The Week of the Gangrene

I’m sitting in a coffee shop (Chuck drove me! I’m out of the house for the first time!) and I’m just … crying.

It’s strange to be crying in a coffee shop. I went into the back where there was an empty seat, but then I immediately realized I wanted to be out by the windows where there was life and action. And as I ambled back across the shop, I began to sob.

I am enough of an emotional idiot that I’m not exactly sure what’s up, but not enough of one to be entirely clueless. I get that I am feeling a lot of emotions together, and that’s overwhelming for me.

I’ve said a few things on social media about what’s been going on, but I haven’t fully written about it. So I will now. And perhaps that will help me uncover what all this feeling is about.

So here’s what happened: Last Sunday night, as I was going to sleep, I felt this odd pain in my upper abdomen. It was uncomfortable, almost like trapped gas right near my heart, and I couldn’t find any comfortable position. It got worse. By midnight, it had radiated to my back. I woke Chuck, feeling silly about doing so, but not sure what I was supposed to do. The pain increased. By the time he drove me to the ER at 1 or so, I realized we’d left too late; I was in the worst pain of my life and I just couldn’t take another second, it felt like.

I was literally wailing in agony during intake, asking them to “put me out, anything, please, please.” I was praying to God to take away the pain or just help me get through it.

They put me on morphine. It didn’t take right away. The pain began to subside around 3:30.

The doctor said it was a gallbladder attack, but there wasn’t really anything to do but give me pain meds and send me home, and have me to make an appointment with a gallbladder surgeon.

Monday I mostly slept. I did a little work.

Early Tuesday, the pain began to come back, slowly. By Tuesday night, I was back in the same pain, but worse, and since I had an appointment the next day, just sort of deal with it.

The pain stayed. All told, the “attack” I had lasted 22 hours. As I later learned, it wasn’t an attack. But that’s another story.

I saw the doctor at noon and he knew right away that I needed surgery ASAP. He had his scheduler start calling to see when. He said he’d try for the same day, but we might have to wait a day. The idea of this filled me dread but I understood.

They got me a time: 5:30 the same day. Thank God!

I really had no idea how much of a blessing that would turn out to be.

They started anesthesia around 6:15. By that time, my will to exist anymore was … dulled.

The next thing I knew it was 9:30, maybe. I remember things in waves:

“Breathe…”

“It’s okay…”

“Gangrene…”

Even in my drugged-up haze, there was a part of me that understood that the surgery didn’t go as well as hoped.

Here’s what happened: When they opened me up laparoscopically, they found my gallbladder had gone gangrenous. This can happen after a long period of gallbladder disease, which can be silent, apparently, because I had no idea. The 22-hour attack was actually just the acute inflammation, which means my gallbladder was dying, basically.

It could have ruptured at any time, at which time the poison inside would have rushed throughout my body, and I would have gone into septicemia. Which is another way to say septic shock, I suppose.

To make things worse, it was nestled in a very fatty liver. I’ve long known that my numbers have pointed to poor health, but this was the first time the impact of that was seen. The liver is very delicate, but especially challenging when fatty. They had to cauterize it every time they touched it.

Thank God they did such a professional job. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Kavin Masur for his fine work.

So yes, they say gallbladder surgery can be a breeze these days. Mine was not one of those.

I was in the hospital for 36 hours. They had to catheterize me at one point. That was … that was not something you want. While I was in the hospital, I felt like a different person. It was like I couldn’t find me. Some of that was the drugs, probably. Lots of pain meds.

I was thrilled to go home Friday afternoon and be surrounded by my dogs, though one of them–Buford–seems pretty sure a swift kick to my abdomen would move him up the ladder in our pack. I’m wary of the boy.

A word about my husband: Chuck is the most amazing person I’ve ever known. His capacity for love seems unending to me. He’s been with me every step, and I don’t think I could have done this without him. He is an incredible caretaker, and when he needs one, I will use his beautiful care of me as an example.

Each day has been a little better. The first day, we went for a walk. It was outside, down to the mailbox, and over two houses. That was all I could take. You really atrophy when you don’t use your body, I guess!

Now I’m up to all the way down to the end of the block, across the street, and back.

I’m still needing a lot of rest, but I’m really thankful to be at a coffee shop even though it’s not the most comfortable. I need to push myself to do more each day, and this is more.

As for the tears?

 

Well there’s gratitude for sure. I’m alive! Last week was the first time in my life that I really could have died, and it’s been hard to get my head around that. I’m grateful for a medical system that could fix me when I broke, and for the good wishes of my family and friends, and the outpouring of love.

And I’m angry. I’m mad at myself and I’m working on forgiving myself for what I did to my body. For years, I’ve been told that my “numbers” aren’t good. They call it metabolic syndrome. And I knew that my diet was to blame for that. I’ve always liked sweets and fried stuff and red meat and processed foods, and it’s easy when your numbers suck but you look pretty darn good to give yourself a pass. I did for probably … 20 years? I think it was probably around the time I was 25 that I first heard that my BP and cholesterol was high. And I kept saying, “I’ll fix it with diet and exercise.” And I kept not doing that, or doing it for a bit and then stopping. This disease was directly related to my poor diet, and I had it for a long time, apparently. And that fatty liver? That IS metabolic syndrome.

