Where was I? Hmmm, the emergency room of my local county hospital. I have to start off by saying how very, very grateful I am to live near and have access to this sort of medical care. Most hospitals are privately owned these days, and if I were to be treated at one of them, I’d be in more trouble than I want to think about. (Once, I went to the closer, cleaner, less crowded hospital for an ear infection in the middle of the night. My ear was oozing blood and I really didn’t want to sit in the county hospital for twenty hours waiting to be seen (which is not a stretch of the truth) so I went there. I ended up paying around $600 for a five minute visit. That doesn’t even include the medicine.) That said (that being the grateful part), the county hospital can be a wild ride. Most of us crowding the waiting room are uninsured and scared, hurt or sick.
This visit, I spent a fair amount of time in the same area as a man who was most likely coming down off of a very bad drug experience. He was restrained on a gurney, and tucked away in a room off the hallway of the emergency room. I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell by his one foot that I could see that he was alternating between being awake and being passed out. Every once in awhile, one of the nurses (a big, teddy bear guy) would walk in to check on him, and I’d hear the patient cursing at him, sounding like his mouth was full of marbles, "Moffer fucker! You leafff me arglone!" And the nurse would say, "Don’t curse at ME man, you’re in the HOSPITAL and you WANT me to take care of you." They went through that routine two or three times, and I could tell that the nurse was annoyed with the guy but still really just wanted to help him.
Backing up a little: I checked in at the emergency room, and the woman at the desk told me, apologetically, that it was going to be a little bit of a wait for me. I knew that was going to be the case; the place was packed and I wasn’t in very bad shape. I was just mad at myself for not having a single thing with me to read or knit. It was just me, my queasy, tender stomach, and a whole bunch of other people wanting to be seen.
The first doctor I saw, the resident, came and found me and I started laughing and said, "DUDE! What the hell?" Not in the I’m mad at you way, but in the Isn’t this a strange twist of events! way. He told me he was really sorry and really surprised, but he still maintained his innocence because I didn’t present like an appy case. That was when I seriously thought about telling him not to push his luck with my good-naturedness, but I didn’t have the energy. Besides, I am sure that he’s learned his lesson.
I waited for about three hours, I think, before things got moving. I didn’t eat much at all on Sunday before I vomited forty seven times, and earlier that day (Monday) all I’d had was a banana and two sections of an orange. Oh! Also a handful of roasted, unsalted almonds! I was so so so hungry, but of course could have nothing to eat or drink. People in the waiting room kept coming in with fast food and the smell was making me drool. Seriously.
I finally got called to come in through a side door, to the hallway where my drug-addled friend was coming down. There weren’t any beds, so I sat in a chair in the hall to have my blood drawn and an IV started. There were other people waiting in the hall: a man on a gurney with his wife and daughter, a woman with a broken foot, others down the hall that I couldn’t be nosy about because they were too far away. At one point, a frail, slow moving woman was led into the hallway and asked to sit in a chair. I was on one side of a double door wide doorway and she was on the other. She had short hair and bony fingers. She looked exhausted and worried and I felt so sad for her. She just looked defeated. After a few minutes, one of the doctors came and started asking her questions. I couldn’t help but hear the conversation, and she had a lot of medical issues. The doctor was so patient and kind and listened to her until she was done talking. I heard him ask her, "How old are you?” She said, "Fifty." And, I couldn’t help it, I started to cry a little. I never would have guessed that she was so young, and for someone so young, she had so many problems. Finally the doctor said to her, "The nurses asked me to come over and talk with you because they thought that you might have a straightforward case and we’d be able to speed things up for you and get you home fast if I just saw you here in the hall instead of waiting until there was a bed available. But, after talking with you I think that you’ll get the best care if you go back to the waiting room and wait until there is a bed so we can take proper care of you. I’m really sorry." He patted her shoulder and walked away; she put her face into her hands and cried. I wanted to comfort her, but didn’t. Partly because I was pretty out of it, and partly because I don’t know if she’d mistake my concern for pity and feel even worse. I guess I was feeling pity, but not in the "slightly contemptuous sorrow" sort of way. She left the hallway, and I waited, with nothing to do.
After a couple of hours in the hall, I was taken to a room. When I stood up, I noticed that walking was getting to be more difficult than it was when I first came in. My room didn’t have a bed yet, so I sat in the one chair available and looked at the dirty walls. I played a long, frightful game of "Identify That Stain" until two nurses came in with a stripped down bed, surprised to see me as they were hoping to put another patient in the room. I ended up getting the bed once it was made, and fell asleep pretty quickly. As I was halfway between being awake and sleeping, I started to worry about what would happen if there was an earthquake. I get weirded out being in the middle rooms of huge buildings here in earthquake country. (Once, not too long ago actually, I had a panic attack at the Winchester Mystery House because it had been too long since we’d visited a room that had a window to the outside. It’s one of the many joys of my claustrophobia!) Just as I was falling asleep on my freshly made (but still squicky to me) bed, it started vibrating. I woke up, too scared to move, wondering if I’d die quickly from the building collapsing on me or if I’d be trapped in the rubble and die slowly from a ruptured appendix. I do not want for drama.
