Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now I Know How A Beer Keg Feels

"Previously on the blog:" For those of you who haven't been paying attention, or with short memories: Recently I had an ultrasound exam that showed fluid in my abdomen (Ascites) and that my liver was shrunken and had spots. I was scheduled for an appointment with a stomach/liver specialist.

I skipped my Nov. 17 appointment. Dumb thing to do, I know, but that's typical for me. Not doing dumb things, necessarily, but missing appointments. I called the clinic and rescheduled. I was lucky enough to get an appointment the next day, because someone had called to cancel.

My appointment was with a "physician's assistant," rather than with a doctor, but I'll call him "Doc." He is a retired Army Major who was deployed with troops in the Gulf - Iraq and Afganistan.

Doc was very intrigued by my case. He said after reviewing my file and talking with me that I was just too healthy to be having the symptoms I'm having, i.e. ascites and liver issues. He said that the vast majority of people with my symptoms were very sick. He said he could usually recognize them, that they looked like they were "at death's door." We talked for awhile. He decided that I needed to have some blood drawn for testing, and I did, later. They took several vials of blood. Doc said he'd review the results of the blood tests and contact me if there was anything important to deal with - anything serious.

He had a look at my huge belly and we talked about draining the fluids in my abdomen. I'd seen on the Internet that that was possible. He agreed that it probably should be done, so he called a friend of his - also a retired Army medical person - and asked if I could get in the same day (yesterday, Nov. 22). He told "Doc 2" that I had "massive acites." Doc 2 said he'd set me up for a time and call back. Instead of calling, he showed up in Doc's office while I was still there and had a look for himself. He told me that he could "drain me" at 2:00 that afternoon. I suspected, and he later confirmed, that he had shown up to ensure that I really needed to be "drained" that day, and that Doc wasn't overreacting. (He wasn't.)

Doc also said that he was going to schedule me for a CT scan. He said this would help us to see what is going on with my liver. The CT scan should be soon, because Doc said he was doing whatever it is that makes it a higher than normal priority. He'll notify me when he finds out the date and time for that CT scan. I haven't heard yet.

So I finished with Doc and went to have all that blood drawn. I also had to pick up a prescription for medication that is supposed to keep the fluid that would be drained from being replaced with yet more fluid.

At 2:00 I went to have my fluid drained. (They also refer to this as "tapping," like tapping a keg of beer!)  I didn't really know what to expect as far as pain, but I knew that, even if there was some pain involved, I was ready to have this done. Doc 2 was real nice and explained everything, as well as answering questions I had about the procedure about acites in general.

There was really no pain. First he gave me a shot to numb the area where the needle (or tube, I'm not really sure what it was) would be inserted. I barely felt that shot. I also barely felt the tube/needle being inserted, except for while he was trying to "find the fluid." What I did feel was uncomfortable but not painful at all.

Doc 2 explained that he would be draining four liters of fluid (about one gallon). There was more fluid than that in my abdomen, but he said that draining any more would significantly increase the risks involved. He said that we might want to drain some fluid again at some time, but we'd wait and see.

It took only about five minutes for each liter of fluid, and he said the fluid looked very healthy. He said the fluid from sick people usually looks brown or milky. Healthy fluid looks "like beer" (his words), and that's what mine looked like. He said the fluid would be tested. I guess they can tell from that if there are some specific problems.

I felt a hell of a lot better even before I was finished. A lot of pressure was relieved from my lungs and other organs. I hadn't realized what affect the fluid was having on my breathing until some of it had been drained. To explain: I had to walk from the far reaches of the over crowded parking lot into the hospital and, of course, from the hospital back to my car after the appointments. When walking into the hospital, I was very short of breath by the time I got to the clinic. After having the fluid drained, I was not out of breath at all walking back to my car. Also, I think I slept better last night than I have for some time.

Doc 2 put a bandaid on my little puncture and warned me what to watch out for. He said that I might continue to drain a bit. He said it wasn't a concern and told me what to do about it. He also said I might begin to bleed. This would be a concern, and that I should get to the emergency room if that were to happen. Neither one has happened.

So that's where I stand today. Overall, Doc says that I'm quite healthy and that, right now, I shouldn't worry about anything. I'm taking the meds to prevent the fluid buildup, waiting to see if that will work and not having any side effects. I'm also waiting for notice of the CT scan appointment.

To all of you who care about what's going on with me, thank you. It's nice to know that you're out there. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The automated appointment line at the VA Hospital says I have an appointment on Nov. 17th. This must be my appointment with the stomach/liver specialist. I'll receive a confirmation in the mail soon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Quick Update

I got a letter from my doctor today: "The ultrasound shows a shrunken liver with some possible growths in it, and there is also fluid in the abdomen. I have requested a consult with the stomach/liver specialist."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A New Shopping Experience

Had a horrible time shopping for groceries yesterday. I couldn't make it through the store without my shingles pain acting up. And I mean WAY up. I couldn't bend over or reach up to get things I needed off the shelves. I couldn't walk normally without extreme pain. I had to bend over. Several times I had to stop and rest until the pain subsided a little bit. I desperately needed to sit down for the pain to go away, but grocery stores don't have chairs for their customers. When the shopping was done, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get my groceries from the cart to the check out belt without help. Fortunately, on the way to the check out line I noticed a table and chairs set up for flu shots. (It was too early for the shots, but the table and chairs were there.) So I moved at a snails pace to a chair and sat. And sat and sat and sat. Several people were nice enough to ask me if I was okay. I said yes because, after all, there was nothing they could do. It was only time that would help with the pain. After about ten minutes I managed to make it to the check out line, and I was able to unload my cart and function normally for the rest of the trip.

I had taken a pain pill just before leaving the house, but it didn't work. They don't seem to be working well at all. They did at first. I think I know why they aren't working now. Maybe.

I have had, for several years, a problem with my right thigh going numb. It started by going just slightly numb whenever I laid on my back to sleep. In the past few years it has gotten worse. It now gets very numb to the point of pain if I don't change my position - I guess to one that lets the blood flow normally. (I think the lack of blood flow is what causes the numbness, but I'm really not sure.) One of the times that my thigh goes numb is when I'm on my feet for awhile - like when I go grocery shopping. It has been bearable, until now. Now it seems to double up with the shingles to cause the same excruciating pain that started with the shingles. And this is why I had so much trouble yesterday.

I talked to the doctor over a year ago about the numbness. Without a lot of discussion he said there was nothing that could be done about it. I plan to bring it up again at my next appointment, Nov. 9th. And I need to learn more about shingles. I thought that it eventually "goes away," which mean the pain goes away. I have taken all the anti-viral meds and the rash is almost gone, but the pain continues. Not as often as before, but it's still there, and still can immobilize me.

On another subject, tomorrow morning I'll have my ultrasound. Maybe I'll have an answer to what's causing my abdomen to grow.