When I woke up last Wednesday, I felt a little queasy, which is not unusual for me. But after 15 minutes, the queasiness escalated, and by the time I fed the dogs, there was a burning fluid rushing from my stomach to my throat. I couldn’t hold it in. It splattered out of my mouth and barely into the toilet. I hadn’t vomited in 25 years, and the violence from my insides startled me. Had I eaten something bad? Unlikely, since all I ingest is my tube feeding formula, crackers and pudding. Had the formula expired? The carton said Sept 2018, that’s a long way off. Could I have a stomach flu? Possibly.
This barfy feeling made it clear that I’d better go straight back to bed and cancel all my plans for the day. I rarely, if ever, feel bad enough to close up shop. Even when I have a cold or feel fatigued, I follow through with my daily routines because I enjoy them, and am comforted by staying on schedule. But on this day, I couldn’t even keep water down, so I slept. For hours. The only reason I woke up was to vomit. I wanted so badly to brush my teeth, but didn’t have the strength. I couldn’t even lift my hand to pet sweet, little Henry, who was snuggled in next to me. Such a good boy.
After 24 hours, the voices of friends and doctors echoed in my head, “If you think you have the flu, you, of all people, need to go to ER.” Was that necessary? Should I go to ER? I knew if I called any of my doctors, they would tell me to go. As their words spun in my addled brain I just got worse. I was going downhill fast. When I mumbled my thoughts to my dear husband, Don, he immediately told me he thought it was a good idea. “Okay,” I said, “let’s go.”
We chose to go to the big hospital, where all my doctors had privileges, rather than the little hospital where I volunteer. When we got there at around 7pm, it was swarming with people who looked as miserable as I was. My heart sank. I felt too crappy to sit for hours in a waiting room, even though I’d brought my own barf bucket. So, we drove to the other hospital, but it was just as packed. Again, I thought, “I can’t sit here for hours, I’ll pass out.” So, we gave up and went home. At this point I lost all track of time. Overnight I got worse. My body was trying to vomit more frequently and I now had back pain so bad I couldn’t rest. I’d been trying to run my formula through my g-tube, but it would come right out my mouth. Water didn’t even stay down, so I asked Don to take me back to ER. I would just have to wait.
We went to the smaller hospital, where I volunteer because it feels more like home. Within an hour they’d taken me into a room to get my vital signs and draw blood. They also replaced my barf bucket with a tidier little plastic bag. Three hours later they hooked me up to get fluids, and gave me an anti-nausea injection. After 3 more hours I was put in an ER bed, where they X-rayed my abdomen and gave me more fluids. Then the doctor prescribed anti-nausea medicine and sent me home. It was 2:30am.
I felt hopeful for a couple of hours after getting home, but I was still nauseated and couldn’t sleep for the pain coming from my lower back and gut. That’s when I noticed that my normally flat, soft belly was now a taut orb, and it hurt like heck. Could it just be gas? Didn’t feel or sound like it. No rumbling or gurgles, just a tight, painful mound, and the intense pressure from inside strained the incision where the tube entered my body. I peeled off the dressing to find bright red, irritated skin. Now I was more scared and more uncomfortable. Again, Don asked, “Do you want to go back to the ER?” I dreaded the wait and wasn’t sure I’d live through with it.
“Probably a good idea.” I eeked out.
“Back to the same one?”
“I heard them say in the ER yesterday that all the ER’s are swamped, and many are closed.”
“I can be ready in ten minutes,” said my sweet husband.
By this time my thinking was so foggy I was incapable of reading a simple text on my phone. Thank God for Don. He was taking such good care of the animals, which was my main concern. I grabbed my little backpack and made sure I had my insurance cards, and we left.
Of course, the little ER was crowded, but I was miserable and no options. Don and I sat down for another 10 hour wait. There was no position I could sit in to relieve the pain in my back or abdomen. This time we sat for 3 hours before being called in to get things started. Instead of doing blood work, they took me down to the basement to get a CT scan of my belly. Not that this alleviated any pain, but it gave me hope. When the technician was done he took me back to the waiting room where I twisted and turned in agony for 4 more hours. I wanted to lay down on the cold, dirty floor to distract me from my pain, but chose not to.
