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  • Deah, Indie Author

The End Creeps Closer

Part One: The Medical

 

The pain was intense. Fifteen on a scale of ten, at minimum. I had passively fought it for more than a year. Being an intermittent occurrence that I hadn’t been able to associate with any specific food, I was eating less and less every day, hoping to give my gut time to heal on its own. My symptoms fit the list of issues that define both diverticulitis and IBS so I sought out natural supplements for treating those.

 

One protocol using turmeric, ashwagandha, wormwood, and probiotics combined with really bland foods sounded promising. And that helped for a while, as long as I ate almost nothing. But ultimately that strategy didn’t work. The pain just became more frequent, lasting all day more days than not.

 

By Thanksgiving 2023 I was spending hours and hours in bed trying to sleep my way through it in between taking as much or more over-the-counter pain killers than the labels said were the limit. I didn’t know why I was occasionally vomiting, too.

 

My primary care doc urged me to go to the ER. I was stubborn. It wasn’t in my character to rush to emergency help for merely having an upset stomach once or twice a day, a couple times a week. My son, a former wilderness EMT, encouraged me to go the hospital or at least call the 24/7 crisis line. The nurse there repeated what my doc and son had already told me.

 

It finally got through my pig-headedness that maybe I needed to call for an ambulance. There was no way I was in any shape to even walk out to my condo’s parking lot, let alone drive myself the 1.8 miles to the nearest hospital.

 

Just like the delivery service drivers who consistently failed to find my door – hidden from sight as it is from that parking lot and on the opposite side of the building from the street – the EMTs responding to my 911 call had trouble figuring out where I was. I regretted not insisting on giving specific directions to the dispatcher.

 

Before I called 911, I had enough clarity of mind to anticipate being admitted as an inpatient. While I heard the siren coming down the street, I packed a bag with clothes, toiletries and electronics, then sat on a bench near the front door. As if testing me, the pain was almost gone before the EMT rang the bell and announced himself. I apologized to him for feeling better by that time. In that moment I felt like I had called for help under false pretenses.

 

That feeling continued through the hours, and multiple recountings of the history of this pain, the CT scan, and the floor nurse when a room finally became available. There was increasing concern from various people that the scan showed an abscess on an ovary, an  intestinal mass, and several as yet undefined “spots”. They were most concerned about the abscess, so the next day they inserted a drain. That device remained in my abdomen for the week I was in hospital on IV antibiotics and opioids, and two more weeks after I got out.   

 

My daughter travelled across the state when I was discharged to help me clean out the drain every day and make sure I ate. Then my son came out from the Midwest to give her a break. I still was barely eating, but the pain was decreasing with the aid of the drugs.

 

Around the end of December the pain was increasing again. Worse, I was quite dizzy and very wobbly on my feet, in part due to the oxycodone I was still taking. To save my kids from making another trip back to me, I took a Lyft to the ER. If I had known the holidays were such popular times for people going to the ER I probably would have tried to wait a week or so. But it was good that I didn’t delay because my blood pressure and potassium were extremely low, which can create cardiac problems. So I was admitted again almost immediately.

 

It was two nights in an overflow room with no private bathroom before a regular room was available for me. For a full month I had more IV antibiotics, and twice daily infusions of liquid potassium, which eventually wore out the veins they were using. The opioids and anti-nausea meds continued. By the end of the month I began refusing the potassium and antibiotics that seemed to have reached their limit of helpfulness.

 

At some point during the month I got a visit from an oncology physician. He spoke in generic terms about two kinds of chemotherapy, and gave out a lot of abstract statistical information that didn’t make much sense to me.

 

A second cancer doc came by on the weekend who put things in more personal terms. Despite my blood work for cancer markers had been in the normal / don’t worry range, the intestinal mass was highly suspicious for cancer, she made plain, and it had spread to my liver. This was already a stage four condition.

 

Without chemo, you may have six months, she said. With chemo, most people had about two years when this situation is discovered so late in the process. She recommended that chemo start soon. Or, I could go on hospice which meant I would get no curative treatment, only comfort care.

 

Okay, I thought. Well, I had never wanted to live into my 80s and I was already 74. The notion of having a relatively predictable end of life seemed reasonable. Although friends and family members along with my primary care doc all told me that they wanted for me whatever I wanted, I felt an obligation to do chemo and see what difference that might make. It seemed logical to try chemo and see how bad it would be before deciding it destroyed more quality of life than it saved.

 

Chemo infusions happened every other week times four. I spent three hours in a chair, getting the toxic chemicals. Five if I was dehydrated or had low potassium again and needed additional saline or potassium. Then an additional amount of chemo came home with me in a portable drip that was removed 48 hours later. After that I got a week off before doing it all again.

 

The side effects significantly reduced my quality of life. I was constantly nauseous, weak, fatigued, cognitively out of it, and cold sensitive. Pulling anything out of the freezer required wearing gloves so my fingers didn’t feel like they were burning. Drinking cold water put that burning sensation in my throat and for a few seconds I felt like I was going into anaphylactic shock.  

 

With the chemo I had no more pain in my gut, and was told I could eat anything I wanted, but nothing tasted good. Everything had a metallic flavor. I was losing a lot of weight. Clothes that had been tight were now two or three sizes too big.

 

An introvert anyway, being around people all the time usually sucked my energy dry. The parade of clinic visits, home health RN / OT / PT appointments, family visits, and calls or text messages from friends while ultimately good for me, left me with very little stamina. When not engaged with other humans, I slept my way through the Spring. I didn’t feel depressed, just exhausted.

 

Finally in late May I was done with chemo. Another CT scan showed the tumor had reduced about 30%. It was a workable size now that surgery could take it out. But surgery could not deal with the metastases to the liver. Surgery gave me a third hospital stay in six months but successfully removed what was left of the tumor.

 

Again I got another set of home health professionals to work with. We set a goal of not just recovering from the surgery, but also of improving my endurance and stability, and gaining the ability to get myself up off the floor if I have fallen. Home health came to a sudden disappointing end when in casual conversation I mentioned that I had felt very weak and wobbly the last time I’d gone to the grocery store. Being able to drive myself classified me as no longer homebound, making me ineligible for further assistance.

 

Once more I had to decide whether to put myself through more chemo or go on hospice. Meanwhile, the oncologist I had learned to trust retired. As of this writing, I await a consult with her replacement.

 

Next in this tale of The End Creeps Closer comes part two: The Mental / Emotional.  Target time frame for publication is mid to late August 2024.   

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