Friday, March 7, 2014

A wrinkle in the continuum

"As sure as time, as sure as snow, as sure as moonlight and as stars, the fallow times will fall away."

On Monday February 24 I was out in my studio making beads when I heard a car pull up in the driveway. It was Neil.

This never happens.

He never comes home in the middle of the day.

He got out of the car and came into the garage and said he wasn't feeling well.

He's not sick often, beyond an occasional cold that doesn't slow him down much. Last September he spent a Sunday in bed, sick to his stomach, but it passed, and by Monday he was OK to go to work.

I figured this was something similar. I asked if I could finish the bead I was working on. I thought he might want some privacy, to rest and not be bothered.

I finished what I was doing and shut down the torch, cycled the kiln to the annealing program and went inside. Neil was in the bathroom. I knocked and asked if I could come in and grab my workout clothes.

He said something like, don't leave, please.

He had abdominal pain and his stomach was swollen. He said he felt bloated.

Neither one of us was sure what to do next. Should we go to an urgent care clinic, such as the one that treated my cat bite? Go to an emergency room, and if so, which one?

In the end I called his regular doctor and spoke to the nurse, who said to come over and they'd work him in.

In retrospect it wasn't our best move. But I drove him there and he walked in and I filled out the paperwork. He was in so much pain that he asked me to ask if there was anywhere he could lie down. They put us in a room, but he couldn't lie down, so he stood and leaned forward against a cabinet.

I wasn't terrified. His color was not bad, not white or gray. He was actually quite pink but that may have been because he played softball in the Sunday afternoon sun just the day before.

He asked me to ask for a basin, which arrived at the same time as the doctor appeared. I said which do you need more, the basin or the doctor. He said, the doctor. After a cursory exam the doctor recommended we go to the emergency room at St. Luke's because they'd have the necessary diagnostic equipment.

We made it there and Neil got himself inside. I did the talking. The receptionist looked at me and said, there's a long wait to see a doctor. I said, I don't even know what that means. We didn't exactly have a choice, we couldn't say, well. in that case, we'll just go home. I said, we'd wait. Someone offered Neil a wheelchair but he could barely sit.

He was called for triage fairly quickly, and went through the drill of temperature, blood pressure and questions. They sent us back to the waiting room. Time passed. Other patients were coughing and talking on cell phones, some were watching TV. After a while we were called and taken to an examining room in the ER, really a sort of curtained alcove. We saw an ER doctor who ordered a CT scan and gave Neil two bottles of contrast beverages to drink. The nurse drew blood and got an IV started and Neil got some pain meds and anti-nausea meds.

Neil was only able to get down one bottle of the contrast serum, which the doc said would be OK, and he was wheeled off for a CT scan. Then we waited for the results to be ready and reviewed. The doctor then ordered a second CT scan to be done an hour later. Once again we waited. And waited. The staff was nice but we got no information unless I stood in the hallway until I got someone's attention. The shift changed, the doctor said goodbye and we waited for the new doctor who took her freaking time.

When we finally saw her, she had little to say except that she had called another doctor who was going to admit us. I mean admit Neil. The admitting doctor came and told us it was appendicitis and not a whole lot more except that they were waiting for a room to be available.

It was midnight by then, and I hadn't closed the blinds at home or left a light on or fed the cats. I was stretched to the end of my rope by then, Neil was getting fluids and pain meds, and there seemed no point in both of us waiting until he was moved to a room. So I went home, did what I had to do, took a hot bath and went to bed.

In the morning I went to the hospital and found Neil in room 414. Dr. Moore, a surgeon, came to see us and said Neil would have a laparoscopic appendectomy that afternoon. When they came to take Neil to surgery, they moved me to a waiting room and told me where to find coffee. It was stone cold coffee, to go with a stone cold waiting room, where I waited, totally alone. I read for a while and then, when it seemed like I should have heard something by then, I switched to pacing.

