Why I Was Happy to Check My Medium Stats in the ER: An Ironic Sequel

Around ten o’clock on Saturday night, June 7, Medium tweeted a link to my last piece, “What I Did When My Life Was at Stake: Climbing Rock Candy Mountain,” that described the two surgeries I had twelve years ago to repair my twisted colon and my grueling month-long hospital stay. Immediately, total strangers tweeted me, retweeted the piece, recommended it, made heart-warming comments. Needless to say, I was blown away by this care and concern from people I don’t know, especially since the story was a big time commitment — a ten-minute read. That night it was hard to sleep. I kept waking up to check my iPhone — my Medium stats, my Twitter feed.

Unfortunately, fallout from those two surgeries plagues me. The day after Medium’s tweet, I felt a twinge on the right side of my abdomen, in the spot where the two surgeries occurred. Dense mats of scar tissue formed during my first surgery twelve years ago, requiring a second one right away, where two surgeons resected my colon. Some scar tissue remains, pressing into my intestines, perhaps narrowing the passageway, sometimes causing the amalgam of stuff that travels through my body to back up. When that happens, my intestines cramp, causing me a lot of pain. Sometimes the cramps stop, and I’m fine, but other times they keep me up all night, very ill, vomiting many times.

By six o’clock that night, my husband, Jim, and I knew this was one of the bad times because I had severe cramping and nausea. He suggested we go to the E.R. to get me checked out. I’d spent two nights in really bad shape in the past eight months, both times ending up in the E.R. after vomiting all night. I agreed, knowing I’d get anti-nausea medication and pain medication, as well as the intravenous fluids I needed there. Plus they could answer the question that plagues me, that tortures me: Has my colon twisted again? If so, I’d need surgery immediately.

Jim loads me into his jeep and drives over the Charles to Beth Israel Hospital, one of the best in the world, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School. I feel relief, though the pain in my belly is swelling and swelling, turning the soft coil of my intestines into an evil snake.

I’m in so much pain, have so much nausea, I lay down in triage on a stretcher. When I’m taken to a room, a kind, skilled nurse gets an IV in on the first try. Often it takes four or five tries. The doctor orders Dilaudid (a pain med stronger than morphine, stronger than heroin per milligram), Zofran for my nausea, and X-rays to make sure my colon hasn’t twisted. The Dilaudid and the Zofran make me feel better almost instantly.

I check my Medium stats on my iPhone and am astounded to see how many folks read my story, how many recommended it. This story is my most recommended, most read of the many I’ve posted.

The ER doctor returns and tells us my X-rays are fine, that my colon hasn’t twisted. Thank god! But she wants a CAT scan, a huge dose of radiation that freaks me out because I’d had another one in the past eight months. I feel better, so at first I say “no,” that I want to wait and see if the cramps come back, to see if the Dilaudid has permanently eased the tension in my gut. If my cramps and nausea stop, I see no reason for it. Sadly, though, I start to feel the snake again, feel the pain coming back, so I agree to the CAT scan.

When my nurse gives me a second dose of Dilaudid for the pain of my cramps, I sink into an opiate-induced stupor. I feel my head lolling around. I’m unsure where my purse is, where my iPhone is. My husband fades in and out of the picture. The nurse returns, delivers two large bottles of white milky sludge for me to drink for the CAT scan. I rotate one of the bottles round and round in my hands, uncap it, drink it down. I vomit it all back up. It’s the middle of the night — maybe like three in the morning — and I’m disassociated from my body. I remember parts of having the CAT scan, but the rest of the night and the early morning hours are a blur of sleep and dreams.

I wake up in a different room. A doctor inserts a two-foot-long NG (nasogastric) tube through my nose, into my stomach — a small ordeal, a painful and scary procedure — that sucks my stomach’s contents into a collection bottle to prevent more nausea, more cramps. (I’m surprised a doctor does this. At other hospitals, a nurse has performed this procedure for me.)

In the early morning I’m admitted to the hospital. The Harvard Vanguard surgeon who’s been in charge of keeping an eye on me the past year comes by to discuss if surgery is a possibility. He says he could remove the scar tissue, but there’s a likelihood more would form. Another surgery guarantees nothing. My condition could be better, worse, or the same. I don’t like the odds. I say: “No, it would have to get really bad for me to want surgery.”

My husband cancels his class to stay with me all day. So grateful not to be in pain, not to be nauseous, I feel peaceful tucked away in one of the greatest hospitals in the world. All I have to do is lay there — watch TV, read magazines, read pieces on Medium, check my Medium stats.

Thankfully, I improve. I get so much better, that after twenty-four hours, a doctor removes my NG tube, and I’m able to have tea and broth on the second night for dinner. The next morning I get to order a breakfast — Cream of Wheat, white toast, coffee — that feels like a feast to me. Then I walk the halls, see other rooms filled with very ill, very elderly patients. I feel very lucky, indeed.

My doctors keep me a third night to make sure my system is working. If all’s okay, they say I can go home the next day. I feel blessed that I’ve gotten through this mini-ordeal, that I’m relatively young and strong, but can’t help wonder what will happen to me as I age. I know it’ll be a struggle from time to time, but I’m thankful every day that I can eat and drink and laugh and write pain free.

And I’m so very grateful to the folks who read my previous piece and to you who are reading now. I felt so much support from readers those three days I was in the hospital, in bed by a window overlooking the streets of Boston, waiting for my body to heal. Every “read” meant so much to me.

From the bottom of my heart and my gut: Thank you, readers. Thank you, Stephanie Georgopulos and Human Parts. Thank you, Kate Lee and Medium.

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