Heard this Kendrick Lamar track when my health went whack,
Had to rush me to the hospital, shit had hit the fan,
The longest day of my life, here comes another long one,
Got the transfusion done, the comeback had begun.
28 July 2018
“Your blood test results show that you are severely anaemic.”
I nearly dropped the phone in shock when Dr. G uttered those words on the other end of the line. I wasn’t just anaemic – no – I was severely anaemic. It was very difficult to accept but I guess it explained the near-blackouts, lethargy and swollen feet. After quickly pulling myself together I cleared my throat and put on my bravest voice.
“Ok,” I choked out, “so what do I need to do next?”
“I want you to quickly come to my office and we will have a brief discussion about your results and where to go from here,” she replied, “please take your time, do not rush.”
Well geez, Doc, my entire being may as well be a crumpled heap on the floor. You better believe that I was going to take my time!
“Yep, ok,” I said, “we’ll be there shortly.”
“Alright. See you soon.”
Conversation over. Man, did I mess up real bad or what!?
My father can always be found in the backyard every Saturday morning tending to the various flowers, fruits and vegetables that he had cultivated over the past two years. It was his means of escape from the daily grind and sometimes he would spend half the day in that backyard, having completely neglected the time. He had a tendency to go all-in whenever he picked up a new hobby and my mother wondered about him sometimes but at least this particular hobby got his body moving and allowed him to breathe in some fresh air. I approached him as he was watering the lemon tree and told him the bad news.
“Dr. G called,” I murmured rather glumly, “she wants to see us.”
“She said that my blood test results were concerning.”
My father wiped some sweat from his brow. “Ok,” he said, “go tell your mother.”
Not bothering to water the rest of his plants my father quickly removed his gardening gloves and boots before going inside the house to get dressed.
Meanwhile, my mother was in the kitchen washing dishes. She stared out of the window as she washed, probably making a mental list of what needed to be done throughout the day. Oh boy, little did she know that her plans were about to be scrapped.
“Mom,” I oozed, “Dr. G called.”
No need to ask why. She understood immediately.
“We have to go see her now?”
“Yeah, as soon as possible.”
“Ok, let’s go.”
The remaining unwashed dishes could wait. We all quickly got dressed, packed some food and drinks for the road and drove off to see Dr. G.
As my parents and I sat in the medical center’s waiting room I quietly reflected on the past few weeks. That moment of victory in June turned out to be a false dawn and the civil war between me and my body gradually escalated to one-sided levels, forcing yours truly to summon his inner General Robert E. Lee and finally surrender.
Dr. G eventually called us into her office and immediately got down to business. My results indicated that my white blood cell count had decreased since June but even more worrisome were my haemoglobin levels. For men, the average range was about 130 – 180 g/L. Back in June, during my initial blood test, I measured at a still-healthy 147g/L.
“Your blood test results on Thursday came in at 69g/L,” stated Dr. G, “that is extremely low.”
Holy shit, I dropped 72g/L in two months!?
Meanwhile, both of my parents’ respective jaws practically hit the floor. I don’t think either of them blinked for the next three minutes.
“If you hadn’t taken action when you did you could have passed out at anytime, anywhere,” Dr. G continued, “in fact, do you feel faint now?”
I shook my head forcefully. “No way,” I responded defiantly, “not even close.”
My parents were understandably worried. “So what do we do now, Doctor?” my mother asked.
A melancholy expression formed on Dr. G’s face. “He needs to be taken to hospital for a blood transfusion,” she said, “his blood count is too low.”
Talk about being kicked while I was down. “Fucking hell!” I hissed silently to myself.
She then turned back towards me. “Have you booked your session with Dr. B?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m due to see him next week.”
She then picked up her phone. “I’ll give him a call just to make sure he is aware of your appointment.”
As Dr. G carried on a conversation over the phone with Dr. B, the gastroenterologist whom we will meet in a future blog, I looked towards my parents and shrugged my shoulders.
“I guess we’ll be going to hospital, then?”
