Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Welcome back my friends,
to the show that never ends . . .

It’s been 40 years since the song that starts off that way was first released. I was always a big fan of Emerson, Lake and Palmer

 This time it seems an appropriate lead for the latest installment of me logging in about my medical woes. This one should be a Duesy. Except the part about the Duesenberg being the finest money could buy at the time. The latest adventure was not the finest money could buy.

 If you have been following along you know that over the last 10 years or so I have ferreted out many sources of my dysphoria. Finding that the prescriptions for statin type drugs that started about 15 years ago were responsible for the deterioration of my muscles and also short circuits in my brain were key. Before that I had to quit cold turkey the cocktail of wellbutrin for depression and nortriptyline (a tranquilizer) I was given for the neuropathy in my feet. Between the two I don't think I had a thought in my head for about 2 years. More recently, finding out about the effect GURD has had on me was like a kind of revolution. ‘Oh you mean being tired and grouchy especially after meals is not normal?’ Removing wheat from my diet all but ended a decades old battle with bloating and diarrhea. 

 Most recently, I was in a place where I could see an end to living by the limitations of my impaired constitution. 

  •  I was dealing inch by inch with the daily ordeal of sleeping the whole night with my biPAP mask on. This provides REM sleep and oxygen. Both are required for life on our planet. This is not without it’s humorous elements. Since it all happens (or doesn't happen) when I am asleep my first indication of successful sleep is often morning wood. Other indications are a feeling of having a reason to get up at all, energy, confidence, strength, focus; just to name a few. 

  • I was having more and more days of energy and a feeling of well being. I had plans for the future. After years of neglect I was doing house work. The kitchen was more organized that it had been in years. A quarter of the living room was clean and the floor waxed. I had picked out new tile to finally finish refereeing the bathroom. The project that I never did finished 10 years ago had grown from just installing a shower to needing a new toilet, sink and faucets. I bought the replacement faucets a year ago when the 65 year old cold faucet froze up and died. The design was so old that even the rare and antique plumbing fixture web site hadn’t a clue. The new ones will be fun. 

  • One trouble that seems intractable is the thing of my experiencing pain when sitting for more that a few minutes. Very expensive seat cushions allow me to do my behind-the-wheel job. I have a flat on my back keyboard set up so I can type this without the distraction of pain. I went to Physical Therapy but this particular thing is not on their list of things they know about. I started going to the gym again. Since this started the same time as my other muscle problems I hypothesized that my glutes had also been damaged by the stains and the weight of my 300+ pounds was not letting enough circulation repair the damage. I was taking it very slowly but adding a little more weight and repetitions to the glute exercises. It seemed to be doing some good. 

  • I don’t want to sound too hopeful but even my long standing record of self sabotage at ever having a real relationship may be at an end. Or at least I know where I am starting from and can proceed.

  • If you have bothered to listen to my first podcasts you will have noticed how they are so lame that they are barely listenable. The point was for me to learn and I did. New approaches and even a way or two to monetize were in the making. (see most recent previous post)

What Happened?

For at least a dozen years my interest in booze and marijuana has been on a steep decline. I loves me some marijuana. I don’t know if it’s me or the way they grow it these days. The wonderful old euphoria slips away in a few minutes. Usually followed by hours of headache and disorganized thoughts. Similarly the warm loose feeling of drinking liquor, if it comes at all, is accompanied by a kind of nausea and general feeling of being ill. Liquor was always my 2nd drug of choice so letting it go was no big deal. 

 Still, as I said above, I had been feeling unusually well. With the annual St. Patrick’s day at Garry and Debby’s planned for the Saturday before St.Pat’s a bottle of Rye whiskey seemed to be just the thing. I brought it chilled and proceeded to pull it out of the freezer at intervals to share a pull with all of my longtime friends. After about 5 hours of lawn games (horseshoes, bocce etc.) too much corned beef and cabbage and a goodly amount of Rye I was very sleepy. Refreshed, a few hours later I was off to deliver the Sunday paper.

