This is the story of my Christmas vacation. I must not have been good last year. Grab some tea or coffee & sit a spell….
If you know me, you know I love Christmas. And if you follow my blog, you know last year I had a bad Christmas. I kinda checked out. I didn’t really decorate & wasn’t mentally present for many of the “goings on” of the season. I didn’t hang our stockings by the chimney with care. I didn’t hang them at all. I set our kids’ stocking stuff out with the gifts Santa left under the tree & thought they wouldn’t notice or care. They did. So this year it was going to be better. We were going to make sugar cookies and decorate them. We were going to make a gingerbread house. Those trees would be up and decorated with all the vintage & Radko goodness that our kids remember from previous years. I would occupy the boys by inviting friends and taking them to the Lego exhibit at the Clinton Center. And BLOG about it! This year it was going to be different. I, myself, was going to do Christmas shopping & I had tons of recipes laid out to try because I love to cook. I was going to have a special shopping afternoon with Ryder. None of this happened. Except the stockings. They rocked. More on that later. None of this happened, because I got sick. Very sick.
Tuesday, the 20th, Brooks & I were going to meet Chuck at Señor Tequila for lunch. Wyatt was still in school & of course, Ryder was still ASLEEP. But before we left home to meet him, I decided to stop by the bathroom. And I was rather stunned to see that I was bleeding pretty heavily from the urinary tract. Now I’ve had kidney stones 8 times and this is a symptom of kidney stones. But I’ve never bled this much until AFTER I’ve been operated on and had stents inserted. I’ve never BEGUN a kidney stone fight with blood and no pain. I’ve always begun a kidney stone fight by falling to the floor, clutching my back & apologizing to the Lord above for every insult I’ve ever uttered & every white lie I’ve ever told, if he will just in that very instant take away the pain and HEAL ME. I’m sure you get tired of people with kidney stone pain talking about how it hurts. But brother, that’s because you’ve never passed one. Passing one immediately opens you up for membership in the “YOU-HAVE-NEVER-HURT-WORSE-THAN-ME” Club, something much like Tony Alamo’s church in that you are certain you do NOT want to join it. Give me your gallstones, your migraines, your vasectomies yearning to be clipped. We’re still a notch above. Ever been kicked in the kidney? It’s nothing. Weenie! They say childbirth is worse but childbirth gives you a break between contractions. Kidney stones just put the hammer down and keep it there. You get the idea? Within 45 minutes of the bleeding, I am indeed in pain. So off to the ER we go, Brooks included. Thankfully our wonderful friend, Jennifer, met us at the ER and took Brooks away for a more pleasant afternoon than watching his mother writhe, be poked with needles & scream occasionally.
I am seen fairly quickly, medicated and CT scanned and sure enough, I have a stone that is about 6mm, which for you non-metric people is about 1/4 inch. Nothing you want to have in your ureter. They give me something for pain & it works pretty well but I’m hoping to get something more in line with what the Mamas & the Papas would have taken in 1968. I wanna see rainbows, people. I do not. I am sent on my way with antibiotics, Percocet & instructions to call & immediately make an appointment with Dr. D’Anna, my wonderful urologist. I can’t get in until Thursday so I just medicate myself to oblivion on Wednesday and go in Thursday to see the doc. This proves to be a bit more difficult than it should. Why? Because of our teenage daughter, that’s why! We go outside to leave for the appointment and Chuck’s Acura is parked behind the Suburban. And Ryder’s Jeep is parked behind the Acura. And Ryder is 10 miles away in Maumelle at her friend Lexi’s, sleeping peacefully with the key to the Jeep in her purse. And we have no other key. We try unsuccessfully to wedge one of the vehicles out but since our driveway has a 2-foot drop on one side, this isn’t possible. We call my mother and she happens to have not yet left for her job across the river. She takes us to Arkansas Urology. We’ll deal with how we get home later. I just need to go. NOW.
