Zombies

Presently I am in my second day home and things are going better than they did yesterday.  I will spare you the gory details but let’s just say there was stuff coming out of places it shouldn’t have been coming out of and it caused more than a bit of concern.  I was considering going back to the hospital but then a home-health care aide visited and talked me down off the ledge and all is okay today.

I’m exhausted and not doing much more than watching TV and occasionally going back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom to the living room.  It’s my own little habitrail only without the day-glo plastic colors.  I did manage to make it downstairs to start my car just because I could.  I needed a nap afterward.

This will be bulk of the next few days until Wednesday of next week when I have my follow-up with the surgeon to get my staples and hopefully this stupid tube that is sticking out of my body removed.  The latter is a feeding tube that caused a lot of problems.

Going back two weeks, as I said in the last post I don’t remember anything after the anesthesiologist said “we’re going to give you something to relax” and I said, “yes, please.”

My next, thankfully very hazy and vague memory is being tied down to a table, unable to move even my fingers, with something down my throat.  And yes this is memory and not a hallucination.  It’s just a flash but it is there and I’d like to get rid of it now please.

The story behind the memory, that I learned later, is that I didn’t enjoy the ventilator very much to say the least.  If you read this blog before the surgery you may remember that the idea of being on one was almost as scary to me as the rest of the surgery and all of the stuff that came with it combined.  Apparently this extended to the part where I actually had the ventilator tube down my throat.

I struggled and thrashed when I came out of the anesthesia that evening and they had to tie me down and paralyze me so I wouldn’t injure myself.  Unfortunately they didn’t do it quickly enough but we wouldn’t find that out until Sunday.

They removed the ventilator on Saturday and I have only a vague memory of that as well.  The rest of Saturday is equally hazy – I just remember pain and the horrifying hallucinations I was having every time I closed my eyes (and sometimes when my eyes were open).  I’ve decided not to recount them here – they were just too grotesque and even now when I think of them I get clammy and anxious.  Just trust me when I tell you that closing my eyes was not something I relished.

By Sunday the pain in my abdomen had increased and my stomach was becoming distended.  Again, this is not something I remember in a coherent memory – it’s more information that has been given to me and that I pieced together with the bits that I do remember to form a memory hybrid.  The one very clear memory I do have is that just after I got a shot of morphine sometime Sunday afternoon, I was pierced with an unbelievable lance of pain and I couldn’t breathe.  I freaked out and had, at my count, 5 or 6 people in the room with me trying to figure out what was wrong.  All I remember saying is “don’t put me back on the vent, don’t put me back on the vent.”

The pain subsided but this scary attack was enough to get an urgent call in to Dr. Frenchy.  He came back in, took one look at me, and said, “We’re going to take you back to surgery.”

“Okay,” was about all I could manage.  I do remember agreeing to it and I also remember not being worried or anxious about it.  Probably all the painkillers they had me on.

I didn’t find out the details of what happened until my last day in the hospital.  Apparently during all the thrashing when I was on the vent before they paralyzed me and tied me down, I pulled the feeding tube that was (and is) in my intestine.  It tore the intestine and my abdomen was filling up with waste material that was very quickly turning me septic.  It is probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that if they had not gotten in there Sunday night to fix all of this, I probably would not be here typing this today.

But fix it they did and by Monday I was back in the ICU, still hooked up to tubes and monitors and more while the hallucinations continued and I became the ward “zombie.”  I remember a nurse describing this to me – it’s a person who won’t sleep because of whatever reason – the painkillers, the hallucinations, they pain – and so they just kind of lie there, staring at the walls.

The Walking Dead is one of my favorite shows so maybe I was just working on my audition.

Lucky Charms

It’s possible that I’m going home today, finally, after 13 very long days in the hospital.  If not today, then tomorrow for sure.

I’m a lot more mentally with it than I have been, even when I wrote the post on the 26th; that three-paragraph epic took me nearly an hour and as I read it back now doesn’t make as much sense as I would’ve hoped it would’ve have.  God bless morphine.

I’m off the morphine – off almost all of the painkillers now although I have been requesting some at night to try to aide in capturing some very elusive sleep.  A shot of liquid Lortab (liquid Vicodin) and the relaxant Atavan at least help get my body and mind ready for sleep but can’t do much about the hospital environment, which seems to relish waking you up with annoying frequency.  That’s probably not so bad after one or two days but after 13 I’m ready to fall on my face just from sheer exhaustion.

