Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Being "Not in Pain..."

You remember, dear reader, when I mentioned briefly the fact that I was to be "scanned" on Saturday to "see what was going on in there," right? There was a possibility of diverticulitis or some such other disturbing intestinal issue...

Well... That was the understatement of the century!

It started Saturday morning--a very unassuming, kind of pretty morning, where a few birds decided to sing and we had an easy time finding the hospital where the CT scan was supposed to take place. I drank the tepid, stale-milkshake tasting crap ("tasty barium solution") beginning at 7:45 am, 8:40 am, and then at 9:10 am. Blech! They place me on a table, run me back and forth through a metal donut a few times all the while piping something into my veins through my left knuckle. (Due to many hospitalizations in my life, most of my elbow veins are quite... collapsed?... leaving the rest of my arms open for needle infestation wherever they can get blood to appear...) Fifteen minutes later they tell me I can go, so Rich and I head to the coal place to buy some bags of coal to heat our home. 45 minutes later, as I am lugging 30 lb bags of chestnut coal into the house and Rich lays down for a nap (having only had four hours of sleep due to double shifts and not knowing what this appointment involved), my cell phone begins ringing. I don't recognize the number, so I don't answer--half the time my cell doesn't connect at home anyway, so I figure I'll check my voice mail after eating a nice big lunch--the first lunch in over two weeks in which I'm allowed to start "reintroducing carbs" into my diet. I'm imagining a nice grilled cheese sandwich with a few fries dipped in honey mustard... Heaven on a plate, I tell you...

But my phone keeps ringing. And ringing. And ringing. They never leave voice mails, it's like three different numbers, over and over again. I grab Rich's cell as he half dozes on the couch and dial one of the numbers:

ME: Hi, uh... Someone keeps calling me from this number? My name is Jason Hughes? (I don't know why I say this as a question, but there it is, hanging there the same way bricks don't...)
Woman: Yes, thank you for calling, I'm connecting you to Dr Carlson now.
Me: Wait, I-- (I've been put on hold... Why is hot intern Doc calling me?)
Doctor: Jason? Thank god, how are you feeling?
Me: Uh, fine... How are you?
Doctor: You--you feel fine?
Me: Yeeeeessssss....
Doctor: No pain?
Me: Nnnnnooooooo....
Doctor: You need to get back to the hospital right away!
Me: Um, okay, but why?
Doctor: You really have no pain?
Me: No, in fact I was about to eat lunch--
Doctor: Don't EAT!!!!
Me: Uh--okay. (I drop the sandwich as if a snake has just appeared between the leaves of lettuce... Rich stares at me curiously...)
Doctor: Your gall bladder is on the verge of exploding!
Me: Um--come again?
Doctor: Radiology called me, and that never happens. You must return to the hospital ASAP before it ruptures!
Me: My gall bladder is going to explode? (Rich sits up wide-eyed, his mouth forming a "whaaa....?")
Doctor: Yes, go straight to the ER immediately. Your--your really not in any pain at all?
Me: No, I feel fine. Great, actually.
Doctor: Amazing. Get to the ER.
I spend the next half hour calming Rich down and we set out once again for the half-hour-away hospital. I feel no sense of urgency, mind you--have I mentioned how great I feel?--but Rich is beside himself, apologizing for every pot hole hit, for every Sunday driver in front of us on this Saturday, for every song he likes that I disdain that pops up on the radio...

We get to the ER where Rich's dad is anxiously awaiting to see me doubled over in pain and agony--after all, Rich's quick message to their answering machine left little to their imagination--"I have to run Jay to the ER--his gall bladder is exploding!!"--and is amazed as I walk in and greet him with a hug. I walk over to the receptionist in the ER.

