It had been a long time since I’d been to the emergency room, so my body thought it would be time to go again. Quickly, my body polled itself; usually, the lungs sounded out, saying that they’d love to have an asthma flare-up, but for some reason my lungs remained quiet this time. Then my stomach piped up and decided it would be fun to have some major cramps; not the minor twinges that everyone gets from time to time after eating too much cauliflower, but the big whopping kind that leave you doubled over in pain, in tears because of their intensity. Yeah, said my body, that works. And see if the back can get in on the action as well. This really needs to be a party.
My stomach had been a little sore all night on Friday night, but at mdnight, these cramps really struck hard, and I finally poked Jennifer awake and asked her if she could call the advice nurse at the hospital. After a record shattering five minutes on hold (the previous record for shortest time on hold with an advice nurse was half an hour), the nurse listened to my symptoms and said that I needed to go to the ER. My body was delighted with the idea, since it had been so long. I was not but Jennifer put me in the car and drove me off.
The ER we went to was pretty slow, so I got in right away. I was poked at and prodded, given painkillers and saline, told to pee, told to bleed, and tested and poked all over. The doctor examined me in a place where I’d never been examined before, explaining that it was routine in cases of stomach problems like this, but it was disturbing anyway. The doctor announced that she found nothing unusual but that my prostate felt normal.
I was given pain medication in an IV drip, and the cramping subsided. My blood was tested and so was my urine. Nothing odd was found so the doctor ordered an abdominal CAT scan, fearing appendicitis. This involved drinking two large cups full of nasty-tasting goo that would make my intestines glow for the CAT scan, and a three hour wait while the goo went to work. In the scanning room, the radiologist injected X-ray dye into my veins, which felt like a strange warmth spreading throughout my body, beginning in my pelvis and spreading upwards. It’s difficult to describe the sensation. It was like urinating backwards in a way.
The results of the CAT scan showed that I have something called “diverticulitis”. It’s a condition where your intestines form small pouches on the outside; I don’t know why one’s intestines would do this, unless it’s part of an evacuation plan, a place to store personal belongings when it comes time to leave the body. These pouches are called “diverticules”. And every now and then they can become infected, and that’s what heppened to me. And it hurts like the devil himself.
The worst thing about this, though, is that I’m at least ten years too young to develop this condition. Just like the gout and the hypertension: I’m not old enough for these things to happen to me. I told Jennifer that at the rate I’m going, I’ll be developing arthritis at 38, and by the time I’m 40 I’ll be wearing those polyester paints that go up to my chest and complainng about the government full time.
At any rate, we got to leave the ER at six in the morning, with prescriptions for some hard-core antibiotics and Vicodin, which I’d never taken before, and instructions to call my doctor as soon as possible to follow up on this. The doctor — who was actually really friendly and efficient — told me that if I’m lucky I might get to have a colonoscopy or even surgery to correct the problem.
A couple of days later, I’m still worn out. I still have some pain in my stomach and in my back but nothing like what I had on Friday or Saturday (the Vicodin kept me pain-free enough to go to a wedding and reception on Saturday, where I’m sure my painkiller-inspired humor made me the life of the party). One of the antibiotics lists drowsiness as a side-effect, and I think it’s hit me really hard.
Anyway, that was my excitement for the weekend. You can read all about diverticulitis here, and see some pictures of infected intestines.
If nothing else, I now have something that I can put into this year’s Christmas letter: “To all my beloved friends and family; this year, among other things, Richard got to have his first rectal exam…”