31 December 2011

What Are You Doing New Year's?

As far as years go, this one's not been so bad. I managed to see no more than two emergency rooms and seven hospitals—and I didn't die. A good year indeed!

The first two hospitals came on the same day, as on Easter morning I suffered a gastric rupture. I was traveling with my mother for a story I was working on. The night prior my husband and I had a campfire in the backyard. As we'd gone to bed, I noticed my stomach hurt a bit, figured it was gas, took some Mylanta, and went to bed. Through Saturday I was just fine, but that night my mother and I had a large dinner out. Again that evening, I though the tweaks in my abdomen were nothing serious, took a chewable gas tablet, and went to bed. 

I woke up at 3 a.m. in pain and in a panic. I awoke my mom with the super flat, no nonsense tone our family reserves for only true emergencies, "Mom, I need you to wake up right now." As I paced in the hotel room, flapping my hands to shake off the increasing stabbing and burning going on under left ridge of my ribs, my mom called 9-1-1. We weren't able to describe our location well, and the road to where we were was less than ideal for an ambulance. Instead mom got directions to the hospital. I slid on some clothes, and we loaded into my car, which mom had never driven, in the pitch black dark, which mom doesn't like to drive in, and headed off toward the hospital, which neither of us knew exactly where was. Nonetheless, the town was small and the hospital easy enough to find, if one followed the signs. 

To make a long—and sordid—story short, hospital one treated me for gas, finally took an x-ray, and concluded, "You're really sick." There was talk of transporting me via helicopter or ambulance. They picked the bus, and the family converged on the region's larger hospital where I had emergency surgery. They cut me stem to stern. It was the second time my intestines were entirely removed from my body. They stapled my stomach shut, but only marginally closed my incision—a measure I think both aimed to allow the swelling to go down and to reduce infection. Four days after surgery, they stapled me shut in my hospital bed. Out of all that I've had done, I'd never had stitches or staples while awake. I was nervous to the point of tremors. The nurse loaded on four CCs of pain killer before beginning and kept two more on reserve. "So, um, those two CCs, yeah, is that for pain or to, like, keep me from freaking out?" I asked as cheerfully as possible, given the circumstances. "Both," the nurse replied with a tone both honestly direct and comforting. "Cool, cause, yeah, um, you might wanna push that," I said. 

I had three stitches and 37 staples down my middle when all was said and done. Recovery went well other than that I retained a bit of fluid in my incision, which consequently didn't close in two spots and began to gap open when my staples were removed. Though we'd been through much together, my husband had yet to actually see my insides—until then. As the physician's assistant measured the depth of my wound with a Q-tip, my own injury was less my concern as he went white and sweaty and reached for the chair. The wound would need to be packed twice a day. My husband would have to be the one to do it. With tweezers. He doesn't like to cook chicken. It took a month, but we got through the healing. My scar is stupendous and makes X only marginally shorter than my inseam. 

The third hospital visit was to see the surgeon who did my renal, celiac, and mesenteric bypass in 2005. At that time, we didn't have an official diagnosis for what caused my arterial stenosis. Takayasu's arteritis first was considered. Fibromuscular dysplasia was mentioned on the lab reports. My health was great until May 2008 when my I had a stroke, discovered my bypass had failed, and that I had four brain aneurysms. I lost my kidney as a result of the failed bypass. We concluded that my gastric rupture must play in as well. We agreed it was time to see a FMD specialist, so I headed to the Cleveland Clinic. My diagnosis came as a blessing and a curse. Knowing what I have is great. What I have is not great to have. 

In early November, I had to make another trip to the hospital for an outpatient procedure. Again, all went well, but again my husband ended up packing a wound—a much larger one this time. As we close in on the New Year, we're in the closing stages of wound care, but it's been a long two months. Shortly after the procedure, I was given the opportunity to be a speaker at the state's only support group for brain aneurysm patients, which meets at Duke Raleigh. I'd gone full circle from literally crawling in the emergency room door to commanding a Power Point about my disease in a hospital classroom. 

So I guess it's all to say that it could have been worse. I hope I can say it again next year. 


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"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." — Buddha