Don't F*$% With the Pancreas (Blogisode Five)

Happy Monday morning!  I hope the sun is shining today where ever you are, and I especially hope, for all you working people, that the reading of this blog is sneakily happening on your work computer while you enjoy a cup-a-joe. This blogisode is brought to you by blueberry pie from the Londonderry, Vermont Farmer’s Market.  I am not actually eating any of the pie, but instead I am writing this blogisode while Rob and Charlotte eat pie with our neighbor.  The original idea was that the blog was to fill the time I usually spend watching TV or goofing around on Facebook—my attempt at being both productive and creative—but now that we are in a house with no TV or Internet….well….I suppose it prevents me from eating pie.  Which is a fine thing.  Especially since I don’t really like pie anyway.  Unless it’s Boston Cream Pie.  Which, who are we kidding, is really cake.  It’s cake with pudding.  It’s Boston Pudding Cake.  I’m totally changing the name.

This blogisode is brought to you by Boston Pudding Cake.  (Yum.)

Sharon's Birthday Pudding Cake.

Sharon's Birthday Pudding Cake.

Why Boston?

Alright, alright, I’m done.

And incidentally, Rob makes it for me for my birthday cake every year.  So now it's Sharon's Birthday Pudding Cake, having absolutely nothing to do with Boston or pie.

Rob's yelling at me to get back to the story.

And he doubles the chocolate icing.  De-Li-Cious.

SERIOUSLY, I'm done now.

We left off with one gall bladder on the verge of bursting, two children watching Sneaking Rudy, a baby sitter on the A train, Rob and I traveling to Lenox Hill Emergency Room, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Caught up?

Parking bible

Parking bible

Can you imagine how carefully--yet quickly I drove with a possibly-about-to-erupt gallbladder in the passenger seat?  Have you SEEN the pot holes in New York City this year after all the snow? Do you REALLY think we should have taken a cab and trusted the careful driving to someone else?  Me either.   Actually, I’d like to take a moment to explain something about having a car and driving in Manhattan for all you non-New Yorkers out there (and probably some new-to-New York-ers).  Despite the image that we all ride the subway everywhere (and we do) many people have a car in New York City.  Rob and I, in fact,  have always had a car for the 20 years we’ve lived here.  We’ve either parked on the street for free, which involves a disciplined and carefully researched car move twice a week based on street cleaning regulations, or we’ve had a parking garage.  We’ve always used the car quite a bit, but since we moved all the way up to the hand to the (long) pinky fingernail, we use it all the time.  I grocery shop in the cheaper/bigger/nicer suburban grocery stores, I go to Costco in Yonkers, and even better, I save myself an expensive metro card and drive around Manhattan.  Need to know when to park for free and where?  I’m your gal.

A miracle near 34th street. Free parking.

A miracle near 34th street. Free parking.

As an example, we actually drive to see Santa Claus at Macy’s Herold Square on 34th street every year and arrive just before 7pm when the street parking turns over, which means we can park for free.  It saves us $20 in subway fares, it saves us an hour in commute time, and we get to listen to Christmas music on the way down instead of whatever Mariachi Band is playing on the A train that night.

I found a free parking spot right outside the hospital, and we walked in the Emergency Room door.  The fun began right away.

Just inside the large revolving door is a bouncer station.  It’s supposed to be an information booth of sorts—mostly them getting information out of you—and then them telling you where to go.  Gun shot wound?  Go this way.  Ear ache?  Sit over there.  What’s funny about it is that there is a nurse on duty, but the first person you have to talk to is a security guard who serves as a kind of hospital bouncer.  On this particular Sunday afternoon, there was a frazzled and over it nurse, and two security guards who both looked like they worked for Tony Soprano.

Welcome to Lenox Hill Hospital.

Welcome to Lenox Hill Hospital.

We walk in and by this time Rob is ghostly pale and doubled over.  Clearly he’s very sick.  I am holding his arm, carrying the overnight bag and my purse, and I’m dressed in a short dress with leggings.  I have a sweater tied around my waist.

We walk though the revolving door and the bigger of the two security guard looks at me from the tip of my head to my toes, then looks at Rob.  The security guard then points his thumb at me in an offhand way and says,

“You here to have a baby?”


Stunned, but without missing a beat I said,

“Wow. Um no, but I’d like to thank you for when I think about that later and it ruins my night.  Instead, let's focus on this guy, the one who looks like he’s about to keel over.  Who do I talk to?”

He muttered something about how most people are having babies and asked what was wrong.  We explained Rob’s symptoms for the first of what was about to become 50 times that night, and we took a seat in the filled to capacity waiting room.  I resisted the temptation to Google a Weight Watcher’s meeting or call 1-800-Jenny.  Instead, I silently diagnosed everyone in the waiting room, trying to see if anyone was as sick as Rob.  Kid with an ear ache across the way….that woman threw her back out at Yoga…that guy has a stomach flu, or possibly is just hung over based on how he smells….they can all wait.

