I was diagnosed with acute diverticulitis, which is a permanent intestinal disease, in November of 2016. It is a disease that is largely one of the Western world, generally caused by bad living. I could write an entire essay on its details alone, but I do not want to digress from the meat of what I have to say about my experience. Full descriptions of diverticulitis are Google-able and trust me, you do not want it.
When a person is first diagnosed with this disease, the treatment is a truly gnarly run of antibiotics, rest, and a liquid diet followed by a low fiber diet to let the colon recover. That was my experience of treating diverticulitis for the first time. I recovered in three weeks time. My doctor explained if I had another major attack within six months, I would be a candidate for surgery. I learned online how to deal with minor flare ups, of which I'd had two. Using the methods I learned, I was successfully able to subdue these minor attacks.
Saturday, January 21, 2017, I started having another attack. Like before, I followed the steps to deal with it at home. In those former instances, one by one I checked off the things I needed to do, went to bed and would wake up feeling better the next day. In this case, I woke up and my guts were still hurting. My girlfriend Kris suggested we go to an urgent clinic. I was worried about YOB's upcoming shows at Saint Vitus Bar and in Austin, Texas, about all the people who'd be affected adversely if I ended up in the hospital. At the same time, I knew I couldn't risk having a full on attack on the other side of the country, or on a plane.
So I told Kris if I wasn't better by the next morning, I'd call the doctor. That was around 1PM, Sunday the 22. Within an hour of saying that, I changed my mind and decided we'd better head to the store to get some groceries. Partially because we needed them, and partially in the case that if I ended up being being sent to the hospital, at least there would be some food in the house for her. I knew being hospitalized was potentially on the menu, and I had a sinking feeling about the possibility.
When we went to the store, in the deli section to be exact, a bout of pain hit me so hard the entire room spun and I broke out in a cold sweat. I stood there clutching the shopping cart until Kris found me, and I told her we needed to leave, like, now. When we returned home a few minutes later, I called my mother. She's been working in the healthcare field for 25 years, and has seen a lot, so I asked for her advice. She drove over, picked us up and took us to the ER immediately. We arrived around 3PM.
In some ways, I hope in the most important ways, I am a sensitive, effeminate man. In other ways, I'm an old-world macho moron, especially when it comes to outwardly showing physical pain. While we checked into the ER and they took my information, I was toughing it out and keeping the pain on the inside, although we did let the nurse know I was having a bad attack of diverticulitis and that I was really sick. They didn't know how bad it was however, because apparently I'm Clint Eastwood over here. So we sat in the waiting room for two hours while doctors were seeing flu patients and people outwardly complaining about their symptoms. My pain was coming in waves, getting worse and worse.
By the time I was taken back to a room to be seen, around 5PM, I told my mom I was actually feeling a little better. That was when the next wave of pain hit me harder than anything that has ever has hit me in my lifetime up to that point. When the nurse asked me to take my clothes off to change into a hospital gown. I couldn't. Nor could I talk or move, so excruciating was the agony. My mother, Kris, and the nurse took my clothes off while I writhed on the table, helping me into the gown. They installed an IV and promptly flooded my veins with antibiotics.
Pausing to describe these particular moments of pain, what I can say is this. There was no past, no future, no "me," no room that I was in, no body that I inhabited, no band, no family, and also no fear or sadness either. It was pure, and I mean pure pain, like being plugged into the light socket of all that is—a raw nerve ending of the universe.
They dosed me with fifty CC's of Dilaudid (four times stronger than morphine) directly into my IV, and it did nothing. The nurse was required to wait five minutes (though it was actually fifteen minutes) before he could give me more, if that dose didn't give me some relief. It did not. Not even close. He then gave me fifty CC's more, and it still took twenty minutes to even touch my pain.I then received a CT scan. The doctor said not only was my sigmoid colon inflamed and infected, but that one of the diverticula had burst, causing a perforation that was leaking air into my abdomen. The doctor secured a hospital room for me, and off we went across town to the main hospital, River Bend in Gateway, Springfield. We arrived by 7:30PM.
Once I was admitted, the doctor there ran another CT scan, and I met with a surgeon. The surgeon said they still didn't see any more air in my abdomen than from the first scan in the ER, which made him think to hold off and observe rather than do the full-on emergency surgery that would have involved would have involved a 12 to 14-inch incision, and would put me in the hospital for weeks, and out of commission for months.
He did say if I had waited one more day to go to the doctor, which was indeed my original plan, that my organs would have failed within hours, and I would have died.
So I was under observation for two and a half days, from January 22 to 24, without food or water aside from IV fluids. And slowly I started to feel better. So they let me have some water and a little coffee. Goddamn, was that good. Even the shitty hospital coffee tasted like nectar from Heaven. They then took the next step, and let me have some chicken broth. We talked about setting up a date for a less invasive elective surgery in a month's time, and about how I could be discharged to go home as early as the next day.
Twenty minutes after I ate the broth, I felt pain rip down my left side, and my teeth started chattering. I told the nurse my pain was returning. Within seconds I went into full-body rigors for what seemed like forever. I rooted my tongue to the bottom of my lower teeth and gums so I wouldn't bite it. My daughter Maggie was there. She's four months away from becoming a respiratory therapist. She was at the hospital and about to head home after a clinical she attended earlier. She held me while I shivered and shook uncontrollably, and whispered into my ear that I would be OK.
"Critical Rapid Response, 7 Floor" was what my mother heard on the radio in her office; she works as a systems analyst for the hospital I was being treated in. That was about me. As I shook in rigors while my daughter held me, I was so proud of her. I thought, "She's going to help so many people." She was steely cool as her own father was seizing. The other thought that crossed my mind was that if I died then and there, at least it would be in the arms of someone I loved. My body temperature went from normal to 103 degrees in two minutes time. I don't know what they did but somehow, eventually, my body calmed down.
It was determined I needed surgery, and soon. They then did another CT scan and determined I needed surgery, but they still didn't see any more air in my abdomen. So Dr. Clark (the next surgeon on call, and my hero) said she would attempt the less invasive surgery to begin with, the caveat being that she wouldn't know if it was actually possible until she opened me up.
So within a few hours early January 25, they wheeled me into an operating room. It was highly recommended I choose to have an epidural to deal with pain, as this surgery has a solid reputation for kicking serious ass in the pain department after you wake up. I agreed. They installed the epidural, and shortly afterward knocked me out.
Apparently, it was a real mess inside my abdomen. It was filled with air, the spreading infection, and worse. In essence, I was now a living Carcass song. (I'd like to think it was "Swarming Vulgar Mass Of Infected Virulency", but I digress). It took them seven hours to clean up my insides, take out the infected part of my sigmoid colon, and sew the healthy parts together.
I woke up later to an ileostomy bag, a catheter, and a tube running out of my left side with a ball-end that looked kind of like a clear plastic grenade.
The next couple of days, January 25 and 26, are pretty hazy. From day one, when we arrived at the ER, I felt all I could do was to use my energy carefully, listen, and control the one thing that was in my power, my attitude. I did my best to memorize every doctor, nurse, and CNA's first name. I cracked jokes as often as I could, made conversation, said "thank you" probably a thousand times.
By day six, January 27, I was starting to stabilize, so they pulled out the catheter (HELLO) and the grenade thingy (I wasn't prepared for that one, holy fuck was that an experience, even on pain drugs). The next day they pulled the epidural. The results of losing the epidural really caught me off guard. I had no idea how much it was helping manage my pain, until it wasn't there.
From January 28 on, I had a very rough couple of days. They'd warned me I would because we tried different combos of oral pain meds. The worst of it was having a bad reaction to OxyContin where I threw up all night. Throwing up is bad enough. Add fresh internal wounds? Yeah. It sucked.
They also tried giving me Benadryl in my IV, which had about the same effect as taking a couple of grams of mushrooms. Hallucinations were the big side effect, and lots of them. There were people walking behind my bed (which was firmly against the wall), as well as multiple people all talking at the same time in the room, people who weren't really there, while the dry erase board melted down the wall. Apparently, I was happier than a lottery winner as I talked exuberant utter nonsense, telling five different stories at once in word salad fashion. In a weird way (maybe the result of doing fitful but consistent meditation), I was aware I was hallucinating. At one point I said out loud, "OK, OK, I get it." I laughed loudly a couple times at their jokes too. All the while I watched silver fire walk up the wall in slow motion like the end of The Ninth Gate when the credits roll.
The best hallucination I had was when a large, fat grey cat jumped on the bed purring loudly, walked up with lover eyes and rested on my chest. I held it close while we touched nose to nose. I'm semi-convinced that imaginary spirit cat was some kind of divine intervention, it was so wonderful.
We finally happened upon a golden combo of oral pain meds that worked, and my condition improved. No more hallucinations, and my pain was becoming a bit more manageable. I was holding down food, and could walk around a little. I saw other folks like me walking in the halls, and as I walked by their rooms. We'd make eye contact, nod to each other and say small things like "keep it up" or "stay strong." Seems cliche, but it actually mattered.
Finally after ten days, I was discharged from the hospital to heal at home January 31. I've been home for over a week now. I have one more surgery coming up in five weeks to reverse the ileostomy, followed by a shorter hospital stay. Then after that, with some more rest. I should be in the clear.
The beauty of having the surgery I once dreaded the possibility of, is that now my likelihood of getting diverticulitis again has gone from an 80 percent chance to a 5 percent chance. If I watch my diet and keep it high fiber after I heal, they said I can cut that 5 percent in half. They also said if I wasn't in as good of physical shape as I am, and didn't have a positive attitude, my experience could have and likely would have been worse, with a more difficult recovery.
Sorry for the novel, but there you have it. It is a life-changing experience. I feel like I'm in some new realm that I've never been in before. I'm lucky to be alive, and I intend to learn every lesson I can from this experience, from the simplest most basic ones to the big mommas and daddies swimming in the deepest waters.
I get emotional a lot right now, and I'm experiencing a kind of happiness, for lack of a better word, in a way I've never known. I know there are countless people who have been through far worse things than this, so I count and recount my blessings. I did almost die, and was within hours of death, for real. I will most definitely channel these experiences into new music, better living, and deeper love. For that, and everything else really, I am so very grateful.
I need to thank my mom and dad Mike and Charlotte Scheidt, my wonderful girlfriend Kris Keyser, my children Zeke, Maggie and Hudson, Carrie Culliton and Stacy Bierma, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Belva, Aaron Rieseberg, Travis Foster, Simon Henderson, Maria Porcaro, Gabe Morley, and my biological blood brothers Nick and Andy for hanging tough with me and blessing me with their love and protection. To Dr. Clark, Nurse Maggie, Nurse Lory, and Nurse Julie, CNA Miranda, my wound care specialist Dustin, and all of the other wonderful doctors, nurses and CNA's who watched over me, you are truly angels on Earth. You saved my life. I promise to make your efforts for me worthwhile.
Finally, thank you to all of my friends and family around the world who sent me messages, gifts, encouragement and love. I don't know how I became so fortunate. I promise you I will give you everything I have to give in the coming years, to grow with you and help steward our world in these tumultuous times. I still have a lot of healing to do before I'll be solidly back on my feet. Until then, please know I stand with you. All the way.
With gratitude and love,
Mike's friends have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help him shoulder some of his extensive past and present medical bills, plus day-to-day expenses while healing from this ordeal. Contribute if you can here.
Photo by Alyssa Hermann / Foto Phortress