Monday, March 19, 2012

Castaway

Forget 2012. Who needs the Number 23? A full moon? Blah Blah Blah. Sometimes the signs that the world is coming to an end ... are nothing more than stomach pains. And so began my laboring odyssey under the knife...and beyond.

6:30 and I'm on my way to the ballet with my girlfriend. Yes, it was her idea. And no...the ballet is not what put me into the hospital. That was entirely something else. And at 6:30 it felt a hell of a lot like a sour stomach from hell.

I survived the ballet...barely. That night and the next morning found me in far worse shape. Stiff upper lip, I resolved to wait it out a bit more as said girlfriend continued to compel me otherwise. I did what every other self respecting man would do in my position. I Googled it.

And that's when I came across Acute Appendicitus as a likely candidate for what I had.

Uh oh I thought. The possibilities I uncovered on the internet seemed about as uncomfortable, to say the very least, as how I was feeling. Visions of abdominal drains, month long ICU stays, and much worse soon had me in agreement with my girlfriend and I was off to the Emergency Clinic.

Now it's kind of funny how time works. One moment you are living your life and doing your thing. It all gets a bit routine. You make plans...you complete plans. You get used to the normalcy of it all. And then all of the sudden, out of the blue, you look around and you're in a hospital getting a CAT scan as everyone gazes on you with obvious signs of concern.

Yep! The Doctor is IN. And the result is Acute Appendicitus. What's so cute about it?? I thought the appendix was this useless little finger sized ... thing in your gut. Well it is. And even though I always suspected, as did the local betting pool, that my liver would go first...it was my lowly appendix that decided to jump ship.

Unfortunately, it was already perforated and God knows what was already starting to happen in my abdomen. Those quiet gazes of concern rang to alarm and I found myself awaiting my surgery.

My Surgeon, an astute smiling female, proceeded to explain that a lot of things could go wrong. We'll try to miss the artery. We'll attempt to avoid the main nerve. You'll probably have a tube coming out of your abdomen for a few weeks. If it doesnt work we'll go in again and see if we can find that lost digital watch you've been looking for since the 1980s....

My reaction wasnt so much panic as it was a weird kind of dumbfounded acceptance. Surgery? Me? You mean my liver still works?? Shouldnt I have had this when I was ten or something and why is it so serious now?

Thursday was kind of a blur. Lots of tests. Lots of waiting. And then a frenzy of activity as veins were stuck, pricked and pinched into submission. Yes. I'm allergic to that. No, I dont think that will kill me right off but you could try. Can't you do this without a catheter? Seriously? Someones gonna get awful familiar with His Majesty. And darkness....beep beep beep.

Awakening after a surgery is always a weird feeling. But of course it is! They knock you out with a dizzying array of venomous compounds and pump you up with pain meds to follow. In my case I had IVs running antibiotics par excellence, all day hydro and ....what's that? Good god. I'm a cyborg. There is something alien coming out of my midsection. AACK!

Note to self when you are lying in recovery in your hospital room. Do Not pull on any of the tubes coming out of you...and there are a lot of them. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to leave the tubes alone. Unfortunately, however, no one told that to my underage PCA who happened to get my abdominal drain caught in her belt.

Wow. There are some things that merely sting. And there are some things that recall past lives in the Spanish Inquisition. Dont let your drain get caught. It's stitched in and you dont even want to know what it feels like when all of your wounds and innards decide to move in tandem. Remember "Braveheart"? Now I know personally just how much drawing and quartering sucked. Believe me, if I had been Mel, or the real William Wallace for that matter, they would have changed the name to "ChickenedOut".

Speaking of stinging... Once the catheter is removed you have no choice but to piss razor blades for days. So there I was laying on my back, miserable with surgical inflations and infection...with visiting vampires every 4 hours and uncooperative IVs that insisted on moving about. And with all of the IV fluids I was getting, I was pissing razor blades about every 20 minutes.

Avoid this if you can. Just FYI.

Thankfully, I had the occasional company of visiting family and friends. Wow. I actually have real friends! They helped chase off the orderlies or make sure that the nurses made their way in to check on me. I'd like to have been able to escape into some television or such but on the other side of the screen at my left I heard my fellow patient in the room, a man of 78, complaining that my tv kept him up all night long the night before. That's interesting since I turned it off at 9PM.

