Here’s the thing. I, James Cordrey, scared Elgin earlier this week. My understanding is that you’re not supposed to do that with your fiancée. Apparently it adds “a lot of stress” and “makes things difficult” when you get sick enough that the doctors tell you that you could have died. Tears get shed, jokes aren’t laughed at. It’s apparently a HUGE. DEAL.
Who knew, right?
So, at the beginning of June, I got hired on full time – no more contract work for me, which meant I had health insurance again. Needing a new doctor, (my old one retired, and I didn’t like him much; he shared a name with a country) for, you know, general healthcare reasons (and I have an umbilical hernia I wanted fixed because of PAIN), I cast a net far and wide across the land for a primary care physician.
It took all of 30 seconds to find one about 2 miles from my house that took my insurance, accepted new patients, and was willing to see me quickly to set up new care. A lot of questions later, and a slew of signatures that made me wonder if I was buying the clinic, (turns out I was not – sad day) I was told: “Take two bloodwork orders and call me in the morning.”
Fast forward a couple of weeks, the results come back, and I get this message on my voicemail:
“Uh. James? This is the nurse for your doctor calling. Uhm… So. We have your lab results back…”
At this point, there’s a sound. You might know it. It’s the sound people make when they’re worried, but trying to hide it? A whistling sound created as they suck air in through their mouth, while their tongue is pressed firmly against their teeth? That’s what I heard.
“If you could call me back, as soon as possible, the Doctor would like to get you in here to talk about these results. Thanks, have a great day!”
This call came in at almost 5PM, so I thought to myself: This sounds serious. I should skip my normal MO of putting off calling someone back for 3-5 days, and call back in the morning. I’ll do it after stand-up. (Which is at 9AM.)
8:02 the next morning, as I’m pulling into the parking lot at work, I get another voicemail.
“Uh, hi. This is your doctor’s nurse again. Just wanted to see if we could get that appointment set up for you. Call us back!”
I’ve seen my results from the blood test. I didn’t see anything crazy in them. (In order to get certain money from the federal government, hospitals and clinics have to release certain test results within a certain time frame, and most of the time doctors don’t get to read them before they go to patients.) But I’m starting to sense that maybe there’s something the doctor wants to talk to me about.
A few things for your information game:
My A1C at this point is 11.5% – that’s WAY too high. But I wasn’t worried. I’ve had my A1C tested multiple times, and it’s always fluctuated pretty wildly.
I don’t know if you’re aware or not, but I’m a fat man. Have been for a very long time. I’m not Fat Albert fat, but I’m not “oh, you’re just a little overweight” fat, either. I’ve got problems. I need to lose weight.
I text Elgin and preface the conversation with something like, “Doc thinks I’m gonna die, just FYI” because I’m funny and texting shit like that to people you care about is how you show them you care. I mean, you wouldn’t text a stranger, “Lol, cholesterol is through the roof; want some fried donuts?” would you?
I didn’t think so.
We have a conversation, I tell her all about why the paid medical professional with degrees and experience and, you know, a license to practice medicine, is silly. (I’m not conceited, or full of myself, or have a high opinion about my knowledge level or anything. Perish the thought, Mon frère.) I explain the tests that I think the doctor will be worried about, I explain what I think the Doctor’s course of action is gonna be, and then I set up the appointment. (With a little difficulty; they had to get approval to see me earlier than 3 weeks out, even though they asked me for the appointment.)
So I go in for my appointment, and I hear through the wall what sounds like an old southern guy yelling at someone. This goes on for a while. (I’m in the waiting room for about half an hour.) Doctors get off track pretty quickly, and I want everyone to get the same level of service that I expect from a doctor – so I never care if my doctor can’t keep the specific appointment I’ve made with them. It’s just a hazard of the business.
I hear the door shut next door, and then about three seconds later, my door opens and in walks THE DOCTOR. (But not The Doctor, because Who knows where they are these days?)
My Doctor is a young woman, barely older than me. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s sassy, and I don’t think she’d hesitate for a moment to smack the shit out of me if I talked back to her. Which is important to me – I hate when the people I deal with regularly are pushovers. But it’s clear she was just being yelled at by the guy next door, and she doesn’t show it at all. She’s all smiles, and when she sits down, she looks like she’s preparing a “Come to Jesus” talk.
