Friday, June 1, 2007

My graphic content

I'm afraid I had planned an entirely different topic for this post-Memorial Day weekend update. I had hoped to write about dressing like a pirate Friday for a "Pirates of the Caribbean" party. And going to San Francisco with my husband, where we attended a three-day James Bond film festival at the Castro Theater.

Instead, I am forced to write about diarrhea, blood and vomit. Sometimes mixed together, sometimes not. Proceed if you like, or, you know, just sit this one out. I understand completely.

I'm 99 percent sure I know where it all went so terribly wrong. It was an evil little burger joint near the theater. We were hungry when we got to SF, and through the window we saw the ground beef cooking over the flames of a carousel grill. Mouthwatering. Sal ordered a cheeseburger, and I had the same, but with mushrooms. It looked like they were cooking up fresh mushrooms, so I was surprised when they tasted like absolute shit. On a burger that, coincidentally, also tasted like shit. I was hungry, so I tried to keep eating it, but it was just so gross. I even told Sal, "These mushrooms, they taste funny." I only ended up eating about half, and if me not polishing off an actual cheeseburger doesn't tell you something was SERIOUSLY wrong with that food, I don't know what will.

But evidently half is all it takes, since an hour later as settled in for the first 007 movie, the shakes set in. I shook so bad my teeth chattered. I don't know that I have ever felt so unreasonably cold. A cold that hurt my very bones. I bought some tea in the lobby and that helped a little, but then I felt cramping and a really uncomfortable backache. Later that night at the hotel, I had the first -- but holy mother of god, by no means the last -- bout of diarrhea. The next two days were a blur of stomach cramps, burning fever, nausea, back and neck aches, and SWEET JESUS THE DIARRHEA. Sunday night I didn't fall asleep until 4:30 in the morning because it just wouldn't stop.

That was also the night I vomited. You see, because the sickness sort of ebbed and flowed, Sal and I enjoyed a brief respite early that evening when I was starting to feel like maybe I had shrugged it all off. The hotel we stayed at had this awesome soul food restaurant, so we had a couple cocktails at the bar there and then feasted on dinner. I had a bowl of gumbo, a piece of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and some jalapeno cornbread with butter. I'm telling you these items now, because you'll see them again later in the story. (HA! Get it?!)

Anyway, as we waited for the check, I started to tank again. My forehead was getting hot, and I was feeling kind of queasy. By the time we got back to our room, the chills were back in full force. I got in my pajamas and under the covers but was still shivering with cold. Sweet Sal gave me his coat to wear, and then he took off his socks and put them over my shaking hands. Does that sound gross? It wasn't. I probably would have put his underwear on my head if I thought it would warm me up at all. I got in bed and shook and shook and shook. I couldn't sleep because my body ached too much. Plus I kept having to get up and go to the bathroom. At around 1:30 I felt a burbling in my tummy and I lunged for the toilet, where I tossed my cookies so violently that it set off a fresh set of stomach cramps, which in turn set off some more diarrhea. (And by the way, the way I am so freely discussing this very personal sort of subject with everyone should tell you JUST HOW MUCH diarrhea I have had in the past six days. Like, the word means nothing to me anymore. Diarrhea. Diarrhea. I have it. I don't care. Diarrhea. See? I am completely at one with diarrhea.)

I felt no better when we got home Monday night. Went to bed early with another fever, and more of these unholy stomach cramps that at this point are so painful they bring tears to my eyes. I get up every hour to have diarrhea. At around 4:30 a.m., I'm on the toilet and the cramps are actually making me dizzy. I see black spots on the bathroom wall. I stand up and when I turn around to flush, I look down and gasped. Blood. BLOOD IN THE TOILET.

The room begins to spin, and I run wailing into the bedroom where I shake Sal awake. I slump down on the floor and bury my face in my hands. "Baby," I sputter. "I need you to go, right now, into THAT BATHROOM, and look in the toilet, and tell me whether that is BLOOD, or GATORADE." You see, in my addled state, I really thought it could just be all the fluids I was using to keep myself hydrated. And the moment I got home that night I started slugging fruit punch Gatorade. And, like, OF COURSE that could come out my ass. I haven't peed in two days because my body has turned into some sort of freaky one-lane funnel! EVERYTHING comes out my ass now! But Sal - who I'm sure never felt more like a husband than the moment his wife demanded he go inspect her poop for blood - agreed with my first assessment. Which panicked me all the more. We considered going to the ER right away, but I was so, so exhausted. We agreed to lay down a little while to see if I could get some sleep. But at 7:30 a.m. I woke up and had the same thing all over again, so we headed to the hospital.

The ER nurse handed me a clipboard where I wrote down my symptoms. Diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, fever, sore back and neck. Before she even leads me out of the waiting room, she asks me to touch my chin to my chest. "Does that hurt?" Yeah, that hurts. I'm whisked to a special room where someone slaps a big red sign on the door. And the doctor rushes in wearing a mask. He tells me that because I have neck pain, they are worried I have spinal meningitis, and that he wants to do a lumbar puncture to rule it out. But then he goes on and on about how it's a risky procedure, invasive and painful, and it's up to me whether I want the test. I can't even believe we are having this conversation. We begin to quiz him on what, besides the neck pain, could indicate meningitis. And I keep bringing up the food poisoning. He waves that off. "The food poisoning, that is just a story. I deal with facts. The fact is that your neck hurts and we are concerned about meningitis." I'm like, "But didn't you see about the blood? The blood in my stool? Does THAT go with spinal meningitis?" No, he says. And then he goes on to suggest that I perhaps was just so incredibly unlucky that I ate the bad mushroom burger AT THE EXACT SAME TIME I caught myself a case of spinal meningitis. And then he told us a story about a boy who got spinal meningitis, and two days later, that boy died. This doctor, he's not so good at the bedside manner.

