Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I'm On My Second Life Now...

It is tradition for the people of Wayfarer House to go to the Franklin County Fair, which is usually held the first or second week in September. As it happened, it was just Wifeness, myself, SiSi and NiNi this year. Anyway, we went early in the morning and watched some horses being judged, some cows being milked and some sheep being shorn. We took in a couple of magic shows and followed a chap playing the bagpipes for a good fifteen minutes (Soren is absolutely fascinated by the bagpipes). Suzanne took the kids on a couple of rides. I don’t do rides anymore. They make me car sick and I throw up everywhere. After they were done spinning in circles and otherwise thumbing their noses at vertigo, we found a shady spot hiding a picnic table and enjoyed the traditional fried dough and sausage grinder for lunch. It was, at the time, delicious!

We went home shortly after, and everybody took a nap. When I woke up, I felt like I had an enormous gas bubble up just under my right lung. The pain from it was nagging at first, but grew steadily in intensity until, by suppertime, I would have happily given large sums of money to anyone who could figure out how to get it to go away. I had had such pain before over the last couple of years and antacids usually did the trick, or so I thought.

Not so this time.

In fact, I had taken pretty much everything possible during the course of the afternoon, and all that happened was the pain got worse. It had even spread around to my back and put those muscles into spasm! All I could think about while I was dealing with this was that this must be what women who have back labor feel. It got so bad that I actually threw up from it, completely wasting perfectly good fried dough and a sausage grinder.

I didn’t sleep a whole lot that night. I kept waking up to vomit. The next day the pain lessened to some degree, but anything I tried to do just made it worse. I wanted to eat, but nothing would stay down. Even water proved difficult to take. I thought about going to the doctor that day, but it was Sunday. That meant I would have to go to the emergency room, and I simply couldn’t bear the thought of paying $75 to have someone tell me to take two Pepcid and call him in the morning. That just didn’t seem right to me. So, I put up with it through Sunday and into Monday and went to school. If it had been any other day but the first day of classes, I would probably have called in sick. That first day, though, is just too important to miss unless things are really bad, and I had not convinced myself yet that they were that bad.

I was a doofus.

I’m certain that I must have looked as miserable as I felt, because people kept asking me if I was OK. I told everyone that it must have been food poisoning. That was the only explanation that seemed to make any sense to me. You’ll see how smart I was in just a sec. I was running a fever by the end of the day and, by the time I got home at 5:00, all I could do was lie on the couch. Wifeness asked if maybe I shouldn’t talk to the doctor (she is a wonderful and patient woman, my lovely wife!) and I didn’t resist. By this point, I don’t mind telling you that the pain was simply terrible and incredibly difficult to manage. When the doctor called back an hour later, he immediately suggested that it was my gallbladder and that I should go to the emergency room to have it looked at. It wasn’t until he had said the word “gallbladder” that I had even thought about that as a possibility. Once he said it, though, I knew instantly and instinctively that he was right.

Wifeness put the kids to bed and our friends upstairs kept an ear out for them while she took me to the ER. They ran a number of tests to confirm that it was, in fact, my gallbladder and offered me something for the now debilitating pain I was having. I’m not a big fan of pain medication, but I fairly grabbed it out of the nurse’s hands when they brought it in. I remained in the ER overnight for observation and they admitted me to the hospital the next morning. I had an ultrasound done to determine exactly how bad the situation was, and I’ll tell you the picture scared the hell out of me.

I could see my gallbladder on the screen, waaaay oversized and so full of stones that you couldn’t count them on the monitor. It looked like a bag packed tight with marbles. I found out later that the condition of the organ was even worse than that. By the time they pulled it out, it was completely dead and gangrenous, stretched so thin that it would have burst soon. Like in a matter of hours. The number of stones was estimated by the laboratory afterward at more than 500, with sediment filling up the balance of the space inside the organ such that it blocked off all flow of bilirubin, blood and oxygen (this, they believe, was the cause of the pain I was having initially).

I was in the hospital for 3 days leading up to the actual operation and, during that time, I spent all my energy trying to sleep when I could, and managing the pain in the periods when the one effective drug they could give me would wear off. They could only give the stuff to me every 6 hours, but it was only effective at best for 4 hours and, as time went along, it grew less and less effective. I dealt with it until Wednesday night, but finally I told the nurses that they needed to find something to fill that gap because I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own.

They tried a variety of other things, including Morphine. Morphine, I now know, does NOTHING for me, except make me sick. Nothing else they gave me at first did any better. Damn me and my intolerance for drugs! To their credit, the nursing staff kept trying to come up with something. I owe them a lot for their efforts! I would not have made it through the night if they hadn’t solved the problem for me. The stuff they eventually found that worked was Dilotid. It’s a narcotic that apparently makes Morphine sound like Bayer aspirin. They gave it to me by IV just as the other stuff was wearing off and, I tell you, the effect was INSTANTANEOUS. I could actually feel the warmth of it spreading through my body and IT FELT GREAT!

They should definitely keep regulating that stuff.

I went down to Springfield Thursday for a test procedure before the actual operation later that day, and by that time I was going septic and approaching delirium. Wifeness said I was nearly incoherent and shaking. All I know is that I was running the same fever of 103.5 since Monday and I had not eaten anything since the now accursed fried dough and sausage grinder. They were very clear that I should have nothing to eat once I was in the hospital. Nothing. No juice or other liquids even. Nothing but ice chips.

Fucking ice chips.

The thing was that, by this time, the ice chips were actually starting to taste good. I was thinking as I was crunching them, “I can almost taste them like food!” It was a very strange experience.

I don’t remember anything after the ambulance ride down to Springfield until I came out of anesthesia after the operation. They drove me back up to Greenfield for that, which was probably best since they were familiar with my situation. The people at Baystate kept wanting to give me Morphine. I’m glad wife was there to tell them that was the wrong thing to do. It was a really hard experience for her, I know, but she was so great! I don’t know how she did it, to be honest.

I stayed in the hospital until that next Monday. I got to eat something liquidy—cream of wheat and tomato soup—on Saturday. That’s nearly 7 days without any solid food. I have fasted before. I have even been sick and unable to eat for several days (that’s another exciting story), but I have never had to go through anything nearly like this before. Cream of wheat had never tasted so good!

I’ve been home about 12 weeks now, and have been back to school since about November. I’m still nowhere near my pre-operation levels of endurance. My classes have been left to survive on their own, though I can’t understand why the kids think this is working for them. I think they were just sick of substitutes and handouts.

This whole thing was all too much excitement for me, but I’ll tell you that I feel so much better, and in so many ways. I lost about 12 lbs immediately as a result of the operation and the fucking ice chips, and the weight has continued to melt off even though I have not been able to do anything active since I came home. Actually, just today I was able to do a little Chi Kung, and it felt great even though it wore me out. There were no complications from the surgery, though the nice 8” scar I sport on my front means I’ll never be able to wear a bikini again. That’s just as well. The shaving was a bitch!

I’ll be a while before I can process this to understand just how harrowing an experience it was. Just think about it: 100 years ago, I’d be dead. Hell, if they hadn’t operated when they did, I’d be dead.

That’s too mind blowing right now.

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