If I had been feeling a little better, I would have been more compassionate for the people around me, but I just closed my eyes. I’d shared this waiting room with coughing babies and their worried moms, a family of five, all there with their grandmother who had fractured her hip, drug addicts, burn victims and a woman with a belly button infection, to name a few. I didn’t have the energy to be cordial or have any interaction. If I’d felt better, I’d have observed them closer to understand their crises, and maybe been more cordial. We had all accomplished an impressive feat of waiting for 10+ hours. We were in this this together as fellow warriors. We all deserved metals for our waiting abilities.
Finally, a nurse called my name and I was put in an ER bed. The same doctor who had sent me home with meds now told me I had an “abdominal obstruction,” and could see on the CT scan that I had at least 3 litres of fluid trapped inside. That explained a few things. The nurse started to say they would extract the fluid by putting a tube down my nose to my stomach, but the doctor said they could use my g-tube. That came in handy! They hooked me up and within 15 minutes enough dark, reddish brown liquid flowed out to provide relief from my pain and the impulse to puke. The drainage tube would “stay in for a while,” said the doc, as there was so much yuckiness trapped inside me.
But what caused the obstruction? The doctor said it could be the balloon inside my stomach that holds in the tube, blocking the duodenum, where the stomach empties into the small intestine. Or, it could be a growth of some kind. That sounded evil. At this point I was hooked up to get more fluids and potassium, as it had gotten dangerously low, then I was dressed with a heart monitor, which was a clunky metal box with probes attached to my chest. That would make sleeping hard. I lay flat on my back, held in place by the thick drainage tube on my left, the heart monitor box on my chest and at least three IV tubes on my right. My only choice was to lay on my back, which I could do now that the pain was majorly reduced. I didn’t normally sleep on my back, but at the moment they started wheeling my bed out of ER and up to my room, they placed a heated blanket on top of me, and being in this position felt perfectly fine.
When I was wheeled into my room on the eighth floor, which was the Telemetry Unit, it was 1:30am. I learned later that the Telemetry Unit of a hospital, was where patients were in critical condition and needed constant monitoring and care. Telemetry nurses reviewed data from special equipment to track a patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and other vitals. Was I that sick?
I wasn’t sure really when Don and I had gotten to the ER, maybe 3:30pm? Don had gone home hours earlier to feed the animals and take care of himself. I was happy now that the hospital staff was taking care of me since I couldn’t. I didn’t care that my socks were dirty, that I needed a bath and that my teeth were coated with puke, because the crushing pain and blinding confusion were gone. It was quiet in my head and body.
I slept well and was relieved to wake up without pain or the urge to purge. I gradually started to come out of the fog I’d been in for six days. I found the Fisher-Price-like TV remote and turned on the TV to keep me company. I was especially happy to see that the Twilight Zone Marathon was on. My all-time favorite show. What made the moment even better was that the episode that was playing was one I’d never seen before. Could life get any better?? Yes, as a matter of fact it could. I wasn’t expecting to see a doctor till late afternoon, but at 10am a jolly surgeon came in to tell me that the obstruction was definitely caused by the tube balloon and NOT a strange growth. He examined my belly and pulled my tube out a bit to ensure it wasn’t slipping back in to create a new problem. I wanted to cry, I was so happy. It could have been much more complicated. Before leaving, he smiled and said I could resume eating, drinking and using my tube. Cheers!
The nurse had the hospital kitchen call my room so I could order lunch. Not that I could make many choices, since I can’t digest so many foods. The lady in the kitchen said they were serving cream of asparagus soup today and asked if I could eat that. I had not had any in years, but it used to be my favorite. I ordered it with a couple of crackers and yum! It was delicious, even though I could only eat a small amount. It was the first food I’d eaten in six days.
Could I go home now? Not so fast. My nurse explained that because my potassium levels were so low, I would have to stay a few days. A normal range for potassium is 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter, and mine was at 2.0. It’s called Hyperkalemia. They were worried about my heart, she said. I needed to let them do their job, but I was ready to go home. Then I thought, no, I “waited in line” nearly twenty hours for this nice private room where I’m being served appropriate food for my disabled tummy, and getting life-saving medicine pumped into me 24-7. I should just enjoy the stay. It’s not the first place I would choose to celebrate New Years’ eve, but why not? I can celebrate by watching The Twilight Zone, or sleep. I fell asleep at 10pm.
I’m happy to say farewell to 2017,and welcome to 2018. Happy New Year!