Near Deaths Door
Let’s stop for a sec and examine how close we come to death every day. We get into the car and drive, and we know the chance we take if we go into traffic. But how about the slick spot in the bathroom, will you slip and hit the back of your head today, ending it all? That meat you bought last week, should you cook it up or should you toss it? Is that ladder you are using to put the star on the top of the tree in repair, or could it snap, with you impaled upon a tree? (you figure out the imagery.)
How about that flu, is it real the flu?
I thought it was… and thus the journey begins…
Three Monday nights ago I thought the meatloaf was just not sitting well. Indigestion, very low temperature, it was an annoying night. That is until about 3am and the Porcelain Altar got an unexpected donation. Spiking fever, sharp abdominal pain and vomiting was now on the menu. I should have known something was up, but then again I got it in my head this was one of the flues going around and maybe I should not jump the gun. Why not jump the gun? Because, I knew what I had and I didn’t want to admit it. Admitting it would mean that I would have to be admitted to a hospital, truly the last place I should ever be.
This persisted through Wednesday night with the symptoms just getting worse. Then something happened, I got about twenty minutes of respite from the pain. Had my Appendix just ruptured? Check my temperature, I should be normal or close to it.
Nope, temperature was elevated but not too bad, and then the pain came back so what the heck, it was not my appendix; it was just a case of bad intestinal flu, right? Look it up on the Internet… “low fever, abdominal pain, etc…” – Diagnose (search). Let’s see…
Appendicitis, Gastroenteritis, Constipation, Bowel Obstruction, and so on. For whatever reason I had it in my head that if I had Appendicitis the pain would be so bad that I could not move, yet here I was getting around in relative comfort, can’t be Appendicitis. Gastroenteritis was a good bet, so now get to the doc and get antibiotics. Hell it could have been the last two as well, except I had not eaten in days.
Just so happens that my SO had an appointment with her doctor the next day (Thursday) and since my doctor was in the same office, I would tag along and get a scrip from him to clear up the Gastroenteritis. However, by this time, moving at all was extremely painful and I knew it was not Gastroenteritis.
You know what doctors are good for? Cutting through the crap and telling you the hard truth. Two minutes after talking to Dr. Mike and it was “Get over to UMC, you need surgery” and I knew he was right.
Now every bump, jostle and bounce was cause for excruciating pain. Pain on a scale of 1 to 10 was registering an 8.5 or 9. Why not a 10? It would have been a 10 on the pain scale but I had passed a kidney stone a while back and that was a 10, this was close but not that bad. But still, the fever and pain was not a joke.
Nan dropped me off in front of the emergency room and went to park. I staggered in and was in luck to get an admitting clerk right away. Triage took over and on went the blood pressure cuff, the thermometer in the mouth and pulse-ox on a finger. BP 158/96, Temp 101.2, Pulse 225. Yeah, pulse 225, I was in hypertachycardia. Wouldn’t you know it there was a gurney waiting for me and I didn’t have to wait in the waiting room at all!
I felt privileged… there was a heart attack victim coming in and I got to go even before that guy. Amazingly they found a place for me and suddenly every intern in the building was looking me over. In with the IV’s, on with the heart monitor pads, up my nose with the nasal cannula, to hell with the dignity as cloths came off and bits were hanging out everywhere. There were doctors to the left of me, nurses to the right, and here I was stuck on a gurney feelin’ screwed.
Next thing I know there is a guy looking at me telling me I have to sign my life away, literally. I remember lifting a pen that magically appeared in my hand and scrawling my John Hancock and all hell broke loose. Suddenly the whole ER was abuzz with “You mean they’re going to kill him on purposed?” What the fuck! And then there were four huge orderlies getting ready to hold me down, all along the fast four beats a second staccato notes of my heart monitor was racing.
In my ear someone seemed to be yelling “This is going to feel weird and hurt a bit, but we have to do it.” Shit, do what? Next thing I hear is something about Digoxin and IV push and that a 800 pound gorilla was going to land on my chest. That is when the pain hit and every muscle in my body tensed as it had never done before. If the four huge orderlies had not been there I would have thrown every one off me as the 800 pound gorilla indeed landed on my chest. As that happened my heart monitor flat-lined, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
I was technically dead and knew it, and that is weird. Fortunately my heart started again a couple of seconds later, not quite as fast, but still too fast. I have experienced a lot of strange things in my day, but knowing your heart was not functioning and consciously experiencing it was about the freakiest thing you could imagine. My world was again tossed into chaos as things resumed and I heard a dreaded statement, “We gotta do it again…”
No no no no… Not again, it was too freaky the first time, it hurt too much the first time. But before I could make my objections known the gorilla landed again and this time it was worse. The pain was roaring in my ears and I did not know what hit me. I swear I could feel the grooves on my arms and legs created by the orderlies as I twisted in what was beyond pain and surrealism.
