Friday, November 6, 2015
Some of the most precious things I've learned in life have come from my experiences with my chronic illness. That may sound odd, but one of the ways I've learned to survive with a body in crisis is by gripping tightly to a positive attitude. It keeps me afloat. When my mindset falls into sadness and depression, which is sometimes a reality for me, I find it's much harder to stay afloat in the waters of the deep, dark sea of chronic pain.
Yesterday I had a procedure to open my esophagus with a balloon passed into my stomach with a scope, also known as a balloon dilation. It's my tenth one this year. Because I've been on pain meds for so long and have had so much anesthesia for countless surgeries, my tolerance is very high. My surgeon is usually able to sedate me well enough, although there have been times when I've been able to feel the entire procedure. Unable to move, I've just had to lay there and endure something that will allow me to swallow without choking (at least for awhile.) In the beginning, the dilations have lasted six to eight weeks, but the relief period has been dwindling to sometimes just a few weeks.
With my usual surgeon booked for weeks and then leaving for vacation, I had to practically beg for another surgeon to perform the procedure. Initially, the anesthesiologist told me I would just have twilight sedation, where I'm asleep but not totally out. I signed the consent. The surgeon showed up an hour later, and I instantly liked her. She looked me in the eye, explained the procedure (I could probably DO the procedure, but bygones), and then she asked if I had signed the consent for general anesthesia. I told her I'd been told I would have twilight sedation. She shook her head. As I was rolling down the hall on the gurney, the surgeon was telling the nurses to pull the appropriate drugs to intubate and put me on a ventilator.
My heart began to race. My family had gone to the waiting room, and I was scared. I've been intubated numerous times, but this felt different. I hadn't had time to prepare my mindset to see this as just another way the doctor wanted to keep me safe. She knew my high tolerance to anesthesia, and she knew that my already weakened lungs weren't always strong enough to breath on their own. She didn't want me to be awake, she didn't want me to suffer, and I appreciated her time and care. Sometimes these procedures felt like going to a fast food drive through. You're in and you're out. Yesterday, it felt like a sit down restaurant. As scared as I was, I felt like the surgeon was looking out for me. That was the last thought I had before falling into a deep sleep.
I awoke in a lot of pain, so nauseous I could barely shake my head. My throat hurt from the breathing tube. I was in a recovery room reserved for patients who'd had general anesthesia. I had two nurses beside me, one giving me nausea medication and one addressing my pain. My breathing was normal, but my diaphragm was sore. I lay there and slowly woke up. Once my symptoms were under control, I was taken to another recovery area where I would see the doctor and be reunited with my dear Uncle Denny who had escorted me yesterday. He hadn't been told I underwent general anesthesia and had been concerned. The doctor came in and smiled at me.
"We were able to open your esophagus with the balloon. It was definitely tight when I tried to pass the scope through to your stomach," she said.
"Thank you for everything," I began. "I was scared about being on the ventilator, but I appreciate you looking out for my breathing!"
"Of course. That's what we're here for. Hopefully you'll have some relief. Unfortunately, I'll probably see you again soon, since this isn't remedying itself."
She smiled one last time, and walked away. I was left to get dressed. All the drugs my body had been given were causing different symptoms. The smell of the sleeping gas remained in my nose. One of the nausea meds always made my muscles tense. I was seemingly functioning, but secretly drunk. It was like TGIF Happy Hour, not Thursday afternoon. My uncle took me home, and my mom cared for me last evening. I fell asleep on the couch, laying with my pillow on her lap. There are some times when you just need your mom. She can fix things better than anyone.
I began writing this around 4:30 am. I awoke an hour earlier, dealing with side effects of a few if the drugs I'd been given; specifically the one the helped to wake me from anesthesia. I'm exhausted, but wide awake. Looking back, I was able to see yesterday for what it was; a parade of ways medicine, in all its scopes, is able to work with the body during times of struggle. The anesthesia made me sleep while the ventilator helped me breathe. The meds used to wake me helped me burst out of the fog of Neverland, and my recovery room nurses helped me combat unfortunate side effects invading my body. It was a marathon of care, and I was blessed by those who ran it for me.
Our bodies are incredible machines. Each time I go into the hospital or have a procedure, it amazes me the way the body copes with quite stressful situations. Little balloons keep stretching my stubborn esophagus, and the blessed thing just endures it. As with anything, there are risks with the procedure, but the team of surgeons and nurses at OSU work diligently to lessen those risks with their complete attention to each detail. As I was wheeled to the car, I passed all different kinds of patients. Those with IV poles dragging beside them, in wheelchairs with amputations, with new babies in their arms going home for the first time.
It's easy to take for granted even the seemingly smallest functions of the body, but each part of us is part of a greater whole. We are the greater whole. Treating our bodies with respect is the least we can do for this incredible machine that escorts us through life. I just took a sip of water, and the fact that it went down without aspiration or choking is a practical miracle! Even with all of its issues, my body is a gift that shouldn't be taken for granted. Sometimes it angers me when I hear of people abusing drugs or alcohol, acting recklessly, endangering themselves to certain environments. It's like throwing away a golden egg, disrespecting the most precious gift God can give.
I wish I could go back to the last day my body worked without the 24/7 oxygen and balloon dilations, the surgeries and medications, especially without the pain, and live it over again. I wish I had known to ENJOY that day more than any other, because it was the last day of being authentically me. But I can't do that. I've had organs removed, have scars all over my body, require medication to live with tolerable pain.
I'm no longer the original Jessica. I'm the new and improved Jessica, because after everything I've gone through, I am more in awe of my incredibly strong body and precious life than I was before all this happened. And each procedure or trip to the ER grinds that point even deeper into my DNA. Even broken, my body is an amazing machine, and I am grateful for everyone who has helped keep me together after all these years. The journey is more important than the destination, and my journey has given me hope, love, and gratitude from deep within. Your body is precious, too! Act accordingly.
I'm grateful to everyone who has helped put Humpty Dumpty back together again.