I bet you my large bowel is smaller than yours

Last Wednesday I went to the University of Maryland Medical Center and had a portion of my large bowel removed. Crohn’s disease damaged it. It made part of my large bowel narrow and difficult for waste to travel from point A to point B. It’s what caused the G.I. blockage that almost killed me the end of last year.

The surgery was scheduled for 10:00 AM, so I was instructed to check in to the hospital at 8:00 AM. Living about 80 miles away, Sheri and I got there early and I checked in at 7:30 AM. We were taken back to the pre-op area and I was told to remove all my clothes and put on a hospital gown and grip socks and to get in bed.

Hurry up and wait

We then waited. And waited. The scheduled start time of 10:00 AM came and went. We were first told Dr. Andrea C Bafford, the surgeon doing the procedure, was running late on her first surgery. Then, later on, we were told she was called away to perform emergency surgery.

With the passing of each hour, I was afraid my surgery was going to be canceled.

Finally, at 4:45 PM, they wheeled me away to surgery. The surgery began at 5:10 PM and it lasted longer than three hours.

The surgery room looked much different than what I’m used to seeing on TV. There were a lot of people there. University of Maryland Medical Center is a teaching hospital so it made sense there was an abundance of people there in learning mode. I remember there was an anesthesiologist, a nurse anesthetist, and a student anesthetist. The anesthetist was a short woman and she was wearing a black Hello Kitty scrub cap. I immediately liked the cut of her jib and I felt like my life was in good hands.

The robots are taking over!

The da Vinci® Surgical System

 

Dr. Bafford was not only doing the surgery endoscopically, but she was using a robot. I saw the robot. It was huge and scary looking. It looked like a multi-armed murderbot sent back in time to exterminate humanity. I don’t trust robots, but I fully trusted Dr. Bafford.

Even though I shaved my skull that morning, I had to wear a hair net during the procedure. The reason? Because it was a regulation. It pained me for the robot to see me like that laying here in such a vulnerable position wearing a big poofy hair net on my shaved head.

After the surgery, Dr. Bafford told Sheri the damaged section in my bowel was much larger than she expected. It was so big, she had to make the incision in my belly larger just to remove it.  It wasn’t spongy and it had no elasticity.  It was also abscessed and infected. The area could have burst at any moment which I’m guessing would have made me bleed internally and die.

Post-op? What’s this post-op you speak of?

I was out of it when I was taken to post-op. In fact, I don’t remember ever going there. Although I’ve been under anesthesia before, it’s never been for that long.

My memories began once I was in my own room late Wednesday night. Even those memories are foggy at best.

Medication? You don’t need any stinking medication

Even though I provided a detailed list of the medications I was already on and I brought all my medications with me, I wasn’t allowed to take them, nor were the nurses allowed to administer them. The reason? I don’t know.

It made for a very frustrating experience. For example, I take blood pressure medication. I’ve been on it for years. With the blood pressure medication, my blood pressure is normal. Without my blood pressure medication? Not so much. Each time they checked my vitals, my blood pressure was higher than it was before. Considering the stress I was under, I’m surprised my blood pressure wasn’t even higher.

Speaking of stress, I also wasn’t allowed to take the medications I take for anxiety. You’re not supposed to just stop taking anxiety meds cold turkey.  I was definitely feeling the withdrawal side-effects.

The joy of having weapons-grade diabetes

I wasn’t allowed to take my diabetes or heartburn medication either. For the heartburn, I knew I could just run out the clock. It’s not like I was eating anything. Also, I was only supposed to be there for a few days. I could wait that long before having to worry about acid reflex. The diabetes medication was a whole different story. You’d think that by not consuming carbohydrates, my glucose levels would drop. With me, they don’t. Ever since I had diabetic ketoacidosis, my body produces glucose when I don’t eat. If I don’t eat, I normally have to take more fast-acting insulin through the course of the day then I would take if I were eating.

Since I wasn’t allowed to administer my own insulin, I was totally dependent on the nurses to give me as much of their insulin as they saw fit. I don’t even think it was them, I think the charge nurse was making that decision.

I remember one time my blood sugar was at 300. An hour and a half later, I was given six units of fast-acting insulin. That’s not enough. If I was at home and my blood sugar was reading 300, I would immediately take 25 units of fast-acting insulin. I would then test it again in 45 minutes and administer more fast-acting insulin if needed. It’s hypothetical because I never let my blood sugar get that high.

It was also hard to get my pain medication. I had to ask and then wait for each dose. They treated me like I was Bubbles from The Wire. The whole thing was very annoying. Who was the charge nurse, Tom Cruise?

What I had to do to be discharged

I was told I would remain in the hospital until I could pass gas. Even though my surgery was performed by an expert in colon surgery and she was assisted by a MurderBot from the future, being able to successfully fart was the best way they had to tell if the surgery was a success. It was like someone got 8th-century medicine in the 22nd-century medicine.