They both nodded and I countered their forlorn faces with a smirk and shook my head, my ever-growing rage firing up within my weakened body.
I can’t believe this shit!
You know, throughout my entire adult life I tried to live a lifestyle conducive to never having to check into a hospital as a patient, or at the very least delaying it until the sands of time had finally caught up to me. And now here I was, brought to my knees in my physical prime by an unknown health condition that I DID NOT FUCKING ASK FOR!!!! I am serious, Dear Reader, I was as mad as a motherfucker in addition to feeling nervous about what lay ahead of me.
Meanwhile, Dr. G was informing Dr. B of his upcoming patient, who was scheduled to go to hospital for a blood transfusion within the next half hour or so and could potentially be afflicted by ulcerative colitis. She also jokingly apologized to him for interrupting his weekend and throughout their conversation I could faintly hear the sounds of children laughing on the other end of the line. She hung up the phone after briefing him and resumed our conversation.
“So you’re booked to see him next Wednesday?” she asked.
Dr. G then printed out my blood test results and also gave me some additional paperwork to take with me to the hospital.
“You need to report to the emergency unit and book yourself in,” she said, “if it all goes well you might be able to go home tonight.”
Translation: “Expect to go home tomorrow afternoon at the earliest if you are lucky.”
Dr. G continued. “They are going to want to know how you got to this point so you will be asked questions regarding your symptoms. Please be honest, don’t downplay anything.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “I’ll tell them exactly how it is.”
I packed up the sheets that Dr. G printed for me and gave them to my parents. Shortly before we departed, Dr. G reiterated her suspicion that it might be ulcerative colitis. I still held out hope that she was wrong but given what I had been through over the past few weeks it was becoming a very real possibility.
My parents’ response to this little remark was telling. My mother, who had a co-worker whose daughter suffered from the same condition, told Dr. G that this co-worker would often tell her stories of her daughter’s treatment and maintenance so she more or less already knew what to expect. In stark contrast my father wasn’t having any of it. He is normally relaxed and relatively care-free but after hearing all of this he became uncharacteristically irate. He berated my mother and Dr. G for what he believed was an act of putting fear into me.
“Why would you even say that when there’s no diagnosis yet!?” he snapped, “it doesn’t relate to him so don’t talk about it!”
I shook my head while my mother and Dr. G looked at him, speechless and bemused. After a brief silence, my mother apologised to Dr. G on his behalf, explaining that he hadn’t fully wrapped his head around the situation and was just voicing out his frustration. Dr. G, a veteran doctor who had probably been an unwilling recipient to far worse reactions and tantrums, completely understood and order was quickly restored.
“Go straight to the hospital,” said Dr. G, “get your transfusion done and then go see Dr. B. And then once you’ve done the colonoscopy come back and see me.”
And with that, Dr. G wished us all the best before we drove off to the hospital. I ate a quick lunch during the drive, a meat pie and an apple. Not exactly spectacular but at least I wouldn’t be going in with an empty stomach. Thank goodness my mother had the foresight to pack some food before we rushed out of the house.
The hospital was about fifteen to twenty minutes away from Dr. G’s clinic. At the time of my admittance it was undergoing some construction but was still accessible and rather easy to navigate and parking wasn’t an issue, save for perhaps the frustration of trying to find a decent spot during peak times. Much to our chagrin, we quickly learned that looking for parking space in a hospital during mid-day on a weekend was a fool’s errand. The entire suburb might as well have parked their cars there and so my mother and I got out of the car while my father drove around to score a vacant spot or perhaps find one on a street not too far away.
I was rather nervous as I entered the front doors despite the warm air-conditioned air inside providing relief from the relative chill of the outdoors. For a man who has had an almost lifelong phobia of visiting the doctor this was some next level shit. Plus I had no idea when my next meal would come and when I would be able to go home.
This is gonna suck.
