Outstaring the Abyss

Incipient malingering

So one morning in early December, I woke up in ICU.

To be more accurate, I didn’t “wake up” so much as become aware of my surroundings. The bright lights; the dozen or so tubes snaking out of various parts of me; the wires to the monitors and the deeply uncomfortable feeding pipe extending from my nose. My partner was also there – concern and exhaustion painting her features in thick layers.

Apparently, I’d been awake and responsive the day before and the day before that, but I have no memory of either day. Similarly, I have no recollection of my friends visiting me or any of the interactions I had with them. I was essentially a sophisticated automaton, if you will. For practical purposes, this was the first time I was myself again (in broad terms and putting aside the philosophical vagaries of how one would go about defining selfhood).

Before my emergence from the fog of discontinuity, I’d been unconscious for number of days and prior to that, I’d been placed in a medically-induced coma while the medical team laboured to drag me back from the precipice.

Perhaps a bit of context is called for here: I found out in late November that I have genetic haemochromatosis. For those who don’t feel like asking The Google what this spelling bee nightmare is all about, allow me to elucidate. It’s a disorder that disrupts my body’s ability to regulate its iron uptake. The consequence of this is an excess of iron which gets dumped and stored in various organs like the pancreas, liver, and heart, with no simple way to remove it.

The condition has been misdiagnosed for years, so my ferritin levels are off the charts. The accumulated iron is what punched my pancreas in the face and gave me Type 2 diabetes (not too many cupcakes for lunch). It also dragged my liver into a dark alley and kicked it in the proverbial testicles so hard that according to my gastroenterologist, I have “severely decompensated liver function”, or “cirrhosis” in the parlance of normal people.

Both conditions are somewhat ironic (hah!) because (a) I follow a healthy diet and lifestyle and (2) I don’t drink alcohol. On the other hand, I would probably have dropped dead years ago if I was an alcoholic butterball.

The cirrhosis interferes with my liver’s filtration mechanism and this causes abdominal pressure to build up to an extent where the blood seeks alternative escape routes – the most common being via the gastro-intestinal tract. This causes the growth of clusters of distended blood vessels called “varices” in the oesophagus. These clusters are particularly dangerous little bastards, because if any of them pop, you can easily bleed to death if you aren’t near an emergency room. This is called “exploding gizzard syndrome” (not really).

Anyway, I was admitted to hospital as a matter of urgency to have my varices attended to via a procedure called “banding”. The intention was to subsequently start treatment to reduce my ferritin to normal levels and hopefully restore some liver function.

The procedure was apparently successful, albeit extremely painful. Unfortunately, I developed an infection and several days later, one of the varices ruptured and I started vomiting blood. So. Much. Blood. We’re talking ‘Carrie’ volumes here. My partner rushed me to the emergency room while I called ahead to fill my doctor in. When we arrived, we knew I was headed downhill fast, because the first thing the doctor said was, “We’re in trouble here”. He had that “Oh no, I’m going to have to call the family look”, which is never a good sign. I was hooked up to an array of tubes and equipment and wheeled off to ICU. That was the last thing I remember before I finally crawled out of the near side of the Styx a week later. I’d obviously left my wallet in my other pants.

When I was unconscious, I was transferred to the University of Cape Town Private Academic Hospital, where I received the best care a person could hope for. The medical staff were brilliant; the nursing staff were tirelessly vigilant; and my partner was unbelievably strong. Even though she had to deal with the shock and terror, she still found time to take care of everything – admin; finances; and keeping everyone up to speed on my condition. Most of all, she was there every day, all day, until I was discharged. She was as important to my recovery as the medical team.

They managed to coax me back from the threshold of Death’s door and prod me to the hospital main entrance within two weeks, which left many people with their ghasts completely flabbered. After I was discharged and my friends came to visit, one of them voiced what everyone was thinking. He said, “Dude, we genuinely thought you were going to die”.

I didn’t.

And I’m glad to be alive.

Also, I’m engaged, so I no longer have a partner, but a fiancée.

Life is good.

18 thoughts on “Outstaring the Abyss

  1. I was going to be a bit flip about there not being a comic. But I’ll just say I’m glad the ferryman left you behind left.Really. Very glad.
    Oh, and congratulations on the engagement.

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    • Hey, flip is good and always welcome. And thank you. By the way, I *did* contemplate putting in a comic, but I wasn’t sure I liked it (it was a bit too dark for my mood), so I binned it. It was essentially the same three panels with me removed from all of them. In the last panel, the co-worker says, “Dude, are you coming back?” to the empty room.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hope you know that, all flippancy aside, I HAVE missed you, and I am VERY happy that you’re a/alive, and b/about to be made an honest man of. But let’s not make it a habit of making me sappy (and syntactically very wobbly), ok? TA VERY MUCH.

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          • Hey. I’ve been meaning to wish you a *very* happy new year and, per French law, I’m still allowed to do that but only until next week, so here: have yourself(ves) a very merry and (especially) healthy 2020!

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  2. Congrats on the engagement, and on surviving your iron complications.

    Question…are you a blood donor? The reason why I’m asking is because my pink terrorist has a blood disorder that also prohibits her from absorbing iron, and I have been led to believe that it’s super important for her to start donating as soon as she’s legally allowed to to prevent build up on the organs. How exactly that would help is a complete mystery to me but I’d like to believe it might do just that.

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    • It sounds like her condition is the opposite to mine – i.e. my body can’t regulate the amount of iron it absorbs, so it just absorbs it all. The iron that isn’t used builds up in the organs. On the other hand, if hers *is* similar to mine, then the mechanism is as follows: each unit donated will remove some iron (not a huge amount, mind you) and when her body makes more blood, it will tap into the stored iron to make red blood cells to replace the ones lost. It’s a slow, but progressive process that will bring her iron down to normal levels and then keep it there. Nevertheless, having said all that, it is *absolutely essential* that you take her to see a haematologist or gastroenterologist for an actual diagnosis. I’m just parroting what mine told me. Good luck, by the way.

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      • Thanks Kyknoord. We’ve been to the hematologist when she was originally diagnosed with Alpha Thellisemia Trait, but we could probably do with another check up. As it was explained to me at the time, hers causes her red blood cells to be much smaller than they’re supposed to be which interferes somewhat with how oxygen is absorbed as well, but not to the extent where it’s life threatening (provided she starts donating blood at 16). The doctor said it would definitely be something to consider one day if she decided to have children of her own. 1 or 2 hemoglobins missing is okay-ish but if the other half of the recipe had the same disorder babies would need transfusions in vitro to even stand half a chance of making it. I was sent home with “Avoid iron supplements, make sure to mention it to anesthetists, and let her start donating blood as soon as possible”. She seems in excellent health, but I always worry anyway.

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  3. Holy crap… And there I was thinking my one day off-planet when I had high blood pressure and a UTI was bad.. Fuck. You win

    Hope you get off to a better 2020.. And congrats on being affianced.

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  4. The things you do to get away from those relentless projects…

    I am also delighted that you are alive, and have found a fierce and wondrous companion with whom to spend the rest of your life! May it be a loooooong run!

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  5. Just a thought…I think I may still have some teeny-weeny magnets in my toy box.Hours of rainy day fun when I was a toddle-bod, but I’d be happy to send them your way for “take one with your breakfast” if your doc thinks they’d help.(And could be re-usable if you know an engineer who could divert the house plumbing…) Take care!xx

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