At the very beginning of this story I described waking up on the morning of my surgery: “I was frozen. Stuck. The pain wouldn’t let me move.” That episode lasted about 10 minutes, but it felt like an hour. Well, the same thing happened when I woke from a deep sleep at 4 a.m. Sunday, six days later. OK, so it wasn’t exactly the same; instead of 10 minutes, it lasted about three hours — and the pain was much worse.
It felt like the usual gas pain but a million times worse, like a porcupine was inside me and its quills were continuously expanding, poking into my guts. I really can’t stress enough the paralysis I felt. I thought about calling the nurse, but I couldn’t move my arms to press the call button. And even if I were able to, what could the nurse possibly do? I really didn’t know what was going on, but I suspected it had to do with eating solid food, in which case I would just have to wait it out. Either way, I was in too much pain to speak.
Finally, at about 6 a.m., the new nurse’s assistant (Fabiola’s replacement) entered the room. I managed to communicate that I was in pain and couldn’t move, but that I needed the “emergency bin” in case I had to vomit. I felt the urge come on, but after five minutes of hacking and heaving, nothing came out. And as I had worried, the movement from the false alarm only exacerbated the agony. Adding to my pain was the fear that it might have to get worse before it gets better, that there was something causing a blockage that would need to pass (or be removed by the doctors), causing even more pain on its way out. The urge to puke came on again, and though it yielded physical results, it was all bile — a St. Patrick’s Day nightmare of green liquid and nothing else, which meant there was another cause of my distress.
Before I had time to ponder the possibilities, I felt something odd. Something I shouldn’t be feeling. I ignored it. I felt it again and tried ignoring it again. After the third time, I realized I couldn’t wish it away. Indeed, there was something going on with in rear end, which I thought was temporarily closed for renovations. It had remained completely inactive since surgery, which was nearly a week ago at that point. Now I had a whole new reason to be scared: was there something wrong with the surgery? This wasn’t supposed to happen, I thought. What should I do? What can I do? Before I had time to fully contemplate the situation, I felt something coming. It felt like a small amount of gas. Then a little more a few minutes later. Then more.
Soon I realized it wasn’t gas; it was liquid, and it wasn’t about to stop. I was still unable to move, so I just had to lie there and let it out. As it left my body, it was joined by the last few ounces of dignity I still had. However, this was after three hours of unrelenting anguish, and when I realized that I finally felt relief, I couldn’t care less how it happened. I was just glad to be able to relax again. Besides, my sponge bath was long overdue, and there was a plastic cover on the bed. (Most important, though, was that the doctors told me it wasn’t uncommon to have a “backfire.”)
When Random Doctor No. 15 came by for the morning inspection, I told him what happened, noting that my stomach was still hurting. I soon regretted it.
“Does it hurt when I press in?”
“When I release?”
Case closed, right? Nah. Let’s make sure I wasn’t imagining that it hurt like hell. I could have been mistaken, you know?
“So it hurts when I do this?”
“What the fu… yes! I already told you! It hurts! Don’t do that anymore.”
One more time and I might have punched him. Seriously — I was that angry. Not just because of his little touch test but the cumulative set of bad circumstances I experienced as a result of the doctors’ learn-as-you-go method of healthcare. Was I a patient or a guinea pig? Ah, but I didn’t want to think about such abstractions. There was a bigger concern at the moment. The original plan was for me to go home on Monday, exactly a week after the operation. But it was Sunday, the day before, and I was in no condition to leave.
I couldn’t help thinking there was something else wrong with me. My recovery shouldn’t be taking this long, I thought. And despite the doctors’ insistence that my pain and bloating was “just gas” that would go away if I kept walking, I couldn’t see how it was that simple. First of all, I had done a considerable amount of walking and moving around, letting out a lot of gas in the process. But no matter how much I burped, I never felt relief. Also, my stomach felt heavy. If it were just gas, moving around probably wouldn’t be such a challenge. But it was, and everyone badgering me to walk (as if I needed a reminder) did not help. This went on for the next several days, and by that point it had been well over a week since the operation.
“You need to walk.”
“You’re not going to get any better sitting in that chair.”
“You really have to get up and move around.”
No, I thought, you’ll have to come up with a better solution because walking is getting more difficult every day. I’m no expert, but to me that’s a sign there’s something getting in the way of my recovery. Thankfully, there was a team of doctors from the neighboring University of Miami Hospital (which partners with Jackson). After meeting with them and listening to how thoroughly they explained my liver situation, my faith in the medical profession got a much-needed boost.
But first I had to undergo another procedure, and that meant getting inside an MRI machine. Oh boy.