It started with a pinch or a cramp under my ribs, and it ended with 6 weeks of medical leave. What I thought was indigestion (this from the person who had never experienced heartburn before), and then later thought was a bug I had caught from a colleague who gave me a ride home that afternoon, turned out to be something much more…a bowel obstruction.
It was your typical Monday night towards the end of the semester…I was reviewing some papers for a conference call I had on my calendar for the next morning. But I just couldn’t get comfortable. I wriggled around but this pinching was in my belly just kept getting worse. I started to feel nauseous and wondered if indeed I had caught some weird flu.
And then my dog started barking…at me.
Dogs are amazingly perceptive creatures. My dog, Ozzie, had been watching me over the past hour or so, and knew something was wrong. He would not let me out of his sight. I went to the bathroom…he clawed at the door. I went to lay down…he sat my the bed and whined. Finally he just barked incessantly. That was my sign that it was time to go to ER.
When we moved to this town 15 years ago with two young boys we appreciated the fact that the ER would be only 2 blocks away. That night I was also quite appreciative. I joked with my husband about where I would want to go “if they have to operate,” never thinking this would eventually be something we would have to consider.
While my husband went through the paperwork, I was given a bucket and headed for the bathroom. The nausea was horrible and I couldn’t sit down because my insides were throbbing. I paced, I sweat…nothing. Finally (maybe it was all that paperwork) I started vomiting. At first it was a relief, but then the stomach pains came back even stronger. More pacing, more pain. The pain was worse than when I was 37 weeks pregnant and in labor with a breeched birth. In fact, I kept having delusions that I was in labor.
Finally, I was taken into a room to be observed. The pain and nausea increased. A CT scan was ordered, IV lines were inserted, and morphine and anti nausea meds were dosed. I felt less sick to my stomach but still in pain, and the CT scan was no picnic. Thankfully they tried something else, Dilaudid, which they said was 10x stronger than morphine. At last, I could at least lay on bed and not cry in pain.
As a way to pass time until the CT scan came back, my husband cruised WedMD on his smartphone. It’s a family tradition: you tell me your symptoms…I will tell you what horrible malady you have (we own one of these for just this sorta thing ). His bet was I had pancreatitis. I was thinking it was more like a gall bladder attack. Turns out we were both wrong. When the CT scan came back it was definitive: I had a bowel obstruction.
It was right about here when things got scary and serious and incredibly uncomfortable. I had to be admitted to a hospital, I needed to be seen by a surgeon, and as a way of (maybe?) avoiding surgery I was to have an “NG Tube” in order to release some of the pressure (and contents) inside of me (and maybe, just maybe, open up my plumbing without surgery).
I will spare you from the YouTube videos that show how doctors put these nasty things in. Uncomfortable does not even begin to express it. Meanwhile, it is displaying to the world everything you have eaten over the past few days…in shades of green, yellow, and something I came to call “peat moss.”
I was “tubed” for 5 days in the hospital. During this time I had an IV going and was allowed a limited amount of ice chips to keep my throat moist. (I was able to convince one of the night nurses to bring me a popsicle — its kinda like ice chips, right?– and THAT WAS AMAZING OH MY GOD THAT TASTED SO GOOD… but the surgeon caught wind of this and put it in my chart that I couldn’t have them again until the tube was out. Blargh.)
I will also spare you additional details but suffice it to say the non surgical procedure didn’t fix the problem. And I now know why they tried so hard to avoid the surgery in the first place…ouch. But given the fact that my small intestine looked something like one of those balloon animals that magicians make a birthday parties, it needed to happen…and fast.
As of right now I am at 10 weeks post op. I have had 6 weeks of medical leave from work. At first I thought, what? that’s so long! But by the time 6 p.m. rolled around on any given day in May, I was beyond ready to collapse. So, I got it.
As a way to pass the time I have came up with this list of things I learned while on leave.
1) Medical leave would be awesome if you weren’t sick;
2) Shared hospital rooms can provide you with a new perspective on people: like the woman who was discharged in the a.m. but pre ordered her meals for the whole day and stayed through dinner and watched TV, or the other woman who decided she would hurry up that pesky discharge process and removed her IV on her own and left;
3) Based upon my “research” while surfing the hospital tv channels and waiting for the pain meds to kick in, extremely late night TV viewers are very very worried about erectile disfunction;
4) It is possible to watch 4 seasons of Parks and Recreation via Netflix and still not give a damn about any of the characters (okay except Ron Swanson…he’s awesome);
5) A week after surgery, these muffins were a godsend. If you have had general anesthesia, you know why;
6) People will respond one of three ways when they hear you have had a bowel obstruction:
- “I had that!” (surprisingly, this is one of the most common reasons people end up in the ER),
- “Wow, I bet that hurt!” or
- “Wow, I know someone who died from that!”
7) Food doesn’t taste like food until 3 weeks post op. Same with beer…which imho was a greater blow to my world than food;
8) Being able to sneeze, laugh, cough and pee (not all at once, mind you) are highly under-appreciated bodily functions;
9) One of my neighbors has a serious lawn fetish;
10) Dogs make the best heating pads, but only when they stay still;
11) Pants with zippers post abdominal surgery are evil,
12) If you have to be on medical leave, do it during Eurovision. Cuz then you can watch awesome things like this:
As a final note: I am grateful for my family and friends and colleagues who offered to help out, who sent texts, called, visited, drove me around and generally sent me good wishes during all of this.
To all of you…. thank you so much!