The WITDC Mental Health and Wellness day and why July 2020 really sucked for me.


May 27, 2021 by Kenneth Fisher

I recently gave a presentation at the WITDC Mental Health and Wellness day. The recordings are out and here’s the link:

Each of the presentations were given by some amazing people and are well worth your time. I can’t tell you how honored I was to speak alongside them. My presentation was pretty well received. I talked about my experiences last year and a few of the things I learned. I’m at the end of the second lightning talk video.

While I was preparing I created an outline with as much detail as I could. Far more detail than I could possibly fit into a 10 minute lightning talk. For personal reasons I decided to finish and clean it up, and I thought some of y’all might be interested in the details. So here it is. It’s an outline but should still be a good read.

July 4th Timeline

  • Monday (June 29th): I went to the doctor because I was in some discomfort and had a bulge around my belly button. The doctor told me it was an umbilical hernia. I also mentioned that I was in some pain and she thought it might be IBS. She put me on a high fiber diet but I’ll be honest, I was in enough discomfort I wasn’t eating much.
  • Wednesday: I’m back at the doctor’s office. This time, after some additional tests, I’m told I have diverticulitis. For those of you who don’t know you can develop diverticuli, which are little pockets in your colon. If they become inflamed/infected it can turn into diverticulitis which ranges from very uncomfortable to highly painful. I was prescribed oral antibiotics and put on a liquid diet. I should point out that high fiber is exactly what you do not want when you have diverticulitis.
  • Saturday (July 4th): As I went to the bathroom that morning I was in high hopes. I was in very little discomfort and I thought the constipation may finally be going away. That was until I thought I felt something tear. I decided it might be time to go to the ER at this point. I woke up my wife Tiffany and off we went.
  • Once at the hospital they took me to an ER room.
    • Because of Covid Tiffany couldn’t come back with me. They sent her home, but she ended up staying in the car for several hours before going home briefly.
    • They really wanted a urine sample before doing anything. Unfortunately, between pain and dehydration I couldn’t give them one.
    • 4-5 hours later they decide they could live without it. Which of course is when I was finally able to get that silly sample.
  • I was now being admitted and moved to a room upstairs. Of course, in the process they lost the urine sample.
    • The surgeon came in and agreed it was diverticulitis but since the oral antibiotic wasn’t working they would give me an IV antibiotic and I’d stay there for a couple of days. This is somewhat unusual but it can happen.
    • They got the IV in, but there were some problems. Probably because I was so dehydrated. Given all of the problems, after a little while, the nurse took the IV back out and said she would send in an expert to get me a new one.
    • While we waited we watched a fireworks show from my room. Well, Tiffany watched the show, I looked a few times but mostly just rested. No IV means no pain meds.
    • A few hours later we still haven’t seen anyone about the IV. Tiffany, who is never afraid of a confrontation, goes to get someone. This is the point at which she saves my life. Literally. Note: If at all possible, you should have an advocate to speak for you when you are in the hospital. You probably aren’t going to be in any shape to do it yourself.
    • The nurse comes in and decides that even though it’s a bit early (1.5 hrs) she is going to take my vitals before putting the IV back in.
    • From what we can remember my blood pressure was 60/30.
  • The next thing I remember the surgeon is back and says “I was wrong. Surgery. Now.” Not quite in those words but that was how it came across.
    • They left us alone for a few minutes while they started getting things moving. While we were alone Tiffany had me record a video for the kids. Just in case. To my knowledge no one has ever seen that video, and hopefully they never will. I do want to say that making a recording for your kids just in case you die may be incredibly depressing, but I don’t regret doing it. If I didn’t survive, at least I’d have said goodbye.
    • Some staff (I’m not sure of their exact jobs) came and got me and wheeled me to pre-op. The surgeon is worried and want’s things moving as quickly as possible so he decides he’s going to start getting me ready for surgery while he’s waiting on the operating theater to open up, and everyone to make it in. This is also about when they kicked Tiffany out.
    • I asked for something for the pain and the surgeon said something I’ll probably never forget. “I’m really sorry but we can live with pain, I’m not sure you’d live through us giving you something for it.” That and the kind touch on my shoulder as he talked to me. It meant a lot.
  • … Three days later
    • You need to understand, in any way that means anything, I wasn’t there. I didn’t know. My wife, my family, my friends? They’d been watching for 3 days hoping that they’d be able to bring me out of the medical coma.
      • In case you were wondering my odds were not good. Colton did some research while writing this up for several different college applications and came up with something like a 1/20 chance of ending up in a position like this, and a 1/20 chance of surviving it once you have. Not sure how accurate that is, but it does make for a good story.
      • Each of the times they tried to wake me up my heart started acting poorly so they had to back off. Until of course that last time it didn’t and I woke up. I’m told there was a lot of praying and begging.
      • In case it ever comes up, my wife promised anyone out there that if they just let me survive she’d laugh at all the stupid things I showed her on Twitter. (Note: I’ve been holding her to that.)
    • During my surgery they found out that my colon had ruptured, and I’d gone septic. They cleaned me out (I’m told it was a mess), removed 13” of my lower intestine, re-routed my intestine out my side in what’s called a colonostomy, and while they sewed me up (I have a foot long or so scar centering on my belly button) they fixed my hernia. Oh, and I had a very small heart attack.
