The C Word – Part 3
I got through the molten bum phase and was getting back to at least eating a liquid diet, then the gas pain and the nausea set in. And I don’t mean queasiness, I mean my stomach just started violently rejecting everything. I was producing so much bile and it wasn’t going anywhere. There was an incredible amount of gas pressure in my abdomen which just wouldn’t move. I would have killed for a fart OR a shart at that point. But instead, the pressure just built up and built up, and I started vomiting. Projectile vomiting. Now I understand the euphemism “hurl”. I was literally “hurling” across the room. It seemed like all my orifices were angry and violent! So, I was doubled over in pain, crying and vomiting. I must have puked up at least 4 liters. The pain was indescribable. And what I learned about gas pain, is that it can’t be treated with pain medicine. It just has to work its way out. But it wasn’t going anywhere. And I was terrified. Terrified that my body was betraying me. That it was shutting down. That the nurses and doctors would give up on me. Terrified that my body was in the kind of end-of-life pain I had watched my mom in at the very end. I was in hysterics. I couldn’t get any relief from any of it. I honestly thought it was the end. I screamed through my sobs, “I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”
The nurses got a bit freaked out by that and called my doctor to consult, then came back in. They told me they were going to put in an NG tube. That’s the tube that goes up your nose and down your throat so they can suction all the excess bile from your stomach to relieve the pressure and nausea. They mark the tube for length, lube it up, then introduce it to your nostril and give you a glass water and a straw. When they say GO, you have to suck the water through the straw as they feed the tube so that your own swallowing suction pulls it into place. And then you have a tube up your nose, hanging halfway down your throat. It feels exactly like you’re guessing it might feel. Terrible. I kept thinking of my sideshow friends that pass a rubber tube up one nostril and out the other and then siphon whiskey from a glass through it, inviting audience members to drink “nose whiskey” through the tube hanging from their nostril. Now that HAD to feel better than THIS! They gave me numbing lozenges to suck on, and after a day or so, it became more tolerable. But having the tube in meant I was hooked up to even MORE stuff. And I couldn’t eat or drink except small sips of water. They’d taken the Epidural out, which I was glad of, since I didn’t want to become dependent on those pain killers. But now I needed to ask for pain medicine and nausea medicine as needed and wait between doses. And swallowing pills while nauseated is always a gamble.
The catheter was also out at last, so that was one less thing, but that meant I needed to get up to pee. So I’d need to call the nurse, have them clamp off the NG tube and disconnect me so I could get up to go. Then I had to unplug my IV cart and drag it with me. That was OK during the day, but in the evening, they were often understaffed. So, I asked for a commode in my bed area so I could manage on my own if necessary.
After several days of that NG tube and not being able to eat anything, they came to tell me I was malnourished. Quelle surprise. And that they had to put in a PICC line in order to feed me fats and nutrients. The IV only gave me fluids and occasionally they’d throw on an extra bag of vitamins. They took me down to another lab so the technician could install the PICC line. Now, that’s a tiny tube that runs inside your vein, up your shoulder and exits down just above your heart. They use a machine that shows the tech the patient’s body so they can get precisely the right length and placement. The whole process is freaky, but the technician was so informative and friendly that I felt safe. While I was in the hospital the only thing I felt like watching were old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I found the rational pursuit of science and the peacefulness of sailing through space to be comforting to me while I was being poked and pricked and prodded and hooked up to tubes and machines. It helped me trust my current immersion in modern medicine, and I’d just pretend I was in Dr. Beverly Crusher’s sick bay. So now I had the NG tube, the IV and the PICC line attached to me. And extra bags of fluids going into me. SO much fluid, that I was up half the night peeing. I was exhausted, and thankful for the commode. But after a couple of pees, that commode was getting FULL. I’d buzzed after my second pee, and an aide came by to tell me my nurse was busy but would be right with me. So I waited. Nobody came. I had to pee again, so I did, tipping the scales of the already compromised commode. I rang the buzzer again. The same aide came by and I just asked could they please change my commode. I warned her it was really full. REALLY full. I don’t think she realized how serious I was. It was dark in the room. She proceeded to lift it from the sides and it immediately capsized, spilling a waterfall of urine all over the floor. She made a meager effort to wipe some of it up, but it was dark, and there was still pee everywhere. My whole area smelled like pee and it was making me feel nauseated. I went to stand up, and found out my slippers were also covered in pee. My brand new slippers I’d just bought for my convalescence. I was so exhausted and feeling so helpless and frustrated that I just wanted to cry. The next morning when I called my husband, I started telling him the story and I just couldn’t help crying. Then I couldn’t stop sobbing. Crying over spilled pee. Being malnourished, in pain, exhausted, nauseated, and absolutely feeling helpless is a lot to handle. My poor husband was sobbing right along with me, frustrated that he couldn’t be there to help me. I thought of all the people who were stuck in hospitals and homes during Covid with no visitors. No family, no friends. No contact with loved ones. It’s a human need. The nurses and staff were wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes you just need someone you love to hold your hand and stroke your hair and tell you everything’s going to be all right.
