There and Back Again. (A blog of novelesque proportions.)


I’m a little bit proud of myself. The first time I’ve broken my three-times weekly posting schedule since I moved to it, and I have a pretty good excuse lined up.

Of course, a break of over two weeks probably warrants a little better than a pretty good excuse.

So I’ve got a long, long story for you.

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My last post mentions that I felt that my drive over Mount Hood helped cure my general feelings of unwellness leftover from a long week of working and bingeing on pastries.

Oh sad, unwise Bethany of Monday, July 2nd.

That night, back pain that had been bothering me since Sunday attacked me full force, preventing more than a few hours of sleep. By Tuesday morning, I was distraught.

After a short but violent burst of crying, I tried to eat something healthy-ish to cushion the Ibuprofen on my stomach to try to relieve what I thought was a severe muscle spasm in my back. I called my friend Mandy to postpone my morning plans with her, ate a bite of yogurt, and threw up.

(If you’re squeamish, don’t worry. I think that’s about as far into the TMI realm as I intend to stray.)

I spent the remainder of the day alternating between sleeping and trying to convince myself that I was well enough to follow through with my plans with my sister and both of my friends. I had to ditch Mandy again though, after I nearly blacked out while getting dressed to go to her house. Sad.

Hadley still came over to my house, although I warned her of my illness. She tried valiantly to cure my back pain, and got to witness an episode of shivering that had nothing to do with being cold. I didn’t understand any more than anyone else.

Wednesday, I awoke feeling only slightly better. “I’m fine,” I tried to convince my body, staring at myself in the mirror, “Everything is good and you’re going to have a great day.”

Then, since it was the 4th of July, I went down to my home coffee shop, intending to work and help and be generally full of awesomeness. However, as soon as I was dressed and in the car, I realized my back pain was not going to let me do any jobs that required standing, so Pat and Mandy graciously gave me the one job during which I could sit– peddling coffee, lemonade, and baked goods to the Redmondites on the sidewalk.

I didn’t last long.

After a paltry twenty to thirty minutes performing my duties and musing on the extreme normality of Redmond’s residents, my body was making it clear to me that I was not going to make it. Nausea was rushing through me, so I took an opportunity to go inside.

“Mandy,” I interrupted, “I’m sorry to do this to you, but my back hurts too bad. I’m not going to make it.” I stuffed the handful of change I had garnered outside into her hand, and hurried over to the couch where I quickly reclined, trying not to look too green. I called my mom and asked her to come collect me, pronto.

There were some interactions before my mom made it to the shop. I don’t specifically remember them– I was so uncomfortable by that point. I estimated her arrival time, said my goodbyes, and made it out the back door of the shop just as she drove up.

I threw up again on the short drive home, right in front of where the local Alcoholic’s Anonymous chapter meets. It was not lost on me, but I spent the rest of Wednesday sleeping and trying to nourish and hydrate my body.

Thursday was similar, but worse. The tidy fashion of my illness that took shape on Tuesday and Wednesday in which I threw up once and slept the rest of the day was not re-created.

It seemed like it would be when I threw up first thing in the morning again, (at this point I was trying to figure out why I appeared to have morning sickness when I’m obviously not pregnant,) but then the morning sickness pattern was thoroughly broken when I found I was unable to keep down any liquids, solids, or pills. Thursday was the worst.

By Friday afternoon, when I hadn’t thrown up in nearly twelve hours, I finally was feeling ready for some solid food.

“Watermelon and strawberry popsicles,” I requested, and my dad lovingly obliged. The watermelon was sliced and brought to me where I lay on the couch, drifting in and out of consciousness.

I took a bite. It was delicious. I finished off the better part of a slice when suddenly I started drooling too much, and there was a telltale feeling in my belly. With more calmness than I think is normal, I set down the bowl of watermelon, took the barf bucket in hand, and emptied my belly of its delicious contents.

More than anything, I remember being so upset at the loss of delicious watermelon. Such a waste.

That’s all I really remember from Friday.

