Writing and Life Experience

Posted on Sunday 15 October 2006

Be Careful About What You Wish For,
or How God Has a Twisted Sense of Humor

As some of you may know, I am working on a book, “No Greater Love”. The book is about the almost two-years of my life I generally refer to as My Life with Gee. It started on July 10, 1999, when I met Gee for the very first time, and ended with her death on June 11, 2001. During that time, I courted her, moved her to Seattle, moved her back to Virginia, found that she had cancer, stood by her through her surgery and cancer treatments, married her and finally, lost her to cancer.

Friday, October 6th, I was getting ready to write about the events that occurred in April and May 2000, just after Gee returned from her time in Seattle. This includes her diagnosis with stage III pancreatic cancer, and the decision to get the surgical treatment done up at Johns Hopkins hospital in May.

One thing I had realized, was that even with all my experience from being in hospitals, both as a visitor, and as a patient, I had no real frame of reference of having ever been a patient in the hospital, the way Gee had been. All of my surgical procedures, had been outpatient ones, where I came in and left the same day.

In fact, most of my ER visits lasted longer than the surgical procedures I had been through. I knew what it was like to write about being the person sitting in the chair in the corner of the room, watching over someone I loved very much, but really had no idea what it was like to be where Gee was.

The Event

Tuesday, October 10, that all changed. Around 2:00 a.m., I awoke with what I thought was a bad case of indigestion. I had a previous case on Friday, the 6th, but now realize neither was indigestion. I took some ibuprofen, and went back to sleep, just as I had on Friday night. Well, thirty minutes later, I was awake again. I knew I was in trouble. I was grey from the pain, and knew I had to get to the hospital.

As a former cyclist, I learned to work through pain of various degrees, and not let it faze me—this was pain on a whole new level. I called my parents to let them know I was headed to the hospital, and then dialed 911. When I spoke to the operator, I told them I was down at the marina, and needed to get to the emergency room.

While, I was pretty sure it wasn’t my heart, but this would have been a bad time to be wrong. If anyone ever asks you whether you should pick between a gallstone attack or gnawing your arm off…choose gnawing the arm off, I’m pretty sure it’ll hurt less.

I locked up the Pretty Gee and slowly worked my way up the dock. I knew if I fell in the water, I was a dead man—there was no way I’d ever make it back out of the water in as much pain as I was in. When I got to the top of the dock, I sat down at the end of the walkway.

A few minutes later, I saw the ambulance pull up to the marina gate, but knew it was up to them to get the gate open. The marina owner can open the gate remotely, from his home, and that is what eventually happened. The ambulance pointed a spotlight into the parking area, I waved and saw someone wave back, and then I gave up fighting the pain—curled into a ball at the edge of the parking lot and waited.

The ambulance crew got me into the bus and stabilized, with nitroglycerin, baby aspirin, and morphine. They weren’t sure whether it was a cardiac event or something else, so they were taking no chances. Once they got me stabilized, they called the hospital to tell them they were heading in with a possible cardiac case.

The Hospital

St. Luke’s is a small regional hospital in the town over from where my marina is located. I had never heard of St. Luke’s, and I was a bit worried about what kind of health care I would get at this unknown little hospital.

A couple of days into my stay, I spoke with my friend Cindy, who is an RN. She told me that she did a little research on the hospital, since she considers me family, and found that St. Luke’s and the two other hospitals in the South Coast Health System had applied to be Nursing Magnet Hospitals. This was a very good sign. As it turns out, the nursing staff there was excellent, comparable to what I had seen with Gee at the Inova Healthcare group in Northern Virginia, and at Johns Hopkins—both nationally recognized medical care centers.

The only two complaints I had with my experience at St. Luke’s were the food service and the television service provider. The food at St. Luke’s was among the most horrible I’ve seen out of any hospital I’ve ever been in. One of the meals, allegedly some form of baked ziti with meat sauce, was soggy, and was the most nauseating meal I’ve ever seen. The other problem was the third-party company that was responsible for the television service in the hospital rooms had the rudest customer service people I’ve ever met.

