“Cramping viscous tubular vessel” would have been an arcane, meaningless word group to me, had I encountered it before Monday evening, when my husband and I conferred with my doctor at the end of the day. I needed my husband there because he had full recall of the sequence of events that began shortly after midnight Friday, whereas my recollection, mercifully, was close to nil.
Around 12:30 Saturday morning, I awoke with abdominal pain already at full crisis level. It was immediately obvious that I would have to get the pain under control before it precipitated an Addisonian crisis. What was not immediately obvious was the cause of the excruciating pain that was causing me to actually scream. I was sweating, and my heart rate was high.
There was no question we needed to get to the ER, and that I would need to go in an ambulance, which arrived nearly a quarter-hour after my husband’s 911 call. He followed the ambulance so we would have a car to drive home. Vic always has such presence of mind. It was the first time either of us had ever ridden in an ambulance. I would have to say that, for not being an Audi, it was quite comfortable, though I don’t recall noticing that at the time. I don’t recall anything else at all about the ambulance.
Apparently the medics installed an IV in my wrist, ready for pain and anti-nausea drugs. I had a blood test and later a CAT scan. At some point, a nurse asked me to quantify my pain level on a scale of 1 to 10. I said “40.” My intention was to convey that this pain was a total outlier in statistical terms; sorry, Nurse Bubba, but 10 doesn’t begin to get there. The nurse affirmed his system and said he would write a 10. I was too exhausted and in too much pain to care what he wrote. He gave me sufficient hydromorphone and promethazine over a couple of IV refills to make it possible for me to sleep through the pain and not throw up in my comfy metal-railed bed. My blood pressure and heart rate warranted a heart monitor. I was still picking off little electrode sticky things on my skin Saturday evening. I tentatively thought maybe Café Press could make one into a souvenir pendant or charm.
Later, I was served two bottles of completely horrid-tasting gunk, a dye that would enable the CAT scan to see what it needed to see to make a diagnosis possible. I took a sip of the gunk, promptly threw up into a blue cone cleverly designed for just this purpose, and went back to sleep. My husband woke me every 10 minutes to take another sip, and another. I was getting used to it. The latex-paste taste wasn’t so bad; it was actually fairly tasteless. The problem was the strawberry flavor; I hate strawberry-flavored anything. I finally got one bottle of gunk down. The nurse thought it might work, but two bottles would be better. I picked up the second bottle and another blue cone, ready to do my share for radiological science. The nurse took pity and said one bottle of dye would probably work.
The CAT scan revealed objective reasons for the pain that caused me to wake screaming. My small intestine had apparently stopped working. Various physiological dynamics resulted in cramping viscous tubular vessels, which I suppose means something like a pinched gut. Whatever it is brings about the highest level of excruciating physiological pain, according to my internist: right up there, he told us Monday, with kidney stones. I had come through the worst of it with some loud groans but no real complaint, other than what it took to describe my symptoms. I’m inclined to think this was due more to lack of strength than to actual valor.
God had been most gracious. When sufficiently conscious, I had been given to remember, whatever this was to be about was ultimately for my good.
The ER doctor on duty came to see me after the scan. He was wonderful; he knew from the CAT scan that I had been in very real and very hard pain. But he could not provide a specific diagnosis; that was for my internist to try and resolve.
I was released around 8:00 a.m. with instructions to report to my doctor. We met with him Monday afternoon. My husband had to recount the events; the large amount of painkiller I received by IV, and gladly so, erased most of the sequence and details from my memory. Just as well. . .
My doctor wants to check some particular enzyme levels and other variables the hospital doctor did not order. As keen as I am for answers, I’m not attaching myself to any diagnostic labels until further information and well-founded reasoning coalesce around that time-honored medical standard, “reasonable degree of medical certainty.”