"It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver."

"It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver."

~Mohandas K Gandhi

Thursday, December 30, 2010

In which I get the sickest I have ever been in my life

In September 2006, I gave birth to my son, via emergency c-section, after 21 hours of labor.  I did not enjoy pregnancy- I had morning sickness 24/7 for the first 14 weeks, and for the rest of the time, I felt vaguely icky- you know, that feeling you get when you are coming down with something, but you don't yet have a fever or a sore throat?  That's how I felt from week 14 onward, and I spent much of the pregnancy wishing I could just fast forward to the birth.

In January 2007, I went back to work after being on maternity leave.  I got sick several times, but nothign really out of the ordinary for me.  Then, in March, one Sunday morning, after having had cold symptoms for about a week, I awoke with a pain throughout the left side of my torso.  I told my husband to drive me to the hospital, now.  (I occasionally get pains of various kinds on my chest from various things, but this was different, and way more painful than any chest pain I'd experienced before.)  After four hours in the ER, they diagnosed me with pleurisy and sent me home with several prescrptions.  Now, I have had pleurisy before, but it had been many years, so I thought that maybe I was misremembering the pain.

As the week went on, I stayed home from school, because the pain got worse.  By Friday, I was vomiting from the pain.  After spending pretty much all night Friday night vomiting from the pain, I woke Darrel up early Saturday morning, St Patrick's Day, and told him to drive me back to the hospital.  Several hours later, I had a diagnosis: empyema and double pneumonia.  Empyema is a staph infection of the fluid between the lungs and the chest wall.  Normally, that fluid is, well, fluid, like water.  My fluid had so much infection in it, it was gel-like.  The pain I was feeling was because the gel-like fluid was causing too much pressure in my chest.  The double pneumonia was because I could inflate my lungs enough.  A thoracic surgeon stood over my gurney in the ER and told me I needed immediate emergency surgery to insert two chest tubes to drain the infected fluid.  Less than an hour later, I was upstairs, being prepped for surgery.  The last thing I remember from before the surgery was the pre-op nurse holding my hand.

I woke up in serious pain (and to dry heaves from anesthesia), with two tubes sticking out between the ribs on my left side.  I was so weak, I couldn't do anything for myself.  I was transferred to a double room, which I would not leave for five more days.  I was on three different IV antibiotics for the full five days.  On day four, I was taken to another ER to have a PICC line installed in my left arm.  A PICC is kind of a permanent IV, because IVs aren't meant to be in for more than a few days, most of the time.  Why did I need the PICC?  Because, for the next seven weeks, while I was at home on disability recuperating, I would be injecting another IV antibiotic into myself, twice daily, at the exact same time every day, to make sure the level of medication in my body stayed the same.  A home health care nurse would come every week, both to check on the PICC and see how I was doing, but also to draw blood to send to the lab, to check and make sure that I was actually getting rid of all the infection in my body.

I went back to work in late April, finally.  Before that, however, I went for a final checkin with the doctor who was overseeing my care.  This is the same guy who'd bitch-slapped my insurance company around, and got them to finally agree to pay for the IVIG.  During this final appointment, Dr D said to me, "Listen, I don't know if you are planning on having more children, but if you are, I need you to wait at least a year before getting pregnant, to give your body time to recuperate from all this.  Also, I have to tell you, I cannot guarantee a positive outcome."  He explained that what he thought happened was that my body put so much into making a healthy baby, there was nothing left of my immune system for me, and my immune system basically crashed.  Pregnancy takes a serious toll on any woman's body, but for me, it was worse than average. 

Why, if my son was born in September, did it take until March for me to crash?  My guess, and Dr D's guess, is pretty simple: after the birth, I pretty well never left the house.  Oh, sure, I went to the doctor, I took my son to visit school once, but, really, I didn't go anywhere.  I didn't get sick at all that fall, but it makes sense because I wasn't around people and wasn't exposed to anything. 

Anyway, when I told my husband what Dr D said, he just said, "Okay.  No more kids, then."  It wasn't a difficult decision for us to make.  The first two or three weeks after my surgery, I was incredibly weak, and my husband was essentially functioning as a single parent: he got up with our son at night, he fed him, changed him, took him to daycare, picked him up from daycare, did all the food shopping, made meals for the two of us, cleaned the house...and never complained once.  With that whole in sickness and in health thing in wedding vows, he sure got the short end of the stick, but it doesn't ever seem to bother him. 

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