Apr 30 2009

The Twilight Zone

Published by at 10:06 am under Health & Fitness

What a long, strange week it’s been. If I’d wanted an experience like that, I’d have dropped acid in a sewer crawling with spiders.

Speaking of which, a word to the wise: Never go chasing after a jumping spider when you’ve got fresh incisions all over your torso. But more on that in the next post.

Last week started off like any other recent week I’ve been dragging through like fingers through sludge — with one exception: the mighty stomach ache. Each day it got worse until finally I went to some doctor (not my own), who diagnosed me with “gastritis; constipation.” You don’t understand, I thought as I slumped toward the pharmacy for my two prescriptions: indigestion pills and … two liters of colon-cleansing solution? I filled just the first, for what it was worth, which turned out to be nothing.

All night pain radiated through the territory under my rib cage so I couldn’t sleep. At 5:00 a.m. I sent an e-mail to the doc. At 7:00 I was on the phone with a nurse who convinced me to go to the ER, with the promise of painkillers. I drove myself through the grey, cold, pre-sunrise fog and grimaced my way into the ER. The waiting room was lightly populated so my wait, hands clutched discreetly over gut, was mercifully short.

I had the longest and hopefully the last ER experience ever. They disrobed me and intubated me, harvested fourteen gallons of blood and put me in the best room there, with private bathroom. The ER physician, an attractive and warm man a tiny bit (ten or fifteen years) younger than I, walked in and proudly announced his name. Because his name happens also to be a nickname for a certain male body part, my return greeting missed a beat.

Finally I got my drugs: morphine, which — instantly upon injection into my vein — slammed into my brainstem like a baseball bat. It’s feeling that I hope to avoid in the future, though heroin addicts seem to enjoy it.

Hours passed at a third their natural speed. My second shot of morphine killed the pain. The wonderful Dr. Body Part never took the easy course that Dr. Pepcid had, but tried to puzzle out the mystery of my innards. He ordered test after test. CT scan. Liver looks irregular. More blood tests. I think it’s your gallbladder. Ultrasound.

Around 3:00-ish I was lounging in my suite when a new guy came in and introduced himself as a surgeon. A surgeon? Aaaaaaaack. Oh, wait. He’s probably just here to give a second opinion. I remained ignorant for fifteen seconds longer when I reached for my water bottle. He quickly held up a hand. Hold off on that for a little while, would you? Just in case we have to do surgery.

SURGERY? Say again?

Turns out he and the wonderful doc suspected my gallbladder was infected or diseased or something, and needed to be taken out stat. They wanted to do one more test, just to be sure.

The Dynascope

I was rolled in my bed down corridors and up elevators toward a behemoth that looked like a decades-old version of the tube-and-slab machine I’d been inserted into earlier in the day. But appearances were deceiving. Apparently the Dynascope is the latest in nuclear medicine. Friday afternoon is the hardest time to get an impromptu appointment, but it was my lucky day.

Once again feeling like I was being slid into a morgue drawer, I lay back in the trough with my right arm flopped out to the side as they injected radioactive fluid into my IV. I watched the Dynascope’s tiny, black screen as my liver absorbed the poison and began to materialize magically in the form of ten thousand tiny dots. I was drugged enough to be fascinated.

Next you’ll see your gallbladder as the fluid reaches it. An hour later: no gallbladder. All I saw were little floating boats gliding merrily hither and yon. I am mortified to admit that these were the perky inhabitants of my upper intestine.

I heard the doctor asking the nurse to order a double-shot of morphine, and I heard him say my name. Can you lie still for another hour? We’d like to do the test again. This time we’ll inject morphine first, which’ll make the gallbladder’s sphincter contract and force fluid in…

Oh, gross.

Just as I was getting tired of watching my intestinal drama with its restless cast of characters, the test came to an end. Alas, my gallbladder was still playing hide-and-seek.

The nurse transferred me from tube to rolly bed, whereupon I was overwhelmed with nausea: a portent of things to come. Still, I do rather like being zipped through corridors while reclining on a bed, drugged.

Back in the ER the surgeon explained the results. The absence of visible gallbladder confirmed that it was blocked, which confirmed their diagnosis of acute cholecystitis. They booked me into the hospital for an emergency cholecystectomy at 8:00 the next morning. I do like throwing around those big medical words.

Lulu, Anna & Bates came to the ER to bring necessities for my hospital stay. They were perplexed, when gathering up my belongings, to find that I’d packed an Irish dance shoe in my pocketbook. They left, ghillie and unread textbook about second-language acquisition in-hand.

I gave Lulu a huge responsibility — to call a pile of my friends and let them know about this sudden turn of events, to arrange for someone to take care of Stella, and more — and she rose to the occasion with a poise and efficiency belying her nineteen years.

I’d have expected to be anxious about the experience ahead, but all I thought was:

  • What a great thing to have a problem that can be removed.
  • I hope my belly scars won’t be too butt-ugly.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “The Twilight Zone”

  1. Oleg K. says:

    What a situation! Like your bullet points in the end though.

  2. M says:

    “If I’d wanted an experience like that, I’d have dropped acid in a sewer crawling with spiders.”
    You know this from experience, of course. (Been smoking too much POT, V?)

    You’re very sweet. I’m glad I could be helpful. But then, I’ve *always* been amazingly fantastic, even back when I was just packing you swimsuits.

    And your belly scars are beauteous.

  3. Jeannette says:

    Ginna, you are the funniest writer! I hope you are going to publish a book of your middle-age dramas. It would be a hoot!

  4. maria says:

    i am in total agreement with Jeanette — write more about it, make us laugh, make you better 🙂

  5. Ginna says:

    Hey, thank you SO much for your kind comments about my writing!!!!!! I can’t tell you how much they mean to me, especially because they’re unexpected. For better or worse they encourage me to write more. I’m still working on my trip to Nepal — enormously belated and I hope I don’t forget details before I commit them to paper.

    Thanks again, Oleg, M, Jeannette and Maria.

  6. Bulwinkle says:

    I dare you to eat your gallbladder. A lot of garlic might help.

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