A Year of Living Medically – the Saga Continues
First of all, it needs to be mentioned that I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate with my health for several decades. I rarely took a sick day in my 44 years in the labor force. I had a physical every few years, aced it, and went on with my life. At times I wondered when my luck would run out.
About now, it would seem.
No feeling sorry for me here. I am merely dealing with the statistically likely consequences of living well for almost 70 years.
When last we left my drama, I’d been set up to see a cardiologist over concerns with possible hardening of the arteries. I would also be seeing a spine specialist on the 19th to determine what had caused the severe pain that had brought about the “event” that sent me to the emergency room on the 10th.
The cardiologist did some tests, and then fitted me with this cool little heart monitor taped to my chest. The plan was that I would wear it for seven days and then the info would be downloaded.
So much for plans.
The next day I checked in with my usual doctor to see how I was doing. He opined that the incident on the 10th made it obvious that something had happened with my lower back, and that another MRI was needed – now. He wanted me to get an MRI done the next day, so the info would be available on the 19th. Fat chance, methought.
Incredibly, the MRI folks had a cancellation, and at 6pm on Wednesday I went in for another MRI. Had to remove the heart monitor for an hour.
Thursday morning I showed up before 8am for the spine doc appointment. After we chatted a bit, he booted up the MRI. There was this look that flashed across his face, the look doctors are trained to try not to ever reveal. A look that said to me, as clearly as if he’d spoken aloud: “Holy shit!” I thought this was amusing, even though it did not bode well. He excused himself to call in a neurosurgeon. Hmmm.
With the neurosurgeon present we looked at the MRI. It showed a white band running down the spine and then around one of the lower discs. Two possibilities were mentioned. It was either an infection, or possibly what is called an insufficiency fracture, where the disc partially collapses. The first could be treated with antibiotics, and the second would self-heal with 6 weeks of wearing sort of a girdle around my lower back. Surgery would not be necessary for either.
IF that is what it was.
In either case, I needed to be admitted to the hospital – right now. Next problem – the hospital was full! So I was admitted to the Emergency ward, again.
Next problem. The Emergency doc had never heard of EITHER the neurosurgeon or the infectious diseases doc who had been added to the growing roster of highly skilled people interested in my case. Turns out that both of them are not new to doctoring in their specialist areas, but both had been added to Evergreen so recently they were not in the computer system.
Once that was straightened out I was eventually moved to a room in the “Silver” section on the 7th floor. One thing I was glad to hear was that I would stop taking the pain meds immediately, which meant I would be able to drive again.
If and when I got out.
Another MRI, which meant the heart monitor had to be removed and was essentially useless for the purpose of the test. Priorities. That can be saved for a later trial, but many other indicators showed that I am probably fine anyway.
I spent the next 5 days in the hospital. Every 12 hours I would be hooked up to a bag of antibiotics that would take about two hours to drain into the doodad sticking out of my arm. The pain had subsided to a dull ache, and seemed to be mostly from sitting on my butt or lying on bed all day. I also had a heart beat monitor thingie on my finger, which I had to remove each time I wanted to go to the bathroom, which was yet another minor bother.
A major bother for everyone else except me was that the exact nature of the suspected infection was not known. This meant that anyone entering my room for any reason had to “gown up.” Any nurse coming in to check my blood pressure or draw blood or hook up the IV, Susan, any technician doing whatever, the nice fellow who brought the food, and so on – all of them needed to pause and put on a gown, which was then discarded into a large hamper when they left.
I noticed that some of the doctors dodged this by saying “I am not going to gown up because I am not going to touch you.” Seems to me that would apply to most of the visitors, but rank does have its privileges.
I discovered over the course of a few days that when your blood pressure is taken several times a day you can learn to predict what the numbers are going to be. I got to be pretty good at it.
After the first day I was allowed to get out of bed and do hot laps of the section I was in, which helped my mood a lot. I was visited by an amazing array of doctors, specialists, technicians, nurses, and so on, and ALL of them were caring and kind and extremely interested in my situation. I was just blown away by the level of care provided.
One of the treatments ordered was a needle biopsy of my spine, which terrified me. It sounds horrendous! Again, it proved to be no big deal. I also had blood drawn twice a day, and either the technology of needles has improved greatly over the years, or the training of the nurses who do it. It was ridiculous. The standard got to be that if I can feel it you did not do well. I was not on any pain meds now except for Tylenol twice late at night that helped me get to sleep.
I had great fun finding things that were curious and asking the nurses questions. They seemed to enjoy this, as I was not in pain, nor was I being a pain. The most fun one was when I noticed the seat in my bathroom placed there in case the patient needed to sit down while taking a shower. Lots of equipment had a stenciled code for where it belonged. Most said “ 7 Silver OSN.” The seat in my bathroom said “7 Siver OSN.” Evidently nobody had ever noticed the missing letter.
