"Shit," I thought; and shit, I had reason to decide, it was, just all bound up. After all, I looked like I was in my tenth month of pregnancy with twins. So, I tried the usual high fiber and water and non-alcoholic cider and ginger ale, hoping to move things along. Instead, the pain that had expanded like a long balloon up the front of my lower right side grew worse. Much much worse. Sometime in the afternoon, I could have sworn someone had garroted my entire intestinal tract. Then, the heaving began. The retching came so hard that I thought I would turn myself inside out, except nothing happened but more pain. Gripping, stabbing, unrelenting pain. I did not know that a person could hurt so much without spurting blood.
"We are going to the er," said the Gentleman Caller. I beat him to the car, and I was crawling.
On the way there, the worst of the pain dissipated, but not all of it. That balloon in my side remained. When we got to the er, I hobbled, all bent over, checked-in and sat in the waiting room. On the t.v., the Queen said that she hoped people had laughed at her 007 antics: a royal longing to be a jester instead of a monarch. I wondered if she wanted to pinch Daniel Craig's butt or squeeze his biceps. That definitely would have made me laugh.
About an hour later, someone called me back to a little room with all sorts of equipment. I scanned the desk for evidence of needles. None. Relieved, I told my story to the nurse, stressing that the earlier stomach seizure had been, on a pain scale of 1 to 10, a 20. He sent me back to waiting room where I sat some more. A cute young woman swam faster than any marine mammal. What a wonderful sensation of feeling the power in your body to move so quickly, so gracefully! She seemed to enjoy it herself. The pool, and the idea of immersion in water, seemed so inviting.
They called my name from another door. I hobbled over and the nurse offered a wheel chair. She pushed me over to a room that I recognized from two nights earlier. "Ahh, the sonogram," I said. This perplexed me because they had told me back on Saturday night or Sunday morning or whenever that was that the sonogram could not see into the intestines. "We did this before," I said, not wanting to take up time from another patient. People out in the waiting room were in worse condition than myself or had been there longer.
"Yes, the doctor wants a better look at your kidneys," the tech said.
"Kidneys?" I thought. "I already had this done." The tech on Saturday or whenever had shown me the kidney on the screen. This time, they wanted more views and of both.
As the tech pressed the sonogram thingy down to find my gall bladder, she hit the top of the pain balloon in my side. "Ow, right there!" I said, hoping to be helpful since the original X-ray-types of exploration had been in search of the source of just such pain. "That's where it hurts. Then it goes down like this." I demonstrated.
The tech wasn't interested in my pain. He was there to hunt for Red October in my kidneys. Little did I know, this signalled that the doctor had set his sights on the internal bacterial garden rather than the garroting of my guts or the pain balloon.
After the sonogram, they wheeled me back to the waiting room. All bent over and weak, feeling much less than my most fabulous self, made me remember playing Violet Venable in Suddenly, Last Summer. Had I had this type of experience before then, I might have been able to play her better. I tried to remember some of my lines from the play, but all that came was "turtles" and "Sebastian and Violet, Violet and Sebastian." Those came from the early part of the play, when she was standing up and being all southern-lady saccharine. The wheelchair appeared in the second part, when she loses her mind on stage while hoping to get the young girl lobotomized. I wished I had my Kindle to download the play and remember the lines.
Ah, yes, one shadow of a line from that act returns: "I want my daiquiri." I can remember "daiquiri." Sadly, I did not even feel well enough to want a daiquiri in the waiting room. Not even a pina colada.
On the t.v., two men jumped off of a platform and spun a zillion times before unfolding themselves into two arrows that slid into the water with hardly a splash. Then, they hopped into a jacuzzi. I wondered if that was their reward for diving. A man in the seats across from me, hooked up to some oxygen, explained to a younger man next to him that the divers could break their necks from the impact if they did not dive correctly. My head hurt.
They called my name from yet another door. I went in and saw that the nurse held a plastic bag with vials and needles. I looked about for any sign of an IV. None. Just blood this time.
