Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best (worst?). New Year's Eve. Story. Ever.

WARNING: Gross medical details to follow; the terribly sensitive and those without a sufficiently earthy sense of black humor should probably skip this one.

So another New Year's Eve has come and gone, thankfully without a whole lot of bother this time out; I say that due to some of the, um, interesting New Year's Eves I've had over the years. (Slipping in slush, taking a tumble down a long flight of granite stairs heading into the Park Street T, and very nearly breaking my left arm--the number of layers I was wearing due to the freezing-ass-cold weather and the leather coat on top is probably what saved me--is not exactly something I'd recommend, no matter how bored you are...and yes, I was perfectly stone cold sober at the time.) The best/worst NYE I've ever had, though ("best" in terms of getting a great anecdote out of it; "worst" in terms of what I actually went through) was 2004/2005, when I ended up spending much of the day and most of the night in the Massachusetts General Hospital ER...

Some handy background info: Due to basically being my dad's clone (albeit one with big tits), I've inherited, among other things, a particularly nasty case of diverticular disease, which made its presence known to me in my mid-to-late-20s, about ten years' earlier than my dad's experience, and 20-30 years earlier than nearly everyone else. It's bad enough that I ended up needing a foot of my sigmoid colon yanked out before I hit 40 due to being at extremely high risk for bowel perforation and all the attendant complications (because the idea of needing a colostomy bag and/or dying from a massive internal infection isn't exactly appealing...), but every so often I still have flareups; so far, though, so good. (Trust me, walking around feeling as if your entire gastrointestinal tract is a ticking time bomb with an unknown alarm time and date is not exactly the proverbial bowl of cherries...oh, and mind you don't eat the stones; that could mess your guts up even more...). Add to that a long and colorful history of "female troubles", and, well, you can see why any sudden onset lower abdominal pain would be the cause of considerable concern...which brings me back to where I left off.

December 31, 2004: I woke up with some not insignificant lower left quadrant pain, which is never a good sign when you have my medical history; it was also the first time I'd felt this bad since the surgery 5 years earlier. Not surprisingly, I was convinced that I'd been having way too much stress in my life and might also be a tad dehydrated, and decided that seeking medical assistance ASAP might be a Really Good Idea. Passed on calling my regular PCP (oh, yeah, like she's going to be in the office on a holiday...) and headed straight to the MGH ER, hobbling down to Davis Square and making a quick detour into Goodwill (I'd spotted a copy of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential in the window and knew I'd be needing some long-winded reading material while I waited to be seen), catching a cab from there after deciding that riding the subway and negotiating the stairs at Charles St. T would leave me completely without cope before I even hit the hospital. (This was before the much-needed and appreciated station reconstruction; why the hell it took so long for a subway station near a major medical center to get escalators and elevators is beyond me, but at least it has them now.) Got to the ER, got checked in, and sat around for an hour flipping through my book while wringing my hands (yes, it's tricky, but it's one of my better skills) before a very nice lady in Triage finally saw me and called me up to her desk, whereupon I promptly burst into tears when she asked "So, what seems to be the problem?", utterly convinced that my colon was on the verge of exploding. (Who knew becoming a completely sobbing wreck was a really good way to get attention in the ER?*)

Got checked in, and then spent the next several hours in the hallway; spoke with at least two different doctors and several nurses, all of whom agreed that diverticulitis seemed like a distinct possibility given my extensive medical history; choked down three large glasses of some kind of vile, nasty-ass opaque solution over the next hour or so; and then found out VERY quickly that, in addition to being opaque enough for the CT scan the doctors wanted done, the unpleasantly salty drink they'd forced down me had truly impressive laxative properties.** Oh, and did I mention that, in addition to being filmed with the opaque stuff in my guts, they also shot my IV up with some kind of contrast dye that would allow them to check out my circulation in amazing detail, and which gives you a rather unpleasant burning sensation and hot flashes to boot? Thankfully, between the purging and the nice shot of morphine they'd given me, I was feeling much better overall (I loooooove hospital narcotics, oh yes I do...), and at least somewhat less convinced that my wayward guts would make me perform a Mr. Creosote impersonation in the middle of the waiting room.