You know how to stop someone from farting? Tell them they have to fart. I wasn’t able to pass gas on Thursday. Then on Friday night, a miracle happened: I was able to pass gas.

I bet you my large bowel is smaller than yours - Bent Corner

That part of the quest was complete. To finish the rest of the quest, I had to eat two meals of solid food and not throw up. Going by personal experience, I felt fairly confident I could do that unless those two meals included lots of tequila.

I just didn’t realize how nasty the food was at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

When I was on the liquid diet, I didn’t partake of what they were providing. Every meal was about the same. Beef broth, apple juice, lemon Italian ice, and Jello. Everything other than the broth had lots of sugar in it.

Let the solid foods begin!

Saturday my breakfast was fake scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, fried potatoes, Frosted Flakes, and orange juice. I was able to eat the fake eggs and some of the fried potatoes.

For lunch, they brought me a grilled cheese sandwich and fake mashed potatoes. I could only eat one bite of the sandwich. It was so greasy and disgusting. I tried to get Sheri to eat a couple of bites, but she refused to do it. I’m 1oo percent sure she would take a bullet for me but she would not eat two bites from my nasty grilled cheese sandwich. That says a lot about the food at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

I was worried about the powers that be would say I had not eaten enough of my two meals to successfully complete the quest. Sure enough, one of the nurses saw my tray and said they might not release me since I didn’t really eat enough. She brought me cold applesauce and graham crackers.  I hadn’t eaten graham crackers since being diagnosed with diabetes. I ate what she brought me. It was actually good.

They discharged me around 3:00 PM. Leaving the hospital felt so incredible. It felt even better to get home and take a shower.

What I learned from my stay in the hospital

Looking back at my stay at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the next time I go to the hospital, I will do things differently. This includes:

  • I will shave my arms before I get there. Both my arms had IVs. Removing the tape holding the IVs in place felt like torture.
  • I will bring plastic Ziploc bags. Instead of leaving the food I could not eat on the serving tray for the whole world to see, I’ll put the leftovers in plastic bags and put them in my book bag. I’ll then throw everything away when I get home.
  • I will secretly take my own medication. I’ll never allow anyone else to control my medication. Next time, I’ll test my own blood and give myself the insulin I need.
  • I will leave the books and video games at home. The pain was far too extreme for me to play my Nintendo 3DS XL or read my Kindle. I didn’t even watch TV until the last day.

I’m a very lucky man

I can’t even imagine going through what I went through if I didn’t have Sheri at my side. She was truly a life saver. There’s a reason I have Is She With You from the Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice soundtrack as a ringtone when Sheri calls me. It’s the electric cello music that plays when Wonder Woman shows up. My wife is my best friend and she’s my hero.

Sheri is my Wonder Woman.

When you get sick in this country, you better be sitting on a pile of money

In response to my recent health scare which resulted in spending ten days in the hospital, nine of those days in intensive care, I vowed to myself that I would do whatever I needed to do to never let that incident ever happen again.

My diabetes was a contributing factor to the problems I had. Since getting out of the hospital, I’ve gotten my diabetes totally under control. I avoid carbs whenever I can. My days of eating chips, pizza, and pasta are over. I test my glucose levels up to ten times a day to ensure that it’s as close to 100 as I can get it. Before going to the hospital, I was on a bunch of medication for my diabetes. Now I’m only on two; Humalog, a fast-acting insulin and  Xultophy, a once-a-day injectible pen.

As soon as my anemia is under control, I plan on adding daily exercise to my routine.

The other thing that put me in the hospital, the thing that contributed the most to me almost dying, was the blockage in my gut that caused the infection. They determined in the hospital that it was due to intestinal inflammation. Why my intestines were inflamed is still not known, at least by me.

Because I’m self-employed, I’m covered by my wife’s employer-provided insurance. The way it works is that at the beginning of the year, everything is out of pocket. We pay for everything. Once a certain monetary threshold is met, insurance pays for eighty percent and we pay for the remaining twenty percent. Once another monetary threshold is met, the insurance pays for everything.

Because I was lucky enough to get sick at the end of the year, insurance paid for everything. Our thresholds had already been met for the year, thanks mostly to all of the drugs I was taking for diabetes. Some of them were quite expensive.

My hospital bill totaled over $35,000. Insurance paid for all of it.

This past Wednesday I had a CT scan of my abdomen. As far as procedures go, it was pretty awful.  I had to arrive early at the imaging facility that was doing the scan and sit in a special waiting room where I had to drink three bottles of this nasty tasting lemon-lime concoction.  It tasted like flat, store brand 7-Up that had been thickened.

