Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Gangrene by Dixie Barnes

Welcome to Unwritten's part of the worldwide A-Z Blog Challenge!! Every day in April (except Sundays), we'll have a new post related to the letters of the alphabet from A-Z. Our theme here on Unwritten is "I Will Survive". I hope these stories will inspire and uplift you. Comments are VERY appreciated!

Dixie Barnes
(WARNING) This story is not for the weak of stomach.

Returning from a 10-day vacation, driving through the mountains in Wyoming, Colorado, and the Black Hills, we (my husband and I) felt exhausted when we reached our home in north central Kansas.  After unloading the pickup full of luggage and leftover food, we settled in our recliners for an evening of TV and relaxation.  Other than feeling a little tired, I felt fine.

Dennis left the room for bed about 10 p.m., but I sat up watching a tv show I wanted to finish.  I started to feel a little niggling stomach ache.  I had the munchies, so I grabbed a box of crackers left over from the trip, and started eating.  The tummy ache began to hurt a little more.  I was pretty uncomfortable by the time my television program was over, and I thought I had eaten too many crackers.  I couldn’t seem to get comfortable in my recliner.  I was fidgety and moving around in my chair.  The pain almost felt like labor pains.  They were getting much stronger.

I started to think that maybe I had what is called an ileus, a blockage of the small intestine…probably from all the crackers I had eaten.  I was moaning and twisting and turning, trying to get comfortable.  I checked my temperature.  It was over 100 degrees. Uh-oh.  I pressed in on my abdomen in the lower right side.  It hurt some.  But when I let the pressure ease, it hurt much more. Oh no!  Then I felt sick to my stomach.  I ran to the bathroom just in time. 

After vomiting a small amount, I woke Dennis. 

“I need to go to the hospital,” I sobbed. “I’m pretty sure I have appendicitis.”

We headed to the hospital, and every bump in the road felt huge.  I was reminded of another trip to the hospital years before, when I was losing our first child to miscarriage.  I kept thinking about how I was going to have to miss more work, and we’d have more bills to pay.

After running tests, I was admitted with the diagnosis of pneumonia (that one was a surprise) and possible appendicitis.  More tests were ordered for in the morning to confirm the appendicitis diagnosis.  I was given pain meds, breathing treatments, and told to get some rest.

The surgery for the appendicitis was scheduled for Monday morning. I was to be fasting until after the surgery.  IV started, and fluids infusing, I tried to stay comfortable.

My surgery was scheduled for 11 a.m., but was postponed until after 3 p.m. because my surgeon went duck hunting and got stuck in a mud hole in the morning.  After the surgery, I had some pain, but not a lot until the surgical anesthesia was completely worn off.  I slept most of the time while my family visited around my bed. 
The next day, they started messing with my pain meds.  I was changed from shots of Demerol to a pain pump with Morphine.  I began to notice something peculiar…my abdomen was swelling..a lot!  The nurses would have worried looks on their faces when they came in to check my vital signs or give me meds.  My incision was clean and dry at that time.  It was left open to heal from the inside out. I hated the look of that gaping wound, and feared it would never heal.

Click HERE to learn more about the causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention of gangrene

The nurses kept trying to get me to walk.  I tried it a time or two, but then started refusing, because I was feeling so nauseous and dizzy.  They were still taking my temperature, and it was still high.  After a few days, they finally got my temperature down below 100.0 and the surgeon asked me if I wanted to go home.  I normally would have said no, I’m not ready, but I was half delirious, and jumped at the chance.  The nurses were outraged that he would let me leave when my abdomen was still huge and my temperature had only gotten below fever level one time since surgery.

He sent me home, told me to rest.  I did. The next day, I got up to go to the bathroom.  As I leaned over to pull my clothing down, I heard and felt a pop, and suddenly there was a lot of brownish drainage, with a fecal odor. I had Dennis take me back to the ER.  I knew by then what had happened.  I was going to need more surgery to repair the damage.

The surgeon saw me in the ER, did some cleaning of the wound, gave me an IV dose of a strong antibiotic, and told me the drainage was normal and that I should go home and rest.  “It will heal by itself.”  I looked at him like he had two heads.  I had fully believed I would be readmitted and more surgery done.  Nope.  He sent me back home. He told me to come back to the surgery clinic the next day for my scheduled follow up appointment.

All that night, I had brown foul smelling drainage from my incision. I went to the appointment the next day. I had to carry a bath towel to protect my clothing from the foul drainage. The doctor tried to rig up an occlusive dressing and a drain to catch the drainage. But by this time, it was a constant flow from my incision.  The drain would not work, the incision kept draining, and by this time, my skin was getting raw and bleeding from the constant exposure to the fecal matter and constant moisture. But he still would not admit me.

My daughter, who had worked with him in the surgical department was outraged.  She worked with the drain for hours, trying to get it to work. My temperature was still climbing. My abdomen was still swelling. I had “grown” from a size 16 to a size 24 sweatpants in just a week’s time.