At some point in time, I finally ended up changing into the obligatory johnny and was left in Bay 24, with the curtains drawn for privacy, which I found more than a little annoying. (The hell with privacy--I'm already lying here in nothing but my undies and this ridiculous excuse for a nightshirt, so that horse is long out of the barn; if you're just going to leave me in here by myself, damn it, at least open the curtains so I can see what's going on!) It was just then that I overheard what had to be the head nurse ripping someone else on the nursing staff a new one because (a) she apparently wasn't wearing her badge (therefore violating hospital policy), and, more significantly, (b) she hadn't been monitoring a particular patient every 15 minutes or so, because said patient was suicidal, homicidal, and strapped down bodily to a gurney with leather restraints in a manner resembling your friend and mine, Dr. Lecter. (To hell with Hammer Time; we've got Hannibal Time...) OK, OK, so this guy probably wasn't going anywhere any time soon, but just the idea that he was only about 20 feet away from me was not reassuring, and neither was all the ungodly moaning, yelling, babbling, and occasional screaming, which I assumed was his doing. *twitch**twitch* Fortunately, Mr. Homicidal/Suicidal was hauled away shortly thereafter by several very large security officers; unfortunately, the caterwauling stayed with us rather than leaving with him. (Reading Tony Bourdain's tales of kitchen misbehavior will only go so far to distract you before the uppermost thought in your mind rapidly becomes "Oh, shit, I'm in the goddamn snake pit!") Later, I learned that the noise was coming from a patient in one of the isolation bays who was safely behind sliding glass doors. Crimony, people, couldn't you at least have told me that earlier?

Eventually ended up talking with two more doctors, whereupon I finally heard about the CT scan results...Good news: my colon was just hunky-dory, or as hunky-dory as it'll ever be, considering that even on a good day it looks like a goddamn porcupine. Bad news: I had a cyst about the size of a kiwi fruit on my right ovary, which was now large enough to impinge on the nerves leading to my lower left side, and they couldn't tell quite what kind of cyst it was from just the CT.

So, between that and my slightly elevated white count, it was decided that my not-so-happy-ass should be hauled off to Radiation again, this time for both internal and external pelvic ultrasounds. (You know that transvaginal ultrasound that the Virginia legislature wanted to force on every woman in the state who wanted or needed an abortion? Yep, that transvaginal ultrasound. *sigh* In all fairness, they normally don't hurt, plus you don't have to guzzle a gallon of water and then hold your pee until your eyeballs turn yellow and your teeth start floating, but this wasn't exactly a normal situation, so...) More puzzling over the ultrasound results, and it was determined that it was probably a benign cyst, but they still weren't sure what kind it was, with the two most popular theories being either a bleeding endometrial cyst, or a dermoid cyst (aka a teratoma, aka the kind of cyst with hair, sweat glands, and teeth that not only grosses people out, but would have gotten me burned as a witch...just in case, you know, the third nipple wasn't already enough).

Right about then, at about 10 minutes to midnight, Doc #3 finally took a good look at everyone else's notes, and suddenly realized that, in spite of being shot up, flushed out, and having my hoohoo Roto-Rootered, nobody had actually bothered to give me a plain old pelvic exam.

You can see where this is going, right?...

I was then dragged off to yet another ER bay, this one with both much better lighting and a TV tuned to the Times Square countdown on Fox. Glory hallelujah, at least I have entertainment now! *finger twirling "big whoop!" gesture*

So, no shit, there I was***, in The Position, flat on my back and feet in the stirrups, craning my neck to watch the ball drop on the TV mounted near the ceiling behind my head, with the nice young doctor up to his wrist in me...

Happy friggin' 2005, everybody!

*cue fireworks*

(Yes, the doctor, nurse, and I all cracked up laughing when we realized just how ridiculous the whole sillyassed business was, but honestly, how can you not laugh over something like this? Or do I just have a far more finely-tuned sense of comic absurdity than most people?)

