How to Repair a Herniated Umbilical and Use It for Vampire Material

Warning: This blog post contains descriptive medical procedures, some adult/bathroom/hospital humor and one somewhat graphic photo of my stitched up navel. It’s a bit snarky from my usual bits. If you find any of this offensive, you might want to skip reading this one.

This summer started well enough. I’ve finished two major projects: my “Clockwork Cat” sculpture for the APA and the first five volumes of my short story vampire series “The Vampire’s Little Black Book” (on Amazon/Kindle). My first Steampunk novel, “Strax and the Widow” is almost ready for publishing. But on Father’s Day, I was sick, again. Plugged up at first, then couldn’t stop going (you know, in the bathroom sense of things).

This had first started in March. Had a little bit of a swollen tummy. Thought I’d just over ate or partook of something not so good. I took it easy a few days.

Now full disclosure: I’m not a thin woman, but I work out and eat right most of the time. I did karate for six years, I’ve taught a wide variety of aerobics and yoga for fifteen years. In January of this year, I had just decided to retire from teaching. I’ve had a multitude of weird injuries and a couple car accidents. After I agitated an old broken back for the second time in six months, I decided to hang up my aerobic Nikes and just work out at home starting in June. I also have access to a rooftop pool, so some laps were definitely in my plans.

In May I had a little relapse. This time my outtie, that had long been an innie as an adult, was slowly poking out to outtie status again. It went back down after a few days.

So back to Father’s Day; I was late to Dad’s barbecue because I was stuck in the bathroom. I was bloated like a large manatee. I decided a simple cleanse was in order. For the next week I cut back on a few things, no beef, and no junk. Then the following weekend I did the clean eating; no junk food, no sweets. A couple protein shake meal replacements each day and a Dulcolax before bed. By Monday, I thought my colon was golden.

Two weeks later after the 4thof July, I was bloated and blocked up like a Soviet Union satellite country in the 1970’s. Out came the Dulcolax and suppositories. I starting stocking up on shiterature; you know, reading material in the bathroom. I made it through a couple books on my Kindle app. My new Steampunk name was going to be Lady Squattington. My navel was definitely poking and starting to turn a little red, white and blue. How patriotic, but scary. There was a hard spot around my navel alternating with what felt like a plastic bag full of guppies under my skin.

Finally, I called a trusted ex-boyfriend who’s had a herniated navel for years. His hadn’t really been painful; he ordered me to get an appointment. Yep, I was caving and headed for the doc. First thing Monday I got in the doctor’s office. Herniated umbilical (navel) was the definite diagnosis. I would need a surgery consult and more tests for certain. The CT scan might take a few days.

So down to the lab I went. They drew blood, but I didn’t feel too hot and didn’t want to go back to work. This is where the trust your gut part literally comes in. I begged politely to see if I could get the CT scan done the same day. Permission granted. I hadn’t eaten since 8am and had been in the medical building since 9am. It was almost noon when my insurance pre-cert came in. I was in the clear to start drinking the iodine for the CT contrast. It wasn’t too bad mixed in with Gatorade. 12:30pm, round two of iodine. Switched flavors of Gatorade, still not too bad but at this point I would’ve drank anything. I was dry as Death Valley. 1:30pm-time for the CT scan and an unexpected bit of, um, excitement.

I needed a complete abdominal scan, so the tech was very informative, telling me they’d do a regular scan first. Then I’d get the contrast scan which would feel kind of warm in the groin, coming up from the bottom. Did she mean the lady parts? Oh there, really??

The first scan was easy, lie still, hold your breath a couple times, two passes. OK, prepared for the warming sensation. Round two commenced and for a brief few seconds from down below, I was on the precipice of something really, really good, too good. I was trying to lie still and think of England, or baseball or something like that. Were the Cardinals playing? Oh no, it’s All-Star break. Ooooohhhh warm. Two passes under the scanner. Thank God I had a female tech, a male might have gotten hurt or liked it. And just like that it was over. I wanted to bottle up that shit and sell it. You could make me drink iodine and get under that machine every day if you could guarantee I would get happy without getting cancer. It’s nice to know my lady parts are functioning just fine, thank you.

It was 2:15. One side-effect of the iodine was loose bowels so I headed home instead of work, had a light lunch and a nap. I then went to the pharmacy for an unrelated prescription. That area of the store doesn’t have good cell reception and I missed two urgent calls. Got home, listened to the messages and promptly flipped out. I had a blockage situation that could rapidly worsen.  I was already pre-admitted to the ER. I didn’t need an ambulance, but I needed to check in within the next couple hours. And I couldn’t eat anything in case they’d do surgery asap.