I want to try to write as much of the experience down now as I can. It’s already fading, which is blessed in many, many ways that you will see as you read it.  I’ll warn you here as I did in an earlier post, this stuff is not for the squeamish.

As I sat in the back of the little Prius taxi on the morning of Friday, August 17, the slightly open windows and high freeway speed had caused a kind of buffeting effect in the back seat that I found strangely comforting.  It was like being pummeled by soft little pillows as I watched the sun come up over Los Angeles.

I arrived at the hospital on Friday, August 17 at 6:15am, about 15 minutes earlier than the requested 6:30.  I was directed to one surgery check-in facility and then walked me to a different one, where I was told they wouldn’t be getting to me until 7:15 at the earliest.  Fine – I sat in what was my last little bland waiting room before my surgery and tried to relax.

I lay there, my head back, eyes, closed, but sensed someone walk up to me and stand nearby.  I opened my eyes to see a short, sparkly eyed little man wearing a pair of khaki shorts, a blue sweatshirt, and a white baseball cap.

“What time they tell you to be here, my boy?” he asked in what I at first thought was a thick, Irish brogue.  I’m totally not kidding.  We exchanged a few surgery scheduling war stories and he over-shared that his son was there getting dental implants.  I didn’t explain why I was there.

“Good luck to you,” he said as our conversation wound down and he returned to another part of the waiting room to rejoin his wife.

“I just had a visit from my very own leprechaun,” I thought, and smiled.  Of course as I continued to listen to the man and his wife I realized they were working class Glasgow Scottish instead of Dublin Irish but I chose to believe it was more or less the same thing and viewed it as a good omen.

I was pulled back into the pre-surgery area around 7:30am, got into my gown, answered the various pre-surgery questions, signed the various pre-surgery forms, and then just laid there for the next two hours.  It wasn’t until 9:30, nearly an hour after my scheduled surgery, that they wheeled me back into the operating room.

The anesthesiologist worked on setting up the epidural – to all of you women who have had them before, I apologize.  I had no idea what it was or that it was so unpleasant to get.  Granted, in the long run it’s better than enduring the pain of whatever you are about to endure pain from, but still not fun. For me, they basically had me sit, naked but barely covered, on the edge of the operating table, sort of collapse myself inward while someone held on to me, and the anesthesiologist numbed up my back and then made a little hole in the middle of my back. Then she installed an electrode into the little hole and that was that.

She laid me back down and said, “Okay, now we’re going to give you something to relax you.”  I agreed that sounded like a very good idea and then… nothing.  I don’t have any more memories until Saturday.

Those Saturday memories are not good ones and to be honest I’m just not ready to write about them today.  Maybe tomorrow after I’ve gotten home to the safety of my own bed where nightmares about bone-crushing machinery, charcoal burned demons, and being tied down to tables while being tortured are a little less hard to deal with.

That was too dark to end a post with.  How about this instead:

I’ll Still Standing, Ow, Ow, Ow

Hey gang. Yes, it is me, actually updating on my own. I only have the stamina to do a brief update, partly because I’m exhausted and in a not inconsiderable amount of pain, but also because apparently in addition to the chunks of my body they have removed my typing skills.  What you see so far has taken me nearly 5 minutes – at this rate I’ll be out of the hospital before I get to the end of my first paragraph.

I’ll have more detail later along with quite a bit of leaving things out in the days to come.  I cannot begin to tell you how much you don’t want to know about what some of this has been like.  The good news is that I continue to improve every day, the bad is that the improvements are often microscopic and not therefore the overall package is frustratingly slow to form, and I still have aways to go.  I will be in the hospital through the end of this week at least, perhaps even longer – so yes, the 46th birthday party may be held bedside in room 1715 at St. Joe’s – just as I always imagined it.

Many, many thanks to all of you well-wishers and visitors, both on the blog and in person.  Regarding the latter, feel free to come see me but you may want to consider calling or texting first.  When we’re dealing with this much pain and this much trauma to both the body and the mind, it is hard to predict when I’ll be able to have lucid conversations.  Of course if a lucid conversation is not a requirement for you, then stop by anytime.

