I can’t even with my pancreas

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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July 1, 2020

So I apparently cursed myself with my last post–I landed in the hospital last Wednesday evening and didn’t get out until Monday afternoon.

I had a fever of 100.8 and I was just incredibly uncomfortable with the fluid accumulation and just had been feeling off all day, so off to the ER we went. Luckily, it was not a total hell-visit, I was seen by triage pretty quickly and put on a stretcher in the hallway until a treatment room opened up. Once there, I was sent for a chest x-ray and a CT scan and given some IV fluids. My lipase was elevated, so I was officially having a pancreatitis flare. Huzzah.

The CT scan showed what appeared to be a new fluid collection/possible abscess mid-abdomen along with small lesions on my liver and spleen. So I got some IV antibiotics, too. Also a diagnostic paracentesis. That’s when they just take a syringe of the fluid and send it to the lab to culture it and see if anything grows. I do not like diagnostic paracenteses in the ER, not since the one where they didn’t use enough lidocaine to numb the area and it was painful and I asked them to stop and they didn’t. So now I have to confirm that if I ask them to stop, that they will.

I was taken to a floor room at around 6 am Thursday morning, so that wasn’t too bad.

And there I basically sat until Monday evening. Okay, that’s really not fair.

I had a paracentesis on Thursday and they drained nearly 6 liters of fluid off me and I had a consult with Infectious Diseases. Sadly not the awesome doctor I had two years ago, but his partner–who was also pretty great, but not quite the same. They were culturing both my blood and the fluid drained from me, but the preliminary gram test didn’t show any bacteria.

But my white blood cell count was dropping and they couldn’t figure out why. And Interventional Radiology was taking their sweet time to look at my CT scan before deciding that what looked like a fluid accumulation/possible abscess mid-abdomen was actually my stomach at a weird angle which, okay, but wouldn’t I have felt that? Maybe, maybe not; apparently internal organs don’t have a lot of nerve endings but then how come I can feel pain in my spleen, liver, kidneys, and what’s left of my pancreas?

Anyhow, there was all this stuff going on behind the scenes and I was only getting updated once a day. Which was frustrating and anxiety-provoking.

And then there was my roommate.

She was a tiny little dumpling of a grandma and very sweet, but also needy and thoughtless. She was in a lot of pain and was getting so much Dilaudid every 4 hours that I’d’ve been SUPER HIGH on that dosage. It was more than I was getting when my pancreas was eating itself and trying to take the rest of me with it. There was also a lot of performative moaning and groaning about 2 hours before she’d get her pain meds and she was constantly asking for food–and then complaining of nausea afterwards (she never actually puked).

My favorite moment was Sunday night when the night nurse was not having any of her nonsense and said to her, “I just gave you your pain medicine, what are you moaning about?”

My least favorite moment was the Fox News at 4 am. Which she also watched the next day for many hours. She also watched infomercials–even when they repeated themselves. She eventually settled on the local ABC affiliate, which meant I at least got to hear the Hamilton commercials. And then there was the time she had the TV on at a fairly high volume and was watching something on her iPad and I basically wanted to die.

I spent the time reading, journaling, playing Animal Crossing, and meditative doodling. I usually use hospital time as a chance to take All The Naps, but with the TV going and the constant call bell pushing, I just couldn’t. There were more than a few times when I rang my bell to ask for something to drink or whatever and the tech or nurse just immediately assumed it was my roommate who rang until they actually looked at which side of the room’s light was blinking.

They never did figure out why my white blood cell count was dropping (specifically, it’s neutropenia), so they discharged me with instructions to get bloodwork next week and a CT scan in 4-6 weeks (which dovetails nicely with the timing my specialist at Jefferson wants for a new scan).

As I was being wheeled out, the very young resident breezily informed me, in what was basically a fancy hallway, that they’d also tested me for HIV and hepatitis B and I was negative for both. This very young resident likely didn’t quite get that for someone in my age cohort, this is not a trivial matter and my HIV status should have been disclosed to me privately and I am kind of horrified that he was so casual about it.

I worked for a few hours yesterday morning, just to make sure nothing was on fire (nothing was) and I’m on vacation until next week. Gonna read, journal, play Animal Crossing, and maybe try to make some art. And watch Hamilton on Friday. And Saturday. And Sunday.

I might have an infection, I might not, but either way I’m definitely quite immunocompromised at the moment so WEAR A FUCKING MASK.

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5 Comments

  1. Rain

    <3 there just really aren't words, but I'm thinking of you lots and wishing this were not a thing you were having to deal with. Hang in there, pal. Love. xoxoxo

  2. Vickie

    Thanks for the update. I am faithfully wearing a mask and encouraging others to do so.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      You have an excellent collection of masks! I need to buy some more, since this looks like it’s gonna be a long term thing.

  3. skadhu

    I am so sorry that you are dealing with all this. Sending all the virtual good will in the world your way.

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