Friday, April 26, 2013

No. 405 – Them Bones

Performer: Alice In Chains
Songwriter: Jerry Cantrell
Original Release: Dirt
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: none

My excursion to Ann Arbor for postcard shopping at the end of February 1994 was fairly successful, but the nagging queasiness I had experienced all weekend bugged me on the drive home. I took a DiGel, but it didn’t go away. Instead, it got worse.

Now, over the years, given my crappy digestive system, I was used to having pain in my stomach. Typically, I just had to go to the bathroom—several times—and it would go away, but it didn’t this time.

It also didn’t feel quite like anything else I’d had before. It was like a knot in my stomach, which going to the bathroom relieves, but sharper. It also was a little higher, almost in my chest. It felt like a muscle cramp that wouldn’t go away.

I went to Meijer for some groceries, and I thought walking around might be better than just sitting and watching TV. It didn’t help, and by the time I got home, it was starting to really hurt.

OK, it was in my chest, not my abdomen, so it wasn’t my appendix. I didn’t have any pain in my arms, so it wasn’t my heart, but what was happening here? I climbed into bed, but lying down didn’t feel good. Nothing did.

The pain just wasn’t going away. I didn’t have to go to work, so that wasn’t a concern. But I had to do something. What do you do when you’re on your own? There wasn’t anyone to call, so the only solution was to drive to the hospital. St. Joseph’s Hospital off Dort was the closest.

When I pulled into the parking lot by the ER, I was convinced that as soon as I got there, the pain would go away, like this was some psychosomatic deal. In fact, I sat in my car for some time, wondering whether it really was necessary to go inside. The pain in my chest convinced me it was.

Unlike other recent softball-injury-related experiences I had had at St. Joe’s, they took me into ER almost as soon as I walked in and began strapping me up to EKGs and other heart-related equipment. I knew it wasn’t my heart. I don’t smoke, don’t eat a lot of salt and am in the best shape of my life. A nurse took my blood pressure and saw it was fine. She gave me a shot for the pain.

They concluded it wasn’t heart; it was my stomach, so they said they were going to pump it. What a miserable procedure. They snaked a tube through my nose down my throat—I had to swallow it down—and into my stomach. Once it was down, it wasn’t so bad. I could breathe, but I couldn’t swallow. And it didn’t help to relieve my pain. They gave me another shot.

So maybe it was my heart after all. They went back to that theory, but they also couldn’t figure out why I still was in pain. A nurse asked me pointedly: Is there a reason why you would have a high tolerance to morphine?

Of course the answer was no, but ... morphine?! That’s what you’ve been giving me?! So, I’m in pain and I’m going to be an addict? Good!

Finally they gave me Demerol, the same stuff they gave to women during childbirth. That worked. Before long, I was able to uncoil on the bed and sit back instead of being doubled over. I was feeling as comfortable as one could be with an EKG strapped to him and a tube down his throat.

The pain went away, but no one could figure out what caused it. It didn’t seem to be life threatening, so, while still keying on my heart, they wheeled me up to the intensive care unit when they weren’t wheeling me here and there for more tests. Doctors came and went, and at one point, I was wheeled off for an ultrasound on my kidneys and gall bladder. It was a hunch, but why not add more pieces to the puzzle? I was insured.

The rest of time, I was alone with my thoughts. Spending a night in ICU was a humbling experience. All around me people seemed to be gasping out their last breath. Sure, I had been in serious pain earlier, but … I wasn’t this badly off, was I? In the four-person pod, I felt like the one-of-these-things-isn’t-like-the-other piece of the puzzle.

Despite my predicament, my overnight schedule made it so I didn’t sleep. The nurse, whose name I never got, took excellent care of me during her overnight shift, however, due to my having been admitted as a cardiac patient.

I must have slept in the morning, because I remember eventually waking up and having my primary-care doctor greeting me while sitting in a chair at the end of my bed. I don’t remember his name now. I found this guy at an emergency clinic in 1993, and I trusted him enough for him to become my regular doctor—the first one I’d had since I was a kid in Columbus.

Anyway, he joked about how bad I looked, and his first instructions were to have the nurse—a different one now—take the tube out of my stomach so we could talk. I had no pain, and when that tube was pulled, I felt about a thousand times better. Then he gave me the news: I had gallstones, and my gall bladder would have to come out. He said they could get me into surgery in an hour.

I was going to lose an organ? It was that serious? My mind raced. Isn’t there something I just can take to break these up? He smiled patiently. Sure, you could leave, but you will have another attack. It’s a matter of when, not if.

He further explained: The stones have made it so your gall bladder is starting to rot away. The word he used was “gangrenous.” Yikes!

OK … what choice did I have? None. I guess it was time to call a few people and let them know what was happening.

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