Less hardware, more lucidity

Various tubes removed (intentionally this time). Out of ICU and in a regular room. The not-so-spacious and very anti-Vegas Room 1715 to be precise. Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. They’re even making him get up and walk around. Steps on that road to recovery.

Oh the life of a Burbank Borg

It seems our favorite multi-tubed Borg Rick was a bit too boisterous on his first night after surgery and may have dislodged his ol’ J-tube. So after a day of increasing pain it was back into surgery Sunday night for confirmation of the blowout and a re-seating of the nutrient tube. Everything is now back in place, Rick has his hand on the morphine plunger, and we’re back on the road to recovery.

Missive from the ICU bed

The ventilator came out this morning and there are various tubes going in and out of Rick’s body at the moment. Very Star Trek Borg, thankfully minus the grey pallor.

For the moment he just has one thing to say:

“Ow.”

Update on Rick’s Magical Surgical Tour

Okay. So after a loooong day that started with a two-and-a-half hour delayed surgical start time and close to six-and-a-half hours of actual surgery I’m happy to report that Rick’s reconstructive surgery to become Rachel was a success. Happy birthday girl!

Oh. Wait.  That’s not right. Sorry, wrong patient.

Okay. So after a loooong day that started with a two-and-a-half hour delayed surgical start time and close to six-and-a-half hours of actual surgery I’m happy to report that Rick is out of the OR and in ICU. His surgeons said that, while long, the surgery went well, with no complications. They removed a pebble-sized tumor and did not see any evidence that the cancer had spread (barring biopsy results of course).

He will remain in ICU for probably another day or perhaps two before being moved to a regular room at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank.

More news as his situation improves . . . or if I as his friend feel like making something up. (The boy’s gonna need to change his password quick.)  So everyone THANK YOU for the prayers, well wishes, good thoughts, etc.

mscl

21 Words

This will be my last post before the surgery.  I feel as though I should be witty, or wise, or at least pithy but at this point I think the best I can hope for is coherent.  I guess what I am really attempting to gain is a little bit of that much longed for perspective that everyone always wants, thinks they have, and then forgets about as soon as life gets hard, scary, dangerous, or annoying.

My day, tomorrow, is fairly well planned at least in my head.  I’m going to get up at around 5am.  Note that I didn’t say “wake up at 5am” but rather “get up,” because I don’t want to presume that I will actually be sleeping tonight.  Stranger things have happened – Sarah Palin for example – but I think it’s best to stick with “get up” and that will cover any eventuality.

After checking my e-mail and staring at the empty refrigerator for awhile, I’ll go take a shower and greedily use as much of the hot water as I can because it will be my last opportunity to bathe for the next several days.  I apologize in advance to anyone who comes to visit me before I am able to have some alone time with warm water and soap again.

Somewhere around 6am, I’ll call a cab and then wait outside until it arrives.  I always take a cab to the hospital for any kind of procedure, surgery, or test if it involves me not being able to drive myself back home.  It’s not that there aren’t lots of people who would be willing to take me to the hospital if I asked, it’s just that I prefer to go by cab.  Part of it is that it allows me some alone time to gather my thoughts and mentally prepare for whatever I’m about to face.  The other part of it is I figure that if I can survive being driven to the hospital by a Los Angeles cab driver, I can survive anything.

When I get there I will also continue with my other little hospital tradition, which is walking up to the receptionist in the admitting room and stating, with a cheerful voice, the reason I’m there.  In this case it will be thusly: “It’s a beautiful day for an esophagectomy!”

The surgery itself is scheduled to start at 8:30am and should take three to four hours.

Now… and this is important… the one thing I don’t plan to do tomorrow is die.  It’s not on the agenda as far as I’m concerned.

But here’s the deal: I hate things left unfinished.  I don’t always need to have a nice tidy bow wrapping it all up because I understand that life rarely affords us the opportunity to do so, but I do need to have some measure of closure.  I loathe ambiguity; nothing frustrates me more.  It’s like a TV show that gets cancelled after the season ended with a cliffhanger.  Did Angela really end up with Jordan Catalono?  Did Harrison choose Brooke or Sam?  Did Jessica get killed by the firing squad?

So with that in mind, I offer some thoughts and ruminations that will act, I suppose, as my version of closure should my plans go awry tomorrow.

I’ve had a good life.  I don’t know if it was a great life but it was good and that’s better than a lot of people get.

