Illness, Alienation, and PTSD – Part 6

Read Part I, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5

The surgery in 1992 that I had for an intestinal blockage was the last of my surgeries for intestinal blockages, but not the last of my intestine and stomach related issues. Since then, I seem to have experienced periods where my stomach seemed to be having intense gas pains that worsened in intensity. When that happens, I follow this protocol:

  1. Take GasX. If it’s actually gas, GasX works like a dream. Tums don’t cut it.
  2. Take Pepto Bismol. This helps with any stomach cramping. If one dose is not enough, repeat one hour later.
  3. In the meantime, get my heating pad out and lay it over my stomach.

Almost every time in the intervening 23 years, this has worked. Mark and I vaguely remember me going to the ER once, possibly in my late 20’s, for stomach pain that would not go away. But nothing serious was discovered because I did not have any further intubations with an NG tube nor any blockages discovered.

So it was with surprise when, on March 1st, I followed my protocol to find that it did not work at all. By the time 9pm came around, an intense pain gripped the right side of my abdomen. It seemed to start near my appendectomy surgical scar and go up to right under my rib cage. When it continued unabated for 30 minutes and I was crying out in pain, I asked Mark to call an ambulance.

I had tried to go to the bedroom, but the pain caused me to curl up in a ball. Any attempts to move my right leg away from my abdomen caused more pain. I was unable to sit straight up, to walk, or to do anything except lay there. I asked Mark to go let my mother know that I was having stomach pains and that we were going to call an ambulance. I was sweating because the only other time I ever felt pain like that was when I had intestinal blockages. I prepared myself for the worst.

I felt terrible for my mother to have be in the same room with me while I was crying out in pain. The pain was at a 10 level, and I could not keep it inside, even if I wanted to (and I wanted to). I knew it was just hitting her in the gut with helplessness and shared empathetic pains, so I told her to go downstairs so that she wouldn’t have to listen to me. She refused to leave until the EMTs were taking me to the hospital.

The one thing about my town that rocks is the speed of the EMTs, police, and fire department when someone is in need of an ambulance. We waited only a few minutes before someone was knocking on our door. I needed help just to get up off the floor and sit on the ottoman. To get me out of the apartment, they put me into a chair and then slid me onto a gurney to take me to Winthrop.

By the time I was being processed in the ER, my stomach started to feel a little better. They gave me some fluids while they had me drink contrast for a CT scan. The results came back showing that no blockages, but that there seemed to be a change in caliber to the intestinal in the mid transverse colon and constipation throughout the sigmoid, ascending colon, and cecum.

I found this odd, but I chalked it up to the smaller opening that they saw in the colon. Even though I had already passed soft stools that day, I felt a kind of straining that I can only chalk up to not having enough room for the intestines to breathe. It certainly wasn’t traditional constipation, and, after the enema, the attending nurse told me that it was odd that there were no hard pieces. I didn’t think it was odd if things could not move through easily enough on their own. I was relieved not to be in pain anymore and to be able to go home.

I was released with instructions to follow up with my primary care, take Miralax for the constipation, and go for a colonoscopy. I met with primary care and her GI specialist that week, but I did not care for his bedside manner. I also did not want to go to a Queens endoscopy center. I wanted to go to a hospital that I trusted.

That weekend, I talked it over with my sister M. She helped me research GI specialists and even came over to the house to visit and to work with me. The next day, I made the appointment with the GI for the following Monday. Once that was done, my sister M then helped me research for a new Winthrop-affiliated primary care doctor. I made an appointment with the new primary care the following Friday. She spent so much time with me, helping me research and select two new doctors, that I bought her a gift that will soon be delivered.

After my release from the ER, I continued to feel uncomfortable. I could feel and hear stool moving through my midtranverse colon. It sounded like things were being squeezed through a smaller opening. I ate small meals and stuck to a low residue diet, but even doing that made my stomach feel hard and uncomfortable. My stomach felt full all day long. I had periodic bouts of pain right under my ribcage. I decided to start taking the Miralax every day and eat a low residue diet. Things went on in this manner for almost two weeks until suddently I could eat normally with no discomfort or full stomach.

