By Guest Writer Todd Denick
I was eleven, a little over five feet, and nearly 80 pounds when I struggled to play a 1970 Sunburst Fender Precision a friend leant my dad for many, many years (returning the bass is another story).
My hands were small, the bass felt as though it outweighed a full-grown elephant. I persevered. I grew as a bass player, and of course, grew physically as well. I could handle the bass and grew into a good bass player.
I never thought I would ever have to struggle to play bass again. Maybe, I considered, when I was older, maybe struggling with a little arthritis from playing bass too much, or just slowing down as I aged. In 2019, I was proven wrong, and once again faced a major struggle when it came to playing bass when I not only faced a battle of playing music but faced a life-threatening battle with Sepsis.
Sepsis is the body’s extreme reaction to an infection. One of every five deaths worldwide are contributed to Sepsis and can kill a healthy person within 24 hours. One can contract Sepsis from a cut that becomes infected, a slight accident during a surgery, splinters, etc. Me? I contracted Sepsis after having an allergic reaction to a very common pain medication used in Germany where I live, Metamizole or Novalgine.
I spent eight weeks in a medically induced coma while the medical team worked to save my life. I spent another three weeks in bed as I worked with therapists to regain my strength so that I could walk, talk, swallow, and move my body again.
Painful months of therapy passed while I learned to walk. Desperation set in as I waited months to be able to eat and drink again. Nerve damage from the medication used to keep me in a medically induced coma threatened my ability to walk normally; threatened my ability to eat and drink; and threatened my ability to return to the bass player I was before Sepsis.
I had the desire to return. Before my illness I played bass in two bands:
The Elephant Circus, an indie band where I played electric bass, and Paddy’s Last Order, an Irish Folk septet where I played the upright bass. The Elephant Circus replaced me – they had shows booked and had to! – and I will be forever grateful that Paddy’s saved my role in the band.
Patients have a lot of free time. As I progressed with walking and talking, I had the desire to retrain my fingers. Polyneuropathy had set in from the medications and Sepsis, and I struggled with my fine motor skills. The way I knew that I could bring back those fine skills was through playing music.
I couldn’t house a bass in my hospital room, or navigate it with all of the tubes running in and out of my body. I hopped on line and ordered a Guitalele. My wife brought it to my bedside and she even remembered to bring a tuner!
When my roommate had therapy, or he slept, I would play the Guitalele, slowly regaining some strength and dexterity. I would play the first three notes of a G scale before having to set the instrument aside. Every little effort exhausted me. That exhaustion led to great doubt. That great doubt reminded me of being manhandled by the 1970 Precision. I don’t know if I recognized that I had been in the same spot thirty years prior, but I knew that if I wanted to play music again, I would need to fight through the formation of aching fingers and rebuilding the callouses I lost white hospitalized.
Nearly four months after being hospitalized, I returned home. My instruments hadn’t moved.
They were available, asking to be played. I saddled up to my upright. I played three notes, my fingers fighting to find the right notes having lost a lot of my muscle memory. Those three notes exhausted me. That was enough for the day.
The following days when I picked up one of my basses, I was able to play a little longer. Thirty seconds turned into a minute; a minute to play along with a 2:30 minute song; a song turned into a set; that set turned into four hour long sets.
With suggestions from my dad, I put together a playlist I called, “Bass Practice” and included songs like “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” by The Jam, “We’ve Gotta Get out of this Place” by The Animals, “Tomorrow” by Morrissey, “I Wanna be Adored” by The Stone Roses, and the holy grail of bass lines, The Who’s “The Real Me”.
Frustration set in quickly and often as I relearned how to play bass, intent on becoming the bass player I was before Sepsis.
The realization struck me that I needed to do something; something to progress, something to become physically and mentally healthy. It took a while to accept, but I realized that setting a 50% goal for myself was the most reasonable approach. If I wanted to play a song, I knew that I would have to progress to be able to play through the song; but, if I set myself a 50% goal, I knew that I could play along with the song and feel an immediate sense of accomplishment.
I applied the same theory to eating and walking. I applied the same theory to writing (my other passion) and that 50% goal turned into a book detailing my experience with Sepsis. In January of 2022, my first book, IT WILL COME: Alaskan Adventures Pale in Comparison to Surviving Sepsis, was published by LALO Publishing.
I am not fully recovered. I don’t know if I ever will be. But, I am still writing and publishing, and I am playing four set evenings with Paddy’s Last Order.
It exhausts me and I do need days to recover after playing a gig, and even though the frustration is still there, still upset that I may not be the same caliber bass player that I once was, I need to remind myself that I’ve fought and won two contested battles with the bass guitar and there is no way that I am quitting.
Sepsis is common, but not commonly diagnosed. Why? Well, it often indicates fault in a professional’s medical practice. Be aware. Ask if it could be Sepsis. If you have any of the symptoms, seek medical attention. Tell the practitioner that you think it could be Sepsis.
You could save your life or the life of a loved one:
S-lurred speech or confusion
E-xtreme shivering or muscle pain
P-assing no urine (in a day)
I-t feels like you’re going to die
S-kin mottled or discoloured
(from the UK Sepsis Trust, www.sepsis.org)