The Illusion of Control

Reading Time: 7 minutes, 30 seconds

OK, this post is gonna have a lot of typos, because I’m writing it from a hospital bed at 02:00 hours, at the start of my fifth full day in the hospital. So deal with it. I'll clean it up later.

Life would be so much easier, if only there seemed to be any sort of sense or rhyme to it. Just when you think you have it all figured out, life blindsides you with a kind of callous brutality that makes it seem almost like a directed attack. Of course it isn’t a directed attack at all. Life is not a being. It has no moral agency. It’s just a collection of events that happen. You can certainly argue that life is, therefore, in many ways pointless, and inculcate a sort of casual nihilism into your attitude, play a lot of songs by Kansas and The Cure, and similar sorts of things. Or you can argue that there are lessons to be learned, and try to figure out ways to hande the next crisis better. Frankly, though, in the face of what life throws at you, each response seems equally effective. Or pointless.

On Saturday, 4 May, I felt a little funny in my tummy. By the next day, I knew I had what were the initial, non-life-threatening signs of appendicitis. Since I really didn’t want to feel the symptoms of advanced appendicitis, I went to Urgent Care on Sunday evening about 6PM, and found myself in surgery for an emergency appendectomy at 5AM on Monday morning. The surgery went brilliantly, and they discharged me from the hospital at 5PM Monday afternoon. There followed 4 days of bed rest, then another week of light activity, and then, I was back in the saddle, riding my motorcycle to work, getting readyh to start a new term teaching, setting up customer calls at my real know, everything back to normal.

This wouldn’t be much of a story, if this was all there was to to it though, right?

You see, I’ve had a tiny umbilical hernia for the last year or so. Never caused any trouble. My doctor looked at it, and said, “we don’t even do anything about these unless they are causing pain”. And it never did.

Until the evening of Tuesday, 11 June.

I had to take my wife to a medical appointment on 11 June. Now, I’m not gonna tell you a anything about her medical issues, but suffice it to say that, after bouncing back from my surgery, my primary goal was to concentrate on her medical issues, because she needs a lot of support. So I worked from home, handled some tech support tickets, did a webinar for our customers, and took Chris to her 11:30 appointment. After that I worked from home until later in the afternoon, then I jumped on my motorcycle to ride from my home in Escondido to Edson Range on Camp Pendleton where I am teaching MG495 this term.

At about 19:30, I suddenly felt extremely nauseous. So, much so, that I had to briefly excuse myself from the class where I was lecturing. I was able to to finish the class, but felt progressively worse pain in my belly button for each minute that passed. Once I had dismissed the class, I felt my belly button. There was a round, rock-hard mass about the size of a golf ball poking out of my belly button. It was extremely painful to touch. To simply touch. What was happening was that a portion of my intestines were poking through my hernia hole. And someone would need to push them back in. And if it hurt just to lightly touch them, then pushing them back in—if possible—would be almost unbearable.

I the classroom we were using, all I could do was lay on the floor and try to push the intestines back into the hole. All I accomplished was to make the pain worse. There was nothing to do but put on my motorcycle gear, and attempt the 40-minute ride back to my house. I left at about 20:30. Riding, bent over my BMW motorcycle, was excrucuating. I had to stop once, and get off the bike for a few minutes to recover. I made it home at about 21:20. As soon as I got home, I went to my bedroom, lay flat on my back, and tried to push the intestines back in. No joy.

At that point, I had to walk into the living room, and say to Chris, “You have to take me to urgent care again. I think I have a strangulated hernia, and may need surgery.” Keep in mind, this is at a time when she needs my full support for her medical issues. I’ve essentially told her that I have to check out of the whole “taking care of her” part of our relationship.

We hit the door to urgent care at about 22:00. A very nice doctor tortured me multiple times trying to push the hernia back in. It was all to no avail, and at 04:00 on 12 May, there I was, telling the surgical team who I was, and why they were cutting into me for the second time in a month. As the general anesthesia hit, I remember thinking, they’ll probably release me from the hospital tonight.

