Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My worst week ever: Part 4 - conclusion

I now conclude the story of my worst week ever picking up after I got dumped, watched my man lose his shot at the presidency and fell ill with a stabbing pain in my side.

After I got violated for medical purposes by my primary care physician, we drove into Oakland, Pittsburgh's university/major hospital district to get me checked out at Children's Hospital. There, they had to be sure the diagnosis was correct, so I dropped trow and laid on my side again while another doctor snapped on a rubber glove. Yup, no doubt about it. That appendix needed to come out. They would have moved me into surgery right then and there, but an appendectomy shuts down the intestines, and I'd foolishly eaten dinner. They'd have to wait several hours before they could cut me.

The pain, though, started right away. A woman that I can only guess was a second-stringer poked me, oh, 5 or 6 times to try to get the IV in. When she gave up on the traditional spot in my arm, she put the IV in the back of my left hand. Ouchie! Couldn't you just stick your finger...nevermind. At some point, maybe right then, someone cut a plastic cup in half lengthwise and taped it over the IV needle. Apparently, patients like me tend to claw at the painful, restrictive thing in their hand when under general anesthesia. Good thing they had that medical supply contract with the Solo corporation.

Actually, although I said my first inkling that this condition wasn't going to go away and leave me to enjoy my weekend was during the first rectal exam,
the pain of that needle going into my hand really brought the reality home. I started crying, but it wasn't really because of the pain; it was more the accumulation of the week's events and the disappointment of losing out on the weekend's festivities.

After the IV, I don't remember much for a while. It was about 11:30 before they could operate. There was the classic moment of the anesthesia mask coming over my face. Following the instruction to count down from 100, I don't think I made it past 93.

Next, I awoke in a semi-dark room in one of a row of beds with a tube up my nose and that pesky IV restricting where I could move my hand. It was the middle of the night. So many unpleasant discoveries in this process. The tube, an NG tube, had been inserted in order to aspirate the nasty stuff out of my intestines, which, as mentioned above, had gone on strike. Take off one little useless dead end near where the small and large intestine meet, and the whole intestinal neighborhood throws in the towel. As if waking up from general anesthesia weren't hard enough, the tube running up through my nose and down to the intestines made my throat raw, inhibited my breathing and just felt terrible.

When daylight came, they moved me from the recovery room to a regular hospital room. I complained about the tube hurting my throat. A resident (who maybe wasn't so familiar with appendectomy recovery) decided the tube could come out less than 12 hours after surgery. He asked for some paper towels and told me to be ready with them because I would "feel like I had to blow my nose". He untaped the tube, put his left hand over my face, and started pulling the tube out with his right hand. As far as I could tell, the tube was 31 feet long and burned every inch. One can never know exactly what another person feels, but if that feeling was this guy's definition of feeling like he had to blow his nose, in the immortal words of Mr. T, I pity the fool. It felt like a volcano erupted through my nostril.

At least the tube was out, and I could breathe and swallow normally. After a delay of about 20 minutes, the intestines on the picket lines started up their favorite chant of "Hey hey! Ho ho! Nasty stuff has got to go!" I'm guessing at the actual words because I don't speak intestinese. Translated into our language, this chant sounded liked, looked like and was violent retching. Absent a vacuum and 31 feet of tubing, my meals of the last few days exited much more quickly and grossly than they had been overnight. They gave me a kidney shaped plastic pan to throw up in (What, this doesn't come in appendix shape? Call the good people at Solo.) About an hour and 15 minutes later, it happened again. Then an hour after that and 50 minutes after that. I spent all day Friday heaving. By the evening, the frequency had increased to about every 15 minutes, and the heaves had turned dry. I learned on the Friday of this horrible week that bile wasn't just a metaphor. It started out yellowish and morphed to straight black.

When the resident went off the schedule and another doc came on, he inquired as to just what nincompoop authorized the removal of the tube. Then he said something dreadful: "It's going to have to go back in." Whaaaa?!? Although having the tube rub my throat raw through the night had been quite awful, I at least had no idea how it got there originally. It went in while I was under. Now, I had to abide watching the tube go into my nose and then feeling it slide down a throat that had been rubbed raw by bile all day. If you're wondering, it's nowhere near as smooth as threading a needle. The tube balks and stops and has to be backed out and pushed back in some more. And then, once you've endured that, you have an NG tube up your nose again. Sigh.