  • My time in ICU.
    • I was in the ICU for just over another week.
    • I came out of surgery really really thirsty. And not entirely coherent.
    • You have to understand, at this point I thought it was the next morning. It didn’t seem all that different from when I normally come out of anesthetics.
    • I recognized Tiffany, but couldn’t remember her name. They asked me who was president, the closest I could come up with was “Orange”. They were now wondering if I’d had a stroke. Not me, I wasn’t following any of this. This actually continues to be the scariest part of the whole thing for me. I didn’t realize anything was wrong. As far as I was concerned this was all normal. I still worry if I’m not able to tell that I’ve lost something, that something is missing. Probably not, or at least not enough to matter, but I still worry.
    • I was allowed ice chips, nothing to drink, nothing to eat. I wasn’t really hungry but lord was I thirsty. I kept very close track of the time and got those ice chips as quickly as I was allowed. When I could finally hold the cup of ice I spilled a few and threw them in my mouth as quickly as I could. They stopped letting me hold the cup after that.
    • My eyesight was messed up. I could see shapes but no details. It wasn’t long before I could read but only with a great deal of effort and squinting. One of the stroke tests they would give me was a sheet of paper with some pictures and then some writing. At first I could barely see the pictures and couldn’t understand them. They had to tell me at least 3 different times that I didn’t need to read the heading for the written part.
    • Over the next week my sight came back along with my memories. No stroke after all. I was alive. I was getting better.
    • I had IVs in both arms and a “central line” in my neck. That was kind of freaky (not painful) when it was pulled out. Also, one of the IV’s in my arm “blew out” towards the end of my time in the ICU causing my arm to look like it had raised up ripples down my forearm. I still have bruises almost a year later.
    • Tiffany learned a lot during the week and a half I was in the ICU. Re-attaching sensors, moving around IV poles (there were several of them), helping wherever she could.
    • Either she or my mother-in-law were there 24×7. When my MIL was “off shift” she’d bring Tiffany food, blankets, etc. Whatever she needed. Tiffany didn’t leave unless she needed to go home and pass out. During that time my son (16 at the time) helped take care of my 12yo daughter and my handicapped father in law. Note: My daughter helped too. They took care of each other. I have amazing kids.
    • On one notable occasion I was literally lifted into the air by a crane while they replaced the thermometer. Think about that for a minute.
    • I did get to start eating “soft” foods during this time. There was a literal celebration the first time I had “output” from my side into the bag. I mean seriously, the nurses were excited, told the doctors, who were excited, Tiffany was excited. It was a big deal. I was alive. I was getting better.
  • After about a week and a half they moved me from the ICU to “ICU Light”. It was hard to get a room because a lot of non-covid cases were being moved in from Dallas. After a few days I was moved to a regular room. I was in the hospital for just over 2 weeks.
    • During this time I did my first PT (physical therapy) and OT (occupational therapy). PT was getting out of bed, taking maybe 2 steps, and getting in a chair. OT was about out of bed, 5 steps and shaving my beard off (it was driving me nuts). Both were incredibly hard. I mean like sprinting a mile hard. But I was alive. I was getting better.
    • I also got to experience lots of fun hallucinations and my first few panic attacks. I just knew when I was finally allowed to sit in that chair, I’d feel better. I was wrong.
  • I was in the rehab center for just over a week.
    • Rehab was 3 hours a day. 1.5 hours of physical therapy and 1.5 hours of occupational therapy. For those that don’t know OT was re-learning how to function. Dressing myself, getting in and out of a regular bed unassisted, taking a shower, etc.
    • In my house Tiffany is management and I’m labor. She told me I had to work hard. I didn’t have the brain power yet to argue in the slightest, so I worked hard.
    • The other 21 hours a day were sleep (frequently interrupted as they took vitals and changed IVs) and trying to stay busy.
    • I like to put together models and one of Tiffany’s cousins sent me a new one. An old race car. Tiffany encouraged me to work on it. I didn’t finish it until I got home but it’s pretty cool.
    • I started getting back on twitter and reading again, although my eyesight still wasn’t 100% and reading for more than an hour or so at a time was very tiring.
    • I learned, well, actually Tiffany learned, how to put the ostomy bag on me.
    • In the end I spent about a week at rehab. The people there were awesome and I couldn’t have asked for better. But I was REALLY glad to be go home. I was alive. I was getting better.
  • Once I was home I finished (?) recovering. It was a bit before I could sleep in the bed. Recliners for the win! But it did come around. And a couple of months later I was able to start working again. All told I was out of work for about 3.5 months. Which is the longest I’ve ever been out of work since I was a teenager. It was kind of weird but I enjoyed it even given the circumstances.
    • I spent time with my kids. I built a Lego Deathstar with my daughter (that I’d gotten for Christmas 4 years ago and had never started). I hung out with my son as he got ready to finish high school and leave for college. There was a video game that I had fond memories of when I was a kid. He managed to figure out what it was and we played it several times.
    • I presented at the last Pass Summit. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really ready. I’d been thinking, November? That’s lots of time. I’ll be fully recovered by then! Yea, no. I managed, and I think it came out ok, but I wasn’t really ready.
    • I turned 51!
    • I went back to the hospital and got that ostomy removed! I could go to the bathroom sitting down again! That hospital trip was much better. 3 days, no complications. Easy as could be. I was alive. I was getting better.

