a week of firsts
(Not for the faint of heart).
Toward the end of March, I started feeling really ill. Like can’t hold anything down, oh-God-I’m-gonna-die sick.
I had eaten some mac and cheese from a local restaurant, which doesn’t usually give me problems. I’ve had a sensitivity to gluten that seemed odd because sometimes I could eat pasta and sometimes I absolutely couldn’t. I didn’t eat much pasta anyway. It was mostly some steak and broccoli with a tiny bit of whole wheat macaroni plus sauce.
I got ready for bed, and that’s when the sick started. I was sick all night and felt better in the morning. I vowed to never eat gluten again. Clearly, it was the pasta. So, I stayed off gluten and felt perfect all day. The rest of the week was a roulette wheel of accidental gluten ingestion (cross-contamination incidents) and me overestimating my ability to eat like a normal person. Some days, I was dead sick. Other days, just fine. It was enough to convince me that the gluten thing was real, and I needed to stop eating it. So I started getting rid of shampoos/conditioners. I started looking up ingredients. I looked up recipes. And I kicked gluten to the curb–frustrated as all get out.
By Friday morning, I was still feeling crappy–but not as crappy as I had. I was on an upswing, and I was sure what it was.
After days of eating pretty much nothing, I discovered my favorite pizza shop is gluten-free. I also found a gluten-free bakery and had J get some Easter treats. I took one bite out of a cupcake and was done. I ate a piece of pizza and some cheese. Done. My mouth felt tingly and weird. So, great, I thought–I’m allergic to gluten-free ingredients. I researched it and identified tapioca flour as the probable culprit. Which basically made me crazy. But then, I felt okay. I actually told my roommate I might be able to eat this pizza–as it was staying down and not making me itch.
And then I went to the bathroom. And then I spent the next several hours puking about 17 times. And when I say puking, I mean–PUKING–absolutely everything that I could possibly puke. Nothing stayed down. I was actually dry heaving at one point because there was no food in me. And then the bile started.
I had ridiculous gas and hot, stabbing pain. Heartburn–I assumed. I tried everything to get it to stop. My tricks did nothing. No supplement, no drug, no nothing was stopping this. I was going to tough it out. This was minor. I was dumb and ate pizza. I deserved this, clearly.
And then, I started crying from the pain. My roommate went out to get me medicines and sick food. And I cried like a baby because the pain would not stop. It was concentrated on the right side at first and then migrated to my midsection, just under my ribs. And it stayed there with occasional gas outbursts. I thought, if I could just belch it up. If I could just puke it all out. Something had to still be inside me, causing this. Something.
My roommate had asked me if I wanted to go to the doctor days before, and every day I was sick I said no. Around 7 pm Saturday evening, I had enough, and we skedaddled to a local urgent care facility. Because I’ve been uninsured 2 weeks and have another month to go. My first day of my new job was slated for Monday. I didn’t have time for this. I had enough money to cover a minor visit. But I didn’t want to spend it. The urgent care facility was closed–despite the fact that its web site listed it open and allowed me to make an appointment. At that point, I thought about going home–about just laying in my bed and toughening it out. It’s just gas. Grow a pair.
I struggled not to vomit in the parking lot. But luckily, I had no food in my tummy. After short deliberation, we decided to go to another urgent care place across town–which meant highway driving and about 30 minutes of constant bumps. I literally wanted to scream the whole way. We found the place, and I was relieved to find friendly folks. But 20 minutes in, me contorting in the waiting room–I realized I was not a priority. Paperwork was. After an hour and a half, and me visibly crying in public, they finally took me back. And didn’t listen to me–focusing on symptoms rather than root causes. The main problem I had was pain, but they treated nausea and dehydration first. Pain last. Which meant I got my first ever IV. Long story short, the doctor misdiagnosed me with gastritis and the intervention for the pain (which had caused everything else) only decreased the symptoms for about 20 minutes. I told the doctor and the nurses I was still sick. They assured me it was the most that could be done and that the prescription would fix the rest.
I got my prescription and prayed for the pain to stop. It helped with the acid, but the pain got worse. I did not sleep at all. I heaved, but could not puke. I felt like I was going to die. At 2 am, I called the urgent care place–convinced it was severe gas and they could just prescribe me a prescription level gas reliever and I’d be fine. I got their answering machine. I’d have to wait till 8 am. So, I did. I called the doctor’s office at 8 am, spoke to a nurse–from the night before–explained the situation and asked for help. Explained that I could not take it anymore. He told me he’d talk to the doctor and call me back. I told him I’d even come back in. He never called, so I called and talked to the other nurse–who talked to the doctor who told me to buy some Prilosec and take a Tylenol. If it didn’t go away, to come back. So, I listened. My roommate bought the Prilosec. I took the Tylenol. The Prilosec is for acid–not bloating–and takes 2-3 days to work.
That’s when I got mad. He had not listened. He didn’t care. I was just a mosquito.
This was not normal pain. This was not a stomachache. I was not a stupid 12 year old with too much cotton candy in her belly.
For a second, I thought about going to urgent care again. I was tired of telling people about my symptoms.
But the pain was so awful, I couldn’t deny I had to go to the ER.
Within two minutes, I was on dilaudid and had another IV. I had been diagnosed with an infected gall bladder. An ultrasound would confirm gall stones–including one stuck in my bile duct. The pain was my gall bladder contracting. I was thisclose to having it burst and having a systemic (possibly deadly) infection. The ER staff worked overtime to make me comfortable–and I never really was. The pain meds would subside after 10 minutes. But they took me seriously and listened to me. And treated me like I mattered. By 3 pm, I was in the OR–my first ever surgery. By 5 pm, I was waking up–feeling no pain and entertaining the OR staff.
I spent Sunday night and most of Monday in the hospital. I’ve been home a couple days now. I hurt. A lot. But it’s nothing like the pain I felt that Saturday. It wasn’t what I’d planned for Easter Sunday–and the financial repercussions are scary–but I had no fear as soon as I was at the ER. Mostly because people cared. And that makes all the difference.
I’m still in a lot of pain–and hopped up on oxycodone, so that’s probably all I’ll say about this for now. But this surgery has changed my life in so many ways–many of them surprising…especially as they relate to my Mama’s death. I feel healed in many ways, and I’m glad to be on the other side.
I never wanted any of these firsts to happen, but they did–and they went as firsts do. I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful for those who loved me. I’m grateful for my doctors, nurses, and aides. Recovering is going to suck, but I’m happy for the next chapter.