One could go on and on forever talking about anything, but I'll just touch on it here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Love Really Does Hurt: Right in the Stomach

A sixth grade girl I once knew had to give herself shots to help control her diabetes. What a brave kid, I thought, to be so used to such a painful task. At least I have always assumed there was some amount of pain but probably nothing more than a little prick.

If the size of the needle makes any difference about the pain, I don't want to start making comparisons. As Luke says, little did I know that one day my body would turn into a pin cushion.

For years I've joked about my hypochondria. Truly, I guess I don't have this illness and I don't want to make light of those who do, but with the invention of the Internet and the handy search engine Google, I've spent many hours of my life trying to convince myself that I'm not dying any faster than the average person (or that I am). Before we explore the purple map across my tummy, let's look at a sampling of my "near death" experiences:

Setting: college, sophomore year, day and night
Situation: rapid and irregular heart beat
My state of mind: if I go to sleep I won't wake up because my heart will beat itself to death

After health clinic visits, an EKG, a chest x-ray, and a later consultation with my family doctor back home, I discovered I was fine. Maybe stress instigated it, but I still have the occasional chest flutter. Many of my female friends do too, so I guess it's a woman thing? I don't know. I don't let it stop me from sleeping at night, but there is still a hint of concern lingering in my mind.

Setting: post college, nighttime
Situation: intense gut pain
My state of mind: my appendix has burst, I have minutes to live

After waking my roommate and best friend, I stressed in the car as she drove me to a 24-hour grocery and we got some Alka Seltzer. I was fine in minutes.

Setting: post college, daytime
Situation: intense headaches
My state of mind: I have a brain tumor and only days to live

This one took a little more work, but after a few visits to a couple of doctors at a walk-in clinic, the conclusion was that I didn't have migraines and might need my head scanned but we tried one more medication. It worked. Since then I've had one other time of intense headaches but it was once again sinus related.

Setting: post college, evening/nighttime
Situation: strange red line on my chest
My state of mind: I have been bitten by a deadly insect, venom is traveling to my heart, I have minutes to live

So there I was, bleary-eyed and staring at my computer screen researching all kinds of poisonous creatures that might have bitten me. Once again, my supportive friend got me to the clinic the next day where the doctor took one look at the red line and said: "Hmm. That is strange. If it gets worse, come back." Well, it was gone in a day or two and I never got sick.

Alright, that's enough stage-setting. Let's fast-forward to this summer. Remember, first, that I got married a year ago. Okay, so the doctor I went to see before the big day started me on this wonderful little pink pill. It was as if I swallowed nothing every day. No sweat. No complications. One year went by and I found myself in a car on the way to Iowa with another of my best friends. You've seen the pictures. You've lived the trip vicariously through my tales. What I neglected to mention is the uncomfortable leg pain that stayed with me for two weeks beyond the trip. What do you think I did about it? Google and I spent some quality time together as I investigated blood clots. Here's the odd part: I didn't go see a doctor. And what do you know? The pain finally went away.

I enjoyed all of September and some of October feeling perfectly fine. Then—cue shark music—I woke up one morning, two weeks ago, with leg pain again. By the weekend it was more painful than before. It hurt to stand, to walk, to touch my calf or the side of my foot. I decided it was time to listen to Google and seek medical attention.

Sunday is not the best day to go to a doctor. Oh, it was another walk-in clinic, so they were open and everything, but they didn't have the equipment needed to peek inside my leg. Before I knew it I was in one of those drafty hospital gowns, on a bed behind a curtain, with three people hovering over me. Luke was in the waiting room playing games with Asimov (aka the ipad). (Don't worry, Luke will soon rush into the story very heroically). Unfortunately Dr. Kovac, Dr. Carter, and Dr. Green were nowhere to be found. Well, my doctor could have starred on "ER"—he had the right look. Fortunately, everyone was really nice. I soon had a heated blanket over my legs and later a cup of ice water.

Let's skip to the end of this ER experience and confirm our worst fears: blood clots below the knee, left leg. Luke joined me and we discussed everything with the doctor, they drew my blood, and we left. Our plan was to take aspirin, stop the little pink pills, and return in a few days for another ultrasound. HOWEVER, the doctor set me up an appointment to see another physician two days later.

Aspirin doesn't sound so bad, right? What about needles? What about the pin cushion?

Setting: Two days later, doctor's office
Situation: confused doctor wondering why I wasn't already on blood thinners
My state of mind: He's scaring me, I'm going to die from a PE
Luke's state of mind: Coumadin is scary $%#@
Doctor's state of mind: heck, Tylenol is scary $%#@; if my wife or daughter had a clot, she'd be on a blood thinner no question

So, here I am today. Wait—isn't Coumadin a pill to swallow? Yeah, so there's this strange thing about Coumadin—I could die with it and without it. Sorry, too much drama. What I had to do first, and am still doing, is get the heparin shots—called LOVEnox (here's the love in the stomach part)—at the start of the Coumadin treatment to, as I understand it, get my body the help it needs in the short-term while the other stuff gets set for the long-term (maybe three months of pills). Shots. Twice a day. At home. Give myself shots? Are you kidding? When the nurse gave me the first one to show me how to do it, I thought a thousand bees had stung me on the same spot at the same time. Again, the drama. While Luke waited outside (he has a tortured history with needles), I sucked up the courage and told myself, okay, I'd rather stick myself with a needle than die.

Enter hero.

The next morning when it was time for my shot, my heroic husband slung the stethoscope around his neck, cleaned a patch of skin on my belly, pinched it up, and drove a needle into my fat (good thing I have some there now). And he didn't pass out. And I didn't scream. And as of today he has given me fifteen shots. My hope and prayer is that next week the doctor will say that my INR is good and we can just go with the pill, ignoring the other syringes in the cupboard.

In the mean time, with left-side bruising (never on the right) and all the blue dots Luke has plotted on my stomach and "love handles" so we won't shoot up the same place twice, the view under my shirt is colorful to say the least.

As if that wasn't enough to deal with already, yesterday the nurse staple-gunned two fingers to squeeze out blood for an INR reading. (Well it FELT like being stapled!). The first hit didn't draw enough blood, and after the second one the machine wasn't ready at the right time. No problem, the doctor informed me; we'll just draw some blood from your arm. Huh! I'd rather be stapled than have a nurse hem and haw over my arm and how my vein is so close to some tendons and it would be REALLY bad to hit those—yeah, she made me feel so relaxed. Um, take another finger—please! Oh, no honey, we don't need to do that! I'll get it.

Now my arm is pretty too. I think I'll stay away from acupuncture.