Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm Down

(The following incredibly long blog entry is not to be read by those with weak constitutions, a general distaste of medical issues or bowel movements, or my mother due to all the dirty words. If you fall into any of those categories, I strongly suggest you stop reading now.)

I spent the days before Christmas in the hospital for an intestinal obstruction. Here is a day-by-day breakdown of the events leading up to and during the course of that stay.

Wednesday, December 17th – After work I headed to the mall to pick up a gift we’d been meaning to get, but never got around to getting. It was about as busy as I expected it to be, so I dodged between people with the nimbleness of a man half my age. Afterward, as I’m heading toward my car (intentionally setting off the alarm so I can find my grey Ford Taurus among the throng of vehicles after dark), I noticed that my stomach wasn’t too happy with me about something. I write it off to the nausea of rampant consumerism involving holidays that are supposed to be about family and not the latest Cabbage Patch kid.

I had a pretty big lunch, having filled my Fazoli’s card and getting my meal for free (a sampling of spaghetti, alfredo noodles and lasagna), so I opted for just a baked potato from Wendy’s while also getting a spicy chicken sandwich for RedFaery. Still, it didn’t sit too well on my tummy, and I turned in early hoping to sleep thru the worst of the growing discomfort.

Thursday, December 18th – I didn’t sleep very well, and I finally came to the realization at 3am that I needed to empty my stomach if I was going to even try to get some shuteye. So I wondered into the bathroom, prayed to the porcelain god, and shortly thereafter was rewarded for my efforts. For the record, when you have a tomato-based lunch, your vomit comes out a horrible shade of pink.

I moved out to the couch to not further disturb RedFaery and in hopes that the pain would ebb eventually. About 45 minutes later, I returned to the bathroom to involuntarily continue the barfing process. I honestly didn’t think there was anything left in me, and I was mostly right – nothing but clear liquids this time.

When morning comes, I let RedFaery and work know that I’m too feverish and weak to do anything but lay still and moan for the day. Meals consisted of chicken soup and Sierra Mist. I even slept a little, but not much, which was surprising since I didn’t get much the night before.

One major disappointment – despite all the barfing, my weight was up! Should have been a major clue…

Friday and Saturday – Things went back to normal for the most part. In retrospect, there were a few anomalies that I should have noticed, but didn’t.
1. I had a hell of a time sleeping. Spent both nights getting out of bed and watching TV or playing on the computer until the wee hours of the morning, and didn’t sleep extra to make up for it.
2. Didn’t eat much. I was thrilled that I was less hungry, hoping that I could shed a few more pounds.
3. I didn’t have a substantial bowel movement. I didn’t think much about it, as I often try and fail, but I’d lost track of my successes and realize (in retrospect again) that I had none.
4. Despite brushing my teeth and mouth (I brush everything), RedFaery complained about my horrible breath.

That Saturday night, my stomach started feeling “odd” – similar to Wednesday, but not similar enough for me to worry about it. We went out with friends to an Ethiopian restaurant that evening, and I happily put away a lot of tasty beef, lamb and chicken bites. The odd feeling never went away, but it didn’t hurt, so I was happy.

Sunday, December 21st – I awoke from deep slumber at 3am again, this time feeling bloated and with a sharp stomach pain. I stood up to go to the bathroom, and the sudden rush of air leaving my mouth was amazing! Think of the belching contest from “Revenge of the Nerds”, only quieter – it was as if I’d swallowed a tornado and it broke free.

And the stench was vile. I couldn’t place it at the time, but I eventually could – it was much like raw sewage.

On the crapper, nothing came out but liquid. Very acidic, and it burned.
And so I repeated the cycle every thirty minutes – stand up, belch, crap fluid, lay down. I again moved to the living room to not disturb RedFaery’s slumber more often than I had to.

By noon, the cycle was still going strong, and Red was hinting heavily that we should head to the emergency room. Being the tough guy that I am, I said something along the lines of “I’m going to gut it out”. It only took two more hours for my tough guy persona to wave the white flag and admit defeat.

Sunday, December 21st continued (Emergency Room) – RedFaery drove me to our favorite emergency room, Jewish Southside. We like it because it’s a brand-new facility and many folks don’t even know about it yet. We’ve rarely had to wait, the staff is friendly and attentive, and we get solutions instead of the runaround. This time was no different – I was taken back to triage within 15 minutes, all questions answered, and put in a bed. About 20 minutes later the doctor comes by and gives me a through exam (including the kind that involves gloves and lube, kids). Everything was so tender that I went through a wide variety of grimaces and yelps. The doctor ordered X-rays, as well as my new best friends, Phenagren for nausea and Morphine for the pain.

