Sunday started as a slightly off day. I could feel something, a not-quite-rightness about things.
I broke a container of chervil when making breakfast, shattering the small jar and covering the floor with the spice. I cleaned it up, and didn’t mention it to Sarah (she was taking a shower at the time).
After breakfast, we were going to Old Sturbridge Village, Sarah’s parents were in the area and would meet us there.
I had trouble getting ready – trips always slightly discombobulate me, but I felt extra helpless as I got ready go.
As we pulled up to Old Stubridge Village, I felt sort of grumpy and out of sorts. “I feel like every decision I make today will be the wrong one,” I said to Sarah.
We met up with Sarah’s parents, and wandered around OSV for a while. Sarah’s dad had bought a big bag of lemon cookies at the bakery there, Sarah and I split a cookie (a bad decision, a precursor to the upcoming really bad decision).
We saw pretty much everything there, some interesting stuff, some just reminded me of growing up in rural Maine. I saved Sarah from stepping in an enormous pile of horse manure, she had been tromping along reading a brochure, oblivious to the potential messy fate.
“Colonial times were really stinky,” she commented.
After we’d made the rounds, we decided to get something to eat. When we go to the tavern, though, it was closed. So we left OSV and went to a place Sarah’s parents had been 10 or so years before, the Publick House.
It’s an old-style upscale hotel/dining/event place, a massive structure with a rambling, maze-like interior.
We finally found the dining area (with some assistance from one of the staff) and perused the menu.
I settled on getting the Chicken Pot Pie, and a salad and a dessert. “Remember from the book ‘Eat this, not that’,” Sarah commented, “those are loaded with fat.”
“Yeah, but tasty,” I reply.
Little did I know then that my decision of dish would nearly destroy me.
The chicken pot pie was yummy, though I burned my tongue a little when eating it, blowing on each spoonful instead of waiting for the dish to cool.
For dessert I got Indian Pudding, which I don’t think I’ve had before. It was good, not too sweet, with a scoop of ice cream. I had some of Sarah’s Apple Pie, which compared to the Indian Pudding, was almost too sweet.
After dinner, we headed back to my car to drive home, and Sarah’s parents headed back to their hotel.
On the ride back, I could feel something wasn’t right.
“Oof,” I commented, “I feel stuffed.”
“Me too,” said Sarah.
[Warning: The remainder of this story falls into what most people consider the “too much information” category.]
But I felt more than stuffed, I felt over-stuffed, bursting at the seams.
I had been constipated for the past couple days, which worked out great for the bike ride, but now I was afraid I really *was* filled to bursting.
On the drive home, the pain got worse and worse.
A couple years ago, I felt a similar pain, and ended up going to the ER for it. The said it was constipation, and proscribed me some laxative.
I still had some of it left, so took some. I couldn’t remember how long it took to work, though.
The pain continued to escalate.
Sarah went out to get some different treatments to try.
In agony, I prayed for her return.
I tried meditation, which worked, but only for small periods of time. Then the pain would come bursting back into my awareness. I heard Sarah come in, and eagerly greeted her.
“Sorry,” she said, “every place was closed. But there is a 24-hour Walgreens on Park, I’m looking it up in google maps.”
She tried to print out directions, but couldn’t get the printer to work. I was in too much pain to help. She wrote down directions and headed out again.
I had noticed that lying on the cool tiled floor in the kitchen seemed to help a little, so I tried an ice pack. I’m not sure it helped at all, but it didn’t make the pain worse.
Sarah came back again, this time with supplies. She was concerned about me trying too many things on my body, but I was in so much pain, I was willing to try anything. Things that seemed disgusting and unthinkable at any other time were welcome. I tried an enema and a suppository, both of which had little to no effect. I forced myself to throw up, anything to try to decrease the pressure, but it did little but leave me with the taste of vomit in my mouth and throat.
Then I took a warm bath, which did help, but I have the smallest bath in the universe – I had to put my legs straight up on the wall to lie down in the tub, and even then the water didn’t cover my abdomen, where the pain was. So I gently splashed water over my stomach, which helped. Not only were my intestines crying out in pain, but my abdominal muscles were as tight as possible, as were my back muscles. The warm bath helped relax them a little.
At this point, Sarah was pretty exhausted, she had been tired earlier, and now it was past midnight. She fell asleep, and I went to the couch, so my pained thrashings wouldn’t wake her, and tried to get some sleep.
I realized after a while there was no way I was going to be able to sleep, there was simply too much pain.
I remembered my trip to the ER last time. It had been ridiculously expensive, but they had given me morphine, which made the pain go away. At that point, I was desperate to make the pain stop. There was a pair of scissors on the kitchen counter that I had to put away, because every time I walked by them, I would eye them and think about stabbing myself in the gut, anything to stop the horrible, horrible pressure and pain.
Finally I resigned myself. I knew it was an amazingly expensive rip-off, but the ER seemed like the only choice. My insurance would cover some of it, at least. The thing that gets me about ER visits is that what is expensive is not the doctors, or the medicine. The expensive thing is the time you spend in a bed. That’s right, the medicine and doctors only cost tens or hundreds of dollars, but time in the bed costs THOUSANDS. So they have an incentive to keep you in the bed as long as possible, since it’s like a taxi with the meter running. The most expensive taxi on earth.
I wake Sarah up. “I can’t take the pain anymore,” I say, “I’m a wuss. I need the ER and some sweet, sweet morphine.”
“Ok,” she says.
