On the Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, I thought I might die.

I had just gotten home from the grocery store when I was struck by an incredible pain in my abdomen. It felt like the worst heartburn I’d ever had… and I’ve had some brutal heartburn. I couldn’t figure out why it attacked me so suddenly. I had, I admit, opened a bag of cinnamon sugar pita chips in the car on the way home, but I didn’t eat that many. Still, maybe the cinnamon…

I didn’t have any antacid at home, so I debated a different antidote and settled on some milk. I settled on that because it was the only thing I had that might work. It had already been opened, about nine days before. The sell-by date was Dec. 25.

 Eh. Close enough.

But as I worked in the kitchen, putting groceries away, the heartburn didn’t subside. In fact, it got worse. I started cooking a pot of chili and kept drinking the milk. The spices were in a heap on top of the chopped onion and peppers and meat and tomatoes when the burning in my stomach suddenly ratcheted itself up by a factor of five and I nearly doubled over. Was the milk bad after all? I leaned on the counter to finish the stirring and left the pot to simmer while I headed to the bathroom to deal with still more developing symptoms.

I started to sweat and got a little shaky, so I peeled off my sweater. And then everything started graying at the edges.

Oh, no. Not this again.

Leaving out a bunch of details, suffice it to say that I once had to have emergency surgery because I was bleeding out into my abdominal cavity. The experience that led me to surgery felt a lot like this one was starting to feel. Including the passing out. What with having lost 40% of my blood supply to my belly.

The advantage of having gone through that fun little episode, however, is that I can now self-diagnose internal hemorrhaging. That’s a handy skill to have. But even though this was starting to feel like I might be slowly dying in a way akin to the effects of the Ebola virus (again), I knew it couldn’t have been from the same instigator. I put my head on my knees to avoid unconsciousness and ran through a very short known list of Reasons To Start Spontaneously Bleeding To Death Inside. I lit on the only explanation I could fathom.

Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Well. This is going to suck.

I checked my pulse. Kinda slowish. As with the last time (when I had no idea what was happening), I started debating what to do. Do I wait and see if I get better? It would be really embarrassing if I got to the ER, let out a massive fart, and then felt fine. Do I drive myself there? It’s only a mile and a half. Or do I call an ambulance? Ugh… that sounds awful. What about Jack? I knew he was meeting one of his friends for dinner but he hadn’t left yet. If I had at least 30 minutes left to live before absolutely requiring medical intervention, I could call him. I could recite a litany of information and explain the symptoms in detail to him on the way to the ER so that he’d be informed of all my needs and history before I slipped into the oblivion of cardiac arrest.

When the immediate threat of unconsciousness passed and the sweats subsided, I shuffled to the couch. Knowing that sitting up would be bad for a bleeder, but lying down would be the worst thing for some sort of demonic reflux, I settled for something halfway between. In that position, I felt better. But when I stood up to stir the chili, the fuzzy-headed threat of fainting came back. Every time that happened, I worried that I really was bleeding out again. The disadvantage to having gone through that fun little episode is that now I know what it’s like to have my gut cut open and lots of blood sucked out with a wet/dry ShopVac, and frankly, I’d love not to do that again. The doctor had told me post-op that I’d lost more than enough blood to warrant a transfusion, but that my hematocrit and hemoglobin levels were good and I was only 25 at the time, and the hospital was very low on blood, so they’d opted to make me do the replenishing work myself and save the blood for a severe trauma.  I don’t want to deny a couple pints to a guy who just got run over by a cement mixer, but you’d be surprised by the lingering effects of that kind of blood loss without the boost of a transfusion.

And then, two hours after the whole thing started, as suddenly as it had come upon me, the pain left. Just… stopped. I wondered if my aorta had miraculously healed itself. I had, after all, said a prayer for help. Maybe that was it. Whatever it was, I was grateful.

On the fifth day of Christmas, I thanked God I just had heartburn. Apparently.

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14 thoughts on “On the Fifth Day of Christmas

  1. OK, this sounds terrifying. For all of us who love you. Can you ask a doctor about this? And FYI, next Fifth Day of Christmas, just stick with the five gold rings. Much easier on the system. Probably even eating them would be much easier on the system.

  2. Well, I suppose “able to self-diagnose internal hemorrhaging” looks pretty good on a resume, but that’s too bad you have that skill. I’m glad this turned out okay, but, yeah, probably worth following up on.

    • I’m telling you, I will never have to wonder if I’m bleeding in my gut. *You* might wonder some day. *I* will know. (Except when I think I might be, and it turns out I just have random ravaging heartburn for no reason.) But thanks for the concern.

      • Really, I thought aortic or abdominal aneurysm as you described everything….wish I could help….I spent most of 2011 with terrifying stomach pain (cause STILL unknown). The only good thing is the 25 pounds I’ve lost as a result. The digestive system is a mysterious and wonderous thing – when all “goes” well. I guess it could have been a massive spasm, or just painful reflux/heartburn – or gas. In addition, women often have disturbing, unusual symptoms for heart attacks. I would probably get seen by someone.

  3. Yikes! This post really scared me. I mean, I knew in my gut that if it had been really catastrophic, you wouldn’t have been posting about it so soon, but I half expected you to be posting from a hospital bed. As someone else said, is it worth following up on? It sounds a bit extreme for heartburn. If it happened to me, by the way, I’d have had a panic attack and been convinced I was having a hear attack. Take care of yourself.

    • I seem to have really freaked out several of my readers, here. I’m sorry for doing that to you all. I really, honestly think it was heartburn. The drop in blood pressure was really odd, but k8edid over there now has me worried it was a heart attack (and worrying is bad for your heart). It is gratifying to know, however, that she, too, thought it might be a ruptured aneurysm, and she’s a nurse. (See? Self-diagnosis of internal hemorrhaging: handy skill!) Anyway, I’ll make you all a deal: if anything close to it happens again, I’ll get it checked out.

    • Taken as intended, thank you. The post was not meant to be attention-seeking. It really was supposed to be funny. “Ahaha! She had heartburn and thought she’d blown her aorta! Ahahaha!” Oh well.

  4. I feel as if we’re leading some weird type of parallel life reading your posts this week. A few years ago, a few days before Christmas, I had excruciating pain in my abdomen. The kind of pain where you can’t stand up straight. I even had a fever. What did I do? Go to work, go for a run, then go buy Christmas presents. Long story short, I wound up in the ER, then admitted to the hospital for five days hooked up to an IV without food or water. After numerous tests, all the doctors could determine was that it “might” have been a perforated duodenum. As in, a small chicken bone from the staff Christmas party the night before. Lesson learned: don’t ignore the pain. Like you, every time my stomach hurts I wonder if it’s happening again.

    • Or… ignore it and you’re fine because they don’t know what to do for you, anyway. 🙂 I figure it’s a crap shoot regardless. But years ago when I landed in the hospital, I was out and about while bleeding into my gut, too. We are oddly similar this week!

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