Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Long and Happy Life

Marsden Hartley

This never happened.  I didn't go on vacation at all.  I went to the ER instead.  Ili had gone ahead, and I was to meet her in a few days.  But I'd been having pain in my right abdomen since Monday.  I felt lousy.  By the time she arrived in N.M., I was suffering.  As always, all I could think is that I had a tumor.  That is always the first thing to think of.  Don't waste time on anything else.  But the second thing I thought of which was a better scenario was appendicitis.  I waited for the pain to go away, but by Wednesday night, I knew it wouldn't.  I was grim about my prospects.  I called my mother and told her I was going to the hospital.

I drove into the dark night, parked my car, and entered the ER.  The place was full.  I knew this would be an ordeal.

I am always concerned about my health, of course, because I don't have a doctor.  I never have.  I only go to one when there is no other choice.  I've always felt that once you are in their hands, you will never be released.  But it is also because I am ostrich-like.  I put up with and ignore a lot of things because I just don't want to deal.  I've had friends who have died because of that attitude.  Still, I have not been dissuaded.

The first thing they did was check my temperature and blood pressure.  My body temperature was normal.  My BP was in the stroke range.  I am too embarrassed to tell you what it was.  It was beyond high.  "See," I thought, "you are done for."

A woman in something not quite a uniform asked me to follow her.  She put me on a gurney in a hallway and said someone would be with me soon.  I lay down.  It was over.  I was in their hands now.

A nice woman came over and chatted while she put needles into my arm.  She drew blood, gave me a pee cup, and hooked me up to an IV.  Not long after, an ER doc came over.  He was nice, asked me what was wrong, and told me what we were going to do.  Blood tests, urine tests, CAT scan.  Within a few short moments, another woman came and wheeled me down corridor after corridor.  It got colder as we went.  She put me in a room with lots of spots for gurneys separated by curtains.  A giant t.v. played a cooking show loudly.

"Any chance you could turn that down?"

There wasn't.

I wasn't there long.  Two women came to take me to the CAT scan lab.  Another fellow came out and told me what he was going to do.  They injected me with an iodine dye, contrast, he called it, and told me not to be surprised if I began to feel hot.  Then he put a blanket over me and told me to pull my pants to my knees.  For the next few minutes, I travelled back and forth through a big, round, plastic opening while a mechanical voice told me when to breathe and when to hold my breath.  It felt like an old science fiction movie, the lights dim with a greenish cast, the air humming and buzzing and crackling.

Then it was over, and I was taken back to the original hallway.  It would take about forty minutes to get the results.

There I was, an old man alone on a gurney in a hallway of a hospital thinking, "You've had it now, old sport."  I had long passed my original panic.  I was settling into resignation.

The forty minutes passed and the ER doc came back.  It wasn't my appendix, he said.  It was diverticulitis.  He said all my blood work and urine tests came back normal.

"What did you test for," I asked?

He ran down a list.  "Blood cell counts, gall bladder, pancreas, liver, kidneys, bladder. . . . "

Liver?  Fuck yea!

I wasn't dying (yet), I was just sick.  He prescribed two lethal antibiotics and told me to follow up with GI doctor.  Then he left.  In a moment, though, he came back.  Apparently he had just looked at my blood pressure.  He took it again.  It was still where it was before.  He began asking me questions about my medical history.  I, of course, don't have one.  I'm on no meds, nothing.

"I'm concerned about your blood pressure.  Something's going on."

He began talking to the nurse and handed me another prescription to lower my blood pressure.  He told me I needed to follow up with a doctor.  He left and I thought, "Shit.  It's always something."  I was in panic mode once again.  When the nurse came back, she handed me a cup with a pill in it.  She said I had to take it before I could leave.  I asked what it was and what it would do.  She said for one thing it would relieve some of my anxiety.  I didn't want to take it, but I wanted to go home.  I had already lost out on pain pills when the doc asked me if I needed them and I told him I didn't really take medication.  I got nothing.

In a bit, I was walking back into the darkness.  It was beyond midnight, but I knew a pharmacy that would be open.  It is strange sitting in a pharmacy at night waiting for your prescription to be filled.  There are people wandering about in the fluorescent light, some to get medications, some merely shopping.

