My son recently texted me: You’re a freakin’ unicorn!
I’m sure he wasn’t being disrespectful and in no way was he insinuating that I looked like a unicorn, as I don’t have a sharp horn projecting from the middle of my forehead, nor am I purple. Instead, his incredulity was mostly justified and he was only reacting to the inconclusive results from another test I had recently undergone.
A few months ago I was diagnosed with Iron Deficiency Anemia and over the past few months I’ve had a number of tests in an effort to determine if I am losing blood somewhere in the digestive tract, which would explain the low iron. The symptoms have been numerous and varied. I’m pale, short of breath, easily fatigued, weak, have cold hands and feet, have restless leg syndrome, have chest pains, I’m dizzy, and just recently I’ve developed vertical striations on my fingernails and have painful cracks on both sides of my mouth that sometimes bleed. In other words, I’m a freakin’ unicorn!
The last test, called a capsule endoscopy, just like all the other tests came back negative. When I texted my sons the result, and let them know that the ball was now in the hematologist’s court, and that a bone marrow biopsy was a strong possibility, my son’s reply, “you’re a freakin’ unicorn,” doesn’t seem at all inappropriate. Like a unicorn, I am indeed an enigma. But this current health mystery is only one of many I’ve had over the years; it seems like I don’t come down with normal ailments, no, mine are more of the freakin’ odd variety.
A few years ago we were invited to my nephew’s wedding in Little Rock, Arkansas; we were to fly in on New Year’s Eve, with the wedding scheduled for New Year’s day and then fly back home the next morning. We arrived around noon and the air was festive. Food, drinks, and football on the telly; what more could you ask for? At about two or three in the afternoon, I told my wife Julie that I wasn’t feeling well, so we left the party and went to the hotel so I could lie down and get some rest. While resting, my feelings of pain weren’t getting any better, in fact they were intensifying.
My niece, who is a nurse, dropped by to see how I was feeling and began asking me about my symptoms. I told her I had a pain in my lower abdomen and thought it might be a hernia since the day before our trip I had been loading up our entire house into a U-Haul, having recently sold our home a few days prior. In fact, the night before we left I backed the U-Haul into our recently sold house and tore off a significant chunk of the gutter, but that’s not important now. Anyway, Marcy, after hearing me relate my symptoms assured me I needed to go to the emergency room as I was experiencing appendicitis. So off we went.
Meanwhile back at the party, my father-in-law, engrossed in the college football bowl games, didn’t notice that Julie and I were gone until a couple of hours later and when he found out exclaimed, “What the hell?” That’s what I was thinking at the hospital when they put me in a waiting room, for hours, while I watched some of the locals carrying out armloads of assorted pain killers, presumably for the various “pains” they were experiencing, although they looked fine to me. I was ignored and left to suffer in the corner of the waiting room.
They finally triage me after eleven o’clock that night, the result being that I had to sit, in pain, in the emergency waiting room for over six hours. When the doctor finally examined me, he said, “Nurses get the surgeon on the phone and get this patient ready for surgery, he’s about to blow!” Apparently my appendix didn’t know to wait.
After the surgery and while I was recovering, and while the party was raging at my sister-in-law’s home, someone at the hospital stole my company cell phone. I also missed the wedding, since I was on drugs and sleeping in the hotel room. Many from the wedding party came by to say hi, but I don’t remember them. I’m sure they were all nice. The family picture was taken on a vast wooden stairwell, you’ve seen them, and Nana was nice enough to copy and paste my face in among the rest of the family. Fun times had by all.
I’ve been stricken with many other odd ailments over the years and many of them seem to happen to me while I’m traveling for my work. My wife has grown accustomed to the seemingly frequent phone calls that go something like this:
Julie, upon answering the phone: “Hello.”
“Honey, I’m not feeling well.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in my hotel room and I feel like a truck ran over me.”
“No, I mean, where are you?”
“Cincinnati. And I can’t keep anything down.”
“Do you have food poisoning. Or the flu?”
“How should I know. I guess they’re both possible, but since I’ve had food poisoning a number of times, I can tell you this isn’t that.”
“You need to go to the emergency room.”
“Nah, I’ll just stay here and sleep it off.”
“You’re going to get dehydrated. Go to the emergency room.”
A few hours later another call and Julie answers:
“It’s me. I went to the emergency room like you said.”