Dr. Moore finally came out and said all had gone well, and that Neil was in the recovery area and would be for at least an hour. (I think I remember that he said the appendix had not ruptured, although if he did, he later backpedaled on that story.) I went home, closed blinds, turned on lights, fed cats, and headed back, arriving just as Neil had been wheeled back in and transferred into bed.

It was Tuesday afternoon. Neil's abdomen was as swollen as before. He said he felt like he had a blowfish inside him, and he named it Hootie. You have to keep your sense of humor.

Now the days became a blur of trips back and forth between hospital and home. Neil could only have ice chips until his digestive system kicked back in, and it took its sweet time.

I would rather have been the one in the bed. I think I'm a better patient than a caregiver. I'm sorry to admit that I coped with my stress and fatigue and fear by being detached when I should have been compassionate. Sure, I did many things to help keep Neil comfortable but at some level I kept feeling like he should be feeling better, trying harder.

After all, men have a reputation for being terrible patients. I was a bit surprised because I think of Neil as stoic and I said as much, which hurt his feelings. I also said things like, you don't get your strength back lying in bed. God, when did I turn into my mother?

On Saturday there was enough action in Neil's system to start him on clear liquids. From there he progressed to full liquids, although he ate almost nothing. On Sunday he got as far as soft foods and managed an egg and a couple of bites of toast, and just as I got home for a break Neil called and said he was being discharged.

I went back and after lots of paperwork and more waiting, he was allowed to walk out and I picked him up at the exit. I was so happy he was home but it was premature happiness. He spend an uncomfortable evening but managed to drink a bottle of Gatorade and eat a few graham crackers.

I was exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open, so I went to bed first and an hour later Neil woke me to help him get to bed. I'm not at my most-patient-and-kind best an hour after falling asleep but we got him into bed and I went back to sleep. He had a tortured night, terrifying dreams, but I kept waking up too, and each time I listened to his breathing. He seemed to be sleeping all right, so I'd fall asleep again.

On Monday, March 3, I was up early, and after having my coffee, I went into the bedroom to see how Neil was doing. He was awake, sitting up, holding a basin, and that's when the vomiting started. After he'd finished, he felt a little better, but the bloating was worse than ever. Once again we sat in bed, wondering about the best course of action. We could have gone straight back to the ER, but we both had the troubling concern that he'd not been properly diagnosed in the first place.

We decided to call the gastroenterologist who'd done Neil's two colonoscopies, and the office worked him into the schedule. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Dr. Fiman just called Dr. Moore and (doubtlessly using doctor magic) got him on the phone. He sent us back to the ER. I asked if we had to go through the whole admittance ordeal again, and he said that basically that was the only way to get in. He did call ahead and told us to tell the ER staff that Dr. Fiman had sent us to be readmitted. From his lips to St. Luke's ear. You could tell he believed. We could only hope.

The same receptionist was on duty and I said, we're back. Things did move a little bit faster this time, as we went through triage and into a room in the ER, but the waiting room was deserted, so the efficiency could have been coincidental.

As we got into room in the ER, Neil started vomiting into the basin he was clutching. That was a wise move because it got us some immediate attention. He was whisked off for another CT scan, and while we waited for the results the nurse inserted an NG tube into Neil's stomach and turned on a suction machine. A copious stream of acid yellow fluid immediately began to flood out through the tube, into a clear plastic jar that was bigger than the biggest super-sized drink cup you could imagine.

Eventually the ER doctor came back and said Neil had a blockage or obstruction in his small intestine. I fired a million questions at him. The ER doctor (who was about 28 years old) looked at me and said, those are all very good questions. You can ask the surgeon when you see him tomorrow.

Evidently Neil wasn't critical enough for Dr. Moore to see that night, so now it was a matter of waiting for a room to be ready (again). It was shift change, which set us back at least an extra hour, and I was tense about the house and the cats again, and wanting to go home. Neil wanted me to stay until he got into a room, so I did, regrettably not with the greatest grace. OK, I was frazzled, worried and worn out, I hadn't eaten and I wanted to go home. I cried a few tears. But I waited. I wouldn't leave unless he said it would be OK.