I asked my nurses, and they got permission for my husband Doug to visit me, and it was such a gift. In fact, they got him on the permanent visitor list and gave him a wristband. Just seeing Doug’s smiling face every day or two helped so much. One day, he checked me off the ward to take me outside the front of the building for some fresh air and sunshine. He brought a guitar in case I felt up to singing through a few songs. I didn’t think I would, but he got me going and we ended up doing an impromptu concert of about a dozen songs for all the other patients and guests and staff who were sitting in the area. Singing and performing again – albeit in my hospital gown hooked up to my mobile IV cart – was the most restorative medicine I’d had since being in the hospital. My voice was clear and bright, I couldn’t stop smiling, I was filled with joy and optimism. Harmonizing with my husband is one of my greatest joys. I turned a corner that day in my recovery. I had renewed strength, energy and determination to heal and get out of there. And all it took was a few simple songs. All during my healing process, I’d noticed how vibrations seemed healing to me. I listened to healing meditation music designed in different frequencies and tones to support different chakras or different aspects of healing. And I noticed how I could really FEEL the vibrations of certain tones in different parts of my own body. Some felt absolutely comforting and healing. When I was at the darkest point of pain and discomfort, sobbing all night long, the only thing that got me through was a sound meditation I stumbled across with singing bowls and a cat purring. I’d been missing my cats in the hospital, too. I’ve read that when cats purr, they’re healing themselves. I don’t know if that’s true, but I certainly felt the healing vibrations of cat purrs before and when I humm different tones, I can replicate that warm healing feeling in my own body, finding the tone that seems to match the area in need. So when I felt sick or in pain, I began to softly humm to myself. And for whatever reason, it really helped.
I mentioned before that there were four patients in each room. It was the surgical wing, so everyone in our area was there for surgery. Sometimes patients were admitted pre-surgery, sometimes just post, like I was. Over the 16 days I was there, a total of nine other people passed through the other beds as my roommates. Dave was there when I got there, and he only got released a couple days before me. He’d had a similar surgery to mine, but he was 82, so the healing was taking longer for him. He also had family members visiting him regularly, which was nice for him. I guessed since he was older and he’d been there so long, they permitted him to have visitors. Dave and I made friends. I stopped to chat with him on my way to the window or to the bathroom. He was a good guy. One of the last people in the bed across from me was a 30 something gal who was just in for a little knee surgery. One evening, I was trying to work through a bout of nausea by breathing, meditating and humming softly to myself. She cranked up the volume on whatever she was watching on her phone. Dave asked her politely to use her headphones. To which she snapped, “I’ll use my headphones when someone stops humming!” And Dave replied, in typical Dad fashion, “It’s not a contest.” Good ol’ Dave. Since I was sheltered behind my curtains, I flipped that girl a whole FLOCK of birds and mouthed the words FUCK YOU in her direction over and over until I felt better about things.