Saturday, I must have woken up in the morning and moved from the bed to the couch, but I have no memory of the trip, or much else. I remember my mouth being really, really dry, and trying over and over to drink some water from the bottle that was perched precariously between my shoulder in my face.

After thinking that I got water so many times, I would finally regain enough consciousness to actually take a drink, only to find that the water caused nausea that I could barely stand.

I suppose it was freaky. I must have seemed almost dead. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom (not that I had to go at this point– I was too dehydrated,) I lay motionless on the couch, and whenever I woke up enough to hear what was going on, there was a worried edge in my mom’s voice.

I didn’t care. I was tired. I wanted to sleep more.

Finally, around three in the afternoon, my mom decided to take me to urgent care, but when we got there, I couldn’t make it out of the car. When mom went into the clinic to get a wheelchair for me, they told her to just take me to the Emergency Room.

I remember the wheelchair ride from the car to the Emergency Room. The chair seemed impossibly wide, and I slumped sideways in the seat that was big enough for three of me.

The receptionist probably saw my ID and stuff, but as my mom wheeled me deeper into the hospital all I remember is wanting to lie down.  When we finally stopped moving I begged her to let me lie on the floor. I didn’t care if it was dirty, I just didn’t want to be holding myself upright anymore. She wouldn’t let me lay on the floor, but instead let me awkwardly position myself on one of those tiny waiting room couches that are precisely as wide as two average adult butts. My neck hurt on the rail, and I remember crying a little bit before the nurse came.

While I was moved back, I must have had my eyes closed, because I don’t remember the transition. I don’t remember the IV being put in, although I was relating the story of the week to the nurses.

At some point I related to them the story of the watermelon, which they probably found very funny in my half-conscious, delirious drawl.

The first bag of liquid they gave me was gone within twenty minutes. I remember starting a tally in my head by the time the third litre was brought in.

They wanted to do some x-rays. Apparently my derisive laughter when they asked if I was pregnant must have sounded more delirious than derisive, because I was given a urine test anyway.

It came back negative for baby-making, and positive for some other stuff.

The x-ray tech was fun. I liked her as soon as she commented about how they must have given me some really happy pills. I denied it (even though I had simply forgotten they had given me anti-nausea medicine,) telling her that I was just finally hydrated and I felt better than I had all day. I still had difficulty standing long enough for her to get the pictures she needed, and I found out that after years of being a graphic designer she had decided a career change was in order at age fifty, and had spent the following year x-raying people and had never been happier.

I was almost sad to say goodbye to her, but back at my little curtained room, they had some news for me.

First they announced that I had a UTI, then that there was something wrong with my kidney function and the doctor on duty was considering keeping me overnight. And then that he was considering sending me to Bend to get dialysis.

At some point one of the EMTs who was driving the ambulance came in to introduce himself. Then they were wheeling in their tiny bed and moving my IV bag onto it. Then I was offering to awkwardly roll onto it to save them the hassle of moving me. They accepted my offer, and I hijacked three hospital blankets. I asked if I should leave them, but they were very nice about letting me have them.

I think their names were Devin and Ryan, the two who rode in back with me. I missed the name of the one who drove. He was missing half an ear, and I wondered how that happened. They were really good at their job, making me feel totally safe, protected, and important for the shockingly fast trip to Bend St. Charles. I remember seeing flashing lights out the back window. It didn’t hurt my feelings either that they were so attractive. We had a conversation about making coffee because one of them, Devin, worked at a coffee stand in Sisters for a while between his EMT job.

They were really kind, wishing me swiftly improving health in tones that were genuine. I was  sad to see them go, too, but they had other girls’ lives to save.

When I got to the hospital, I was so completely exhausted, and so completely tired of re-telling the story of how I got sick and sicker to more and more people in scrubs. At least the EMTs had the decency to wear tight-fitting t-shirts.

But the medical staff was not done with me. Before I was allowed to sleep, I got two more litres of saline, an ultrasound, three blood samples stolen from my right arm, three new nurses, and a doctor who I never saw again after that night.