We agonize about it -- under the impatient glare of the doctor's eyes above his stupid mask -- for about a minute and a half and reluctantly decide to do it. After all, when I asked "Well, what if we DON'T do the test, then what?" the doctor's response was, "Well, I guess you could go home and come back when you get sicker!" He stalks off and I collapse in tears. All I wanted was for someone to fix my cramps and diarrhea, and his solution is to jam a giant needle into my spine? Why not jab my eyeballs while you're at it, doc?

The next hour is a whirl of masked medical people testing my blood and hooking me up to an IV and various other monitors. Then they wheel me away for a CT scan of my head, and when I'm done they put me in a different room. The Puncture Room. A nice man comes in and says he's going to be my coach, and they ask Sal to leave. Then Dr. Mean and his assistant had me scoot to the edge of the gurney and curl myself over into a C, so that my spine jutted out. As they are positioning me, I'm bawling and considering all the various ways this could go wrong. (For instance, what if I accidentally have diarrhea RIGHT WHEN THE NEEDLE PIERCES MY SPINE?!? And then I'll be covered in crap AND paralyzed forever!) My coach asks me if I want to hold his hand. Based on the way he rubbed his palm when the procedure was over, I'm wondering if he regretted that kind offer. But I was honestly so glad for him. He was so much nicer than the main doctor, and he kept patting me on the shoulder and telling me what a good job I was doing. So this Bud's for you, Mr. Lumbar Puncture Assistant Guy.

After it was over, I had to lay down flat on my back for an hour. They injected my IV with some morphine, which helped quite a bit. Then the door bursts open and the doctor says "Good news! You don't have meningitis!"

You don't say.

Then he says all sorts of wonderful things, like "Want to go home? Want some cramp medicine and then you can go home?" Um, yeah! All swell ideas! But then he comes over and starts pushing around on my belly. He frowns. Does it hurt here? Yes. How about here? Yes. And here? Doc, I have had almost nonstop stomach cramps for three days. I think my muscles hurt. But no, now the doctor is afraid it's appendicitis. He would like me to have a CT scan just to be sure. So back I go to X-ray, where they send me into the big white doughnut again. This time they did a dye contrast, so they shot some stuff into my IV that made my body feel like it filled up with warm water. And there was a weird metallic taste in my mouth. After the test, the X-ray tech pushes my gurney into the hallway and says "Someone'll be right here to get you." So I lay there and wait. And wait. And wait. Several people pass, but nobody even looks over at me. Nearly 15 minutes pass and I'm starting to get impatient. But I'm also high as a kite. So for a gag, I pulled the sheet up all the way over my head for awhile.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before someone rushed out to push me back to my room. About an hour later, the doctor comes in and chirps about how I don't have appendicitis. Then he goes, "But wow ... your colon! It's REEEEALLY inflamed! So I guess that goes along with your food poisoning story!" I tried to shoot him my best laser-beam death glare but I'm afraid I was too weak to do any damage. So I put my real clothes back on and went home.

I wish I could say the story ends there. But about an hour after I left the ER, an excruciating headache knocked me flat and it basically hasn't gone away. And that was four days ago. Yesterday I finally went to my real doctor, and he said he believes I'm leaking spinal fluid. (He said this after noting, with surprise, that I have three holes in my back instead of just one.) The cure for this, believe it or not, is to do ANOTHER LUMBAR PUNCTURE. Only instead of taking out some fluid, they would inject a little bit of my own blood to form a "patch" over the leak. You can probably imagine what I thought of this plan. So instead he gave me some lovely vicodin, and we're going to cross our fingers and hope my spinal hole heals itself over the weekend.

I will leave you with a little memento my husband grabbed that morning in the emergency room. While trying to cheer me up with jokes (like when I returned from the CT scan of my belly, asking me if the results showed that I "was fat" and "needed gastric bypass") he also thought it would be high comedy to snap a cell phone picture of me in my weakened condition. It is only now that I can admit he could have been right:


Anonymous said...

Oh my poor little pumpkin! You brought tears to my eyes. Chris and I are thinking about you, dontcha know?! Here's a big HUG for your holey back.

Tim said...

I was mostly horrified for that entire post, even though I pretty much knew all of it anyway.

But I must say, I haven't laughed so hard in a very long time as when I got to Sal's "jokes" in the last paragraph. Oh, that Sal.

Robyn said...
I mean, I HAD to laugh, right? Toilet talk is a Vines family specialty. But I felt so bad laughing, if that helps.

I hope you are OK.

Robyn said...

By the way, you look good in that picture. I mean, you spend 4 days at the toilet and then have your spine punctured or whatever, and you still look good!

Anonymous said...

I love your story! Very funny! It reminds me of some runs in I've had in doctors offices and hospitals. Hope you feel better.