I’m still taking Miralax every day, but went down to half a dose a day because stools too loose are a problem in their own right. I’m also having weird twinges and bouts of pain in the area under my ribcage. But now I have to wait. After the appointment with the GI doc, I went to check out and make an appointment for the colonoscopy.

The scheduler first offered me the date of May 12th. May! I said to her, “I have to wait two months to get a colonoscopy? That’s insane!” She then looked again and offered me an April 29th date, which I took. Afterwards, I said to my sister M, “Well, now I know that no one ever has an emergency colonoscopy. You have to wait for that sucker!”

One positive that thing has occurred is that, for whatever reason, going to the ER motivated me a bit to move forward on my writing goals. It felt like a great stone had been moved from a closed entrance, allowing light to enter for the first time. Usually, an ER trip with significant pain like this would have me refusing to move forward on things that are anxiety-producing for me. Work is one of those things that causes a lot of hand-wringing on my part, but that’s a topic for a different series of posts. However, I was able to make a few changes.

I printed out an accountability calendar created by Carrie Brummer, creator and owner of ArtistThink.com. Carrie is an art educator and tries, through her site, articles, and free online classes, to encourage people to explore their creativity in different ways. I printed the calendar out, hung it up on my wall, picked and start date and began writing.and decided that I would start using it mark off the writing that I did. Every day. Across the top I wrote, “Don’t break the chain.” Jerry Seinfeld once told an aspiring comic to write every day and to not “break the chain.” Nothing feels better than checking off that little box and knowing that I am fulfilling my commitment to myself and my writing goals every day, even if it’s just a little bit.

Today is day 13 of that unbroken chain. As a result of recommitting myself to daily writing, I restarted the morning writing exercise that I learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. She recommends writing three, 8.5″x11″ pages of freehand writing every morning. I found the three page minimum difficult when I tried it last year, so I decided to make it easy on myself and make it a one-page minimum. Yesterday, after spending a working day’s worth of time researching rheumatology docs for my mom, taking her to the appointment, helping her get xrays, bringing her home, filling her RX, getting milk, eating dinner, and coming home, I was exhausted. I could only manage that one page. I was surprised at the depth of what I wrote because, if you had asked me, I would have told you that any thinking at all would be out of the question.

On all the other days, I’ve managed to write that one-page minimum plus more. Sometimes it’s writing for my blog post. Sometimes it’s writing for my stories. Sometimes it’s writing down ideas that I have. WHATEVER it is, I am committed to writing and keeping the writing thing going. When I did that last year, I was so much happier. One day this week, I realized that I laughed and smiled more than I had been lately. I chalk it up to the writing practice. I feel productive.

My trip to the ER could have been paralyzing. For the first time ever, it wasn’t.

Family Visits

I drove my visiting sister A and her husband G to visit our 84 year old uncle in a rehab facility. My uncle L, who has been in the facility at least a month, is experiencing  congestive heart failure, requires oxygen, and is experiencing organ failure.

If you are not familiar with congestive heart failure, let me give you a brief synopsis: The heart, no longer able to pump blood effectively, means less oxygen to the brain, a reduced capacity of the lungs to get oxygen into the body and more fluids in the lungs, and organ failure. The brain, kidney, and liver, among others, no longer function optimally. Death isn’t necessarily imminent; my husband’s mother lived with it for years.

Whether his memory is being affected by the congestive heart failure, or whether it is due to another condition, such as dementia, I find it hard to visit him. While we visited, my uncle told me the same stories about my father that put him in a bad light, which he has told me at least once every time I have seen him since at least December. These things happened 60-70 years ago. But so what? 70 years ago, approximately 30 years before I was even born, is too long ago for me to care. I did get angry with my uncle and told him that I didn’t want to hear it.

I asked him: What’s happening now? What else can we talk about now? Can I help him now? What is there to do? Because whatever happened has happened when my father was alive. He is dead. I am glad that my uncle didn’t give the “traitors” help when they didn’t want to help my dad. But so what? Those people are long gone.

I grew up spending Thanksgiving at my uncle’s home, and, in reciprocation, my cousins, uncle, aunt on my father’s and my mother’s side used to spend Christmas with us. I have some great memories of watching Godzilla movies at my uncles on Thanksgiving (thankfully, I was not subject to watching football).

