I include TMI in this report in case you ever have these symptoms. If you do not want to know about bile, pancreas infections, a murder of crows, my quirks of faith or flatulence, read no more.
This story actually begins before our trip to
I soldiered on, because I have always found that if I pamper any illness, I never get to do anything. But after supper, I caved in and went to the hotel. In the dim dark of the night, I woke up thinking I was having a heart attack. I haven’t felt that much pain since child birth-surgery. I woke up Ron and asked him if he thought it was a heart attack and he said the systems were not heart-like. I was vomiting, but not much and my arm didn’t hurt. So I figured if I wasn’t dead yet, it must be flu and I let him go back to sleep. The next morning we talked with the bellman—such are always consulted for their medical knowledge—and he described the symptoms as a terrible flu that was going around. He had it himself last week. This event seems to have been a stone passing into—and through?-- the common tube between the liver, gallbladder and pancreas. From then on, the extreme pain eased to an ache.
The following week I felt nausea, roaring heartburn and fatigue. For me to lose my appetite is to be considered a gift from heaven, so I didn’t worry as I prepared for our trip to
When we got home, Ron said it was time to see a doctor. I agreed; my symptoms were scary and persistent. The following afternoon (Wednesday) I got an appointment with my regular doctor’s partner, a delicious young Croat named Dr. Voljavec. He asked me to guess his nationality (why in the middle of my examination, I can’t recall.) He was both insulted and impressed when I said Serbian. Insulted because all Croats hate Serbs, but impressed that I was even in the neighborhood. (I was close because my friend named Maltevac had a Serbian father and a Dalmatian mother. And no, she doesn’t have spots, but is quite beautiful. I do not know how she feels about firemen).
All-in-all, one cannot think clearly when one’s skin is beginning to take on the hue of a pumpkin. All I could think was that I wouldn’t need a Hallowe’en costume. I could just sit nude in the front yard, with my eyes glowing yellow in the dark.
By Thursday, they had me into an emergency ultrasound, where the tech lady, while confirming that I had gallstones, complained bitterly about having me thrust into her schedule. “They’re not putting you into the hospital tonight, are they?” she asked rhetorically. I was thinking shut up and leave me alone, but I was too polite to say so. Still, I gave her a rave review on her eval form because she did come to realize after awhile how vile I felt and was pretty nice from then on.
By Friday, they had got me in to see a specialist. He told me that in addition to gallstones, my pancreas had become infected from the blockage. “Not my pancreas!!!” I raged. Well, no I didn’t but, gee whiz—my pancreas!! He put me straight into the hospital. I asked if I could keep my gallstones. He said no, my entire gallbladder had to go to the lab. “But they are MINE! My mother gave me that gallbladder on my BIRTHDAY!!” This I did say aloud but he was unimpressed. I think they should buy regular dog food for the lab.
It was good to get an IV for fluids and for infection; I felt so parched. I had all my needed creature comforts with me, as I have for any doctor visit—i.e., reading material and glasses. Of course, the book I was reading I must read again because I missed a lot. [Anne Rice Christ the Lord: Journey to
On Saturday I had surgery. Lots of handsome young males came to see me about anesthesia and such. They wheeled me into a room; it always strikes me that on TV surgical suites have sleek shiny equipment and lots of space (for the camera) but in real life, the room is more like a storage closet with cupboards—or a meatlocker. I was allowed to heave myself onto the operating table and I so pitied the aforementioned beautiful young men the task of lifting my unconscious weight back onto the bed after surgery. (Fortunately, I slept through any anguished groans they may have uttered.) Those wonderful hot blankets were heaped on me as my arms were strapped down. I know that the anesthesiologist talked to me awhile and that counting was involved but I was asleep and stayed so until I awoke in my hospital room. Ron says that when I awoke I said to him “I love you” and he replied that people on drugs always tell the truth. What if I had said something nasty?! I remember asking, “Are we in church?” but I can’t think why I would say such a thing.
