What Happened When My Intestine Exploded
What Happened When My Intestine Exploded
First, of course, I have to say a huge enormous Thank You!!! to all of you. Your emails and comments, your cards and letters and packages, were just incredible; you have no idea how much they meant to me and how much I appreciated them. Really, thank you so much. I haven’t replied individually yet–I’m still trying to get back on my feet a bit, and I came back to over a thousand emails–but I will. In the meantime, please accept my enormous gratitude. It was and is really incredible to see how many people actually care.
So, what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. This story gets a bit icky, guys, just as a word of warning.
I woke up in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, October 26th, with the most incredible pain in my abdomen. It felt–to be rather crude, sorry–like the worst gas ever, moving all around my abdomen, not localized in one place. Just this horrible stabbing pain. It was hard to walk, it hurt so bad. It was hard to lift things, it hurt so bad. It was hard to drive, it hurt so bad. I drove to the pharmacy to buy some sort of gas-relieving medication, and the woman there seemed to think something was terribly wrong with me, I thought from the way I appeared in obvious pain but I was told later that I was so dehydrated I looked like a skeleton.
Anyway. Wednesday I was supposed to drive to the Southwest to look for a new home near Mr. K’s work. But I was still in horrible pain, so I canceled. This worried Mr. K so much that he left work and drove the several hours back here, insisting that I go to the hospital. I didn’t think it was that necessary but I was starting to worry a bit, yeah, so I finally agreed.
We reached the ER (or A&E as they call it here) at Lister Hospital at around 3 pm. They saw me right away. They palpated my abdomen which hurt a ton, even after giving me oral morphine. They put me in a gown and sent me to be X-Rayed–at this point it was probably about 5, given the time to wait for the X-Ray and talking to the docs etc. etc. We waited for the X-Rays to come back and the blood tests (and man, my veins are hard to find anyway, when I’m dehydrated it’s almost impossible, so that was NOT pleasant and would only get worse).
That’s when the fun happened. All of the sudden I was taken into this other room, and greeted by about seven surgeons, who informed me that my X-Ray had shown air under my diaphragm, which indicated a hole in my intestine. An ulcer which had eaten all the way through, to be more exact. Apparently this is very serious and can be fatal thanks to dehydration and peritonitis and such–who knew?–and I’d already delayed longer than I should have, so the surgeons bumped their other surgeries so I could be the very first one in when the OR opened at 7 pm. The head surgeon said, “This is major surgery, so whatever else happens, you are going to be one very sick young lady for the next two weeks at least.” Yay me!
So into the OR I went. I remember being told I’d probably feel a little dizzy, and the next thing I remember is seeing Mr. K. telling me it was all over and I was fine, and then I was in this special intensive post-op care unit. I spent five days there, mostly sleeping and pressing the little button that would give me more morphine. I had a gnarly row of staples down the middle of my stomach and tubes poking out of me everywhere: my nose, my stomach, a catheter (of course), and a bunch of IVs and lines in my neck and hands/wrists. They were also coming to take blood just about every day. LOTS of needle sticks.
I was in the special post-op ward for five days. It was generally nice and quiet, except for the night we had a woman in there moaning constantly and asking the nurses–in the middle of the night, mind–why they wanted to kill her. Oh, and there was the older gentleman who was very angry a lot of the time; when the phone rang he’d become enraged and shout that they shouldn’t answer it, or if they did to “Tell them I’m not here! Tell them I’m still in hospital!” To which the nurses would ask if he knew where he was, that he was in fact still in hospital, and that they had to answer the phone because it was the hospital’s phone.
But anyway. On the fifth day they moved me into another post-surgery ward, where we weren’t monitored quite as closely. Because the ward was full of men I actually got a private room, since I am not a man and rules say a lone woman can’t be put in a ward full of men. That was nice, the private room, but let me clarify something for my American friends, since those I spoke to on the phone were utterly shocked by this (and to be fair, so was I, a bit). I had a private room, yes. I did not have a private bathroom; I used a commode (basically an adult potty seat the nurses would wheel in) or, once I was able to walk, the public bathroom in the hall which all the patients and visitors used. (Yes, very sanitary, I know.) I did not have a TV in my room, or a phone. I was not permitted to plug in my computer or cellphone, so I wasn’t able to use the internet at all or really get any work done–not that I was up to working, but still. Stephen had to charge stuff for me at home and bring it in, and the hospital didn’t want me to keep valuables in my room anyway, so generally he’d bring my laptop and a DVD and we’d watch it until they made him leave. All I did for most of the time was sleep, stare into space, or look at magazines, since I didn’t feel up to getting involved in a book (which should tell you how bad I felt).
So. On Wednesday 2nd November, one week after the initial surgery, I woke up around 2 am and noticed my stomach felt a bit wet. It felt wet because it was wet, with blood.
Not a lot, but enough, and it worried me (obviously) so I called the nurse. She didn’t appear too concerned, since it was kind of watery blood, so she said she’d check on me in a bit and we’d see.
Half an hour later the blood was no longer watery and I was in PAIN. Real awful grinding pain along my incision, especially at the very bottom and the top inch or two. The nurse came back in and called the surgical resident. He looked at it and called another surgeon, whose title I forget but he wasn’t a resident anymore, basically. The left side of my incision was kind of puffy and higher than the right, and it was decided that I had a couple of big hematomas under there and maybe they could clip a staple or two and fix the problem (meanwhile, the surgeon poked a Q-tip around inside the incision, which wasn’t fun).