Me: Hi, yes, I'm here because I'm suffering from Choleocetesis? (again, the question hangs there... She eye balls me...)
Receptionist: Are you sure?
Me: According to the latest and greatest in technology, yes.
Receptionist: Well, fill out this form, we'll be right with you.
I can hear the unspoken "Hypochondriac!" added to the end of that sentence. I fill out the forms, chatting amiably with an amazed father-in-law and a beside-himself husband. They finally call my name and am ushered behind a curtain and handed a gown--you know the kind, one-size fits none, the world can see your ass gown. I change and sit crossed-legged on the bed and amuse myself with games on my cell phone. The curtain gets ripped to the side and a doctor and nurse approach with what is to become a very routine Q&A session:

Doctor: Tell me your name, birth date, and what you are here for.
Me: Jason Hughes, January 1976, Choleocetesis. (He looks up in alarm.)
Doctor: Gall Bladder attack? Show me where the pain is.
Me: I don't have any.
Doctor: You don't--no pain?
Me: No.
Doctor: Lay back. (He pressed various parts of my abdomen, looking for any sign of pain or discomfort...) Here? How about here? Here?
Me: Nope. No. Uh-uh.
Doctor: Who told you you were having a gall bladder attack?
Me: (I relate the events of the past two weeks.)
Doctor: And you have no pain.
Me: Nope. (I'm quite bored with the amazement of this by now, but nonetheless continue to answer this question repeatedly. Of course, now he's looking at me like I've just arrived from Carckhouse #4 looking for my next pain-killer fix...)
Doctor: Well, I'll go take a look at the results of your test. We'll be back in a few minutes.
Yes, a few minutes. Hospital speak for an hour or two. I continue my game of Jewel Quest until they reappear ten boards later...

Doctor: Wow... This is bad. Very bad. Uh, still no pain?
Me: No. (I half-sigh this.)
Doctor: Uh-huh. Well, we'll be admitting you shortly. In the meantime, you should call someone--
Me: My partner is in the ER waiting room.
Doctor: Nurse, bring him back so we can fill him in and get this patient admitted STAT. (I'm a bit amazed at the use of "STAT." I thought that was a television ER thing only!) We'll also be ordering an ultrasound to get a better picture of just how imminent this gall bladder explosion is, okay? See you soon.
I'm shown to a new curtain, ordered to fill a plastic cup with urine ("Mid-stream, now, not at the end or beginning or urination, mid-stream!"), and wait patiently with Rich until another doctor shows up. In the meantime, my parents stop in for a visit, Rich wanders back and forth between complete worry and emotional breakdown. All the while I chat with nurses coming and going, filling vials of blood from various parts of my arms (yet never the elbows), inserting an IV, and listening to the older-than-Jesus woman in the next bed complaining about her leg pain. (In fact, she gets quite loud when I'm wheeled out for an ultrasound before she is...). After all that, another doctor comes in.

Doctor: Name, birth date, complaint?
Me: Blah, blah, blah...
Doctor: And what have they given you for pain? (peering at my chart...)
Me: Nothing. I'm not--
Doctor: Nothing for the pain? Nurse!
Me: I'm not in any pain!
Doctor: What?
Me: (Sigh.) I'm not in any pain.
Doctor: Do you have a football game or something coming up?
Me: Do you need glasses?
Doctor: Excuse me?
Me: I'm thirty-three--who am I playing football for?
Doctor: Well, men like to play down pain so as not to interfere with various activities they have going on...
Me: (Apparently I need to sound more convincing...) I'm NOT IN PAIN. Honestly.
Doctor: I'm going to go take a look at the results of your test. (He is also now giving me the "Hypochondriac Crack-whore" look...)
I sigh again as Rich looks worriedly into my eyes. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asks. At this point, I'm so worried he's going to drop over of a stress-related heart attack, I send him off to find food and liquid for himself (yet telling him it's for me...) When the doctor returns, there is more of the "This is bad" and "This needs to come out now" talk and I'm sent up to Floor 5. I'm visited by two of the Fab Five with their spouses and children, in which my niece, poor sweet thing, says "I don't want you to die!" We console her and continue to josh and chat happily away--still not in pain. I'm beginning to imagine how my malpractice suit will take shape. Rich's parents also stop in for a brief visit and then it's off to surgery where there is much more amazement about my painless existence on this planet, more rechecking of my "tests," and still more urgency about getting my gall bladder out. From what I can gather, I have a gall bladder on the verge of exploding with one huge stone blocking all entry/exit from said bladder, and many little gall stone buddies hanging out behind him, all waiting their turns to wreak pain on my body. The large stone is apparently my saving grace from pain as it keeps all the other stones built up behind him from doing anything. Yet, at the same time, since the "bile" can also not leave, it's trying to create new exits (hence, the imminent explosion...), and I seem to be up a creek...