As when I was six, I tried to talk the nurse out of it. "They took it when I was here yesterday," I said. I did at least have the wit not say "why can't you use some of that?" "Is this absolutely necessary?" I almost begged. He said something about panels and screens, which had no meaning for me and I wasn't sure if we were talking blood or interior decorating. I fleetingly wondered if that was what we historians sound like to non-historians when we talk about something that is common knowledge in our lives, but completely escapes most other people.
Meanwhile, I told the nurse, "I have tiny veins. See?" I showed him my pokes and bruises. They were not that dramatic, really, and certainly not to an er nurse. Still, I wanted him to know that they had to go after me as if they were exploratory drilling in order to find a useful vein.
"I'll use the same sized needle I use on a 2-year old," the nurse promised, little thinking that he was soon going to have one on his hands.
"How about one you use on an infant?" I suggested. For some reason I was shaking, and the shaking was not the shivering of the fever.
Now, in my defense over the following events, I had not had a full night's sleep in almost a week, and certainly had not had more than two or three in the previous 48 hours. I had spent the night before last in an er holding myself in the mental place where I could not feel the IV tube in my arm. In fact, I could still feel the ghost of a tube where it had been in my bicep. I had been pricked several times at both the wrist and elbow, including one failed prick that hit a nerve and revived the phantom of the pipe arm, and the puncture on my right elbow had a huge bruise. I have endured a lot of pricks in my life, but not from needles, so this was not something that I was used to; AND, I hadn't taken my happy pills for several days because of all of this. In other words, I was on my last nerve.
Still, after some effort, closing my eyes, steadying my hand on the desk, and taking several deep yoga breaths, I said, "o.k." Pinch, tense moment, convince my reptilian brain that this was only a few seconds, breathe, count the few seconds, breathe, imagine the blood in the tube, breathe, imagine the blood filling up the vials, then a wiggle of sharp pain and done. "See?" my grown-up rational self told my careening-toward-hysterics childish self. "Not so bad." Then, I opened my eyes.
For a split second, I honestly wondered if I had a weird condition in which all of the blood in my body had disappeared or become invisible. Sure, that is not in the least a rational thought, but it was my fraction of an escape from the reality because, before me on the desk, sat a perfectly clean tube and completely empty vials.
"I'll call someone better in to do you," he said. "Give me about ten minutes."
I went back to the waiting room. All I could see in front of me was a wall that said, "I cannot take another needle in my arm. I am a wimp and a loser and all of those other people who have to undergo chemotherapy -- and write books while they do it -- and get marrow transplants and all sorts of other thing are superhuman heroes of infinite courage to me right now because, after only one night on an IV and a handful of sticks, I cannot face another needle."
Then, I cried. The people around me in the waiting room avoided looking at me. "Ah, jeez," I thought. "They probably think I just received some horrible news, like I have AIDs or cancer or a miscarriage -- which are real things to be upset about. They probably would never stop slapping me if they knew I was crying over a damn needle." I tried to control it, but then decided that I should just go hide somewhere, let it all out, get a grip, and find my way back to that place in my head where I could let them get blood. I had ten minutes. I could have done it. I almost did; but in a startling change of waiting room pace, they called my name after about five minutes. Even then, I might have been able to get myself through the blood draw. My last nerve was frayed, but I still had it. Frantically pulling myself together, I went back into the needle room.
Where that last, frayed nerve broke. Not only did this new nurse have the blood needles, she had an IV straw.
I'm not sure if it took a full second for that nerve to break, or if I immediately said, "fuck no." I do know that the nerve broke pretty quickly, which started the waterworks. I cried. Boy, did I cry. I cried big, weeping, wailing, "I can't stand it any more," three-year old, temper tantrum, baby tears. I think I actually shrunk down to the size of a first-grader. I certainly felt in every way like one.
I at least had the wit to realize that I was behaving like a child; but like a child, I got really pissed off when my hands were pulled from my face and I was told in a stern-mommy voice to look the nurse in the eyes and that I "needed to calm down." They used to always do that to me and even as a four-year old, I wanted to say, "I fucking KNOW I need to calm the fuck down. I'm damn well trying to calm the fuck down. Putting a goddamn time table on it only freaks me the fuck out more." Samuel L. Jackson was my babysitter.
