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Out of The Pink Haze, Into Thin Air, On To the Sea.

January 6, 2011

Happy 2011!!  I’m so happy that 2010 is OVER, even though most of it was really good.

Well, you might be wondering what I’ve been up to since Thanksgiving.  Have I been on a fabulous vacay?  Have I been behind bars?

Noooo–for nine days I disappeared to a place that provided (some of) the relaxation of an exotic getaway and the institutional, yet oddly comforting feel of a fine resort prison.

I was in the dang hospital.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere that I have Sickle Cell Anemia.  I probably mentioned this very casually, because I’m very lucky in that I don’t often get sick or have painful crises.  My arms or my ankles might be in slight pain for an hour or so, but it usually goes away.  Well this time the pain just didn’t wanna go away!

On December 13, I was handling some bidness and gearing up for the holidays when the trouble started.  The combination of stress, dehydration from traveling, standing out in the cold waiting for a fucking hotel shuttle (long story), and the onset of my lady time of the month was just too much for my body to handle.

Note to self: when you’re in the middle of a Sickle Cell crisis, don’t get on a plane!!  The lower air pressure makes things worse!

I flew to Columbus, OH on the 14th to meet Andy so we could visit his family (I wasn’t even flying for work?!?  Idiot!).  During the flight, the pain in my ankles–which was already so bad that I could hardly walk–ratcheted up several notches.  Next thing I know, I’m trembling, panting, my face and clothes are covered in tears and snot, I’m rocking back and forth…and we’re on the ground and I’m surrounded by paramedics and some very frightened-looking flight attendants.  (Sorry, y’all…)

When the pain is bad, it takes your breath away.  The best way I can describe mine is a throbbing, pulsating, almost as if someone had chosen a body part (or several), placed a vise around the bone and squeezed very hard, then relaxed.  Squeeze, relax.  Quickly, like a heartbeat.  It comes in waves; one minute I’m coherent and “okay,” the next I’m screaming loud enough to wake the dead.  There have been times when I’ve either blacked out or gone to my “happy place,” which is a meadow of bright green grass, under a big blue sky and puffy white clouds.  It works because it’s simple.  If I concentrate, I can almost feel the blades of grass between my fingers.

I ended up at Mount Carmel East hospital, in Columbus.  I’d never been there before–it had been six years since I’d been in any hospital.  But I didn’t care about any of that, about breaking my “streak,” about the fact that I was probably freaking everyone out with my wailing when I’m normally so quiet.  I just wanted relief.  First, give me a saline IV drip, to thin my blood and hydrate me.  Wait a few minutes, it’s worth a shot.  If that doesn’t work, that’s what narcotics are for.

Dilaudid.  Meh.  I prefer the giddiness, the pink haze that morphine provides–and what about vicodin?  But a girl can’t be picky when she’s thrashing around on a stretcher in the ER.  The drug is administered nonchalantly, and I feel first a warmth that radiates throughout my body and calms me.  Then, nausea, vomiting.  (Never had that reaction to dilaudid before!)  Then, finally, a dreamless sleep.

Anyway, I was later admitted to the hospital and stayed there until December 23–my pain quickly subsided to the point where I wasn’t screaming, but it would be a few days before I could walk without assistance.

Andy and his mom met up with me in the ER, and he visited almost every day after that.  My mom drove up from Cincinnati with her boyfriend, got a hotel room and stayed for a few days.  “I just wanted to lay my eyes on you,” she said.

Supposedly, during my drug-induced slumber, I had a seizure–I don’t know who decided that, but numerous scans and tests showed normal brain activity so I probably didn’t have one after all.  However, I was on “seizure alert” for the remainder of my time there, and had to have the guardrails on my bed up at all times so I wouldn’t fall out.

My blood oxygen levels got so low that I had to be on oxygen almost the whole time, and do respiratory treatments every six hours.  I had three blood transfusions, and blood was taken out twice a day.  It got to the point where I didn’t even fully wake up for the super-insanely-early-morning phlebotomist ninja vampires; I just held out my arm, they skillfully took my blood, and I was back to snoring before they left the room.  X-rays showed early signs of pneumonia (which I’ve had a million times–it’s only a little scary to me at this point) so I was encouraged to cough as much as possible.  Yay!

Perhaps because of the medications, swelling occurred in my left ankle (the one that hurt the most), my gut and my butt.  I looked as though I gained 20 lbs and had a gross cankle.  Lucky those hospital gowns were so roomy!

Every day, someone would ask me about my bowel movements–how many I’ve had, whether they looked normal–and about any mucus I may have coughed up.  What color was it?  Without fail, almost every time they asked me these things, Andy was sitting right there.  Way to keep those romantic fires burning!!  It took me a while before I could answer without throwing a sheepish glance at him first, to see if he was listening.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THAT–I WISH I HAD TAKEN PICTURES OF THE FOOD!!

You would have either laughed or cried over the food.  Not only was it awful in its own right, nobody there knew what a vegan will/won’t eat or seemed interested in going the extra mile to make sure I was eating a balanced diet.  All they kept trying to give me was veggie-burgers and PB&J (yep, PB&J for dinner!), and I kept having to give them the puppy-dog eyes and ask: “Do you have anything…else?” and eventually figure out what they had available.  I learned I had to ask for specific things and hope to get lucky: my best meal there (aside from the 3-4 Veggie Delites I got from the Subway downstairs, heh heh heh) was pasta with marinara sauce.  A little mushy, yes, but heavenly compared to endless rubbery veggie burgers.

