Moving and Almost Dying Twice Really Cramps Your Style

Hello friends. I’m sorry that the blog has been irregular, inconsistent, and even silent for stretches throughout 2022 to today. What happened? In brief, last year I had a prolonged and difficult house sale and move that lasted from May to September. Immediately thereafter, I had a medical emergency that should have killed me. While in the hospital for that, they discovered I had a cancerous tumor on my kidney. I spent autumn recovering and putting in all the effort I could to get my new home in order before I had major surgery in late December to get the cancer out. And after initially coming through that operation well and returning home, I developed severe complications that almost killed me… again. Over New Year’s, I spent five days in the hospital and most of January 2023 recovering.

So, yeah. 2022 was rough, and I almost died twice in a six-month span.

Now here’s the long version:

I’ll start by rewinding a bit to the first week of January 2021, when some of you may recall that my father died from brain cancer after the rapid onset of mental and physical deterioration a few days prior. Tumors in his brain had ruptured, causing internal bleeds and stroke-like symptoms. His cancer was undiagnosed until we brought him to the hospital, and they discovered it to be both terminal and throughout his body. His death was sudden, and he was 83.

Mom passed away in 2012, so with Dad gone closing out his estate fell to my sister, brother and I. This became complicated for several reasons, including Dad’s failure to keep his will and life insurance policy from the 1990s updated to reflect the fact that my mother and eldest brother listed as beneficiaries had died. Those needed legal processes and bureaucracy to correct. Additionally, my brother and sister-in-law had been living on my parents’ property for nearly two decades and needed time to wrap up their affairs and move before any sale.

I spent the summer of 2021 cleaning out and dividing the items of my parents’ estate between myself and my siblings. I became the caretaker of the family documents, and in the autumn of 2021, my delve into those papers and photographs became an extensive project. That emotional experience was the subject of my last substantive author’s update in October 2021.

By the spring of 2022, we had worked the issues of the estate out. We could finally sell my parents’ property, and here’s where my wife and I actively changed the narrative. With the housing market booming in our area and my parents’ place undervalued, we decided to sell our home, purchase my parents’ former property from the estate, and move in there. The financial situation for us has been difficult for decades, and the expense of our mortgage was slowly sinking us. This move would completely change our cost of living and quality of life for the better, but I would need to put my writing mostly on hold for many months to both move and then fix-up the old family homestead.

If you’ve ever sold a house, you know how stressful that is. And our journey to getting our old house sold had many difficulties and pitfalls that weren’t typical. We had repairs and improvements needed that were both expected and not. We had a sale date for the 22nd of July that the buyer backed out on just 12 hours before the closing of the deal… and after we had moved a hundred miles back to my hometown the week before. Having spent all our savings to get the house ready for sale, their walking out left us broke, struggling, and getting by on the kindness of friends until we finally sold our old house on September 14th.

But in the end, the move back to my hometown is the incredibly positive change for us we wanted it to be. We sold our old house for over three times what we paid for it seven years prior, which gave us the funds to pay off its mortgage, purchase my parents’ property outright – no new mortgage – and leave a sizable amount leftover in the bank. Having no mortgage is a massive reduction to our monthly expenses, and that’s a big deal for someone trying to write for a living. ;-) All that, and we are living in my beautiful little hometown on the Maine coast.

And four days after the sale of our old house was complete, with us starting the process of purchasing my parents’ property from the estate and laying the groundwork for its needed repairs… I came down with severe, life threatening pancreatitis from gallstones blocking my pancreas, gallbladder and liver. I’m told it’s one of the most excruciating pains humans can experience, but apparently I’ve inherited my mother’s legendarily high pain tolerance. This contributed to almost getting me killed because I delayed an emergency room visit because I didn’t think I was in danger. I thought I had a stomach ulcer and intestinal gas.

I shouldn’t have survived.

My pancreas enzyme levels at admission literally surpassed the ability of equipment to measure them during the discovery of my gallstone blockage. They were above 2,000, a ridiculously high number a human should not be able to survive. For comparison, a normal person would be very sick and at risk of dying at an enzyme level of two hundred… and mine was at least ten times that value. With my level of toxicity, science says I should have been in agony as my digestive system devoured itself. Multiple doctors with multi-decade careers tell me they’d seen nothing like it in all their experience.