Dr. Richard D’Anna is the best. Thursday, after examining me, he calls the hospital and tells them that he needs to get me scheduled that very afternoon for the operating room – lithotripsy on the left kidney & insertion of both left and right uretal stents. They balk and he tells them he “has a very sick little girl who is in tremendous pain”. They ask how little and he says, “42”. I really do love this man. I’m in. He tells me to go home and not eat or drink anything and to be at St. Vincent’s at 2:00 for surgery around 4:00. Will do. Except we can’t get home because we have no car. Once again, it’s our friend Jennifer to the rescue. She, BLESS HER HEART, drives to the clinic, picks us up and takes us home. I could write an entire entry on the help & love she and her husband have given us. God bless them. Thankfully, Ryder responded to our texts and comes home with her key, feeling pretty bad about what had happened. The next day, Chuck had a spare made. A $200 spare key for the Jeep. Two-hundred-freakin-dollars for a key, people! But I digress.
That afternoon Chuck & I set out for the hospital & meet my mom there too. (She’s very good at distracting me for I.V. insertion by reminding me of stupid, yet entertaining things I have done in the past.) Surgery goes well. I handle anesthesia well & if I have to have surgery to make me feel better, then so be it. I remember that last time I had a stent inserted I was in lots of pain when I came to. How bad will having 2 inserted PLUS lithotripsy be? Turns out not *quite* as bad but still, I am suffering. Everyone was very accommodating and concerned about my needs so over the course of some time I am given three Fentanyl doses in my I.V. They do nothing. Nothing. So they decide to give me Morphine. And over time I am given three doses in my I.V. and sent to what they refer to as the “holding area”. I suddenly feel like a bronco getting ready to go out of the chute into the rodeo ring. What the hell is a holding area? I’m still not sure but I do know that it was where Chuck got to come see me and the first thing he noticed was that I’m still in a tremendous amount of pain. The Morphine has “taken the edge off” as those in healthcare like to say but damn, I am still hurting. So I have to go BACK to recovery. Literally every single person who was operated on has been discharged from recovery. I am there by myself with just my couple of nurses & I’m trying to feel well enough to go home. All the other beds have been cleaned & re-made and the area made spic & span for tomorrow & then there’s me. I was beginning to feel like I was the last survivor in a Stephen King film & I wasn’t doing so well myself. Here is where parts of this journey begin to get sketchy or non-existent in my memory. All I know is that I must have eventually gotten something that helped with the pain because we are discharged to go home late that evening. And I don’t remember much of it.
December 23rd is a blur to me. Sleep, take meds, sleep, take meds, eat the food my dear husband brings to me, sleep, etc. The day I had surgery, I had to miss my friend Meg’s party, so I’m kinda down about that. I’m down about being down. It’s Christmas for God’s sake, it was going to be different this year. At least I’m home with the kids and not in a cold, sterile hospital. Lord knows home with my kids is anything but sterile! I make it through this day, determined to be better tomorrow. But tomorrow rolls around and I wake early to take my medicine & empty my full bladder. The minute I sit down to do this I fear it’s not going to end well. I am correct. As soon as I begin to pee, the pressure on the stents becomes really intense to the point that I feel sick and realize I’m going to pass out. So I lie down on the bathroom floor and try to fight passing out. It does not work. I am out cold, though according to Chuck, it was one of my passing out episodes where my jaw clenches and my head shakes and it’s like a full-on seizure. These really freak people out, except Chuck, who is used to it. As these episodes always do, it ends & I begin to come to. As I’m coming to, I see bunches of little white dots falling from the sky & I’ve never had this happen before. Turns out it never HAS happened before because it’s the result of Chuck tripping over my body and spilling the entire bottle of anti-bladder spasm meds all over me, the bedroom and the bathroom. I love him. Thank you God, I love him. He is the original Phil Dunphy.