I think my brother actually did say something to that effect when he was 13 and put in the hospital for a major surgery. He even accused the intern of wanting to perform the surgery so he could make a payment on his Mercedes. The stunned intern said, "but I drive a used Dodge." Then my brother taught all of the other kids on the children's floor some creative new uses of profanity.
What I did say to the nurse in the er was, "why do I need an IV?" She said something about hooking me up to saline and antibiotics and pain killers. My exhaustion kept me from fully articulating some of the questions I had, like "why do you want to kill the pain before you have figured out where it is?" and "Why are you focusing on the kidney and not looking into the stomach pain?" and "Is there some connection that I don't see but that you can explain to me?" and, above all, "Why hasn't anyone looked at my stomach to see that it is so distended that I look like I'm about to deliver twins?" All that came out was "I don't understand."
"We need to treat the UTI," she said.
"It's being treated. I'm taking antibiotics," I said. "I came in for my stomach pain."
"It's not being treated well enough if you are here," she said.
"But what does the UTI have to do with the stomach pain? I didn't come in for the UTI, I came in for the stomach pain." I really wanted to know if there was a connection since everything I had read from Dr. Google had said that kidney pain appears in your lower back, and this was in my front and the pain really did feel as if it came from my intestines. What was going on in my body?
"Well, the doctor has to look at the sonogram to decide," the nurse said. "We need you hooked up to the IV so, if he finds something, we can treat it."
Well, yes, I understood the logic of all of that, but I wasn't letting another tube into my arm unless absolutely required. Call me the wimp that I am -- in fact, I will beat you to it by a mile -- but it is my body and I want to know why it has to be hooked up to a plastic bag if it doesn't actually have to be hooked up to a plastic bag -- especially if I don't like it. "Maybe" I might need the IV was not convincing me to face another hour of "bleep, bloop, bleep, bloop" in 2/4 time, as I tried not to feel the tube filling in my arm.
It did drip in 2/4 time, by the way. I had plenty of time to count it on Saturday night. The other monitor, with the pulse and the blood pressure, beeped in 4/4 time at a slightly different pace. Then they gave me morphine, whereupon I imagined myself in the final sequence of All That Jazz. I even think I performed it along the the Fosse sequence in Kiss Me, Kate, but all in my head.
Again, I digress.
So, I'm in the needle room, literally backed into a corner with my arms pulled closely to my chest, feeling about three feet tall and wholly aware that I lack any dignity and am deserving of no sympathy whatsoever. The nurse is not on her last nerve, but I think she sees it from where she sits. We have a bit of a stand-off and all I can think is that I want someone to demonstrate to me some interest in the source of my pain or to go home, curl up in bed, and watch whatever the hell is on t.v. Maybe more of those Olympic thingys, since the waiting room expedition has made me curious.
Finally, we reach an agreement amenable to us both. She won't stick me at all. We will wait for the results of the sonogram. Then, if anything involving the needles has to be done, we will negotiate from there. Otherwise, we will go home.
Back to the waiting room. All of the crying has cured the headache that arrived with the first round of needle poking. One stick, sorta fine. By the fourth, with no success, my head seizes up. I am really a baby, aren't I?
On the t.v., men swing themselves around and about on bars. One Chinese guy flips himself up in the air between two bars, then lands back on the bars on his armpits. Repeatedly. Does his armpit hair catch and pull? Does he have armpit hair or shave it off? Some American guys twirl themselves about on a pommel horse. It looks like fun and seems to require a lot of strength in the upper body. I envy the ability to make your body move any way that you want it to move and with such sleek power. Sadly, I think the American men envied that, too, since they seemed to make a lot of disappointing mistakes. The English guy moved effortlessly, like some sort of huge toy top. He did well.
I hobbled over for some magazines. Did you know that Katie Holmes left Tom Cruise? Also, you can flatten your abs in just 10 days with these 10 amazing exercises.