Called my dad and cried. I also called the ex-boyfriend that still lives in the building to take care of my bunny. No answer, so I packed a bag, made sure everything was off, ready, etc. and left. Knocked on the ex’s door, practically threw him my extra key as I cried again like a five year old. I never knew I’d be so grateful for remaining friends with an ex.

Once in the car, driving to the hospital, a sudden calm had come over me. I was yoga breathing and listening to Josh Grobin. It was hot outside, heat index of 100. So I was rather dismayed when all the ER parking spots were full. Had to park in the neighboring building’s lot and hoof it. And my worst fears were realized as I walked in. The ER waiting room was packed.  I checked in and sat next to a guy who later told me he thought he was having a heart attack. Yet he went out to smoke for a bit.

There were so many apparent possible heart attacks that they brought out some kind of EKG test thingy. I saw one twisted broken ankle, a couple possible early labors, a few people with puke trays and some people just ticked off waiting. By the time my Dad showed up around 7pm, I was more aggravated and tired then worried. Finally I got the call for my new blood work. I practically collapsed with joy when the nurse offered an IV. “For fluids?” I chirped.

“Uh no, your CT.” She said politely as she drew more blood for comparison.

“It’s done already.” I smiled. Although my lady parts may have liked another CT, the rest of my body was ready to get going.

“Oh yeah, there it is.” She looked over the records on her computer and then I was back out to wait-for another hour.

Finally around 8pm, we were ushered back to the ER exam rooms. I could hear the lady with the broken ankle still moaning. Ouch. The male nurse was nice, cute, and young. We went over everything yet again. My vitals were awesome at this point, I think because I wanted to sleep. So Dad and I watched a bit of the Home Run Derby (yeah cable TV!) until the nurse found a lounge chair in the outer quiet hallway for my Dad. Finally the ER attending came in. And he’s hot, like Grey’s Anatomy good looking. But he’s stupid. Or at I think so, because he almost sent me home. “Well you could have a blockage. I see in the radiologist’s notes they see a possible…” blah blah BS!!! I heard my doc say there WAS a blockage.

I know a radiologist. Well not in person; he’s a Facebook friend, a Steampunker and smarter than all hell. Ivy league degrees and used to write Steampunk/medical/personal life blogs. Good stuff. I remember some of his blogs talking about diagnosis, etc. I looked Dr. ER Hottie in the eye and told him if my doctor and radiologist sent me, I was staying. He sighed sweetly, like, oh you poor lady, which got me a bit perturbed. I didn’t care how cute you are Doctor, I’m staying. “Ok, we’ll get the surgeon to take a look.” He smiled. Yes you will mother fucker, I thought as my stomach started cramping.

The male nurse came back and joked with me a bit. Dad and I consulted that he should go home, since Dr. Hottie wasn’t sure I should stay. Finally around 9pm, the trauma surgeon came in, took one long look, a few pokes and in the most pleasant East Indian accent, said, “That’s got to come out, a lot of pressure in there. Tomorrow, 9:30am. Let’s check you in.” At this point, my navel is hard as a rock.  I get the customary gown and thank God, my own room around 11pm.  I give a few quick updates to family and friends via text and Facebook then try to relax.

My stomach wants food, but no dice. I get those funny mouth swabs to moisten your mouth because I can’t drink. The nurses and techs are awesome. I’m offered pain meds, but at that point, I’m pretty good. I sleep. Around 1am, they do a quick check and I cave to meds. I feel like the victim in the first Alien movie. You know, the one where the alien baby explodes out of their stomach?

What can I have? Morphine. Really? Holy crap this is serious. I can do a 2 or 4. I go for 2. La la land until 4am for the next vital stats check. I get a 4 this time and sleep until 7am. The nurse laughs kindly that I’m the first one up. I am ready. I want whatever is in me, out of me, asap. I watch TV, swab my mouth and go to the bathroom. I catch myself in the mirror. I look pregnant. Never been pregnant, but that alien baby looks ready to come out at any moment.  Oh, and it was, ahem, that time of the month. So I had what can only be described as some medical mesh underwear and a feminine pad that felt like a mattress. Why did I bother to pack tampons? And they forgot to take a pregnancy test, so I just needed to remind the nurse after my next trip to the bathroom. Uh, no worries there….

9:30am passes. My surgery is pushed to around 11am, and then, to somewhere between 2-3pm. I sleep off and on, and watch TV. I am too doped up to read and can’t have my contact lenses in. The surgeon comes in for a quick visit and promises that the navel emancipation will be today. 2pm comes and my ex and my older brother come in. They both have herniated navels. The doc could do a three for one special. They both make me laugh and I get more morphine. I laugh some more.  I have to tinkle. The boys have to leave for a moment.