Once I got those three bottles of yuck down, I went in for the CT scan. I was hooked up to an IV and given a drug and made me feel hot all over. I was told it would make me feel like I wet myself. I didn’t feel that, but it did feel weird.

The next day, I got a call from the Target pharmacy. I was told they received a prescription, but it was very expensive. My out of pocket was going to be $2,400 for a three-month supply. The prescription was requested by my gastroenterologist. Evidently, he saw something on the CT scan that required this very expensive drug. I don’t know because he never contacted me.

My wife called the gastroenterology office the next day and spoke to the doctor’s assistant. She explained $2,400 was a lot of money for a three month supply of a medication and asked if there was something cheaper or a generic version I could take. The assistant relayed the question to the gastroenterologist and later that day I got a text from the Target pharmacy. I had a new prescription ready for pickup. My wife called the Target pharmacy. The new drug was going to cost $700 for a three month supply.

My wife called the gastroenterology office again. A few hours later, I got another text from the Target pharmacy. Two new prescriptions were ready for pickup. One cost less than two dollars, the other was 27 dollars.

Why weren’t these two much cheaper medications prescribed in the first place? What do they not do that the more expensive drugs do?

I don’t even understand why I’m being prescribed medications. I go in for a colonoscopy on Wednesday. Shouldn’t the gastroenterologist wait for all of the tests, both the CT scan and the colonoscopy, before prescribing medication? If he’s able to prescribe medication with only the results of the CT scan, why do I still need a colonoscopy? Is the gastroenterologist ordering the colonoscopy because I need it or because that’s what gastroenterologists do, perform colonoscopies?

It seems to me that if he was ready to prescribe a medication that costs $2,700 for a 90 day supply, he is done with the troubleshooting phase.

So far I’m not very pleased with the gastroenterologist. Communication seems to be severely lacking. The reason I’m seeing him and not another gastroenterologist is that he saw me in the hospital, although I don’t remember it.

I was out of it quite a bit while in the hospital, especially at first when the infection was at its worst.

And because we’re at the stage in our insurance where everything is out of pocket, I have to pay $1,018 when I arrive for the colonoscopy. I don’t know how much the CT scan cost because they didn’t make me pay up front. They will bill me. As much as things are costing out of pocket, we should be hitting the first insurance threshold sooner rather than later.

Remember, we have the best healthcare in the world as long as you’re sitting on a pile of gold like the dragon from The Hobbit, a lot of money in savings, or a credit card with a large amount of available credit. If you don’t have any of that and you experience a catastrophic health problem, you’re screwed.

A timely update on my health problems

This post is going to be very self-indulgent as it pertains to my health. If you have no interest in reading this, please accept my apologies. Then again, this is my personal blog. Remember those? I should be entitled to write about myself here without apologies.

Also, I have a few family members back in California I don’t have relationships with, but I know for a fact they creep around here like the little stalkers they are to see what I’ve been up to so they can trash talk me.

Anyway, I almost began the new year by taking up permanent residence in a budget urn. I almost died. They believe a G.I. blockage resulted in a very serious infection which caused my diabetes to go all out of whack. For some reason when the human body is hit with a heavy infection, it begins to make sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. After that, I went into Diabetic Ketoacidosis.

Sheri took me to the doctor this morning for my checkup. Things are going well.

  • The depression I’m feeling is completely normal. I’m on a heavy dose of steroids and that, as well as going through what I went through can ramp up the depression. That makes me feel better. Not only am I dealing with depression, the slightest little thing can send me off into an emotional crying fit. Seriously. Things make me cry.
  • The level of fatigue I’m feeling is also completely normal. My doctor told me that it will take two to three months to get back to feeling like a normal human being.
  • My doctor told me this morning that when he first came by to see me in the ICU, he didn’t think I was going to make it. This was news to me. I know in retrospect that what I had was serious and potentially life-ending. Hearing my doctor tell me that he thought I was going to die is somehow different. It helps put things into perspective. It makes me feel better about the depression and fatigue. My doctor thought I was going to die. Cut me some slack bitch (I’m speaking to myself. I call myself bitch all the time, especially when watching the evening news makes me cry).
  • Finally, my doctor thinks that when I’m well enough for a colonoscopy, it will show I have Crohn’s disease. I don’t know what that is. I need to look it up on the Internet, but I find reading about diseases on the Internet to be scarier than those Japanese horror movies where the girl doesn’t have a face. I might wait to read up on Crohn’s disease.

So that’s about it. My blood sugar is still running a little high, but that’s to be expected because of the steroids. When in doubt, blame everything on steroids.

As bad as steroids are, I don’t know how Cal Ripken Jr. used them for so long. Respect.

And for the record, Dr. Tu Bui is the greatest doctor of all time and  Meritus Health is the best hospital in the world.