When casual conversation returned over me by the attendant voodoo doctors the conversation return once again to another round of Digoxin. I told them no way and they placated me saying they understood. Great. But on the upside, all this cardio stuff took my mind off the Appendicitis and the morphine was already flowing, thank god. By the time they ER docs were done I could care less about anything other than the looming 800 pound gorilla, and the pain killers helped to smooth out everything else.
Somewhere in all this Nancy hooked up with me again and I was shuffled off to a CAT scan. The doctors then pronounced that I had a newly born perforated Appendix and the surgery was proscribed. I thought “great, give me the prescription and I can go home”, but I was not that lucky. More magic pens appeared and more scrawled signatures and soon I was in pre-Op. Shortly after that my brain unhooked.
There was no count backward from one hundred, no warning that I was going to knocked out, just one minute I was cracking lame jokes while under the influence of some very strong happy juice and the next I was in a world that shouldn’t exist. Of course that world was 3 hours later in time, not that I knew it at the time. Not that I was asleep in any ordinary fashion, it was all different, and I had to reboot my brain to re-orient and understand where and what I was.
To me I was in a maelstrom of puce colored spheres and cubes. The shapes overlapped and melded together disorienting me leaving me a grand puzzle to sort through. Outside sounds appeared as blue shapes that displaced the cubes and spheres attempting to impose some sort of order. I know my eyes were open as sights from the recovery room added to the imposing order I was struggling to make sense of. I literally was thinking to myself “sort it out, it is all there”, while my mind dealt with the chaos. Nurses talked to me, I replied with gibberish that I heard as gibberish but in my mind I was communicating quite clearly. As things slowly became clearer the spheres and cubes were replaced by numbers and equations. The really weird part of this is that in one of the stories I have written I describe a character working through a profound mental crisis in a very similar fashion, in his case clarity came by understanding threads in a spiders web, and in mine the fight to push extraneous information from me leaving a clean “pipe” through which to communicate. So the question that beckons to be asked is did my writing influence my experience, or did the experience happen to closely “match” what I had written but not previously experienced? You got to wonder about it.
Finally I said something that the nurse understood and made some sense to me as well and the world took shape again quickly. That is not to say that I was not floating, I was about at doped up as can be without being unconscious, but at least my universe was thrown into a context I could understand as my vision cleared.
This is when I learned that what was supposed to be a twenty minute laparoscopic surgery had turned into an “open appendectomy” that lasted three hours. I guess I was worse off then I suspected. I never did get a chance to talk to the surgeon and ask how bad it really was, but from the looks and the concern on the faces of everyone I am guessing I scared a few people. After all, it would not look too good for the surgeon to loose one on the table to Appendicitis.
Now, while suffering in the recovery room I awaited an opening for a regular room. Want to talk about a long and interminable time, try laying around with nurses poking you every 15 minutes waiting for a regular room. This is not a pleasant experience and it brings me to my next topic, roommates.
Well, maybe that and pain tolerance. Maybe I am a jaded person, I have lived with pain for the last 25 years, but is pain really that bad? Pain and I are old and well acquainted friends, I know pain, I know what a lot of pain is, but really, when you are hopped up on morphine and half a dozen other pain killers, can anybody complain about pain? Discomfort maybe, after all pain management is not about getting you high as a kite, but rather taking the edge off the pain as to be bearable and let you function close to normal. The girl to the left of me had a hysterectomy and I know they were pumping her full of everything they had, I heard it, watched as the syringes were delivered. Yet still, she moaned and groaned about the pain. I know she was not feeling that bad because she was talking on her cell phone to her boyfriend between the complaints.
The girl on the right apparently had a cyst removed. Granted it was in her colon, but you know for someone with no outward sign of pain she certainly demanded the morphine every forty five minutes. There was not doubting that she was drug seeking and it was her lucky day that they found something to do to her at all. Still, knowing that there are no “pain” nerve endings on interior structures of the human body and at most there would be some discomfort, I can’t believe the nurses put up with her obvious drug seeking behavior. Of course who am I to make judgments other than someone that has just had his belly cut open and surgeons poking around for three hours. Was I in pain? As a matter of fact, yeah, but was I about to complain about it with the levels of morphine they were pumping into me? Hell no, I was feeling less pain now than I feel in a normal day, this was a walk in the park.
All this before I even got a room, but when I finally did get a room here are the jokers they stuck me with.