You know what that looks like, right?
First, you get real soulful. Your eyes get wide, and they seem to shine a bit, as if you’re ready to cry, but not quite welling up with tears. Your jaw sets hard, like you know where the million dollars is hidden, but if you can survive Jimmy the Toe’s interrogation without spilling the beans, you’ll get to keep the whole lot. You center yourself like you’re on a divine quest to find that perfect cup of coffee, and you take a breath so deep you might be able to blow out the sun.
She looked at me like that, so I said:
“Doc. I’m diabetic.”
Her sails deflated. A laugh popped out of her mouth, and the million dollars is now at the bottom of the river in cement shoes, if you know what I’m sayin’.
Jimmy the Toe has nothin’ on my interrogation skills.
“Yeah, you sure are. And normally at this level of diabetes, we’d start you on insulin.”
Now this is why I like my doc. I haven’t known her long, but I don’t think she likes to “escalate” unless it is absolutely necessary. She knew I’d had a back-and-forth with my A1C before, (although never, ever this high) so she wanted to see if some normal, non-insulin medication could be used to fix the problem. Her solution was a combination of two drugs. One to help my body use Insulin better, the other to get the excess sugar out of my blood stream.
I go home, and a couple of days later, (last Wednesday) I pick up my brand spankin’ new Blood Test Meter and my fancy new drugs. That night, as a last hurrah, I had a full P’zone for dinner from Pizza Hut, and when I tried my meter out 3 hours later, my blood sugar was at 458.
When I told my Aunt Glenda that, (she has diabetes, her mother had diabetes, a lot of people she knows had or has diabetes) she just about fell out of her chair. If I weren’t in the hospital with two IV’s, a BP cuff, and looking like someone had replaced all of the blood in my body with acid (Spoiler: They did) she probably would have beat me with a stick. (Dunno where she would have gotten the stick, but my Aunt Glenda is a crafty woman – she’d have figured something out.)
So, next morning, I started taking my blood sugar regularly, and started taking the old med I took a year before, and the brand spanking new medication. This was Thursday of last week. I went off to work, made jokes, threatened code gremlins, and in general had a good day. I hadn’t been told what to look for insofar as my blood sugars were concerned, but they seemed okay. Nowhere near the 458 it was after eating the P’zone.
Friday rolls around, and I’m at work. Walking back from a meeting. This is where I always get in trouble. The meetings go fine. The after-meeting meeting goes fine. The pre-meeting for the meeting goes fine. It’s the walk to or from the meetings when I get into trouble. And this time, I got dizzy and light headed. Which, normally? I’m all for. Who doesn’t like feeling like their head is suddenly a rubber balloon full of Helium attached to a neck made out of lead?
Anyway. I get progressively worse throughout the day, to the point that my coworkers are pointing it out. And I have to drive home about 40 minutes. My boss gets nervous. My co-worker gets nervous. I tell them all that they should change their name to Nellie and “get off my lawn, damnit, I’m a grown man!” but none of them ever do what I tell them to do.
I do not tell Elgin. Why? Because she’d worry, and get scared, and then I’d just drive home anyway and she’d be nervous the whole time. So I drive home and I only drove over two, maybe three raccoons, so all in all I think I did pretty well. (No raccoons were harmed in the making of this story. Only a pangolin.)
I get home, and I want to go to bed early, so I think I passed out around 11PM. (On a Friday, that’s pretty early for me. I like to play video games, stay up late, etc.) On Saturday, I help Elgin clean up around the house, (because if you don’t do that, you’re an asshole. Seriously, Bob. Pick up your fucking socks so Linda doesn’t have to keep whining about it on Facebook. We’re sick of your shit, Bob!)
We’re grilling burgers that afternoon and having burgers and chips for dinner. I make sure to save calories so that I can partake of a burger on a bun with some chips. (Note: I’ve been tracking’em in My Fitness Pal. Add me. Or don’t. You’re a grown as man-woman-non-binary person that can make up your own damn mind.) I’m checking my blood sugar and logging it as I should be throughout the day, and they are good numbers. I’m in the 110 range when dinner rolls around, but I have been steadily feeling worse and worse.
