Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Second Close Call

I had a bizarre time last Friday (Good Friday!). DH and I stayed in our room late and had a little date since he had the day off and the boys are certainly now old enough to pour their own darn cereal and figure out how to amuse themselves and get going on homework. We came downstairs at lunchtime. DH made himself a lunch and after I cleaned up a little I made myself a little saucer with some leftovers of Irish potatoes/cabbage and a small piece of corned beef, which I heated in the microwave. You must know about me that I do not eat beef at all except some years on the occasion of St. Paddy's. I had one bite of potato, and then a tiny bite of corned beef. And it must have been the toughest morsel of corned beef in Christendom. I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, and chewed some more. But at some point that bad boy of shoe leather had to go down. Eventually I swallowed it, but it hadn't become any less tough for all the work.
And then . . . NOTHING. It went past my swallow-point, but no further. It just stuck right there in my craw. I could breathe fine, but then when I tried to swallow anything else (including, ahem, to be indelicate, my own natural saliva) I could not. I had to spit it out. I had this happen more than a year ago with a little bite of dry chicken, but after a couple of hours it resolved itself and somehow went down. This time I waited a couple hours and nothing changed. I tried to make myself throw up, but couldn't get my stomach to do anything, just my throat. I tried the following liquids with no success, just a complete 360 degree return: water, cranberry juice, coffee, seltzer (the seltzer was the WORST; thanks, DH, for your brilliant suggestion). DH kept saying, "Just gulp down a huge amount of water all at once and it will go away!" Nope. When I did that I spewed all over the kitchen. I hacked and barfed all day an no evil corned beef nugget emerged.

Finally I told DH I needed to go to the emergency room; I just could not stand it anymore and it wasn't going away on its own. DH made me drive myself to the hospital! (I believe this had something to do with NCAA basketball.) I had to take a Cool-Whip tub to spit in. (See! Jeff Foxworthy take note: recycled Cool-Whip tubs are truly useful for something other than yer family salad bowls!) Let me tell you it was all kinds of fun having to sit in the waiting room spitting up in front of a bunch of weirdo complete strangers, one of whom was so impaired he kept insisting my coat belonged to him. The rest of them were all watching basketball on the waiting room TV.

Eventually the very kind triage nurse put me in an ER bed and no one else did anything for a long, long time. People would come in and ask me what the hell that tub was and look at me like I was fresh in from the looney bin.

Lucky me, I got head doctor Vinnie Goombah and his merrie band of med students, who treated me like a retarded bag lady. (Not fair! The real, truly antique nut cases were in the beds moaning on either side of me!) I tried using my charm and sense of humor, and the med students laughed but Vinnie was too dumb to understand that I was joking around with him. This guy did not even use correct grammar, and he is a head doctor! ("If dis thing DON'T go down, we might hafta do a procee-juah on ya.") He sounded like one of the Three Stooges. He was also very insulting, telling me I should CHEW MY FOOD and JUST HOW BIG WAS THIS PIECE OF MEAT and WHY DID I TRY TO BITE OFF THE WHOLE COW AT ONCE. I was furious because I had not done those things and indeed I DO NOT EVEN EAT BEEF so why was he giving me a hard time? Oh, and a couple of times I guess he thought it was clever to make comic faces at me by thumbing his nose when others weren't looking. Right back at ya, Vinnie Goombah.

They decided to give me an IV push of something called glugagon, which relaxes the smooth muscle of the esophagus. The theory is that the blob will either go down or come back out. Well bless the heart of the guy who did the extensive venipuncture. He was good as gold. Not two minutes after the glucagon, I had the World's Biggest, Most Exhausting Barf, and he knew it was coming, and he held the bucket and patted me and got me a washcloth. Then we had to wait for twenty minutes or so. The stupid muscle spasms in my swallower did subside quite a bit, but it wasn't really over and I kept up an Olympic burpathon and feeling as though the muscles were still spazzing.

Finally, the miracle moment came when I was able to take not just one tiny sip of the mini-Coke Vinnie's minions left with me, but five sips. Then I had 1/4 cup of water, and it all stayed down. The throat was very tired, but apparently functional again.

Then a cute and patient Indian girl doctor came in, saying, "I knew you were the person I was looking for because I saw your throw-up bin!" She was the GI specialist and said they had decided to do a procedure called endoscopy, in which they knock you out, hold you on your left side, shove a cable with a camera in it down your throat, and look around for what's wrong, displaying your most private innards on a computer screen where everyone can see. Then, when they find the sticking goo, they take an instrument and shove the offending matter down. NICE.
Okay. So they promised me I would NOT REMEMBER ANYTHING because of the sedation. Ha! I remember every minute of it. Anesthesia and I do not get along and never have. What they really need is either a crazy a$$ hypnotist or a really huge cast-iron skillet to hit me over the head with. I remember having my wisdom teeth out at age 14; I also clearly remember having major abdominal surgery, when I also remember the nurses not having anyplace to put me after the pre-op "sedation" had supposedly kicked in. Therefore they put me in a basement supply closet (conveniently adjacent to the operating room) while I was STILL LUCID AND TALKING.