They started clamping off my NG tube at mealtimes to let me have sips of the liquid diet I was allowed. They said it was just for comfort, because the NG tube was sucking everything out of my stomach. I figured why bother if it’s just a placebo. But one day they left it clamped for several hours, and I wasn’t nauseated from the broth and juice. The next time they left it clamped overnight – I think it was by accident – and I was still OK, so the next time my doctor came by on rounds, he removed it. At this point I hadn’t really eaten in over a week. So, they kept me on the PICC line for nutrition, but let me eat my liquid meals. I started feeling so much better. Then one night, I had to take my horse pill antibiotic and my stomach was really empty. It had been hours since dinner, and that had only been broth and juice anyway. They always broke the pill in half since it was so big, and every time I took it, I immediately burped up sulfur. I got up to go to the bathroom shortly after taking my pill and while I was in there, I felt barfy. I tried to stand up in time, but I ended up “hurling” straight across the bathroom. Seriously, I don’t know why all my bodily functions in the hospital were so extreme! Again, I cleaned up what I could before calling someone. I was afraid of telling anyone I threw up because I was afraid they’d put that NG tube back in. So I assured them over and over that it was just the pill. To which the nurse helping me said, “Oh no, you’re not supposed to take that without food. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” I hadn’t realized that every other time I’d taken that pill, I took it with juice. But this time I’d only had water. At that point I started asking for an anti-nausea Gravol tablet to take a little while before each antibiotic. And a cracker. And thankfully, it worked. They didn’t put the tube back in. Now I was only hooked up to the IV and the PICC lines. Which gave me more freedom to get up and roll my IV cart with me on walks around the ward. I was feeling stronger and stronger. I even did a little light yoga. Then one evening as I was sitting in the common area near the elevators talking to my husband on the phone, I suddenly felt wetness on my stomach, coming through my gown. Nothing hurt, it was just all wet all of a sudden. “Hey, Doug” I said, “I have to go. I think I’m leaking…” I went to the nurses’ station to let them know and they came in to have a look and change my bandages. They notified the Doctor on call and he came to take a look as well. Apparently, my body was just producing too much fluid and it literally started leaking out. I’ve always been a very moist person, after all. He said it was common and he wasn’t worried about it. I just had to rest in bed again and try not to move around too much. Great. Just as I was getting more mobile, another set-back. My doctor showed up the next day to take a look. He removed all my staples, then opened up the wound a bit on the bottom, below my navel, and rinsed it out, then put in some packing material to keep the wound open and wick out the extra fluids, letting the wound heal from the inside out. Then he bandaged me up again, and let me know that I’d need to have the wound re-dressed every day for awhile, then every couple of days and so on until it was healed. Once I left the hospital, he said I’d need to have that done at a Wound Care clinic, something I’d never heard of.
The next time my Doctor came in to check on things, he said everything was looking good and that I should be released that coming Friday the 25th. Oh, man, hearing an actual date gave me so much joy and hope. We were creeping up on 2 weeks at that point and I was starting to get really frustrated. Especially as I was getting stronger. I broke the good news to Doug and we started making plans for my release. He planned to take the day off so he could bring me home and get me all situated. Every day that week, my Doctor said my progress was on target and everything was on track. I was just waiting on an official release order from him. On Thursday I kept waiting for him to come by and tell me I was getting sprung on Friday. But no Doctor. When evening rolled around, I realized he wasn’t coming and I became dejected. I felt like crying again. I wrote angry rants in my journal. I just wanted OUT of there. I figured the Doctor got stuck in surgery or something, so I wasn’t angry with HIM, I was just frustrated. Since we didn’t know exactly when or even if I was getting released, I suggested that Doug just come out and spend the day with me while we waited. After the morning went by with no Doctor, I sent Doug off to get himself some lunch. And lo and behold, my Doctor showed up. It’s like when you go to the washroom at a restaurant and when you come back, your food has arrived! It seemed the Doctor had been up for 24 hours in emergency surgery. I had figured as much. He’s a very dedicated Doctor. But he released me! Finally! After 16 seemingly endless, tortuous days in the hospital, I was finally FREEEEEEE!