Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gastric Bypass Nightmares 4 - Wasting Away

The first 3 parts can be found here, here and here.

I moved to Ottawa in June of 2005 for a job with a software company. It would be my first real job after graduating college the previous year and I was excited. I didn't know anybody up here so I was literally alone for the first time in my life. The company I work for is pretty cutting edge and the place is filled with geniuses, real hard core computer programmers who know a lot about computers. It was stressful as I realized quickily how much I didn't know and I started to worry that they might decide I simply don't have the smarts to be there. I have to admit my nerves were on edge.

When I went home for Christmas that year, I hadn't noticed anything different in my eating habits but apparently my mother had. She said that she felt I was throwing up more than before. I waved it off as her just being hyper-sensitive to the situation and maybe being concerned for me since I wasn't around much anymore. According to the scale I was around 185-190lbs, about 5 or so more pounds than I was that summer. In January, I did notice that I had had a couple of bouts where I was having troubles ingesting food for a few days on end, but it would clear up and everything seemed fine after. In February I was given a referral to a gastric specialist as I felt this was a bit odd, even for me.

The specialist jammed one of those cameras down my throat to see what was going on in there but he found nothing unusual. So I carried on not giving it much more thought. As the winter turned to spring, I noticed the scale was going down. I was having a few more bouts of this eating problem but since the doctor hadn't found anything wrong, I figured I was just losing weight due to diet and exercise. But I wasn't feeling well. By the summer, I felt weak. Walking around downtown had become cumbersome, I simply didn't have the energy to do much of it. And my weight had dropped to around 165lbs. By now I knew I was throwing up more often, it seemed I couldn't digest anything for days on end. Then suddenly it would clear up and I could eat again. This was constant but I still had what the doctor's findings said in my head: everything looked normal down there.

During a trip home in August for my mother's birthday, everyone noticed my weight loss. My face was thin and greyish, my clothes hanged off of me. I didn't feel great either and felt drained. My grandmother kept looking over at me with a very worried look on her face. My grandfather had died of cancer and she had watched him waste away as he slowly died. Mom told me later that she thought I might have cancer. Mom suggested very strongly that I see a doctor, better yet, our family doctor back home instead of a clinic doctor in Ottawa. I declined to see him as it would require taking a day off to travel and I simply couldn't take the time off. I'd go see a doctor in Ottawa.

I dropped into a clinic in September to discuss what might be happening and the doctor sent me for blood work and an ultrasound. After a couple of weeks, the results came in and it didn't explain anything. Nothing unusual came back from the ultrasound and the blood work showed signs of malnutrition and very low iron. He referred me back to the gastric specialist to further investigate this mysterious illness since it looked to be physical and not from a disease. Of course with referrals, you wait for weeks or months at a time. Because I had seen this guy previously and there appeared to be some urgency, I got in within a couple of weeks.

He decided to send me to see a gastric surgeon who because of his experiences with gastric bypass surgery might be able to shed some light on what was wrong. At the same time, he booked me for a bariatric swallow but the wait was going to be about a month for both. During this time, I continued to lose weight, my clothes long ago too big on me, so I started haunting the second hand stores for pants since I didn't want to spend real money on clothes I was only going to toss later. My eyes had become hollow and black, my cheeks sunken. I had virtually no energy, I just sat at my cube like a zombie. A few people at work noticed and commented on my weight loss with concern since I obviously didn't look healthy. I didn't go out anymore. I had stopped dating in the summer since I looked terrible and nobody would want to date me in that condition. Also, I wasn't in the mood for it. By the time my bariatric swallow came around on October 31, yes Halloween, I was about 140lbs.

A bariatric swallow is not a pleasant thing. You lie on a metal table with an x-ray machine hovering over you. They give you this thick, chalky substance to drink and then they take pictures of your stomach while moving the table up and down, then have you roll over to the side. The purpose is to see the flow through your esophagus and stomach and see where the flow is stopping and if there are any obvious obstructions. Fortunately, I was having a bad week digestive wise so I knew it had to show something. And it did. The substance began pooling at the point of entry to my stomach, right where the surgery had taken place. As they looked at the images, you could see it very slowly flowing into the stomach but it was but a trickle. They said they'd send the results to both the gastric doctor and the gastric surgeon and sent me on my way.