Anyhoo, they get me prepped and a couple of them are saying, "Are you on blood-pressure medication?" And I said, "What?" (If anything, I've always had low blood pressure; it only goes up during the stress and exhaustion of an asthma attack.) So they tell me it is going through the roof. Huh? Then they tried a cuff that fit better, and still, through the roof and I'd better tell my doctor that I need to go on blood-pressure medication fast. Despite the fact that I have BP checked as part of my normal doctor visits every two or three months, and they've never said anything about it being high. Great, that's just the kind of news I need when I'm choking to death already. I explained that I had been continuously barfing my guts out for hours, and felt as though my eyes were going to pop out. All that work came with a whopping-bad headache, too.

Furthermore, the guy who's setting me up and telling me tsk tsk about my BP feels compelled to tell me how, if this is my first time there for choking, it will not be my last time; I'll be back and we'll get to know each other real well. Then he tells me this story about a very old man who comes in almost every week because he is too lazy to put in his dentures and he bites food off whole and can't chew; he just swallows it. NICE! Like I need to know the details of Mr. Anti-Denture Man. I tell setup guy that I promise to keep my teeth in for future eating, since they are all mine and still pretty well attached. He doesn't laugh.

Finally they give me the "sedative" and I'm lying there loudly saying over and over every few minutes, "I'm still here!" so that they will know I am not knocked out and please God I want to make sure I'm fully knocked out before they start sticking things down my gullet. (All I can think of to take my mind off worry is the "sedagive!" line in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," one of my favorite movies.) Then this complete PYGMY ZOMBIE of a doctor who hasn't shaved in three days steps inside the curtain, looks straight at me with an absolutely serious white stone face without ever blinking his eyes, and says, "It's very important to CHEW YOUR FOOD," as if he expected me to sit up straight and salute him. And just in case Mr. Personality had not made his point, he said it again, exactly like a robot. Well by then I was really damn hopping mad (and the sedation was not sedating, which made me scared AND mad), and if it weren't for the fact that they had me tied to the bed with tubing and devices and beeping apparatus, and surrounded with people and another device strapped to my mouth, I would have clawed his face off. That was his entire input into the situation, and then he walked away. If I hadn't had a jaw-positioning thingy in my mouth I would have shouted, "It's very important that you GET YOUR BALLS CUT OFF so that you cannot procreate!" I was so appalled that I made a big face of complete outrage at him as he turned and walked, and one of the med students saw me and turned around and cracked up in the corner.

Just a warning to the cheery and effervescent Dr. Anderson: I know your name and I have the hospital discharge "customer care suggestion sheet" right here in my hot little hand and a Forever stamp to mail it with!

Then they started the shoving. And DO I remember it. Can I get a witness! It does not feel good to have large long foreign electronic objects shoved down into your very personal tummy. Or to have people standing behind you repeatedly pushing you onto your shoulder to keep you in position.

Anyway by 2:00 a.m. they had called DH to pick me up and I was good to go. Oh, yeah--we had to leave my car overnight because I wasn't allowed to drive under the influence of the [non] sedative. But I haven't been able to eat anything very solid all week--my throat still hurts from the probe and the prospect of food is just too traumatic. Water, smoothies, bananas, soup, quiche, cottage cheese and mashed taters are my friends and will not betray me!

So . . . I have never been so thankful for liter bottles of cold water before (I now keep one in my hand always). Or for cranberry juice and coffee. Yum. Not so much the seltzer. And I'm pretty thankful that I didn't die on Good Friday and not resurrect on Sunday.


At 3/28/2008 9:25 AM, Blogger Tuesday said...

You can't die of throat-spasm-killer-food-nugget-implantation. Stop immediately! That is just too, too *embarassing* for words.

What caused that anyway, really. Surely not a killer nugget of corned beef? Did it finally come up? Or down? Did you get to take it home in a jar?

Lordy, you've had a real run of it recently. Are you back on solids yet?

At 3/28/2008 9:49 AM, Blogger sputnik said...

It had actually gone down after the glucagon, but they went in anyway because I kept reporting spasms. I'm still being very careful to stay with soft foods (except crackers). Last night I made veggie pasta.

At 3/28/2008 10:00 AM, Blogger Nance said...

holy crap. how terrible for you! have you consulted with your regular doctor, then? they aren't talking about achalasia, are they? how very traumatic--and to have gone through the whole thing alone! awful.


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