Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Ordinary Weekend with Morphine

Just wanted to let y'all know what happened to me over the weekend, now that I'm out of the woods. 

For a few days, I'd had what I thought was a chest cold and I'd been diagnosed with a sinus infection on Thursday. On Saturday morning before Ashley and I ran weekly errands, I took a shower and broke loose some mucus and I couldn't catch my breath for several minutes. I wanted to make sure I didn't have pneumonia or was having a panic attack or, worse yet, one of the heart kind, so
I went to the ER.

My oxygen level was 86, blood pressure 190/105 and heart rate was over 150. They did a chest Xray and EKG. They gave me a double breathing treatment and put me on a bi-pap. If you don't know what that is, they put a mask on your face and it forces air into your mouth and nose, even if you're not ready to have that air. They didn't like the results of the chest film and EKG, so I had a CT scan.

I've never been claustrophobic until two years ago when I had an MRI - a process I equated to test-driving a coffin - and this looked roughly the same. The tech assured me that my head would be out. Until she slid me in and realized I'm so tall. I had to move down farther on the slide an my head was indeed going in. The nice respiratory tech, a stocky guy named Joseph, talked me through the procedure. I think he may have even held my hand, but I can't be sure.

They didn't mess around waiting for the results and the ER doc went down to see for himself. Within a few minutes, he came back to deliver the news. I had thrown blood clots into both lungs. Said another way: double pulmonary embolisms. The way he described it, the clots hit my heart and it ejected them into my lungs. The clots may have thrown at two different times. In retrospect, it makes sense now.

Let me back up. My office is on the lower part of the Cerner campus and I had a meeting in the main building, which is up a hill that is roughly the equivalent of climbing five flights of stairs. It was the second time I'd done the climb that week, and it really hurt. Both times. I'd also had meetings at another campus earlier in the week and the parking lot is up a good sized hill, roughly the same kind of climb.

I chalked it up to a chest cold and I'd been diagnosed with a sinus infection. Turns out, it was because of severely diminished lung capacity. Thankfully, my heart was strong enough the clots didn't become lodged, or the outcome would've been much different and you'd be reading this in a different platform. 

They told us there were "many" clots on both sides. I was disappointed I didn't set the record for number of pulmonary embolisms; you know me, always competitive. 

They gave me morphine to help my lungs relax enough to breathe. I didn't feel it and didn't feel any effect on my breathing.

They moved me to the Cardiac ICU. Let me say, ICU is scary enough. Being told you're going to CICU is a nut punch. As I transferred from the uncomfortable gurney to a one-size-fits-most hospital bed, 10 people surrounded me and very quickly and efficiently told me their names and how they would be torturing me over the next few minutes. 

IVs went in, monitors were stuck on my chest, without shaving, a situation that became a nuisance later, and eventually I looked like a very badly wired home entertainment system circa 1989. 

I was put on a heparin-steady drip to thin my blood and six liters of oxygen per hour. My nurse came in to introduce herself. Tresa expected me to pee laying down into a jug, which angled up, but for me this seemed like a logistical impossibility. I wanted to stand to pee, but she said she's seen patients with blood clots who stand up have the clots move on them. I asked how often it happened and she said it had only happened once in her10 years as an ICU nurse. So I explained a little about probability and we reached an understanding.

My next nurse was in her mid 60s named Peggy. She offered me morphine every time she came in. Kinda like a grandmother with a plate of homemade shortbread, but with painkillers. Ashley went home at 2 a.m. when she was convinced Peggy wasn't trying to hop me up on opiates. Eventually I took the morphine because I wouldn't go to sleep. Mostly because I had a rotation of people coming in for blood draws and breathing treatments every four hours and they couldn't get on the same schedule. And also because I was convinced that I didn't want people talking about how I "went peacefully in my sleep." 

Anyway, that morphine was a donkey punch. Peggy talked me through it like some whacky LSD monitor from the 60s. After about five minutes, it passed and I dozed off for a couple of hours. They started stair-stepping my O2 down and I responded well to the heparin. 

The next two days were a blur of poking and prodding in CICU, where I had to stay because they didn't have a room for me. Although I was taken off critical care at 4:00 Sunday, I think merely out of habit, they kept treating me like one of the really sick people on the floor, complete with the revolving door of techs putting needles in my arm and breathing treatments. Tresa returned, followed by Brie, the night CICU nurse. A floater nurse named Erin took care of me Monday, and she didn't let me move around much at all.

Monday afternoon, a sonogram showed I still have one small clot in my right calf, but the blood thinner will take care of that little jihadi zealot.

I was happy to see Brie return if only so I could pee in the stainless steel prison toilet under the sink, like any normal prisoner. She informed by that I would move to another room Monday night - one with a shower and toilet. I could even change from the very fashionable (and revealing) hospital gown into regular clothes. I was off oxygen and heparin, so I was no longer considered a fall risk, but the nurse still put me on a bed alarm. However, she neglected to tell me. So when I got up to change clothes, it went off and I almost had a heart attack.  

I was settled in time to watch the KU-West Virginia game and almost have another heart attack. Because I was no longer wired in, I got to sleep on my side for the first time and slept like a rock. The nurse and nurses assistant kept unneeded torture practitioners away from me and pokes and prods to an absolute minimum.

Doc came to see me about noon and said I was being discharged. She also said when she saw me Saturday, she didn't expect me to be leaving until Friday and that she didn't expect me to leave without an oxygen tank. 

I'll be on blood thinners for six months and the doc will reevaluate. Given the Griggs family's genetic predisposition to sludgy blood, it may be a rest of my life proposition. I'm also on a low level blood pressure med, which should come as a shock to no one. 

I started off this adventure thinking I was going to die and then transitioned to thinking that I could have died. Both are dark places to go. (I blame the lingering effects of Mother Morphine.)

But I didn't leave the mortal coil because I've got some shit left undone. I was already making some changes to my diet and exercise habits, in large part to working for a health care company that really focuses on it, but also because I need to. This episode will just accelerate my program. 

And I promise I won't become one of those dbags who gets all militant about being healthy because I hate hypocrisy.

I would've written this while I was in the hospital, but you can't joke about this stuff when you're getting your blood pressure taken every 15 minutes and have to poop in a bucket. Did I forget that part? Oh well... Perhaps that is as story for another time.


  1. Man,getting old sucks. Glad you're still in the land of the living! Rock on!

  2. Welcome back to the blogosphere. I'm glad your trip down Smack Lane was more or less uneventful.