I get up and see a couple of, ahem, monthly stains on the protective bed mat. It is then that I realize I have lost the maxi pad, even with the sexy hospital mesh underwear on. The nurse and I checked everywhere to no avail. I honestly had not a clue how a feminine product the size of a small bus got lost in my hospital bed. I was so doped up I could’ve slapped it on my forehead and wouldn’t know it. For a moment I feel bad for the cleaning staff.

My brother and ex are now wondering what the hold-up is. They come back into the room and I warn them of the missing offending feminine product. We watch more TV after several jokes about mistaken toilet paper and ketchup stuck to the bottom of their shoes. At 4:30, I finally call the nurse and ask when are they coming to get me? I get an answer of precisely 5:07pm.

The transfer team is running a bit late, but by 6pm I’m in pre-op. I recognize my anesthesiologist, I’ll call Dr. A. The same guy did my tonsillectomy, uvula removal and deviated septum fix back in 2006. Nice guy. I chat merrily we go over everything with everyone; doc, nurse, and anesthesiologist. I realize I’m talking a bit too much as my sandman says, “Well since I gave you something to relax, we’ll just wait a second.”  A few moments later, I’m wheeled into the operating room where he tells me to chill and “here comes the happy juice.” Oh happy indeed.

Two hours later I awake to a cacophony of beeps, various hospital staff moving around and other people waking up. It was a cattle drive of recovery with different patients being wheeled in and out. Dr. A checks on me, I’m briefly told something the size of a golf ball was removed and my transfer team takes me upstairs. I’m completely groggy and blind. I’m very nearsighted without my glasses or contacts.

My younger brother, the former EMT, is waiting back at the room and helps me get settled in by being aggravated at the National League team blowing the All Star Game. My older brother and ex left after realizing I’d be in surgery two hours. I meet my first nurse and tech; gratefully I get to eat. I am stunned that I’m put on a regular diet, but wise and listen to the nurse to start with soft food. I drink three apple juices and eat a yogurt. I’m told the non-cancerous tumor was the size of a baseball and to be careful not to rip the sutures out. I feel like its fairy tale where whatever they pulled out of me is like Pinocchio’s nose-it keeps getting bigger.

I watch a little TV news with the younger bro before he has to leave. Suddenly I am overwhelmingly grateful that my parents were serious Catholics. Having so many kind siblings visiting gets me choked up. At 11pm I get my dose of morphine and go nighty night. At 4am they do the standard check. Other than needing a bit of help getting out of bed, I am doing all right. I go to the potty by myself like a big girl. By 7am I am hung over and hungry like back in my club going days.

I remember to start slow, but during that first recovery day, I basically eat and sleep all day off and on. I get to switch off morphine. So what can I take? Vicodin or Oxycodone. I took Oxy after my tonsils were removed and didn’t poop for three days. I opt to take Motrin. Really, you might ask?

Yep, I am an odd one with pain. I swear, you can punch me in the face, stomach, or basically anywhere, and I’d probably come back and kick your ass. I’ve driven myself home after having a root canal and later after having wisdom teeth pulled with my cheeks stuffed full of gauze like a hamster. However, I can get an eyelash or something stuck in my contact lens and I’m like Samson without the hair. That and a back pull will take me down faster than an MMA fighter.

When my surgeon comes in for a check-up later that morning, he’s impressed with my mobility and lack of pain meds. I get to go home Thursday (it’s Wednesday). He explains he had to remove dead omentum tissue that formed a tumor underneath the hernia, reconstructed my navel with some plastic mesh and reattached it to the muscles near the organ wall. I kind feel a bit odd having something artificial in me other than fillings. I can’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for three months. WTF? Well, the biggest risks are infection and ripping the sutures. So I will do exactly what he tells me. He removes the patch, takes a look and encourages me to take a peek. I can’t quite see it without straining something so he sees my iphone and voila, I dub thee Franken navel from my impromptu photo shoot.

A good friend and sister-in-law visit for a few hours and I give them the gory details. I get to get up and walk around later. I also get some anti-coagulant shots. DVT is a big deal now days.

I no longer need the IV for fluids and meds but then horrors; I bend the needle in my right arm by accident while sleeping and trying to answer the room phone (a wrong number). It’s leaking a bit. It has to go back in just in case of emergency. Fortunately I do pretty well with needles. The left arm was already attacked for blood work and the CT IV. So the nurse tries two spots, to no avail, on the left forearm. Of this writing, four weeks later, her last valiant try, marked by a massive bruise, has finally healed. They bring in the specialist from the ER. I am flattered as she maps out my veins like a boy scout orienteering exercise. She turns on the exam lights and raises the bed. I feel like I’m having a mini out of body experience. Within moments, I am hooked up again in case of an emergency.

