Always look on the bright side of life

Patrick Hight

This has been an ugly week for me. Last Monday morning at 4:00, I was awakened by what felt like somebody was stabbing me in the lower left back. Dang near knocked me out of the bed! I got up and took some Advil and rubbed in some heat, thinking it was a late reaction to a pulled muscle from my 94-mile ride Saturday…but even that didn’t make sense to me. I managed to get back to sleep, and the morning shower did not provide any additional information, or pain.
Halfway to work, it hit me again. I had to keep adjusting in the seat to try and get comfortable. Once I got to work, walking in from the parking lot seemed to help a bit. But by noon, the fire was back. I popped in a few more Advil and walked the hall for a bit. By the end of the day, things had not improved – and I had a swim on the training plan.
It was a pretty slow swim, but I managed 2750 meters. But by about 9:00pm, I had decided it was time to go to the ER. I have been in this hospital way too many times lately; first, the bike crash Labor Day weekend which took me out of our planned relay tri, and now this.
I signed in and took a seat close to the door into the screening area, realizing it might be a while before my turn came for triage. This was the first time that night that it crossed my mind that there were still folks out there worse off than I. I looked around at the small crowd in the room… one man sitting against the wall, with crutches to the side of his chair – from the freshness of the plaster, I guessed he was waiting on paperwork so he could leave; a young couple opposite the crutches, she clearly being in some type of withdrawal tremors; an older woman sitting a few rows behind me, very much in pain with the majority of her left foot swathed in cotton wrap; and more toward the back of the lobby, away from the rest of the folks, what seemed to be a sizable Hispanic family, huddled quietly but with very concerned expressions on the older members’ faces.

I am very much a people watcher… you listen to what is being said around you, and try to imagine what is going on. Sometimes my images turn out to be correct, sometimes not.

As I was sitting there, the door to the interview room opened, and a nurse escorted an older woman out toward the lobby. I was sitting in the double-wide chair closest to the door, so as she got closer, I stood to let her take my seat. She smiled and gestured for me to sit where I was, saying the chair was certainly big enough for the two of us. Once she got situated, she asked why I was there. I told her that I thought it might be a kidney stone based on where the pain was located, but that I was just guessing. She explained that her husband was back in the ER area getting checked on, because he had come in with an irregular heartbeat. “But he’s a stubborn old coot. He will be fine.” I wondered if she was trying to persuade herself of that, more so than telling me anything. She proceeded to explain he had prior arrhythmia issues, and when I said I could relate to that, and after being told I was too young to experience that, I explained the heart attack and the triple bypass. Then this wonderful little woman explained she was a 35-year liver transplant survivor, done back when “we didn’t have any of this great technology to prevent rejection and all those infections.”  The more she told me, the more I was amazed. I said that my heart issues paled in comparison to the issues she and her husband have had to face. This lady was and still is a true fighter… and as she says, it is her turn to fight for her husband since he stood by her through all the “fuss” during her liver issues. This was the second time I realized I didn’t have things so badly that night. She said this was her opportunity to give back to him. I told her I admired her for that thought, because I felt the same way. That was when she asked about the red band on my left wrist, so I told her about us forming the non-profit, about the Ironman races, and how the IronHeart group was such an inspiration.

When they called my name, this quiet little lady put her hand on my arm and gave me a “You better take care of yourself. You still have a lot to do.” Hmmm….

Once into the ER area, after talking to a great doc, they moved me to a “stall”, one of four beds in a single room, all separated by curtains and walls which reminded me of car wash stalls. I noticed when we walked around the corner into the area, a police officer was sitting at the entrance. As it turned out, the two stalls on the far side were occupied by women, one of which was the younger lady I had seen in the lobby with what appeared to be withdrawal issues. The other woman, a bit older and a whole lot more belligerent, made enough noise for all of us put together. Anyway, not too long after this, they put me in a wheelchair and rolled me into the CAT scan. A couple pics later and I was on the way back to my bed. My next visitor was a talkative young nurse who said she was good at drawing blood and putting in the IV needles. I remembered to tell her I had already been stabbed Friday at my doctor’s office, so she avoided that area. But she WAS good at what she did – almost no pain at all. It wasn’t too long after the blood-taking that she took the vials to the lab and returned to give me some pain meds thru the IV. I slept long enough to empty one IV bag and still not feel her come in and disconnect the IV tube.

