Damnit, who turned the electrolytes off?
The last week of September always seems to be a rough time in my life. Whether it’s the end of a serious relationship, the catastrophic failing of treatment or simply my consistent return to a decompensated state, the time never seems to be so grand.
It’s become such a theme in my life that I can’t seem to kick the Green Day song until it feels like October again.
As a cirrhotic liver patient, a low sodium diet is routine and a relatively high protein diet helps me rebuild the muscle loss due to my decompensated state.
When the liver gets to a certain point, it stops giving a shit about this and demands more sodium. I started to notice a desire for salty foods unlike ever before but I really thought little of it. My body even began rejecting higher levels of protein, either by making it feel unappealing or forcing me to eject it from my system.
With all the other changes going on at the time it was hard to dissociate it with some kind of change in my system. As I had been moving living situations, my body began to get more and more tired. Eventually after a week of moving boxes and unboxing things it became crunch time in retrieving and wrapping up the old apartment. Unfortunately three days before we were supposed to vacate I had spent more time being exhausted than being of much use. Wednesday 9/28 was the last straw, halfway through the day I was brought over to my parent’s house as I could hardly stand. There I was watched carefully as I began to grow more and more tired still. On Thursday morning I briefly felt better but as the day would go I began to get lethargic and my ability to stand was compromised due to balance issues. I went to urgent care as I had a terrible experience with the ER a month ago. After waiting for near an hour for some kind of answer from the attending physician my father and I left for the ER as they alone could quickly handle the situation. Traffic that night caused us to wait further but thankfully during our waiting my GI called me and she helped prep the ER for my arrival.
The pain became excruciating, I was in tears. My mother, who worked nearby, was able to help walk me through the check in process. With my doctor having prepped my entry and my visibly decaying jaundice, the pain alongside made the proceeding moments hazy to recall. As they began to gather the necessary information as to what was happening with me they began my IV. An intern introducing herself as such asked if I would be okay with her attempt at the IV. As my veins are like highways it’s hard to miss, but it does happen. As it would this time, the second spot they chose was less desirable and the needle stick was also painful. The pain medication would ease this issue over the course of the next few days.
As they moved me to my room they tested the blood they’d drawn to get a better picture as to what was going on. As the night would go, the pain would come and go but my tiredness remained. My mother stayed with me the first night to assist with minor things as nurses and their aides were slow to respond during the evenings. The second night my friend stayed with me, it was unexpected, and he was extremely helpful and helped make my stay easier. By that Saturday we had come to find the culprits of My extreme exhaustion and pain. My sodium was dangerously low, my calcium was as well, and my ammonia was very high.
When sodium gets too low it can cause seizures and exhaustion, if it gets too low it could kill me.
My calcium being low only added to those elements, and ammonia being so high puts me at risk for serious brain damage and a potential coma.
The interesting phenomenon is that I do not seem to display the typical flapping that occurs with the hands of patients with Hepatic Encephalopathy.
They continued my liquid restriction(1200mls) to help prevent me from losing more salt. It was arguably one of the harder things to deal with as everything made me thirsty.
On Sunday night I had delayed my pain meds to return a phone call.
The result of the call and reaction left me stressed out and upset, the next day I was taken more seriously and the nurses and aides almost began to know me as I’d been there so long.
I am on the liver transplant list, and due to my presently high bilirubin my MELD score puts me near the top. Often I am second or third in line and as an alternative I am contacted for the potential transplant.
I got a call at 10:49pm from transplant
I explained to transplant that I was presently in the hospital, they said they’d need to speak with a nurse
and hear my charts over the phone or faxed, so I asked my nurse “to come here now to assist transplant for me so that they can determine if I’m in the condition to transfer over.”
and explained that I need her now. ‘immediately as this is a time sensitive matter’
(Normally a nurse leaves a direct line for me to contact them, she however did not feel the need to do so. Telling me she didn’t have a phone.)
In the mean time I was talking with transplant about my options and when speaking with them I told them how slow the nurses/CNAs had been the last few times I’ve asked for anything they said to have me call them back when my nurse arrives.