So the nurse clipped one of the staples near the bottom of the incision, and blood shot like four feet. But the pain there disappeared almost instantly. Yay! Too bad the same did not happen with the top of the incision; she clipped a few staples but no relief, and it still hurt like fuck. So she basically wrapped my stomach in plastic to keep the blood from getting on the sheets etc.–somewhere in there she changed my gown and sheets because of all the blood already there–upped my morphine, and left me to try to rest. It was a pretty scary night, to be honest.
The really fun bit came in the morning when the nurse removed the plastic. We heard–I am dead serious–the “bloorp” sound a drain makes when it’s coming unclogged, and I looked down to see my entire stomach covered in blood. Not just covered: submerged. My stomach was a lake of blood. It was all over the sheets and everything; the bed looked like an abattoir. The surgeons came and informed me that I’d be going back into surgery so they could clean out the hematoma as soon as the OR was ready, and that’s what happened. This time they stitched me up, thankfully, and put on a pressure bandage to prevent further clotting. (They also transfused me with 4 pints of blood. Yes, you read that right. I required 4 pints from all the blood I’d lost in the night and during that second surgery itself. So, you know, donate blood, y’all. It’s important.)
Recovery from that point moved along at a slow but okay pace. The biggest problems were 1) that I was almost out of veins, and they’d start a line and it would blow within a day or so, or once even a couple of hours; and 2) I was supposed to be eating but everything tasted awful and I had very little appetite.
I wanted to come home, and they finally let me on November 8th. I was still in pain from the incision (and they sent me home with paracetemol–Tylenol, basically–and a few codeine tablets. Whoopee, that’s pain relief. Except it isn’t at all. Sheesh) and food still tasted awful but I’d lost my private room and the hospital was starting to drive me crazy. See, being on the ward is LOUD. You’re only separated from numerous other people by curtains. You have no control over your curtains either, so you have no privacy during the day; everyone can see you all the time. At night the other patients snore and talk in their sleep and you have no way to block the sound. Plus the nurses etc. who try to be quiet but you still hear them. It’s hellish, really. Oh, and don’t get me started on their insistence that we “have a wash” which is basically just wiping ourselves down with soaking wet baby wipes–which does NOTHING–or the “shower” in which you sit on the potty seat and they hose you down. It’s like being deloused and again, does not leave you feeling clean in the slightest, plus since it’s November and there are open windows on the ward you end up very cold indeed. But they get very grumpy if you try to refuse.
I still felt lousy at home though, tired and dragged out and depressed as hell, and food tasted awful; it was getting worse and worse. The ulcer medication they had me on (which is Prilosec in the US) gave me stabbing pains in my stomach and made me nauseated. I finally read the leaflet and found that almost all of my awful feelings were side effects of the med, including–surprise!–“taste disorders,” which might explain why even things I liked to eat tasted like damp or rancid cardboard.
So I figured, I’ll call and ask if they can give me something else. But before I could I started throwing up. A lot. So much that Mr. K insisted on taking me back to Lister. That was on Thursday night, 14th November. They switched my medication to Ranitidine (Zantac in the US), after telling me how surprised they were because Omeprazole is so well-tolerated by everyone they don’t even stock other meds in the ER and everyone loves Omeprazole and what is the matter with me. I guess I’m just lucky. I was also lucky in that I got to stay at the hospital until Saturday! Yay, because I wanted more hospital time.
The good thing is, I started reading SHOGUN on the Friday–they showed the miniseries here a few months back, and Mr. K and I watched it (well, he watched it, I half-watched it) so I’d bought him the book, and there I was in the hospital with nothing to read and all of my books still packed away in the US, so I told him to bring me that one. And I’ve gotten pretty involved in it, and am now almost done. So I give SHOGUN a thumbs-up.
Anyway. I had to go back to the hospital again last Monday because I was out of pain meds and because I was having a couple of kind of odd symptoms and we wanted to make sure I wasn’t heading down a bad road with the new medicine. I wasn’t. And I’m slowly getting strong again and feeling up to doing things like sitting up and typing and all of that, which is good because I have a lot of work to do. A LOT. This really couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
Oh, and I had the stitches taken out last week, and that was an awful experience because seriously, the sutures they used were like tennis-racket-string thick, and tied very tightly. Also, they don’t usually use scissors to cut sutures here, they use this little scythe thing, which was simply not working for these; the nurse was sawing away and it hurt and I finally asked if she couldn’t please use scissors. Then some of the stitches were so tight we thought at one point I was going to have to come back when the doctor was there and maybe give me a local and actually cut me to get the stitches out, but luckily between me, Mr. K., and the nurse, we managed to push and pull and manipulate my skin and the stitches enough to cut them all out (at one point Mr. K. actually untied one of the stitches using two pairs of pliers and a needle). So that was pretty sucky, but it feels nice to not have those awful needle-like things poking at me or sticking out through my t-shirt or whatever.
So, this is a very long entry, but I wanted to let you guys know what happened and why I was gone for so long; it wasn’t just the hole in my intestine, it was the hematomas and the adverse reaction to the medicine and the difficulty eating for so long and all of that. I’m down under 100 lbs at this point and even I’m a bit nervous about how thin I am, but luckily food tastes normal again so hopefully I’ll start putting weight on soon.
I’m not sure when I’ll be back full-time, as it were, because I do have a lot of work to catch up on. And I do have a lot of emails to reply to. But I’m trying! And hopefully I’ll be around a little more every day.
And again, I really can’t thank you all enough for your messages. Each and every one of them meant and means so much to me, I really appreciate them and can’t thank you enough.