Monday, December 15, 2003

The near-death experience that caused me to miss my first day of work in 26 years

The streak is over.

After nearly 26 1/2 years of never missing a day of work, I took a sick day Friday. As it turns out, if I hadn't, my streak probably would not have lasted much longer any way...I would have been dead in a few more days.

It's a scary thing to be in a hospital room, hear a nurse answer her cell phone and tell the caller that someone else will have to take care of the problem. "This patient has priority."

As those of you read this blog (both of you, three of you?) are aware, I have been under the weather recently. Several weeks ago, I began having problems climbing the steps to my apartment. When I reached the top, I was totally out of breath. I had to nearly crawl to my bed and just lie down for 15 to 20 minutes until I had the strength to get back up again.

This didn't bode well for South Middle School, since I teach upstairs first and second hours, downstairs third and fourth hours, then upstairs again fifth and sixth hours. When school resumed after the holiday, I found myself having to stop every two or three steps to rest up before I could keep going. I also had other symptoms which I associated with the flu, even though I had taken my flu shot last month.

My principal, Ron Mitchell, told me a number of times I needed to call a doctor. At first, I foolishly resisted, but I called the St. John's Clinic and made an appointment two weeks ago. The soonest they could fit me in was 10 days later. Meanwhile, I continued to get worse.

Nevertheless I kept getting up every morning a little after 5, brushing my teeth, taking a shower and shaving, then lying back down for about 20 minutes because I was totally worn out from those innocuous activities. Then I would drive to school and somehow make it through the day.

As soon as I could when school was over, I would drive home and then crash until the next morning, then begin the cycle all over again.

Finally, last Wednesday night, I began to feel a little better. I felt almost normal Thursday. I left school early for my appointment. I arrived 20 minutes early, filled out the paperwork, then waited for more than an hour. Finally, I was called in.

It turned out the doctor I had made the appointment with was Dr. Dailey, the father of my former Diamond student, Bryce Dailey. The first thing he and the nurse did was to take blood, then I had to go through some other routine tests.

When my blood tests returned, Dr. Dailey said he had some bad news. I never would have guessed how bad that news was going to be.

A normal hemiglobin (red blood cell) count is 12. The test showed my count was 3. In other words, somehow I was walking around with 75 percent of my blood missing. (No wonder so many people kept telling me how pale I looked.)

Dr. Dailey said there could be no delay. I would have to be admitted to the hospital...and there was no way he was going to let me drive myself over there in my condition. So a few moments later, the doctor himself drove me to St. John's, where I was immediately admitted and given a room in the oncology unit.

Within a couple of hours, the blood transfusions began (thank God for all of those people who donate blood). By the time the transfusions were finished in the wee hours Saturday morning, I had received 10 units of fresh O negative blood.

Of course, replacing the blood was only part of the problem. The major concern was the cause of this massive loss of blood. On Friday, I underwent all kinds of tests. The one thing they all seemed to agree on, was that there was no way I should have been functioning, much less driving to Joplin and back and putting in a full day of teaching every day. There was some wonder that I was even still with the living (though apparently not by much).

After undergoing two probes Friday, the doctors did find a small polyp in my colon and another in the upper regions of my body, biopsied them, but did not seem to think that either of them posed a problem.

I did not have colon cancer, which they had feared (even though I do plan on keeping my fingers crossed about those polyps). I did not have any kind of silent ulcer.

The only source they could find for the bleeding...and Lord knows I absolutely hate to admit this...was hemorrhoids. So once I had all my new blood and was released from the hospital late Saturday morning, I picked up a number of prescriptions at the Wal-Mart Supercenter Pharmacy and I am planning to follow the doctors' instructions to the letter. I have a checkup set for 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Fortunately, my friends and family will never have to say, "He'd still be showing up for work every day, but those darned hemorrhoids put him in his grave."

Thanks also to everyone at South who wished me well and sent a nice balloon bouquet to my hospital room. Those people, especially Mr. Mitchell, probably saved my life by continuing to encourage me to call a doctor. And by the way, I feel great now, probably for the first time this semester.

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