Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just Where Have You Been, Young Man?

I apologize to my regular readers, Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Google+ G+’ers, for my absence the last few days. Let me tell you a story of pain, loss, of comfort and distress, an opportunity lost, possibly another gained.

On Saturday night, just after dinner, I began to experience pain on the right side of my body. At first I thought it was the pie my bunk partner had offered me, something his girlfriend had made. But the pain seemed centered around my right lung. It was never a bad pain, always 3 out of 10, but always there. My first thoughts were that is might be a collapsed lung, or pneumonia. At first, I took some aspirin and tried to ignore the pain. I went to bed early since it was a white flag night and the dining hall was filled with extra men.

I tried to get comfortable, switching between my left side, my right side and my back, but found that none of those positions felt at all comfortable enough for me to sleep. By 10pm I realized the pain was not going away on its own and headed for the front desk to ask them to call an ambulance. I had decided not to take my laptop, since that felt somewhat awkward. Big Mistake!

The EMT’s were polite enough. I’m sure they had seen a number of fake symptoms before, but the woman at the desk told them she believed me. (I rarely complain, except on these pages.) So the EMT’s bundled me in to the ambulance and asked me where I wanted to go. There are 3 major hospitals in Raleigh, Rex, Duke, and Wake Med. I had had several bad experiences with Wake Med in the past, but since they at least had my record on file, I decided to give them one more chance.

The EMT’s took all my vitals, asked me numerous questions, informed me my blood pressure was too high, and took me to Wake Med. Once there I didn’t have to wait in the waiting room. They took me right to a treatment room. I got the same flood of questions that the EMT’s asked, plus a few more from the nurse, and then a short while later the doctor came in. She was pleasant enough, but her first suggestion was to have an ultrasound to see if there was gall stone. Well at that moment the pain still felt like it was in my lung, so the whole gall bladder thing didn’t sit well with me. I wanted pneumonia ruled out.

She humored me and had an X-Ray taken of my right lung, which turned out to be ‘perfect,’ and she didn’t sound a bit surprised. We went over some options, including going home and seeing if it went away, and I chose to get the ultrasound.

Sure enough, there was a stone in my gall bladder. A large one. So the doctor and I talked again about the options and I agreed to talk to a surgeon. Now, lest you think this was all happening quickly, let me explain that by this time it was 4am. I had been suffering from a cold since Thursday. So in addition to the pain of my gall bladder, my eyes watered, I sneezed, sniffled and coughed. Throughout the process, none of those symptoms were ever addressed! The only solace I had was a TV on the ceiling. I still could not rest.

So it was 4am and the surgeon came for a visit. He is an exceedingly nice doctor named Biswas. He explained the procedure to me, the pros and cons, and didn’t need to ask me twice what I wanted to do: The gall bladder had to go!

That decided, the earliest he could schedule me in to get it remove was Monday morning. In the meantime, I was moved to a different room. It was not a regular hospital room, it was technically an observation room. It was small, there were no windows, and only a toilet in the bathroom. It barely had room for the bed and a chair. And, of course, a TV. A better quality TV at that.

So Sunday I spent the entire day and night in mild luxury, kicked back on the bed, still in mild pain, still sneezing, coughing and my eyes watered, being fed by nice nurses (a liquid diet), including a male nurse. The TV had basic cable, and I had control of the remote. I napped for a while. In between instances where the nurses, doctors and dieticians came in to examine one part of my anatomy or another. Being a diabetic, my blood sugar was checked every 4 hours, as was my blood pressure (which had come down without medication), pulse (still going) and my belly. All of this before surgery even happened. The only thing I was bummed about was that I would be missing an interview on Monday. I had left the contact information for that interview on my computer, which I had deliberately left behind. So I couldn’t even call to tell them I couldn’t be there!

Monday dawned and first thing the nurses came in and started preparing me for surgery. Then before I could be fully prepared, the OR called and the operation was pushed back, apparently because of traumas. I had no problem with that. So I waited. And waited.

Finally, around 11am, they called back and off I went to PreOp. In PreOp I was wheeled to an area where two very nice nurses asked me the same questions everyone else had already asked me a dozen times (one of them kept calling me ‘young man‘, though she was probably younger than me), put it into their new computer system, and then let the anesthesiologists come in and ask me the same questions again. I wonder sometimes if they are testing me, or do they really just not share information?

