It’s Really a Pain

There are a number of things that are bad about bowel obstructions, nasal gastric tubes and the danger of death being the most obvious. Less obvious, but nevertheless quite odious, is the fact that they come on unexpectedly and inexplicably.

Bill, who – God bless him – trudges sadly along beside me as I enter the hospital emergency room in great pain, unfailingly asks me, “Why do you think this happened?” Despite knowing that he asks that question because he loves me, my answer is always, “If I knew, I wouldn’t do whatever it is that causes it.” And that’s the truth.

This past Wednesday, immediately upon finishing dinner, my stomach began to hurt. While stomach pain isn’t an everyday occurence for me, it does happen more than I would wish. It has since I had a colon resection in 2011. Most of the time, the pain goes away after a short bout. Two times in the past couple of years, the pain took me to an emergency room, where it then promptly went away. CT scans showed no bowel obstructions in those cases.

This time, the pain was persistent. Finally, at 2 o’clock this past Thursday morning, after I was comfortable that he had gotten a few hours of sleep, I awoke Bill and told him I needed to go to the ER. While he woke up and got dressed, I packed my bag for what I suspected was going to be a hospital stay. This time I was correct. I hate being right.

There is no good reason to be out at 2:15 in the morning. And there is CERTAINLY no good reason to enter an ER at that time of day. It was us, and many, many others who were perhaps in worse shape than I. Or – dare I say it? – on the lookout for pain meds.

If you don’t know that opioid addiction is a national crisis, then you are living in a bubble. But this is the first time my hospital visit placed me face-to-face with the challenges faced by the hospital staff, by non-opioid-addicted patients, and I guess even by those who are addicted. In the past, when I told the front desk that I had stomach pain and a history of bowel obstruction, I was addressed in short order. This time, rather than quickly getting me in front of a doctor or PA and some much-needed pain medication as well as a diagnosis, I was basically told to get in line. They assume everyone coming in complaining of pain is looking for drugs.

I finally was taken to an ER room where they inserted an IV tube (but no IV) and collected blood, but it was nearly two hours before I saw any type of medical personnel. The woman who took my blood told me the name of my nurse, and added that he was at lunch. I naively pictured him standing in the break room shoving some noodles from a cup into his mouth so that he could get to the woman with the bowel that could potentially explode at any moment. Instead, it was an interminable period before he stuck his head through the curtain, introduced himself, and told me he would be back in a bit.

At this point, I took matters into my own hands . “Whoa there, buddy,” I said, as he turned to go. “Does it matter to anybody on this staff that I probably have a bowel obstruction?”

He seemed quite taken aback, as apparently that information hadn’t been relayed to him – or to perhaps anyone past the front desk. He scurried off, promising to see about an x-ray.

He came back rather quickly and told me I was going to be taken down for a CT scan.

“Is there any way I could get something for the pain?” I asked. The answer, I’m afraid, was no. Hello opioid crisis. Meet Kris.

I was informed that no pain medication could be given until I met with a doctor. I understand the reasoning, I really do. Unfortunately, I was three down in line to see the man who apparently was the only doctor on staff at 4 in the morning at a Level 3 trauma hospital in a metro area. Perhaps someone should reconsider the staffing allocation. A PA would have done the trick. Or perhaps the doctor could have made a quick visit just to ascertain that I really was sick. My distended tummy was a dead giveaway.

I had the CT scan, and after I returned, I waited a bit more before I finally saw the doctor. He asked me what part of my stomach hurt, and I told him everywhere. His examination confirmed this. At one point, however, I was rubbing the left side of my stomach out of habit. When I have stomach pain,that is usually where it rears its ugly head. The doctor snapped at me, “You told me it hurt over here,” pointing elsewhere. It did. See above. It hurt everywhere.

I reminded myself that on a daily basis, the doctor meets people faking pain for Percocet. The nurse who inserted my IV tube told me hours earlier that there had been a recent patient who had broken his own leg to get pain meds. But heaven help those of us who really need the medication.

I won’t bore you with much more of my whining. I will tell you, however, that I did, indeed, have a bowel obstruction. I will add that though the lunch-eating nurse (who ended up being the kindest and most understanding medical person I met the entire time I was at that hospital) attempted to insert the NG tube, he was unsuccessful.

“Your nasal passage is too small,” he told me. “You tell them I said that when you get upstairs and they say you need to have a tube. You are in control of your care.” God bless him. I think the tears rolling down my face helped convince him.