So now the questions were 1.) Was there a reason for this? 2.) Was this the only one with the spelling error? 3.) What about other floors? Eventually we decided that mine was the only one.
I also noticed signs on some rooms that read “NPO.” I knew that meant that nothing was to be administered to the patient orally, but what did the letters actually mean? Most of the nurses had known this at one time, and knew it was Latin. One had sufficient time to look it up, as there is often not much going on at 2am. It is Latin and stands for “nil per os.” You may need to know that some day.
About hospital food. It is excellent, at least at Evergreen. Unfortunately one of the side effects of the antibiotics is a loss of appetite, so I was not able to take full advantage. I did lose about 4 pounds, and I am still losing weight, so every cloud does have a silver lining. Maybe that is why I was in the “silver” section…
I was visited by three doctors, and they were all wonderful. Dr. Lopez bears an incredible likeness to Antonio Banderas! In appearance and accent, but younger and with an incredible aura of kindness.
Saturday was the Women’s March we had intended to go to. Susan and I did our own version, walking around the unit wearing our matching pink hats. That went over very well.
I told people I was protesting Trump’s election in the most creative way possible – by spending about $100,000 of Medicare funds while they still exist.
One of the things that interested the staff was that I was unusual. Almost all of the procedures used can have side effects, some of them quite serious. I did not develop any of them. It seemed that I was also reporting remarkably little pain, a circumstance I was quite happy about. I do not have a high pain threshold, I don’t believe, and I am certainly not stoic or likely to hide any pain to look more brave.
Essentially I was now for the most part relaxing in a high end resort. Little pain, good food, and people to wait on me hand and foot. I spent four hours a day with antibiotics draining into my body, and twenty hours doing whatever I wanted.
Of course it was boring at times. I was appalled to see how awful TV really is. All night long there are movies with the same plot, involving the male hero who kills dozens of people to get to the happy ending. Blah.
I did a lot of crossword puzzles, and went for frequent walks around “my” block. Occasionally a nurse or doctor would have time for some conversation, which was so comforting. Almost a normal circumstance for a while, at least. One of the nurses used to ride motorcycles years ago, and I really enjoyed swapping tales with her, and of course urging her to get back into it. A divorce and then the death of a second husband had taken her away from two wheels.
And what a United Nations you will find in a hospital. I learned a great deal from people from all over the world, and each had a great story, when there was time to tell it, about how their life’s journey had ended up in Kirkland. My experiences hosting a call-in radio show for three years helped here. You just ask a polite question and sit back and enjoy the ride to places and experiences that are new.
Time to go home, but the adventure is nowhere near conclusion. At home I would need to continue the “infusion” treatments, every 12 hours – for 6 weeks. Not fun, but better than so many alternatives. If I were still working this would be a real drag. To make this easier, a PICC was installed in my arm – a line extending into my arm and directly into a vein. Having that installed was not fun, but hardly something to whine about.
Again, more amazing technology. At home we have a display of devices on the dining room table. Twice a day I sit down and lay out the materials on a mat with a template of what is needed and in what order. First you wash your hands with fancy hand soap, and then apply a dab of further goo that smells quite “medical.” Then you open an alcohol swab and clean the fitting for 15 seconds. Then you screw in a syringe and flush the tube, and then install the infusion device, which looks like a softball and contains the antibiotics in a pressurized form. Then you open that valve in the line and do whatever you want. Two hours later it is empty, and you take it off, clean some more, and then flush the system with two different syringes, in the correct order.
This was really intimidating when the home nurse explained it, and we lived in fear that first night. We needed to get up a midnight to do this. Actually, it is one of those things that’s pretty easy after the first or second time. You do need to follow the instructions and do everything in the correct order, because screwing it up could lead to an infection, other dire circumstances or, in rare cases, death. Gulp.
One nice thing about the PICC port in my arm is that when the visiting nurse comes once a week for a blood draw, it can be taken from there – no more needles.
Supplies are delivered by FedEx as needed
So there we are. Today we will tweak the timing so the infusions can be done at 10am and 10pm rather than midnight and noon. I am getting better each day, and it is possible the infusions will be reduced to once a day in time. In addition, if the cultures taken at the hospital show specifics, the antibiotics mixture can be modified into a more specific cocktail.
Again, without Susan by my side I would now be reduced to a psychological and emotional mess, a quivering blob of a person with all optimism squashed. It would not be a pretty sight.
All in all, I am one fortunate dude.
Copyright 2017 David Preston