As per Dr. G’s instructions, my mother and I reported to the hospital’s emergency unit and as she took a seat among waiting patients I approached the ladies behind the reception. They gave me some paperwork to fill out and once I had taken my seat next to my mother I looked around at the others seated around me. Almost all of them wore that same gloomy, uncertain expression on their faces, signs of wounded warriors contemplating whatever procedure was coming their way and wondering how long it would take before life as they knew it would be restored – if at all. Some of them were probably waiting to undergo operations much more severe than mine – I was there just to get some blood pumped into me – so that kind of put things in perspective.
It could have been worse for you, Dude. Quit bitching and count your blessings.
But at the same time, a part of me did work up a slight envy for them, in the sense that they probably knew what their problems were. Me? It would be at least another week before I would undergo that dreaded colonoscopy. For now, I was simply treating one of the horrible symptoms from that unknown beast wreaking havoc within my body.
I was called into a small room by one of the nurses after a short wait, just as my father had finally made his way into the waiting room to join my mother. She asked me questions about my current health before taking my blood pressure. Thankfully, I was still within the healthy range for that one.
Not long after that, the real fun began.
I had just rejoined my parents in the waiting room when I was summoned by another nurse to follow them into another waiting room deeper within the clinic. It was a relatively open space, well-lit with light-aqua walls and blue recliner chairs. In other words, it was designed to provide a calming environment for patients that were recovering from minor procedures awaiting the next step. People came and went by the minute but little did I know that I would be spending the rest of the damn day here.
My parents decided to take turns keeping me company from this point on in order to ward off fatigue and also to avoid accumulating a massive parking debt. My father volunteered to go first and so Mom went home while the two of us sat down and relaxed. Those seats were reasonably comfortable, but not after long periods of time.
There were already three other people seated around me when I arrived, an African man playing with his phone that didn’t look all that ill but hey, who was I to judge? There was also an older gentleman with an IV drip attached to his arm accompanied by his wife and children and an elderly man, probably in his 80s or 90s, whose increasingly limited mobility belied his still rather feisty personality.
After a short period of sitting around nervously twiddling my thumbs a relatively young doctor called me for a brief interview. He was in his mid to late thirties, somewhat thickly-built, had short, dark hair and wore glasses. He certainly looked the part, I’ll give him that.
I followed him into a small room and he asked me the usual questions about my symptoms. At this point I had already formulated a scripted response to doctors’ questions, so once again I rattled off the bloody stools, the waves, the recent bout of the flu, the swollen feet and all that jazz. I also let him know that I was scheduled for an appointment with the gastroenterologist the following Wednesday and would soon be undergoing a colonoscopy.
“I see,” the doctor responded after my little horror story, “in that case, I’ll quickly check your heartbeat and your pulse and then you can return to the waiting room.”
And so the doctor quickly monitored my heartbeat but before I returned to my seat he had a last-minute request up his sleeve – one that almost caused me to bolt out of his door faster than you can say Flash Gordon.
“Ok, sir,” he said, “because of the nature of your symptoms I’d like to check up there to make sure there is currently no bleeding. Please climb onto the bed”
You’ve gotta be kidding, right?
I reluctantly climbed onto a bed positioned near the door, pulled down my trousers and lay on my side, taking deep breaths to keep myself calm.
Calm down, Boy. You’ve been through this before, it aint nothing!
The doctor slipped on some rubber gloves and lubricated one of the index fingers.
“You might feel some discomfort. But it won’t be long.”
Yeah, yeah, I heard that fucking lie once before. Just get it over with.
And then boom! He went up and once again, I did my best not to shout out the stream of expletives that were swirling through my mind as he poked and prodded.
“Please stay relaxed, sir,” he said, trying to soothe me.
That pissed me off. Easy for him to say that when he’s not on the wrong end of this shit. I cursed at him in my mind.
Wanna trade places with me and see if YOU can relax? Fuck you!
I had nothing against this guy, he was a good man doing his job, but the thought of wanting to knock him out did cross my mind when he said those words. After a few agonising seconds he mercifully put an end to the torture and I was able to relax once again and pull my trousers back up.