It was, of course, CALSTAR, bringing in a woman who’d been in a head-on car wreck. See, the county hospital that takes everyone no matter their ability to pay is also one of the only level one trauma centers around for miles. The nurses came in around midnight to tell me that they had planned on taking me to the OR really soon, but that now there were people who needed brain surgery and I’d have to wait. No problem, I just went back to sleep.
At some point during all this, the surgeon came and did the informed consent talk with me. Generally, an appendectomy is not terribly serious, but I have a condition (you are welcome for the gross pictures!) that sort of makes things a little more interesting. The surgeon said that instead of conscious sedation for the laparoscopy, I’d need a general in case they had to really open me up and take out a section of my intestines with my appendix.
I was a little nervous as I went under.
I woke up with all my guts intact, minus, of course, my appendix. My belly was swollen up like a medicine ball (it’s still pretty hefty, and I’m letting it all hang out because I have no choice) and my throat was sore. I could hardly speak, but was able to talk to the surgeons enough to find out that I "did great!" (does that mean, really, that THEY "did great!" cause I was just laying there, you know?) and that I’d feel better soon.
I got back to my room where I had to scoot from the gurney to the bed (I had practice with that from my c-section). Then I slept off and on for hours. I woke up and really, desperately, absolutely NEEDED TO PEE. Nothing like a few bags of saline solution in you during surgery to make you have to go. I wiggled off my bed, which was way too high for a girl of my height, and unplugged my IV pump and wheeled myself to the toilet. Everything was A-OK until I went to get back into bed. My collarbones and shoulders and high up on my sternum hurt so fucking bad I couldn’t breathe for a minute. I stood there, totally frozen, whimpering. Then, I gritted my teeth and climbed back into bed, which made me cry. Not quiet, ladylike crying, but LOUD, sobbing, my pain is TEN crying. I pushed the nurse call button and no one responded so I pushed it six or seven more times. All they could hear on their end was me crying, so they showed up with morphine. I couldn’t really talk (this is when John called and I couldn’t speak to him) even after the morphine. Just like after my c-section, I was not getting the whole morphine thing. It didn’t do much for me.
A couple of hours later I was still in pain, but had settled down and was handling it a little more quietly. The nurse came back and said, "I can tell you are still hurting. This time, I’m gonna give you 4." Then she pushed the morphine into my IV and a few seconds later I finally understood why people become morphine addicts. It was so nice to feel so good and to not care how much everything hurt! It makes sense to me. Don’t leave your morphine laying around if I’m coming over, is what I’m saying.
I saw the surgeon later on and said that I thought I was full of air. "When I stand up, it hurts in my collarbones and shoulders, but when I lay down, it hurts in my sternum. I think I’m full of air from the surgery and it moves around when I do. Please stick a straw into my belly and let all this air out before I die."
"No," she said, "that isn’t air. It’s referred pain. Not everyone gets referred pain, but those who do always say it’s the worst part of the healing process." Me, thinking: NO SHIT. She went on, "During the surgery, we pumped a lot of air into your belly, we took the air out, but in the meantime we totally jacked up your diaphragm and your spinal cord is swapping out nerves, because it’s confused, and that’s why your collarbones hurt so fucking bad." (I may be paraphrasing a little bit.)
This is crazy-long! Are you still reading? Get a hobby, already. Okay, wrapping up now. I’m home, with vicodin which gives me freaky dreams but makes me not care that my diaphragm is still jacked up. I have three incisions in my belly (I call them STAB WOUNDS so my family will be nicer to me) and they don’t hurt much except for the one in my belly button. I am nervous to see what my new belly button will look like, not that anyone ever sees it. But, you know, my self esteem is low enough without a dorky looking navel. (Think of the problems with all my navel gazing. Oh, man, I’m sorry for that. Blame vicodin!) I’m trying to stay off my feet, but it isn’t my most realistic goal ever. I did stay in bed for most of today, but it makes me antsy so when I do get up, I overdo it without intending to. I want to be well. I will be, soon, and I am very grateful that I got off as easy with all this as I did. The worst part is that the whole time I was in the hospital I didn’t eat anything but three tiny containers of green jello (gag, but I was hungry and the rest of the food on the tray was the nastiest, vilest, smelliest, sorriest excuse for food ever) and I gained nine pounds. That just flat out pisses me off. I know it’s all from that stupid saline IV, and I already ditched five and a half of it in the 24+ hours I’ve been home, but no body who doesn’t get to eat for DAYS should have to gain nine pounds.
I’m going to go have more weird dreams. Be happy I’m not blogging them.