This is the 6th of a series of posts chronicling Chris' battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 7
The pain I experienced throughout that Sunday night was the most excruciating of my life. I lay in bed, just waiting for daylight and the doctor's appointment I had that morning. I anxiously watched the sky turn - black... gray... pink... orange... blue - the light brought some comfort, some hope that I would finally talk with someone who could help me.
Karen called the doctor's office at 8 and told them that I couldn't wait until my 10:00 appointment. They said I could go ahead and head in. We asked my mom to come stay with the kids (nearby grandparents are a blessing of the greatest kind), and Karen and I sped to the clinic. The poor nursing staff could tell that I was terribly uncomfortable, so they were able to get me into a room within a matter of minutes. My doctor walked in and started asking questions. My pain was blinding, and seeing as how I can't focus on two things at once completely healthy, I was hopeless to be of any help. I interrupted him mid-sentence: "Can I get a shot or something?" Our nurse came in with a wonderful syringe and stuck it in my buttocks. Sweet, blissful relief began to follow. Oh, the blessings of pharmaceutical drugs.
As the pain wore off, I began to think and speak more clearly. As foolish as it sounds, I reverted back to my initial hypothesis that I had a stomach ulcer. Dr. Wood wanted to schedule me for a CT Scan that afternoon, but for now I should only eat the BRAT diet - Bananas, Rice, Apples, Toast - which is specially formulated to be easy on the stomach, and also disgusting. So me and Karen went home. And I ate a banana and a piece of toast. What was I thinking?! I knew without doubt that I didn't have a stomach ulcer. But I was willing myself to not be very sick. So we ate, just the two of us, at our kitchen table. Then I crawled into bed and fell into a deep, blissful sleep - the first time in 4 days that I slept without pain.
Until about 3pm. I guess that's when my shot was scheduled to wear off. It did. It wore off with great vengeance and furious anger. We called our doctor and asked about the status of the CT Scan, only to learn they were having trouble pre-approving me for insurance. Karen told them that she had been pre-approved to give someone a fist to the throat.* Our doctor told us to go to the ER. That was the only way for us to get a CT Scan before Tuesday morning.
At about 4PM, we strolled into a busy ER waiting room, surrounded by lots of other hurting people. I had been drinking lots of fluids, because I had heard that was really good for stomach ulcers. That just kept adding to my pain. I went into the bathroom and tried to make myself throw up, thinking maybe that would ease the pain. I could only muster a couple of dry heaves. When I went back to the waiting room, everyone was staring at me. Karen told me I was really loud. Oops. I can honestly say it didn't matter to me at the time.
They called me back and got me onto a bed. The nurse could tell I was dehydrated and in severe pain. She got an IV started, and then brought in a little syringe and said, "This is a pretty potent pain medication. It's called Dilaudid. I'm going to dilute it with some saline before I give it to you, because it packs a pretty good punch." What happened next ranks among the greatest sensations I've ever experienced. I'll do my best to describe it in a way that you can share in my joy of remembrance:
If I had closed my eyes, I would've imagined that the nurse had brought in a large sledgehammer, which she raised high above my bed and smashed down into my chest. This brought shock - I felt pressed down on my mattress with great force, and I couldn't breathe. But then - the sledgehammer was warm, even to my heart. And that warmth began to permeate my body, bringing its peace to all my tissues and fibers.
That kind of comfort can only come after a similar level of pain. This gives me some idea what Tim Keller means when he says that heaven will be more glorious because of the suffering of earth.
At that point, I was completely comfortable and relaxed. I didn't care what they did to me. I got a chest Xray and the CT Scan. The doctor came in and told me that they needed to admit me to the hospital for some testing. I tested positive for H Pylori, which is a bacteria that lives in the stomach but that can become an infection if it is too present. As the doctor rambled on, I sort of drifted into thinking, "Well, that's it then. H Pylori. Give me my medicine and we'll get back on with life." But as he kept talking, I heard him say something about how my lymph nodes were all inflamed, which could mean a bunch of things, but one possibility was cancer.
Cancer? CANCER?! Nah. Not me. Had I kissed someone who had cancer? That's a crazy, worst-case scenario type thing. It's H Pylori.
As they wheeled my bed down the hall, I looked at Karen walking next to me. What an incredible woman. What a great wife. There is absolutely no one else I'd rather have next to me in that moment. I was probably too shocked or drugged to understand the gravity of our situation. But I don't think she was.
My gurney squeaked along the quiet, fluorescent corridor. Down the rabbit hole.
*Karen didn't say that