Therapeutic Bleeding

Early medicine involved treatment with leeches to bleed away an affliction. This practice was eventually abandoned as doctors learned more, although in recent times leeches have not only resurfaced but maggots as well, to eat away at dead or diseased tissue in a living patient and promote healing.

I was thinking a lot this morning about an ordeal I went through in the Fall of 2000. I've tried not to talk about it much since after it was over I spent weeks talking about nothing BUT my surgery, a topic I'm sure those around me eventually tired of. Everybody has medical woes from time to time and I needed to get over it already and stop making myself the center of attention. It was also a particularly graphic tale. I'll warn readers now that though I will endeavor to be tactful, at times details will be unavoidable.

I recovered from my operation just fine but in the Summer of 2002, sharp abdominal pangs sent me back to the doctors, and for months I was on Nexium and having various scans and tests on my gall bladder and kidneys and ultimately finding no reason for my perpetual nausea and pains. Eventually I stopped with the medication and began feeling like my old self, and in January of 2003 joined my company's gym. From then up until a few months ago, I felt the best I'd ever felt. A dizzy spell on a treadmill stopped me back in June however, and I waited anxiously for my heartbeat to subside in the locker room. I tried to drive home but only got a few blocks before pulling over and drinking an entire bottle of water. I made it a little further to a shopping center where I let my seat fall back and waited for my breathing to normalize, and my left arm to stop tingling. I didn't think it was a heart attack, but I was in no shape to drive, and found a payphone from which to call my parents. The subsequent half hour sitting in my car was very frightening, but once they arrived I began to feel better. When we got home I felt all right, but still wanted to go to the hospital to be safe. Fall of 2000 was not the first time I'd had the aforementioned graphic symptoms that led to my surgery. In February of 1999 I experienced them for a week, at one point collapsing on my bathroom floor begging God, “no, please, no.” I was embarrassed and told no one, not even my parents, that I was bleeding during bowel movements. It went away on its own after a week and I foolishly dismissed it, only to have it return with a vengeance two years later. Even then I put off going to the doctor, and nearly bled to death before being hospitalized. Subsequently, with the stomach pains in 2002 and the dizzy spell this summer, I've taken things seriously. I fear becoming a hypochondriac since no one takes seriously he who cries wolf. but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

So I spent about five hours in the hospital that night, enduring a number of inconclusive tests. I was sent home and told it was probably “just a bug” but to follow up with my doctor. I called in sick the next day and though my doctor was unavailable, met with another doctor in his office who was. She checked me out and found nothing irregular save for a skipped heartbeat which she chalked up to caffeine and told me to give that up immediately. Just to be safe I was sent to a cardiologist, especially with a history of heart disease in my family. Those tests found nothing as well and he chalked it up to “a bad day.” I was scheduled for a follow-up with the first doctor to have my thyroid checked out, but in the interim had to play a feast in Brooklyn. I was fine up until we were about to begin the procession, and then felt very lightheaded. While my dad and the band went off without me, I guiltily lay in a pew in the back of the church waiting for my heart to stop pounding and my head to clear. It eventually did and I tracked down the band, to try and play, but only made it a few blocks before I had to rest again on a nearby stoop. Afterward, the band leader insisted on paying me despite my protests. And my dad insisted on a return visit to the hospital as well. Once more I was checked out, and once more tests found nothing wrong. This time the doctor I saw suggested I “go to Hawaii”. The next day I had to play a gig up in the Bronx and the feelings returned, but I forced myself through, although I had my dad drive us to and from the gig.

A week later I had more blood tests for diabetes, lyme disease(I had played paintball in some woods weeks prior to the symptoms), and some other possibilities. Upon a return visit for results the only thing the doctor found to be positive was a past Epstein-Barr infection, which is quite common and doesn't cause fatigue in everyone. She dismissed my fatigue as viral but I continued to struggle with weird symptoms. Swollen glands. Occasional zoning out and hearing loss. Falling asleep, especially at the wheel. I took to the psychotic practice of dragging my dad with me to work every day in case I needed to pull over, and having him take the car home and return for me in the evening. I began exercising again slowly, and taking vitamins while cutting out any foods I thought might be giving me an allergic reaction. These days I feel pretty good 90% of the time, although the “headiness” and fatigue return in stressful times, particularly when driving. I've gotten it in meetings, in church, and during gym as well, in situations where I think how bad it would be to pass out in front of so many people and subsequently FEEL THAT WAY. Repetition has helped build confidence with the driving; after a while I stopped taking my dad with me, and I've driven myself enough times to convince myself that I'm not going to pass out. Keeping my mind diverted is important too.

This morning I had some of those feelings at the beginning of mass. As I sat there with my mom, I started thinking about my surgery in 2000 and composing the tale as a blog entry in my mind. I thought about how strange it was that, at the time, I was making all sorts of promises to myself, from the serious to the stupid. I remember one silent vow to stop lowering my eyes when I passed people in the hall, and give them a friendly greeting no matter what. If I was ignored or got the old, “who the hell are YOU to be addressing ME!” glare then screw them, but at least I'd try and not care what they thought of me. My life was going to be DIFFERENT when I got out. I was in the hospital for eleven days then, and spent four more weeks at home while I healed from having my intestines resectioned to remove a Meckel's Diverticulum and my appendix removed “while [they] were in there” as my surgeon put it. Other than it being a frequent topic of conversation upon my return, life went back to normal quickly, almost abnormally. I had almost died, and yet settled back in to my routine as though nothing had happened. I expected things to be different, that I would have made major changes, like in the movies. I thought e-mailing the tale to my ex-girlfriend would bring her rushing back to me in a fit of sympathy and we'd reconcile, but our e-mail exchanges were very matter-of-fact on the subject with no soap operaesque romance and we gradually stopped corresponding altogether. Things sort of fizzled there. Life went on and I had no trauma and little difficulty functioning. Sometimes it bothered me that I didn't react more, but I didn't dwell on it.

As I thought about it this morning, and put the tale into words in my mind, I felt healed from my current affliction. It was as though something that had been bothering me had “bled out”, simply by allowing myself to think about it. Sometimes it bothers me when my mind wanders in church and I don't hear the readings or the sermon, but I think taking the time for quiet reflection to discover things buried within me was an important part of healing. I fully intended to write about it tonight to continue that healing, but writing in general and blogging in particular often takes one in directions he or she was not expecting. I ended up writing a lot more about THIS YEAR than I intended. I think the problem I had in 2002 started out as food poisoning perhaps and turned in to something more because of underlying stress from the earlier, serious problem. I think this year was no different. I may indeed have been fatigued from some infection during the Summer, but the less the tests found the more worried I became, the more time I spent just sitting around thinking, “What's wrong with me, My God what's wrong that they're not finding and is only getting worse?” Indeed, there are many times while driving when my mind will wander from this irrational worry, and I'll have this realization that I've driven a few miles without any trouble, only to have the trouble resurface the second I allow myself to think about it again.

These days, I'm getting more sleep and eating better, if not right. I carry a cell phone. I've been back to the gym and I've played dozens of gigs since the two most problematic ones back in June, including a fourteen hour procession in Hoboken. So I know I'm okay with all this evidence. Rationally I know I'm just fine and not dying; convincing my subconscious especially when behind the wheel has been trickier. Fear of death isn't rational though; we're ALL dying. I need to let this go to move forward. I know tonight has been a particularly long ramble, even for me, but it's something I needed to do. Blogging as therapy. Now that my tale has been told and I'm not bottling things up, I hope I can move forward. I feel a little better already, actually. Wish me luck....


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