Was I going to have to go to war with Walter? Would the morning nurses, so intent on jabbing my stomach with a shot to preclude blood clots, find themselves scrambling in the halls in desperation as Walter and I fought like jedi with our IV stands?

"You are not my father you miserable old codger! The TV stays ON!"
"You may think that your condition was more serious than me boy...but the nurses know the value of the dark side!"

Laying there at 4Am with the vampire slashing my fingertip for her nightly meal, I looked out the 7th story window onto the lights of the town that seemed so much closer just a few days before. It was surreal. Listening then to poor Walter, in for a hernia surgery moaning in the bed next to mine, put things into perspective. We were in a foxhole of sorts, Walter and I, and anyone who joined me at night sleeping restlessly in the chair in the room.

It was us...against THEM.

I forged my alliance in the AM. Walter had awoken to a terrible fit of nausea and I was scrambling to summon the nurses with my beeper for him. There I was yelling for the nurses...Walter having a hell of a time breathing. And twenty minutes or so later they finally showed up.

Ahhh medical care. Here's the long and the short of it. First off, it is indecently expensive. The sum total of what I went through cost about as much as a luxury car. I was blinded by bureaucracy during the entirety of my ordeal as young businesswomen wheeled their laptops bedside so I could continue answering their most relevant question of all...Just how was I going to pay them for everything?

I told the other girl. Yes. I told her that as well. Didnt I fill this out already? Put the needle down...I answered question #46A already!

I'll give them this. They pulled off some great tests right away and the surgeon was excellent. The care started off quite well in fact. However, over the weekend the staff resolved to orderlies and PCAs in their teens. One nurse every shift. All in all it was a bit of a mess and left me thinking more seriously about modern health care and the appeal of international medical care options.

A couple of days later I was on my feet taking mini laps around the nurses station. There is no such thing as dignity in a hospital. My beard had grown out and I resembled nothing less than a hunched over homeless person wandering the halls with a squeaky IV. There is just no glamour in that position, especially when you are sporting the latest in abdominal drains. Sexy. Soooo sexy.

"Lets get out of here Walter!! The tide will be in and I'm building a sail out of the drapes in the room."
"You're delirious boy! We'll never make it! They're watching us. They watch our every move. Except when we want them to, they watch us!"
"They kept you here for more observation Walter. Don't you see what they are doing?!"
"I'm an old man kid. We may have to wait this one out."

Wait it out I did. Five days later and I was finally back at home embarking on my first road of recovery away from vampires, IVs and constant shots to the stomach.

But along the way I met some interesting people. In that world outside of my world I met a fellow Texan talking me through the CAT scans. I met a surgeon with a heart of all things. I met scores of nurses and attendants...some of whom were better than others...and nicer. I met a crazy Ukrainian cleaning lady with a wild accent and lots of great stories...

And I met Walter.

The last day I was in the hospital, Walter was discharged just before I was. He walked over to my side of the curtain and looked out to the sunlit city through the window. We had begun our journey with differences. But he smiled at me. He walked over and shook my hand.

"I'm glad you were here with me," he said. "I hope you get to feeling better soon."


Thanks Walter. You too. Two jedi, eye to eye. We had survived the night's attacks. Our foxhole shared memories.

Since that time it has been a bit of a tough road. I relived that scene from "Braveheart" as my surgeon yanked out my drain a week or so later. After, I found myself watching a lot of movies on my back. Slowly, I made my way to recovery, walking about the house and occupying my time with anything I could find. Battling a deadly infection is no joke so it's a slow road back from where I most unexpectedly wandered off to.

Fingers crossed and my happy Angel will have answered the prayers of my friends and not my enemies. She's mischievous that Spirit and often keeps me on my toes.

I suppose our world is what we get used to. So it can end, or change, on a dime and catch any of us unaware. Vigilance, especially in matters of the health, may be our salvation. Trust me when I say that prevention is better than the cure. I would suggest that we all take better care of our health, and we value our loved ones with as much Vigilance as for any other reason.

It's just a tale like any other. It's my message in a bottle from a distant shore. It's just one patient's story of life on the island. Back on the mainland, so far at least, I am left with even more understanding and compassion for those still castaway to the sudden illness, the chronic condition, the accident or the injury.

Walter! Walter!








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