July 4th: A long day in a life

Tuesday October 9, 2012

Kathy Sollien

It was 3 a.m. and my eyes were open. It’s not that I wanted to be awake at such an hour, but it was apparent that sleep was over for now. Lying in bed thinking about the details of the last few days, it was apparent that I had to get up. Running through my mind the list of things to do -- shower, wash my hair, had to be sure to shave, of course; couldn’t forget to do that, brush my teeth.

After scrubbing my face, free of yesterday’s makeup, I decided to just touch up the basics with a little eyebrow pencil, mascara, some powder; OK, a bit of lipstick too. There’s no reason to look totally bland, after all. I’d wear the same pants and shirt from the day before, something with elastic and loose around the middle. A pair of sandals and I’m done. Lastly were a few necessities in a tote bag -- my iPhone, driver’s license, insurance card, some lip balm. What else? Guess that’s it. Now just have to get the husband up. If you haven’t realized by now, I’m heading to the Emergency Room.

Arriving at the hospital, Alan parks in the parking lot instead of dropping me off at the front door. Not like I need an ambulance. We walk toward the entrance, me trailing along more slowly than my usual quick pace. Inside, even at this hour, it’s bright and cheerful. Without the comings and goings of employees, patients, visitors and all, the hospital takes on a different atmosphere. Rather strange but OK. At the check-in desk, Alan speaks briefly to the woman there.

He seems to know everyone and they know him, having only retired two years earlier from this very hospital. We are led into a waiting room and Alan pushes a button on the wall indicating to whoever’s behind that wall that there were new customers to treat. A nurse appears promptly and leads us to a small office where I answer all her questions. As she and Alan chit chat about the latest hospital news, I find myself thinking about how I got here in the first place.

It all started several days ago, Monday afternoon to be precise. At work, as usual, and now coming down with what seemed to be stomach cramps. Oh, great, I thought, I’m coming down with a stomach flu. Just what I needed. I’m hoping it doesn’t involve throwing up. I hate throwing up. Well, I’ll keep working as long as possible and just prepare myself to not be there the next day. I told my business partner, Troy, I thought I was coming down with something as he slowly backed out of my office. No use spreading it around. Maybe this will be a 24-hour thing, one can only hope.

At home that night with my wine, some cheese and crackers in hand, I sat on the couch reading the newspaper, but by then the pain in my abdomen was fairly steady, not too intense or severe, just annoying. After going to sleep around 8 or so, I woke up a few hours later starting to feel sick. Oh, great, here it comes, I thought, the throwing up part. Might as well get it over with. Crawling out of bed, I head for the bathroom.

My big, black cat, Baby, is there, sleeping on the bath mat. I sit down beside him and wait -- and wait -- and nothing. Yea for me. Back to bed I go, but just couldn’t seem to get comfortable and the nausea would reappear at times so I got back up and went down to lie on the couch.

This time I lay down beside Ginger, our dog. She’s fast asleep on the couch. She was never supposed to be allowed on the couch when she first came to us. Never having had a dog, I didn’t know that this was the preferred sleeping area. Long ago I put down a large towel and a pillow -- yes, a pillow -- and there Ginger lays with her head on that pillow all stretched out, snoring softly. She eyes me suspiciously as I try to get comfortable. A few hours later I wake up, deciding that this whole throwing up thing must be over so head back upstairs to bed.

The next morning I was up as usual and feeling slightly better although that stomach was still feeling crampy. Ate breakfast, got dressed and went to work. As the day progressed and my stomach pain became more persistent and now was settling to the right, I joked with my co-workers that I might need someone to handle my customers if I ended up in the hospital having my appendix removed. In the back of my mind it was becoming clearer that something was going on besides just a flu.

By now, just getting in and out of my car was becoming more difficult. Feeling like an old lady, moving slowly and slightly stooped. Calling my doctor was probably a good move at this point, but I knew what he would say: "go to the emergency room," and I wasn’t quite ready for that. "Let’s wait until the morning," I told Alan after he suggested we head there that night; maybe I’ll feel better.

So here we are, following the nurse through the swinging doors and into a room to the right. First things first, is the pee cup. I can always pee and was glad for the opportunity. Once that was taken care of, I was handed a gown and told to get undressed. Climbing slowly and carefully into the hospital bed and needing to sit up, the nurse makes the adjustments and I get comfortable.

In and out they come, one to take my blood, another to set up an IV. The doctor on duty stops in to chat and see what’s going on. They suspect my appendix after listening to my description of symptoms and after mashing around on my stomach until I grab his arm and say "yes, that hurts." I could have told him that without all that poking around.