While we were out before dinner, (at the store, buying things, like you do) I realized I was probably dehydrated. One of the side effects of the brand spanking new medication was severe dehydration. I tell Elgin. She rolls her eyes, says, “Yeah, that makes sense with the weakness and sweating,” and then proceeds to take care of me when we get home. (She gives me a big glass of ice water, makes me drink it down, then gives me another, and sent me off to battle.)
I started a fire in our grill, sweat poured off my body, I drank water, and I felt somewhat better. Had dinner with a friend of ours and her husband, and went to bed with just a pang of nausea after I finished eating. (Shout-out to Roberta for bringing Ice Cream to try and tempt me to the dark side. Valliant effort, but I persevered!)
Have you ever felt like Death himself came strolling into the room with his scythe on his back, a bong in his hand, and a great big floating watch that says, “YOUR TIME IS NEAR”? That’s how Sunday started off for me. I mention the bong because my head was hazy as fuck when I got out of bed. My sister wanted to have breakfast at a local restaurant, so I checked my sugar level, and we head to the restaurant.
It’s hot. It’s noisy. I can’t follow the conversation. It feels like my head has been wrapped in cellophane and my neighbor’s ten year old kid is enthusiastically trying to learn the tuba while his 30 year old sister has an exorcism. Not because she needs one. But because it seemed like it would be fun. She’s always loved Linda Blair, and wants to be just like her in her next life.
I had two eggs, over medium. No toast, and two sausage patties. Now, I’m not saying eating that small amount of food was like going three rounds with Rocky Balboa, but Sylvester Stalone ain’t sayin’ it’s not, so… Take from that what you will. I get overheated. I am sucking down water as fast as I can. It’s not helping anymore. I get the keys from my sister, pay for our meal, and while she finishes her food with my future-bride, I stumble out to the car. I felt at the time like I made good time getting out there, but I barely get the door open before I see her, the rugrats, and Elgin appear in a magical shimmer across the parking lot.
At this point, you’d think I’d realize something was wrong. But I’m James fucking Cordrey. I’m just dehydrated, and a little tired. Maybe a stomach virus or something, but I kept those eggs in place, and I punched the shit out of that sausage so it stayed in my belly. There was absolutely no cause for concern, even though I could barely stand up straight and was seeing “shimmering waves of magical dust” across the parking lot.
I changed my mind when I was sitting on the couch, eating a single leftover cheeseburger, and vomited up the whole thing along with what seemed to be a gallon of water. But you know what they say about red flags?
I don’t. I’m never paying attention when they explain what they are. I tell Elgin it’s a side effect of my medication, it’ll calm down in a few days, I just gotta power through it. With my other hand, I am secretly texting my boss: Yeah, I feel like crap. I might go to the doctor or urgent care tomorrow to see if they can do something about these side effects; no worries, though. Everything’s cool.
Everything was, in fact, not cool. At that very moment, my body was revolting against my brain. Apparently, the systems that make up the body don’t appreciate being ignored when they are shouting, “Man the battle stations” and “ALL HANDS BRACE FOR IMPACT”. My blood, as you might have guessed, had become the enemy. Shitty thing about having blood as an enemy? It’s fucking everywhere. It’s in your eyes, it’s in your butt, and it’s up around your brain.
And when your blood is acidic, nothing feels good. At all. And my blood had went from “cool, let’s be friends, peace love and harmony” blood like you get if you’re a happy cool person, into “I’m going to straight up fucking kill you, James,” blood.
NOBODY wants to invite that blood to the party.
Elgin tells me, “Maybe you’ll be more comfortable sleeping on the couch?” as she nudged the trash can towards me. But, and this has been weaved subtly into this story so far so forgive yourself for not noticing, but I am a stubborn mother fucker. I am not sleeping on the couch. I am not letting my body call the shots on how I feel. I get up, I grab the trash can, and I stumble my way into the bedroom with what I hoped at the time was a defiant gusto that would put an end to any speculation about my imminent death.
