I woke up in intense pain. My abdominal muscles felt like they had been fully contracted for hours and were refusing to let go. I groaned and tried to move. I felt a painful tug down there.
“Help… my stomach won’t unclench,” I croaked. A nurse came by to add something to my IV bag.
“Also, I think my catheter tube is wrapped around my leg. I felt it pull when I moved.”
A few minutes later, I drifted off.
I woke up later with tons of pain radiating from my stomach but at least the muscles had relaxed.
“There he is,” a crabby old nurse grunted. “You’re a troublemaker. You woke up and tried to pull out your catheter.”
“What?” I began to remember what happened earlier but I was in no state to argue with her.
The recovery was short but was it ever awful. I don’t like to lay on my back but I was stuck in that position for days, breathing in the dry air through the tubes in my nose, sucking on ice chips and hitting the morphine button. I had a few visitors in the first few days but I was too miserable, in pain, and sometimes high to remember.
When I had begun trying to eat solid food, my mom visited. It was memorable as the worst visit I had. My bed was raised so I could attempt to eat. It was a real struggle to choke down anything. It just felt like I didn’t even have a stomach. As I fought to chew and swallow food, my mom showed up and gave me the oh-so-helpful advice every 3 seconds: “You gotta eat. Try to eat. You need to eat.” Thanks, mom. What the f**k does it look like I’m doing?
Things got worse as a stomach virus swept through everyone in my family. I could no longer see Carol and Sam. I was mostly stuck laying in that hospital bed, forcing myself to eat. One thing I still don’t quite understand was why I could no longer walk. My legs just didn’t work anymore. Near the end of the week, we had to focus on getting my legs working again.
One day, as I was sitting on the edge of the bed with a young nurse trying to help me stand up, I began crying. I was so alone, having not seen my wife and son for days, which seemed like weeks since I wasn’t doing much of anything between my frequent nightmare-filled naps (the most common nightmare was about my stomach opening and people pulling out my intestines). I couldn’t take it anymore. Of course, I began to feel embarrassed at this outpouring of emotion in front of this woman. But she was different. I looked up and saw a kind, beautiful face looking at me with caring and concern. It’s not that everyone else there was callous, some were, but the majority just kept their emotional distance as expected in a hospital. It was just nice to see some empathy on someone’s face while I was struggling alone.
A doctor came to visit and told me I did in fact have an autoimmune disease. I got walking well enough, as long as I had a rail or walker to hold onto, and they said I could go home. Was I ever glad to see my family again. When I needed her the most, Carol couldn’t be there but now I was back at home with her and my boy.
When this nightmare began, I was a solid 180 lbs. I was now barely over 120 lbs, a weight I’ve not been at since grade school. I looked terrible. I spent many of my days sitting in the recliner at home, too weak to do much of anything. I had no job and my schooling was on hold. I went to appointments regarding my disease and appointments with a therapist to work through the trauma. Finally, after a month or two, I went back to school.
Slowly, I rebuilt my strength, but my recovery time was even worse. I’d start and stop with the strength training over the years before completely giving it up and sticking with light cardio until recently. I had to learn how to manage this disease. One thing I discovered the hard way is that I cannot have nearly as much vitamin D and calcium as the average person. My kidneys were both filled with stones because of this and I had to deal with that next. The nightmare was over but I had new problems for which I had to adjust.