At 10:51pm I had asked for any available nurse.
At 11:10pm I again explained the urgency of the situation and explained it once more
At 11:15pm a CNA came in and I explained the situation AGAIN, and said get me my nurse now.
At 11:19pm she moseys in.
I explain the situation to her, her response first was that of disbelief “transplant is calling so late at night?”
So I told her: yes, that is correct, called them back and handed her the phone
She read off the numbers to them and then passed me back over
And they explained that they’d need to transfer me hospitals now.
*Meanwhile my nurse wanders out*
Engrossed in the conversation I explained that they should begin the transplant procedures and I would contact my parents to make the decision.
As I am not in the emotional or psychological state to make this choice.
As I notice my nurse’s absence, I message over that I need my nurse to begin transfer procedures
And the lady on the end of the call button messages me, “okay why don’t you wait to tell her yourself”
So I tell her NO. THIS IS THEIR NUMBER. HAVE MY NURSE CALL THEM.
The Nurse or CNA on the call button begrudgingly wrote the number down.
I contacted my parents, and after about 15 min of deliberation both say no.
So I call transplant and cancel the request then call my nurse over the button
And explain we no longer need to go through with it. As it turns out this was unnecessary as She hadn’t even started faxing over the paperwork. And then, and I asked for ice, explaining my last pink cup (500mls) she instead decided that I only have 300 mls left for the day instead of 500, refusing to get my last cup and reducing it based on her whimsy. I asked for my pain medication, and just cried from the entire experience. It’s a tough call to take, and a horrid realization that as a transplant patient not only does someone need to die for me to have one, another person could die as a result of my taking that liver over them. It’s something that goes through my head every time I get this call.
I took down notes using my call log as a time log to note who I talked to/when.
When I explained the situation to the nurses the next day, they took me seriously as I thumbed through the notes I’d taken that night. My nurses indicated to me that my nurse from the previous night did in fact have a direct line.
These facts made me feel like my nurse from the previous night didn’t trust me and didn’t take me seriously. So when every nurse I spoke with afterward showed a modicum of respect I was extremely thankful. Several nurses and doctors came in to help build a better system for dealing with transplant patients and took my criticisms to heart, from those conversations on I got along very well with most my nurses, as I normally do.
I was switched over to a normal diet with less protein. So my diet went from 1000mgs salt with 100g protein to 2000mgs salt with 60gs protein, in a 3,500 calorie diet.
Too much protein builds up ammonia, which causes hepatic encephalopathy in those with decompensated livers.
The sensitivity and pain remained, and as magnesium was fed into my IV, it burned so much that I required pain meds before and after it. My body’s electrolytes were being forcibly rebalanced, and overall I had begun to feel better.
I could walk around and I began with small walks on my own around my room, eventually expanding my walking across the floor, to laps around the floor itself. Picking up saltines along the way. My docs worked with me to assesses how to manage the pain when I left the hospital and he suggested Tramadol.
Reluctantly I began taking this new pain med.
It took a few hours to release me from the hospital, but in that time I put in an order for delicious ramen soup from a local ramen house, as I needed to maintain my new sodium levels.
I drew a happy Halloween Nightmare Before Christmas message on my board as I left. With the IV out of my arm, I could see the full extent of the hematoma.
A photo posted by Rick Nash (@defnotricknash) on
During all of this; my friends stepped up and took care of every last bit of the move. They made time in their busy schedules to stop by and stay with me for good lengths of time, all the while helping me when I was unable. To say that I am grateful for them is hardly enough, this experience has made me appreciate them that much more.
I’d noticed many friends reach out to me via social media, even the date that I had to reschedule checked up on me. Although this was not my first rodeo, I’ve never felt so failed by my own body, and by my nurses. I’ve learned a lot of depressing things at each hospital visit I’ve had but this one was by far the most stressful and emotionally challenging.
Life is not easy, but in moments of need, those who are close to you, can make you feel more humble and grateful than you’d ever thought possible.
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