I felt a bit weird the next day or 2. There was nothing unusual about me feeling unusual. 

 On Thursday I was back at Garry’s house to play darts with the guys. The last few months have been spotty but for over 20 years we have played in some form of a garage nearly every week. Counselors always praise me for having a group of friends at my age. The taunting and teasing among grown men is quite usual. I have always thought it curious and not really in my nature. Reminds me if being teased by bullies as a kid. On the the hand It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. I have learned to play along after a fashion. Sometimes I even have some fun at the expense of the unwritten rules. 

 At about a hour in I began to have what felt like a softball just under my sternum trying to get out. The softball got harder and began to grow. After my turn to throw I went outside at first to just get some air. “Maybe if I throw up some of the pressure will leave” I thought. I tryed but it didn’t work. By this time I was bathed in sweat even though it was in the 50s outside. If you are not on the line for your turn to throw the routine is to be as quiet about it as possible so you will be skipped and lose your turn. After I missed a couple of turns Rob broke the dickishness rule and went looking for me. 

 By this time the pain had driven all but my most basic thoughts away. I asked if he could take me to the hospital. I could over hear someone suggest an ambulance if I wanted to be seen first. An ambulance costs too much. “Well maybe just order a hearse and skip the middleman” Smart ass.

 I was racked with pain and probably in shock but noticed how my one by one thoughts were direct and to the point. When we pulled up to the hospital I carefully put my money, cards and keys in Rob’s hand. This was not my first visit to Kern Medical Center. I asked him to get a wheelchair from inside. It was an odd device, designed to be easily hosed down and not worth stealing. Once inside I was on the verge of passing out, my memories fade in and out as well. I went through some intake questions, the first of dozens. Once I told them I was on the Kern Medical Center Health plan that was the first and last time how I was to pay for this was mentioned. (I can still get something in the mail but doubt it). Since this is the second time the fine people of Kern county have saved my life this way. I have nothing but curse words for the people who reject universal health care for all Americans. 

 They were perplexed at first until I told them about drinking 8 shots of Rye Whiskey the Saturday before. For a real drinker like I had been once upon a time 8 shots would have been just a normal big night of drinking. These days with so many foreign born Drs and Drs who do drink having to keep it on the downlow 8 drinks is now a binge. Did they assume I have shame about drinking and figured that I underestimated.? Who knows?  This lead them to take some tests, ultrasound and some kind of full chest scan. They took blood of course. 

 “You have Pancreatitis Mr Parks” The treatment is dehydration. No food or water till the inflammation goes away. They started an IV of .09% glucose to keep me functional and a shot of morphine every 4 hours to manage the pain. My brain was still in survival mode even after the morphine. At no point in this whole experience was I afraid. Fear is something I save for irrational moments. I was assured by the simplicity and directness of the treatment. Since they didn’t even try a less provocative pain med I figured it must be serious. On the other hand after 150 years morphine must be out of patent and cheap.After I don’t know how many hours Rob and Teri had gone home. I love those guys so much. 

We all remember this lovely scene from the movie "Alien" 
Just like when I was at KMC in 2001 beds were scarce. Finally after long hours on the unpadded gurney the actual hospital bed felt like heaven. Just like when I was at KMC in 2001 I was placed in the same room on the 3rd floor. This part of the hospital is only opened when overflow is needed. It was a room big enough for 4 beds but there were only 2. Just like in 2001. 

 The first 2 days were pretty much a blur. Every 4 hours they would add the pain med to my IV and I’d drift off for an hour. The next couple of hours were kind of okay but the painful swelling in my abdomen would become progressively more uncomfortable. The last hour was a miserable time of never finding a comfortable way to lay there. Slowly, over days, the swelling went down some and the pain went from 10 to 7 then 6. 

