During the past six months, I’d had a few brief episodes of what I thought were just really bad heartburn. The attacks started around bedtime, lasted off and on through the night, and made me utterly miserable. Medications didn’t seem to help. Hot showers, oddly enough, at least alleviated the pain.
But, without fail, these bouts ended by sunrise and I could go on with my life.
Last Tuesday night, Catherine and I had dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse after spending the afternoon in a spinning class at the YMCA. Before bed, I felt another onset of an attack. I took Tums. I took Gas-X. I took repeated hot showers.
The sun came up the next day. The discomfort didn’t relent. By noon, I was on the phone to my general practitioner to arrange an appointment. He was able to see me at 2:30.
During this visit, I received my first ECG. The attendant slapped sticky patches on my chest, arms, and legs, and then hooked wires between them and a computer. The cardiogram spat out seismometer-like readings of my heart. She told me that they were “probably normal.” The doctor took a look and declared it wasn’t just probable, it was definite. My heart was fine. He said my symptoms sounded like a gastro matter and handed me a big box full of Prevacid samples. He ordered me to take one a day. The discomfort should go away soon, he said.
Wednesday night, despite the new medication, was just as miserable as Tuesday. On Thursday, I couldn’t function. I canceled plans to hang out with Catherine and my cousin Donna. When Catherine got home, I insisted that we go to the emergency room at Crestwood Medical Center.
I checked in for chest pains, so I was fast-tracked in the ER. They took another ECG. They drew blood. They grabbed X-rays. And then they tucked me into an exam room bed with a cup that they wanted me to fill with urine, which I managed…eventually.
Around midnight, they informed me and Catherine that I’d be admitted to the hospital overnight for observation and maybe more tests on Friday morning. I was wheeled up to the cardiac ward, to room 238. They gave me a sandwich and some water. When I tried to get to sleep, I couldn’t get comfortable. The nurse pumped morphine into my IV. I felt woozy and out-of-it for about 45 minutes, but the clutching pain still filled my chest. I didn’t sleep much at all. Ultimately, I told the nurse not to bother with the morphine. If it wouldn’t fix the problem, it was just causing new problems. I asked for Tylenol instead.
On Friday morning, my general practitioner showed up, surprised to see me laid out like this. He said the hospital would arrange an ultrasound test for later in the day to figure out the problem. A new shift nurse told me that the ultrasound room would be booked until at least 5.
In the ultrasound room, a kid who looked a lot like Kenneth from 30 Rock covered my abdomen with gel and poked at me with a probe. Soon after I was wheeled back to my room, the nurse reported that the probe revealed that I had a gall stone. I needed my gall bladder surgically removed. All those prior incidents had probably been gall bladder flare-ups that subsided. This latest one could no longer be ignored.
The surgeon came in Friday evening to explain the procedure. It would be done on Saturday afternoon. I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink anything after midnight. I would likely remain in the hospital until Sunday morning.
At this point, I was just glad to have some answers and a plan for what to do next. I was also tremendously grateful that Catherine had joined me in Huntsville for a hiatus just in time for this medical mishap. She took care of Huck and the cat without complaint. She brought my Kindle and my iPhone charger. She kept me company, even though I wasn’t always the most charming companion while I was in pain. She asked everybody lots of awesome lawyerly questions.
I slept fairly well during the night, despite all the efforts to stir me from my slumber for blood tests, blood pressure monitoring, and chest X-rays in advance of the surgery.
Just before I was delivered to the operating room, they told me that I’d probably be relocated to the ortho ward on the third floor, with the surgeon’s other patients. They didn’t need a gastro patient taking up a cardiac bed, after all.
The operating room reminded me of a high school biology classroom. Luckily, I didn’t get to dwell too long on this, as the anesthesiologist gave me this bitter inhalant.
Next thing I remember, I’m in a quiet recovery area full of beds with two nurses on watch. They had me on an oxygen feed. I was soon rolled into room 376, where I was allowed food (I was so very hungry, and once I proved I could ingest ice chips without problem, they let me eat solid food), all the apple juice I could drink, more water, and grapes.
Early on Sunday, I let Catherine know that she could fetch me out of hock. The doctor checked my charts and said it was probably fine for me to begin recovering at home.
I had survived my first full admission to a hospital, ever. I’ve been pretty lucky throughout my life. I’ve only ever needed emergency room visits. The longest stay had been a couple of hours for an outpatient hernia surgery in 1993, but they had immediately sent me home to recover.