Every now and then someone stops in: a nurse, the doctor, asking if I need something for pain, -- no, not really in too much pain as long as no one is mashing on anything. Do I need something for nausea -- no, thankfully, nothing like that. They’ve fixed me a nice quart of cranberry juice with something radioactive mixed in for me to drink. Couldn’t that be mixed in with a nice hot cup of coffee instead?

After a cup or so, it’s time to pee again and a nurse hands me a pair of red socks so I can get up and walk to the bathroom. My favorite part -- they let me keep the socks.

Next comes the report that I had blood in my urine so now they suspect a kidney stone. Stop drinking the cranberry juice, I’m told. No problem. In the meantime the poor girl on call (this was July 4th, after all) was heading in to operate the CAT scanner. Thankfully on a holiday, most of the regular staff isn’t there, so wheeling me down the hallways to the CAT scan room is empty and quiet. Everyone I do come in contact with is incredibly nice and empathetic, hoping I "feel better soon." They must know what’s coming.

Back to my room, after being zapped with all kinds of atoms, Alan is waiting patiently holding my tote bag, talking to the people he knows there, which is pretty much everyone. We’ve been here about two and a half hours by now. Emergency Room visits are a minimum four hours so we’re on time. After a while the doctor stops by. "Well", he says, "it’s not a kidney stone but definitely your appendix." Great. "We’ll wait for the radiologist to verify that after he comes in, and in the meantime we’ll notify the surgeon." Super.

The mode of activity starts to change as I’m being prepped for surgery. My IV gets an added contraption that will allow someone to pump in all kinds of interesting drugs. An extra bag is hung up with strong antibiotics dripping slowly into my veins. They keep asking me if I need nausea medicine until I finally tell them that I’m starting to feel self-conscious. Am I supposed to be throwing up or do they just want to be sure I don’t? I’m still not in any serious pain -- only when I have to get up and down and that’s not unbearable, or when someone starts poking around, of course.

Alan hands me my iPhone so I can email a few people at work -- looks like I do need that help after all. Emailed my brother and a few others letting them know what was going on but not to worry. The surgeon arrives, does his share of mashing around my stomach. Yes, that hurts, I say. Geez, do they really have to confirm that? He draws a picture of a colon with an appendix to show us what’s going on and what he will be doing to fix it. Seems simple enough. I ask if he would consider a little liposuction while he was in there but no go. Fine. Just asking.

Next thing I know we’re wheeling down the hall toward another part of the hospital. I’m parked in the pre-op/post op area. On a holiday, there’s only one nurse on duty and no one else in the room. We have it all to ourselves. At least for now. The nurse there is pleasant. She and Alan catch up on hospital news. She fiddles around with my IV, tells me what to expect and explains that after the operation, I’ll be back in that room to recover. The anesthesiologist comes by next. We had a nice conversation as he looks at my charts and asks me questions. He, at least, doesn’t feel the need to verify that anything hurts. He trusts me on that one.

Nice guy. He and Alan chat about hospital stuff. Later as we wait for my turn with the surgeon (they’ve pushed me ahead of other scheduled surgeries but one was ahead of me), I look up to see my regular doctor come in. Apparently he was there checking on some other patients and he saw my name on the list for surgery so he stopped in to see what was going on. We talk about my symptoms, and I tell him that I knew he would send me to the emergency room so never called him. He said I was right, then proceeds to examine me and mash around to verify that, ‘yes, it hurts!’ They can stop doing that already. "Classic," he says "classic appendicitis." Great. So he wishes me well and off he goes.

The assistant to the anesthesiologist pops in next. He’s the real drug doctor. He tells me his role in the procedure, which is to basically start me off with something that will mellow me out. Looks like it’s time to get this show on the road. That little contraption that was put on my IV line works pretty good as he injects a couple of solutions. I wait a few seconds as I imagine how long it takes to go through the little tube and hit my vein. Whoa! That’s what I’m talking about! Let’s go! He starts wheeling me out of the room, I look forward to seeing the operating room, but no dice -- I’m out.

What seems like only seconds later, I hear voices and notice hands all around me. They’re talking to me and each other. It’s almost disturbing to hear. I have not opened my eyes yet. Someone is removing an oxygen mask and putting little tubes in my nose. I can feel the air flowing. Patches are pulled from my chest and I am covered up with a gown and blankets.

"Kathy, can you hear me? Everything is fine, Alan is here." I open my eyes and I am back.

Kathy Sollien, a local real estate broker/owner, lives in Bennington.


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