This past Sunday, I was released from the hospital after about a ten-day stay. The circumstances were frightening, and the experience very painful. My pancreas had attacked me – that is – I had developed pancreatitis.
Common symptoms are severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. This may lead to internal bleeding and all kinds of complications that would land a body in the ICU lickity split. Chronic pancreatitis, the kind that one would have over a long period of time and not know it, for instance, can lead to diabetes or pancreatic cancer. When acute pancreatitis occurs, improper treatment can lead to your body going septic. It can lead to death.
This condition is for drunks or for people with gallstones. 80% of pancreatitis diagnoses are heavily attributed to the extreme abuse of alcohol. I was told that in my case, I was one of those lucky individuals that had the potential to get it regardless of my use of alcohol. I had been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes about seven years before, and at present, tests revealed that my triglycerides were through the roof. Well, they were really through the roof, past the top of the highest tree and approaching the ozone layer.
The diabetes and the triglycerides joined together to get my attention. They were saying, “Hey, it is not okay for your poor habits to continue. We are suffering in here and guess what? You will suffer now too.”
The pain was excruciating. In the ER, they first managed it with morphine, and then added liquid valium to the IV bag cocktail so that I could relax for about twenty minutes. There was an ultra-sound (administered by a tech that admitted to me that he had very little experience with the equipment and “this might take a while”), and a CT scan. I was told I was suffering from dehydration, and that necrosis had occurred in 5% of my pancreas. The physician’s assistant that was in the ER (never saw the MD there) also threw in the fact that I appeared to have fatty liver disease. I had to accept treatment as a matter of course, and was now an in-patient at the Teton Valley Hospital.
Tim started to inform those around him, to include his friend and boss, John – of our situation. When John heard I was an in-patient at TVH, he told Tim to get me to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EiRMC) in Idaho Falls immediately, “Do not pass go”, he said.
We were at such a loss regarding what was going on, we decided we would trust the medical professionals at the local hospital. Both of us and many community members voted “yes” on a tax levy to keep the damn thing open – not to mention that I had been treated in their ER competently on a couple of separate occasions.
While they managed my pain with morphine that was fed to me via a pump system that I controlled but was told could not overdose on, they also hooked me up to a tubes that would keep me hydrated and that would feed potassium into my body – and on a separate drip – magnesium. It all took a toll on my midsection. My belly was distended and in constant pain. There was simply no way to be comfortable, but I was hoping we could just barrel through this experience and that I would get better soon.
I was made to understand that nothing could be administered to me orally. Nothing. Not even a sip of water. My upper digestive system needed a break, and the trick is to try and NOT trigger digestion or the release of enzymes. Sometimes, even looking at food will trigger this reaction. This was unfortunate, as the massive amounts of morphine resulted in the worst cotton mouth on the planet.
After about a day and a half, they let me moisten my mouth with a tiny sponge. After that, I got some ice chips. It seemed progressive, the ice chips. I went almost four days without any nutrition being put into my body, however. Toward the end of my stay, they got me through one day of a “clear” diet and then jumped at the chance to give me a small turkey sandwich, fruit and salad. I regurgitated most of that meal back into the salad bowl on my tray.
While I lingered and waited for something to happen, blood was drawn from me many times during the day, I was administered insulin, and for the most part, had great nurses caring for me. I never saw the PA from the ER again, but instead was being “treated” during my first two days there by a doctor who had rotated in for the weekend from Coeur d’Alene. I saw him once. I was told most of the staff, the doctor included, was “very busy in the ER.”
I considered my position as the only in-patient in this small hospital. I thought that if I kept getting care in the form of “here are some fluids and pain meds, let’s see how it turns out” from the nursing staff, who were taking their instructions from the physician’s assistants, who had to consult an MD to keep things moving, I should be okay.
Instead, by the time another CT scan was performed, my condition was worsening. I was sliding back, not progressing. My pancreas was even more inflamed in the second exam than it was in the first. At this point, one of the revolving door PA’s said something about inserting a feeding tube. I think this tripped my trigger a bit. I was overwhelmed. I started crying and looked at Tim, “I want my mom.”
By the time the feeding tube was mentioned, I had already filed a written complaint regarding one of the night LPN’s giving me incorrect anti-nausea medication. She also stood staring at the machines I was attached to while one of the alerts sounded, and finally said, “Hm. I wonder where that is coming from.” I explained to her that it was the morphine pump, and also told her that if her skill level wasn’t appropriate enough to fix it, to please go get someone’s help. She fetched an RN, who then blew through a tutorial on how to fix the problem. Her demeanor and hurried manner of getting through this challenge sent a clear message to me: she would rather be doing something else.
I had lost confidence in the care that was being given to me. Clearly, this hospital wasn’t really a hospital. It was a fully functioning Emergency Room, where they treated people and then either sent them home or to another care facility. You can’t imagine how busy the medivac helicopter is going to and from this valley.
So why was I still here? Why was I languishing in pain and waiting for something to happen? I mean, that something had already happened, right? I was getting worse. Why did this hospital even have the handful of beds that it maintained? In comparison to what was occurring outside the doors of my room in the ER, my situation seemed strictly peripheral to the priorities of the staff.
Stay Tuned for Part II: A Gamer Changer at a Critical Time