“Mom.  I am taking you to a real doctor.  Let’s get you cleaned up and I’ll get my husband to watch my kids.”  She helped me get ready.  We packed my abdomen with three towels covered with a plastic garbage bag, and laid towels and garbage bags on her car seat. We took off for a regional hospital, over an hour’s drive away.

The ER doctor on call, took one look at my incision.  His eyes grew huge and he asked “Who in Hell did this to you?”  He called in the surgeon on call, who ordered more tests, then told me I would need more surgery.
“Yes, I knew that, that’s why we came to you.”

Two days later, I had half of my colon removed and a good part of my small intestine as well. I had an incision from four inches below my sternum to just above my pubic area.  I had staples and stitches and dressings everywhere. I had dressing changes every eight hours, a central line, strong antibiotics running through my IV’s. I was in ICU for four days.  I remember little about that time post op, other than they kept waking me up to bathe me. I was being fed through a nasal gastric tube, and I vaguely remember seeing my husband, my children, and other family members coming through to see me briefly. I don’t remember what they said, but I remember seeing some of them crying.

Eventually I was discharged to a private room, and was able to start doing a little for myself. It took over a week before I could bathe myself. I was weak as a kitten. My surgeon came to explain what he had been forced to do. He told me I had gotten gangrene and severe infection due to the stool leaking in my abdomen.  That was the reason for the swelling. The fluid was building up in my abdomen until the pressure caused it to pop through the weakest point..my incision.

I spent over three weeks in the hospital recovering from the surgery. I do have lasting effects which are quite debilitating. But I am not eligible to collect a disability income. I am quite happy to still be alive. I survived gangrene!


Dixie Barnes began writing when she, at ten years old, wrote her first short story. Her passions: a love of writing, art, crafts, family, two shih tzu dogs, and jobs. At this time, she is between jobs, but looking for part time work.  She worked as a nurse for over 23 years, but has recently retired from that career. She draws on her life experiences to create her characters and stories.  She writes poetry, essays, journaling, fiction, and has three novels in varying stages of completion. She has been a mentor in the F2K course at Writer’s Village University.


  1. Thank you, Mysti for your support and your endless encouragement. You are an inspiration to all of us who love to write and hope to, like you, have our books in print someday.

    1. My pleasure! I love supporting my fellow writers. It's a tough haul sometimes, so we need to stick together :)

  2. Wow, Dixie. I am sorry you went through that. I hope you sued that quack of a doctor. Your story is heartbreaking and inspirational.

  3. Oh my gosh, Dixie, I had no idea! What a horrible experience for you--one that could have been prevented had the doctor listened to you. Grrr. That makes me so angry. I hope the original doctor received some sort of disciplinary action. So much pain you suffered (suffer) just because he refused to listen. :( Thank you for sharing your story with us--very important topic.

  4. Wow, Dixie, what a horrible nightmare. I hope the original surgeon got some kind of punishment for what happened.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Dixie, I'm shocked the first doctor treated you as an outpatient and failed to take swift action! How fortunate your daughter was able to source you an alternative surgeon - an act which undoubtedly saved your life. Your story made me grateful for our National Health Service in the UK; the worry of medical bills on top of being ill it must be such a heavy extra burden. You are indeed a survivor.

  6. Oh, that whole experience was brutal! So glad your are better and that your daughter knew what to look for and how to help! Your story is amazing!

  7. Dixie, what a painful experience. Glad you're past it. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  8. My stepdad went through a similar situation, and it was very scary. I'm so glad you survived.

    FYI: Never look up Google images of gangrene, especially before dinner!!! ;)

    1. My gangrene was not visible to the eye, as it was all inside. Few saw my incisions. The only outward signs of my severe illness was the severe bloating, the weakness, the fever, and the pain. Since the surgery to correct it, a hemicolectomy, I've had to have a hernia repair surgery to correct a hernia that developed on the incision line of the original appendectomy. I have to take high powered medications to deal with the residual chronic diarrhea and cramping and will always have to take that medication..I have to check out the location of the nearest bathroom whenever I go to a restaurant, because I will need it within a few short minutes after every meal. But I'm alive, and my mind is still relatively sharp. So I guess I will survive (until something else gets me..lol).

    2. I read your entry with my hand over my mouth gasping! This has been one of my greatest fears. Most of us have been brought up to believe that when we are sick, we go to the doctor and he/she will immediately know what is wrong, and we will be fine. I was raised to trust doctors implicitly.

      But, I have such a terrible fear of an ongoing scenario as the one you endured, Dixie. How terrifying to be suffering so and waiting for someone to catch the real problem before it was too late! For sure it was your ability to stay calm, persevere under terrible circumstances and keep fighting that saved you!

      I hope in the future your struggles will lessen.


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