The doctors caring for me didn’t relay this initial grave diagnosis until my discharge, long after any danger, because so many other indicators had me doing okay. Yet they took every action to save the man who walked in complaining of a bellyache, but had blood lab results from a science fiction horror film. Even as they reran those tests many times because they couldn’t believe them.

I reacted incredibly well to treatment over a five-day hospital stay and returned home after they’d cleared the blockage and removed my gallbladder. The doctors still can’t explain how the initial toxicity didn’t kill me or leave me severely disabled. But they are happy for me, and happy to have witnessed something miraculous in our current day and age.

It’s an odd feeling to be proclaimed miraculous. It took me a while to process it, to be honest. But at no point do I not feel exceptionally fortunate. And there’s been too many baffling events that have kept me alive against the odds at this point for me to think there isn’t something trying to keep me around.

My September hospital stay is where my cancer diagnosis entered the picture. While scanning my abdomen because of the pancreatitis, chance revealed a three-centimeter mass on my kidney that was completely unrelated to my condition. After further investigation with an MRI, in early October an urologist surgeon confirmed it was 90% likely to be cancer. However, that’s where the bad news ends. Thanks to that fortunate CAT scan, the mass got detected years before it caused any detectable ill effects. My kidney functions were great, and the mass hadn’t spread to other areas.

Hypothetically, by the time it expressed problem enough to prompt investigation, my situation could have been grim. So, while a cancer diagnosis is always unwelcome, my prognosis was excellent because of early detection. This wasn’t a hardship stacked onto a hardship. It was a stroke of fortune that may well have saved my life in the long run.

The doctor skipped doing a biopsy beforehand and proceeded directly to removing the mass because of its size and difficulty to reach. They scheduled the surgery for a few days before Christmas, as I needed at least a few months to recover and fully heal from my pancreatitis and gallbladder removal. I spent the rest of September into early October just recovering, then my wife and I entered a very busy six weeks.

My parent’s former home needed a lot of work to be ready for winter, and we had unpacked nothing but essentials since July because we were replacing the highly worn carpeting. Add delays from my being in the hospital, limits to my endurance while I healed from surgery, and wrapping up the property purchase, and we had a huge amount to get done in less than two months. From mid-October until Thanksgiving at the end of November, we spent almost every day working on the house to make it ready before winter and my next operation.

It was exhausting, but we met that goal, and our home was ready by the time my pre-op visits began in early December.

In late December, my surgery occurred as scheduled. The operation was difficult, and it tested the skills of my urologist surgeon over six hours, as the mass was very close to the ureter tube connecting my kidney to my bladder. But thanks to him, his excellent team, and remarkable robotic tools, they got the tumor removed, and I only lost about three percent of my kidney rather than the whole organ.

After an overnight in the hospital, and with my recovery and the laparoscopy seeming to have gone well, I returned home the next day. I spent the Yuletide holiday in considerable discomfort from the fresh incisions and the laparoscopic gas working its way out of me, and suffered from post-surgical insomnia. None of those were unexpected after effects of the operation, but starting about three days post-surgery, I showed what my wife and I thought was excessive swelling. I experienced a few moments of intense but brief escalation of pain over the next few days, but each occurrence happened when I thought that I possibly overtaxed my sutures getting in or out of bed or lifting something. In a few days, the swelling had reached a point where I looked asymmetrically pregnant to one side. I called my medical team and reported my concerns, but because I lacked a fever and didn’t think the pain was too severe, a developing complication slid under the radar.

What was going on was that an unknown leak had occurred in my ureter tube connecting my kidney to my bladder. The tumor rested right in the area where the ureter met my kidney and that made removing it without damaging the tube difficult. The doctor managed it and sealed the potential for the ureter to leak with a laser. It should have healed and been fine, but in my case, I had a rare complication: The laser burn scab held on while I was in the hospital when it would have been most likely to slough off. Instead, it fell off a few days after I was home. This started a leak of urine into my body, where it built up in my left abdomen above my bowels.