Seizure or not, I have some shopping left to do. I need to go to the dog bakery, dammit, to buy presents for Apollo & his dog friends. Priorites, people! Shut your judging mouth! What will Apollo, Vito, Rommel, Daisy, Copper & Red think if I forget them on Christmas? So after making sure I am properly medicated, my mom comes and gets me and we set out to hit Just Dogs Gourmet Dog Bakery & Michael’s. How I did this I’ll never know. I chalk it up to the power of Percocet & a very patient mother. Once we’re back home, I decide to rest because we have Christmas Eve traditions to uphold and I am determined that this year, the kids not be let down where traditions are concerned. We always eat out on Christmas Eve, usually at Cozymel’s. This year, Wyatt has convinced us to try Kobe Steakhouse. So SOMEHOW, I not only summoned the strength to go, but got myself fixed up with make-up, new dress & boots AND never once bitched that we were going for Oriental cuisine. And a large part of this evening is completely gone from my memory. (Brooks has helped me reconstruct much of the last 2 weeks. He is nothing if not attentive!) I do hope there are no moments where my head was on the table, eyes closed in a drug-induced oblivion. But I do remember parts. At Kobe, you sit around the grill that your food is prepared on and if your party doesn’t fill the table, they’ll seat another with you. We were seated with a nice family with one child who quietly read the entire time and told me he wanted Santa to bring him a math book for Christmas. I said, “MacBook?” He said, “MATH book.” I remember telling him that Wyatt or Ryder would likely give him theirs if Santa let him down. How do you get a kid like that? His parents must smoke crack or do something like only have sex on days that start with W. They have a secret we’ve missed out on. Anyway, back to my kids. I’m sure the quiet little nuclear family was impressed when Wyatt announced that he knew what his dad was getting for New Year’s because he, his brother & sister saw an order to Lingerie DIVA when I let them play on my iPad and, he continues, I told them it was something for New Year’s Eve because I wanted their dad to be happy. I remember the look on Chuck’s face & him quieting Wyatt down as fast as you can quiet Wyatt down, which is, of course, never fast enough. Ryder eventually got up and left the meal, as she usually does when we embarrass or bore her and went to meet her friends Andrew & Macy. It was hard enough being seated with strangers but now she’s been embarrassed on top of it. I also remember all of our faces looking stunned when our Japanese chef started his little display of vegetable and knife acrobatics and tossed a ton of shrimp on the grill. Chuck cannot eat shrimp. And when I say “cannot eat”, I mean that if he does eat it, you do not want to be anywhere around and quite frankly, a doctor said it could eventually kill him. So, Merry Christmas, honey. The cook arranged for his food to be cooked separately in the kitchen but we enjoyed a good laugh with the little nuclear family when they described seeing our faces when the shrimp appeared. Amusing, apparently. It had never occurred to us that another party might order shrimp. We came home and the kids opened their traditional “pajamas and one present” & headed off to bed to await visions of sugarplums. They had stockings this year. Stockings that I needlepointed the fronts of over a period of years and this year FINALLY paid a woman to turn them into actual, velvet, satin-lined stockings. I hung them over the fireplace and then asked Chuck to get some carrots, cookies and milk for Santa. He gave me a “go to hell Sweetie” look & said, “Really? Our kids are 10, 12 & 16.” And I said, “Give me a plate of food, dammit, we still have a believer.” And he did. And we put on our kerchief & hat and went to bed. And Santa came. Dammit.
Christmas morning was the usual rattle of paper and “wow” and “just what I wanted” and such & even Apollo got his gifts and everyone was happy. I slept most of the afternoon and while sleeping, Chuck cooked a dang TURKEY DINNER, complete with sides and fix ins! All by himself. That was nice to wake up to. After, Brooks and I settled into my bed with his new Kindle Fire and my new MacBook Pro (Santa was good to us) and we were having a good time on Words with Friends, reading, etc. and then all of a sudden HOLY HELL THE PAIN IS BACK LIKE YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE. He got his dad and soon we were ER bound again. Thank God for mom staying with the kids. This time on Christmas night. On Christmas night, in the ER, there was myself, a handful of people with various unknown ailments and the man I was next to, who was very obviously going through stages of alcohol withdrawal. He was alone. A neighbor had wheeled him in and left him shortly after we arrived at the ER. He was shaking, nauseous & looked as though the weight of the world was about to crush him. They called his name and there was no one to push his wheelchair. Mind you, I am seated on the floor leaning over the seat of a chair trying to get comfortable, which is futile when passing a stone, but still you try. I occasionally make eye contact with him, which makes me feel guilty & also like I’m staring, which I’m not. I see a look in his eyes that tells of shame & heartache & sadness beyond belief & I hope my eyes say back to him that I’m only caring & not judging. And I just can’t handle that he has no one to push him. Chuck can’t handle it either and pushes him up to the registration window and the “thank you buddy” that he got from that man will remain in my memory as the real spirit of Christmas this year. I can’t get the man out of my mind. What made him decide to quit? Why on Christmas? So alone. And in that moment I realized that though wracked with pain, wanting to be unconscious, having to rely on people for help with the kids and such, not getting to do ANY of the things that I wanted to do this year, I am without a doubt one of the luckiest people in the world. As for me, my friend Paisley was working the ER that night and she & a wonderful young doctor named Garrett Lewis, suggested I try Dilaudid for the pain & I will be forever grateful because for the first time since this ordeal began I feel like I am not only out of pain but transported to a place where I don’t even think about the pain or being sick. A place that Papa John Phillips must have visited more than a few times. This is the pain relief I wanted. And so we go back home.