Rob, on the other hand, was going downhill fast.  The pain was overwhelming.  After about five minutes, they called his name, but it was just to repeat the symptoms for the nurse instead of the security guard/bouncer.  While we stood at the nurse’s desk, Rob really started to make a turn for the worse.  He said he needed a bathroom and maybe a pail to be sick in, which the nurse sent the bouncer guy to get.  I rushed Rob to the restroom.  While we were in there, Rob came very close to passing out and I yelled for help.  The Sopranos guy handed me a pail and told me they were “very busy” because a lot of people come in on the weekends and we should take a seat.  At that point, I came as close as I hope to ever come to having a “Shirley Maclaine” moment.

Let me explain that cultural reference: remember in the movie Terms of Endearment when Shirley goes all ballistic on the nurse because Debra Winger needs pain medication?

Almost me.

Almost me.

That was me in that moment.  I wasn’t that bad—I never yelled—but I informed that Tony Soprano bouncer that my husband was about to pass out on the floor of the Emergency Room bathroom, and I had a feeling that their insurance company would not be thrilled to know that he was there because we hadn’t been taken in fast enough.  I think I said something like, “The NEXT person who will be going into that ER is my husband.  Do you understand me?  This is not just a sore throat.  This is an emergency.”

They took him in.  Rob later said that the moments in the bathroom were his personal worst for this entire experience, so I’m glad they line up with me losing it on a guy who was

a) Not being helpful fast enough


b) already on my shit list for thinking I was 9 months pregnant.

We go through some paper work and finally, finally get inside the ER, onto a bed and into the care of a nurse.   Rob tells her his symptoms and within minutes she’s started an IV (this took numerous tries because his veins were collapsed from dehydration), taken blood and given him morphine for the pain .  After a while a doctor who looked like a TV star came by and did an assessment—lots of pushing on the belly and asking questions.

Maybe our ER doctor.

Maybe our ER doctor.

We were told we’d have to wait for the blood work to come back, so we relax and wait for them to come back and say what we think we already know—that his gall bladder has to come out.

Rob fell asleep, while I found a chair and started a barrage of text messaging because the ER only got one bar of cell service (which is a lot like where I currently am in Vermont, ironically, enough juice to text, not enough to talk).  I check on Hannah and the kids, I gave Charlotte a report to make her feel better, and tell her to prepare that they might have to take his gall bladder out.  Charlotte, who had just studied digestion in Health Class, was quick to give me information via text.  She said she wasn’t worried, the gallbladder is an unessential organ, the surgery is easy and he’d be fine.

I was relieved that Dr. Charlotte Meffe, gall bladder expert, was on duty.

About an hour and a half later they send Rob down for an ultrasound.  Remember, he’d already had one within the past week that had shown stones, but they wanted a more current view.  Charlotte was texting with me the whole time, sending information.

“I Googled it and make sure they look at his ducts and stuff.  Sometimes a stone can come out of the gallbladder and get stuck.”  In the next blogisode we will learn more about that, but you heard it here, folks, Dr. Charlotte Meffe, graduating from the medical school of 7th grade Health Class and Google, diagnosed him first.

Dr. Meffe. She can diagnose you via text.

Dr. Meffe. She can diagnose you via text.

After the ultrasound results and the bloodwork came in, the TV doctor returned. The news wasn’t good.

“Well Mr. Meffe.  You have a lot of things going on here.  Your liver enzyme levels are about at about 36,000, and normal levels are about 200.  In fact, we don’t know what the actual levels are because it is so high we have to dilute it to read it.”

There was a lot more medical talk about enzyme levels and pancreas problems, and I was confused, but this I understood:

“Plan on being here for quite a while, probably a week.  We won’t let you go until those levels are all the way back down.  The only way to heal the pancreas is to completely cut off everything by mouth.  No food, no water, no ice chips.  Nothing.  We’ll give you stronger pain meds and keep a close eye on you.”

After he left, Rob and I talked.  To give you an idea what an anatomical idiot I am, when Rob asked if I understood everything, I said, “Isn’t the pancreas the same thing that made Rudy Guiliani and Joe Torre sick?”

Rob explained with a smile (a nice guy even in pain in the ER), “That’s the prostate, honey.”

I decided I couldn’t be such an unbelievable idiot about what was happening to him, but I didn’t have time to go to medical school, and couldn’t bother Dr. Charlotte because we weren’t telling her everything right at the moment.  It was more serious than a gallbladder, that I knew.  So, I did the next best thing. I called our double doctor friend from blogisode one, Dr. Andy Nowalk.  And if I wasn’t already scared, this phone call just about put me over the edge with worry.