Monday, April 8, 2013
My gall bladder recently decided to pre-decease the rest of me. This is not uncommon. I am amazed by the number of people who have advised me to get rid of that sucker, because I’d feel a lot better without it. As I write I am 24 hours out from its removal. Just got home from the hospital, and am waiting for the feeling a lot better to begin. My need to have my gallbladder removed became apparent the Saturday night before Palm Sunday. I had a gallstone attack that landed me in the ER with intense pain, throwing up, taking the Lord’s name in vain, going through my entire repertoire of swear words, practicing labor and meditation breathing, reciting the Jesus prayer, and singing hymns. The technical name for what I experienced: biliary colic. Technical names do seem to sanitize what they’re talking about. The doc at the ER gave me a drug called dilaudid for the pain. It was given to me in an IV and when it took effect I felt like I’d fallen off a cliff and hit the ground, then been run over by a steamroller. It did make the pain of the gallstones retreat to somewhere far, far away, and after that I was like a drunk at a bizarre medical costume party. My abdomen was ultrasounded to a fare-thee-well and in the fullness of time a Dr. Shirk – I am not making that up – came in to tell me that I did indeed have gallstones, and needed to have my gallbladder removed, here was a surgical referral, now go home. Sadly, I had nothing to put on but the clothes I had worn in, and during one of the convulsive throwing up episodes on the way in, I had lost control of my other bladder (most mothers can relate to this), so my jeans now smelled like an outhouse. I rinsed them out as best I could, and dried them also as best I could with some towels in the bathroom, then put them on, damp and smelly. So picture me then: reeking, stoned, long gray hair sticking up in an even more disheveled way than usual, being released from the ER after midnight without a cent to my name because my purse had been left at home when the EMTs carried me out. At this point a tall, beautiful young brunette woman named Amy arrived, a social worker. I gave her my friend Becky’s name and number, and Amy went to call her. When she came back, she told me that Becky and her husband Roy were coming to get me. She handed me a slip of paper with Becky’s cell phone number on it, gingerly holding it with her thumb and forefinger as if afraid she might get cooties if she got any closer to me. In that moment I realized that I had become the Other: a smelly, stoned, fat old lady with wild, crazy, gray hair. A while ago I was a patient who was being treated. Now I was someone they hoped would leave as soon as possible, because I was, you know, icky. The transition from being wife, mother, grandmother, smart aleck writer and singer, person with home and family and friends and church and a Facebook account, to modern day leper – stinky, drug-addled street person – was as stunning as it was swift. Becky and Roy did come, bless them. This is friendship above and beyond the call of duty. They brought me clean clothes and my purse and the reassurance of my human connections. We caught the first ferry home. A friend remarked to me later that some people will do anything to get out of attending the Palm Sunday liturgy. So that was my Saturday night doing drugs with the stones. My gall bladder is history now. The surgeon said it was “gnarly.” Not a technical term. I’m on the mend and I hope not to be hauled to the ER for any reason in the near future, and I will never look at stinky, drug-addled street people the same, especially old ladies with wild, crazy, gray hair. My deepest gratitude and thanks to my family, friends (especially to Roy and Becky for coming out in the middle of the night to collect me), all the doctors and nurses, everyone who prayed, sent good wishes, and remembered me kindly. Blessings on you, every one.