This was the second attempt by colorblindness to kill me…
It started when I began feeling oddly dizzy in the evening. I was recovering from a bug, so thought nothing of it. Two hours later, I collapsed to the floor, unable to get up. I was panting, and completely disoriented. My wife called 911. Not quite willing and able to process the seriousness of my condition, I tried to shrug it off and stand. The fact that I couldn’t even get to my knees was answer enough.
When the paramedics arrived a few minutes later, I was still unable to move. I heard them commenting on how pale I looked. I thought… well… that’s something I wouldn’t know, even if I could see myself. I was aware that the loss of color was something that happened to people sometimes, but I couldn’t perceive it. I considered lightening the mood by mentioning this, but my brain was not processing fast enough to keep up with the frenzy of activity around me. I heard someone say that my blood pressure was dangerously low, that they needed to get me to a hospital.
They carried me out to a waiting ambulance, which rushed me to the hospital. While tracking each turn along the way with one part of my brain, another part was quite perplexed as to what was wrong with me. It did not compute. I was in no pain, just quite suddenly unable to be vertical. Could it be serious? What if it was? Hmm, I’d gotten my two sons through college. My wife had sufficient funds to be able to continue without me. So… yeah… I was really okay if it is my time to go. Then I started thinking about how strange it was to be thinking this way without any sense of dread. Was this what my life had come to… limiting my value to my ability to provide financial assistance to my family? Which made me dismiss the whole thought process. If it was something really serious, the attending EMT would certainly be more attentive. He didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about me, right up to the point that he handed me off at the hospital.
At first, the ER doctor seemed to assume that I was simply dehydrated. At his request, a nurse began rapidly pumping fluids into me through an IV, causing me to shiver uncontrollably. In spite of my fogginess and discomfort, I told the doctor that it didn’t make sense that I would be dehydrated. I had been drinking normal amounts of water, and hadn’t been losing liquids the way I had the other time I’d been hospitalized with dehydration. And I remembered the very different, hallucinogenic state induced by a severe shortage of liquids. His lack of response implied that he’d heard similar denials before.
He became much more serious when the blood test results came back an hour later. They indicated that I had lost a great deal of blood. He asked, “Have you noticed any blood in your stools?”
On no… not this again. I said, “I’m colorblind, so I wouldn’t know.”
He seemed exasperated by that response, but I might just have been projecting my embarrassment at being unable to know such a simple thing about myself. To repay my ignorance, he stuck a gloved finger up my butt and said, “Yes, you’re definitely bleeding. We’re going to admit you and schedule an endoscopy for tomorrow morning to find out where the blood is coming from.”
My first thought was, “Yes, of course, it’s only apt that I’m in the ER again because of being colorblind. At least if I survive, I’ll have another story to write.”
During an endoscopy the next morning, they found the source of the bleeding. I had some ulcers in need of attention. A couple of cauterizations, and a couple of endoclips patched the holes.
Over the course of the three days I spent in the hospital after my procedure, I was asked at least twenty times by nurses, nurse assistants, and doctors if my stools had any blood in them. For a while, I responded that I was colorblind. In many cases, they didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, or why it was relevant. In other cases, they didn’t seem to believe that anyone could be that colorblind. They just looked frustrated by my response to what is usually a simple yes or no question, then went on with their business. This option was not on their checklist. I even began to wonder if some of them asking this question were custodial, rather than clinical observers. How would I know the difference? Certainly not by their reactions. I finally gave up my quest for understanding. I simply told them, “No”, because it seemed easier for all parties.
In retrospect, something had been awry with my stools for several months, at least. They had been mostly black. I had assumed that diet was simply making them darker brown than usual. Because this was an upper GI bleed, the blood tends to come out mostly black, with only hints of red. A few times I had thought that my poop had looked unusual, but shrugged it off as probably my imagination. I certainly wasn’t inclined to ask others for an opinion. I am used to doing so when shopping for clothes, but this was a bit more awkward.
I had been unusually tired during this period. I couldn’t figure out why there was no pep in my step, particularly in the morning, which was unusual for me. Ironically, I assumed that my lack of energy was partially due to the fact that I had been writing about my colorblindness with renewed focus. Individually, the stories weren’t particularly monumental, but the sum of them was rather depressing. It seemed that being colorblind had affected my life’s path far more than I had imagined.
Apparently, it still does.