May 13th, 2004 will more than likely go down as the worst day of my life until the day I draw my last breath. No small statement, that. It has earned more competition in recent times. This fateful day a decade ago was one of those pivotal days where something unexpected happens that alters your life forever. There are times now when I have to dwell on the randomness of it all. The day as the epitome of the saying you cannot win for losing.
The day actually started a sequence of events which I have no interest in correlating to which date over the following six weeks it took place on. So I am just going to throw it all out there in this post.
Ten years ago today, my colon ruptured. The diverticulitis, which I reiterate no one even knew I had, was so inflamed by the prednisone I had been taking, it literally burnt a hole in my colon. I had been feeling bad since the day before. I was not in pain yet, but I felt like I was coming down with something. I assumed my immune system was just spent from surgery. I was worse the next day, but things really did not hit home until I ate lunch.
I could not hold it down and the pain started. Honestly, it was not the kind of pain you might thing. It felt more like a pressure than any sharp or burning sensation. The fact I could not hold anything down was more of a concern. I had be warned of possible allergic reactions to medication I had been given at Duke, so the first assumption is that was the problem. Within a few hours, I was on my hands and knees on the bathroom floor figuring this is not an allergic reaction. I went to the emergency room.
I have had kidney stones in the past, so anytime I have symptoms that seem remotely like stones, that is the assumption everyone works under. I had never had digestive problems before, so no one even speculated about that. There was even a moment the emergency room physician on call suggested I leave there and go to Charleston to see my neferologist. He was just about to go off shift. Luckily his replacement was wiser. I was obviously in dire straits. No one could quite figure out why.
To add an extra degree of complication, there was a stomach virus going around. One, there was an assumption I caught it and two, the hospital had set up a triage that look like a MASH unit wherever there was space because rooms were all filled up. There were stretchers literally camped out in the hallways with people receiving IV fluids and sleeping off the bug. I wound up spending the night in some make shift tent city. I was doped up and did not care.
The next day, I was finally put in a room. I was still not being actively reated for anything except the pain and nausea. Because I had spent very little time in my hometown since graduating high school, I did not have a regular doctor. I had not had one in my hometown since a pediatrician. When you come in without a regular doctor, he is assigned a doctor on call who has at least fifty other patients just like you. His only goal is to make you someone else’s problem as quickly as possible. When he heard kidney stones in regards to me, that is all he needed to know. He called in a neferologist to take over and wished me the best of luck.
So nothing was going to happen until the next day when the neferologist, Dr. O’Kelly, showed up. I am barfing up nothing but bile at this point about as fast as any fluids be pumped in me. As odd as this all sounds, absolutely no one acts like all signs put to something worse than a kidney stone acting up, if indeed I even had a new one, which I had not in thirteen years.
Normally, I am one to read the riot act on short notice and get people hopping. One of the things that appealed to me most about becoming a lawyer was how I could do that authoritatively and get paid for it rather than just be a jackass as a decicated hobby. Looking back, I realize the pain and nausea medication had clouded my thinking and pacified me to where it not only did not occur to me to insist someone do something now. It would not have mattered ultimately, but considering the severity of what was really going on, in hindsight it makes me angry no one was looking for it.
Here is the kicker. I was going to have a CT scan before O’Kelly even looked at me for the first time. I get taken down to radiology for the scan and they send me back to my room because whoever can read the scan has the day off.
Let me reiterate that. There is apparently only one guy who knows how to read CT scans at our regional medical center. If he is not working, you are screwed. Try not to die until he is back on call. To his credit, O’Kelly, a big city doctor who openly found the small town hospital way of doing things barbaric, exploded. He was the first I had met since arriving in the emergency room two days ago who did. He insisted I have the CT scan now and he would read the darn thing.
So I went through with tescan and was back up I my room. I was not there literally ten minutes before a nurse came in and told me a surgeon was on his way. I needed to be operated on yesterday. Actually, two days ago, but who is counting? O’Kelly had been looking at the scan of my kidney, which was perfectly healthy, and just happened to see the tear in my colon.
Events happened really fast. I had no idea up euntil that point there was ever any problem with my digestive system, much less anything serious enough to be fatal. I was on the verge of a peritonitis infection. Why I had not already had one is beyond most anyone knowledgeable of the subject who has heard this story.
I do not remember much before surgery. No one was dawdling at this point. I do not even recall the operating room. Whatever they gave me beforehand to pacify me knocked me out long before I even got to the operating room. When I awoke, half my colon was gone and I had a lovely colostomy as a souvenir.
I was told it was reversible, was I would have to keep it for at least two months. Considering how tumultuous the recovery process was over the next month, I was not too eager to go through with it even though, lord, you have to whether you want or not. No one chooses to live with something like that! It was a miserable, depressing time. No one talked about it, because it did not seem like a priority, but my eye never improved. The brown tint covering everything that I hoped was gas was actually just the dark of my detached retina no longer reflecting any light. The bitter irony was that little bugger was the only reason I took prednisone in the first place. Not only did my colon rupture for nothing, it was adding insult to injury.
Fate was not through with me though. Months later, it was discovered--on the freaking operating table--that the diverticulitis had spread, so reversing the colostomy was not only pointless, my colon might very well rupture again at some point. Keep in mind I had several tsts done prior to surgery which involved which involved shoving very unpleasantly large items up my butt in order to determine before operating on me whether it can actually be done. Nevertheless, I had to be chopped open on the operating table before it occurred to anyone that, nope, it cannot be done. I guess you could call that the final insult to injury, but it would not include the two subsequent surgeries to repair a hernia that developed post surgery that would not quite stay fixed or the long hospitalization for three, count them, three bowel obstructionsat the same time.
Needless to say, it has been a rough five years. Stuff has just piled on to the point t e attending physician watching over me for my last surgery in 2008 literally asked how I could cope. he was not asking for the secret to my strength so much as wondering why I had not slit my wrists by this point. It is a good question and one I could only answr with my religious beliefs forbid it. I have to admit, I have explored the relationship between my Christianity and the tragedies of life. I am going to write about it, too, but it merits its own poat because there is a lot more about my struggles in faith in recent years than just my decline in health. For now, I just want to mark what was the point of my life at which it all went downhill.