“What did you find out?”
“I have c-diff.”
“C-diff. What’s that? And how did you get it?”
“It’s called clostridium difficile, c-diff for short, and they think I might have gotten it because the amoxicillin I was taking for my sinus infection killed all the good bacteria in my stomach and the only bacteria left are the bad ones. They said c-diff can kill you.”
“You’re a freakin’ unicorn. Call me tomorrow when you wake up.”
That incident, although seemingly out of the ordinary, wasn’t rare for me. Besides the occasional food poisoning from eating at any number of fast food chains off an interstate near you, I have a history of kidney stones. I might have the world record in fact. At last count I had between fifteen and twenty kidney stones, beginning in 1990, and it may actually be more, but who’s counting? Many of the kidney stone episodes have happened while I was on the road.
One time I was in Wausau, Wisconsin visiting one of my stores and as the manager and I were walking the racetrack, my face turned white, or so they say, and I said to the manager, “I’m going to the hospital. I’ll drive myself. If my boss calls, tell him where I am.” I then drove myself to the emergency room, experiencing slight discomfort along the way, and was admitted with what was obviously kidney stones (it’s easy to spot someone with a kidney stone; they’re the one rolling on the floor, pulling out their hair and moaning, “I’m going to die. I’m going to die”). The joy juice they gave me did the trick, but the stone wasn’t going to pass on it’s own; a five millimeter stone being the size of a pencil eraser. Apparently it was so large that the best option was to do a lithotripsy, which sends shock waves into the body that are designed to break the larger stone into smaller pieces, with the idea that the smaller pieces can then pass on their own. At that point I didn’t care what they did, as I was tripping away in la la land. They needed to get Julie on the phone to approve the procedure (I wonder how long I would have been in la la land if Julie hadn’t been available).
“Hello, this is Julie.”
“Mrs. Bay, this is Dr. Fareed. Your husband checked himself into the hospital this morning and I need your approval to do a lithotripsy.”
“Who are you? And where are you?”
“I’m an emergency room doctor at Aspirus Hospital in Wausau, Wisconsin. Your husband is in a lot of pain and I need your approval to do a lithotripsy.”
“What’s a lithotripsy?”
After he explained the procedure and received Julie’s approval, I was good to go. That night I spent many waking moments pushing a little button that I held firmly in my hand which released something into my I.V., that brought me much relief from the excruciating pain associated with kidney stones.
The next day I left the hospital with a bottle of Vicodin clutched tightly in my hand. I also had a catheter in place, designed to widen the opening from my bladder through the remainder of my urinary tract, and allow the smaller stones to leave my body, unimpeded. I wasn’t going home, I still had work to do, but instead went to my hotel in Milwaukee. Me, the hotel, and a bottle of Vicodin.
The next morning I awoke and retired to the bathroom, as I usually did. While I was relieving myself, I looked down, and to my horror saw a stream of blood leaving my, well you know where it was coming from. I panicked for a moment and then thought, “What am I going to do? I’m bleeding to death!” I limped across the room and grabbed my cell phone and called the doctor from Wausau:
“Hello, this is Dr. Fareed.”
“Doc, I’m bleeding, what should I do?”
“Who is this?”
“This is Ron. You did the lithotripsy on me two days ago. Remember?”
“Oh, Mr. Bay. Yes, so tell me the problem again.”
“I’m bleeding, and it’s coming out, you know, next to the catheter.”
“I see. Your catheter must have come loose. Just pull it out.”
With my voice raised an octave or two I said, “What? You’re kidding me, right?”
“No. Just pull it out. It won’t hurt, much.”
Well, I pulled the darned thing out and surprisingly it didn’t hurt, much, but the stones were still floating around inside and the Vicodin was still close at hand. My phone call to Julie, explaining what I had to do with the catheter, elicited much laughter on the other end of the phone and not being one who likes to be teased, I hung up.
I could tell the story of my self-inflicted, perforated eardrum that Julie poured alcohol into because she thought it would evaporate the water, but instead left me screaming in agony on the floor, or how about the numerous kidney stone stories, or the time I fell off the top of a fourteen foot ladder and punched a gaping hole in the entryway drywall, but I’ll save those for another time.
I think after reading these stories, you would have to agree with my son and say, as he did, “You’re a freakin’ unicorn!”