Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Hospital

Monday night around 2:00 am, I awoke out of my sleep with a severe burning sensation in my chest. It didn’t feel like any danger to my heart or lungs, so I wasn’t too worried. But for nearly two hours it continued. I drank some milk and downed some Pepto-Bismol, which helped me eventually go back to sleep. The next morning I still felt a little pain in my chest and the upper part of my abdomen. I’d never experienced anything like this, but attributed it to some kind of extreme heartburn or indigestion.

Before work, Randy (KJWW’s American mechanical engineer in India) called and said he wouldn’t be making it into work that day, for he’d spent the night vomiting and diarrheaing. Aaaahh, food poisoning, I thought. Probably related to what I experienced last night. Was it the chai we drank from the dirty tea stand in the middle of nowhere on the way back from Udaipur? Was it the McDonald’s we’d eaten later in the day? Equally suspicious.

As the week continued, Randy endured a couple more days of weak stomach and dehydration, but improved to full strength by the end of the week. On the other hand, I was experiencing some other digestive system troubles – increasing soreness in my esophagus whenever I tried to swallow, accompanied with some gastrointestinal bleeding.

So on Friday, I asked Ankoor, our company’s do-everything assistant, to set me up with a doctor. Unable to set an appointment with a private practice family doctor that day, he settled on sending me to the “expensive” hospital. So off I went, with our driver and a co-worker along to help navigate through the complexities of a large hospital with many non-English speakers.

After a consultation with the doctor, he ordered up a series of tests and also wanted to admit me for a couple days. I talked him out of staying at the hospital, but he did schedule me for blood, urine, and stool sample tests, along with an X-ray, a sonogram, and an endoscopy. He also prescribed three different medicines.

A bit nervous about the bill for all of these tests, I called Kirstie to have her contact our insurance company and see if there’s anything we should do. She was away from the apartment at the time, so I can imagine her panic upon hearing this news and sprinting home in a worry. She was unable to reach our insurance company; however, after seeing the total for the doctor consultation, X-ray, and sonogram, I realized there wasn’t going to be a big need for insurance. The final bill, with the endoscopy, laboratory samples, and prescriptions added in later, came to about $150, and I was able to put it all on KJWW’s company credit card. I expect this all might have been well over a thousand dollars in the US, so I definitely understand the appeal of medical tourism.

First I went to give blood and waste matter samples. Many bathrooms in India don’t have toilet paper, but I thought perhaps the hospital would. Nope. Fortunately, I couldn’t go #2 anyway, so I dodged the need to use faucet-and-bucket cleansing by electing to collect the stool sample at home.

Next was an X-ray of my chest. I’m not sure why this was necessary. Expectedly, nothing in my lungs or rib cage or heart size was causing my digestive problems. Later that day I returned for a sonogram. During the exam, the door kept swinging open for all the passers-by in the corridor to peer in at the American with a gelled-up belly and pants unbuttoned. As the radiologist scanned around my abdominal area, I wondered if I might be having a boy or a girl. A sign outside the sonogram room stated that it’s illegal in India to determine the gender of your baby before it’s born, so the doctor just told me my liver, gall bladder, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, spleen, bladder, and prostate all looked normal without mentioning anything about the baby.

The next day I dropped off a cup with my refrigerated poo at the lab, and received my blood and urine results – all normal. Then I was off to the endoscopy. This was the most exciting and dreaded part. At first when the doctor told me I needed an endoscopy, I was picturing a colonoscopy, and I was like “Whoa whoa whoa, is that really necessary?” And he said it’s not very uncomfortable and will only take about 15 minutes. So I thought, “That’s what she said!”

In an endoscopy, the doctors stick a tube hooked up to a video camera down your throat and explore all the way into your stomach. Going into this, I thought this must normally be done on men at least 50, and based on the other two men in the waiting area, it’s more like 90, actually. As I sat on a cot and awaited my turn, someone flipped the TV from a Bollywood movie to professional wrestling, and all the nurses and other staff took a break for a while to watch a tag team match.

First the doctor asked me a few questions about the problems I was having, then I was given a sedative, which made me relaxed yet awake throughout the procedure. A couple squirts of spray in my throat numbed my gag reflex, and I soon had a flexible tube travelling down my digestive tract. Ten minutes later, the doctor had found everything he was looking for and more. Hopefully you don't find these photos too disgusting:

  • Pill esophagitis, an inflammation in the lining of my esophagus (you can see the affected white area above), caused by taking a pill right before bed with only a small drink of water. Doxycycline, my malaria medicine, is one of the pills most commonly associated with this rare diagnosis. Not fully passed to the stomach, the pill lodged in my esophagus and in just a few hours, caused damage and symptoms mimicking esophageal cancer.

  • An ulcer, which could have come from a number of things, most likely painkillers, too much alcohol, smoking, or a specific type of bacteria. My money’s on the latter.

  • A polyp, which is a small abnormal growth, rarely cancerous, but usually harmless and can sometimes be linked to the same bacteria that causes ulcers.

Doctors say the esophagitis will take 4 or 5 weeks to heal. They will be doing a biopsy on a couple stomach samples, and there’s not much reason to be concerned at this point. Every sign points to benign. Hopefully my interjection of humor in this story lets you know I don’t have much more than a small grain of worry in me about this. I’ll found out later this week or next week for sure though, and give an update in the comments area below for any caring readers. Meanwhile, any prayers you offer for quick healing and good test results are greatly appreciated.

If you’re interested, I received a CD with the full video of the endoscopy, and I’d be more than willing to share that with anyone upon request. It’s quite interesting and gross!


Brett and Kristin said...

Oh wow - those pictures are awesome. Thanks so much for sharing those! We hope that you feel better soon! Take a few days off and relax to the sounds of a constant barrage of fireworks! And get busy on your assignment - remember, it must "get done" before leaving India!!

The Zimmerman's said...

We are praying for peace, quick healing, and good results. Miss you!

Sara and Ben Z.

nhanson said...

Alex,I had this done while we were living in Florida. It wasn't all that bad! I'm glad you made it through ok. I am praying for you to heal and for the doctors wisdom in all of what you are going through. I had to completely change my diet(grand to bland!) and I take medication everyday. It has helped tremendously. I enjoyed the pictures as I never got to see mine! :) Hi Kirsten!! Take Care.

Jon said...

Looks like the hospital has some added features - for instance, the viewing area. Thanks for the update. Matthew 5:1-12.

Kirstie said...

Hey everyone! We just wanted to let you guys know that Alex's test results came back and everything is okay. He is eating with much less discomfort these last few days and is on the road to recovery. Thanks for all your emails, thoughts, and prayers!

Alex said...

Also, I'd just like to add the hilarious sidenote that when I went to the hospital today, along with my report, they gave me the samples of my stomach they used for the biopsies.

Stephen said...

So what are you going to do with those samples? I hope I am not too late with this suggestion, but I think a nice pendant for your wife would be unique and truly part of sharing one another.