Monday, October 17, 2011

Oct 17, 2001...A Decade Later

Ten years ago today on Wednesday Oct 17, I went into the hospital for an overnight procedure. I came home 4 weeks later.

I was set for surgery for my endometriosis in Atlanta, GA with a specialist. I had had surgery for my endo about a year and a half earlier, but after many unsuccessful months of trying to get pregnant, we realized due to my level of pain that the endometriosis had returned, and we would probably have more success if we treated the endo then tried to get pregnant. The surgery should only last 2 hours or so, and we would be on our way.

After the surgery began, the doctor realized I had too much endometriosis on my colon to just burn off, that instead it would need to be resected. So a colon doctor was called in and a small portion of my colon was removed and the two ends were re-attached. 8 hours after it began, I was out of surgery.

I can remember waking up and knowing I did not feel well...much different than any other surgery I had ever awoken from. I can remember looking at my hands and seeing they were very swollen and wondering why. The other thing I remember was Chris standing on one side of the bed and his dad on the other, and asking his dad to pray...somehow I knew I wasn't alright.

 I was staying in a small hospital in the suburbs of Atlanta, and spent the next week very slowly getting better...I was able to get up and walk around and eat some, but I was running low fevers and not getting better as quickly as I should be. My hemoglobin was also very low, so they knew I was bleeding internally somewhere. It was Wednesday a week after the surgery, so the doctor decided to have an xray done where you drink the contrast and your insides glow so they could see any places I might potentially be bleeding. (I think I am describing that correctly). Well, to say I have a difficult time drinking these types of fluid is an understatement. It is almost impossible for me. I don't take liquid medications b/c I usually gag and throw up. So, I was taking the drink very, very slowly. The technician came to take me down for the test, and the fluid had not gotten all the way down into my intestines. The technician decided to give me an enema containing the contrast to get it into my abdomen. He apparently had not read my file that said I had just had my colon resected...

When he pushed the enema in, I remember screaming because the pain was so bad. A woman (who I later learned was the radiology doctor) came running in to see what was wrong. I told her it hurt very bad, but the pain only lasted a few moments. Nothing else was said about it. When I got down to my room, I told my parents about it, and my dad asked the tech why my gown had been changed. I had apparently had an accident when I was given the enema. I must have been in enough pain I don't even remember that part.

Throughout the rest of that day, I continued to feel worse. I was quite out of it by late that night. I remember the tech coming in to take my blood pressure, etc and seeing that my temperature was 104.5. I remember thinking "Wow, that's high." The next day my temperature would not really go down, and I was very out of it. I really don't remember any of those days. The colon doctor came in Friday morning and said he was coming back after his office hours and taking me to surgery to see what was wrong instead of waiting until Monday. That decision was the right one. I would not have made it (literally) until Monday.

When the doctor took me into surgery, he had to make a 6-8 inch incision vertically in my abdomen - 3 or 4 inches above and below my belly button. When he opened me up, he discovered my colon had been leaking waste into my abdomen for 3 days. I was septic. I have no idea how long that surgery lasted. All I know is when I woke up, I had an ileostomy (which is a bag attached to your side where your small intestine dumps out your waste so that your colon is not used. I know, yuck). I also had an 8 inch long open wound that was about 2 inches deep that would have to be packed every day and heal from the bottom up. Can you imagine waking to see this? I didn't even know such a thing existed as in ileostomy.

I had a very long road of recovery ahead, so I was transferred after a few days to St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta where I would have access to more doctors. The inside of my body was covered in infection. My veins had been burned up with the antibiotics so far, so I had an IV port inserted near the top of my shoulder. The medication could get into my body through a major vein without going through the smaller veins. The first time I met with the Infectious Diseases doctor, I remember he said "You're one sick little girl, but we're going to get you better". I don't think I really realized how bad it was before that. I had these "puss pockets" (I know, gross) in different parts of my body that had to be drained. At one point I had a drain inserted straight through my butt cheek because it was the easiest way to the pocket! We called it my "tail" to try to make it funny.

As I recovered over the next two weeks, most days were mentally a struggle. I became very anxious over any little thing that would go wrong with me, I hated being left alone, and I was having to learn to live with this bag on my side and how to take care of it. My mother never left Atlanta the entire time I was there. She spent every night in the hospital with me, and would leave every afternoon to go to her hotel room and wash clothes, take a shower, etc. I would get very very anxious and always call a nurse for pain medication so I would go to sleep while she was gone. The last thing she would say was "Don't sleep the whole time I'm gone", and the first thing I would do was call the nurse. I had a really hard time eating as well. I had no appetite. The nurses would tell me if I didn't eat more I wouldn't be able to go home, which would just make me that much more anxious. I lost over 20 lbs that month.

Slowly but surely I got well enough and finally came home exactly 4 weeks later. When I got out of the car at home, I cried because in that time I was in the hospital the leaves had changed and fallen off of the trees. Fall is my favorite time of year, and what was green when I left was now seemed to make it so much more obvious to me the time I had lost. I came home with a pic line, which is an IV line that goes in at your elbow and runs all the way up your arm to an artery. I had to continue to take antibiotics via the IV for a week or so, plus multiple oral medications. I had a home nurse come and show Chris how to care for my still very open stomach incision and me to care for the ileostomy. I was so very weak and tired - it took many weeks before I could even be up for longer than an hour or so.

Slowly, however, I did recover. My stomach wound healed completely after many weeks. I still, and will always, have a terrible scar about 5 inches long, and no belly button. I was able to return to work in January, and have the ileostomy reversed that April. It was a long 6 months with the ileostomy, and I truly admire those who have one to live with forever. I know they are used to it and know no different, but I am thankful that wasn't added to my life forever. I had some psychological counseling to learn to deal with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress over medical procedures and fear that every single thing I felt wrong with me would not turn into a 4 week hospital stay.

We sought legal counsel regarding the radiology tech who gave me the enema that ultimately caused all the damage. When I came out of the second surgery where all of the infection was found, my parents asked the doctor if it could have anything to do with the enema I was given earlier that week. He turned white as a sheet and wanted to know what they were talking about, nothing like that should have ever happened.
When he was deposed a year later by my lawyer, he would in no way confirm that reaction or that anything was done wrong. The radiologist and the techs were also deposed...their records showed I was given a type enema that goes in due to gravity, not that one was pushed in. Their records also showed the tech who treated me was an African-American woman who had just come on duty, but it was a man with long hair pulled back in a pony tail. Their records showed he was already off when the procedure occurred. I know who treated me, and my parents know who treated me, but you can't prove liars wrong sometimes.

I never thought I would be on the other side of that terrible time, much less healed from it. The fact that it has been 10 years is totally amazing. It took me a long time to understand why God allowed this to happen to me. I won't ever fully understand, but I did come to a few conclusions: First, we live in a sinful world where terrible things happen because we choose ourselves over God every day. He allows us to make our own choices, which sometime only affect us, but other times unfortunately affect others. Second is what He DIDN'T allow to happen, which could have been death.

I wrote this blog more for myself than anyone else. I have been telling myself for 10 years to sit down and write out the events of those four weeks before I forget anymore than I already have. If you are a family member or friend who knew me during this time, feel free to add to or correct my memory. I want it to be as accurate as possible.

If you read this far, you are truly a friend, and I hope you know me a little better for it. I love you :)

1 comment:

  1. Wow Erin, I had no idea that you had to go through all of that. I am so thankful for what God has done for you and for the 2 little lives that He gave you. You are a miracle and have such a bigger heart because of this. God Bless.