I had friends.  Several were amazing and life-altering.  Most people don’t even have one of those in their life so in that regard I was truly blessed.

I knew love.  Not in the traditional, romantic sense, but it was still a true, undeniable, soul-mate type of love.

I had fun.  Maybe not as often as I should have and perhaps with less gusto as I could have but it was fun nevertheless.

I did some cool things.  I had not one, but two plays produced in real, honest-to-God theaters and they won a bunch of awards.  I rode a camel in Egypt.  I drank ouzo in Greece.  I wrote books that were published and people bought them and read them.  I won $30,000 on a slot machine.  I drove a race car.  I visited the Britney Spears Museum and saw the biggest ball of twine.  I shook hands with the man that would be the President of the United States.

I tried to be a good person.  I didn’t always accomplish that.  I had my moments – some extended – of selfishness and vanity and pride and hedonism and sloth and greed and all of the other things that make us human but I’d like to think that, for the most part, I merely waded in the pools of my various sins rather than wallowing and reveling in them.

I certainly was not always nice to everyone all of the time but I don’t think I was ever cruel.  Well, not intentionally cruel.

Regrets?  I’ve had a few.

I don’t think I took enough chances in my life.  I’m not talking about risky stuff like bungee jumping or wearing white after Labor Day, but rather the chances we can take, both big and small, that can turn a good life into a great one.  For instance, I think I would have had a career as a writer if I had more often ignored the blasted Midwestern work ethic that constantly whispered in my ear saying, “You need to have a job and a regular paycheck and health insurance and security.”

I think that chance-aversion also applies to my emotional life.  I’ve always been reserved, private, and cautious when it came to other people and I think I missed out on a lot of stuff because of it.  I pushed people away or didn’t pull people close enough and so my life has been more solitary than it needed to be.  It certainly is the reason I’ve never had a real romantic relationship.  Well, that and the fact that I never met Anderson Cooper.  He would’ve loved me if only our paths had crossed.

I regret that I didn’t do something about my chronic heartburn earlier.  That’s a big one right now.

But I think my biggest regret is that I never really figured out a way to feel comfortable in my own skin.  It’s like I never fit into the life I tried on for size.  It was probably the fat kid thing that I never got over, but whatever its root was, it limited me.  No one can be completely unlimited without winding up jailed, committed, or dead but if you live a limited life you might as well be all of the above.

So if I may offer some advice, either to you or to myself if/when I live through all of this it is as follows: don’t be so fucking afraid.  Take a chance or do something new, every day, even if it’s something small.  Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited.  Take a different way to work and pay attention to what you are driving past.  Introduce yourself to that guy at the bar or that girl on the bus or the person at the bookstore looking at the latest from your favorite author who might just wind up being your new best friend.  Get a tattoo, learn how to dance, sing karaoke, go bungee jumping… whatever that thing is that you have wanted to do but haven’t… why not?

And also this: be passionate.  If I were the divine overseer of this universe, I would make it a requirement, sort of like picking a major in college.  Everyone would have to have one major and one minor passion, whether it be an artistic endeavor, a sport, or model railroading to name a few.  As long as it’s something that gets you excited, makes time fly, and gives you something to dream about, it counts.

And finally, I guess, just this… thank you.  As a writer, I like to think that every person is a story.  Stories are meant to be shared, so thank you for sharing yours with me and letting me share mine with you.

Do I have any last words?  Well, I suppose I’ll go with the ones that I took the time (and the pain) to have tattooed on my body – 21 of them incorporated into a tribal design on my arm, chest, shoulder, and back.  They are my words to live by.  I did, to some of them.  Others, I fell short on.  I hope you find your words, embrace them, recite them to yourself every morning when you wake up, and not just live by them, but live up to them.

Courage.  Integrity.  Joy. Life.  Devotion.  Indulgence.  Desire.  Commitment.  Chance.  Creativity.  Family.  Passion.  Peace.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.  Beauty.  Art.  Perseverance.  Inspiration.  Aspiration.

Wait… there’s one more. What is it?  Oh right… Perspective.

About My Upcoming Spa Day

So yeah, I guess I’m having the surgery.  The primary reason I know that is because I have stopped eating per the instructions that were given to me.  It wasn’t really a conscious choice, it just sort of happened.  Of course giving away all of the food in my refrigerator kind of left me with no choice, conscious or otherwise, but perhaps I am just picking nits at that point.