On December 28th, Chuck calls from the office to let me know when he will head home. I had been considering calling him and suggesting he come earlier but as soon as I have him on the phone I am gripped with the pain again and all I can say is COME NOW. I really can’t believe we’re going back to the ER but the pain was unbearable on Percocet and Aleve. Totally different doctors and nurses this time. Totally different meds. No good trippin’ like before but I am relieved of the pain and sent home. I must get well because New Year’s is coming and we have accommodations at the Capital Hotel downtown. I am going to be well. I am going to enjoy. I am going to kick 2011 as far behind me as possible and ring in the new year with unadulterated joy and hope. Yeah.
It’s my mom’s tradition to take the boys to her house for the night on New Year’s Eve and being that Ryder’s 16 and has a Jeep, we were assuming we wouldn’t be seeing her much that night anyway. So we booked a room at the Capital Hotel and planned an evening of dinner at Dizzy’s, time in the room chilling with our books and my needlepoint & of course, the Lingerie Diva purchase wasn’t for nothing. It all went well. The hotel is first class all the way, we loved it, had a great time, etc. (Note to Capital Hotel: No servi-bars??? WTF???) We were debating ordering room service the next morning & finally decided to just hit a restaurant on the way home. We call for the porter to come get our bags and right as he arrives, I am hit with, you guessed it, unbeLIEVable pain. Chuck asks if it’s ER-level and I say, through clenched teeth, that unfortunately it is. I am crushed because I thought that this was OVER. So we head down with the porter, (leaving my jewelry on the bathroom counter) and I sit, writhe, and fidget on a couch in the lobby until the valet arrives with our car. The bad part is that being New Year’s morning, everyone is staring at me like I’m the one with the worst hangover from the night before. Finally someone just asks me, “Rough night?” and I respond, “No. Didn’t have a drink. Passing a kidney stone.” And silence falls over the group waiting with us. Their scorn has turned to pity. When we get to the ER this time, it’s the usual drill with the added thrill of an x-ray which shows the left kidney to be clear and only a small stone in the right. My pain had likely been from passing the last of the stones from the left. I go home higher than a kite, but defeated. It’s 2012 & this is supposed to be my year. A good year. A year with less pain in many ways. It’s not going so hot.
