Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hold the Line: Or, it's Called "Catastrophic Insurance" For A Reason

Last Friday night, I felt kind of down after work so stopped in the 7-eleven on the way home and picked up a couple of hot dogs, looking for an energy boost. The hot dogs gave me heartburn, and I ended up not being hungry for a proper dinner that night. Jenn ordered her own Thai food and we watched some Babylon 5.

The next morning, I made some pancakes, as we do on Saturdays, but wasn't hungry. I tried to drink a protein shake, but my body kept insisting I wasn't hungry. Instead, I continued to drink a lot of water...

I slept all day Saturday. I felt so tired. I figured I'd been stressed all week again, taken 3 days in Indy instead of 2, stressed about the job, the book, all the stuff I should be doing. I was just tired. I was stressed out.

And so, so, tired.

Sunday, the heartburn got worse and worse. I vomited up the protein shake from the day before and started stumbling around like a drunk person, making a beeline from my room to the bathroom. I was so tired and so thirsty.

Jenn went out and bought me some Gatorade, and suggested I slow down my fluid intake and just sip my water. I felt like I had some kind of stomach flu again. Getting to the bathroom was getting tougher.

The last thing I remember is leaning over in my bed and drinking some more juice.

I was just so tired.

I just wanted to sleep forever.

And when I came to, a team of concerned hospital staff were all surrounding me and I was in some kind of windowless room. I could remember my name, and Jenn was there, and I knew who she was, but had no idea what the day was. Apparently, knowing Jenn's name and knowing I was in a hospital was a big step. When they initially brought me in, about all I knew was my own name.

So I'm told.

I have no recollection of much of anything until Tuesday; I was in and out of consciousness Sunday/Monday.

Apparently, Jenn found me standing in the bathroom at around 11:30pm or so Sunday night. She heard me breathing heavily in the bathroom, and when she pushed open the door, found me standing - dead eyed - in the middle of the room facing the door, one pupil dilated more than the other.

She managed to get me to the couch where I apparently starting vomiting red bile.

When she yelled at me, I apparently made odd grunting sounds of acknowledgement, but not coherence. Jenn called 911, and when the paramedics got me into the open air and started yelling at me, they did get actual words from me (so I hear).

From her place in the front of the ambulance, Jenn heard me tell the paramedic, "I'm fine! I'm fine!"

I could barely remember my own name, but I could tell people I was totally, totally fine and nothing was wrong with me.

But I don't remember any of that, and I don't remember anything clearly until they hefted me out of the bed in the emergency room. I'm told they put me on a general floor and I got worse; so they put me back in the ICU. I have little to no memory of Monday, but at some point Jenn came in and asked if she should call my parents. At this point, I still had no idea what was wrong with me, and Jenn had no idea how bad things were.

When my mother talked to the docotr, she said, "How serious is this?"

The doctor said, "Ma'am, let's just say she was my highest priority case last night."

A normal person's blood sugar count should be about 50-100.

When they brought me into the ICU, my blood sugar count was 640-680.

I was pretty much dead.

If I would have gone to bed; if Jenn hadn't checked on me in the bathroom; if Jenn had just shrugged and went to be early; if I was in a hotel room in Indy; I'd be dead right now.

And all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I just wanted to sleep. I'm so tired. Death, for me, was just about being so, so, so, tired.

I have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. This means that my pancreas has stopped producing insulin all together. Best it's been explained to me, I had the genetic propensity for diabetes, and 6-8 months ago, when I started losing all this weight and getting really thirsty and tired and stressed all the time, I got a virus. It was likely the stomach flu that took me down for a week last year. As with AIDS or cancer, my body turned not only on the virus, but on my pancreas as well.

Because I took good care of myself and was in such good shape, it's taken this long to basically break down my body. My body bled through every single defense it had, and was literally eating me alive, which is why I lost so much weight. Since I couldn't process the food I was eating, I could eat whatever I wanted, and my body burned all of my fat and muscle.

