Highlights from my recent hospitalization: The 1st embolization

I’m reminiscing about some of my recent adventures in the hole. Here’s the day of the first embolization.

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After six days of coughing up blood in the hospital and playing the “how much blood did I really cough up?” guessing game with the doctors, I won a trip to the IR room for a bronchoscopy and embolization. When I had an embolization in Germany eight years ago, it took the doctors 12 hours to bronc me and 24 hours to embolize me. It was simple and in a foreign language with fewer doctors making the decision. During my recent hospital stay, a lot of doctors were involved in the decision which I can only guess made it easier to delay an actual decision. I knew by day two when the IVs weren’t working their magic that I needed an embolization. But I didn’t have the courage to force the process and expose myself to a procedure where paralysis is a possible complication. But I knew the lung wouldn’t heal without intervention.

By the time I reached the IR room on day six, I still felt in control of my emotions and alert to hospital dangers. My wife was there and I held back the tears when I left her at the waiting room and they wheeled my bed another 100 feet down the hallway, parking me outside the IR while they prepared the room. I signed releases and heard about the risk of paralysis again, thinking that there were benefits to having my first embolization spoken in German. There are no risks when you don’t understand the language and your only goal is to get on a plane and return home. It was annoying when they read the potential complications in English. What choice did I have at that point? Hearing the risks made me wonder how I was going to buy a gun if I ended up paralyzed. How would I pull the trigger? Is that something I could teach my yellow lab to do?

The bronc took five minutes – bleeding from the right lung – and the embolization took almost five hours. They woke me up when they needed me to hold my breath, which seemed like a lot to ask in my drunken state of mind – a sort of breathing sobriety test on my back. Near the end of the procedure, the right side of my jaw started hurting. When I had a chest tube inserted a few years ago, I had referred pain in my back. So I thought the jaw pain was just that, referred pain from the embolization procedure. I didn’t mention it at the time.

The pain got worse when they wheeled me back to my room. They gave me Vicodin, which helped for a little while. That was about when the hospital power went out, including the back up generator at some point. I was in the condition when one shouldn’t operate heavy machinery so it all seemed surreal. The lights went out and the room heated up without the AC. I had to stay flat on my back with my right leg straight to let the insertion point in my groin heal.

Los Angeles roasted that day in the heat when the power grid went out. It happens here in the summer, though I’m surprised it happened at the hospital. It was quite an emergency. One of my friends joked that had I been in the IR at the time, they would have been up my groin without a paddle. Nice. I’m happy I missed out on that experience.

I need to choose my words carefully at this point of the story. Fact: The pain in my jaw went to 10 out of 10. Fact: It took 90 minutes to get pain medicine and only happened at that point because I had to use my loud voice, which shook the windows of the hospital. (Remember, this was Friday afternoon/evening in a hospital when everyone is trying to split for the weekend; charts come first.) A doctor arrived within 15 minutes and there was concern the jaw pain was related to a possible heart attack (thankfully not, the tests showed). They gave me morphine for the pain. And there was concern some of the embolization material broke off and cut off the blood supply to the jaw nerve. I had to smile and make funny faces and demonstrate my facial nerves worked. (Yes, they made me take the bag off my head to do this.)

My wife came back to the hospital and spent the night on the fold-out bed made of rock. I love her for that. It helped having her there. And she was there in the morning when I coughed up blood again (what a terrible surprise that was) and when they moved me to the ICU, a hell of its own I’d never experienced before and hope never to experience again.

To be continued.

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