We get dressed and head over.
I check in and a nurse takes my vitals and gets some info about my condition.
Then we wait in the waiting area. I give Sarah my iPhone to play with, she plays Quordy (which a friend from college wrote) while I squirm around on a couch, trying to find some mythical comfortable position, but it’s a hopeless quest.
Finally I go up to the reception desk, I ask her if there’s a water fountain.
“You have abdominal pain, so we can’t give you any liquids,” she says.
“What about a bathroom?”
“You’re just going to go drink some water, aren’t you?”
“No, I… I’m feeling a little queasy (I was) and want to know, just in case.”
“I can give you a bucket if you need one,” she gestures to a pile of plastic bins.
“I just… I just want to know where the bathroom is.”
She is about to tell me, when a woman walks up, saying “I’m ready for him”.
I call to Sarah, and we head into the ER “pod”. I’m handed off to a nurse. “This way,” he says, and sets me up in a bed. He tells me to remove my shirt and put on a hospital gown. Oddly, he leaves the room. I’m removing my shirt, not my pants. I guess they treat men and women removing their shirts the same? I’m not sure if that’s progressive, or prudish… seems weird in a hospital, but I guess they want to make extra-sure no one sues them for sexual harassment…
A number of nurses and doctors examine me, all asking the same questions. I’m never able to get through the full recounting of my tale before they cut me off with another question. Seems inefficient, that they would get more out of letting me finish, or asking new questions, instead of each asking the same ones. Seems like that information isn’t getting passed from one person to the next – the very first nurse took notes, but doesn’t seem like these doctors and nurses were. I was pretty distracted by the pain, though, so perhaps they have some system I didn’t see.
They bring in an ultrasound, and scan my belly. I can’t see from where I am, but they say I have three gall stones. They also say I have an unusually large gall bladder, but don’t say what that means.
They take some blood to run some tests.
At some point, they finally offer me some pain relief. I’m not sure if they didn’t want it to mess up my lab data, or they just liked watching me squirm, but it seemed like a while before they finally got me some morphine.
Morphine is great. It didn’t completely eliminate the pain, though, just knocked it down a few notches. I felt almost like I could drift off to sleep.
After a while, though, the morphine begins to wear off. I’m not sure how long I’ve been in the bed. Hours?
A doctor comes in to talk to me, I forget exactly what he said, a lot of horrible stuff about possibly removing my gall bladder, how fever might be deadly or something, but I was distracted from what he was saying, because the pain was back.
He chastises me for trying chemicals to cure my constipation, said that I was dumb not to just use lots of prune juice. Well, excuse me for using the medicine that the same ER prescribed last time…
Finally, he says he’ll get me some more pain reliever, this time morphine and another one, which Sarah says is extra-strength ibuprofen.
A couple times, I ask for a copy of my medical records from the visit. One nurse blows me off, he tells me some bullshit about that not being allowed under HIPAA. In fact, HIPAA says the opposite, that unless there are special reasons, a patient is allowed copies of their records on request.
One of the doctors was better about my request, though she only gives me the lab results, not the other records (for example, the ultrasound scan had been recorded).
In my experience, doctors and hospitals are notoriously secretive about medical records. Even though they are obligated to release them if you ask, they will usually dodge and weave to give you as little as possible. I say “all”, they make their own interpretations, thinking to themselves “well, obviously he doesn’t want *all* the info, I’ll just give him this one report.”
When I say “all”, it’s what I mean. I swear, you’d have to be a lawyer or bring one with you to get them to ever comply fully with HIPAA.
So anyway, they release me, and give me a prescription for oxycodone and that extra-strength ibuprofen. It’s been about 4 or 5 hours total, which is pretty fast for an ER, though I imagine the bill will be several thousand bucks… we’ll see.
We get home around 5:30, and drop off to sleep, exhausted. Sarah doesn’t have to work Monday, or doesn’t have to work till later in the day, we don’t wake up till around, I dunno, 11am or 1pm or something.
Sarah has to head home to feed her cat and get ready for work the next morning, which is at early o’clock.
I head to Stop & Shop, and feel like an old man shambling through the store, buying my prune juice and milk of magnesia, getting my prescriptions filled. It occurs to me, I have white hair, age spots on my face, failing organs – I don’t just *feel* like an old man, I am one.
Which plunges me into despair. I mean, I’ve tried to live a fairly healthy life the last few years. Sure, I could exercise more, and I do eat the occasional slice of pizza or pasta dish, but by-and-large, I go for the healthy choices.
And what does it get me? Gall stones. Which, as a friend pointed out, are usually found in, as Wikipedia puts it: “the four F’s: Fat, Female, (nearing) Forty, Fertile.”
I’ve always fully expected to live to 100 or above, which seemed perfectly reasonable – I take care of myself, eat well, have a generally positive outlook.
But now I am told that if symptoms continue, I may need my gall bladder removed. At that moment, standing in the supermarket, I felt a complete failure. Anything I had done to try and stay healthy had been either too little, too late, or doomed to failure from the start.
The prune juice and milk of magnesia did the trick, got my insides cleaned out and working again.
However, I’ve been feverish today. Which I remember the doctor saying something about, something very bad, but I don’t remember it all. The long and short of it is probably just that I’m fucked.
I have an appointment to meet with my regular doctor tomorrow morning, where doubtless he will give me his own rendition of the “you’re fucked” tune.
I remember the good old days, back on Saturday, when I used to be healthy.
Sigh. Days long gone, I guess.