Last year, I was hospitalized twice for anemia.
The second hospitalization was pretty bad, but I didn’t realize until recently that it was as dire as I previously thought it was.
For some background, I have post-concussion syndrome. No pain medication helps, and the last two things my pain management doctor tried was sphenopalatine ganglion block (trans nasal—I had two incredibly long swabs shoved up my nostrils aaaall the way to the back of my sinuses) that did literally nothing to alleviate my pain, and a prescription of the NSAID indomethacin.
Indomethacin, I later learned from my primary care doctor, is notorious for causing bleeding ulcers. My doctor was actually a bit angry that my pain management physician prescribed it to me because he considered it too dangerous.
And, in my case, it did cause a bleeding ulcer. One I did not even realize the symptoms of until it was almost too late.
I have a terrible problem with downplaying my own pain. I think “well, it could be worse” or “I’ve felt much worse than this before” and tell myself to push through it. It’s such a bad habit that it almost cost me. It wasn’t until I vomited enough blood to fill the toilet that I knew things were very, very serious.
I remember taking a photo of the toilet bowl and texting it to my mom saying “I need to go to the ER” and staggering to my closet to get dressed. I nearly passed out while putting on clothes and, once I was at the top of the stairs, I realized I would not be able to get down them without falling and probably breaking my neck. I had a panic attack. My dad sat with me, helped my lie down on the floor, and we waited for the ambulance. My mom later told my that my lips were completely white at the time.
I remember finally getting my breathing under control. I remember feeling heavy—my legs relaxed and my arms felt like comfortable weights against my stomach. I remember slowly calming and thinking that it was all okay. Help was on its way. I remember the world getting quieter and things getting a bit darker around the edges of my vision and closing my eyes because I felt tired and everything seemed far away. I remember the paramedics asking me questions and answering them calmly—of feeling slow as they loaded me onto the gurney and carried me downstairs.
I remember being so calm.
I was even calm when the paramedic had a lot of difficulty giving me an IV while we hit potholes on the road. I told him “it’s always hard to find a vein on me—it’s okay.” When someone nearly rear-ended us on the highway, I was more annoyed that someone would follow an ambulance that closely than anything else. When the ambulance grazed a car on the way through the parking lot near the ER, I snickered.
I needed a transfusion of three bags of blood.
I tend to deal with difficult medical situations with humor, so I joked around with my nurse in ICU. We talked about horror movies (Hell, I even recommended that he get a subscription to Shudder—it seems like I will promote them at every possible chance I can) and he apparently decided to follow my lead and be a goofy “fun” guy.
He was terrible. I was out of it with blood loss, and on the last transfusion bag, he fucked up attaching the IV—leaving it open when he went to connect the blood to my IV access port and spilling donated blood all over me. He did not get a new bag of blood. He took his gloves off and got a towel, dropped that on the floor and used his feet to kind of clean it up. Without re-gloving, he went ahead to try and flush my IV. I made a joke that now he looked like Michael Meyers because he had blood all over his blue scrubs. When he went to clean my arm and flush my IV, he did not have any gloves on. My IV had clotted and he couldn’t flush the line. Mom noticed his knuckles were white and his hands were shaking when he was pushing the plunger. To clear the clot, he went and got a huge needle and stuck it through my IV to try and break up the clot. Mom asked him if he was going to end up pushing the clot into my body, but he ignored her and ended up pulling bits of clotted blood out.
I’m fuzzy on some of this. I remember that he used my IV line and the syringes meant to flush my IV (emptying them just a little but leaving a lot of saline solution) instead of a vein for cultures. I remember thinking how it was like he was making cocktails while he was doing the thing with the wine-bottle-looking vials. Then I remembered that I took photos because I was bored as hell.
He left behind an entire tray full of trash and smears of blood on the mobile computer stand.
After that, I was given a private room and prepped for a colonoscopy and an endoscopy because the doctors were worried about internal bleeding. When I got back from both procedures, the doctors were worried about two things.
One was a bacterial infection. After a discussion with the infectious diseases doctors where my mom and I told them about the nurse and how he spilled blood on me and didn’t put on new gloves and screwed around mixing different samples to get enough blood to use in each culture, I only remained on antibiotics as a caution since I wasn’t showing symptoms of an infection (I later realized I had his photo on my phone and that his name was visible in one of them, so I texted them to my nurse so she could inform the proper people to deal with the ICU nurse—I don’t know what happened to that dude, but my current nurse was livid and promised the hospital would handle him).
The second worry was that I had an ulcer that was nearly the size of half of my stomach and they were worried that it was cancerous. Thankfully, it wasn’t (but I did spend nearly four days worried that I had stomach cancer). I was placed on acid blockers and iron pills. All told, I spent a week in the hospital and needed eight different IVs inserted during my stay.
I had another endoscopy recently, and I’m almost completely healed. So things are a lot better.
As I said, it wasn’t until recently that I realized how close I came to dying. I nearly died of internal bleeding.
The strangest thing is how I also realized that I’d been entirely calm once I came out of my panic attack. I’d still been breathing fast, but only by reflex. I felt heavy, but not scared.
So, when it really comes down to it, I don’t think that I’m truly scared of dying. I may no longer believe in an afterlife, but since I have no memory of what it was like to not exist before I was born, the idea of my life ending—natural causes or not—I’m not scared.
I feel accepting.
And after spending my whole childhood terrified of dying and how I might end up in Hell? That’s incredibly comforting.