This is a dangerous situation alone that can poison and kill you if not remedied. But in a combination of a rare complication compacted with a rare reaction, I never developed the fever or intense pain which would have been telltale signs of a problem in most humans… only what I called “increased discomfort”. Why is this? Apparently — and with medical hindsight — I possess the constitution and pain resistance of a vending machine. While I suppose that may be an advantage in some situations, as with my pancreatitis, this led me into peril because my body wasn’t being forthcoming about how stressed it was. But the biggest issue was my lack of a fever: Even if my pain wasn’t great, if I’d had a fever like a normal person, the doctor would’ve sent me to the hospital.

What ended up happening was that my body continued swelling and building up fluid until massive, agonizing pain hit me throughout my upper abdomen on the night before New Year’s Eve… Even by my standards. As I didn’t have any surgery in that area, I knew something was very wrong. My wife got me to the closest emergency room a tense half-hour drive, and from there the pieces of the mystery I’ve already explained above came together following a CAT scan. My urologist’s team was called in and, as dawn was breaking on New Year’s Eve, an ambulance took me to Maine’s major hospital, Maine Medical Center.

I was very sick by this point, could have died, and they administered heavy opioids and morphine for my crippling pain. Resolving the problem required two operations. The first used a live CAT scan to see the fluid inside me and an operation without full sedation so I could cooperate with the surgeon to place a drain in my side that would empty the over two liters of accumulated blood and urine in my abdomen. I’ll only say further that it is a painful and scary experience to be an active participant in your own surgery.

Later the same day, a second operation inserted a temporary stent to patch the hole in my ureter tube and help it heal. This happened while I was under anesthesia, and they should remove the stent later this week if testing finds the hole fully closed.

I spent five days total in the hospital, and a further two weeks recovering at home with the fluid drain in me, its bag, and the joys of a Foley catheter to stop urine back-washing into my ureter tube and speed its healing. However, in mid-January, just before getting those removed, the pathology on the kidney mass came in. They confirmed it as malignant cancer. But they got all of it out of me, and there were no traces of cancer in the operative margins… meaning that they have no reason to suspect it has spread elsewhere within my body.

That was great news to start 2023 with and meant all my suffering and almost dying (the second time) wasn’t for naught! :-) My doctor says I’m cancer-free. I will need to be screened for cancer for years to come and it will remain a risk-factor to consider for the rest of my life, but based on the operation’s success, I won’t need to have chemotherapy. I spent the rest of January recovering, reflecting, and attending to many follow-up doctor appointments. It’s only in the last couple weeks that I’ve felt normal again.

To state the obvious after recounting all the above, 2022 was a hard year for me. As an author, it torpedoed the time I had to write on my manuscripts from May onwards until now. I largely found time to maintain my microfiction except in the worst and busiest stretches, thanks to the versatility offered by my phone. I was grateful to have accomplished what work I could on the chapters of The Forever Halloween prior to our decision to move before May. Furthermore, the sizeable gaps without access to writing on my desktop (either from lack of time, access, or my physical condition) rekindled my interest in crafting visual art. At first on my smartphone, and later using my full computer. That has brought me joy.

Things are looking up. Our living situation is now far more secure than it was, and while I expect a few more distractions in 2023 because the homestead needs further work after winter recedes, it shouldn’t affect my availability to write anywhere near the same levels that 2022 did. Now that my health is back to normal, I plan to return to finishing The Forever Halloween as my next release, planned for September 2023. After that, I have two fantasy manuscripts to finish for publication – Tears of the Joyous Mare and A Contract in Azure and Indigo – that depending on timing, may release in 2023 or 2024.

Take care, everyone. Be safe and keep writing!

~Jason H. Abbott

11 thoughts on “Moving and Almost Dying Twice Really Cramps Your Style

Add yours

    1. In all honesty, I didn’t put a lot of effort into it and can hear the voice of my 5th grade teacher nagging me that I *could* have died either time if I *wanted* to and put some work into it. ;-) I’m still convinced to this day she was a Roald Dahl villain.

      Thank you for the well-wishes, James! I’m happy to still be here. :-)


    1. Thank you, Deby! I’ve still got a few things to wrap up before I’m 100% back to normal, but I’m well out of the worst danger. I look forward to sharing my new works, it’s been so frustrating not being able to work on them.

      Liked by 1 person

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