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.