Aging is not for the faint at heart

You know what’s worse than waking up several times a night from hot flashes? Waking up from wrenching pains in your lower abdomen, too. This happened to me about three weeks ago, started a flurry of doctor visits, and ended in the ER.

Since I arrived here in December I’ve had lots of settling in to do. I had yet to get around to securing a primary care doctor because my most immediate issues (I thought) were gynecological. Turns out that my lower abdominal/pelvic area pains that started that night had nothing to do with my reproductive system, but were instead caused by another bout of diverticulitis.

I don’t feel like writing down a summary of all the doctor visits I’ve had in the past month and I doubt anyone wants to read that much detail anyway. The only way to definitively diagnose what was going on was to do an abdominal CT scan, so after a week of progressive pain increase and the eventual onset of fever I went to the ER and walked out a few hours later with two prescriptions for some heavy-duty antibiotics.

The worrisome issue for me is that I had diverticulitis two years ago, too, and according to both the new primary care doctor here and the gastroenterologist back in Chicago it’s likely I’ll need surgery to remove a troublesome section of my colon in the next two years. I’ve been doing everything the medical establishment tells you to do to minimize the risk of a recurrence — drinking a lot of water, consuming high fiber, and exercising — but that doesn’t seem to be enough. Apparently I’m one of those people who just has a tendency for recurrent infections in that area of my body.

The pelvic ultrasound ordered by the gynecologist showed all was fine with the exception of a small ovarian cyst that should go away over time. The hot flashes are manageable for now, so I’ll just continue with my new sleep habits — layers of bedding to toss off/pull on as needed, a remote-controlled fan, and an early bedtime — to deal with the hormonal fluctuations. And hopefully the waves of fatigue that have showed up recently are more related to my body fighting off a major infection.

Honestly, with the exception of that tiredness that sometimes overtakes me in the afternoon I’m feeling better than I have in a few months. I’m more clear-headed and I have more energy and enthusiasm for work. These are all good things!

Now I just need to get myself slowly back on track with a normal diet. When the hospital released me I was sent home with some information on low-residue diets. Until my gut is healed, I need to cut out all high fiber foods. The day after release I saw my primary care doctor for follow-up and he amended the diet guidelines even more. He wanted me to eat only a liquid diet until I was pain-free. Then I was to gradually add the low-residue foods, and finally get back into my normal high fiber diet.

Since I had no food in my house that was suitable to consume following these guidelines I’ve had to make several trips to the market for stuff I never buy: fruit juice (and no puree, pulp, or pineapple juice in the mix), regular noodles or pasta, white bread, baking potatoes, and rice pudding. I was only on the liquids for about two days (that’s all I could stand before the headaches and icky feeling from consuming nothing but broth and juice got to me), and have slowly worked my way up through the hierarchy of allowable foods. Just yesterday I started adding some low residue vegetables: a piece of lettuce on my white bread and ham sandwich, and some thoroughly cooked green beans with my baked potato (no skin allowed!) dinner last night.

I haven’t been walking very much or hiking at all during this entire ordeal. I took Hannah dog out to a park yesterday for a lesson with the dog trainer and had to pause at the top of every hill we walked up. I think next week I’ll try to join one of the hiking groups that has members with a variety of fitness levels and hang out with the folks near the back of the pack because I miss the social connections and not just the exercise.

One good thing about this mess: I lost about 4-5 pounds and am fitting into some shorts I had saved from a few years ago. So at least I won’t have to pick up new shorts.

Actually, that’s not the only good thing that came out of this experience. When I returned home from the ER, I laid down in the hammock outside for a few minutes, stared at the brilliant blue sky, and felt immensely thankful that I’m here now. There’s nothing like a health scare to make me realize how important it is to build a happy life for myself. I’m very glad I moved to California, and that I made the opportunity to do it at this point in my life while I still have enough health to enjoy all the benefits it brings to my life. My fledgling support network of kind neighbors and friends is building, and if and when I have another need to be in the hospital for any length of time I’m putting in place safeguards to ensure that Hannah dog is well cared for during my absence.