I now know that I looked like a fat elephant crossed with Jack Sparrow trying desperately to find the rum that it just knows is inside those coconuts over there in that banana tree. No idea what Elgin sees in me, but I hope it’s that she likes drunk Jack “Fat Elephant” Sparrow.
We get into bed, we go to sleep, and I dream about programming. Because I’m a nerd. And that’s what nerds dream about. 2:30 in the morning, I wake up to a loud bump. I thought, anyway. Turns out it was thunder and lightning. (Very, very frightening!) I try to go back to sleep, but I have to pee.
I hate getting older. I hate being a fat man getting older. I especially hate being a fat diabetic man getting older, who spent the entire day drinking as much water as possible to try and stave off a really terrible feeling that something in his body wasn’t right. So, I put it off for almost an hour, trying to go back to sleep, hearing thumps that I eventually realize is the thunder and lightning, and not the turtles. (Again: Very, very frightening.)
Pushing the trash can away with my foot, and thinking to myself, I knew I wouldn’t need that. Hah! Elgin’s silly. I have a stomach comparable to an Iron Lung! I got up and took myself to the bathroom, where I proceeded to dump the contents of Lake Michigan into our toilet. Now, at this point, the last solid food I had digested was at 10:30 this morning. The rest was all in the trash can, having been mopped up off the floor earlier after my stomach sent up what it thought was a good “Hey, I NEED HELP, BRAIN!” message.
Brains. You can never trust them to listen to the other parts of the body. They’re control freaks, y’know?
Anyway, the power flickers, and I head back to bed. Elgin is awake at this point, (Lake Michigan is really loud in a tiny bathroom, in case you didn’t know.) and I get sucker punched by nausea. It was like I was walking through a dark alley and some mugger jumped out and jabbed his knife right in my stomach, and then said, “Hey, do you gots change for a 50?” I panicked.
Picture this: I am on my side, lying in bed, facing Elgin. Elgin has her back to me. There’s a cat near my head, and I am half-tangled up in a blanket, when my body sounds the alarm. I’m talking 5 alarm fire, engines are leaving the house, we’ve gotta MOVE MOVE MOVE VOMIT IS COMING UP RIGHT THIS SECOND!
I can’t vomit on Elgin. That’s a given. Pretty sure she’d murder me. Which would have taken care of my problems, but I like living. So I flip as hard as I can. Elgin isn’t fully awake, but instead she’s in that pseudo-awake stage that needs a huge cup of coffee or crisis to really get you going.
We didn’t have any coffee.
So I make this big flip, shaking the whole bed, tangled up in blankets, mouth clamped down to try and prevent the inevitable firehose of vomit that is brewing in my now agitated stomach. Just as I throw myself out of the bed by my arms, trying to get to the trash can, there’s a HUGE clap of thunder and lightning that lit up the room.
I can see it, in that split second of light, and then the world becomes a horror movie because my body stops responding the way I need it to. I fall, hard, out of the bed. My sleeve gets caught on the dresser, pulling it away from the wall. Vomit begins pouring out of my mouth as I fall, splashing the bedspread I have my legs tangled in, as my ass hits the floor with a resounding crash that moves the bed, and forces my vomit to spray even further.
Wet, hot, nasty smelling vomit pours out of me, down my legs, against the wall, and all over the floor. Elgin screams, I cry out in confusion because I don’t know what the fuck is happening to me, but I grab the trash can, bear hug that sumbitch, and heave the contents of my stomach into it. I take a moment, the light flickers on overhead, and this is when it gets interesting.
My stomach, who I’ve been friends with forever, (which is why I am so fat) says to me, “Listen here, asshole. We’re dying. Our blood is killing us. I can’t seem to make you listen with normal shit, so here we go. We’re going all out, balls to the wall, and you are going to LISTEN. TO. ME.”
So I vomited again. Then dry heaved. Then dry heaved again and it felt like my stomach was climbing up into my throat with a knife at that point to say, “Try ignoring me again you shitty little fucker, and I’ll fuck you up so bad you won’t have to worry about losing weight.”
It was at about this point, sitting in my vomit-covered shirt and boxers, in a pool of my own vomit, that I felt like I’d hit rock bottom. Is this what it’s like for heroin users? I wondered to myself, as I shakily took the paper towels from Elgin and began cleaning the floor, carpet, wall, and my legs. I took a shower, we stripped the bed, and I stayed on the couch for the rest of the night.
