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Not What I Expected – Part 2

  • Posted on June 27, 2014 at 10:00 AM

It was about 10:30 when I walked up to the front desk in the hospital. I’d called Mark from the hospital parking lot and told him that, apparently, it wasn’t my gall bladder and that the doctor had ordered a CAT scan. For some reason, Mark sounded worried about this development, while I felt perfectly calm. I told the front desk lady who I was and she told me I needed to get registered. I waited a moment and was quickly called back to speak with another lady. I went through the usual questions and then yet another lady led me to Radiology.

The radiologist receptionist (one out of three) took my name, I sat down, and then I was handed a bottle of clear liquid that I was told to drink. It was ionic contrast for the CAT scan. I drank it and then had to wait 30 minutes. After fifteen minutes, I asked if I could use the bathroom. The receptionist said, “Sure!” and told me where to go. I went, came back, and five minutes later a technician walked up to me and said she was taking me down to labs. I needed to provide a urine sample for a pregnancy test. I said, “I wish somebody would have told me that! I just went.” Long story short, I tried, I failed, I walked back to Radiology, I was told I’d failed, I was handed a bottle of water, I was led back to the Out Patient Surgery Lab, I succeeded, I walked back to Radiology where I waited to be told definitively that I was not pregnant.

Keep in mind that during this whole ordeal I am at a 9 out of 10 on the pain scale. I have a very unhappy face, though I’m bearing it as well as I can. I keep quiet most of the time, but let out an occasional whimper that I just can’t hold back. I’m getting paler and sweatier and more dazed as the moments pass. And nobody but the other patients seems to notice.

Finally, I get to take the CAT scan. I lay down on this long, thin “bed” with a cushion under my knees and my arms up over my head. The tech puts in an IV so she can inject more contrast into my veins. I hold as still as I can for the scan, which turns out to be still enough. The tech warns me, and she’s right; the contrast feels like warm lead in my veins and makes me feel like I’m urinating with an infection. Afterwards, she tells me that she’s going to leave the IV in, “just in case,” and that I’m to wait in the waiting room for the results.

So, I end up back in the Radiology waiting area, but I can’t sit and wait any longer. I ask if I could have a pager and go walk the grounds. I get the pager, I head off the property, smoke two cigarettes, come back in, go to the bathroom again, and head back to Radiology. The receptionist is on the phone, waving me over, and I point innocently to myself, and she nods fiercely. “Didn’t you get my page,” she hisses as she hands me the phone. I shake my head and she says, “I paged you twice!” I say, “Hello?” into the receiver. A quick glance to the clock tells me I was gone less than fifteen minutes.

It’s my doctor’s nurse on the phone. She tells me that it is in fact my gall bladder, that it’s very inflamed, that I’m to go to such-and-such a building, and that somebody there would show me the way. Looking back on this moment, I could have been freaking out. I could have been extremely anxious and panicky. Instead, I was perfectly calm, if a bit dazed. I follow where I’m led, asking few questions. I chat about the wonder of having a skywalk in Janesville. The little hospital was growing up so it was almost like the Children’s Hospital in Madison.

I’m registered at the new office. I hand over my co-pay. Nobody really told me why I was here and I didn’t really ask. I waited, still very much in pain, for what seemed like a long time. I remember that I was told quite specifically not to eat or drink anything. I think to myself that they already made me drink two whole bottles of liquid. I get caught up in random snatches of music. The time passes without much thought. I’m called into the doctor’s office.

The young lady that calls me back is a doctor’s assistant, or something. She asks questions, she probes my abdomen, and I react a bit more strongly this time, loss of self-control. She explains that my gall bladder is inflamed and probably infected. I’ll need surgery today or tomorrow, but it’s not her call. I might even have to stay overnight. She talks about the risks and the reasons. I nod a lot, I speak a little. She tells me that the doctor is in surgery and that it’s his call and that she doesn’t work with him as much so she’s sorry if it’s not exactly what he tells me. Then, she leaves and I wait some more. The nurse will be in with me shortly. Someone pops her head in and asks about my insurance. I tell her. Then I wait for a while longer. I start getting up. I want to walk around. Sitting hurts more than walking. As I start to walk out, someone comes up to my door and tells me that I need to go back to the front desk of the hospital. She doesn’t tell me why and I don’t ask, though she does say something about, “They’ll probably want some labs.”

