Friday, October 01, 2010

So, ER, We Meet Again

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, I was feeling quite bloated. I slowly ate dinner, not feeling incredibly motivated to eat, and several hours later, went to bed. When I woke up on Thursday morning, I didn’t feel any better. That surprised me, but I went about my day. I felt like I had gas pains, but I wasn’t passing much gas. The left side of my abdomen felt especially bothered. When I’d walk, it would kind of hurt over there, and it would hurt if I pushed on it. The pain wasn’t extreme. I went to school, so I obviously wasn’t very afraid of walking around, even though I was much more physically comfortable when sitting still. Again, the pain all felt very much like gas, and I figured I was just backed up or something.

By Thursday afternoon, I had a fever. I thought it was unrelated to the gas pain. In fact, I had interacted with a fellow grad student on Thursday morning who said he thought he had the flu. He and I work together as TA’s, so when I started feeling feverish, I figured I probably had gotten whatever bug he had. I spent most of Thursday lying on my couch, and the gas pain never subsided. Finally, around 9 p.m., I for some reason looked at my stomach in the mirror. The left side of my stomach actually appeared slightly bulged, quite similar to when a woman first starts to look pregnant (although in my case, the “baby bump” was poking in the wrong direction). That didn’t seem good, especially in light of the fever I had had. Melanie suggested going to an InstaCare type of facility. At this point, I wasn’t really feeling feverish anymore, and the pain still wasn’t horrible—it was more uncomfortable and annoying than crippling. Nevertheless, I agreed that I should go to InstaCare. (I will continue to use the label “InstaCare” even though I have no idea if that’s officially what I’m talking about or not.)

Before leaving the house, we looked up the InstaCare facility, just to make sure I knew where I was going. On their website, it said you could call ahead and thereby speed up the process for when you arrived, in most cases resulting in a 90-minute-or-less visit. I called and told them my story. They told me that with something like that, they would probably want to do a CT scan, and seeing as how they did not have the machinery to do that, they told me to go to the ER. Being told to go to the ER can sound scary, but it didn’t sound like my situation was worrisome so much as that the InstaCare wouldn’t be able to adequately assess me. And so, feeling quite calm and optimistic, I decided to go to the ER. I drove myself to the hospital, which is not far from where we live, and checked myself into the ER at precisely 9:30 p.m.

At 12:40 a.m., I was seen by a doctor. He required some blood work to be done. They drew some blood, hooked me up to an IV and a blood pressure monitor, and left me in bed for just under an hour. A nurse then came in and said that they wanted to do a CT scan. (Two minutes later, the doctor reappeared and told me my blood work was inconclusive, and that was the reason we were proceeding to the CT scan. I did have a high white blood cell count, which could be indicative of infection.) The nurse gave me two cups of ice water with some sort of solution in it and told me to drink all of it within 45 minutes. Once I was done drinking it, I was supposed to press my call-button and let them know I was ready for my CT scan. I was already quite tired of being there, so I chugged both cups of water down within about 5 minutes. (This left me feeling incredibly cold in the already quite cool room, and I chattered quite a bit over the next little while.) I called them and told them I was ready to get my CT scan. I don’t know if chugging the water quickly did me any good, for it was still another 45 minutes before anyone took me to get a CT scan.

Now the real fun begins. When I got to the room where I would receive the CT scan, I was informed that I would be given an enema that I would have to hold in while I was given the scan. My first enema. Very exciting. There wasn’t much point in fretting about it, so I did what they told me. I lied down, turned on my side, and let the nice young woman pump cold water into my derriere. The worst part was having the water go in. She told me it would feel like the kind of cramping you have when you have a really bad bowel movement, but to me it felt more like some of the worst gas pain I’ve ever had. At least with bowel movements, you can push, but I was under strict command to take it all in and keep it there. Awful. Fortunately, once it was in, it was not nearly as bad as it was going in. It still wasn’t very comfortable going through the 10 minutes or so of CT scanning, but I was glad it wasn’t worse.