Along the way I learned a few things

  • Losing 50lbs didn’t help as much as you’d think. I’d always said If only I was x lbs lighter it would be easy to lose more weight! I wish. I lost 50lbs by the time I came home from rehab. I’m now struggling to maintain the loss and maybe even lose more. But it’s just as much of a struggle as it always was because I hadn’t developed the new habits I needed.
  • I. Wasn’t. There. This hit my friends and family far more than it did me. There was no wondering if I would survive. By the time I was aware of just how slim my chances were I was already past it. My wife expresses a concern, I listen. With what she went through she gets a lot of leeway.
  • Fear! I’ve always known that fear is a big deal. I understand it better now. I was afraid to sit in the chair, it was going to hurt. I was afraid to get out of bed, it was going to hurt. I was afraid to get in bed. It was going to hurt. Fear can really limit you if you let it
    • A twinge in my side and I’m done. To this day if my side or gut start hurting, I stop, sit down, and relax. I’m done for a while. Remember how I said I wasn’t there? A twinge in my side will occasionally send Tiffany into a panic attack.
    • Mental loss. As I said earlier, this is where I’m still afraid. It’s getting better. Resuming my blogging has helped but it still gets to me sometimes.
  • It takes a village. My wife, my kids, my friends, my parents, my in-laws, etc all helped to take care of me and each other. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to deal with the unexpected too. I can’t tell you how much each mention on twitter, each post, each text, each phone call meant to me. There were quite a few of each and I credit them with a lot of my progress. Be there for each other. Please.
  • I’m still learning. This process isn’t done. I will frequently think through my last year and realize something new, decide on a new path, etc.
  • A touch of peace. In the mornings, I’d make my breakfast, move to the table and slowly eat. I’d stare out the window and enjoy our front yard. Sometimes I’d stare out the back windows. Sometimes I’d just stare into space. I felt a sense of peace that I’ve never felt before. I can still touch that feeling occasionally.
  • I am alive. I am getting better.

3 thoughts on “The WITDC Mental Health and Wellness day and why July 2020 really sucked for me.

  1. Nira says:

    Thank you for sharing.
    Be well!

  2. Chris Morse says:

    Quite a story — glad you’re here to tell it. THE most important point for me is to have an advocate when in a hospital’s care. I have a similar story where I made stupid decisions in the hospital because I was medicated and overly optimistic, which made the situation appreciably worse.

    • Yep. When the Dr was asking my my pain level when I was first in the ER I was telling him “around a 4” and my wife was pointing out to me that I could barely walk. It’s good to have an outside point of view.

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