Saturday, January 17, 2009

4 Months in a Nutshell

Ok, it’s time to talk about what the hell happened to me 4 months ago. Truth be told, the wind-up actually began in June of 2007. That was when I was first told I should get my gall bladder checked as a CT of that general area showed there MIGHT be some stones developing. Well, I didn’t want to pay the $500 deductible for the trip to the hospital, so I blew it off.

Fast forward 15 months, and one of those lovely little gall stones decides to leave the gall bladder for a change of scenery and gets good and bloody stuck on his way past the pancreas. This interruption of our little stone’s journey plays merry hell on the pancreas, which by the by will in turn play merry hell with the rest of the body, and will earn one a quick trip to the ER.

It took the nurse practitioner on call in the Bugscuffle Memorial Hospital, Hair Care and Tire Center, all of about 15 seconds to decide that whatever the hell was going on with me was WAY above his pay grade and promptly stuff me into an ambulance and forward me to someone with many more degrees on his office wall.

Oh, did I mention the pain? Second only to childbirth or so I am told.

Thirty minutes of hell on wheels later, I arrive at a somewhat bigger hospital and am greeted by my new best friend, my new GI Specialist. I am beyond grateful for the treatment I have received. He and his associates literally saved my life, but more on that later.

One of the side effects of acute pancreatitis is that your body thinks and behaves like it is dehydrated. The treatment for this is to pump mass quantities of fluid into the patient and hope he doesn’t drown. I almost did. See, my doctor decides, and rightly so, that the blockage must be removed to stop the pancreas from digesting itself. So a procedure is performed to remove our little hero, the gall stone, from the area where he got himself stuck.

This should have been a walk in the park…should have been. It wasn’t. See, while they were pumping me full of saline, I had decided to let about half of what they were giving me leak out through the walls of my blood vessels, and what wasn’t leaking out I decided to hang on to, so I shut my kidneys off. This had the effect of bloating me up like road kill in August. Bloating of the magnitude I achieved makes it VERY difficult for one to breathe, so I quit. This invokes the use of the term “Code Blue” and lots of people show up from all over the place and get very busy. In my mind it looks like that scene in the Fifth Element when Gary Oldman knocks the glass on the floor and all the little robots scurry in to clean it up.

I earned myself a 5 day vacation in ICU breathing on a ventilator and getting pumped full of diuretics. After leaving ICU, I got to spend 7 more days in the CCU before my doctors were happy that I was stable enough to go home.

By this point I had lost 40 pounds and a good portion of my pancreatic function. Joy.

Over the next two and a half months I would return to the hospital 4 more times for pancreatic and gall bladder attacks, and for pain from something called pancreatic pseudo-cysts. These little jewels are a common after-effect of pancreatitis.

Basically, the pancreas leaks fluid into the abdomen. This stuff accumulates in little bubbles and the body walls them in to protect itself. In most people these things will resolve themselves and re-absorb within three to six months. I am not most people. I had three of them. One was the size of a head of cabbage the two others were only slightly smaller. HA, take that normalcy!! Just to ice the cake, I developed a bit of an infection in the largest one in the middle of November. Shot my temp up to 103, my blood pressure down to 93/64 and my pulse up to 155. That got that ER nurse’s attention by God, no 6 hour wait while they triage me this time.

This little endeavor earned me another two week vacation at my (I think my name should be on the building somewhere) hospital. It also won me the privilege of taking part in a CT guided drain tube insertion. This is something I suggest everyone avoid at all costs as I think the technique was developed in a dark, dank dungeon sometime in the Middle Ages. It is also where I found out that the biggest lie you will ever hear is, “You’re going to feel a little pressure.”

You see, for a CT guided procedure like this you have to be awake…that’s right, I got to watch them poke a hole in me, insert a guide wire, insert a tube over that guide wire and then drain a liter of fluid out of my gut. (Sorry about the nasty factor, but it was necessary.) I went into that procedure with a temperature of 99, a pulse of 95 and good color to my skin for the first time in a week. I came out with a temp of 103, a pulse of 150 and a face that was as white as a sheet. It sucked.

Two weeks later, we had to do it all over again, because my drain got stopped up and I had to have a larger tube put in. Dammit.

By this time, I have now lost 66 pounds in two and a half months. I DO NOT recommend this as a method of weight loss. Call 1-800-JENNY20 or Nutrisystem or Weight Watchers or hell just go for a friggin’ walk. Avoid this illness at all costs. (Here endeth the PSA.)

This time the drain was working just as expected, so my doctor decides it’s time to send me to a surgeon who specializes in the pancreas. Two more weeks go by and I meet him and his staff. During the get to know you chit chat with his nurse we learn that there is a possibility that I may require a procedure known as a Whipple. She tells us that this is, bar none, the worst abdominal surgery known to man. It involves removing a portion of the pancreas and any other material in the abdomen that is causing difficulty.

There is good news though…apparently you only need 10% of your pancreas to remain non-diabetic. Will the happiness never end? Then she gets up and leaves my wife and I looking at each other like we had just been told, “The world might just end, see ya!”

Five interminable minutes later, the surgeon comes in and greets us with, “I’ve looked at your latest CT and I don’t think we’re going to need to do anything that drastic.”

“Ah,” I think, “the old good cop bad cop routine and now he’s my hero.” And he is…for the moment.

He also thinks that my drain is insufficient and needs to be upsized. There was a loud creak of vinyl as my sphincter sucked a considerable portion of the upholstery on the exam table up my bum. I remembered how bad the two prior procedures had hurt and voice my concern in a squeaky falsetto that would have made Lou Costello proud. (If you don’t know who that is:

1.) you poor, poor comedy deprived person, and
2.) go rent or buy Hold That Ghost.

I am informed that his hospital is a “kinder, gentler hospital,” and that I will be unconscious for the drain exchange. I almost kissed him dead on the mouth.
This drain would remain in for another month leaving a hole in my side the size of a #2 pencil, BUT the last CT that I had taken showed NO sign of any pancreatic pseudo-cysts.

Today I got a call from the surgeon who is going to be removing my gall bladder in 3 weeks. I am lucky that is all he is removing. Somehow, by the Grace of God, I avoided losing any of my pancreatic tissue. I’m lucky that way. I should fully recover, unless I decide to be troublesome again.

In all seriousness, if you thought about me or prayed for me during all this time, even if it was only once, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Tole

4 comments:

Sean said...

Wow - a pretty frightening collection of events.

I am glad to hear you are on the mend and that things didn't go as poorly as they could have - good to have you back online and better to know your health is recovering sir.

Brandon said...

It's really good to know that you're on the mend. Hopefully, once you're done with the gall bladder bit, you can put all this behind you and life will become much less interesting for a long, restful while!

phlegmfatale said...

It's good to know you are bouncing back. :)

HollyB said...

I realize this is waaaay late. However, I'm glad you are on the mend. I hope things continue to improve.