December 26, 2010

A slow motion kind of Christmas

The week before Christmas was building up to a feverish pitch. Orders were piled up, guests were coming into town, shopping was still to be done, organization was afoot in the house... In other words, a typical holiday season.

The weekend before was spent in a nonstop frenzy of making everything ready for the festivities. The pace slowed down a bit after our guests arrived Sunday night. Plans were laid for holiday meals featuring all of the classic dishes one would expect. Personally, I was looking forward to Tuesday's fare of a slow baked ham...

I finished a couple of orders during the day and did research on a third that was to be started that evening after the meal. I was feeling pretty done in and decided to take a nap before dinner. When I woke up I laid in bed pondering the night's hectic schedule when I noticed that I wasn't feeling too well.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with gallstones. Eating right and using medication at the appropriate moments were the courses I chose to engage this satanic violation to my person. Well, you can guess how that's been going, every few weeks I would end up eating something I knew I shouldn't have touched. Then I would have a night of pacing, taking medicine, and waiting for the pain to stop. If the moon was in the correct phase and all was right with the world, the pain would end and I would drop off to sleep somewhere in the wee hours of the morning. Usually though, I carried around a couple of trash bags waiting for what the doctor labeled "extreme nausea" to take hold. Then I would suffer through being sick twice an hour around the clock until I felt as if I would pass out. That's the scenario I was pondering while laying in bed Tuesday evening. I knew the gallbladder was starting to whisper to me....

I could hear everyone in the front room milling about as dinner was prepared. I decided to take the "I shall overcome" approach and ignore the slight pain in my side. Several people came and went through the course of the night, and I took it easy on the ham. I had a few pieces of normal sized portions, with no sides. When everyone had left I began to notice the slight itchy pain being tossed about by the gallbladder was growing in scope and determination. I knew it was going to be one of those sleepless nights. It had been a long while since one, so I was determined to make do. The schedule was too full to be interrupted by any sickness of several days. I grabbed the trash bags and the medicine and began my vigil.

The problem with this episode was a simple one... It would not stop hurting.

There is normally a space of a few minutes when I could get in a bit of rest between episodes of being sick, but not this time. I hate taking any sort of medication and had three doses of anti nausea concoction left. The normal medicine I keep on hand usually works, but that trial had long since come and gone and it was time to break out the big guns... The first dose was taken and I waited patiently for the thirty minute window of relief... I was met, instead, with a need for more garbage bags.

Several hours and the two remaining doses of medicine later, I was no better.

When the sun began to rise I decided that I was going to have to contact the doctor for a stronger chemical mixture to combat this. Then I almost passed out. Muscle cramps and dry heaves do not mix well. I could not breathe. A call was placed to 911 for an ambulance, but I recovered in time to stop it and be taken by car to the hospital. I had made up my mind.

The main reason I fought removal of the gallbladder over the past few years was fear. Plain and simple fear. I've been to the ER with carving cuts requiring stitches, burns, herniated discs, deeply embedded fish hooks, broken fingers, and even a gunshot... But to voluntarily surrender yourself to a group of people, knowing that you would be knocked out and have a part of you cut away? Something about that went against my basic premise of self preservation. In other words, it scared the shit out of me.

The doctor came around and gave me drugs for the pain and nausea, then left me there for several long hours. He came back, sat by my bed, looked me directly in the eyes and told me he had been talking to the specialist I had seen about my gallbladder. He asked me if I wanted it out because that would be the only thing to stop the pain once and for all. Immediately every horror movie scene with surgeons in it flashed before me and I asked, "Can I wait until after Christmas?" Knowing full well that I would run out of there and hide as I usually do. He told me that the specialist could be there in a bit and I would be up and about for Christmas with no pain, other than soreness.

So in a fit of common sense I lowered my head and said, "ok..."

What followed was every nightmare I had ever had coming true. Being naked while wearing a small dress in a room full of masked people, being unconscious while having people with implements of destruction doing things to me, facing death while wearing tight socks, an overnight stay in a hospital, a five a.m. sponge bath from Helga the invincible, and useless waiting... It all happened.

As I lay in the bed about 4:30 the next morning watching Mclintock on hospital television, I realized that I had been right all along. Tubes and wires ran out of me, machines beeped and pinged around me, and people kept coming in to measure how much urine output I had. But I wasn't nauseous... Every place on my person was sore and hurting except for my gallbladder, which was then being chopped up and examined in a government basement somewhere. The doctor showed up sometime after lunch and told me I did fine, handing me a jar of rocks...

"I kept these for you because they ranged in the ninety five percentile in size, some of the largest I've ever removed... How could you take it?"

I then shared with him the one true thing about the entire episode that bothered me... That something so invasive could have happened to me and I would have no memory of it at all... That is still weighing heavily on me. I don't like hospitals, that was my first ever overnight stay, I have little to no concern when people tell me I'm a wuss because it's nothing compared to childbirth...

A review of my medical history shows that I have had these things for years, god only knows how long. I was told some twenty odd years ago that my gallbladder was infected, but once I was given medicine and promised to return in two weeks to have it checked out I ran and went into hiding. Yes.. I wish I had done this years ago, but I was afraid.

So I suffered this Christmas. I have to walk slowly, I am too afraid to really eat anything (I did manage twelve baby lima beans and about half an ounce of lean meat for Christmas dinner) that plus a can of chicken and rice soup is all I've had this week.. I don't count the ham I had Tuesday since it didn't last long. I've lost about twenty four pounds since the twentieth of this month, so I'm using that to play off of and keep the trend going.... Yeah right... I've heard all of the horror stories about post gallbladder surgery diets.. And I'm not amused...

I didn't get to finish my orders for gifts people were counting on, I feel horrible about that. I've been sleeping in a chair, I didn't get to finish my shopping, and the stress level has been pretty high, owing to the devils tap dance on my midsection...

But a strange thing has occurred. Common sense took hold shortly after the operation and epiphanies flew about me like gnats. Perhaps all the times I've been sick over the last twenty years were due to this thing... How much quality time has been stolen from me by my own fear? I was at the stage where lots of my favorite foods were verboten to me, even cinnamon... I resigned myself to a life without cinnamon?

I began to think about my wife and children. When I started adding up the times I couldn't go with them to some sort of outing due to sickness I became ashamed, completely appalled would be more accurate. I've robbed them of time with me because I was too afraid to get something like this taken care of. That, in itself, is a bitter pill to swallow... To be more accurate it was my weakness that held me at bay, not my fear. Had I looked at the KFC in the box and thought, "No... thou shalt die if thy consume that grease..." I would have been there more often... But I would do it anyway. Weakness of will coupled with fear. For that, I do apologize to them.

The Holiday is now over, I sit here with a very rare snowfall blanketing the ground in Georgia, an actual white Christmas. My father waited his entire life for one of these and never got to see it, yet here I sit in the dark witnessing what he desired. I looked out of the door this evening as the kids played video games behind me, watching the slow descent of huge snowflakes through the silent black limbs of the trees around me. I felt as if my father had brought this snowfall as a closure to the life of useless fear I have lived. The peace of this place, the rest and comfort they have allowed me over the past few days, and the love they have shown me in my ignorance have brought me to this key board. I only hope that I now can measure up to what they truly deserve.