“They really undersold this ‘There might be some blood in your stool’ business,” I thought to myself as I looked down at the red substance in the toilet bowl Wednesday afternoon.
Then it happened again later that afternoon.
Then I was awakened at 2 am by an urgent need to go. It felt like all my innards were exploding out of my asshole. I looked at the bowl again. It was a deep, dark red, and there was a lot of it. I still felt ok, but this seemed bad. I logged into my insurance company’s website and found a phone number for their 24/7 nurse line. An older-sounding woman with a strong Texas accent answered the phone. She asked me a bunch of questions, which I answered as dutifully as I could. She told me I needed to go to the emergency room. “Which hospital are you going to go to?” she asked. In hindsight, this is a great question to ask while the patient is still on the phone. “Baylor, I guess. It’s the closest.”
“Ok. Go now…”
“Carissa. Carissa. Carissa. Carissa,” I said in increasing volumes. She’s a deep sleeper. I shook her awake and told her the situation. She woke up the 18-year-old and told him he was going to be the only adult at home and to look after the kids. The 7-year-old had been waking up every night and coming into our room. I tried not to think about how panicked he would be if he found neither parent anywhere in the house. I just hoped he would eventually go find his older brother…
“Hey man, will you buy me some chips?” I looked at the dirty man in the wheelchair and then looked for a vending machine. I didn’t see any. I hoped if I just walked by him, he would move on to another person. The waiting room was packed. They had plexiglass between every seat. I knew the Baylor ER was going to be a terrible place at 3 am. I’d walked by the place many times during the day when I worked out of the coworking space just across the light rail tracks, I’d seen the average clientele.
I gave my name and date of birth for the first of what would be one thousand times. I waited. I tried to hold back the waves moving through my large intestine. A cockroach crawled across the counter when I went to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t. I waited some more, steeled by the subconscious-searing execration of the scene.
Finally, they called me to a room. It was tiny, windowless, and dirty. Carissa sat in one of the two chairs jammed between the bed and the wall. More waiting. The beyond-the-waiting-room bathrooms were cleaner but down the hall. I walked down that hall about a dozen times over the next 14 hours. The blood continued to evacuate.
Between 5 and 6 am, Carissa went back home so she could do our normal before-school routine. (The 7-year-old had mercifully slept through the night.) It would be 5 pm before I was transferred from that ER room to a hospital room in another building.
They’d put an IV in me and were giving me fluids, so every walk down the hall to the bathroom, I pushed my IV stand with me. I saw the same nurses. We made eye contact. My eyes said, “Yes, I’m going to the bathroom again, to make a horror-show blood bath in the toilet.”
Earlier, a nurse had come out into the waiting room and told that guy asking for chips, “Stop asking people for things!” I don’t know what happened to that guy. I never saw him in the actual ER.
I did see a woman wheeled in, sitting upright on the stretcher, in handcuffs, escorted by two paramedics and three city cops. She was talking incoherently, laughing in between phrases, the glow of whatever substance was in her blood emanating from her eyes.
The point is, ER nurses have seen it all, and are some tough folk.
A normal hemoglobin range is 13.5-18 g/dL. Upon arriving at the hospital mine was 10.3. It quickly fell to 8.1. Then 7.3. Then 6.2.
The number at which a blood transfusion is administered is 7.0. I got my first bag of blood Thursday night, just a little under 24 hours after arriving. The bleeding had not stopped. My next reading was 6.3. Another bag was administered Friday morning. And the cause of the bleeding was addressed.
It’s amazing how quickly the body starts recovering once you’ve stopped some internal bleeding. By late Friday I was feeling much better. I took a shower. It took so long for the water to get warm that I just assumed it never would and washed my hair with cold water. I brushed my teeth for the first time in 48 hours. I put on clean clothes. Small miracles.
Friday night I was still below 7.0. Another blood transfusion was ordered. I resisted. The cause of the bleeding was described to me as having had a 0.2% chance of occurring. I wasn’t feeling particularly lucky. Blood transfusions struck me as inherently risky. My nurse phoned the PA who ordered the transfusion and I talked to her about it.
“Will I have to be above 7.0 to be discharged?”, I asked.
“Ok, let’s Lance Armstrong this shit,” I replied. My wife and children were in the room and all their eyes got big. I’d lost my filter.
I got home at about noon Saturday. I did laundry. I did the dishes. I figured out something for Mother’s Day. I caught up on email. I took a hot shower.