Friday, August 22, 2008

A Night to Remember -- Anniversary in the ER

This post continues the story of what happened after my bowel shut down due to chemo (see post of 8/20/08).

I was taken by ambulance to the ER just before midnight on July 24, 2007 -- needless to say, it was quite a dramatic way for my partner and I to celebrate our 15th anniversary together. I was in a great deal of back pain from the collapse of my spine, so shortly after beginning the ambulance ride I was given morphine. I remember watching what landmarks I could make out through the small upper windows of the ambulance, and paying attention to our progress by the turns we were making.

After arriving at the ER, I was put in a room where I waited. I remember doing a lot of waiting that night. I was waiting for a doctor to help me, waiting to digest my dinner, waiting to poop, waiting to feel better. I couldn't have felt much worse. Luckily I didn't have to wait for my family -- my partner and daughter drove to the ER and stayed with me that night.

I have never been so uncomfortable in my life. It seemed that my body was becoming overwhelmed with systems that didn't work. My skeletal system was incapable of holding me up, and caused me a great deal of pain. But the real reason for being in the ER was the shutting down of my bowel. My digesting dinner could not go into my intestines, which were already full with 5 days of food, so instead of moving through my system in the usual way, the food was going up and down my esophagus and burning my throat in the process.

My body was toxic to me, and I was in a sort of stupor from the morphine. I was in so much pain and discomfort, lying there on a bed in a darkened room in the ER in the wee hours of the morning, that I didn't care if I died that night. It breaks my heart to know, even now, that I had lost the will to live, that there was a moment that I was willing to relinquish this incarnation -- the love, the family, all that I had worked for, all that brought me joy. I just didn't care any more. It took too much energy to care, and I just didn't have any.

When a doctor did examine me, he decided to do an enema to clean me out. Nothing happened. Then another enema, and still nothing happened. Then the doctor decided it was time to do X-rays, and that freaked me out. Because of all of the compression fractures in my spine, I was unable to lie down on a hard surface, like an X-ray table. It would cause back spasms, and I just couldn't choose that for myself. So I suggested that we do another enema first, since that would be the therapy of choice if the X-ray showed an obstructed bowel.

Several hours later, after the X-ray and 2 more enemas, still nothing had moved in my intestines. It was around 4 a.m. in the ER, and my partner was sitting next to me holding my hand while my daughter was sleeping in the corner sitting up in a chair. I was dozing on and off, sleeping in the stolen moments when I could become comfortable, only to be awakened by my faulty digestive system. I turned to Gene and said, "I decided to stay."

The next morning I asked Gene if I had really said that, or if I just imagined it, the words, "I decided to stay". Yes. I had said those words out loud, I had decided to stay. I had been ready to give it all up, to relinquish this life on Earth, and then I had moved through that moment and made a decision -- something shifted inside of me and I made the decision to live. And in retrospect, it is clear that this decision was an important part of what I needed to begin the healing process.

Lying in the ER, before the sky became light at the beginning of the next day, the doctor came in to talk to us. He said there were 2 choices -- to admit me to the hospital, or to send me home. They weren't going to send me home because my bowel was not functioning, so they would admit me to the hospital. Only there weren't any rooms available yet, so I would stay in the ER until one was vacated.

Before the doctor left the room, my daughter said to him that I was very uncomfortable since my digested dinner was not able to go anywhere, and she asked about having my stomach pumped. That sounded like a good idea to all, so the nursing staff came in to put a tube down my throat (in through the nose -- very uncomfortable but effective). And as soon as the tube hit my stomach, the contents came up with quite a force of ejection! I did feel better after that.

By late morning, I was moved to a hospital room in the new wing -- I lucked out and had a private room with a picture window looking out over the green trees of western Massachusetts.

And thus began my first ever stay in the hospital, and a chance to begin a long healing journey -- and that is the story for another post.

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