After the CT scan (and a few minutes in the bathroom to evacuate my bowels, which even once you’ve done so, you can’t help but worry that you’ll be leaking as you go on your way), I was returned to my not-officially-admitted-to-the-hospital hospital room. At this point, I was told I had another hour or so to wait for results. I tried to get some sleep, but I never quite got beyond the thinking-turns-into-semi-nonsensical-quasi-dreaming stage. It actually seemed pretty soon that the doctor was back in my room. He told me I have diverticulitis. He said something about me having an infection in the “out-pouches” of my colon. He said something about prescription antibiotics and told me I would be discharged. I probably would have asked him a question or two, but he was in and out of my room in about 45 seconds (no joke) and I didn’t even process what he said until after he was long gone. Even so, I was ecstatic that this was merely an infection that could be cleared up with antibiotics and that I was about to go home. But…

Not so fast. When the main nurse came back into my room, I said something about putting my shirt on (I had been wearing my shoes, socks, and shorts all night, but was wearing only a hospital gown on top), and she said something like, “Did the doctor tell you you were going home?” That was quite a dreadful thing to hear, and so I said something like, “Yes. He said I was being discharged,” trying to emphasize the last word to make it clear the doctor indeed gave me permission to leave. The nurse said that I would be discharged, but that I still had to receive two antibiotic treatments via IV. Each would take approximately one hour.

Sigh. And so, I was again in bed, sleeping here and there, and not being officially discharged until almost three hours later (by the time it was all said and done). I got home just before 7 a.m. What a surprisingly long night. Of course, I’m glad to have been treated. The sad thing is, apparently diverticulitis is something I will always be susceptible to. As I understand it, it is an infection of the pouches that can develop in the colon as one ages. I don’t know how sensitive I’ll be, but apparently I’m supposed to prevent future flare-ups by eating a high-fiber diet and avoiding foods that can easily get trapped in the pouches, which includes seeds (everything from seed-covered strawberries to, dang it all, poppy seeds, which I absolutely love!) and popcorn (which I eat fairly regularly). Sucky. The thing is, I don’t know if I’m supposed to NEVER eat these things again, or if I’m just supposed to eat them very sparingly. If these things can more easily get trapped in my colon pouches, I imagine they should be avoided completely. But that really sucks. Seriously, never have popcorn again? Ever??? Man, I was planning to go to a movie with Melanie for my birthday and splurge on popcorn. Crap. Sort of literally.

Overall, I guess I was more impressed with this ER visit than the ER experience I had in 2007 after our car accident. But I can’t believe how long it takes for things to happen. It seems like they should have been able to cut out at least two hours of the time I spent there. But they were fairly attentive once the ball got rolling, so that’s something. Here’s hoping I never have another ER experience to compare these earlier ones to. I like ranking things, but I’m not interested in compiling a list of Top Ten ER Visits. Top Two ER Visits will do just fine.


  1. Knock on wood I've only been to the emergency room for myself once. But when I had my gallbladder removed, the hospital experience was mostly good except for all of the red tape. The doctor came in and told me that I could go home, an hour later I asked the nurse when I could leave and she said the doctor didn't sign the discharge papers so I couldn't leave. Hour later, I reminded that the I wanted to go home, then they informed me that my doctor had left for the day. WHAT! I don't want to stay overnight. Finally they were able to get a hold of his surgical parter, who gave the go ahead over the phone to release me. Like three or four hours after I was supposed to go home. Sheesh! I hear ya.

  2. P.S. Glad to hear you are doing better..
    P.P.S Did you read the wikipedia page... there is some disagreement between professionals about the whole nuts and popcorn thing. Not that wikipedia is the most correct source, but it might merit some investigation.

  3. Hey Mac Daddy. Yes, I see that. When I posted this, I had only read part of the Wikipedia article, but now I see that some disagree about certain things. I was actually encouraged to eat nuts once this particular flare-up is better, but to avoid popcorn and seeds. I was encouraged to see my family practitioner ASAP, so perhaps I'll see what he/she thinks. (I haven't seen a family practitioner since I lived in Utah, so I need to find one first.)

  4. Ben!!!!!!! I feel so sad. This is scary stuff! I wish I was there to do something for you. I miss you so much and things like this make me feel particularly far away. Love you much! Take care...

  5. I'm just glad you're gonna be ok. Try instead of wikipedia. WebMd is more reputable.

    I think avoiding foods is like when they tell you to avoid simple sugars. Not never, just probably not more often than once a month or so.

  6. WebMd also has a search engine for doctors.