The dark night of the soul. Some time after surgery, I was alone in my room and I think it was night, as Ron was not there. I was deep within myself and I felt that I was only the tiniest of sparks of life in a lifeless hulk of a body. There have been times in my life that I have been in despair and wished to die; this was not like that. But I was willing, even eager to meet Jesus, now that I have found faith in Him. Inside me, that little spark of life entered a dark, square room. It was dark, I don’t know how I knew it was square- a cube in fact. Velvet black, no light. Just me. I was excited, waiting for Jesus. Pastor Wes said all we have to say is that we have faith in Jesus and God will forgive us everything. Me, being me, wonders, “Is this like the Egyptian Book of the Dead, where you have to have the correct answers to get through?... But no, I KNOW faith in Jesus is the REAL deal.” I’m waiting and I sense a presence—no light, no tunnel— Jesus, with the air of someone taken from another task, but still infinitely sweet, says, “Little Carol, WHAT are you doing?” I understood that it was not my time, that I was messing with the scheme of things and that those who love me deserve more than me checking out for selfish reasons. I’m thinking I won’t resume my psych meds.
From the sublime to the ridiculous- as anyone returning from a mystic experience knows, the body comes between the Soul and the Divine every time.
Any of you who have had surgery know that soon after comes a time of obsession with the bowels. The anesthesia shuts down the whole digestive tract, including the rhythmic waves that the bowel uses to absorb nutrients and take out the trash, so to speak. First, there is the joy of trapped gas. I lay there in a semi-stupor, thinking my gut was going to swell up and hit the ceiling. Somehow I had my iPod—Ron must have brought it—and I was plugged in constantly—should be as standard in hospitals as IVs are. I was dreaming of tiny demons with my grandson’s face tromping around on my belly; he and his brother have a large trampoline at home, so the image came straight from the last time I visited them. On the iPod comes a club mix of Justin Timberlake’s “What goes around comes around” which I accidentally downloaded some months before. I was so cross about downloading the wrong version that I hadn’t even taken the time to erase it. The “Van Dyk Club Mix” consists of loud, persistent, bass, electronic noise with Timberlake’s song occasionally in the background. To someone in my indelicate condition, this bass track sounds like gas-passing of biblical proportions. For eight and a half minutes I lay helplessly supporting my aching belly and laughing—silently-- until the tears were nearly projectile. The image of dapper Justin dancing and rhythmically farting is forever burned into my psyche. Later, I made all the nurses listen to the song; the young student-nurses were particularly impressed. Just think, some day the “Flatulence Dance” may be the therapy of choice. What does not kill us makes us stronger.
Pastor Wes asked Ron if I’d like a visit from him and I said, “sure, just tell him don’t wear a black suit; no one wants a visit in the hospital from a pastor in a black suit.” When he walked in a couple of days later in a BLACK suit, imagine my horror! I called him on it and he claimed it was his charcoal gray suit. Hardly! And just hours before his visit the stormy sky outside my window was black with crows—a “murder of crows” is what they call such a flock. Pastor Wes spent an hour or so before he had to go off to prison— an appointment, said he. We talked about sex, turtles, heaven, hell, canoeing, books I read, books he read, autism, mystical experience and the nature of crows. He prayed for me and with me.
The all-time silly-prize should go to the guy who named bilirubin. It sounds like some kind of wild west Jewish outlaw-- Tell ‘em Billy Rueben is here. It is, however, what makes bile yellow. If you get too much of the stuff backed up (mine was 17), then you turn yellow and downright unhealthy. This is life threatening in infants especially; since their systems are so marginal anyway, they can go bad so quickly. My bilirubin count is now 5; normal is less than 1. At least now I look like someone with an off-season tan under a layer of hives/rash. Sort of the color Andrew was when I fed him too much squash at 5 months. It itches like fine grained glass under the skin as the bilirubin works its way out. I keep thinking at least I am mending; what of folks who are dying by degrees in agony? I pray, “God, please ease their suffering and lighten their darkness.”
And I thank God for the modern medicine that makes my disease a simple procedure. Four tiny incisions, the biggest through the belly button, were all they needed to remove my entire gall bladder, its stones and to clear the tube out that goes from the liver to the pancreas. It looked like they had given me a new umbilicus stump. Night sweats, low grade fever, chills, nausea. Sounds like withdrawal—or menopause. But what is menopause but withdrawal from hormones?
But enough about me.
cNov 2009 Carol Kerr Buckles