WARNING: This post is not for the squeamish.
So I was moonlighting as a wedding bartender during a lull in the action when a wave of nausea hit me. I knew what was coming next: that curiously tingly feeling in the jaws, and the race was on to find the bathroom in time. I got there (barely) and did my business, emptying my recently eaten chicken and not much else. It couldn’t have been the chicken: It hadn’t been in there long enough, and nobody else showed any ill effects. Food poisoning usually takes a bit loner to take hold. Anyway, I composed myself and got back to the bar (I was solo, so going home was not a good option at that time).
Got through most of the shift, but as the last of the crowd was started to file out, another wave hit. How could there be anything left, I wondered as I raced to the bathroom again. Full heave again. This time it came out in an alarming purplish hue. Which looked suspiciously like coagulated, dried blood. Well, this can’t be good, I thought. Where did it all come from? Shaken, I again tried to collect myself and try to finish cleaning up shop to return to the caterer. (Again, I have to emphasize that the food was not the problem — I wasn’t feeling terribly well to begin with but thought I could gut it out. Pardon the pun.) I contemplated telling the crew leader I didn’t feel well but decided not to.
I managed to get home, and my stomach again started to feel oddly full despite it having been fully emptied. I’d taken a few sips of water to wash out the putridity but nothing more. After sitting at home for an hour or so, fretting about this disturbing experience and feeling queazy again, that disgusting wave of nausea struck again and I raced to my basement bathroom but didn’t quite make it. Ugh. Reddish brown gunk all over the bathroom. As if I weren’t sick enough already! I hurriedly wiped up what mess I could manage as visions of massive hemorrhages and gaping ulcers danced in my head. I don’t know why I hesitated at all, but I mulled it over for about an hour before deciding I couldn’t wait for another puke attack to get help. Mrs. AkronDave had just settled into bed when I told her needed to go to the hospital. Are you sure? Yup, I said. You gotta understand, when a guy says he needs to see a doctor, he REALLY needs to see a doctor. I could have a foot turning purple and I’d say it’s fine.
We debated whether to call 911, which would have noisy and I didn’t especially want all the attention. Then we debated which hospital to go to, and we are blessed with several excellent choices in the Akron area. We (I) decided to stay close t o home at the Summa Western Reserve Hospital. I think it was the right choice. Smaller hospital than the others, but with access to the same excellent care.
We arrive d to a nearly deserted emergency room. Imagine that! At 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday night!
I was in a bed within a half-hour, getting the requisite inquisition and IV needle stick. The entire staff, from admission to discharge, was attentive and professional.
Here comes the fun part (Again, not for the squeamish)
After I described the events leading up to that evening’s Puke-athon, the attending nurse and tech told me, Good news! We’re gonna run a tube through your nose and down your esophagus into your stomach to pump out the rest of that stuff! Guaranteed one of the most unpleasant experiences ever! And they lived up to their word — it’s right up there with falling out of a tall tree and eating each branch on the way down, only more drawn out. But they praised me for getting through it like a champ.
Want to know the particulars in case someone ever wants to pump your stomach? OK, here goes.
First, you may or may not get a numbing spray in your nostrils and the back of the throat. Then a lubricated catheter-like tube is shoved into a nostril (pick one, any one!), then threaded down your throat as you’re instructed to repeatedly such and swallow from a straw in a glass of water to aid the tube’s path. And yes, now that I see it in type, that sounds vaguely obscene. It was my first time.
Oh, did I mention the puke that came up as the tube went down? Yes, two-way traffic in my esophagus. The evidence allowed the medical professionals to confirm that, indeed, it was blood. The good news is that the amount was considerable less than the previous two deposits.
They praised me for doing so well and for not crying like a baby, which would have been impossible because there was a tube jammed in my throat. Surprisingly, you can still talk, although it’s uncomfortable.
After a relatively short wait (this is a hospital ER, after all), I was wheeled off to my room upstairs. I spent the next 60 hours tethered to an IV line and its attending pole, which I came to call the Old Ball and Chain.
Another group of nurses and techs came along, asking a similar battery of questions: medical history, when did this all begin, are you in pain, etc. I wasn’t so much in pain as I felt like crap. Aside from a few cramps there wasn’t a great deal of pain. Another good sign. Acute abdominal pain would have been a tad more ominous: Pancreas, spleen, appendix, liver, all that good stuff.
The details get a little fuzzy from this point (lucky you!) because of the drugs and my exhaustion. A various team of doctors, nurses and techs stopped by to gather vitals, take blood samples (Oh, boy! More needles!), and more general poking and prodding. Once the patient (that’s me) was stabilized, they could take a closer look at what was going on down there. This meant, of course, running a scope down my throat (this time under anesthesia, thankfully) to see what’s going on.
Two things they found: a hiatal hernia, which is a bulge in the stomach near the esophagus, which apparently may or may not be serious. The other is a mallory weiss tear, which again may or may not be serious. I don’t know who this Mallory Weiss is, but she’s a bitch! The tear was the most likely source of the bleeding, which if my fuzzy memory recalls correctly, is exacerbated by violent vomiting. This could explain the bloodless first hurl and the subsequent bloody mess.
The next 24 hours consisted of pills, pokes, probes, a little more puking and general in-and-out drowsiness.
My biggest complaint about the hospital stay itself is you rarely get a chance to sleep more than an hour at a time — it’s kind of hospital policy, because especially with patients in serious trouble they really need to be watched closely. They told me early in the admission process if certain conditions hadn’t been met, I’d be in the ICU (intensive care). Which is never good.
So between the intermittent rest-and-probe cycle and the drugs, I was groggy much of the time. I think this might be by design. Makes stay go quicker. Evenso, it was one the longer 60 hours of my life. I didn’t eat or drink anything for the first 20 hours or so, which wouldn’t have stayed down anyway, then a liquid diet (broth, juice, jello, ice cream and the like) for the remainder except for Tuesday’s lunch, which allowed solid foods.
And in all fairness, the food was pretty decent.
I was discharged with a drug prescription to help keep my gut calm, and instructions to continue with a solid food diet but don’t go crazy with it. And, of course, follow-ups with various doctors to see what else, if anything needs to be done.
I’ve been to the ER several times as the attending parent or spouse or son, but this was my first first-person experience. I hope it’s my last. Those who have spent a considerable amount of time in emergency care know that even with the best of care, it’s no day at the beach. I can confirm this.