As it turned out, I was on about day 14 of a no processed sugar diet when this happened. I had countered this by upping my meat consumption, as I often do. I rationalize that food is my only remaining escape place. So yeah, take my sugar, but leave me something I love, please.

No longer! I can safely say the blinders are off. If I wish to live a life beyond a couple more years, diet and exercise are center. Today is day 23 of the no processed sugar diet, but now it’s been joined these last five days by no red meat, no fatty anything, no exceptions. And that thing where they tell you to watch portions? And have a plate with more greens than protein? That was always something I shrugged off. Not anymore.

In 23 days, I’m down 15 pounds. I’ve been perfect these last five days, and a lot of the weight has come off then. I don’t actually have THAT much weight to lose, but it’ll be off in a hurry anyway. And then, when my body can take it, exercise.

Another word about “escape.” One thing I have prided myself on these last 13 years has been the internal work I’ve done on me. Working on becoming the best person I can be. To define my values and make choices in line with those values, and to work on getting better anytime I fail to do so. I am not ashamed or afraid to say that I have used a lot of different substances in my life to counter difficult feelings I don’t want to feel. Gambling, sex, and food have been the big three. And those first two? I’ve put ’em away. I know I can live without using either of those “drugs.” Today I believe to the bottom of my heart that I can make choices in my life to mask my emotions with my drugs of choice or feel them. Today I choose to feel. Which is why I’m crying in a coffee shop.

And today I believe to the bottom of my heart that I can do the same with food. That I am an adult who can make proper choices that honor my body and soul.

I will check in once in a while about my decision to stop using food as a drug, but mostly know that I’m kicking and screaming to get back to my life. Things are about to get VERY interesting professionally for me and my writing.

Some things you just know.

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13 Responses to The Week of the Gangrene

  1. Lew says:

    Glad you survived your scare, Bill, and hope that your lifestyle changes work for you. That way we can continue to celebrate mutual birthdays for many years to come. Appreciate your honesty.

  2. Carolyn says:

    I was sitting here crying with you, Bill. I’m so sad you had to be in so much pain then and have to be in in it now. I understand how close to things going really bad because we went through it with my mom, but it was an infection she didn’t know she had, but the pain when we took her to the hospital was her body shutting down already, and no one knew it. She was gone that night. I’m so, so glad you had the doctors you had and your body was healthy enough to deal with all that it was fighting for you to still be here. Please be kind to yourself as you go through your recovery. You are an amazing person who has dealt with things as well as you could. We can all do things differently, but sometimes our coping mechanisms are super sneaky. You know now. You’ll do better now. You have great people around you who will help. You have a strong heart and soul inside of you that’s going to do what needs to be done. Sending so much love and so many healing thoughts. Sometimes I end notes with “take care!” this time I really, really mean it.

  3. Ed Hawkins says:

    Bill, I’m glad your doc finally figured out you needed surgery. I’ve had the same surgery you had and I know how much it hurts!!! You’re doing the perfect thing by walking a little more each day. You’re still young. . . take care of yourself and one day you will be an old fart like me! Hugs.

  4. Becky says:

    I really appreciate your detailed honesty, I tell myself quite a few of the same things and my doc says I have icky blood. BP high and cholesterols are backwards good is low, bad is high. So glad your mending Bill and the possibilities are endless!! Take care,

  5. Bill Soroka says:

    Wow, Bill! What a scary episode for you, and a wake up call for me too. Thank you for sharing the details of your experience. You’ve prompted me to take some action on things I’m putting off as well. I am glad you’re healing, and I love hearing such gratitude about life, experience, and true partnership. Thank you for sharing!

  6. What a fabulous post–so authentic and vulnerable. I’m sure I’m not the only one of your readers to shed tears myself as I read. Your appreciation for your husband was especially poignant. I wish you the best as you recover and regenerate.

  7. Juliana Lee says:

    My doctor has been telling me the same thing for years. Why haven’t I listened? Well, I’m listening now. Thank you and Best Wishes on our new lifestyle!

  8. Lee Wind says:

    How brave of you to share so honestly, with yourself and your community. We’re cheering you on, through recovery and into full, glorious, joyful health.
    Lee

  9. Ronni Davis says:

    I knew, by your facebook posts, that something crazy was going on with you. I’m SO GLAD you’re on the mend now, you cool person you.

  10. XOXO your way, Bill. You’re smart and brave for working toward healing in all the ways.

  11. Lisa says:

    What a beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing your personal journey with all of us – we can all learn from your experiences. I am glad that you are healing (on so many levels). Best of luck in your recovery!!

  12. Thanks for sharing your journey. I love how writers immediately take to processing everything in words! Stay well. The world (and young readers) needs you!

  13. Kathryn says:

    So glad you conquered. Looking forward to reading many more books!!

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