At this point, whatever it is my father did or didn’t do, whatever it is my uncle thinks or doesn’t think, whatever stories he has to tell, I no longer care. When all the players are dead, some of them for many, many years, it is time to move on.

In some ways, having a great memory such as my uncle has is wonderful. He remembers all the birth years of his half-siblings and siblings, starting from 1900 to himself in 1929. Given that he came from a family of 10 and this is 75 years later while he is sick with congestive heart failure, I think that’s pretty damn amazing.

But having an amazing memory is a problem when you repeat the bad stories of your deceased brother over and over again. Yes, I was upset earlier. But I also have compassion for him. The way we think when are elderly is a product of all the ways we have thought through our entire lives.

Do I like what he says? No.
Do I like what he thinks? No.
Is he elderly and ill? Yes.
Am I going to stay worked about the things he says about my deceased father, his brother? No.

I just don’t have time for that shit anymore.

 

Back on the Wagon

Forgive me for I have sinned. It has been 13 days since my last morning pages. Instead of practicing what I know is good for me, I willfully refused to do my morning pages. When I had an emotional pain in the middle of my heart, I knew I had, once again, waited too long.

The happiest I have ever been has been this year. Why? Because I was writing every day. First, that every day occurrence took place here. Then, it moved into morning pages. The continuity stood for 10 weeks. 10 weeks! That’s a nice long time to have established a habit, wouldn’t you say? But I stopped for a day or two, and then I was lost.

Writing, communicating, getting what I am feeling down on paper, exploring thoughts and feelings, countering my negative beliefs about my self – all these things are crucial to my life. The thing is, they take time.

I am temporarily not working at a place of employment, so I have the time. The time to write morning pages. To blog. To explore. To write stories. To edit and polish them. To share what I have learned and am learning with you all here as I go along. That’s kind of neat.

This morning I learned, yet again, how an incident in kindergarten continues to haunt me and my ability to work. On a report card, Mrs. Lawson wrote: Wendy is very eager to please other people. On that fateful day, I did an assignment out of order: I worked on a painting I wanted to work on first, and then I worked on the assigned painting. The assigned painting had to have clouds, birds, and a sun on it.

I was so involved in painting what I wanted that I forgot the order. When I realized that I had made a mistake, I went up to my teacher to ask if it was OK. Instead of gently chastising me and telling me to listen more carefully, she told me to go sit on a stool in the corner.

I was mortified, publicly humiliated and terribly ashamed of myself. Everyone could see me! Only the “bad” kids got sent to the corner! I must be a bad kid! Now everyone knows, and they will never forget it. I did my best to hold back the tears that fell down my cheeks. When I got home, I told my mother another student got sent to the corner. I wanted to share it with her, but I couldn’t. I was afraid of what she might say.

And all my life, I have been chased by the fear that, if I don’t do things exactly as instructed, I am going to be punished, called out for it, and humiliated. When I was working on The Artist’s Way, I began to get down on myself for not “pushing my creativity limits” with my artist date each week as Julia Cameron urged the reader to do.

So first, I couldn’t get around to an artist date each week. Then I stopped doing the lessons. Then I stopped morning pages. You see? I wasn’t following things exactly, and I keep forgetting to give myself permission to do things the way I want to do them, that Mrs. Lawson is not going to come out of my past, my bosses aren’t going to make me an example of an errant employee, and that I, as a free adult in this world, can do whatever the fuck I want in whatever way I want.

If something doesn’t work for me or I feel intimidated, my answer has to been to give up instead of accepting what I want to do as being valid. Did it really matter that I did things out of order? I don’t think so. Five year olds are notorious for not listening or following directions exactly. Does that mean we punish them publicly for a mistake? That seems a bit harsh to me now.

Regardless of what I think, my amygdala has latched onto this idea that I will be safe from those terrible feelings if I avoid making mistakes. To avoid making mistakes, I have to avoid doing anything. Now that isn’t much of a life to live, is it?

Well, I took some time to try and dismantle this alarm system that I have been for almost the last forty years. If I can be released from its grasp, I will be truly free to be anything I want.