They didn’t. You see, what had happened was that my intestines had got trapped outside that tiny, little, stragling hole, and the blood supply got cut off. So, not only did they have to repair the hernia hole, they had to do a bowel resection to cut out about 5cm of small intestine that had died. When you do this to the bowels, they kind of shut down. When they shut down, they don’t pass any food or water. It just collects inside. If the pressure builds up too much, the stitches where they did the bowel resection could burst, then you’d be in a world of hurt. So, the trick is to get you moving around, and trying to get the bowels to restart themselves. You don’t get to go home until that happens.

I was in good spirits wednesday and Thursday, but Thursday night, It became obvious that my bowels were still asleep, and that my abdomen was getting distended by fluid buildup. Essentially, the surgery to fix my life-threatening problem was now causing a life-threatening complication.

The doctor orders that I be given an NG tube to drain my bowels. The NG tube is a rubber hose that pushed in through your nose, down your throat, and into your bowels. I can’t even begin to describe how awful it is to have the tube inserted, much less have it lodged in the back of your throat, randomly kicking off your gag reflex.

By the way, you know what else puts your bowels to sleep? Pain meds. So on Thursday, 13 Jun, I started refusing all pain meds.

It was at this point that Chris sent me a video from home after visiting me that day, showing one of our dogs with some sort of injury that was preventing it from walking on one of it’s back legs. So, let’s keep track with how how life is screwing with us. Both Chris and I have medical issues that we can’t help each other with, and now one of our innocent little dogs has a health issue that neither of us can immediately address.

Happily, because Apollo is an older dog, he has some chronic pain issues that flare up on a temporary basis, meaning that this is not an entirely new situation. We had a good supply of carbuprophen and tramadol, so I told Chris to administer those as directed.

My Care Board

It is now 02:00 on Sunday, 16 June. I have had the NG tube in for two full days. I am still in the hospital. But there have been some improvements. Chris tells me that Apollo seems to be doing a bit better, so the medication seems to have worked. We can at least keep him pain-free until we can get him to a vet. In the past 24 hours, the nurses say my bowel sounds are stronger. I have been passing gas. And, in the last 12 hours, I have had four tiny bowel movements, the first I have had since Tuesday. It now seems possible, if not likely, that my bowels are awakening, meaning that the NG tube can be removed later today, and after that I can eat the first food I’ve had since Tuesday. (I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I haven’t eaten in 5 days.) If so, I might be released from the hospital some time on Monday.

This has been a lot for me to go through. At times I have been amused, terrified, frustrated, angry, and depressed. The big question in my mind, is why life is throwing this at me right now, precisely at the time when others need me to support them? It just seems like a cruel joke to hit me with this when others need my support for similar issues. It’s like others are being punished for depending on me.

Like I said, there’s no sense of rhyme or reason to life. Life just happens to us. We have this illusion of control that we are masters of our own fate, until life throws a heart attack or a hernia for cripe’s sake, and sneers, “Master this.”

The view from my hospital room


09:10, 16 June: The NG tube isn't coming out today. They are going to disconnect suction, let me have some simple fluids, and see what happens. If I start to bloat, I'll have to go back on suction. And we try this all over again later. At this rate, my projected release date is tomorrow evening at the earliest.

18:00, 16 June: I didn’t sleep at all last night, so after taking walk number four at 10:00, I laid down for a nap. My "nap" was ended fifteen minutes ago by the arrival of dinner. I am passing gas, ravenously hungry, and my blood sugar is at 103. I have to pee, but I am eating first...

19:08, 16 June: I ate dinner, then took a walk. So far, everything seems to be fine. I may actually get this hateful NG tube removed tomorrow. Maybe. I've had such a run of setbacks in trying to get my bowels restarted, it's difficult to be optimistic that it might actually be happening this time.

00:23, 17 June: Despite sleeping from 10:00 to 18:00 earlier—yesterday, actually—I fell asleep while listening to a podcast on YouTube. Subsequently, I woke myself up from a rather violent passing of gas. When you wake yourself up by farting, you've got some pretty strong farts. When you haven't farted for a week because your bowels were paralyzed, and you're beginning to wonder if you'll ever recover normally, waking yourself up with farts is glorious. Since I was also hungry, I decided to celebrate with some delicious chicken broth and Maxweill House instant coffee. I guess I'm living my best life, now.

0803, 17 June: The NG tube is coming out. I’m being discharged today.

I’m going home.

Blog Comments powered by Disqus.