The Numbers of Liver

While I was in the hospital last week, I wrote a nice blog in my head.  It never made it to paper, though.  By the time I made it home, I didn’t want to write that blog.

So I’m going to write this one instead.  It’s all about numbers.  Numbers that happen when you don’t know you have liver disease and you don’t realize it’s causing the veins in your esophagus to swell until one night, the veins burst and everything goes berserk.  Numbers are easy to hang on to when all else has gone weird.

On a Saturday night, my stomach started hurting and then I began throwing up blood.  My daughter called 911.  (Thanks for that!  I’d have trailed blood all over the house if I’d had to get to my own phone.)  I think I saw 3 emergency vehicles in the street with 5-6 personnel, but I wasn’t really paying attention.  By the time the paramedics got me to the ER, I’d filled 5 emesis bags and lost 1.5 liters of blood.  BTW, that’s a big chunk of the red stuff.  Dracula could have a party.

The ER staff immediately installed 3 IVs.  I had as many as 5 tubes hooked up to those IVs at once, delivering blood and blood products along with the old standby, Ringer’s solution, and medicine.  By week’s end, thanks to infiltrations and other failures that meant they had to start new IVs, I ended up with 9-10 different IV sites.  Wanna see my bruises?

I have no idea how many units of blood/plasma/platelets they pumped into me.  Several, for sure.  They also gave me 4 units of IVIG to counter my low platelet count.  IVIG is made from plasma taken from between 1,000-20,000 donors.  All things considered, at the absolute minimum, I received blood/blood products from 1,000 donors, if by some weird chance all the IVIG infusions came from the same source.  Maximum?  80,000 donors. That’s a lot of juice and cookies.  A whole lot.

I spent 4 days in ICU and 3 days in PCU (progressive care unit), so I had 2 rooms and 2 different beds.  I liked the one in the PCU better.  It was smaller and more comfortable, but those wimpy plastic pillows are nothing to brag about.  Give me a nice, firm pillow any day of the week.

My caregivers included 4-5 doctors, 2 nurse practitioners8 ICU nurses, and 5-8 PCU nurses.  (Yeah, I lost count.)  Additionally, 2 sonography techs and 2 x-ray techs came in to have a go at meI have no idea how many phlebotomists/ lab techs/etc. stabbed me.  There were cooks, food deliverers, 2 nutritionists, 2 floor moppers, 1 trash collector, and 1 sharps collector.  Oh, and 1 woman who brought in fresh towels and washrags.  And let’s not forget the 1 social worker who came in to talk to me about my insurance.  (Huh?  What’s that?)

I trashed 4 hospital gowns between ER and being put in a room.  I got a 5th one later, after they let me have a sponge bath.  Only the sponge bath wasn’t with sponges; it came with 1 iconic pink bucket, 5 wash rags, and 1 hand towel.

Somewhere between the bed pans and the IV tubes, I lost 1 pair of panties.  (Where do lost ICU panties go, anyway?)

Once I stopped barfing, it took 1 NG (nasogastric tube) shoved up my nose to pump out the blood that remained in my stomach .  Once that was done, they performed 1 EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) to install 8 rubber bands to seal off the enlarged veins in my esophagus.  (Rubber bands: not just for braces anymore!)

As far as eating, I had 1 day of no food, 1.5 days on a clear liquid diet, 1 day on full liquids, and the remaining 3.5 days on a gluten free, ‘low residue’, no caffeine, limited dairy, low salt, no fresh fruit or veggies diet.  The last one was a requirement of reverse isolation, where I spent 2 days when my WBC (white blood cell) count gave out.  1 injection of Neupogen finally helped the WBCs.  (I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials for Neulasta, which is pretty much the same thing.)  I can’t begin to count how many times people wore masks when they came in to see me under reverse isolation, but I do know 7 people ignored the MASKS MUST BE WORN sign on my door and came in without.  I wagged my finger at them and made them go out and get one.

While I cannot account for how many drugs they gave me in the hospital, I came home with 4 new prescriptions. They took away 1 drug I was already taking.  Now I’m waiting on referrals for 2 follow-up appointments with the (cheap) county hospital.  I still need to apply for financial assistance and from past experience I know I’ll need over 9000 documents to prove my income and expenses.  No matter what I bring with me, it’s never enough.

The biggest numbers I don’t have yet: the bills.  I don’t even want to get into those, so I’ll hurry up and post this before they arrive in my mailbox.  I’m also waiting for a definitive diagnosis as to what exactly caused this.  That in itself isn’t a number, but it will be 1 more glitch to add to my list of medical problems.

Chronic illness is not easy.  Numbers are.  They make a nice, neat list.  A row of clean facts.  They sit there on the page and do nothing but look all shiny and precise.

Numbers are a comfort.

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