Speaking of food… I have created a playlist on iTunes.  It includes “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka, “I Will Remember You” by Sara MacLachlan, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston, and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls (the Jennifer Hudson version).  I am playing it as I stand in front of the empty refrigerator while weeping silently.  All of the good times I had with food play in my mind like a movie montage, all soft-focus and slow motion.  It ends with me walking into the sunset hand-in-hand with a double cheeseburger and a side of fries.

I don’t want to have the surgery.  It continues to feel like way too much to me, especially since I have this little tiny tumor that hasn’t actually caused too much damage yet.  It feels like trying to put out a small kitchen fire with one of those Super Scooper water dropping airplanes.  But I understand that it’s my only shot and so there it is.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: fuck.

What is involved in the next couple of days?  Well, sit back and relax for the story of what are considered to be the two most terrifying words in the English language: Bowel Prep.

I am on a clear liquid diet as of 4pm today (it’s been 3 hours and I’m hungry and cranky already).  That’s pretty much it for today but then tomorrow I have to get up early and go to the hospital to fill out more paperwork than I have filled out to date, sign all sorts of forms that basically say that it’s okay if they kill me, have them draw blood so they can “type and cross” (it’s so ER/Grey’s Anatomy/Scrubs/Chicago Hope), and then listen to them prattle on about how much money I will be owing them.

The latter has been going on for a couple of days via phone calls and e-mails.  They want me to pay what is expected to be my portion after insurance is done.  I not only don’t have that kind of money, but wouldn’t give it to them if I did.  Send me a freaking bill.  There’s something really annoying about having to do the co-pay or “estimated patient responsibility” up front before you ever see a doctor or have a scalpel slice into you.  It’s like having to give the hooker the money ahead of time even though you don’t know if he’s any good yet.

At least that’s what I think it would be like based on things that other people have told me about hookers.

Anyway, when I get back home then the fun really starts.  10am is when I have to have to drink a 10 ounce bottle of magnesium citrate and an 8 ounce glass of water.  This will… hmmm… how do I put this?   How about… It will begin the cleansing process.  Sort of like a loofa and a nice tangerine facial scrub only with my intestines.

At 1pm, 3pm, and 8pm I have to take 30 milliliters of a compounded, liquid combination of erythromycin and neomycin, which are two very strong antibiotics that will try to kill any microbes that are anywhere in my digestive tract since they will be hacking it apart and don’t want to have to deal with things that can cause infections.  We’ll consider this the antiseptic wash of our facial analogy.

Sometime during the evening I have to do something I have never done before in my entire life – give myself an enema.  Wait… to be clear, no one else has ever given me an enema before either.  Never had one, never wanted one, don’t want one.  But, again because of the hacking of things, everything needs to be clean as a whistle down there.

Continuing our facial analogy, this would be the part where they get an industrial power washer that they use on sidewalks and buildings, and point it at your face.  What?  They don’t do that?   Well, then I’m out on the analogy because I’m not quite sure what else could compare.

Now, about Friday and beyond… the surgery is happening at Providence St. Joseph’s hospital in Burbank.  It is now scheduled to begin at 8:30am and should take 3-4 hours.  Once it is over, my friend Mark will go home and update both this blog and my Facebook page just to let you know that it all went okay (or didn’t as the case may be).

I’ll be in the ICU for a few days and won’t be allowed visitors but by Monday I should be in a regular room.  The big question is whether I want visitors or not.

Here’s the deal… the idea of people seeing me, all broken, in pain, drugged up, and with various tubes poking out of various parts of me that tubes shouldn’t be poking out of, does not thrill me.  But at the same time I also know that despite being broken, in pain, drugged up, and with various tubes poking out of various parts of me that tubes shouldn’t be poking out of, I will most likely be bored out of my fucking mind and will need entertainment and diversion.

So, with that I will let you decide whether or not you want to come visit me in the hospital, with the caveat that I probably won’t be the best of company.  I mean, let’s face it… I act like a big baby when I get a cold so can you imagine how I’m going to be with all of this?

I’ll have one more post tomorrow night with what we’ll call some parting thoughts and then it’ll be off to get cured.  Start crossing those fingers now, please.