Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Part I: Blood, Guts and SpongeBob
Part I of the Whole Story
I'm beginning to wonder what it's like NOT to suffer. I honestly can't believe that I haven't yet gone stark raving mad.
Wait...back up a bit. I actually DID go nuts in 2004 and ended up in a psychiatric facility. Oh, brother. Who'da thunk? I was SO depressed that I couldn't even walk the two blocks to St. Mary's and had the suicide hotline call an ambulance to come pick me up. You know things are bad when you can barely find the motivation to walk into the kitchen. I honestly believe there are thousands out there, maybe millions over the eons, who've killed themselves over far less, as I can assure you, I don't think an ounce of serotonin was left in my brain that day.
Things had been gearing up to this point for a number of weeks...actually months. For the 18 months or so prior to a massive internal hemorrhage in March '04, I was feeling quite saucy and slick. Yes, I battled daily abdominal pain that occasionally required Vicodin for "breakthrough pain" (maybe one pill two or three times a week), but other than that, Tylenol handled the job, and I was happy to have survived a major blood clot in my liver (portal vein thrombosis and Budd Chiari Syndrome) in September 2002 (the cause of the abdominal pain).
I was so happy, in fact, that I seemed to find enormous new meaning to my life. And the coumadin I was now taking had two remarkable effects: it eliminated my chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms that I'd been suffering with for 15 years or so, AND it significantly decreased my jaw pain that had started in 1999.
To say that I was a happy camper during this year-and-a-half window is an understatement, for never had I felt so joyous. Every day felt like a gift, and my life was expanding in new and unexpected ways. As my freelance writing was going well, I was able to upgrade to a new large art studio, and I suddenly produced a prolific output of new paintings.
I also came up with countless creative ideas, one of which was the short-lived talk show "Highball! With Mary Ann Farley" at my local bookstore.
The idea of it was to celebrate local artists and personalities, with the format of it first being a Q&A over highballs ('natch), and then the person would perform.
I thought of everything. I had local sponsors pay for a nice spread for audience members, I had the video fireplace (long before other talk show hosts stole my idea :)), and I had glamour in spades.
The idea garnered such quick attention that The Bergen Record did a Sunday feature on the first episode, and I was getting hit for "bookings" long before we even did the first show.
But then something strange began to happen with my health. The abdominal pain, which had been a daily companion for 18 months, was starting to go away as well, and I thought for sure all of my good Law of Attraction thinking was manifesting in spades.
My relationship with my "creator" felt so solid that I decided to get oral surgery on my jawbone to rid myself of any remaining infection and facial pain, and really shoot for a completely pain-free life. Not only were things looking up, but I felt somehow that I had finally arrived, that so much of the awfulness of my life was now behind me, and I was in the moment for perhaps the first time in my adulthood. All goals were short-term, and I expressed my newfound loopiness by wearing clip-on ponytails of all kinds just about every day...long, short, curly, straight. I think it's fair to say I had a grin on my face just about every day.
It was a Sunday morning and I awoke feeling very achy and thirsty, thinking I was getting a bug. But by the time the afternoon arrived, I knew I was in deep trouble, as in going to the bathroom, I discovered that my stool was absolutely jet black, a sure sign that I was bleeding internally--something I'd been warned about.
As the clot in my liver had calcified, the pressure in my stomach had caused varicose veins, and in being on coumadin, I was in constant danger in having one of them burst at any time. The tar-black stool was confirmation that the inevitable had occurred.
As I'd been in the hospital so many times up until this point, the idea of packing up a bag and walking over to St. Mary's was just plain boring, but dutifully I gathered my paperwork, my toothbrush, my journal with a few art supplies, then took my place in the emergency room.
As usual, I called my dear friend Lynda, who'd come to St. Mary's with me numerous times back in 2002, to tell her simply that I was there, and that there was no need whatsoever for her to come over and be bored with me, despite her offer, once again, to keep me company. I now wish, of course, that she had come, simply to witness the events that were just a few short hours away...events that I haven't even seen in the most grotesque movie or TV dramas of extreme emergency room scenes. It was something you'd see more in a horror movie, where you'd say, geez--what sick mind dreamed this one up?
It came up upon me quick, without notice...a sudden urge to vomit, and as I had nothing to throw up in, I quickly grabbed the liner of a garbage can, while yelling to nurses that I needed something to get sick in.
At first, it was just spitting up blood into the bag, but when the basin came and landed on my lap, I began projectile vomiting volumes of pure unadulterated blood that made the eyes of the nurses around me go wide and their faces go pale.
Unbeknowst to me at the time, I'd also aspirated a fair amount of blood back into my lungs, which had the effect of suffocation, or drowning, and I could feel my vision going black. "I'm fading," I said, "I'm fading," and I thought for sure this was it...that I was checking out for good, and I turned to a young nurse next to me and asked her point blank, "Am I going to die?"
She was way too young for such a question, and answered, "Well...um...we're going to do everything we can to...um..."
She couldn't even answer the question when I felt another surge of vomit rising to the surface, only this time they couldn't find a basin in time, which meant I projectile vomited even more blood over the side of the bed, trying to aim for the garbage can that I'd removed the liner from previously.
Again, I felt myself fading to black, which I have to say was the single scariest thing I've ever felt. To feel the life force begin to drain from your body in such a violent way is chilling, lonely and just plain awful.
I then turned to the head nurse, Nurse Betty, and again asked, "Am I going to die?"
"Not on my shift!" she yelled back, and I immediately wondered what time she clocked out.
What then ensued is something you see in a scene of ER. The bed was whisked away into another part of the emergency room, and suddenly I must have had half a dozen people surrounding me, inserting tubes into veins that, because they're so tiny, would not expand wide enough to accommodate the insertion of new, thick blood.
Ultimately, a handsome Indian doctor inserted a line into my groin, which had to be stitched on, and at last the new blood was finding its way into me.
By this time, my pal Lynda had arrived, and unbeknownst to me was told by Nurse Betty that I had lost an enormous amount of blood and was in critical condition, and that she should walk into the room with a smile on her face.
She did, but with big watery pools in her eyes, which perplexed me, as it still hadn't sunk in just how bad things were. It was only when I overheard her a few minutes later on the phone with my mother, and hearing the words "critical condition," that I knew this was bad.
Yet somehow, I knew I was going to live, and Lynda and I began joking with the various personnel helping me, especially "SpongeBob," the gay nurse, who teased me that I was "a big baby" for complaining about the unanesthetized stitching process going on in my groin.
Obviously I made it through the night, and the next morning they were able to find and clamp the popped vein in my stomach. It turns out that I'd lost 70% of my blood volume, as ultimately I'd need nine pints of blood and six units of plasma to replace all I'd lost. (I was to vomit again at 5 a.m. the next morning.)
I stayed in the hospital for a week, fighting off fevers from the new blood, and mentally preparing for the surgery I would ultimately need at Columbia Presbyterian to reduce my gastric pressure, so that this wouldn't happen again.
As bad as this all was, things were to get far, far worse.
Next up: Three months of hell, followed by my descent into stark, raving insanity.
Note: Drawings were done my first night in ICU.