“Good morning, Lisa. How are you?” Tim Gunn steps into the workroom.
“Fine, Tim, how are you?”
“I’m excellent, thank you.” He moves toward the work-in-progress. “I’m eager to see what changes you’ve made in this novel since we last spoke.” He peers at the illustration of the human digestive system Lisa is studying. “What …?”
“I’m sorry to say I haven’t made any changes,” admits Lisa. “I’ve been having stomach pains for a couple of months, and when I get home from work at the end of the day, I don’t feel like writing.”
“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry to hear that. Have you seen a doctor?”
“Yes. I’ve had blood tests, and an ultrasound, and a CT scan. I’m scheduled for an endoscopy next Tuesday.”
“Ergh.” Tim raises a hand to his lips. “Um, please don’t tell me any more. I’m afraid I’m ill-equipped to handle medical dramas. I prefer to think of the viscera as a metaphor for gut reactions … not actual organs, full of blood and … ew.” He shudders.
“However, I’m not entirely without resources. Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant consulting physician. House, please take good care of her.”
House glares at Tim. “She’s a middle-aged woman with a stomach ache. You called me here for this?” He gives Lisa a cold, clinical look, then turns to go, saying, “It’s acid reflux. Unless you’ve got diarrhea. Then it’s irritable bowel syndrome. Or some other middle-aged white woman ailment.”
At the word ‘bowel,’ Tim scurries from the room.
“I don’t have acid reflux,” says Lisa. “And I don’t have diarrhea.”
House pauses at the door. Without looking back, he says, “I’m bored. And I’m between cases. When I’m bored I get into trouble. After your endoscopy, have all your test results sent to me.”
House limps into the examining room, glances at Lisa, and asks, “The author, right?”
“Uh … yes. I’m an author.”
“I looked up some of your interviews online. You like to joke you’re a teenage boy trapped in the body of a middle-aged woman.”
“I do use that joke sometimes.”
House hands Lisa a photo of the inside of her stomach. “You’ll have to retire that joke. Turns out you’re a sixty-year-old hard-drinking man trapped in the body of a middle-aged woman. Your pancreas looks like it belongs to a blues guitarist who’s been on the road partying for decades, not some little woman author from Oregon.” He sighs loudly. “You should be Buddy Guy! Why couldn’t I get Buddy Guy?”
Lisa studies the photo, all baffling internal chutes and ladders, to her eye. “But I don’t really drink.”
House cocks his head. “You don’t?”
“I mean I have a glass of wine once in awhile, and a margarita when I go out for Mexican food … and sometimes a foofy cocktail with friends … but I’m barely even a social drinker.”
“Huh.” He shrugs. “Your chronic pancreatitis is idiopathic, then.”
“My … what is what?”
“It means we don’t know what caused it. Chronic pancreatitis. You’ve got it.”
“No more margaritas for you. The chronic pancreatitis most likely caused SVT, which in turn caused —”
“Splenic vein thrombosis. A clot in the spleen’s vein. Which caused gastric varices. Your spleen will have to come out.”
“My spleen will have to come out? Are you sure?”
“Well, we could wait around for your varices to rupture, and you to start bleeding internally. Then we’d remove it during an emergency surgery. Your call.”
“It’s no big deal. We can do it laparoscopically. Unless there are complications during surgery. Then we’ll open you up like lunch box and have that spleen out in a matter of minutes.”
Lisa takes a deep breath. “What would you do?”
House turns serious for a moment. “I would have it removed.”
She nods. “Okay. Let’s do it. Hey, aren’t you supposed to misdiagnose me first, then find the real problem and solution in a dramatic denouement?”
House’s blue eyes sparkle. “Lisa, this is real life.”
The morning of the surgery, Lisa undergoes a procedure called “embolization” of the splenic artery. The point is to cut off blood to the artery that feeds into the spleen, thus reducing the amount of blood that would be lost during the splenectomy.
It is fun.
In a parallel universe.
In this universe, it requires a wire to be threaded through Lisa’s arterial system, starting in the groin. Pre-surgery, the radiologist discovers that Lisa is ticklish. He discusses this inconvenient trait with the anesthesiologist, and they plot to sedate the ticklishness out of her.
And indeed, she is sedated enough not to care about the IVs and the mortifying prep and the wire and the cold operating room and the occasional loud commands from the radiologist, “LISA, DON’T MOVE OR BREATHE.”
After the mini-surgery, Lisa has to lie flat for a couple of hours. That handy sedation keeps her unaware of time passing. But her spleen actually starts to hurt. Who knew? The spleen is a hard-working, unassuming organ that never asks for thanks … it will only start to complain if you cut off its blood supply. Pain meds don’t seem to help. By the time Lisa is wheeled into a second operating room, she can’t wait to be unconscious. The anesthesiologist obliges.
Surgery … recovery … pain … nausea … etc.
After a very long day, Lisa’s husband kisses her and goes home, leaving her in the kind, capable hands of the nursing staff.
1) The day after surgery is the worst. It helps if you remind yourself, “I’ll feel better in a couple of days.”
2) If a doctor who looks like she just walked off the set of “House” comes into the room and introduces herself, saying, “Hi, I’m Doctor O, and I work with Dr. M (your surgeon),” and you instantly vomit, don’t feel bad. Anesthesia makes a lot of people sick. *
3) Be sure and use the little breathalyzer thingie to keep your lungs moving.
4) Be sure and start walking the halls as soon as you can to keep your blood moving.
5) Prepare to hear the question “Have you passed gas yet?” every day until you actually do. Then the nursing staff will actually make a note of this in your file, using the word “flatus.”
6) Don’t get mad at the nurse assistants for round-the-clock-every-two-hours temperatures, blood pressure, blood oxygen readings, etc. It’s their job. The tips of my fingers were sore and scabby after five days of blood sugar tests. Oy.
7) The pain meds will help you heal. If they don’t work, tell someone. They’ll figure out something that works.
One week post-surgery
Tim Gunn steps into the workroom and calls cheerfully, “Morning, Lisa.”
“Hi, Tim.” Lisa stands before him in her bathrobe.
“What is this?” he asks, taking in her plaid pajama pants, blue t-shirt, green robe, and sheepskin slippers.
“I had surgery last week, so I’ve been taking it kind of easy.”
“You had surgery last week, and you’re still wearing your pajamas?” Tim asks, appalled. “Did they remove your dignity?”
“No, my spleen,” says Lisa testily.
“I put clothes on when people come to visit,” she mutters.
“Well, it’s good to know you’ve retained some sense of decorum.” He pauses, then says, “Aw, you’ll miss venting your spleen, won’t you?”
“Yes, I will! But I guess it’s time for an era of the less splenic Lisa.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Better every day. Where’s House?’
“Back on another mystifying case, so he sent me. I’m glad you’re healing nicely. Do you feel like writing yet?”
Lisa shakes her head. “No, I don’t even feel like reading, let alone writing. I’m on pain meds, so I’m only really capable of watching TV. But once I start getting the urge to write again, I’ll probably start with a blog post.”
“Good idea. Flex those writing muscles.”
Lisa smiles. “In the meantime, there’s a House marathon on TV today.”
* This actually happened. She introduced herself, I said, "Don't take this personally," and hurled.