This time when I started feeling weak (last Tuesday), and in a lot of pain, I asked my housemate to take me to the Parkland ER before he had to call an ambulance. I waited 8 hours until I saw a doctor and was admitted to a room. I’d never been in a hospital — or anywhere — that had so many police officers patrolling the premises. There was always an officer walking by, or sitting on a chair a few feet away from wherever I was sitting. I was glad about that.
Parkland serves as Dallas County’s public hospital. A few feet away from where I sat for many hours there was a man handcuffed to a chair. There was a lot of screaming from other rooms. Etc., etc., etc. It was a long wait.
The reason I went to the Parkland ER was because I was having constant pain beneath my rib cage and around my back. This time it was a dull pain that got worse and worse — as if it were boring into me. I was experiencing hypokalemia, a lower than normal potassium level in your bloodstream. Potassium helps carry electrical signals to cells in your body. It is critical to the proper functioning of nerve and muscles cells, particularly heart muscle cells.
My potassium level was 2.4.
Normally, your blood potassium level is 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). A very low potassium level (less than 2.5 mmol/L) can be life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention. The RNs pumped me up. With potassium.
I also had two EKGs — in 24 hours. Now I’m being referred to a heart clinic.
Anyway. Now I have scheduled appointments with actual doctors at Parkland. Because I saw a doctor — not a resident — she was able to give me many answers, and make appointments so I can see doctors via scheduled appointments. All of my previous ER visits at Methodist Hospital ended with referrals to doctors who either refused to see me at all, or cancelled appointments once they were made. So.
And now. I don’t really know what to expect. Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed pretty late. I am part of the 70% who get diagnosed because of pain:
Almost 7 out of 10 people (70%) with pancreatic cancer go to their doctors because they have pain. Pain is more common in cancers of the body and tail of the pancreas. People describe it as a dull pain that feels as if it is boring into you. It can begin in the stomach area and spread around to the back. The pain is worse when you lie down and is better if you sit forward. It can be worse after meals. — The Mayo Clinic
This. This description is exactly what I experience. Pain. Constant pain. Pain that makes me throw up. Pain that keeps me from eating because it hurts to digest food. This is why I’ve lost 13 pounds in the last 4 weeks. Pancreatic cancer is one of the top 5 most painful kinds of cancer.
Oh, and, in case you were wondering: the pain from living with low potassium was intense. But. Not as intense as the pain causes by potassium injections. That. Shit. Hurts. Oh. My. God. I literally had tears pouring out of my eyes. Hypokalemia is treated with oral or intravenous potassium and saline — and that shit fucking hurts. And there are no IV pain meds that can be given for this pain because of some medical reasons I forget. I was on a morphine drip for the pain hypokalemia was causing and it didn’t help the potassium saline injections, which burned like a motherfucker. Potassium causes phlebitis, which inflames the vein.
I’ve been wandering for so long on a smokey, painful path that now it feels nice to be able to see a bit more of the trail. And it’s nice to have spoken with a doctor who knew how to help me — and actually did help me. Next up is discovering things like how far along is this illness.
Meanwhile. My taste-buds are back, and I have no idea for how long. So, I’m going to devour some popsicles from my local creamery. :)