After waking up, and making a trip to the restroom, my doctor came in to tell me that I indeed had a 6mm stone, that she would be prescribing pain pills and that I needed to get an appointment scheduled with my doc asap. She also gave me a referral to a urologist in case I needed it.

Exiting the hospital about 6:00 am, I felt pretty good – no doubt there were good pain meds from the IV. I went home, took a shower, and drove to work. I figured I might as well get in a couple hours of work while I waited for the doctors to get into the office before I called. When I called my GP, I told them what was going on, and the response I received was “we can see you tomorrow at 11”… yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. The next call was to the urologist from the referral. Oddly enough, the initial response from them was exactly the same thing. I was getting a bit irritated at that point, but reached for my wallet to give them my insurance information. When I picked up the phone to give the nurse the information, she said quickly “before we go into this, on a 1 to 10 scale, what is your pain level right now?” When I told her about an 8, her answer was “Can you get to our office in the next 25 minutes?” I said I would be there even if I had to get a speeding ticket or two.

Once there, and after a fairly short wait in the lobby, I was ushered back to see the doc. Dr. Jones had already looked at all the test results from the hospital, so he knew the size of the stone and the blood results. He explained a couple of options, and I told him I had a race in a month, which we agreed ruled out any waiting for it to happen naturally. He started to explain the surgical removal process with the question “Do you know what a stent is?” I just smiled and said “Yes, I have 5 in my chest right now.” Caught him by surprise with that one…”well, yours are like a half-inch long and titanium. This one is rubber tubing and 12 inches long.” His next question was just “what have you eaten today?” After the “one small chocolate milk, one coffee and a third of a small Gatorade,” he asked if I wanted to do the surgery today. I said the sooner, the better, and he called his nurse to get in touch with the surgical center. The nurse came in and asked again what all I had eaten since midnight. I was scheduled for a 2pm arrival and a 3:30 surgery. I drove back to work, and completed all their paperwork online while waiting for the clock to tick to 1:40.

I arrived at the surgical center a few minutes early. The intake nurse told me she had contacted the insurance company for approval already and handed me a bill for almost $2000. Just a couple minutes after that, they called me back to pre-op. Changed clothes, laid down, and another great nurse (yeah, it was a great “nurse day” overall) came in, asked me what I had eaten all day, and started all the pre-op stuff: IV, monitors, etc. Anesthesiologist came in and explained the process, and asked AGAIN what all I had eaten…I almost felt guilty my story hadn’t changed!

Surgery itself went well. I had told the nurse in advance that I tend to come out of anesthetics slowly, and I was the last person left in recovery. My heart rate had to come down to a certain point before they would let me go home, so we had a few minutes to joke around. My next-door neighbor Christine had come to pick me up so she and I talked about her recent trip to Europe. Man, I would love to go there!

That was Tuesday’s fun… Friday we had more. I was supposed to go into the doctor’s office so they could remove the stent, which is about 12 inches of very skinny rubber tubing. Others had told me to make sure they gave me lots of drugs, but the procedure involved only some localized numbing. The procedure actually didn’t last long at all, but it really feels strange with a hose and camera going up inside you. I was VERY happy to be done with that one!

I managed a long walk yesterday, just to test the body. Everything went well, so I will be swimming and biking today, and back to my very slow plodding Tuesday. My run at IMAZ is going to be really slow, but it isn’t worth getting worked up about, either. Not like I was ever in a podium position, anyway…