t replayed my Wii games since my launch Wii was repaired: I just don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to sitting in front of the TV. I got Uncharted 3 months ago but I’ve barely touched it. I still haven’t moved past the first dungeon in Skyward Sword—and I got that game for Christmas last year! However, I have beaten all my 3DS and Vita games (except Kid Icarus: Uprising) and most of my eShop and Virtual Console games (except the ones that suck). Due to my situation, handheld gaming has become my preferred method. My wife laments that I could probably publish that book I keep threatening to write and illustrate if I spent even half as much time writing/drawing as playing games while I’m doing meds. She’s not wrong, but playing games makes the routine go by quicker and I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something.*
Right now, I’m on more medications than I’ve ever been on in my life. I’m still fighting that M. abscessus infection with a PICCline IV and there’s no sign of it clearing up any time soon. I’m still on my Pseudomonas-suppressing meds, and then there’s all my “usual” meds. I go into the hospital every week to get my line’s dressing changed and I’m usually getting some blood work or a sputum culture. Bottom line? I’m playing a lot of games. Through thick and thin, Nintendo has been there to keep me from going insane. I can’t be the only CF patient—or terminal patient in general—to turn to gaming in times of health crises, so I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say thanks, Nintendo, for everything you’ve done to keep me entertained and motivated through my own personal “bad times.”
*You could convincingly argue that getting a Heart Piece or completing a quest or beating a game doesn’t actually accomplish anything, and I would agree without hesitation. We convince ourselves that these virtual endeavors have meaning.