Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cheap tequila and Sierra Mist

After three days of scraping, caulking and priming the outside of the house, when it dawned on me that I wasn't going to come anywhere close to finishing this monstrous painting job, I realized I was miserable and decided to take Sunday off. No more painting for me. It wasn't going to get done this weekend even if I worked all day...

Saturday evening, I came home from babysitting and had talked with friends about pork--the Parkwood BBQ had been that day, and David Sedaris had mentioned to my friend an affinity for pork. By moonlight.

But at midnight, when my abdomen was apparently exploding and whatever alien baby had been developing over the last few hours was ready to burgeon forth through my belly button, I was definitely not thinking romantic thoughts about Porky Pig. I worried it was a stomach virus and that I'd given it to the kids I'd just babysat, and felt sad for all the people whose fb updates had announced their own bouts with this GI hell.

Three hours later, though, I was vomiting, the pain was still intense, and now it was settling in right around my appendix.

Visions of Houdini danced through my brain, and Mr. EvertheOptimist next to me started talking kidney stones, and soon it was apparent that I was going to the ER.

But maybe it was just a virus. Knowing no trip to the ER would be cheap, even with insurance, I worried over what to do.

The advice nurse at UNC told me (over the phone) that since I get my primary care at a Duke affiliate, she couldn't help me. I told her I work there and that I was trying to decide whether to come to their ER, and she said, of course, that I could come to the ER, but that she couldn't offer me any advice.

I hung up on her and woke the very nice Dr. Sotolongo (go DUKE!) who reassured me--didn't sound like my appendix, but even if it were, I had plenty of time. Don't worry, give it a few hours, but if it's still hurting in the morning, I should come in to be evaluated.

I apologized for waking him, and he reassured me--this was the exact kind of call they were meant to take. Thank you Dr. Sotolongo. You rock. Even at 3 a.m.

A few hours later, now dawnish, it was still hurting. A LOT. Like nothing I'd ever felt before, and now it's been going on for six hours.

So I find sweat pants that fit and paw like an animal through my pile of winter clothes looking for a comfortable, loose-fitting sweatshirt, doubled over, afraid any wrong move will explode my appendix, and off we go to Durham Regional (go Duke!).

Bill (thank god for Bill!) dropped me at the front door to park the car, and the security guard grabbed me a wheel chair. I was checked in in seconds, signed the consent for treatment with a big purple magic marker (no kidding), and was ushered to a curtained room. "Put on the gown--it fastens in the back. I'll be right back." And then begins the bizarre puzzle that was assembleyourownhospitalgown, a square of fabric with snaps that didn't correspond with one another, and even though I knew what it was ultimately supposed to look like, I was mystified. Bill started to help, but seconds later the nurse came for my vitals, so I simply held it against myself, but then there was a doctor who also helped, and soon I was vitaled, gowned, and prodded by an MD. Seriously, in fewer than 15 minutes, I was checked in, in a room, in a gown, had vitals, an initial exam by the doc, and we were beginning the gynecological exam. Within 30 minutes, I had blood drawn, had been given anti-nausea medicine by IV, was offered (and declined) morphine, had the beginnings of a differential, and was drinking the contrast dye for the CT scan. Excellent service.

I was told to drink a cup of contrasty stuff every fifteen minutes for an hour, then it would take an hour to work through my body and I could go for the scan. By now, I was ravenously thirsty, having not drunk anything in over six hours. I sucked down the first cup--it's kind of like Sprite, I mused allowed. But the nurse hit it on the head--it's like cheap tequila and Sierra Mist. Once she said that, I couldn't taste anything else, and soon I was struggling to keep it down, even with the anti-nausea meds on board.

Janet, the very nice nurse, brought me blankets that had been kept in a blanket warmer. (Warm blankets!! OMG!) I shivered, I felt like vomiting, my stomach hurt, I hoped it wasn't a kidney stone, and I drank cheap tequila and Sierra Mist.

The 60-minute mark coincided with the shift change, and soon the incredibly nice doc and nurse were letting me know they were leaving, and the new doc and nurse were introducing themselves. Sanjaythenurse commented that I'd declined the morphine--"no one ever declines the morphine," he said, but by now, with the panic factor subsided, I was not feeling so bad. 140 minutes after my arrival I was being wheeled to the CT scan place and met with the incredibly nice CT guy. He asked a long list of questions about possibly allergies, told me the reason for the drip contrast in addition to the stuff I'd drunk, ran down the possible side effects, including the oh-so-rare kidney failure and death option.

Please god, don't let the test to tell me I just had bad gas kill me. Please. Don't let this, of all things, be the end of me.

He asked if I was pregnant, then noted the notes--oh no, your test came back--you're definitely not pregnant. (I knew that). "But you declined morphine. No one declines morphine..."

One of the side effects of the contrast drip, btw, is the sensation that you've wet yourself. Really? (Oh yes, really.)

And off I went into the zippy zippy machine, like out of a science fiction movie, with the big round hole and the flashing red lights. Above my head was a fake window that used an expensive translucent picture and lights to make it feel like you're looking out a window at trees even though you're in the basement of a hospital in downtown Durham, but I closed my eyes and tried not to think about arresting in the CT machine or the irony of dying in a hospital after riding a motorcycle, hanging with tigers, or any of the other crazy-ass shit I do.

The ohsoniceCTguy was very kind as it finished and reminded me to drink plenty of fluids to flush out the contrast, "you know, whenever they let you go home..."

And then it was time for the long wait. We were there another four hours or so, while I napped, texted, deferred phone calls to Bill, who had been SO helpful all through this, and was now tasked with answering all calls and coordinating everything we weren't going to be able to do that day. He even tried unsuccessfully to pass off the Bat phone (it didn't ring), and let my mom know I was ok, while I updated fb and responded to about 472 text messages. More than half the calls intimated that I might be pregnant, so let's be real clear--I am a social worker in a health setting. I know how birth control works. I also promise you, the symptoms I was experiencing--way worse than morning sickness. Trust me on this one. Unless the baby I might be carrying was Athena, to be born full grown, I definitely wasn't pregnant.

Sanjay checked on me a few times, and eventually the doc came in to tell me they had seen my appendix, and it was fine. My ovaries, however, not so much. "Follow up with your primary-care in the next couple days, and you can go home."

Less than ten minutes later--no lie--I was gone. I dressed, Sanjay took the IV out, reviewed my aftercare instructions and Rx--Vicadin. "I'm guessing you won't get that filled?" "I doubt it," I acknowledged. "I figured, " he said. "You turned down morphine. But, you have it if you need it."

Ismail had come a few hours earlier with coffee and breakfast. I wasn't allowed to have it, of course, but when I got to the lobby, there he was. By now the exploding sensation had shifted to my head from the caffeine withdrawal, and I sucked down the coffee and stuffed bagel in my mouth while we waited for Bill to get the car. "Nice outfit," he said, while we waited on the curb. "Yeah, I dressed special for the occasion."

We stopped by mom's house on the way home, and she said she'd aged ten years in the last few hours. Then I went home and slept. For hours.

The bat phone rang, but thank god it was one of the docs, and we talked through a case, and then mom came over and made beef stroganoff, and then it was back to sleep.

I made it. I survived my Sunday off.

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