Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What a Couple of Days

Things have been a little crazy down on the ranch. We're speeding towards July at warp speed, at July means travel - first to Wisconsin for the Zimmermann family reunion (and the bratwurst-induced coronary to follow), then I'm in Boston twice for conferences, and then we go cross-country from Houston to New Jersey (God help us).

So with all this looming, I wake up from a dead sleep last Thursday morning at about 5:30am because Kirstin is kneeling on the floor, rocking back and forth in incredible pain. Severe shooting pains in her stomach, and she had been up half the night already. Everyone's had a bad stomach bug and the attendant - how do I say this - loss of bodily fluids. This was different. Most of her bodily fluids were still inside, and the pain was different.

During a relatively calm period, Kirstin drove herself to the hospital, where they ultrasounded and CT scanned her all over and figured out....nothing. No kidney stone, no appendix problem. Nothing. They gave her some pain-killers, and wanted to keep her for observation. Just like most of us, the thought of killing time at the hospital sounds like a terrible idea, so she came home and passed out on the couch for the afternoon. She ate a little, and the pain seemed to be receding. Maybe this was just a really bad stomach bug?

Then it came back. By 7:30pm she was back on the floor, essentially in the fetal position. I got the girls to bed and our friend Bea came over to stay with the kids. I took Kirstin back to the hospital, and by the time we arrived she was essentially screaming from the pain. After what felt like 6 hours (and was actually about 15 minutes), the doctor tells us that because the scans are so inconclusive, our only option is to go in. That is, use a knife on Kirstin's stomach and literally go look around for something wrong.

So medicine involves rummaging through your insides like a purse? Where are those keys anyway? But with nothing on the scans, it was all they had. So Kirstin signs the consent forms (in what has to constitute the least kosher legal agreement ever - "You sign and we'll push the Demerol through the IV"). Essentially knocked out, she finally gets some relief and we wait for the OR to open up.

An hour later they're wheeling her into surgery and I'm now in the coldest waiting room in North America (I later found the thermostat was set to 58 degrees). The biggest worry going into this (for me, at least, Kirstin was so doped up that they could have lopped off a foot without her noticing) was that they didn't know what they were looking for. If it's not a kidney stone, or the appendix, or some other obvious problem then we're looking at an extended hospital stay and the possibility of liver or gall bladder complications.

In a remarkably short time the doctor comes out with a sheet of pictures. The surgery was laproscopic - meaning they put three little holes in her belly and shoved in a fiber optic camera along with tiny instruments to do all the cutting and grabbing stuff. The pictures are incredible - HD quality - and there is one of her tubes all twisted up. Let me be clear about twisted. Imagine you are wringing out a dish towel - now think about what it looks like when you are at maximum wring. That's what her tube looked like, it was twisted around itself a full five turns. FIVE turns. We have our culprit. They had to take the tube out because it was so screwed up around itself that they couldn't straighten it out (leaving aside the question of how exactly one unwinds a tube inside a woman using only tiny grabby tools that enter the body in a cylinder the size of a pencil).

The ultimate cause of this was a cyst on the tube. It shifted, and as it shifted it wrapped the tube around itself - over and over again. To give you an idea of how painful this all is, let me offer you a few paraphrased quotes from various doctors during this process:
  • "That is the single most impressive show of pain I've ever seen"
  • "A knife wound is less painful than what you wife is feeling - with a knife wound or gunshot your body would at least have gone into shock and your brain would have shut out a lot of the pain"
  • "Let me give you an idea of how much this hurts. Grab your scrotum. Now twist it a full 360 degrees. That's painful. Now give it four more full turns. That's what your wife was feeling."
Kirstin ends up in spending the night at the hospital recovering from the surgery and I head home to sleep a very little. By 9:30am on Friday she calls to say that she can head home if she keeps her breakfast down (and this is only because the anesthesia can leave you nauseous). By 11:30am we've got her back. This is not an example of HMO's kicking people out of hospitals. She really was okay to come home. The only outward signs of surgery are three small scars on her belly - they look like someone took a staple gun and shot her three times. It's unbelievable how they can do all this with such limited damage to the body.

The worst part of it for Kirstin is probably the gas. They literally pump you full of CO2 to spread out the organs and innards, and so now she's left with a gigantic bubble of gas floating around her insides that will slowly dissipate. She can't lift anything, or work out for a while, but other than that she's remarkably alright. Her body is working hard to fix itself, so she's pretty tired, but that is almost par for the course given her days with Abby and Maddie.

If there is one good thing that came out of this, it's that the whole stress of traveling this summer has just evaporated. Whatever happens, happens. If we forget something, we can buy a new one or live without it. If we're late somewhere, or early, or we get lost, big deal. Sometimes it takes a serious kick in the pants to recalibrate the stress meter in your life.

Of course, this all might have been a ploy by Kirstin to get attention just prior to Father's Day, but that's a long shot.


David Schutz said...

i'm glad Kirstin is OK. sounds horribly painful.

i went through something similar when i had my appendix out last year and although it was the worst pain i've ever experienced, it sounds tame compared to what she went through.

on the bright side, every time she contacts a doctor/nurse over the next few weeks of recovery, they'll ask outright "did you fart?" ('cause that's how the gas they pump into you gets out). good for a few giggles.

Berna said...

Wow-that sounds awful and really scary. Kristen-I'm so glad to hear you are feeling better!

Anonymous said...

Hope Kirstin is coming out of it allright. Too bad the CO2 gas they pump into her couldn't have some sort of fancy scent - raspberry or vanilla?

Take it easy on the girl for a while, Dietz. :)