I decide to go outside and walk to the hospital that way, so I can have a cigarette. I smoke one and that gets me to the place I need to turn. I consider having another, but think that they might be missing me, so I go in. I tell the receptionist, “I’m back.” It only takes them a moment to figure out who I am and where I need to go. It’s not even in the computer yet – she wrote it down on a piece of scratch paper. She leaves her post to the other lady and leads me back herself. I follow without question.

Looking back, it seems that I must have been in shock or something. I was so dazed and so confused. Yet, at the time I was perfectly calm, perfectly at peace. I find myself back in the Out Patient Surgery Lab area, but instead of sending me to the waiting area, she leads me deep into the warren of little rooms. She consults her piece of paper, and then says, “Here you go.” All I could think to ask was, “I get a room now?” And she says, “Yes, they’ll take good care of you here.”

There’re a lot of ins and outs now. Things move more quickly. A registrar comes in to verify my information and give me a new wrist band. She snips off the one Radiology gave me and sets that aside like a souvenir. Another lady comes in for my vitals. I’m told to get in the gown, but not to put my arms in the sleeves of the robe. I do, and then I call Mark. I tell him I have a room now, but that I still don’t know when I’m having surgery. He takes it fairly well, but he’s clearly much more worried about this than I am. A lady comes in to take my blood, so I offer her the IV. She says she can’t use that. While she’s still there, another lady comes in to do an EKG. They work around each other. I almost feel like I’m there. When they’re done, I try to call my mom. I get her machine. I leave a message, though I have no idea what I said. All I know is that, whether I have surgery today or not, I’m no longer safe to drive. The pain feels far away now, but they haven’t given me anything.

Somebody comes in for me and asks how I’m doing. I say, “Not well.” And she says, “No, you don’t look very well, but we’re going to help with that.” She wheels me back to Radiology. This time I get a chest X-ray. I tell them I’ve already been tested and I’m not pregnant. She says, “I’m sure that hasn’t changed since this morning.” The X-ray technician asks why I’m there and I tell him, quite honestly, that I don’t know, that I’m just doing what they tell me.

He apologizes profusely and tells me that I’m probably having surgery, “Does that sound right?” I said, “Okay.” I think the tech must have reported this “conversation,” because people seem much more aware of just how dazed I am at this point. As I’m coming back, someone from somewhere calls out, “Call your mom!” Before I can do that somebody explains roughly what’s been going on and that I should be ready to go home around 5pm. So I call my mom. We talk. She seems so very worried and it’s very upsetting. She asks me questions that I don’t know how to answer. She’ll be there to pick me up around 5pm, she tells me, and she apologizes for not being there sooner. That seems silly at the time.

The surgeon comes in – it’s the first time I’ve seen him – he explains that my gall bladder is inflamed and that it’s probably infected. He strongly recommends surgery today and that there are risks involved – he explains them. “Do you understand? Do you give your consent for this surgery?” “Oh yes,” I say, “that much I get. It’s just nobody’s told me when it’s happening or what all this other stuff is for.” He says, “It’s happening now,” and he turns and points to the bed they’re getting ready for me. “Oh.”

The anesthesiologist comes in and explains her role. I have to give informed consent to both of them and sign their forms, which I do. By now it’s really sinking in that I’m having surgery, but I’m still perfectly calm. Then, they get me up and on the bed and I’m still conscious as I’m rolled into the surgery room. I see the surgical instruments and wonder to myself why I’m not freaking out, but I’m still perfectly calm. The anesthesiologist tsks over my IV, but uses it to give me the medicine that puts me out. The last thing I remember is her saying, “I’ll put in a proper one once she’s out.” I try to defend the Radiology technician, but I don’t think the words ever come.

I wake up and there’s my mom, worried and waiting. It’s not until I’ve slept more thoroughly than I have in years that it occurs to me why. Looking back on everything that happened that day, from the initial impulse to go to the doctor to my circuitous route to emergency surgery, it occurs to me that I was probably in a lot more danger then I ever realized.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

~Psalm 23:4

I don’t think I’ve ever quite grasped the meaning of that passage before now.

Not What I Expected – Part 1

  • Posted on June 26, 2014 at 10:00 AM

When I woke up Tuesday, still in pain, I expected something…but this wasn’t it. Have you ever looked back on a day in your life and known God was there?