My top count for things dripping into my arm was four at once.

Fortunately, they decided not to dialyse me, instead taking the strategy that my kidneys simply needed to be re-hydrated and they would naturally restart.

I didn’t care. By the time they let me sleep, they could have cut out my kidneys and put them in jars while laughing maniacally, as long as they knocked me out first.

Imagine my discontent when I was awakened only two hours later by another guy wanting my blood. Flobotomists? Let’s just call them vampires. Seriously.

I don’t really remember much of that first full day– it was Sunday. My pain had been steadily increasing, so they were steadily bumping up my narcotics.

I still can’t remember the name of what they were giving me. It was Dialadin or Dilaudid or something, but it made me feel like a stone.

No brain, no energy, no pain.

Most importantly, no pain.

In the five days I was there, I had three nurses who really excelled. Lisa was first. My memories of her are pretty fuzzy, but she was prompt when I had to call her, businesslike and efficient about replenishing my saline, and kind. I remember really, really liking her and wishing I had more opportunity to get to know her.

Then was Jessica. I have more memories of her, because she was there for either two or three days, I can’t remember which. She was more upbeat than Lisa, but shared her great qualities of efficiency and promptness, tempered with a great sense of humor.

Finally, there was Ellen. I had her for the shortest amount of time, probably only a few hours, but she was good enough to impress me in that short time.

I had one really awful night nurse. She walked more slowly than anyone I’ve ever seen, she was obviously a good five to ten years past her ideal retirement time, and she simply didn’t give a crap about the patients anymore. Really, I think two hours to get one patient some ice water and pain medication is a little bit ridiculous. To her credit though, she discovered that my blood oxygen levels were down to 85, and got me an x-ray (which I never saw) and an oxygen tube to wear in my nose, which I didn’t like. Those suckers tickle.

Anyway, at some point Jessie and Chris drove down from Portland. I thought this was totally unnecessary but sweet at the time, but they brought me my teddy bear, who I’d left at home because I thought my visit was going to be a mere three days. That alone made their trip totally worth the gas money in my eyes.

I’m not actually sure how long they were here. Chris must have only stayed one night, but in the few hours he was at the hospital, he both offered to rub my quickly bloating feet and held my hand while I had more blood drawn. That was when I was most glad that he’s marrying Jessie.

Jessie was a source of great comfort to me. She talked and bullied me into trying to eat, even though I was on a renal diet, which meant that anything that I like to eat is out. She stayed with me when I cajoled mom into going home and resting. Just generally having her around, a bit of my normal life in Portland, was comforting.

Rachel and Dad were in and out of the hospital too, of course, and Rachel held my hand for such long intervals. But mom wouldn’t leave. I tried to get her to go home and sleep, but she was racked with worry and some guilt. She thought she should have known that my back pain was kidney, even though I had continued to tell her it was muscular. Eventually I was so tired of being surrounded by people that I asked/demanded that she and dad just go for a walk, because they were sending stressful vibes around the room. I was probably rude.

I met a few doctors. I probably made decisions about my health.

One day I met Dr. Feldman, who apparently is famed in the area for figuring out curious cases, and since he is a nephrologist (kidney doctor,) and my illness was so random and weird, it seemed like the perfect fit.

He prodded my belly as doctors are prone to do, mapping out areas of where it hurt the most. He ordered another ultrasound to see if my gall bladder needed to come out (I didn’t even flinch when he mentioned sending in a surgeon,) and a CT scan to check on my kidneys and other inner bits.

“It’s like the Labyrinth,” I commented to Jason, the guy piloting my hospital bed, “What?” he asked, clearly surprised. “You know,” I clarified, “That 80s movie with David Bowie.”

He didn’t know.

The ultrasound showed my gall bladder happy and healthy, so Jason piloted me to the room where they keep the CT scanner.

My fever had suddenly spiked, draining my strength, so they moved me onto the scanner bed with a board. Not the most comfortable thing that has ever happened to me.