Though maybe I was expecting too much from a hospital right smack in the middle of Ohio, I was mostly disappointed by the lack of nutritious, fresh food, and any insight into the role food plays in patient morale and overall medical care.  I don’t expect everything to be tofu-this and organic-that, but would it kill them to use a fresh vegetable every now and then (aside from funky iceberg lettuce and pink tomatoes)?  Though the quality of the food at Mt. Carmel has been typical of other hospitals in which I’ve stayed, this was the first time I’d been in the hospital since I became a vegan and started paying (some) attention to nutrition.

Two days before I left, a dietitian paid me a visit.  I initially thought she was there to “save” me from Boca-burger land and make sure I got something decent to eat. I almost hugged her.  But nope–she’d discovered I was a vegan and apparently thought that that automatically meant I had a protein deficiency, despite the fact that BOCA BURGERS HAVE 14 FUCKING GRAMS OF PROTEIN!!  HELL, THE BUN ITSELF HAS 3-4 GRAMS!

Protein was the least of my worries.  Did she even know or think about the reason I was in the hospital to begin with?  Probably not.  Did she even know anything about Sickle Cell, and how it is treated?  Probably not.  Had she given these things some consideration, maybe she would have realized that what my body was probably missing was iron and folic acid, two key nutrients for building red blood cells.  You see, I had to have all the blood transfusions because my red blood cells kept breaking down before my body could build new ones.  Sooo, dark green leafy vegetables perhaps?  Nope, and I didn’t think to ask.

I had to insist–three times–that I would not drink Ensure because it has milk protein in it.  According to her, since it’s just the protein from milk and not the actual milk itself, it’s totally vegan.  After I turned that down, I think she got a little frustrated with me.

Her next solution?  Nuts.  Okay!  I like nuts!

A cafeteria worker brought a bag of honey-roasted (gah!) nuts.  As much as I wanted to “take a stand” and refuse them, my spirit was broken.  However, I did request some hummus and miraculously got it.  Andy ate the nuts.  And I never saw or heard from the dietitian again.

Anyway… though I sometimes still walked with a slight limp that vanished a few days later, I got well enough to be released from the hospital–on the condition that I remain on oxygen at home–on Christmas eve-eve.  Fantastic!!  Andy’s mom whooped our asses at Scrabble that evening, and drove us to the airport the next day.  Soon we were sitting in first-class seats, drinking cranberry-apple juice, on our way back to Denver.

Christmas Day was peaceful.  We had homemade pizza for dinner, yummmm

In Denver, the drama continues.  I was hoping to start back to work on January 4.  When I got home, I felt well enough to skip using the oxygen, which was probably a mistake but I was really stubborn about wearing it.

Then, it snowed.  Which means that there must have been a drop in the air pressure, which means the already-thin air in the Mile-High City was even thinner.  Did I mention that we live on the 27th floor of our building?  I started to feel pressure in my chest, which worsened at night.  So, I’ve been using oxygen–all the tubes are sooo sexy–almost every day since December 29.  My local doctor sent a note saying that I could start work no sooner than January 10th.  Even that, I’m not so certain about.

I can no longer live in Denver.

For six months I was fine, but now my body is too weak to handle living so high above sea level.  I need to spend the majority of my time in a place where I can heal and breathe without being hooked up to a machine.

Howzabout San Diego again?  Only 40 feet above sea level.  Andy loves it there, and we were both a lot healthier/in shape when we lived there.  We walked every day, got plenty of sun and fresh air, went to the farmers’ market every Saturday…  Okay, twist my arm.

As far as work goes, I looked at different bases I could transfer to.  My airline doesn’t have a base in San Diego, but there are bases in LA, San Francisco, Fresno, etc.  But for a flight attendant (or pilot, or gate agent) it’s all about SENIORITY.  If I went to any base on the west coast, I would be at or near the very bottom of the totem pole, whereas here in Denver I have about 50 people under me.  Why is seniority important?  We bid for just about everything here–work schedules, vacation time, transfer requests, etc.  Whatever you want, it’s awarded to you according to your seniority in your base.

So, I’m going to commute.  I will live in San Diego, and fly to Denver to work.  My life is about to turn upside down really quickly.

But first, I have to get better.  500 feet above sea level sounds a lot better than 5000, so I’m going to Cincinnati for a few days to visit my mom and hopefully get a little stronger so I can deal with the post-holiday flying season at __________ Airlines.  Hopefully my flight to Cincy will be drama-free and I’ll get first class again…?  I’m too spoiled now!

We shall see. I could just quit my job altogether, get cornrows and a tattoo (two things the job won’t allow) and go back to art modeling and baking cupcakes.  Would that surprise you?  Probably not, haha.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Leah permalink
    February 24, 2011 7:52 am

    Thank you for sharing this post with us. I don’t have Sickle Cell and I am sorry you had to go through all that you did in December. I am thankful that you are much better. What inspired me was your experience trying to get vegan food in the hospital. I live in Denver and have been trying to go vegan. It seems hard to me and maybe that is because I am looking in all the wrong places to seek my options. Your story was great…thanks for making me laugh this morning and take care of yourself.

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