Truthfully, my mood swings during this entire period were impressive. At one point in the ER, after Neil got the tube, he thought he couldn't talk, so he was trying to communicate by charades and I was making outrageous guesses at what his hand signals meant and laughing hysterically. I was calm at times and depressed at times and restless at times and nurturing at times and impatient at times and weepy at times.

On Tuesday morning Dr. Moore said we'd keep the tube in, keep suctioning, wait a day and reevaluate, with surgery being the fall-back plan. On Tuesday I Googled "bowel obstruction surgery" which was a mistake. Bad things can happen.

Neil's daughter came and spent time with him in the afternoon, so I went and walked on the treadmill. I've said this before, I'm a creature of habit, and being out of my routines makes me a bit crazy.

On Tuesday night I had a meltdown because Neil was talking about his will and where to find his online passwords. It was the first time I felt really scared. Right before I left, Neil felt some action in his digestive system, which seemed like a hopeful sign, so I went home feeling slightly comforted. Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. Neil texted me, Hootie is on the run! I texted back, Hooray!

Dr. Moore seemed a little surprised that things were going well (cough). He ordered the tube to be kept in another day though. Neil finally started feeling improvement, so I kept my hair appointment in the afternoon. Thursday morning the tube came out and Neil got moved from ice chips to liquids. We'd gotten this far before, but this time Neil said he had some appetite. By Thursday afternoon he'd moved to full liquids. And I got to go to my photography class.

And now it's Friday and it might just be the prettiest day of the year so far and Neil still is waiting for the doctor, to find out if he can go home or if he will have to stay another night and prove he can handle soft foods. Unlike last time, this time he feels ready to go home. I'm at home, still having wild mood swings. I can't live my life but I can't sit in the hospital room all day either. I'm in limbo, which may be my least favorite place to be.

I'm so far behind in everything, my class assignments, bead projects, walking on the treadmill, visiting the shelter cats and posting my musings here.

But Neil is better, the end of this horror show is within reach, and I know how damn lucky I am, we are. I know this could have been so much worse. So I'm going to grab my camera and take a walk around the lake while the sun is smiling.

"I will learn to love the fallow way
When winter draws the valley down
And stills the rivers in their storm
And freezes all the little brooks

Time when our steps slow to the song
Of falling flakes and crackling flames
When silver stars are high and still
Deep in the velvet of the sky

The crystal times, the silent times
I will learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I will learn to love the fallow times

I will learn to love the fallow way
When all my colors fade to white
And flying birds fold back their wings
Upon my anxious wanderings

The sun has slanted all her rays
Across the vast and harvest plain
My memories mingle in the dawn
I dream of joyful vagabonds

The crystal times, the silent times
I will learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I will learn to love the fallow times

No drummer comes across the plain
To tell of triumph or of pain
No word of far off battles cry
To draw me out or draw me nigh

I will learn to love the fallow way
And gather in the patient fruits
And after autumn's blaze and burn
I'll know the feel of still deep roots

But nothing seen to do or need
That crack the ice in frozen ponds
And slumbering in winter's folds
Have dreams of green and blue and gold

I will learn to love the fallow way
And listen for the blossoming
Of my own heart once more in spring

As sure as time, as sure as snow
As sure as moonlight and as stars
The fallow times will fall away
The sun will bring an April day
And I will yield to summer's way."

(Judy Collins)


Nicole DeMore said...

I'm happy that things are on the upswing for you. Dealing with hospitals is always stressful and I feel your pain with that one.

Deborah Apodaca said...

I just sat down to read your blog and am so sorry for everything your husband has had to go through! Hopefully all the medicals issues are taken care of (and correctly this time) and you can get back into your schedule. I know how out of wack you can get when you get derailed and especially when you are worried about a loved one. Take care, my new friend.

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz