My back hurts

Must have pulled a muscle during golf

It was a Sunday evening when Jeff returned from a matinee concert and complained about a backache. He had just played the first round of golf since we put the winter months behind us, so it was not hard to believe that he had overdone it. That evening, we used the massage wand to help – Jeff said that it felt weird and so we did not use it again.

The pain continued throughout the week. The seat warmer in his car helped, so sometimes he would just sit in the car. I dug out a heating pad from the closet, hoping that his pain relief could become portable. Ibuprofen was the go-to anti-inflammatory. But one day after another, the backache ebbed and flowed without disappearing.

Friday morning, I got up and made coffee… I would be working from home that day, and I thought, hmmm, maybe I could work in the great room instead of my home office. I don’t know, I just felt the need for a change of scenery. I set up shop in the great room table, facing the kitchen and the door to the garage. Jeff got up shortly after – he was tasked with taking our dog to the vet for a procedure.

In hindsight, it feels almost as if that morning was cleared out for what was to come. If I had decided to sit in my home office, I would not have seen Jeff’s agonized face when he walked in through the garage door after the vet’s appointment. I had also canceled all my meetings that morning because my amazing team was on top of all their tasks, and I wanted to give them back their time. So my morning was free to check on Jeff who was lying on the bed with excruciating pain that seem no longer to be related to back muscles. And ultimately, he threw up.

“Come on, let’s go to the ER. That’s not back pain. Maybe it’s a kidney stone,” I said. Always so polite, Jeff asked, “are you sure? don’t you have to work?” And he asked this multiple times, like he does any time I offer to do anything for him. Almost too polite considering the amount of pain he was in! We quickly got ready and got in my car.

It was a rainy day, and Hillcrest Hospital was only 8 minutes away. I had made that drive so many times because last fall I had a lumpectomy done at Hillcrest. Multiple appointments, consultation, and the complication from the lumpectomy meant even more appointments at the hospital post surgery. I knew the back roads like the back of my hand. As I drove, I thought to myself, “fast enough to get there efficiently, but not too fast to delay with a ticket or an accident…” There was a hum of anxiety in the air because Jeff felt so nauseated. We stopped the car in the middle of the road with the hazard lights on because he got out of the car to vomit. Nothing came out, and when he got back into the car and I started driving again, he threw up in my car. Well, he threw up into the blanket that I keep in the car for our dog.

I drove him to the ER “drive thru,” and told him to go in. I parked the car in the garage and joined him in the waiting room. He was in a wheel chair, shaking and sweating bullets. He was in so much pain – I had never seen him in that kind of pain before, and it was so hard to watch. A few minutes later, a nurse came out to get him triaged. It was when she tried to take his blood pressure that things seemed off. The machine couldn’t get a good read. It was too low. Jeff also said that there was tingling in his hands. At that point, she did an EKG on him, which came out fine. But to me he looked grey, almost like a corpse with cold sweat all over his face. What’s crazy to me is that even at that point, when I knew something was really wrong, I didn’t panic… because it couldn’t be that bad, right? We were making jokes just this morning when we got up… it’s probably a kidney stone. The blood pressure machine is probably broken. And the tingling is most likely from the severe pain.

Denial is a very powerful thing. Or maybe it is recency bias?

Jeff was wheeled into a room where the ER doctor gave him drugs for the pain and ordered a CT. It took almost an hour before it was his turn for the CT, so during that time, we were in the room alone. Jeff called his work to say that he cannot play the concert that night and took care of other business for that Friday. We called his best friend and his father (it was his birthday!), who could hear him cackle and laugh in the ER, so they thought Jeff would be alright. It is amazing how the sound of laughter can signal relief. Jeff and I joked that if this is a kidney stone, all this pain could go away at once with a productive session in the bathroom. Hey! Maybe you can even go play the concert tonight if you can just pee it out! At one point, I remember walking around to find water for myself because I was afraid of getting dehydrated (yeah, I was worried about myself… d’oh!). Finally, the staff person arrived to take Jeff to get a scan, and everything changed when the doctor returned with the findings of that first CT.

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