"I am usually asleep," I kept thinking, "and all of this keeps going on all night long."  I know it, of course, but to see it is another thing.

I began the antibiotics but not the BP medication.  I didn't want to take that.  I could get my blood pressure down on my own, I thought, or at least I would try first.  I just hoped I didn't have a stroke.  I took some aspirin and CoQ10 and other things I had bought at the pharmacy that might help, then went to bed.

In the morning, I felt like shit.  It didn't seem I came fully to consciousness.  My body felt like clay.  I  was to board a plane for N.M. the next day.  I had shit to do, things to pack, bills to pay.  I started getting ready, did what I needed to do, and went to work.  At noon, I went to the pharmacy to check my BP.  It was down, but not enough.  Fuck!  This was worrying.  I'll have to take the meds before I get on the plane, I thought.  I had connecting flights.  It was going to be a long day of airports and planes.  But I didn't want to spoil Ili's vacation.

I had a beauty appointment that afternoon.  Ili texted and asked if I was coming.  I thought so, I said.  I told my beautician about the night before.  I wasn't my usual jolly self.  I should have been resting, but instead I was prepping for a ten day trip.  That's what hard men, do, I thought.  I'm a hard man.  I would trooper on.

Ili texted back and asked if she should come home.  I didn't know, I said.  In a bit, she said she was changing her flight.  She would be home Saturday at midnight.  I felt this great tension leave my body.  I instantly relaxed.  I was relieved.

The next morning, I still felt like shit.  The pain was still in my side, sharp and cutting in close but unpredictable intervals.  But I didn't want to stay at home and think about it.  I went to work.  At least there, I thought, somebody would hear me hit the floor.

It was the right thing to do.  I worked slowly.  There really wasn't much to do as I had worked like a fiend to get it all done before I left.  It was quiet.  I made herbal tea, ate a banana.  The afternoon drifted by, and then, a bit early, I left for home.  I hadn't checked my blood pressure all day.  I stopped at the pharmacy.  I could feel my anxiety rising, could feel the fear.  When I put my arm in the cuff, I took some deep breaths before I hit the button.  "Relax," I kept telling myself.

The BP had come down.  I was out of stroke range.  It was still a bit high, but there seemed to be hope.  I texted Ili the numbers.  Then I drove home.

I was glad to have left work early.  It was the most beautiful afternoon, a truly southern fall day with brilliant light and pleasant, dry air.  The afternoon simply sparkled.

When I got home, I bumped around for awhile, then decided to ride the Vespa to the grocery store to get something for dinner.  I had eaten about 1,000 calories in two days, but I was feeling much clearer.  I was still weak, but the cooling air felt smooth upon my cheeks.  I drove around the lake and felt the wind across the water.  I drove down the Boulevard and saw all the people who could still sit at sidewalk tables and have after work drinks.

At the grocery store, I did my shopping, then went to the pharmacy BP machine.  Again, nerves.  What if the other machine had been wrong?  What if the calibration was off?  Shit.  I took deep breathes and put my arm in the cuff.  BP--normal.  Heart rate--58.  I waited five minutes and did it again.  Same thing.  Fuck yea, fuck yea, fuck yea.  It had all been stress related.  You would not believe how emotionally fragile I am.  I am tough, but internally. . . well, that's another world.

I celebrated that night with an Amy's Organic Vegetarian Gluten Free Lasagna and two eggs over rice accompanied with fizzy water.

The pain in my side remained.  I wondered how long that would last.  I had to stay up later than I wanted to in order to take my antibiotics.  I watched two episodes of "Ray Donovan."  Then I went to bed.

This morning I feel O.K. but the pain in my side remains.  How long does it take for the antibiotics to work, I wonder.  They make me feel terrible.  They are powerful.  How long?  Today is day three.  Maybe today.

So. . . that is what I have done rather than travel.  There is a copper lining, I guess.  Delta gave me full credit for the flight and we were able to cancel the Airbnb reservations without penalty, so there has been no economic damage.  When I am better, we will plan to go someplace and the funds will be there.

Now I will spend my day unpacking my bags.  I will take a walk, I think, and breathe.  Lots of water, of course.  I will try to get outside myself, out of my own thoughts, and try to be in the world again.  I've not been there for days.  I will try to think about having a long and happy life.

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