The first night I was saddled with a roommate that had a foot amputated about a week prior. Now I will admit I cannot know the pain he was feeling, no doubt there was a good deal of it, but the rate in which he was dosing from the morphine drip he was barely conscious but moaned and groaned like a banshee. That is except when his family brought in Burger King, Taco Bell, and In’n’Out every three hours. At these times he was all about the food and miraculously the pain disappeared. Was it coincidence that once his doctor came in while he was chowing down and he was happy as a clam neck high in fast food and not a pain complaint in the world that the nurses that evening changed his meds? They reduced the amount of morphine he could get, took the drip away and put him on tablets. Hmm, more “thou doest protest too much, caught ya!” That night and the next were filled with his incessant whimpering. God save us from the righteously addicted.
The third night was a kid that had been in a car accident. He was shameless as he requested oxicondone after oxicondone. He even bragged about it to the thirty or more guests he had coming up to the room. I swear, if I had heard the lies he espoused one more time I was going to get up and strangle him. Poor boy, blames a girl of throwing and brick through the window of his moving car hitting him and causing him to knock over a tree, go through a brick wall and his car ending up in the living room of someone’s house, all while going only fifteen miles an hour. Of course he had been drinking, his passenger was in another hospital with his head busted open and no one saw the girl throw the brick (just like the one that was in the wall he hit). Again, someone save us from the prevaricators and schemers.
Can someone explain to me why it seemed that everyone in the hospital was looking for more pain killers than was reasonable? I really need to know if I just go paired next to a bunch of junkies or do regular people become drug seekers the moment they are in a hospital just because they can? Really, it is baffling.
So night four and five saw yet another young man from a car accident in my room. Yeah, it was my room by now, I was the one who seemed to settling in there the longest. So let’s see if this makes sense… according to the surgeons this kid was put out and morphine was used to control his pain levels. He was brought into the room ok just on morphine, but once the drugs began to wear off he wanted something stronger than morphine and refused the pain killers. He claimed that morphine would not work on him although it seemed to be working fine before. I swear this kid made more problems for himself and me than I would have suspected. First he was up all night sniveling and crying about the pain. Then he called his mommy and they let her sleep in the room with him all night. Hey what about my privacy? Seems I didn’t count. The doctors finally started to shove oxicondone down his throat and he finally chilled out. This kid could name more drugs than I knew were possible. Where do you get this at the age of nineteen unless you are a user?
I suspect the nursing staff is used to this behavior. On more than one occasion they offered to give me pain meds and I said I did not need them. The quizzical look on their faces was priceless as I explained I was still good with what had been given to me earlier. I explained that if I needed painkillers I would let them know, but right now this was nothing I was not used to handling. I swear I think they though I was the freak. Personally, like I said, pain and I are old friends and it takes a lot of pain for me to need something to reduce the discomfort.
Thus went the bulk of my five days in the hospital, mostly an exercise of observation and sitting up. Ever try to sit upright when you abdominal muscles have been injured by an open procedure? Let me tell you, it ain’t easy moving around well. It took two days to get most of the IVs and the catheter out of me. Hell it took three days before I really felt like eating anything, especially the saccharine sweet food this place served. I learned to not order anything they offered, but rather select things like salad that could not be screwed up (although that did not stop one salad from being bad). Anything that can pre-prepared was generally ok to eat, just don’t let the kitchen get their hands on it.
So, here’s one more horror story you should all be aware of if you are on an IV. Let’s say you need to use the facilities (which I did once I was able) and need your IV disconnected. Be sure to call in a nurse you recognize because once I called for a nurse and an orderly came instead. He did not speak English much, and he started to pull out my IV WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT TO DO! The IV spurted everywhere but the IV was disconnected so I did my business. Well, he was still standing there holding the dripping IV and when I sat down he tried to hook me up again. Wrong! I told him to stop and get my regular nurse, he push me back grabbing my arm and attempted to reconnect the IV. Now I was not in a position to fight him, on pain meds and still weak from the surgery, but I yelled for the nurse and pressed the call button so many times that a real nurse finally came in to repair the damage jerko orderly was inflicting, including a fairly large air bubble in the IV.
I told the idiot that I did not want him near me any more and he threatened me with no attendance at all from any of the staff. I looked at the nurse and she shook her head and that was the end of that. So, new rule, only let someone who knows what they are doing and is trained in the use of IVs and IV pumps even get close to your IV. I think I have a law suit here, but how can I prove the incident happened? I mean, can’t an air bubble cause an embolism? Isn’t that really dangerous?
The time during the day was spent sleeping best I could because you cannot get any sleep at night, at least I couldn’t with my fabulous room mates. Besides that, after 10 pm there is a nurse in your room poking you every hour, taking BP or blood, or something else. But the upshot is the room light is on every hour and thus you are awakened every hour.
I hate hospitals.
Discharge day finally came around and I was ready to leave, and leave I did. The place was crazy and all I knew is that I needed some peace and quiet to heal and sleep in my bed and get a full night of sleep. More magic pens appeared and I was out of there with one quick stop in the pharmacy.
And that covers a few days of my life that I will never get back, and a close call to not have any days left at all.