“Ok, not much blood up there,” said the doctor with a smile, “good to know you’re not bleeding right now. You may now return to the waiting room.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
I slowly walked back to the waiting room where my father was waiting and slumped back down on the recliner chair.
“How did you go?” he asked.
“Good. He checked up there too, though.”
My father laughed. “Just think of it as another life experience,” he said.
I shook my head in disbelief. My father the optimist, ladies and gentlemen!
I then noticed that the African man seated next to me had gone and was replaced by a lady of Tongan descent awaiting minor surgery. The man with the IV drip was visibly growing impatient and at times would get up and move around until he was finally summoned by a doctor while the elderly man remained seated on his chair and began conversations with everyone around him, including with my father.
After a while, another nurse, a young male with dark hair and a beard, came to insert a catheter into a vein in my right arm that would later be used to pump one pint’s worth of blood into my system and he informed my father and I that the bag of blood was being transported from another hospital not too far away as we were speaking. He estimated that it would arrive within an hour and a half and that the transfusion would take about four hours for one pint.
Four hours for one damn pint!? Thank God it’s only a one and done!
About half an hour later, an Indian lady took a seat next to the Tongan lady and once she got comfortable, she took out a novel and began reading. Good on her for coming in prepared, I had no books, no music and playing with my phone became boring after a while. When I wasn’t making small talk with my father I sat on that chair and closed my eyes, feeling the rhythmic in and out breath from my diaphragm.
This hospital air is making me sick.
Yeah, even trying to achieve a decent level of zen was damn near impossible in this place! I was becoming impatient but I tried to keep it together. Not long afterwards, the male nurse with the beard returned with a piece of paper in hand.
“How are you feeling, mate?” he asked.
“All good. Like a million dollars,” I joked.
He gave me the piece of paper and gestured to a small room down a corridor beyond the waiting room.
“I want you to take this piece of paper to that room over there and we will get your chest X-Ray.”
I jumped to my feet and strutted over towards the direction he pointed to. I just felt relieved to have something to do, sitting around not doing anything stopped being fun a long time ago.
A lovely surprise was waiting for me as I returned from the chest X-Ray. One of the nurses had brought me a couple of sandwiches to eat and having not eaten anything since the meat pie and apple before mid-day I wolfed them down like a hungry lion on a gazelle, not that they were anything special to write home about taste-wise but man, it just felt good to eat again.
That moment of bliss was then shattered by the nurse.
“Mate,” he said regretfully, “sorry to say this but that will be your final meal for the day and we will be keeping you here overnight.”
You know those moments in a film or TV show where a character receives bad news and so the camera slowly zooms into his shocked facial expression as the background blurs and suspenseful music plays? Yeah, that could have easily applied to me at that moment.
We have to keep your bowels rather empty so as not to put too much pressure on them.
“The blood is on its way,” he added, “but after the transfusion is complete we will have to keep you in here for observation.”
Great. No more food for the rest of the day and I would be spending the night here. However, the nurse also had some good news.
“We will inform you once a bed is available so you won’t have to spend all night sitting on that chair,” he said, “hang in there.”
And with that I closed my eyes. My father immediately tried to cheer me up.
“Don’t worry, man,” he said reassuringly, “you’ll be alright in no time.
I smiled back at him rather weakly. “Thanks, Pops.”
Not long afterwards, my mother texted my father and asked how ‘the patient’ was doing. My father briefed her over what happened over the past few hours, including the fact that I would be spending the night here. My mother then suggested that they switch places so that he could rest and have dinner. He readily agreed.
“Your mother will look after you now,” he said, “I’ll be back later.”
My mother arrived half an hour later, carrying with her an overnight bag with some toiletries and my pyjamas. Pops wished us both good bye as he made his way out of the waiting room.
As Mom sat beside me reading the latest news reports on the news app on her phone she suggested that I let my sister know that I was in the hospital. My sister had already moved out of the family home but came to visit every weekend and since I was set to spend my entire weekend in this God damn place she had to know. Up to this point, only my parents were aware of my health issues.