 Then I began to be aware of my surroundings. The other person in the room was a filipino guy recovering from a broken ankle. I think. Most of the time he had the tethered TV/nursecall/speaker thing turned all the way up. Sports mostly. It may have been my lack of interaction taken as a snub or it may have been the guy down the hall bursting out in very loud moaning every 15 minutes all night long that motivated him to move to a quieter floor. I don’t remember much but my first day or so, I was mostly moaning. Though I don’t think quite as loud.

His bed sat empty for almost a whole day. Next was a biker looking guy with troubles that put mine in perspective. He was looking for a diagnosis to confirm bone cancer. Both of his arms held so much pain he slept sitting up with them extended straight out. His pain meds were very much stronger than mine. 

 This is about the time it really came home that this end of the hospital was just for the charity cases like myself. Housekeeping came in twice a day like clockwork to change the trash bags. Twice the floor was swept/mopped and three times I was called by housekeeping to find out if my room was clean. During my whole 5 days there, my sheets were never changed. Blood stains from the IV and all. Due to my swollen abdomen I didn’t wear a gown. I sat in the pants I came in, the whole time.  

 The staff was not their top notch people either. At nights I think I had 3 different asian nurses all of similar description. They didn’t display enough in the way of personality to tell them apart. I’d see them when the IV ran out, it was time to test my blood sugar or knock me out again. 3 days the nurse was a man about my age with an accent. One other (spanish speaking) male nurse called him German. Everyone else referred to him with the spanish pronunciation.  Over time it became harder and harder to find a nurse when the IV ran out. That damned thing beeping in my ear till I hit the stop button myself. (this only stopped it for 5 minutes) Once it took and hour just to find the nurse and another hour before he installed a new bag of sugar water. He nearly had to redo the IV just to get it working again. 

Even though the pain was less overall after about 3 hours I would start to get uncomfortable. It got harder and harder to get a new injection on time. The noise of the place got overwhelming. 

 I know I didn’t pay for anything better but at what point is cost cutting a deterrent to care? I said that the bed was like heaven compared to the gurney. Considering my condition, the 3 inch foam mattress on the hospital bed was not soft enough to allow me to sleep even briefly on my side. No sleep except drug induced must have slowed my progress. I didn’t have my biPAP machine and so no chance of REM sleep. This was not addressed except to remind me to keep the oxygen thingy in my nose. Shortness of breath was also a symptom. 

 I wasn’t able to focus on the Television till the 3rd day. Just like the rest of us I am spoiled to what I am used to at home. In my case I don’t afford cable TV but watch all I care to over the internet on Hulu and other places. All random access and with few commercials. At KMC they have this ancient technology of a single thingy at the end of a tether containing a speaker, volume control, call button and 1 button marked TV. Not even a clip or anyway to pin it near your ear. The one button turns the ceiling mounted CRT TV on and each press pushes it ahead one station. There is no real way to know what is on each station until you stop for minutes on each one till the commercials are over and the program resumes. The channel numbers went to 99 with over half blank or shopping.  I gave up broadcast TV 4 years ago all those commercials were a shock to my system. Next the lack of something playing that was not an insult to all I hold dear was another shock. Oh-my-god no wonder people are so ill informed and lacking in cooth. They let this inane crap pour over themselves day in and day out. At one point I thought “Cool Bugs Bunny, some old time simple humor” my roomie agreed and was on the same channel. Bugs & Daffy were talking about lattes and blowing off appointments. Some hipster asshole Tv producers ruined Bugs and Daffy. It made me sick.  I did find a few things that were okay diversions. Lacking my trusty iPod filled with audiobooks and podcasts I mostly tried to sleep. 

 The goal was to test my blood for amylase or lipase each day looking for a level below 200. (I don’t know what units). When I was admitted it was over 5000. Finally on Tuesday evening it went below 200, I was told I could try to eat dinner. If I kept it and breakfast down I could go home. Eating wasn’t easy. Everything tasted like crap but I ate it. 