Apparently the Morphine dulled the pain enough so I could sleep, so this paragraph is taken from RedFaery’s observations. My snoring was so loud that it worried the nurses, and Red reminded them of my sleep apnea. To insure I didn’t stop breathing, they hooked me up to an oxygen tube. For the record, I LOVE pure oxygen! I want a canister for my birthday!

The doctor came back and broke the news – the X-ray showed a blockage in my small intestine. He wanted to admit me to the hospital for more tests to find out how serious it was. When he asked about St. Mary and Elizabeth, where RedFaery had horrible experiences, even I shook off the effects of Morphine enough to say “anywhere but there, please!” We agreed on the main Jewish branch in downtown – my mom had good treatment there herself once.

I sent Red home to wait for me to get settled into my overnight room, and gather a few things I’d need – such as my contact lens case and glasses. A short nap later, I was loaded into the ambulance and taken in. FYI – both Jewish branches have very clean ceilings!

Sunday, December 21st continued (Hospital)- Sometime after being sent up in my new home-away-from-home, my I-V was hooked up to a potassium-saline drop. This is the organic equivalent of Drano. I now had to pee in a container so they could measure everything going out as well as coming in. A little tip from your old pal Ray – never drink what appears to be lemonade while in the hospital.

After Red had dropped off all my stuff, kissed me goodnight and left (I didn’t want her to sit around and watch me do nothing – someone had to get real rest and go make money to pay for all this!), I was informed that they wanted to put a tube up my nose and into my stomach to pump out the vile bile. I halfway expected that as some point.

The doctor tried first to get it up my right nostril, and Oh My God the Pain! I kept thinking “this was the first step to mummification!” I finally had to stop her from trying because I was in tears. We agreed to give the left nostril a shot (once my breath returned), and it wasn’t much better. But after a short struggle, I felt a pop of some kind, and the tube was finally making its way down my throat. I’m still wondering about that pop, and have since determined that my nose has lost its innocence. Light a candle.

Sleep came in small bursts throughout the night, but never for long since anytime I moved, the hose up my nose would shift and cause me pain. Plus I was constantly swallowing involuntarily due to the tube. Plus a nurse would come in every three hours to check my blood pressure and temperature, so I gave up.

Monday, December 22nd – More tests today. Blood was taken, CAT scan as well. And all I can think is “My nose hurts.”

My parents came to spend the afternoon with me, which was nice. Although I don’t feel like I was that great of company for anyone really. I knew Dad had gone thru a similar experience nearly two years ago, except what came out of his stomach was green instead of brown – so at least I was sure I didn’t have pancreatitis!

They were present for the joyous moment when the doctor decided I didn’t need the nose hose anymore. She promised to pull it on a three count, but yanked on two, the BITCH! It felt like my face exploded. Mom kept a cold paper towel on my eye socket which burned with the heat of a thousand suns. But nonetheless I was happy that I could finally move my head without pain. I celebrated by popping my neck loudly.

I had many visitors over the course of the day, since RedFaery posted on the various online forums about my condition. Yevla, Elgin Marbles and Ignite the Night (who works there) all stopped in at different times of the day to make sure I wasn’t going to shuffle off this mortal coil, and for that I was extremely grateful. When Red by later, she let me know about the various well-wishings we’d both gotten throughout the day online. Always nice to know friends are thinking of you.

The doctor did come by to tell me that further tests showed that the blockage wasn’t really there anymore. So the plan was to start feeding me again to see if I blew up again. Lovely. I was told that I’d be started on a liquid diet the next day, and my stomach celebrated. Although I was getting all the nutrition I needed thru the I-V, “Warrior needs food badly!”

I’ll take a moment to talk about my two roommates, as this was the only day I’d dealt with both of them.

When I was first wheeled into my room, it was empty. I thought I was going to be the sole resident of my room, but only ten minutes later another man was brought in. Jerry Ford (not the former president – at least I don’t think so) apparently had a small stroke, and had no feeling in his left arm and weakness throughout his legs. Despite all this, he was a pleasant gentleman, and though we couldn’t see each other thru the curtain, he’d occasionally ask about my comfort (such as “My television isn’t bothering you, is it?”).

In fact, the only complaining I can remember from Jerry was a procedure they did on his hand. He must have been very Christian, because at the worst pain he felt, the harshest curse words he could muster were “Cheese and crackers!” I felt bad for his agony, but I also had to suppress laughter at the ridiculousness of those words.

By Monday the feeling had returned to his arm and he was much stronger, so he was discharged. He wished me well and left with his son, and I was glad that at least he got to get out quickly. It also made me wonder if my condition was worse than a stroke victim’s, and it made me uneasy.

Later Monday night (around 10pm), a new patient was wheeled in. His name was Mr. Hamir, pronounced ha-MIR, not “hammer” (he had to correct everyone), a Muslim originally from Pakistan. He was a diabetic that had passed out and was brought in for observation and evaluation. Eventually the decision was made to move him up from pills to insulin, and I felt bad for him.