At midnight I am wheeled into the OR. Painless.

At 3:00 am Sunday morning, I awake. In pain.

Go figure.

As I drift back and forth between sleep and wakefulness, various nurses come and go, asking me questions, drawing more blood, hanging more IV bags, my poor husband trying to sleep but be there beside me whenever I wake up, however briefly. I get more visits from friends and family, a bunch of phone calls, and a nephew who makes me promise not to die for another 800 years (I promise him only fifty...) and am discharged at the end of the day on Sunday... Less than 24 hours after being sliced like a deli ham...

I've been recuperating at my mother's house (with Rich stopping in every day between work shifts) as she reintroduces me to all that I've been missing on television the last nine months, playing Nurse Good Body (as she so names herself--"I'm Nurse Good Body without the Good Body!") and slowly healing. My stomach is strangely misshapen, of course. There are five new holes just above the scar left behind when the appendix was removed in 1991, and I realize I won't be winning any "Navel of the Year" awards... ever. Suffice to say, however, that with the removal of my gall bladder, according to two doctors now, all of the heartburn and stomach pain I've been experiencing and chalking up to "getting older" have all been the result of my failing gall bladder. I've most likely been suffering this for years and the many empty bottles of tums, Pepto, Pepsid, Milk of Magnesia, all of it--should now be history.

I think that's the most amazing thing about this. I can eat red meat again without fear. Orange juice can be a part of my mornings again. Onions need not be shunned. Chili peppers are my friends again. Granted, without my gall bladder, I'm told there will be some things my body won't be able to process, but since every one's body is different, I just have to see what happens after eating certain things and then decide if it's worth it. (Apparently, some people find they can no longer eat anything greasy while others can now eat things they never could before! Go figure!) But this should end approximately five years of a diminishing array of foods and reopen my life to those things everyone else could eat without issue...

Finally painless in all areas of my diet.

Life should be good once again!


Kel said...

Wow, that was such an interesting post. You have a way of writing so that we're right there with you...which is very helpful when a person wants to know what happened to her best friend!

I hope you will have wonderful days full of orange juice and burgers now! I'm also glad that you didn't have any pain from your attack. When I told my mom that your gall bladder turned on you, she said a gall bladder attack is usually like a heart attack and very painful. Then I was so worried. But I should have known that you would do it your own way! :)

Glad to see you're doing well. Let me know when you're up for pizza...and maybe we could have them add some onions on it.

elj377 said...

Well, could this be the cause of your middle of the night pain a few weeks ago? Man, you've been through the wringer...hope you get to feeling 100% soon. Enjoy your hamburgers and orange you have them together...ew..

If you ever are in the mood for some good BBQ and are in the Midwest call me and I will hook you up!

Anonymous said...


Sylvia said...

LOL! Oh, Ja... I've been telling you how glad I am that you're ok. I was laughing hysterically at your post. Thanks for that...
I love you Ja.

Tori Jackson said...

Wonderfully well written. Thanks for sharing. I hope you are feeling better now, and that Rich is recovering as well. Sounds like he was worse off than you were before the surgery!

I had my gallbladder removed on July 3, 1997 and haven't missed it a bit. I had some horrible gallbladder attacks before they took it out. No stones, all sludge.

You two take care! Love, Tori

Tori Jackson said...

Wonderfully well written. Thanks for sharing. I hope you are feeling better now, and that Rich is recovering as well. Sounds like he was worse off than you were before the surgery!

I had my gallbladder removed on July 3, 1997 and haven't missed it a bit. I had some horrible gallbladder attacks before they took it out. No stones, all sludge.

You two take care! Love, Tori