Here's the story I posted on the Alienware forums detailing my adventure if you guys are interested in a read... It's long, and there's two more parts after this one, so get a nice beverage, put on your slippers and sit next to a fire for tonights episode of: "Storytime with Hammerhead."
I'm home now and relatively comfortable. Got my vicodin, what else could anyone want?
Judy passed on your well wishes while I was in the hospital, and I appreciate them very much.
Here's what happened. Judy, my wife, was in the process of getting a new job with full benefits in August, so we let our health insurance expire. This would leave us a short time without insurance, but that won't be a problem, right?
Almost immediately in August after letting our insurance expire, I started getting pains around my left collar bone, and I became short of breath and tired easily. Had a serious problem with stamina doing anything physical and my heart was pounding doing anything but rest. We have lots of heart disease in our family, so I figured my arteries were getting clogged, one to the point it would need some attention soon.
The new insurance was to kick in on December 1st, 2004. Judy and I talked about seeing a doctor before then just to make sure I wasn't doing any damage to my heart, but I had a feeling if I saw a doctor, they'd put me in the hospital, and without insurance that would be very expensive, so I put it off.
Judy started her new job in December, and we made arrangements to see our doctor, but there was another hitch. The lady in the personel department where Judy works decided that since she didn't start work prior to December 1st, that she'd delay our insurance and benefit package until January 1, 2005. That's not office policy, or
what Judy's boss told her to do, but it's what she did... So now I gotta make it another month.
By Christmas, I was really pale. My gums were white and my lips were blue. I was sleeping about 16 hours a day, but I didn't feel my health was so bad that I couldn't wait until the first of the month to see the doctor (I'm a cheap bastid). I noticed my legs and feet started swelling up during the day though, which meant that my kidneys weren't functioning right and I was retaining fluids. This is a sign of heart or liver disease usually. I just kept figuring that I had a partial blockage somewhere to my heart, so once they found it I'd have an angioplasty and be good as new. Just had to make it until the first...
When the first finally came, rather than wait a few more days to see my doctor, I went to our Group Health urgent care unit. This unit is for people that need immediate attention but aren't quite at the Emergency Room level of need yet.
We got there and the nurse looked at my color and chest pains and immediately showed me to a work station for heart issues. It was also New Years day, so it was slow so I got excellent service. They took my blood pressure, and it wasn't too bad considering. My heart rate was fine, but everything else was normal except for a slightly raised temparature.
They ran an EKG to check out my heart function, and it all looked normal. The next step was to take some blood and urine to run some quick diagnostic tests. Within a few minutes, the doctor returned. Turns out I was extremely anemic, which means I was lacking in red blood cells. And the cells I had were very small, so my body was exibiting an extreme lack of iron. The result is that my blood wasn't able to carry enough oxygen to keep my organs functioning.
The doctor said that basically, either my marrow wasn't producing enough red blood cells, or I was bleeding internally somewhere, and had been for a while. The next step was to check my bowels for signs of bleeding.
There was no blood coming from my bowels according to the quick test they had, though the urine I gave them had additional proteins and some blood in it.
This was confusing, but the doctor said it was likely one of a few things. The most obvious he said would be colon cancer, but I'm too young and healthy for that to be likely. Other possibilities would be a brain tumor, but I passed all their neurological tests. The most likely, he said would be a bleeding ulcer, or perhaps a bleeding esophagus from acid reflux.
Anyway, the doctor recommended that I be submitted to the hospital right away for an immediate blood transfusion, as the blood in me wasn't getting enough oxygen to my organs. So we headed across the street to the hospital.
They checked me in, and a few jokes later I had figured out which ladies in admissions had senses of humor. One unlucky lady, the smallest of the bunch by the way (but with the best sense of humor), ended up having to push me in a wheelchair half way across the hospital to my new room on the fourth floor. I overheard a nurse say... "colonoscopy"... yikes! This is where they shove a camera up your rear end to have a look around... I started thinking this was a setup by someone at Voodoo...
After I got to the room, they had me change into one of their gowns, then the fun began. Admissions had forms for me to fill out and sign, the residents at the hospital were asking me questions as this case was unusual, the lab needed vial after vial after vial of blood out of me, and needed to put some in me too, and the nursing staff was trying to get me situated for the next morning's testing. They were going to do a colonoscopy to examine my colon, or large intestine. And they were also going to scope down my throat to examine my esophagus, stomach, and the upper end of my small intestine. They expected to find bleeding in my stomach, as I'm too young to expect cancer.
Finally it all calmed down and everyone got what they came for and left. Judy and I played around with the fully adjustable bed and tv in the ceiling. It was a pretty cool room. Then we realized we hadn't eaten all day. Judy left to go home and feed the kitty, and get something for us to eat. By the time we got to the room it was too late for me to get anything for the normal dinner cycle. They said they could get me some jello and a sandwich or something, but all the nurses were heavily hinting that I should have Judy get me something somewhere else.
Before Judy got back, a nice lady doctor came in and explained what they'd be doing the next day. In order for the colonoscopy to be effective, your bowels have to be empty, so she gave me four liters of liquid called "goLYTEly". It's an electrolyte rich laxative that gets rid of everything in your system. Everything. I told the doctor that my wife was bringing me a sandwich, so she said as soon as I'm done with that, I have to drink the four liters of stuff in six hours. No problem I figured, that's just two two-liter bottles of diet pepsi.
I can do that.
Soon after this, Judy returned and we had our sandwiches. Soon after that, the ordeal began. The stuff tastes like sh*t. It's salty, and has bicarbonate in it, so it's like drinking baking soda. I got through the first half of it okay, but then it became excrutiating. My stomach and intestines started moaning and groaning too, just as Rick the nurse came in with my blood.