English was his second language, so he had a difficult time letting people know his concerns, especially when it came to his dietary restrictions. But he was patient and got thru, as evidenced by a lack of complaints when meals came around.

He was discharged on Tuesday afternoon. He’d had some family visiting, and he was moving a chair back over to my side, and took a moment to wish me well and bless me with his broken English. I was genuinely touched, and returned the favor.

Tuesday, December 23rd – I woke up to find that the breakfast fairy had come and gone without leaving me anything. When the nurse came by, I asked her about the clear liquids I was supposed to be started on, and it looks like word was never communicated to the Dietary department. So she found some apple juice.

I suppose this is better put in prospective when I tell you that I dreamt of being served hamburgers, rack of lamb and pork chops. Yeah, I was bummed.

This was a long, boring day. I was feeling tons better, but had absolutely nothing to do. I took myself for a walk around the floor a couple of times, towing my I-V stand with me. Another friend, Starwolfe, stopped by for a nice long visit, but I really didn’t have a whole lot to talk about. I tried reading, but got bored, and daytime TV really blows. I wish I had a laptop.

Lunch almost came and went, but I managed to talk to the right person to make sure the doctor’s orders were followed. When my chicken broth, jello and juice arrived, I was nearly in tears with joy. I’m reminded of the Eddie Murphy comedy routine where he talks about a starving man given a saltine and it’s SO GOOD that the cracker “is a Ritz cracker, right?” That was me.

That evening was another round of liquid diet, and though I wanted something more, I was grateful for it. Then, miracle of miracles, another tray of food was brought to me, this time solid foods! I double-checked with the nutritionist, and she insisted it was for me. RedFaery smiled on from the corner when I poured ranch dressing on my little salad and started munching away.

The nurse came in, and I explained what had happened. She too was skeptical that it was mine, so I asked her to take it away from me while she went to check – I had zero willpower, and would have probably shoved it all down my throat when she left the room. Fortunately, she was back quickly and confirmed that I was supposed to have it. I savored every bite of turkey and gravy, no matter how bland.

After RedFaery was off to home and bed, I felt an old familiar pressure and wheeled my I-V into the bathroom. Sure enough, I had a solid bowel movement. I’ve since reasoned that this particular piece of shit was the original blockage, but didn’t really know it at that moment. In retrospect, I felt like a 3 year old proudly explaining to my nurse that I’d “made a doody” and describing it’s texture and color, etc., but I just wanted to make sure that they knew to keep sending food!

Later that evening, the overnight nurse asked if I wanted anything and mentioned food. Despite having essentially two dinners, I asked what she had available. When she mentioned turkey sandwiches, I said, “Ooooooo, that sounds good!” So she snagged one for me, as well as a cup of raspberry jello. I enjoyed every bite while watching “Grindhouse: Planet Terror” on the Starz network. A little later, she came by to see how I was doing. I tried subtly sneaking into the conversation that I really liked that turkey sandwich and hinted at another one, and she came right out and asked me if I did want another one, and five minutes later she handed it to me!

Nurse Whitney is an angel.

Wednesday, December 24th – I wake up to sausage, eggs and biscuits – eating is still a blessed moment in time for me.

RedFaery shows up, since work’s closed for Christmas Eve, and she gets to sit around bored with me. Our favorite activity becomes “Watch the Door to See if the Doctor is Coming”. Eventually she does come by, exclaims that the blockage must have been due to something viral or bacterial in nature, and that the antibiotics in my I-V seem to have fixed me up, and that she’s authorized my discharge.

We’re both excited, but I caution Red that it typically takes them three hours for everything to be done, so be patient. I wish I could have taken my own advice, because after an hour I was back to playing “Watch the Door” again.

Eventually they unhook me from the I-V and have me sign papers that will probably cost me $4,000 or so throughout 2009, and I get my clothes on quickly and am ready to go. Red seems to think they’ll want to wheel me out in a wheelchair, but I wasn’t waiting around to see. And just like George Throughgood, “out the door I went!”

I wanted lunch at someplace where they’d serve me food that I wouldn’t get in the hospital, and settled on mini cheeseburgers at O’Charleys. Then I went home, shaved my beard-like facial growth into my normal goatee-moustache combo, showered to get rid of that “starch and plastic smell” all over my body, and caught up my e-mails.

Despite all the travelling we’ve done the rest of the week, I’ve not felt bad once. The worst thing I’ve still dealing with is bouts of fatigue, most likely due to getting used to morning, afternoon and evening naps. No problem for me – much easier to deal with than feeling like a float at the Macy’s parade!

My nose still hurts a little…

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