Up to this point, my family had taken shifts sitting by me and comforting me. My parents brought my brother in after school on Friday, and he fairly tiptoed into the room with a stricken look on his face. In the hospital gown and with the IV in my hand and my kidney trough in the bed, I made quite a sight. He brought me some school stuff, which I don't think I really touched over the weekend. I shuffled around the floor with him, my wheeled IV pole carrying its teetering cargo. I do hope that IV control units have gotten less cumbersome in the last two decades. His visit signaled the end of continuous family support; one of my parents drove him out to the retreat center, and they proceeded to enjoy the calm before the Christmas storm. I think my other parent stayed as long as he/she could, and then returned for some time on Saturday. The big party was Saturday night, though, and after a certain time Saturday afternoon, it was just me and my neglected school books and my tubes and the hospital TV.

The IV computer beeped on a regular basis, 24 hours a day. A hospital may be the least hospitable place to recover from surgery. Shift changes created traffic in my room. The hallways buzzed with activity. The lights never went off all the way. A brief overnight lull ended at about five in the morning.

I felt so lonely on Saturday evening. I knew my family and friends were having a great time at a once-a-year party. My great new outfit was going unworn. Meanwhile, I had a tube up my nose, a cup taped over the needle in my hand and 21 Jumpstreet on the TV, interrupted by the arrhythmic beeping of the IV.

Finally, on Sunday morning, the protesters cleared the bilious picket lines. The tube came out for good. By Sunday evening, they cleared me to taste a popsicle, the first food to pass my lips since Thursday's inconvenient dinner. When the popsicle stayed down, they brought me apple sauce. Slow and steady wins the first-food-in-days race. On Monday morning, they brought breakfast. It's popular to complain about hospital food, but the only meal I ate on that stay tasted delicious. The novelty of eating anything and not the menu - institutional scrambled eggs and English muffin - accounted for my two thumbs up review. By midday, they took out the IV and checked me out of the hospital.

When I returned to school on Wednesday (the earliest possible day the docs would let nerdy old me), I rocked my gray on gray outfit. I felt a lot older for having experienced everything I had experienced in the hospital over the weekend. The following spring and summer, I dated a great girl closer to my age (she was only a high school senior). She broke up with me just before Thanksgiving break of her freshman year of college. I cried with my mom about it. We're still friends, though, if facebook counts. Although I never worked on another political campaign, I did vote in the 1992 election, the first one for which I was old enough. After occasional voting in mid-term elections in college, voting is now non-negotiable, and I've put out a yard sign here and there. The only nights I've spent in hospitals since 1988 have seen my sons ushered into this world. I'll take a labor & delivery overnight over an appendectomy visit any day, but I've admittedly played the easier role in that process.

All things considered, I'm grateful for that week. The hospital stay taught me compassion for those who have to spend any amount of time in a hospital. Getting dumped for neither the first nor the last time taught me that I could survive something that feels really bad at the time and go on to even better relationships. Of course, the most lasting thing that I got out of the experience may be the best: a really great story.


Anne H. said...

Whew, you did survive. I'm really glad because otherwise Charlie and Teddy wouldn't have been born.

You're right about an NG tube. I was the volunteer for one to be threaded into me for the others to practice in nursing school. It was, as we used to say, gross, and I couldn't wait for them to pull it back out 10 minutes later.

It is a really good story and I hope that remains the worst week of your life for, well, the rest of your life!

Anne H. said...

Oh and not just for Charlie and Teddy (that was supposed to be humorous but it didn't come out quite right), I'm glad you survived so you could become our son-in-law!

Paige said...

That's my mom - VOLUNTEERING for an NG tube. Never say our family isn't tough.

And I sencond the thought, I fervently hope that this remains Jeff's worst week ever.

Anonymous said...

I better have been at school, otherwise I'm really mad at myself for not being there with you!

Your sister