Anyway, I was meeting a whole lot of new people, but the temptation to sell any of my books took a back seat. The anesthesiologist gave me something to ‘relax me’ before I went into the OR. Then explained that I would have a breathing tube stuck down my throat during the procedure, something that kind of worried me, but I’m told it’s standard procedure.

The next thing I remember after that is waking up. Now, I’ve had two other operations and the exact same thing happened to me during those operations. Literally talking one moment then waking up and it’s done. It’s an eerie feeling.

But the job was done! I was less one gall bladder, which one of the surgeons told me looked really ‘sick’ when they pulled it out, so I have no doubt that the right decision was made. I also had 4 holes in my belly, including one through the belly button, which was and is exceedingly sore. I also had a sore throat from the breathing tube.

After a time in PostOP, at around 5pm, I was wheeled back to my room, and had a parade of nurses and doctors come in to check on me. I was told I had 6 hours to urinate or they would stick a catheter in me. I’ve had one of those before. I did not want another one. I tried my best to pee, but could not produce enough to satisfy them, and around 11pm I had the catheter put in.

Now all this time I had been told I would be released on Tuesday, which wasn’t so bad. Other than the catheter I didn’t feel bad. Then the doctor came in Tuesday morning and told me he likes catheters to be in 24 hours before be made a decision to let me go, so while I got another day in paradise, it was with a tube up my penis, a cold, which was slowly fading and bags around my feet that inflated and deflated regularly, which I’m told helps those who are not ambulatory. So paradise came with restrictions.

Now, I’m rather proud of the fact that, other than the anesthetic given during the operation,  I only asked for one other pain reliever the entire time I was there: one Percoset. And that only because of the catheter. I rarely called the nurses. I was not demanding. I always try to be polite. I just lay there and watched TV for the most part. However I wished more than once that I had brought my laptop, since Wake Med has free wifi. Alas, I did not. My laptop or the Internet has all my contact information, so I could not get in touch with my friends in Raleigh. I was alone. And LOVING it! No offense to my friends, but if you had been in a crowded shelter as long as I have been, a few days of relative isolation are a blessing!

But I was worried that they would worry about me.

Wednesday dawned, the catheter was removed after 30 hours, and I found myself without an urge to pee. I was worried, at first, that they’d want to put it back in, but 4 large cups of water later, things started flowing nicely. The last obstacle had been cleared, and I would be released later that day, around 4pm.

The social worker at the hospital had brought me some paperwork about how to get my bill paid as a charity case, and also brought me a bag of goodies and something I had asked for, a winter coat. it was a medium, and I worried that it wouldn’t fit, but though it’s snug, it will zip up! She also got me some gloves and a hat, a few candy bars and some socks. The only thing I didn’t get that I really needed was a razor and shaving cream. Of all the things to cut from the budget! So I have 4 days of growth.  And my beard comes in white. I want to be young again!

I got 35 Percoset tablets at no cost, which I really don’t need. The only time I’m in pain is when I get up from bed, sit up, stand up, bend over and cough (which is a surprisingly small amount of time). So I’m torn with what to do with the medicine. I could sell it in an instant, but would feel exceedingly guilty for that. I’m going to save it for another time.

I was also given a trip pass for the bus ride back to the shelter. I had informed the shelter Sunday what was going on, and had kept them updated. They kept my bed. Since I’m technically still recovering, if I need time during the day, I can stay inside the shelter.

However I knew I wanted to come out Thursday, both to check in with my friends in the internet, and to go to a new job interview! I had a message waiting for me Wednesday afternoon, but my phone battery was too low to call voice mail. When I plugged it in and called, I found that Total Outsource Systems, a former employer, wanted me to come in for an interview for a Tech Support position. So I bummed a day pass from my case worker and first thing tomorrow I’ll take the bus downtown, call TOS about the interview (I’ll dress for it), and access downtown Raleigh’s free wifi, post this blog and then wait at the library for the interview. I’m likely to be tired, but it will be worth it!

So bad things and good things came from my little disappearance. And maybe the best thing of all: a job! Have a Merry Christmas Internet!