Given that, I can’t complain. I’d rather have a good nursing staff, which is the core of good patient care, than good food or nice TV people. Friends and family can fix the food and TV problems generally, but a bad or incompetent nursing staff is a nightmare.

What Happened

Well, after being stuck in the cardiac care unit after getting out of the ER, the doctors ran me through a half dozen tests. Most of which showed whatever happened to be non-cardiac, and pointed towards my gallbladder. However, the gallbladder failed to show up on a few of the tests, so they weren’t quite sure what was going on.

They transferred me from the Cardiac Care Unit to the Patient Care Unit and then a regular unit. When they finally operated on Friday, it turns out that the gallbladder had been badly damaged by the two gallstone attacks and had become gangrenous.

Unfortunately, this meant that they had to go in and clean up the mess left behind, and laparoscopic surgery was no longer an option. UGH. This meant that the surgery was much more complicated and that my recovery was going to be much longer. So, I’m now recovering from major surgery, rather than a minor laparoscopic procedure, and know what it is like to be in the bed, rather than the chair in the corner.

Other Things I Learned

Having been down in the hospital, recovering from a major surgical procedure, and not having a person sitting in the chair in the corner, watching over me, made me realize how different things might have been for Gee had we not met. She would have been 3000 miles away from her family—without insurance—and all alone.

I don’t know what it was like to have a loved one watching over me, as I did for Gee. I remember, she would awaken, and look over to the chair, and see me, then she’d smile and close her eyes and go back to sleeping—knowing that she was loved and watched over.

I think I now have what I was looking for, to be able to write about Gee’s experiences as a patient. Even though my surgery was just a very small subset of what Gee underwent, it gave me a chance to really understand what it was like to be in the hospital, go through surgery, and have to recover from a major operation. It also gave me a lot more respect for the woman I married, and made me realize how tough a person she really was, and what she had to endure.

Be careful what you wish for, since it seems that God has a twisted sense of humor, and you may get what you want, but not in the form you really were expecting.

5 Comments for 'Writing and Life Experience'

    October 21, 2006 | 1:42 pm

    Wow, I’m so glad you’re ok. From your first description I feared appendicitis, but it sounds like this was equally as bad. The risk with someone who is accustomed to pain is that they don’t respond to it in time.

    I’m sorry that you had no-one there to sit with you, but I’m sure many were thinking of you.

    October 23, 2006 | 5:44 am

    I’m glad you survived ok and I hope your recovery goes well. I’m sure that the insight you have gained will add depth to your book and to be honest how else would you have got such insight? I rather suspect God is not so much having a sick joke at your expense but irather he s helping you with your labour of love and sometimes there is no easy way to learn.

    October 23, 2006 | 7:53 am

    I probably should have done something on Friday night, with the first attack, but as Sarah said, the people accustomed to pain often don’t respond to it in time. That seems to be the case for me in some ways.

    I don’t actually think that god has a sick sense of humor, and do believe that he wants me to be able to complete what is a labor of love, as snettbish has pointed out, to the best of my abilities, and to do so, a bit of pain was necessary—to learn what it is like to be a patient, and to have me see what it must have been like for Gee, and how bad it could have been for her had we not met.

    What I went through is so much less than what Gee went through, and I really have gained enourmous additional respect for how tough she was…The day after her surgery, when she asked the nurse if she could get up and walk, and the nurse looked at me and asked me if I was going to try and stop her, I said, “Hell no, she can beat me up, she’s a lot tougher than I am.” I guess this was far truer than I had ever understood prior to going in for surgery.

    October 30, 2006 | 1:24 pm

    My Mum would say God gives us no more than we can bare.
    As painful as the whole thing was, it could have been alot worse! eg: passing out on the boat…
    our prayers are with you.

    October 30, 2006 | 6:01 pm


    Trust me…passing out was not an option… way too much pain for that. I’m recovering quite nicely, and am going to the surgeon’s office tomorrow to get the staples out. 😀 And they would have been such a good part o f a great Halloween costume…RATS.

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