I reluctantly picked up my phone and sent her a text message about my current situation. She responded a few minutes later, expressing shock. But hey, at least she finally knew what was up with her older brother.
It was also around this time that a new patient was wheeled into the waiting room on a gurney and took the seat vacated by the man with the IV. She was a young girl, probably in her late teens to early twenties and accompanied by her parents and boyfriend. She sat hunched over on that gurney and seemed to have extreme difficulty moving; she had to be lifted off the gurney by her father and boyfriend and gently propped up on the chair. She would also intermittently moan and groan while clutching her stomach and her parents’ attempts to soothe her with back rubs proving futile.
Not long afterwards, my pint of blood finally arrived. Another male nurse checked my blood pressure before hooking me up onto an IV machine. It was ready to roll.
“You may get up and move around as you please,” he noted as he hooked the tube into my catheter, “but please be careful not to disconnect the drip.”
He then activated the drip and away it went. Having never experienced this before I sat back and, for lack of a better word, ‘savored’ the experience. The blood felt rather cold as it ran from the pack through to the catheter in my arm and then into my system. It didn’t feel too uncomfortable but sudden movements with my right arm hurt a little as the catheter let me know of its presence.
“How do you feel?” my mother asked.
“All good,” I answered, “just feels a bit weird, that’s all.”
“You rest,” she said.
It was going to be four hours until the entire pack was pumped into me so I might as well try to get comfortable, even if that recliner chair had ceased to be comfortable a long time ago and my back was beginning to complain. About an hour and a half later my father texted my mother and asked if she was ready to switch. He had taken an afternoon nap upon arriving home and eaten dinner and was willing to spend the night in the hospital with me if he was allowed to do so. My mother agreed, and so half an hour later Pops returned and Mom wished me good night with a hug and a kiss before leaving.
“Stay strong, Son,” she whispered.
“I will, Mom. Good night.”
And then she was off.
Pops then made himself comfortable on that seat beside mine again, armed with a laptop computer so he could pass the time. It was already going on seven o’clock at night and I hadn’t eaten since the afternoon. The possibility of being able to secure a hospital bed for the night was the only thing keeping me sane at this point.
Meanwhile, that girl who was wheeled in an hour or so ago was becoming increasingly agitated on her seat. She tried to stay quiet and relaxed but her moaning and groaning were steadily growing worse.
“Not long now, Babe,” her boyfriend would reassure her.
“It hurts!” she shot back, “it fucking hurts!”
I would later hear that she was suffering from appendicitis and was scheduled for surgery the next morning. Until then, she was on painkillers to dull the pain on the lower right side of her abdomen but it was only a temporary solution and once it wore off the burning sensations would resume, sending her into fits of agony. She certainly kept the nurses on their toes, calling out for them frequently but they eventually warned her that too much painkillers would be detrimental to her health.
“I don’t care!” she cried, “just do something about this pain, please!”
“Try to sleep, Sweetheart,” her mother said.
Yeah, that wasn’t going to go down well with her.
“I can’t!” she argued tearfully, “it hurts so much!”
And then it got worse. Overwhelmed by the pain, she vomited all over herself, almost causing her boyfriend to jump back. Thankfully she didn’t make a mess on the floor or the seat and one of the nurses immediately drew a curtain near her seat to isolate her from the general population while they cleaned her up.
“Poor girl,” my father muttered.
“Yeah,” I replied as I continued to watch the pint of blood continue to drain. It was halfway done at this point, two more hours to go.
Walking around with that damn IV drip sure was humbling. I was prohibited from moving too fast and so I had to shuffle while dragging that thing around, moving gingerly like an old man trying his cane for the first time.
Going to the toilet to take a piss sure was a doozy. Thank goodness there were no orders from the other end throughout the duration of that transfusion.
A nurse would come by to check on me once in a while and so far, everything was going according to plan, except for one small but rather important thing.
“Is there a bed ready?” I asked.
