Saturday, August 27, 2016
Medical (mis)adventures and suchlike
Well, now that I'm safely back home, I guess I can tell you more about my recent adventures in hospital, and what led up to them.
As regular readers will know, I had kidney stone problems last year, leading to two procedures: a lithotripsy, trying to break up the stone from outside using directed ultrasound pulses, then, when that didn't work, a ureteroscopy. (The latter was a lot more painful than the kidney stone!) In the process of diagnosing and treating the kidney stone, an ultrasound examination revealed that I also had gallstones; but because they weren't causing any problems at the time, it was decided to do nothing about them in the short term.
Earlier this year, I began a water fast to try to knock off some weight and kick-start my metabolism, which had been severely disrupted by drug interactions and had never fully recovered. The fast worked very well, at least initially, and I dropped 25 pounds in only about 3 weeks . . . but unfortunately, the water fast also led to some very severe pain from my gall bladder (a known side effect of rapid weight loss, about which I'd read but for which I wasn't fully prepared). I therefore suspended my water fast and went back to the doctors (being hampered by having recently moved to this state, and therefore not having a local network of medical practitioners who knew me). I was eventually referred to a surgeon, and the decision was taken to yank my gall bladder.
I did the usual pre-admission testing and form-filling at the local hospital (discovering, to my extreme annoyance, that thanks to Obamacare's 'improvements', I'd have to pay a lot more out of my own pocket for this operation than I'd been charged for previous procedures). Everything was going smoothly until three days before the scheduled surgery, when the anesthetists at the local hospital demanded a cardiac clearance before they would proceed. I'd had a heart attack in 2009, followed by a quadruple bypass, so they regarded me as a high-risk patient. They would not accept that my two procedures under general anesthetic in 2015 were predictive evidence that I wouldn't have problems this time around. I was very angry about that, particularly when they used the usual 'weasel words' about wanting to 'improve my experience as a patient' (meaning, of course, "We want to cover our asses in case anything goes wrong!"). I suppose that's the nature of things in our litigious society. At any rate, my surgeon managed to get a short-notice appointment for me with a local cardiologist, who checked me out and issued the required clearance. Surgery was delayed for two weeks while this was going on.
Then came the fun and games of admission and preparation. I have fairly tough skin on my arms (the fruit of many years in African sunshine), and I also donated blood for several years as part of a cell separation team in South Africa. This involved taking blood out of one arm, centrifuging it to take out a single required component, then putting the rest back through the other arm. As a result, the veins in my elbow region on both arms have built up scar tissue, making it harder to get a needle into them. The poor nurses tried, and tried, and tried again, but simply couldn't 'stick' me as they required (the first time I'd experienced that - until now, other nurses in other states have not had anything like the same trouble). After nine (!!!) tries in my elbows and hands, they gave up, and called in a specialist with an ultrasound machine to insert what they called a 'PICC' into a deep vein in my upper arm. She failed, twice, and had to call in a colleague to try the other arm. On the twelfth attempt, the 'stick' succeeded . . . leaving me feeling like a pin-cushion, with pain and frustration steaming out of my ears. I was not a happy camper! (Poor Miss D. had to leave the room, as the constant pricking and needling was making her feel nauseous, never mind her husband!)
I'm told the surgery itself went well; but it seems that the delays in treatment had resulted in my gall bladder becoming necrotic, leading to infection and other complications. The surgeon decided that instead of discharging me the same day, as had been planned, he'd prefer to keep me in hospital in case of complications. This would allow medical staff to keep an eye on me, and initiate treatment quickly if it proved to be required. I only learned about this when I came out of the anesthetic, which led to a lot of vociferous unhappiness from yours truly. (My wife had to deal with that, as she relates on her own blog).
Anyhow, I ended up in a ward, where I settled down as best I could. I'm afraid I baffled the nursing staff. They're used to immediately-postoperative patients moaning in pain, not wanting to move, and being generally down in the dumps. I got up within an hour and started walking the halls, forcing my body to get moving and get on with it. Later that evening, Old NFO, Lawdog, aepilot_Jim and Miss D. arrived to visit, and we ended up walking the halls for another half-dozen circuits, chatting away loudly about surgeries we have jointly and severally known. The staff clearly aren't used to military veterans trying to outdo each other with memories of which surgery hurt the most (as were some of the other patients, who seemed a bit taken aback by our efforts to out-brag each other!) I've learned (as have we all) that it's no good moaning about pain. One simply has to push one's body to recover as quickly as possible. I've been in pain literally 24/7/365 since my spinal injury and damaged nerve in 2004, so this was simply a higher level of what I've learned to handle every day, and I wasn't about to let it get me down. That attitude was clearly not what the nursing staff were expecting!
Next morning the surgeon came to visit, clearly startled to be told by the nursing staff that I'd done more than two dozen circuits of the floor since being admitted, and was champing at the bit to go home. He signed off on my release, and the nice nurses told me it would be "Only about two hours" before they did the paperwork and got me a wheelchair to go down to the entrance. I gave them twenty minutes, or I'd leave without the paperwork, and refused point-blank to even consider a wheelchair. With long-suffering sighs, they eventually gave up and produced the documentation. They did insist that one of their staff go down to the front door with Miss D. and I, just in case I had a fit of the collywobbles or something like that. (He told us gleefully that the job was just what he wanted, as there was a bistro near the entrance, and he felt in need of a donut or two. He disappeared in that direction as soon as we got off the elevator, leaving us to make our own way to the front door.)
I'm back home now, with a cat who's being very gentle about jumping on me (she clearly knows I'm feeling sensitive, and is being very considerate - for a cat, that is!). I'm in a fair bit of pain, but the surgeon prescribed Percocet, so it's under control. (I was highly amused at aepilot_Jim's feigned annoyance when I told him I'd turned down a nighttime dose of Dilaudid on the ward, because I regarded it as unnecessarily strong for my level of pain, and I don't like the light-headed, dizzy feeling over-strong painkillers give me. He reckoned I should have taken 'the good stuff' to share with my friends - namely, him!)
I daresay my sleep cycles will be disrupted for a few days. I'm trying to get some rest as and when the pain level increases, rather than follow my normal pattern - I find this works best when recovering from this sort of thing. Blogging will thus be a now-and-then affair until I get back my rhythm.
Thanks to all who left good wishes and prayers in comments to my previous post. So far, so good!