During my meeting with the surgeon afterwards, he informed me that he no longer did gastric bypass surgeries or reversals. He said that he'd have to look into who is doing that type of surgery these days since he said it wasn't that common here anymore. I found that hard to believe since it seems like everybody is getting some form of gastric bypass surgery done these days. He talked about expanding the opening of the stomach using a balloon to allow food to pass or reworking the entire surgery altogether to make it work again. I told him no, that after 17 years of Hell, I had had enough and wanted it reversed. Plus I didn't trust it anymore. If after 17 years, I can suddenly develop some kind of serious issue, then I wasn't going to tempt fate again. He told me his office would contact me with a referral to someone who could help me.

On November 5, I finally collapsed. It was at work and I was feeling pretty dizzy and disoriented. It was like it just hit me suddenly. A cold sweat, chills, feeling like I was going to pass out. I knew I had to get help so I called my boss and told him I have to get to a hospital, then I called my mother. She said she would come right up. Good, I didn't want to be alone. A workmate offered to take me to the hospital so off we went. Due to my obvious distress, I got in pretty much right away. After hearing my story and taking some vitals, they hooked me up to an IV for fluids and started checking me over. To be honest, I was scared to death. I had felt dizzy and weak before, but this was different. It was far worse.

I spent about 10 hours in hospital that day and felt much better after receiving 2 1/2 bags of fluids to rehydrate me. I decided I needed to take a few days of to recuperate since I had no idea how long my hydration would last, so I went home to Kingston. A week later I was back at work and I finally had an appointment with a doctor who could help me. He agreed to reverse the bypass surgery but wouldn't know what to expect until he got in there since we still didn't know what was causing the blockage. He told me they'd call with a date. On December 5, exactly month after my scare, I collapsed again. This time it was morning and I was still at home. I made it to the hospital where the reception nurse recognized me and put me through right away. Again they filled me full of fluids and told me there was nothing else they could do for me until my surgery date was set.

In mid December I got the call. January 12th would be the day. By this time I was unable to eat much at all and had withered away to a pathetic 128lbs. My diet consisted of popsicles which I found easy to eat, the odd slice of toast, and Boost or Ensure which only stayed down some of the time. I looked like one of those Ethopians you see on World Vision, minus the dirt and flies. I continued working, I was all set for sick leave but couldn't afford to stop working until I had to. A couple of days before surgery, I had to go in for a pre-operative assessment. There they performed an electrocardiogram and found a problem with my heart. Seems the malnutrition had caused some electrical problems with it and now they were concerned with putting me under. Great! All this suffering just to find out they may call off the surgery. But it was a catch-22 situation: I needed the surgery to fix my problem so I wouldn't die but putting me under might kill me too. I told them I'd rather die on the table than suffer anymore and die slowly since there was no guarantee I'd ever meet the standard for the anasethetic in my condition.

On January 11, the hospital called and said I had been cancelled due to lack of beds. This has been a huge issue in Canada for a long time and now it was affecting me. They rebooked me for the next week and I tried to wait patiently. The day before the new date, they called again. Same problem. I expressed my disappointment but they said there was nothing they could do since I wasn't an emergency case. HOW THE FUCK AM I NOT AN EMERGENCY CASE!?! I'M DYING HERE!! Again, they rebooked me for the following week and again I was cancelled. By this time, I was so sick and lethargic that I just didn't care anymore. I was told this could go on for months so I began to lose hope for a recovery. I told my family that if I died waiting, I wanted people sued; the health care system, doctors, anybody. They just nodded but I knew they never would.

Finally on February 1, I got the call. A bed had just opened up so be there by 3pm or its gone. It was 1pm. I told the boss I was gone and headed home to pack a bag. A short taxi ride later and I was booked in. Still, I was told, the surgery could be cancelled if something else came up. I resigned myself to my fate. If it happened, it happened. If not, then screw it. Fortunately, it happened. After 17 horrible years, the bypass was reversed, or rather, re-engineerred since they couldn't put me back together as I originally was. But the effect was the same.

The surgeon described the obstruction as "kind of an old ulcer that had scarred up". Ulcer? I have no history of ulcers. Oh wait....maybe all that stress I was under during my first few months at the new job did more damage than I thought. Maybe I had a little ulcer from years of stress and it all finally came to a climax. Who knows? All I knew is that I could suddenly eat again, without tossing up. All the foods I had been forbidden were available again. Upon arriving home in Kingston to convalese, I enjoyed my first pork chop meal in years. It was the best pork chop I had ever had and my moans of ecstacy had my sister laughing hard. The biggest issue would be, of course, would he gain back all the weight?

That's another story.

No comments: