Sunday, February 16, 2020

Abdominal hell

For three straight nights this past week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – I suddenly felt ill in my stomach.

Oh, please. Not another 24-hour virus. This time, it was about eight hours each night for three consecutive episodes.

I went to the doctor on Wednesday, where basically it was a heads up notification for everybody. Take Gas-X if it's a gas bubble, but if it continues, come back.

Well meaning friends also were telling me it could be acid reflux. Or gall bladder. Or diverticulitis. Or stomach ulcer. Take your pick. Ain't self diagnosis great?

As a precaution, they also did a blood panel on Wednesday, which eventually showed nothing except a slightly elevated white blood count, which I figured meant I was fighting off some kind of infection.

On Thursday, after an especially relentlessly painful Wednesday night, I went back to the doctor, where I was promptly sent to the hospital for a CT scan. Never had one of those before. They slide you into a machine that looks like a giant doughnut and fill you with a saline solution to collect the images.

And they found the culprit: Gall bladder. Bingo.

At first, I was somewhat relieved. Sure, it meant even more surgery for me just six months after my colon resection, but this time, it would be outpatient surgery – in and out, two hours max. I could handle that.

That, of course, only happens in my dreams. Easy is never peasy.

Because now it was back to Davidson Surgical Associates, those very nice people who did my colon resection back in September. It was there that I met my surgeon, Dr. Mark Smith, who filled me in on the details of the laparoscopic surgery that was scheduled for Saturday because I had to wait an extra day to get off my blood thinning Eliquis.

There seems to be this assumption that gall bladder surgery is relatively simple, and maybe by comparison to other abdominal surgeries, it is. As it turned out, the presumed one-hour surgery turned into a nearly three-hour event. Dr. Smith told me why: there was a marble-sized stone blocking the bile ducts, which was inflaming that particular end of the gall bladder. After removing the bladder, they stapled the intersection to the bile ducts shut to eliminate future problems,

What these guys can do inside the human body with a laparoscope is astounding to me. I think they must be something akin to a rocket scientist who is also an artist and who is incredibly blessed with the grace of God in his hands.

But wait. There's more. There was a lot of infection and some gangrene leakage also taking place, because gangrene is dying tissue. Literally.

"Could this have killed me?" I asked Dr. Smith. I personally never heard of anyone dying from gall bladder infection. What do I know? That's why I ask questions.

"Yes, it could have," he said.  My eyes watered. My lips quivered. He probably said a few other things, although I'm not sure because in that moment, I was somewhere else in my head. I think he said he thought God wanted me to hang around a little longer and he was glad to be a part of that.

My eyes watered. My lips quivered.

"Thank you," I whispered.

A little later, I called my brother, Scott, who is a teaching nurse in Oklahoma. I sometimes solicit free medical advice from him even though I once told him he was adopted back when we were kids. Hey, it was funny at the time. I told my brother what I asked Dr. Smith about the possibility of dying. So I asked Scott how much time would I have had if I left this untreated.

"That's difficult to say," said Scott. "It depends on the infection. It could have been a while. Or it could have been next week."

My eyes watered. My lips quivered. I could hardly talk to my brother.

OK, so by my count, I've pretty much dodged three pretty significant bullets in the last 10 years. I was diagnosed with AFib in 2011. To this day, if doctors didn't tell me I had it, I'd never know I had it. Never had symptoms. Untreated, I'd be rather susceptible to a stroke. But my meds have already bought me 10 years, and I hope they can buy me 10 more.

Last year, of course, I had the colon resection. A flat polyp the size of my thumb from tip to knuckle had imbedded itself in my colon wall. I'm told that flat polyps are the ones that most likely lead to colon cancer. There were no symptoms. We found it with a colonoscopy, and Dr. Steven Muscoreil, a colleague of Dr. Smith from the same practice, removed a foot of the colon. Luckily, it was benign.

And now the gall bladder.

Life changes when you get older. The bulletproof vest you wore in your 20s and 30s somehow loses some of its Kevlar as time passes. It makes you think.

And just in case I need another lesson, I still have my appendix.

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