Outside, the sun has gone down. I only know this because I pace past the door. There is no clock in the room. The narrow windows have the blinds drawn. Back in my seat, the older man in the oxygen tank has sat down next to me to be near his wife, who is in a wheelchair at the end of the row on his other side. I am tempted to ask him for a hit.
"Do you think we can just go and call for the results later?" the infinitely patient Gentleman Companion asks.
"Good idea." I hobble over to the front desk to ask. The receptionist sends me to the nurses' station. The nurse there tells me that we can leave if we want to, but the insurance company might not cover the visit because we would be leaving against medical advice. I hobble back to the waiting room and we wait.
Some eternity later, or maybe it was five minutes -- time had lost meaning in the waiting room, but at least some of the other people were making their way into the back at a pretty good pace -- the doctor was ready to see me.
"Your sonogram was fine," he said. "Nothing is wrong with your kidneys but the infection."
The snotty teenager in me wanted to say "No shit, Sherlock." The now calm and in control adult me said, "thank goodness." After all, it could have been cancer, right? The now calm and in control adult me also said, "what about my stomach?"
"A sonogram can't read inside of the intestines," he said.
"Yes, they told me that," I said. "How about the CT scan from before?" I thought that maybe, if he had looked at the scan knowing where my pain was right now, he might see something that they hadn't know to look for on Saturday. Then, again, after the first interview, no one had seemed interested in my stomach pain.
"It showed nothing," he said.
What I should have said was, "but I didn't have this pain on Saturday, and I do now." What I should have said was, "now that you have determined something that had already been determined, can we take a look at the thing that brought me in here today?" I could have even phrased it nicely. Instead, I told him I was fine, in no pain, and left, hunched over and hobbling to the car.
So, what was wrong? Some of you may have already figured it out. Certainly my ladybits doctor did when I went to see her two days later about the benign findings on the Amsterdam Red Light District sonogram. Certainly her nurse did the second I said, "stomach pain." As did a friend who inquired about my improvement.
Having had little experience with antibiotics, I did not know that they had side effects. When my back broke out in a mild rash the next day (before visiting the ladybits doctor), the Gentleman Companion suggested a reaction to the drugs. So, I consulted Dr. Google with "rash antibiotics." Among the results I found went something like this: "The side effects of antibiotics can be rash, nausea [bleh!], diarrhea [ick!], constipation [wait a minute!]..."
Constipation a side effect of antibiotics? Do tell.
Antibiotics are the good guys, but they aren't sentient beings.They get their mission to get the bad guys and they do. They carpet bomb your insides, indiscriminately killing every bacterial microbe in your entire system, like some macho ranger yelling "the only good bacteria is a dead bacteria" or "kill them all, let the microbe god sort them out!" Your stomach, however, needs some of the bacterial creatures to move things along. My own efforts to do this with fiber had only made matters worse by packing up my garbage can when there were no collectors to carry the garbage away. To switch metaphors, the antibiotic warfare against the bacteria garden had expanded into my intestines and now I needed some probiotic insurgents to push the antibiotic fighting out of my guts and contain it in my kidneys.
As fast as a hunched over old lady in gastric distress could move, I got myself to the grocery store and loaded up on Miso soup, sauerkraut (which only comes in the family size -- oof!), kefir, Activia, more Activia (I like Actvia), and Acidophilus. I was going to kick the shit out of this stomach pain. Literally.
Now, I can stand up straight. I can lie down without feeling the balloon press against vital organs. I don't break into shivering fits nor turn into a human furnace (and that's an odd feeling, having the heat radiate off of yourself in a cool shower). I'm not quite back to normal, but certainly I feel much much better. Seriously, never underestimate the joys of a healthy, functioning gastrointestinal system and urinary tract. Let's hear it for the clean-up crew!
So, yes, my whole wretched, humiliating, second visit to the er could have been cut short or avoided had I known that my gastrointestinal system had come to a grinding halt after an onslaught of antibiotics. What a farce!
Do you think the Queen would laugh?