Now I was going home without a gall bladder. My abdomen was sore, but I hadn’t felt this good in a long time.
Catherine really doesn’t want me to die.
Now that she’s in Huntsville for a hiatus during the next couple of months, she has seized control of the kitchen.
The refrigerator and pantry are fully stocked with ingredients that she’s using to make three healthy meals a day, keeping me well clear of fast food and soda as much as possible.
She worries that I’ll drop dead if I don’t stay on top of my diet. It’s sweet of her, and I don’t mind going along with it because the woman can cook and I can cope with being spoiled.
So let’s not tell her that dying young doesn’t really run in my family. Don’t mention that Mama Bess made it to her 90s after a lifetime of deep-fried Southern cooking, sugary cakes, and sweet tea by the jug.
Let’s keep quiet about my hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking Grandpa Jack who made a long run of it too.
Best we hold these secrets close to the vest.
Don’t want to ruin a good thing!
Maybe I spoke a little too soon about no longer being terrified of doctors.
Within days of getting a flu shot last week, I was flattened by flu-like symptoms. On Monday, I pulled a muscle in my back, probably from a violent sneeze. Tuesday night, I couldn’t sleep due to a horrendous case of heartburn.
The general theory right now is that I’ve been under a lot of stress and these problems might have something to do with that.
Stress? Maybe so. In the last few months, I’ve started a new relationship, dealt with a sick cat, lost a job that I really liked, found a new job with huge potential, and started the process of getting moved hundreds of miles away to a new town.
On Tuesday, trying to get ahead of any bad news that might surprise me, I called the doctor’s office to ask about my blood work results from the previous week. The nurse explained that the results were in and the cholesterol numbers weren’t good. In fact, she said, they were “well beyond the number” at which the doctor starts a medication regimen. Hrmph. Old me, the me that doesn’t want to hear bad news and really just wants another chicken wing, thanks, just wanted to pretend he hadn’t heard that. New me immediately made an appointment for the next day to talk to the doctor, review all the results, and get the medication started.
On Wednesday, I was back in the clinic. Blood pressure checked out fine without having to get a second reading and I guess being sick had a side benefit: I lost two pounds. Then I got ushered into an exam room. The nurse closed the door. For about 45 minutes, I sat with my iPhone, checking email, goofing around on Twitter, and playing Angry Birds. The phone ran out of juice, though, so I finally opened the door and stepped outside to harass someone about the delay. That’s when I saw the doctor and she told me that she’d be right in.
The numbers on my blood work, overall, weren’t bad. They were largely normal. Sodium and sugar levels were fine. Protein could be a little higher, but nothing alarming. Liver looked good. The Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL – the bad cholesterol) results provided reason for concern, though. That number – 206 – was basically off the charts. If that doesn’t change, I’ll remain at high risk for heart attack and stroke as I get older. I really don’t want that to happen. The other numbers in my blood test suggested that it wasn’t necessarily my diet that was the root cause of the problem. Instead, it’s likely that I’m just genetically predisposed to having a lot of crappy cholesterol. That doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for fixing it, however. Diet and a lack of significant exercise certainly exacerbated the problem.
So, I’ll start cholesterol management medication – Pravastatin – this week. That’ll help bring the number down some, but the rest is going to rely on a lot of work and discipline from me. I’ll have to walk more. Run more. Work out. I’ll have to shop smarter, cook smarter, and eat healthier when I’m out and about.
I’m glad I went to the doctor and that I’m dealing with the problem head-on. I plan to live a while longer. This should help!
Mostly, this plan involves eating:
* Not much red meat or pork
* Little or no dairy
* No junk food
And it involves drinking:
* Diet soft drinks
And it involves getting off my ass and:
* Otherwise exercising
I’ve been on a decent walking regimen for about a month now, but that’s going to be amped up. Eventually, I’ll probably sign up for a fitness club membership somewhere. In particular, I’ll be watching for clubs that offer achievements because, as people should know about me by now, I’m an achievement whore and I love turning things I should hate into things that are fun.
Stay tuned. We’ll see how it goes.
What I’m Reading
Blackout by Connie Willis
What I’m Playing
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II
You Don't Know Jack
World of Warcraft
Left 4 Dead 2
What I’m Writing
No Son of Hekayt - Book I: Artifacts
Free to download in PDF format!
Coming soon: 31 Days of OtherSpace - 1 work of fiction a day during March 2011.