Surely now that my left kidney is free of stones and my right one only has a tiny one, my recovery can officially begin. Monday goes pretty well. I’m sore & somewhat of a princess, (let’s not kid ourselves) so I rest. Tuesday rolls around and I decide to go get Wendy’s for lunch for Brooks and his friend. I go out to the Suburban, turn the key and……nothing. Dead as a doornail. I go back inside, call Chuck & let him know. He advises me to order pizza. I hang up and start toward the fridge to sift through the coupons. And I have the weirdest, sharpest, pains in my abdominal area that send me to the floor! I am nauseous, really thinking I’m going to get sick, so I head for the bathroom, grabbing a pillow off my bed for comfort as I know I’ll be lying on the cold, hard tile. And the pain is so sharp and intense and frighteningly, no where NEAR either kidney. I never get sick but I continue to lie on the floor in pain & I am trying so hard to get through this without calling Chuck. I do not want to call Chuck. My man is a saint and he has done ENOUGH. More than enough. But I call him and he, without hesitation, says, “I’m on my way.” Back to the ER. More pain meds, another CT scan. They can’t really figure out what it is but they know what it isn’t. My urologist says that it could be from the stents and he can work me in and take them out that day later or I can keep my appointment for Thursday to have them out. I keep the appointment for Thursday because I’ve known all to well the nightmare of being “worked in” when you’re not on the book. So………
Thursday we arrive at 9:15 for my appointment at 9:30. Urologists are many things but “on time” is not one of them. I go for yet another KUB x-ray and then start the waiting game. We’re actually called back to the exam room earlier than usual but we wait in there forever. We discuss the array of characters waiting with us out front, examine all the little medical posters showing the exact placement of our ureters, bladders and prostates. We play on our phones. We wait forever. An assistant comes in and has me undress from the waist down & gives me a large napkin to cover myself with. I have to laugh because really, if you’re going to sit at crotch level and stick something up my ureter repeatedly, I’m fine with just being naked from the waist down. Really. But apparently that’s a trait I share with few others. So for their peace & comfort, I cover my abdomen. And finally Dr. D’Anna comes in and starts the process of removing my stents. He tells us how he’s sometimes lucky when there are two and he’s able to grab them at the same time. This process, without revealing too much information, involves a scope the doctor uses that resembles something a ship’s captain would use to scan the horizon for impending pirate attacks. It has a light and a tube with a camera on the end that goes in one’s ureter. There’s also a hose that provides “irrigation” to my innards when needed, much like a delta cotton field. And then there is a tool that he actually uses to grab the stents. It’s best compared to the thing in the game at the grocery store that you use to try to hook stuffed turtles, teddy bears & pigs dressed as Razorbacks. The “claw”, so to speak, in a much smaller and sterile version. None of it looks too appealing & this is why I brought Chuck with me. It helps to have his sweet face to stare at and his hand to squeeze so I don’t focus much on what is really going on. The process begins and why, oh, why can I not just be the simple version? In and out. In and out. Oh, no. My bladder has filled so they have to empty that which brings a catheter into play. Joy. Then it’s too empty and collapsed so they have to fill it back up a bit with the irrigator-thingy. And then it appears BOTH of my stents are lying on the bladder floor which makes it nearly impossible to get without pinching or injuring my bladder wall. He tries and he tries and he continues to ask, “Are you ok? Are you doing all right?” And I say yes and ask if I shouldn’t be. I ask if people are sometimes not doing well. He says “Oh, yeah, men are the worst, but in their defense their ureters are longer.” I want to say that this is totally shattering the theory of penis envy but I just ask if people get kinda sick and pass out. Apparently sometimes. But me, I’m a trouper! No needles or blood involved so I’ve been fine. Prod around in there all you want, but I was really hoping to be done by now. “We should have been done by now,” the doctor says, but continues to work. He finally gets the first stent out. It’s not fun but better than what I’ve been through in the two weeks prior. He starts on the second one and it REALLY proves to be difficult. More catheter use & irrigation. In all honesty, I AM getting uncomfortable and tired and I look over to Chuck for support and he has a look on his face I will never forget. It looks as though HE might hit the floor. I squeeze his hand & try to distract HIM and the doctor continues to work. At this point, I’m thinking he might actually pull out one of those tiny pigs dressed as a Razorback or a furry green turtle. “Thanks! Brooks will be thrilled!” But no, he says he is going to give it ONE more attempt and then put me out “back there”, which I know means the O.R. they have in their facility. I do not want this. “You can get it,” I say, trying to be as encouraging as Petrino in a game-day huddle. This is it. And another girl comes in to help with the gadgets they’re using, pushes down, pinches the HELL out of my bladder and that stent came OUT. I am free. The doctor is apologetic. He orders them to let me have more lidocaine, because “I deserve it.” He hopes I’m not in pain. But I AM in pain. Because I didn’t expect it to take this long, and I didn’t raise my bid & goddammit, while I was sitting in stirrups with hoses hanging out left and right getting those stents removed? Someone sniped my “Lilly Pulitzer Caroline Dress” auction and I LOST. And that, my friends, HURT.