It started many years ago. During the third trimester of my third pregnancy, I was plagued with “false labor pains.” This didn’t seem at all extraordinary until I needed to be induced in order to deliver my son early, because he wasn’t growing in the womb. I started at a zero. At the time, I didn’t think much of it – being rather worried and in pain – but if I were really having “false labor pains,” then shouldn’t I have been at least a little dilated?

My “false labor pains” became extraordinary when they continued after my son was born and kept coming after my uterus had resumed its normal, contracted position. It was during a severe, three-day bout of this inexplicable pain that my mother took me to the doctor. He tried to dismiss it as a “back strain” due to a recent pregnancy (or three) and my excessive weight. I was curled in on myself, assuming as close to a fetal position as could be obtained in a hard plastic chair, so I was not able to advocate for myself at the time. My mother, not so encumbered, pointed at me and screeched, “She’s crying. She never cries. You’re going to do something!”

So, I was sent down for an X-ray. I tried to lay myself flat for the X-ray, but couldn’t quite do it. The technician just shook his head and said, “She shouldn’t be here. She should be in ultrasound. It’s her gall bladder, not her back.” Turns out he was right. I was given a prescription for oxycodone and a referral to a surgeon. The surgeon explained that I would have a six-week recovery after the surgery during which I could lift no more than 15 lbs. and that I was not to allow any little person climb or lay on my abdomen. That nixed that, and so I stuck to homeopathic treatments (sarsaparilla), recommended by an Internet friend who lived in India, and I was “fine” for years. There were occasional bouts of pain, when stones passed, but the duration was short and the treatments helped. It was manageable.

All of that change last Friday night. A “gall bladder attack” started and it seemed like normal, except that it continued on into Saturday, and then into Sunday. On and off, it continued through Monday. Except, it wasn’t just continuing, the pain was getting worse in little leaps. Tuesday morning, I’d had enough. Things were different now. I expected to go into the doctor, get my prescription for pain medication, get my referral, and schedule surgery for some time later in the week or maybe next week. But that’s not what happened.

I was going to get some sleep, if I could, and call that afternoon, but I couldn’t sleep and I felt a strong need to call right away. I called for my appointment and discovered that my doctor was only in the office during the mornings today (Tuesday). He could see me at 9:45, but he would have been gone if I’d waited. So, I got myself ready and arrived early for my appointment.

I explained what I’d been experiencing to the nurse and then again to the doctor. This facility uses a 0 – 10 pain scale, complete with happy faces and very unhappy faces. To put this in perspective, giving birth usually comes out at an 8 for me, which is fine considering that I get a baby out of the deal. Untreated fibromyalgia, at its worst, is a solid 7; with treatment, it’s a manageable 5 to 6. My broken wrist was my only 9. My previous “gall bladder attacks,” as I called them, were solid 8s – with no baby as a reward. This doctor was the same doctor I’d been seeing since shortly after Ben was born. He’s a good doctor who listens and cares and responds with as little prescribed medication as possible, which is something both Mark and I appreciate. He knew me and knew that I wasn’t prone to exaggeration (at least not during medical appointments) and he knew I would avoid narcotics whenever possible. So, when I told him that my pain was at a 9, he took me seriously.

He had me lay down and he probed my stomach. He stood back a little and had me sit up. He watched while I did so. He looked at me thoughtfully and he responded honestly. He told me that my responses didn’t correspond with a “gall bladder attack,” i.e. it didn’t seem to him like I was passing stones. He also said, almost to himself, “the disease doesn’t follow the book.” He wrote down on a piece of scratch paper some OTCs (over the counter medications) and handed it to me. “This is what I would give you,” he said, “but a 9. You say it’s a 9?” Then, again to himself, “Must have a high pain tolerance or there would be more reaction.”

While he ruminated over what to do, I thought to myself, Well, I didn’t think screaming when you pressed down would help matters any. I was no longer the young woman who would curl up into a ball in a plastic chair and let my mother handle things. I was my own woman; so yeah, call it high pain tolerance or, better yet, self-control. It didn’t mean the pain wasn’t a 9.

This doctor knew me and that’s why I didn’t just go to the emergency room. He knew something must be wrong, even if he didn’t know right away what it might be. So, he sent me to the hospital to get a CAT scan, with the understanding that the OTCs would hold if they didn’t find anything. The plan, as far as I knew, was for me to get the CAT scan and to go home and wait for his call. That’s what I was expecting, but that’s not what happened.