I’m laying in a bed at Johns Hopkins with a tube down my nose and two IVs in my arm and port. I just had a hit of Toradol, which cuts the pain and swelling from the nasal tube in half and makes life somewhat livable for about an hour. Then I have to wait another five hours for the next shot. I’ve had an NG tube in my nose for 9 of the past 11 days so my sinuses are in full-on revolt: my left eyeball (on the tube side) feels like it wants to pop out of my skull and my head pounds with pressure. They can give me Tylenol to cut down on the headache but they will only give it to me as a suppository. At this point I’m ready to jam a woolly mammoth up my ass if that would provide any relief.
We were in the middle of our vacation week in Delaware, and I went to sleep on Monday evening after a lovely day on the beach and tasty dinner. I took a leak at around midnight and laid back down with some stomach pain, thinking I’d waited too long to pee. The next morning the pain hadn’t gone away so I drove myself to the urgent care in Lewes, who then referred me to the ER. So by the time I was seen by a professional it was around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. They shot a MRI and made me wait around until evening before sending me on my way, saying I just had some abdominal pain and that it would work itself out.
Wednesday morning was better, and during the day wasn’t too bad. I was able to get out on the beach with everybody. But after dinner, the pain came back and by midnight I had to wake Jen to drive me back to the ER. They looked me over again and immediately stuck an NG tube down my throat, which began suctioning sickly green fluid out of my stomach and providing immediate relief: I had a bowel obstruction.
Thus began a long cycle of laying and waiting and getting up and walking and peeing and praying for pooping. I shared a room the first night with a quiet guy who played FOX News all day and all night on his TV. He cleared out after the second day and was replaced with a giant kid in his mid-20’s who was admitted with severe pancreatitis, and who played Law and Order all day while he detoxed.
Jen stuck with me every day into every night, making sure I had everything I needed, making me walk the ward, holding my hand, and giving me the support I needed. She got the vacation house packed, arranged for Finn to stay at her sister’s house, rented a creepy AirBnB close to the hospital, completed a bunch of freelance work, and kept the family running while my gut slowly unkinked itself.
By the weekend I was beginning to see some movement in my bowels, and by Monday or Tuesday I started pooping: some of the stuff was working its way out but the MRIs and X-rays all showed it still was partially blocked. This was progress! I was proud of those poops! I took pictures of them on my phone to prove they had happened. BEHOLD, MY PROGENY. I have to remember to erase all of them now because nobody wanted to see them.
The doctors pulled my NG tube on Wednesday, clearly impressed with my pooping, and moved me up to clear liquids for food.
On Thursday they moved me up to “soft solid foods” and handed me a plate with four thick slices of turkey, beans, mashed potatoes and gravy for lunch. Having been withheld real food for over a week, I destroyed the turkey and potatoes. About two hours later my stomach was in full revolt. I finally got up to walk around, that jumpstarted my nausea, and I wound up throwing up half the meal into a pink bin. Later in the day the other half made its way out. I had to ask them to put the NG tube back in, which is equivalent to me asking for someone to chop my leg off.
Behind the scenes, Jen was in contact with my abdominal surgeon at Hopkins, and they started the wheels turning to get me moved to Baltimore. From what we were told I was going to have to wait a few days before a bed opened up but on Friday morning they told us I was leaving that evening. A crew of three EMTs showed up, strapped me to an uncomfortably narrow stretcher, and drove me via Dover back to Baltimore.
So where did this bowel obstruction come from? They tell me it’s a result of the surgery I had in December. Because they were in my abdomen and digging around during the surgery, and because they used radiation on all of the nearby tissue, there were scars and adhesions left on my intestines. This could have happened at any time but the doc we spoke to in Lewes told us this is exactly the time it would show up after the cancer surgery and treatment.
Things I have learned:
- NG tubes are an invention of Satan.
- I have a horse’s tolerance for morphine. They hit me with 4mg every four hours in Lewes and I swear it lasted about 1/2 hour. Toradol too–and Hopkins is chintzier with it: every six hours.
- The antibiotics I’ve been on make me weep like a baby. I couldn’t make it all the way through The Force Awakens last night: Great gasping sobs. A dish soap commercial about washing crude oil off ducklings: BAWLING.
- I have watched all of the episodes of NCIS I care to watch, ever.
- Nurses are amazing people and I have the utmost respect for them and their jobs. (I knew this already but it bears repeating).
- Modern television is 1 half programming, one quarter commercials, and one quarter restaurant commercials designed specifically to torture me. I don’t know what Nacho Fries are but I WILL HAVE THEM.