Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"See, I Told You I Was Sick"

The title is said to refer to someone's headstone. Fortunately, it doesn't yet refer to mine (I discourage any plans for a headstone to commemorate my departure...when the time comes, spend the money on a road trip, instead). But I was right. I was sick. I just wasn't right about what was wrong.

After seeing the doctor last Wednesday and giving his minions what seemed like quarts of my blood, I was waiting until the first full week in September to find out what the blood tests, etc. revealed. By Saturday I was feeling even worse and had decided to wait it out by sleeping. About 1:00 pm the doctor’s office called to tell me to go to the hospital ER. My blood tests, it seems, told them I was in renal failure. So, off I went to the ER. And a lovely ER it was. Truly. I was impressed.

This hospital, the nearest one of consequence, is only five years old and I’d never been there. If necessary, I would go back. I would highly recommend it to people who need institutionalization; I mean that in the most positive way.

I was admitted. Sure enough, I was in renal failure, with exceptionally low blood pressure and, according to their tests, a boatload of potassium in my blood which, I learned, is not a good thing. It’s the sort of thing that can kill you. I recommend against working out one’s anger through the use of potassium chew-bones. I learned that drinking tiny bottles full of sodium polystyrene sulfonate (also known as kayexalate) helps rid one’s body of the unwanted mineral by binding to potassium which is then eliminated through, to use the phrase the ER doctor used, “pooping it out.”

Apparently, when the people doing the hiring for this hospital went to work, they discovered an abundance of capable professional females; there were EXTREMELY few men at the place. The ER nurses were all female, the ER doctor was female, the nephrologist they brought in to assess my renal health was female, the X-ray and sonographic technicians were female. Lot and lots of females. The “transport” staff, the people who roll sick patients around from test to test and wheel them to the door upon departure, are male. Women do the work that requires intelligence and education; men do the work that requires brawn and not much else. I’m not complaining. They all did a magnificent job. I may switch to an all-female team of healthcare providers, based on what they did. In assembling the team, though, I won’t make the mistake I made when, when speaking to the ER doctor, I bumblingly referred to the renal doctor as a “phrenologist.” She was very forgiving, though. God knows what the nephrologist would have thought…or done...had she heard my malapropism.

All of my accolades notwithstanding, my short time in the hospital was not without its downsides.

The professional medical staff and technicians seem to have a sadistic bent. They positively beamed when they entered my room, ready to subject me to all manner of indignities and pain. All of them sincerely enjoyed the jobs they had been hired to do, which was to torment a certain renal patient who was feeling pretty damn feeble. Even the midnight callers who awoke me to determine whether my blood pressure had fallen off a cliff seemed anxious to help. They did what they could to frighten me awake, apparently thinking that, by startling me, they would cause a life-saving increase in my very low blood pressure. To a person (with one notable exception about whom I may devote a scathing screed one day), they were focused. Vehemently so. Uncomfortably so.

Between intense periods of joyous stabbings by enthusiastic technicians with needles and proddings by intensely serious sonographers, I was able to watch television. I spent an inordinate amount of time on Sunday morning watching Food Network shows, where obscenely rich foodies strut their stuff and crow about their highly sophisticated palates. Just when I would get comfortable with a show, though, or would switch off the television and try to just rest, there would be people with sharp objects coming for me again.

During the two nights I was there, I observed an odd ritual. At about 4:00 a.m., a technician awoke me with the avowed purpose of drawing blood. On both occasions, the initial attempts to find a suitable vein were unsuccessful, resulting in multiple stab wounds in both arms (in one arm there was an IV, which did not deter the technician). When finally my body was trained to tense up in anticipation of the pain that was about to occur when I heard the phrase, “this will be a big stick,” the technician decided to thrust the pencil-sized needle into a real vein and filled several canisters full of my blood. This ritualistic blood-letting was one of the least pleasant aspects of my hospital stay. The “bad nurse” about whom I may write a book, though, is neck-in-neck for that honor. When my IV started leaking blood, her attempts to start another one in my other arm were completely unsuccessful. After her third botched attempt, she called for reinforcements; her colleague arrived awhile later and skillfully inserted a new line on the top of my left hand, drawing not a drop of blood.

But you’re not reading this because you want to hear about blood-letting. You’re reading this because your life is an empty shell and I'm the best you can do for amusement. Poor you.

The bottom line to this long and boring story is that I was released from the hospital with a tentative diagnosis of acute renal failure. I was told my blood pressure may have dropped considerably because of my recent changes in diet, which would have been exacerbated by the blood pressure medications I was on. The reduction in blood pressure could have signaled my kidneys to stop functioning at capacity, which resulted in the build-up in my blood of “bad stuff” like potassium and creatinine. The twice-administered kayexalate drink helped remove bad stuff and my potassium levels improved considerably. My blood pressure, on the other hand, is still too low, but the doctors theorize it will return to “normal” fairly quickly. BUT, I am to see the nephrologist (the female’s partner, who took over for her on Monday) and my family doctor this week for follow-up.

I’m counting on this entire episode being an unfortunate accident that does NOT indicate that I have kidney disease that will require an entirely different diet and other such things I am singularly unprepared to accept. We shall see. I’m not back to “normal” in terms of energy, but I expect to be at 100% in very few days. And I’m still losing weight!


Taradharma said...

sounds like a typical hospital stay: needles comin' at ya day and night! I've had my share - none are fun, but some are better than others. I have no decent veins to bleed, so that's always a drag. I require the most skilled blood-letter on staff on any particular shift.

Glad they found the problem, though, and that you are on the road to recovery!

These damn bodies....

Kathy Rogers said...

Dang! Well, I'm glad it was on your chart and not on a headstone. Get better and obey your female overlords, I mean, health care professionals.

Springer Kneeblood said...

TD, THIS damn body had better not have to deal with that again! KR, I will heed their siren songs!

bev said...

Sheesh, whodda guessed that going on a diet could be so perilous! Just kidding (sort of), but the explanation you gave does seem quite plausible. Well, I guess from this point onwards, you'll have more feedback from the doctors, so maybe things will be less eventful. I hope so! Get well, John.