“We will let you know as soon as there is one,” they would respond. It was a line that I might as well had heard a million times in the last couple of hours and there were no signs of progress. I could very well end up spending the entire night in that room on that recliner chair and I was starting to get pissed off, this was not how I had planned to spend my weekend.
“Looks like we’ll be here all night,” I told my father with a disappointed sigh.
“Better than being in the reception,” he retorted.
Well played, Dad. Well played! That shut me right up.
Count your blessings, Dude.
At around ten o’clock that night my blood transfusion was complete. A nurse arrived to unhook my catheter from the IV machine but he kept the catheter in my arm.
“We’ll be keeping this in your arm for the duration of your stay,” he said, “ for blood tests and in case you need another transfusion.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
And then he repeated that line; “Get some rest, we will let you know as soon as a bed becomes available.”
It was already late night. At this point I had given up hope of securing a hospital bed. I just wanted to sleep.
“I guess we’ll be here for the night,” said Dad, “you might as well sleep.”
I took that as a sign that he was about to go home. “Are you sure you’re not too tired to drive?” I asked.
“I’m staying,” he replied, “don’t worry about it.”
And we gave each other another fist bump before settling into our respective seats to get some extremely uncomfortable shut-eye.
I was two hours into a deep sleep when, at around midnight, my father and I were both woken up by a nurse who informed us that a hospital bed had become vacant.
It was the best news I’ve heard all day!
I was on my feet in a flash. Heck, I got up so fast that I temporarily felt light-headed and the soreness in my back and glutes served to remind me the hazards of prolonged sitting. My father and I were then escorted by the nurse to an elevator just around the corner from where we had been sitting and taken one level up. She then guided us through a rather wide corridor with help desks set up after every few metres with drowsy night shift staff sitting behind them trying hard to stay awake. Health charts and staff schedules were plastered all over the walls and hospital paraphernalia were kept on the sidelines. She lead us to one of the rooms where the bed lay vacant, right next to the window. I was sharing the room with three other patients, all of whom were already fast asleep and giving life to a deafening orchestra of labored snoring.
Finally! Now I can get a decent night’s sleep!
My father was allowed to sleep on a chair beside my bed. But before I could settle, the nurse first took my blood pressure and then asked me about my symptoms. Once again, I told her about the blood, the swelling, the cramps, the whole nine yards.
“So it’s mainly an issue with your bowels?” she inquired.
She then asked me to stand on a scale to measure my height and weight. I was expecting my weight to be rather low given my symptoms but I damn near had a heart attack when the nurse read my result.
WHAT THE FUCK!?
Oh shit. It was much worse than I thought. I wondered if those scales were broken.
“You are quite underweight,” she said, “I was also informed that, given your symptoms, you will be placed on a liquid diet until further notice.”
That was a kick to the groin right there. Man, this was turning out to be the best day EVER!!!! But I was too damn sleepy to gripe about it for too long. I just wanted to lay down and put this fucking day behind me.
“Get some rest,” the nurse instructed, “we will attend to you later during the day.”
That catheter, coupled with the darkness of the room, made changing out of my street clothes and into my pyjamas rather difficult but I got through it. My father settled into his seat as I finally lay on the bed.
“Are you ok, mate?” he asked.
“I’m good. How are YOU doing, Pops?” I replied, concerned over his fatigue.
He then added a few words that gave me hope, clichéd as they were.
“We will get through this, Kid. Consider this a test that you will pass with flying colors.”
“Thanks, Pop,” I slurred, such was my drowsiness. But I did add some final words that, I’m sure, made him smile in the dark;
“I won’t let this thing beat me.”
And I believed it with all my heart and soul. If I was going to go to war I was going to go all-in, guns blazing. Whatever motherfucker was lurking within had better get ready for their own destruction as far as my mindset was concerned.
And with that I settled into my bed and stared at the ceiling for a while before I finally drifted off, separating myself from the reality of my situation for the time-being. The warrior rested for now, the battle can wait.