Anyway, after finally deciding that (a) even if I did require surgery it certainly wouldn't be happening that night, and (b) seeing as I was actually feeling much better (thanks to all the Good Drugs, thankyouthankyouthankyou!), they decided to send me home. It was now after 2 a.m. and the T had stopped running for the night, but fortunately it turns out that outside the main entrance of a large metropolitan hospital is quite possibly the very best place to find a cab on New Year's Eve. Go me! (You all might want to keep this in mind for your own future NYEs, which, God willing, will not end up like mine...)

As it turned out, the cyst may have been an endometrioma, but whatever it was, it went away on its own, and so I didn't end up needing surgery, which was almost too bad--if it had been a teratoma, I was planning on asking if I could take it home with me in a jar for shits, giggles, and the Ultimate in Goth Cred--take that, Man Ray snobs! (Yes, I know, they never would have given it to me because it would have been whisked off to pathology ASAP, and I probably would have gotten the proverbial hairy eyeball from the entire medical staff for the rest of my stay, but still...)

Ah, but this isn't the end of the story...not yet, at any rate!

My mom is half-Scot, and very fond of the old Scottish tradition that the first person over your threshold after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day needs to be a dark-haired man for good luck. (I'm not aware that she's ever kicked my dad and/or brother out of the house at 11:55 p.m. just to make sure one of them would be the first, but it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out she had) Not surprisingly, I've told several of my friends this particular tale, one of them being my wiseass friend Julia, whom I had already called much earlier in my adventure to ask that she please post to both Live Journal and a mailing list we were on that my annual black-eyed pea feed would have to be canceled, since I didn't even know if I'd be out of the hospital by then, much less in any condition to cook for people. After a decent night's sleep, I called her up the next day to give her an update, and once she knew that I was probably going to live, she jumped right in to ask: "So, that doctor last night..."

"Yes, Julia?"

"The one giving you the pelvic exam...what color hair did he have?"

"Well, Julia, he was going bald, but come to think of it, he did have dark hair."

" did have a dark-haired man over your threshold at the stroke of midnight, didn't you?"

"Yes, Julia, I suppose you could say I did..."

Later that same day, I called home to let my parents know what had happened, and that I was already home and feeling much better, so they didn't need to worry about me (but, of course, they did anyway). When I checked in again with my mother a couple of days later, she said, "You know, when I told your dad you spent New Year's Eve flat on your back with a cute young doctor between your knees, he got all excited and started planning your Big Fat Irish Wedding!"

I think she was joking...

Happy 2013, everybody, and may it be much better and happier for all of us!


*OK, so the fact the triage lady could pull up my entire MGH medical/surgical history and see that yes, my colon has tried to kill me on a number of occasions was probably the tipping point in getting me out of the waiting room and onto a gurney, rather than my being an emotional wreck, but let's not discount the fact that looking really, really pitiful does sometimes help in these situations.

**But not as impressive as Go-Lytely or New-Lytely, which will make you go anything BUT lightly, trust me. Quite possibly the single foulest substance on this or any planet; the only reason I'm not comparing it to Satan's asshole is because I've obviously never tried Satan's asshole, but I'm guessing even that doesn't taste as Godawful as Go-Lytely.

***This particular phrase is probably the most common way for geeks, especially SCAdian**** geeks, to start a story, just so you know...

****SCAdian=member of the SCA, or Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide group devoted to recreating various aspects of the period between the Fall of Rome in 454 A.D. and the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. Yes, I'm a card-carrying member, and you should be one, too; where else can you learn how to brew ale, dance a pavane, sew your own garb, cook turnips for a feast in more ways than you would ever have thought either possible or desirable, learn archery without getting catcalls of "Hey Legolas/Hawkeye/Katniss!", flirt with all and sundry, craft your own armor, and then wear it while chivalrously beating the bejeezus out of your opponent to the cheers of the crowd? OK, maybe cosplay or LARPing, but SCAdians can at least point to historical precedent for all of these things...

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