I read and write on my lap top before turning in. I am working simultaneously on Volumes 6 & 7 of The Vampire’s Little Black Book series. One of them is a little thin. They’re short stories, so I aim for 25-30 pages. I know I’ll figure out something later.

The next day I get the go ahead to go home from the surgeon. Hurrah! Bye, bye hospital gown. I get to eat breakfast and lunch before the paperwork is processed and the aftercare nurse goes over some basics. I get an orthopedic band to hold me in. I get a free ride in a wheel chair and my sister in law drives me to my car. I am grateful that I can drive myself home. I recall an old conversation with a friend, long ago in my teens, about the size of our bellies and wishing the fat was just a tumor they could just cut out. Uh, no, you don’t I muse as I get home. Besides, now they have laser liposuction and I’m good on not being cut open for a while, if ever again.

I rest and try to catch up with everyone over the next few days. My morbid curiosity brings me to the scale. In five days I’ve lost sixteen pounds, whoa. Thinking it’s a fluke or water weight, I weigh myself again a few days later. It’s even more, twenty pounds. Damn, how big was that thing?

I have my follow up with the surgeon later and I’m healing blessedly fast. I have to ask, did they weigh the tumor? No, but I got dimensions. The herniated tissue was the size of a golf ball. But more impressive was the tumor underneath-softball sized. Again, whoa!

I had a few days at home to write and draw. I don’t get creative blocks too often; I try to go with what I feel like doing. Don’t want to write? I’ll draw or paint or do some costuming, that’s how I roll. I always have five or six ideas going along for my Steampunk project. And then I have my other ambitious pursuits. The creative well is never dry.

Which brings me back to Will, my vampire; I’d hit a little gap in one of the stories. Um duh, he’s in a hospital, I’ll just insert my most current experience with a parallel story that will fill it out. And presto, I have a new chapter.

My surgery isn’t word for word as above. I take some dramatic license with how Will saves this patient with a herniated navel and develop some of the secondary characters to boot. I hope you’ll enjoy “Thirty-three Forever”, volume 6 of the Vampire’s Little Black Book. It should be released before the end of August. Feel free to check my Facebook page, The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc for updates. Thank you to my readers and for the favorable reviews on Amazon. And Franken navel is below. I sincerely hope you didn’t just eat something.


The Clockwork Cat or When Worlds Collide Part 2

At this writing my “Clockwork Cat” is greeting visitors to Lambert St. Louis International Airport. I am thrilled at its placement and a photo shoot with a little Victorian cosplay I did with the assistance of Webster University’s Director of PR, Patrick Giblin.  As in Worlds Collide, a previous blog post, the “Clockwork Cat” is a perfect blend of my two active artistic themes, animal art and Steampunk. I’m keeping this post simple, including new photos and the full Artist’s Statement. A condensed version is on the Animal Protective Association’s site. A video and additional photos will be up on my sister page/website later this month. Please visit the sites and share #APA90, #WebsterU  Thank you for your continued support! Enjoy.

Looking up at the airport.

Looking up at the airport.

The Clockwork Cat

The Clockwork Cat

The Clockwork Cat Artist’s Statement

By Victoria L. Szulc

The Clockwork Cat is the fanciful story of a Victorian era feline with a bit of Steampunk style as represented by his wild glowing orange color. He is a proper gent with a bowler hat, monocle, a pocket watch nattily tucked into his vest and spats adorning his feet. The bowler is his lucky hat, with all Aces tucked into its banding. Our gentleman enjoys other games as well, as demonstrated by his chess board vest. He enjoys a good cup of tea as his watch is forever stuck at 4pm, widely regarded as tea time in Great Britain.

He stands in lush garden, a nod to the Victorian language of flowers, including a carpet of violets that rise up from his feet. Tender vines have captured his spyglass and the Queen Chess piece. The greenery has enchanted the smiling Knight piece to leave the chess board to explore the garden. Night and day in the garden are both represented with the sun and the moon and light and dark sides of the sky. A gust of wind blows past the sunflower, an iris, and takes our gent’s umbrella high into the sky. A literal cat o’nine tails sways in the breeze.

Victorian vignettes rest on his flanks in stylish birdcages, including the “play on words” rose hips and a delightful cup of tea. There are more word plays with hearts in hands (hearts on the underside of his paws), and birds in the hands (a hummingbird on the top side of one paw and a bluebird on the other). There is a buzz in the ear with a honeybee and beetle taking residence behind our chap’s ears. Insect studies that were popular during the Victorian era are further represented by the country cricket and a monarch butterfly (which also reminds us of Queen Victoria).

There are allusions to Victorian literature as well, with the Telltale Heart (Edgar Allen Poe) on his breast and a yellow snake emerging from the snowy breast as in Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps you’d like to join the Clockwork Cat for a cup of tea and a good book in the garden?