I took a few vacation days off last week. Wednesday was lovely, as was Thursday until about 5 pm when I got to the VEB’s house. My stomach hurt and I felt queasy, but I was inclined to chalk it up to plain old indigestion. Between his birthday and my birthday there had been several large, fancy dinners and I figured I’d just indulged a bit too much. On Tuesday at work I’d had to lie down several times because of stomach pains, but they had gone away. I wasn’t that worried.
We went to see the new Tom Cruise movie, Oblivion. The VEB liked it; I had a hard time paying attention because I just couldn’t get comfortable, my stomach was hurting so much. It didn’t stop me from eating popcorn, but it hurt. By the time we got home the VEB was worried, and began suggesting that he take me to the ER. He was afraid I was having a heart attack; I was still convinced it was indigestion. I eventually gave in, mostly to just appease him – I could see that he was really worried. However, by the time we got to the ER I was glad he insisted; the pain was getting worse.
The VEB has this shirt he likes to wear, based on Cthulhu, a character of H.P. Lovecraft. This shirt prompts a lot of comments and questions when he wears it out in public, usually by dorky teenage waiters or grocery store cashiers who are going through a Lovecraft phase. Turns out, despite being a totally different demographic, the ER women were also intrigued. Now, the VEB is handsome and charming, so I can understand women wanting to flirt with him. However, while I stood literally doubled over at the ER counter, the admitting staff whooped it up with him over his shirt while the VEB gave a mini- lecture on turn-of-the-century horror writing. Me: “ Hellllllooooo, sick person here!?” It was genuine sit-com material.
They finally got me into an ER room and given my symptoms were pretty sure I was having a gallbladder attack. Two nurses spent a good 45 minutes trying to get an IV into me, to no avail. In the meantime, a drunk guy was across the hallway being watched by a police officer, going on about his entire sorry life. It turned out that he’d already been in once that night, left, and came back wanting to dry out and go to rehab. But his girlfriend kept calling the ER, and after he talked with her he decided he wanted to leave. They wouldn’t let him leave, though, unless someone sober came to pick him up. The problem was, he didn’t know anyone sober. This cycle perpetuated throughout the night. In between calls from his girlfriend, he had lengthy conversations with the police officer about a number of things, including his views on religion (agnostic) and immigration (“I’m not a racist because I dated a woman from Brazil once”). He was finally allowed to leave at 7 am, and I heard him in the hallway apologizing to someone for being such a pain in the ass. When he walked past my door I saw that he was using a cane and had dark sunglasses on. Then I heard a nurse exclaim, “But…but….HE’S NOT BLIND!”
At some point the nurses gave up sticking me and called in “the IV team”. I was picturing a group of super heroes wearing capes that would dash in with some big IV ray gun, but it turned out to be one very skilled nurse who is adept at getting IV’s into people with deep veins. Initially I refused their offer of morphine, but after an hour of a non-narcotic not working I finally caved. The morphine took the edge off, but they had to switch it over to something called dilauded. One of the nurses told me they call it “hospital heroin”. It was the only thing that got me pain-free enough to sleep, but good lord that stuff was powerful juju! They decided to keep me overnight in the ER for observation, and at 8 am they did an ultrasound, which showed that I had a really big gallstone stuck in a duct. The gallbladder would have to come out ASAP. (What I don’t understand is why they only have ultrasound techs on hand during the day.)
They admitted me to the hospital, and the surgeon stopped by to explain the procedure and said that sometime Friday afternoon I’d go into surgery. The OR was backed up, though, so no one could give me a specific time. I wasn’t allowed any food or water because of the impending surgery. Meanwhile, I was put into a room with an elderly woman who had an intestinal blockage and a middle-aged woman with pneumonia and possibly some mental health issues, who got into a HUGE screaming argument over the phone with her ex-husband about child support. It was an odd mix, let me tell you.
By 9 pm on Friday I was told I had been scheduled for surgery at 8 am on Saturday. The problem was they still wouldn’t let me eat or drink anything, including ice chips. At this point I had not drank or eaten in 24 hours and had nothing but IV fluids and opiates in me. I’d also barely slept, between the drunk guy in the ER who wouldn’t shut up and the constant chatter and neediness of my roommates, not to mention constantly having my vitals taken. Also, because of the IV fluids I constantly had to pee, which became this insane production of getting a nurse to help me out of bed and help me walk while attached to the IV pole.
I must have finally slept though, because they had to wake me up for the surgery. AT 5:30 IN THE MORNING, they made me wash up, brush my teeth and change my johnny, as if I were headed off to some strange toga party instead of having an organ removed. In the meantime, the elderly woman’s blockage had mysteriously cleared, making the entire room smell like poop. Because she was more or less covered in it.
Nurses do not get paid enough.
They wheeled me into the OR and made me sign a bunch of paperwork, then took my eyeglasses away. They slid me onto the operating table and someone put a mask over me and everything went black. It’s such a creepy feeling, that darkness! I didn’t worry or freak out about the surgery itself – for one thing, I didn’t have much time to think about it, I didn’t really have a choice, plus between the pain and the drugs I pretty much didn’t care. But that moment when everything goes black, I dreaded.
Next thing I knew, I came out of the anesthesia and immediately managed to a) puke and b) rip out a second IV they had put in my hand. Whoops. And then they showed me what has become known as my pet rock: a hefty gallstone that was horrifyingly large and egg-shaped. Because of that gallstone, I have the usual laproscopic incisions, but the one by my belly button is larger than usual. And because my gallbladder was in such bad shape they had to drain it before they could remove it, so I have a little puncture wound too. (So they tell me, I’m too squeamish to look.) On top of that, the anesthesia froze up my bladder, which meant I couldn’t pee for awhile even though I really needed to. And let’s not forget a ragingly sore throat, scraped up mouth and half a fat lip, courtesy of a breathing tube. Because of all this, I didn’t get sent home until late Sunday. Happily though, they put me in my own room and I was able to get some decent sleep.
Now I’m home – sore, drugged up, and unbelievably gassy. Not one of the doctors or nurses told me this beforehand, but apparently when they do this surgery they have to pump air into your stomach, and some of the air gets trapped. It’s painful and the only way to get the gas out is to walk, which I did. The trouble is, the anesthesia and the drugs slow your system down, so it takes awhile for the gas to find an exit. All I can say is, I will never again take everyday bodily functions for granted again.
When I’m not sleeping, I’m trying to figure out the food situation. I have no dietary restrictions, but from what I read on the internet I need to be cautious at first. I’m eventually going to get sick of chicken noodle soup and ginger ale, and I’m going to have to eat something more substantial. Right now I still have virtually no appetite anyway, but I expect it will come back with a vengeance over the next few days. At this point I’m actually tired of sleeping – some of it is the medicine, and some of it is just that my body is busy repairing itself and just going to the bathroom tires me out. I have these pockets of lucidity, but they don’t last for long. I can’t even knit!
Meanwhile, the cat is very upset that she cannot stand on my stomach.