It took a while the next morning, but we went to Urgent Care. I was feeling about as low as I’d ever felt in my life. We get there, they do some things, and the nurse practitioner comes in and says the thing I love hearing from this particular Urgent Care facility: You need to go to the ER.
This urgent care facility is always telling me to go to the ER. A little over 2 years ago, I ripped my toe in half. I went to the ER, and the nurses there looked at my toe. In an attempt to save me some money, they refused to admit me and sent me to urgent care to get it sewn up. Urgent care refused to look at the toe, and instead said, “You could have torn a tendon, we’re not touching it, go back to the ER.”
Yes. I walked around the Mercy campus in Washington with my toe ripped in half, trying to get someone to put it back together. I should have listened to my buddy Brandon: he told me to glue it back in place. That would’ve worked. So when I cut my finger in half, I sent him the bloody pic showing my bone and the severed tendon, and asked him for his expert opinion on the magical powers of superglue.
He told me to go see a doctor, which was wise advice. I’m not sure I ever want to step foot in that urgent care facility ever again.
So, we get to the ER, I stumble in through the door, ask for a wheelchair, collapse into a chair, and wait. Elgin parks the car, comes in, and the nurse calls me back to triage. I get up, and I take a step forward, and this is when some friction starts to form between me and my body. As you can guess, up to this point, we’ve been super buddy-buddy, what with the vomiting, feeling weak, dehydration, yadda yadda yadda. Best friends, me and my body.
But this time, I go to take a step, and I guess my body didn’t get the memo. Brain shouts, “We’re here, we’re getting help! Stop sending me red flags!” – But my leg? It’s like, “Fuck this, I haven’t gotten to send my red flag yet!” and it buckles under me, sending me into a marble bannister. Banged up my wrist, but maybe my leg knew what it was doing. They got me the wheelchair.
Do you know what’s weird about having acidic blood? In a diabetic, it’s usually combined with a blood sugar level of over 500. But mine was 213, the highest it was ever at while I was in the hospital. After a few minutes of talking, the doctors put me in an ER room (18) and told me that they were gonna do some stuff and thangs. I waited patiently, while Elgin slipped me illicit sips of water because I was parched.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d learned my lesson about ignoring my body when it was trying to tell me something. I drank that water like a man crawling around in the sand on a hot summer day in Destin, Florida. (So, you know. I didn’t spill it everywhere. I’m not an animal.)
So, I guess I should tell you – I was in Diabetic Keto Acidosis, which is a condition that causes your blood to become acidic. Warning: boring stuff ahead.
Basically, my body isn’t able to handle sugar. Because of the brand spanking new medication, I was super-dehydrated trying to get rid of all the sugar in my body. Some of my organs/muscles/etc. released their sugar, (as they should, the bastards) to try and fix the problem, but that medication was just greedily sucking it all out. That, mixed with the lower-than-expected number of carbs that I was eating, caused my body to produce ketones. Ketones turn fat into energy for your body to use. That’s why our body stores fat in the first place. However, mine went into over-drive because my cells were like, “WE NEED ENERGY NOW”.
Too many ketones + dehydration + brand spanking new medication + no carbs + diabetes == Diabetic Keto Acidosis. In a nutshell. It’s way more complicated than that, but whatever. That’s enough for you to know why I was in the ICU for 3 days.
Thanks to the care of some great nurses in the ICU, (I got moved to room 18 in the ICU about 2 hours after I got to the hospital) and a couple of nice doctors, my “near death experience” got fixed, and I got sent home with bed-rest orders and a follow up with my doctor next Monday. I could tell you more about the night nurse that took it as a challenge when I told her she didn’t have to wake me up to let me know she was going to stab me with a needle, (she tried really hard, but I think she failed) or the day-nurse that was super-chill and made sure I was comfortable and appropriately stocked with sarcasm, but I think this story has pretty much run it’s course.
I was given some insulin, some instructions, and I’m hopefully on my way to a full, complete recovery.
In the words of GLaDOS: I am still alive.