Friday, March 12, 2010

Breaking The Fast

(I wrote a shorter version of this after midnight today at my Facebook page, but decided to bring it here because processing through my recent near-death is what has stopped the dark-of-night panic attacks: Memoir as noticing what is good in the present moment.)

I was reading Konagod's blog just now and his jonesing for french fries because it's been over a week since he had solid foo. I thought to myself "I went 10 days without food during the gut explosion incident." I had to go look at a calendar to make sure I wasn't mythologizing myself.

I got a grocery delivery the early evening of Sunday, Oct. 11. I was anticipating its arrival because I was hungry, had gone more than a day without food, because I had no money and no way to go get food on my own. The first thing I did was sit down and eat a handful of tortilla strips with some spinach dip and a glass of orange juice -- enough to give me quick, healthy energy. I saved the rest of my hunger for a real meal and began trying to haul the bags of groceries to my kitchen. That is when the final hernia rupture took place. I left perishables on the dining room floor and went to lie down from the sudden pain, hoping it would subside as it had before over the preceding year.

And, of course, the reason why these episodes of severe abdominal pain and vomiting had gone untreated by me for a year is because I had no insurance, no money to pay for an office visit or even to get transportation to a health facility. I didn't know what was wrong with me, had guessed it might be my gall bladder and so was trying to address it with a diet revision. I had not an inkling that it was two hernias slowly extruding through abdominal muscle and strangling my colon -- nor of the carcinoid tumor sitting like a time bomb in my appendix.

Lying down didn't help. I began puking every 15 minutes, and at midnight gave up on working a shift that night but couldn't get to my computer or phone to call in. I had water and gatorade by my bed, and tried to stay hydrated by sipping at it periodically, but vomited back up anything I swallowed.

Things get hazy after that. All my memories are of agony in the dark, but it couldn't have been dark all the time those two days. I know for a fact that I called EMS at 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and since I had to get to my phone anyhow, I composed an email to Jesse giving all my passwords, emergency info, etc -- don't know how I did that, either, but the email is there.

I think I called Jesse, too, but I don't remember talking to him. Somehow I found and put on clothes that were nearby. I couldn't get to underwear or my shoes, so I greeted the paramedics without those items. Didn't have my wallet, either, but I was on sheer mercy by that point. The only thing in my pocket was my front door key. I didn't say goodbye to Dinah. I had no idea I'd be gone three weeks -- time had stopped for me.

Why I finally called the paramedics, instead of dying in the dark, is that I prayed to my mama. I had been trying to find a position where the pain would let up just a fraction, enough to give me a minute of rest. I think I said out loud "I'm in trouble this time, Mama. You gotta help me." And instantaneously the pain got much, much worse. I interpreted this as her saying "I can't help you, you have to ask somebody else." So I did.

I was at the ER by 3 a.m., where the angelic Lisa gave me Zofran and Dilaudid, erasing my agony within seconds. I remember being transferred to the 2nd floor only because of the nurse who was there, who kept calling me baby girl. That nurse is who tried to pass a nasogastric tube through my right nostril. Her attempts were not working, and when my right side was bloodied amd she was switching to my left nostril, I took the tube from her and did it myself. A feat I'm not likely to ever repeat, but it earned me a lot of street cred on that floor.

The NG tube began pumping out copious amounts of green gunk, more than seemed possible. I had an internal lake of backlogged bile from my halted alimentary canal, and removing it vastly helped my nausea. But they decided to let that process have a little time to work, keeping me on a push IV. The NG tube and oyxgen began drying out my mucous membranes. I remember I had five tubes and/or monitors in me because Jesse and I joked about me being "Five-Line Girl".

They gave me a tightly rationed amount of ice chips as my mouth and lips dried out. It became difficult for me to talk, and my lips began cracking. I wanted liquid, but I was vehemently not hungry at that point. It was fine with me if I never ate again. Eating meant vomiting. You never quite appreciate the miracle of your digestive system until it completely quits on you.

I had a couple of Dilaudid days because I also can verify I didn't have surgery until the early morning of Friday the 16th. I have a crystal clear memory of being prepped in the surgical suite, the older and extremely competent nurses around me, feeling beyond fear because it was get fixed or die. I also remember waking up, a calm dykey looking nurse telling me "All good, you wanna call anyone?" and me moving my body to see if there was any pain, but she was right, it was all good. More ice chips until I passed gas, then had a BM, which took three days.

The dryness of my mouth started making me miserable despite the Dilaudid. I was also hallucinating my ass off for a couple of days, which I kept to myself, not even telling Jesse. I saw ghosts in my ICU room 24/7, walking in and out the walls, and I decided they were hallucinations, not real ghosts, because one of them was a little girl in a long dress and a bonnet but that hospital was too modern to have an old-fashioned ghost like that, so it was all in my head. They were some sort of company and I didn't mind them much.

Once I started having BMs, though, the ice chips and IV were not enough, I was craving water, milk, juice, soup. It was on Wednesday the 21st that the tech finally got permission to give me something besides ice chips. Veronica, that was Veronica, I adored her. Hard-bitten and expert, teased me a lot because, as she put it, I was the only one in that ICU section who wasn't out of my mind. She came into the room holding a massive rainbow-striped popsicle, all artificial colors and fake sugar, the kind of thing I'd never buy for myself. But it looked like glory at that moment. She unwrapped it for me and I took one bite, then moaned, which embarrassed us both. She sneaked me another one before her shift ended.

I got sick of the popsicles within two days, so it was at least another two days before I got progressed on to lemon jello for a day, then finally beef broth which was truly excellent, they made it from scratch there in a real kitchen. Anyhow, it was 10 days without anything but ice chips, and another five days before I got the beef broth. But I was on Dilaudid most of that time, which makes it a lot easier, Konagod. You have my sympathy fer sure.

[To read Jesse's posts here as this all unfolded, beginning on October 14th, read Maggie Jochild In Hospital For Major Abdominal Surgery and then proceed forward. Eventually I was able to write as well and Jesse took those posts as dictation, got them up for me. Then Liza sent me a netbook at the hospital and I was back online -- that netbook is my lifeline in bed now, is what I use to write this and everything else. I have food and meds, rent and utilities, only because people send me money each month. Most days, I find joy in being around. Thank you for keeping me.]