If you haven’t seen one, the scanner basically looks like a huge white tube that they dip you in and out of while telling you when to hold your breath. I felt silly, even under the narcotics and fever.

I guess they learned things from the CT scan and ultrasound and the x-ray, but if they shared them with me, I don’t remember them, and my efforts spent asking to see the CT scan and x-rays were fruitless.

The narcotics they gave me must have been really good, because my memories of healing are pretty jumbled. I remember that eventually I was getting to the bathroom and back unassisted. A short walk down the hallway made me so dizzy that a nurse gave me her chair. It was so kind. A couple days later, a lap around the hospital halls showed that I was the only person under sixty on the floor, which is when I realized I had an old person’s illness.

Chris’s parents send me a beautiful flower arrangement which resides in a toy fire engine. I don’t know why the fire engine, but it delights me as much now as it did when I awoke to find it. I especially appreciated that the wheels were functional.

Just terrific.

I had visitors. My mom’s friend’s Cera and Michele came by one night, and were in such good form that the nurse had to close the door to block sounds of their hilarity. Hadley and her mom Lisa came by, bearing a gift of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It was so enormously kind, and I hated that my lack of appetite kept me from eating it then and there. (I also hate that some douchenugget stole it from the patient freezer.) Nastassia came one afternoon when Jessie was still here, bearing tea from Townshends, which I was actually able to enjoy. Their visits made my time so much easier.

My neighbors shifted from an older couple who were obviously hard of hearing, to a man with an enormously loud snore and a deep, loud, talking voice that made me dream of Paul Bunyan.

When I saw my nephrologist last Friday (yes, my kidneys are now so important they have their own doctor,) he kept emphasizing to me how very, very sick I was.

I guess I can see that. The whole passing out without caring thing was probably a little telling.

But the thing that was really telling was the blood work.

When I was brought in, my creatinine level was 7.8, when the normal number is between 0.5 and 0.8. Another number was at 87 or something when the normal level is like 10. All I really remember is that numbers were very high that were not supposed to be. My blood was getting poisonous because my kidneys failed, letting the toxicity build. That is really as far as I understand what happened to me.

I’m not allowed to take baths or Ibuprofen ever again, which is a little freaky because that’s what I was using to control my pain for the week leading up to my hospitalization.

My doctor keeps trying to make me understand how sick I was. So sick that if I get another kidney infection, it will lead to more severe failure, which will likely lead to needing a transplant, which would suck. So I’m not planning to get another kidney infection.

All my life I’ve wondered what it’s like to be so sick you could die. I thought it would be a horrible experience.

In hindsight it was bad. At one point during my stay in the hospital, my dad asked if I was worried. I must have been energetic at that moment, because I shouted back at him, “Of course I’m worried! How could I not be worried?”

But my overall feelings weren’t worry. I was confident that they were going to fix me, and if I was permanently damaged, so what? The narcotics took care of most of my anxiety, and when it did break through, they had a pill for the anxiety, too.

I don’t have any permanent damage. Just great potential for permanent damage.

There were a few moments when I thought I might die, but they weren’t scary. All I wanted was more rest, more sleep, and to be left alone.  So I traveled to the edge of death and back again, and I don’t feel changed. It’s really kind of disappointing.

Well, I feel physically changed. I’m about ten pounds lighter than before and I get dizzy with too little provocation, but I don’t know. It seems like I should feel more.

I’m angry about the setback to my work. By the time I get back, I’ll have missed at least three full weeks, and that’s only if I improve fast enough to not miss the fourth. Of course I’m extremely grateful to my managers and bosses for covering for me. Indebted, even, but I still would rather have not been sick.

I’ve always tended to get angry when my body makes plans of its own instead of complying with my agenda.

Which is probably why I’m annoyed at myself now for having nothing insightful to say– just a long-winded story about a journey there to potential death and back again.

Maybe I’ll have something better in a few days. I doubt anyone made it this far anyway.

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    • Kjiersten
    • July 20th, 2012

    Glad you’re feeling better.

  1. December 31st, 2012

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