He set up the transfusion in my right arm, and they had a pump system that introduces the blood forcibly at a programmable rate. The rest of the night was a combination of people coming to change my drips, people coming to take blood, or people coming to inject chemicals into my IV tube. Combined with the laxative kicking in...
This was awful. The nurse had to inspect my bowel movement to insure that I was going, and inspect it for blood, so they put a pan in the toilet in the bathroom. Basically, I was to crap four liters of liquid and everything else in my system into this thing, then call the nurse to come see what I'd done. What a horrible job being a nurse must be...
Anyway, the stuff started working long before I'd finished drinking it. I had to figure out how to get out of the bed that was reclined for the transfusion, wheel the pump and my IV over to the bathroom door, then spin around and sit on the toilet with my right arm pointed to the left to the door, because my transfusion tubes weren't quite long enough to reach. I could have wheeled the pump into the bathroom, but the power chord wasn't long enough. And I had to try to do this all between visitors taking samples or giving me medicine. I got it all worked out, sent Judy home, and by three AM, the liquid coming out of me was as clear as it was going in, so I think the mission was accomplished.
I read the instructions on the bottle of goLYTEly. It said, "Under no circumstances have food within two hours of using this product." Uh-oh, they let me eat a sandwich.
I spent my time watching American Chopper, and reruns of Roseanne between trips to the toilet with all the gear in tow.
First thing Sunday morning coming out of the bathroom again... I was greeted by a tray with ham and scrambled eggs with english muffins, tea, milk and a blueberry muffin. I knew I wasn't supposed to eat, so someone f-ed up. Called the nurse and she took the tray away. Even though it was hospital food, it looked damned good.
Eventually, someone showed up with a gurney, and wheeled me away to the room they do the scope work. There were three ladies in the room, and a lot of very expensive looking equipment. Two of the ladies were doctors, the third was the assistant. She explained thoroughly everything that was about to happen, and asked if I wanted to watch. Seems they keep the anesthesia relatively light so you can follow simple instructions, but they can give you a little more if you don't want to remember it. They explained what they were going to do, and that they were going to check me from both ends. Next I knew, they'd started...
They started with the colonoscopy. They stick a tube up your yazoo, and pump you full of air so your large intestine is inflated like a balloon. This way they can use an optical cable camera to inspect your colon.
Right away, just past my rectum, they spotted a polyp. They had a tool that was a looped wire in a sleeve that they inserted. They pushed the loop out and put it around the base of the polyp, then zapped it with what looked to be pretty good current. The current burned it off, and cartarized the wound so it didn't bleed at
all. Cool! Hey wait... that's my polyp. Ouch!
After removing the polyp, they continued up my left side, across the top of the large intestine, and turned to head down my right side to where the large intestine joins the small intestine. Just as the doctor was saying that everything looks really healthy, she stopped and said, "There it is."
While most of the trip was a smooth flesh colored trip through my gut, what appeared at the end was a mass that looked like a spiked meatball. Didn't look right at all. At this point, they prepared to take a sample of the tumor for pre-operative analysis, but the doctor said it looked cancerous. They then upped my sedation, as in order to do the scope of my stomach, I had to swallow a tube through which the camera would be inserted. The doctors said that can be unpleasant, so they up the sedation so the patient can't remember it, and I don't.
I came to being wheeled out of the room, where I met my wife, and my surgeon, Dr. Meltzer. We talked quickly about what we knew, and the doctor said he'd come up later when they had everything worked out, but it appeared that the cancerous tumor was bleeding, and that was what caused my anemia that had me feeling so bad. The tumor would have to come out, taking a couple inches of large intestine to either side just to try to make sure they got all the tumor. The polyp, if cancerous, would also require a section of my rectum to be removed, and it was possible that this type of surgery may affect the functionality of my rectum.
I seriously don't want a colostomy bag on my hip...
Then they wheeled me back to my room, where a lunch I couldn't eat was waiting for me. Nurse! Get this out of here.
A little later Sunday, Dr. Meltzer came to my room and said that the tumor was cancerous, so they'd be operating in the morning to remove it since I was already cleaned out and prepped for surgery. The polyp was benign, so no cancer there and no surgery would be required on the rectum. As for the severity of the cancer, we wouldn't know until the tumor was removed and examined along with surrounding tissues and lymph nodes. He did say that judging by the level of anemia I displayed, he suspected the tumor had been there for quite a while. He also said that without the anemia, they'd have little reason to look for a tumor there in someone of my age, so I guess it's lucky we caught it when we did. Colon cancer is treatable if caught soon enough.
Dr. Meltzer got me prepped psychologically for surgery, and though he seemed like an anal retentive kind of guy, that can be a good thing with something like a surgeon. As I hadn't eaten for a couple days, and wouldn't be for another week, they put me on a potassium drip that would supply all my liquids and nutrients for the next week. Didn't sleep much that night, too much to think about and watch on tv. They had channels I don't get on my satellite, so it was a good distraction.
Bright and early Monday, Dave showed up with a gurney to take me to prep for surgery. Not only was he a good driver with a sense of humor, he had warmed some blankets for me for the trip. d*mn nice of him. First, they took me to a room that had the anesthesiologists in it. They were going to hook me up with an epidural for pain. This is what they use for childbirth, as it numbs the abdominal area. They insert a tube into your back right up against your spine, then use an IV drip connected to a pump to give the anesthesia right to your spine.
Very affective. After this, it was off to the operating room.
(to be continued)