Wednesday morning I had a new nurse a pretty Jamaican lady.  She was charming and friendly to my roommate but cold and officious to me. Mr German had been friendly enough when I could find him. All the others not so much. All I could figure was that since my problem was alcohol induced the mindset that sympathy is wasted is still an accepted practice. I have also encountered in my travels prejudice against white males. In this instance; since I am not minority, woman, or child I should not deserve public assistance.

 Once I literally got my walking papers I proceed downstairs to wait for my pal Teri to drive me home. Maybe it’s an old procedure but I though they insisted on wheeling you to the door. It may have been my imagination but black Jamaican nurse made the offer to be wheeled out with a tinge of disgust in her voice. It’s not like she would do it herself, they have a transportation dept for that. I only mention it because I was very weak and once I did make it to the ground floor standing to wait was difficult. 

 Recovery is slow. They say for each day you are in the hospital it takes a week at home to really recover. 

The minute I got home I went to sleep on my side and didn’t wake up till after dark. I didn’t go back to work that night. I mostly slept on my other side. Then my back etc.
I have been home for a week now and still nothing sounds good to eat. One day I went to Marie Callender's for the salad bar. It was good and I felt better for having eaten. Other times have not gone so well. Even deep hunger pangs result in “Yeah, but nothing sounds good to eat”. I feel physically weak and lightheaded much of the time. Each day brings a little improvement. I guess I’m just being impatient to get back to where I was. 

 After reading the wiki page I linked to and several others I find the risk to my insulin production concerning. The pancreas produces all manner of digestive juices that are at risk. Is this related to why I’m hungry but nothing sounds good to eat?

After thinking about it, the pain I had in the hospital was not that different from the pain I described last July when I started the Cookie Diet. No alcohol that time. While the pain and severe inflammation are new, many of the other associated experiences I have felt off and on for a long time. There is a whole shopping list of possible causes for this condition. 
Alcohol by itself is the most common suspect. It is also, but not necessarily, the trigger for a giant inflammation like it was with me. Gallstones is the next most common cause. I have never had gall stones to my knowledge but I am in the high risk group for it. My days of hard drinking began to slow dramatically after an unfortunate New Years Eve i Hollywood 20 Years ago. Tricking down to almost nothing the last decade or so, as I have said. Working my way down the list of possible causes I found my old tormentor. Statin. 

  It is going to take time to understand this new problem. I have a follow up visit with the Dr on Friday then my regular appt with him at the end of the month. Maybe he and the other Dr will have a working theory. Gallstones being the most likely cause if that should not be the cause and pancreatic cancer is ruled out. Until I have evidence of a strong case otherwise I will assume this is just another way my life and body have been damaged by Stains. I found many web pages with information like this and this. If studies are thin on this topic here is a site I have referred to before

 Anyway I am weak and disgusted/discouraged at this setback. Hoping it is only a set back. Work is something that has become so routine I gave it little thought. Now it seems to take forever to get to the end of my route. My butt starts hurting an hour before I get home. I had that tamed at least at work times. Just for fun yesterday I started getting an attack of gout in my left knee. By the time i got home the pain was . . i just hope the meds for that are not the cause of Pancreatitis. 

 This has been going on for so long I don’t really let it get to me. Displays of anger are like a cough that throws off the worst of it. All my study of Buddhist philosophy and Taoist texts have given me perspective. My own unique relationship with that which is beyond words and forms has grown strong over the decades if enigmatic. 

For now, muddling through my days looking for the good side of my moments. Hugging my pups is always good therapy. Looking forward to finishing the house cleaning and tiling the bathroom. Heck then I might even be ready to have company over. 


  1. Brian,

    You sure went through a lot of agony. I know that pancreatitis is one of the most painful things you can have. Take good care and I hope you are very healthy very soon.
    Warmly, Jane

  2. Jeez, dude, I am so sorry you had to go through that. I don't have any other words. Keep on keeping up.