Illness, Alienation, and PTSD – Part 5

Read Part I, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

The best part of the summer before my junior year in college was getting to spend time at my brother-in-law’s summer house out East on Long Island. The cottage was your typical summer cottage. It had no internal plumbing; you took showers and went to the bathroom outside. Situated near a cliff, you had to climb down a ladder to get to the beach. The waves lapped a dozen yards away. I remember sitting on the beach, enjoying the warm weather, and spending time with my family shortly before I had to go back up to college in Massachusetts.

I did not return at the end of August 1991 as was planned because I was taken to the hospital with stomach pains that turned out to be another intestinal blockage. I remember the doctors saying that they did not want to operate on me if at all possible because it had only been 10 months since my last surgery. Instead, they inserted a nasal-gastrointestinal tube (NG) to see if it could relieve the pressure and, by proxy, the blockage. The NG tube did relieve the pressure and the blockage, and I was able to leave after proving that I could eat and pass things along my intestinal tract.

My joy at avoiding surgery was short-lived, however, and I was taken back to the hospital with stomach pains within a couple of days of going home. Again, the doctors did not want to operate, but they did insert the NG tube. Again, the pressure was relieved, the blockage unwound itself, and I was able to go home after proving I could eat and pass things along. Three weeks after my anticipated return date, I was able to go back to school. I had signed a lease with some college friends starting the prior July, and I returned to my apartment.

I wish I could say that this was the last of my intestinal blockage saga, but it was not to be. Six months later in March 1992, I went to the hospital with stomach pains. The pain of your intestines twisting around themselves is a pain unlike no other. I would never wish this on anyone, not even the worst of the worst. The surgeon who operated on me told me that the kind of pain I experienced is even worse than the pain of childbirth. I was also the youngest patient in the hospital with as many surgeries as I’d had by my age.

My sister M who used to cut hair got me the name of the surgeon through one of her clients, a doctor. The surgeon was the Chief of Surgery at Cambridge Hospital and performed surgery at Mt. Auburn Hospital. Although he has long since moved away, I still remember his cutting humor, his straight talk, and his lack of reassurance. He told me that, even if the surgery was successful, there was no way to guarantee that having a blockage would not happen again. It could happen the next day, in 20 years, or never. I was a wreck. How was I supposed to live my life this way? At any given time, what I had worked for could be taken away, and I could back in the hospital with another blockage and another surgery that would only leave adhesions, ensuring future problems. One of these days, someone is going to find a way to eliminate adhesions. When they do, I will tithe half of my income to them. HALF.

This surgery, like the one in 1990, resulted in my staying in the hospital for approximately three weeks. In addition to the NG tube, Dr. F wanted to perform a certain procedure wherein a weighted balloon tied onto the end of a tube was inserted up through the nose into the stomach. The balloon and tube were to pass through my intestines for a designated number of days until it had gone far enough into my body. During the surgery, Dr. F would arrange my intestines in such a way to minimize adhesions. This all supposedly would help with that since it seemed that adhesions from prior intestinal surgeries seems to the main cause of future intestinal blockages. After the surgery, the tube was cut at the very back of my mouth as far as they could go, and the tube was allowed to pass through in the usual way. I can honestly say that it is a very weird experience to go to the bathroom one day and have to pull a balloon and tube out of your ass.

In some ways, I was much better off than when I left the hospital in 1990. I did not have raging infections; my length of stay was due to the added procedure of the balloon tube that needed time to move through my system. In some ways, I was in a bad place. In my first semester at college, I went from 123 lbs. to 113 lbs. because the Aramark dining hall food was both disgusting and often improperly cooked. By the end of my first semester, I would only eat salad for dinner and then have a shake later that night when I was studying. By the time I was in the hospital this time in 1992, I continue losing weight. They inserted a feeding tube into my neck so that I would at least get nutrition. That didn’t stave off the weight loss, however. By the time I left, I was 100 lbs. I have never looked so ill. My thighs were barely much thicker than my thighs. I once again had to withdraw from college because there was no way I was going to be able to make up three missed weeks of school.

Earlier this year when thyroid medication helped me drop about 5 lbs. quickly, I began to panic. I called the prescribing doctor and told him I was worried about the rapid weight loss. He laughed at me and told me I was the first patient to ever call him to complain. I explained that I was not complaining, but that the rapid weight loss triggered memories of when I was in the hospital. I said, “What do I do? Eat more?”. He laughed and said yes, I can eat more.

After getting off the phone with him, I realized that I have had a fear of weighing too little because of these hospital experiences. I psychologically need to have some meat on me. At this weight of around 120 lbs., any added weight can be seen in the belly area – and I am totally fine with that. But having a ultra-lean body doesn’t really work with my psyche because I want to make sure I have some weight to fall back on if I ever get sick and can’t eat, which is what happened earlier this month. But I’ll talk about that in another post.

~~ End of Part 5 ~~

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Illness, Alienation, and PTSD – Part 6 | playswithwords's Weblog

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