Tomorrow I want to tell you what I learned from this visit and what I would do differently. I’m no expert, but medical care is changing daily, and we can learn from each other.

And here’s the man on whom I always lean and who is always at my side when times get difficult. He deserved a day at the NASCAR track yesterday…..

Gut it Out

Well, that’s 5,400 minutes I’ll never get back…..

Last Wednesday afternoon, I told Bill I knew in my heart of hearts (well, really my gut of guts) that I needed to go to the Emergency Room. Heck, it had been nearly four months since my last visit. Plus, I had a houseful of company — my sister from Arizona and our family from Vermont, including grandsons I only get to see a few times a year. What perfect timing and a simply fabulous idea.

But I knew something was amiss and I was right. Unlike last time I was in the hospital in April, however, after which I wrote a generally amusing blog post about my hospital experience, there was virtually nothing funny about my most recent stay.

I’ll tell my readers right now that there is every possibility that this will happen again. And again. It seems my bowel resection in 2011 didn’t say goodbye to me when the doctors stitched me back together and I went out the Mesa hospital door. The scar tissue is omnipresent, and may occasionally rear its ugly head.

What this means in practical terms is occasional bowel obstructions. Last time it was the small bowel. This time it was the large bowel. I don’t like to discriminate.

It actually all began a week or so earlier when I began having muscle spasms in my neck, likely a result of the arthritis that presents there. I haven’t had a serious bout of arthritis in that particular spot in literally years. But wait! My sister is headed my way! Now is the time.

I think I have a pretty high threshold for pain, but I found the muscle pain to be nearly unbearable. Nothing helped. Not heat; not cold; not massage; not gin and tonics. Nothing. I tried to make an appointment with my primary care physician, who could get me in sometime around Addie’s graduation. From college.

Please, please, please, can you just prescribe me a pain medication? I promise I’m not going to go downtown and sell it in the nightclubs. I couldn’t even get into the nightclubs as I don’t own proper attire.

No can do. Not their fault, but being a controlled substance and all, I had to see a physician. So I did. A very nice fellow at the neighborhood urgent care who cheerfully prescribed Vicodin and sent me on my way.

I’m not going to go on and on about this (though reading back, it appears I already have), but one thing lead to another and I began experiencing one of Vicodin’s most renown side effects (which the friendly doctor never mentioned) – constipation.

After seven days of not, well, you know, I was bloated, had regular and severe cramps, and knew something was wrong. It was. I would go into detail, but then I’d just been like one of those people in the lobbies of retirement homes that sit and compare ailments. I’m actually afraid I already am.

What I will tell you, however, is that a few days after my April hospital visit, Bill and I went to Disneyland. This time I can barely get out of my chair. Ladies and gentlemen, this one kicked my butt.

Finally, after indescribable indignities, painful procedures, and more forms of laxatives than you would ever imagine are made (including one that was shot directly into my stomach), the blockage finally made its way past the narrow part where the scar tissue eagerly awaits, and I was able to go home.

And the good news? My muscle spasms in my neck have stopped!

I will leave you with a couple of upbeat notes.

300px-Betty_White_Sue_Ann_Nivens_1973Friday afternoon, I felt my absolute worst. I had been given a medication that bloated my stomach to the point that I could have floated right next to Snoopy in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I was in excruciating pain, and was just this side of a Dilaudid coma. I felt horrible. It was right then that the hospital nutritionist reckoned she should stop by to give me a pep talk on proper eating. She was lovely, reminding me of Sue Ann Niven of The Mary Tyler Moore Show fame. My obvious physical discomfort didn’t dissuade her. She continued to speak cheerfully about fiber and fresh fruits and vegetables and making sure you blah blah blah even as the attendants were lifting me onto the gurney to take me to my next procedure. I promise you this is a true story.

The second upbeat note is that on Saturday, I was able to see every single one of my grandkids. All nine of them. Not at the same time. Still, even in my state of duress, that made me happy.

Here are a few examples of why……

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Maggie and Joseph on a camping trip. Photo taken by Dave.

Joseph and Alastair on the same camping trip.

Joseph and Alastair on the same camping trip.

Kaiya and Mylee at recent  Renaissance Festival.

Kaiya and Mylee at recent Renaissance Festival.

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Micah going vroooooom.

Aren’t they they cutest things ever? And these photos are just a sampling!