I spent three days in the ICU getting my blood taken every few hours and having my blood sugar taken every hour. They tried three times to dig into my right wrist to open up a line so they wouldn't have to tap me out every time they needed to draw blood. The third time they tried to do this to me, I was actually conscious, and thrashed on the bed while the doctor hunted for an artery with a huge needle and finally stopped - while blood rushed out all over the bed - because I was in too much pain. I'm having trouble using my right hand to turn keys in doors now.

When I was mostly conscious, one of the doctors - a cardiologist from Durban of all places - came in and explained what had happened.

My pancreas had stopped working and I was going to have to rely on insulin shots for the rest of my life.

It was like being hit on the back of the head with a shovel.

My feet started to get numb. My vision was blurry. There was pain and blood every few hours. My period started. My catheter leaked. I got thrush.

Jenn was able to sleep overnight in the room with me the first couple nights, and my mom arrived on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday, I was moved from the ICU to the general ward; a cold, stark, lonely room with a big dirty window that looked out over the building site of a parking garage.

People in the ICU kept coming in and checking on me. I was the talk of Sunday night, apparently, and no one could quite believe I was alive. All the staff who talked to Jenn asked why I wasn't taking my shots or following my "diabetic diet."

Getting hit on the head with the diabetes type 1 shovel doesn't often happen to a 26 year old. If you have type 1, you generally get it early.

Mine pretty much brought me to death's door.

They got me off the catheter on Wednesday, but that night, my blood sugar spiked again, and they put me back on the insulin. One of my IVs came out, so when the night nurse came to check on me, she found that my arm had swelled up, and had to take out the IV from there and hook it up to the backup IV.

It was cold and dark and awful in that airless room, and when a nurse walked in at 12:30am telling me she was taking my blood again (not the finger prick but the actual digging with a needle, again), I lost it. I lost it just like a little kid and put one hand over my face and said, "No, no no."

"It's fine," she said, "you're going to be fine."

But my wrists and arms were covered in bruises and track marks. The nurses and doctors kept changing. No one knew when I was going to go home. I'd been told I was going home Wednesday, but that didn't happen. I was lucky to get the catheter out (I had to beg and beg). If you want to torture someone, put them in a dank, cold, whitewashed room and leave them alone there. Come in and randomly draw blood and confuse their eating schedules (I had one idiot nurse turn my food away because she was looking at the previous day's meal chart for me), give them a good case of thrush so by the time they're ready to eat solid food swallowing is painful, keep the lights coming on and off and having strange people come in and out and make them lie around in their own blood and urine for three days, and see how it goes.

Three days was my breaking point. I lay there in bed and sobbed and clutched at a bunched up blanket.

Then I was done.

They kept me until Thursday, after much debate among a number of doctors.

I picked up how to do the shots pretty easily, so I guess they felt it was best to send me home before my hospital bill reached 50K (we have a running bet about how much this will be. I have a $2500 deductible, then my insurance pays 80%, and I'll pay the other 20%. Guess where my money's going if I ever sell a book?).

I spent $400 out of pocket for medication, and tottered home with Jenn and my mom.

Jenn saved my life. I was and am lucky to have her. She made surviving the hospital possible. My mom's been invaluable here just for helping with basic things like taking out the trash and doing the laundry and getting us food. I'm so happy to have them both here. I love them so much.

I haven't had much time to process what all this means. I just got out of the hospital on Thursday, and right now I'm just struggling to get my blood sugar count to even out.

I'm focusing on trying not to die.

I picked up one of those bracelets that ID me as diabetic. I'm not a fool. I realize that not having a working pancreas means death's a lot closer than it used to be. Death is just so easy. It's such an easy thing - I was just going to go to sleep.

There are things I'm going to have to come to terms with - the fact that I could fall into a coma and die without anyone around is now a real, tangible concern.

I don't intend to be an invalid, of course - lot of people have diabetes- but it means that I'm going to have to work harder than other people to have the life I want.

Right now my wrists and arms hurt so badly I can't lift weights, and Jenn's giving me foot rubs to help my numb feet.

I am blessed to have such wonderful people in my life, and I think I need to take some time and enjoy that.

However, if I seem a bit drawn and pale at Wiscon (yes, I'm still going!), well, I do have a pretty good story.