Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Spare parts, forcibly removed

Ordinarily, my husband is not the world's most attentive guy. He doesn't notice if I get my hair cut or buy a new sweater. I tell him what I'm making for dinner and five minutes later he asks me what I'm making for dinner.

Last Tuesday, however, he did listen. We had an ice storm and school was canceled. I worked from home. Ever since I had two car accidents in one day back in December, I get a little squirrely about icy conditions. Since my daughter was home, I suggested that she make herself useful and make me some lunch. I handed her a recipe for chickpea salad. She loves chopping stuff and this recipe calls for chopped celery.

I started feeling not-so-great at around 3 or 3:30 that afternoon. I called my husband and suggested that he pick up dinner for the two of them since I didn't think I felt up to cooking. I told him that he'd also need to take the kid to her haircut appointment at 5:45. I worked until about 4:30 and then climbed into bed. For the next three hours, I writhed in a relentless kind of pain that originated in my abdomen and then seemed to take over the world. One minute I was hot, the next minute I was cold. At one point, I tried to make myself vomit in case that might help. I had no idea what was wrong. Had my daughter accidentally poisoned me? Did I just have one of the weird illnesses that have been flying around all winter? I kept waiting to turn a corner on the pain.

Finally, at around 7:30, my husband came in to check on me.  I am normally the decision-maker in our relationship, but I just kept saying, "It hurts. I don't know what to do."

"We're going to the hospital," he said. "Let's go."

We left our daughter (and the dogs) at home and journeyed across town, our car's tires seeming to find every bump along the way. I walked into the emergency room just before 8 p.m. I remember the time clearly because the joint switches from urgent care to straight-up ER at 8. I did my best to sit upright in a chair as I watched the chick flip over the sign in the window. Fortunately, the ER was not crowded and an admissions person came out to fetch me fairly quickly. I told my husband he could just hang out in the main waiting area. I sat on a large chair in a small room while she took my blood pressure, temperature, and whatever the thing she attached to my finger was meant to do. The blood pressure cuff wouldn't work and she had to try a couple of times. I thought I might expire in the meantime. I couldn't stand for anything to be touching me.

Finally, mercifully, she ushered me into an exam room. I all but dove towards the bed and curled up on my right side. After that, everything was pretty much a blur. I remember a nurse named Jesse who struggled to get an IV into my right arm. It wasn't his fault - my veins are generally uncooperative. He had slightly better luck with my left arm and hooked up an IV. However, it didn't work quite right and required almost constant fiddling. "It's positional," I heard him say. He injected morphine into the IV. If my pain dissipated at all, it was not by any measurable amount. I remember peeing in a cup at some point. I remember being given a gown. I remember not caring what parts of me were hanging out of the gown. I heard someone say, "I like your tattoo." I may or may not have said, "Thanks."

I almost forgot one fun detail. A steady stream of people came in and out of the room. I asked one of them, "So, um, if I need to vomit, where would you recommend I do that?" She handed me a puke bag. Not two seconds later, those carefully chopped bits of celery left my stomach at high velocity. Thinking I was done, I handed the bag to a member of the small crowd of medical personnel that had gathered at the door (they were waiting for me to finish, apparently). I quickly realized that I'd been too optimistic in my belief that I was done. I gestured in such a way to indicate that I needed a new bag, and a new bag was promptly delivered. No one flinched during this whole process.

With the puking out of the way, the doctor proceeded to examine me and ask me some questions. Blood in the urine? Nope. Back pain? Nope. She thumped on my back and listed to my lungs. Then she applied pressure to my abdomen. I thought the pain was coming from, you know, everywhere, but when she pressed on the right side, it intensified significantly. "That's your appendix," she said. She indicated that a CT scan would be needed to confirm the tentative diagnosis of acute appendicitis. At about this time, I asked a nurse to fetch my husband from the waiting room. I didn't think he should miss out on all the fun.

Soon, a technician came to wheel me down the hall for a CT scan, where she was joined by a second person. They moved me to the CT bed and then they injected dye or something or other into the IV. "You'll feel like you've peed yourself," she told me. "But don't worry, you won't actually have peed yourself." Sure enough, I felt oddly warm. The bed was more like a conveyor belt, moving me in and out of the big vertical doughnut.

I was transferred back to the wheelie bed and taken back to my room. I was still in pain and received a merciful dose of Dilaudid in my IV. Before long, the doctor came back to confirm the diagnosis: acute appendicitis. She explained that I would need surgery right away. I didn't bat an eye. I was just glad to know that the pain would be gone soon. They were welcome to cut me open and take whatever they wanted. I didn't even care. The good news was that my appendix had not yet burst (props to my guy for getting me to the hospital so quickly!) The doctor told me that they were just waiting for an operating room to be available and then I'd be in surgery. I know people complain about doctors and hospitals and waiting, but I have to say that things moved along pretty efficiently. A steady stream of people came in and introduced themselves. I met the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and a series of nurses.

By around 11:00, I was wheeled down the hall and into an operating room. I think the nurse who was pushing the bed said something about the room being "cold and bright." I shifted to the operating table and my arms were placed at right angles to my body. My brain developed a half-formed thought about a crucifixion. Someone said that they were going to ditch the not-quite-right IV in my left arm and put one in my right hand instead. Warm blankets were laid across my legs. A mask appeared over my face. That's about all I remember.

What's weird about general anesthesia is that when you wake up, the time is simply gone. It's not like waking up from a nap and having a rough idea of how much time has passed. Anesthesia just removes that chunk of time from your personal clock altogether. When I woke up in the recovery area, two nurses were tending to me. My husband was there. I feel like I was probably asked a lot of questions, but I don't remember much.

Within an hour or so, I was discharged from the hospital. I could have stayed overnight, but my husband had to go home either way.  We could not leave our daughter home alone overnight. So, once I could stand upright, I left. They gave me a morphine tablet for the road. After dropping me off at home, my husband found an all-night pharmacy and filled all of my prescriptions. For the next few days, I was supposed to alternate between ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and morphine. I was given ice packs for my swollen abdomen (which now had three glued-together incisions). My husband took the next day off so that he could take care of me. He made a schedule for my meds and handed me everything right on time. Since narcotics sometimes cause constipation, I had a prescription for a remedy for that, too. In our nearly 26 years together, I don't think my guy has ever said anything quite so sexy as this: "Hey babe, it's time for your stool softener."

A week has now passed since my surgery. I went back to work on Monday. It hasn't been smooth sailing. I am not a "take it easy" kind of person. I am letting stuff go as much as I can. The pain has been worse than I expected. The morphine makes me feel all oogy so I only take it at night. I have been wearing stuff like yoga pants to work because my mid-section is not interested in having contact with denim or any restrictive garments of any kind.

So, that's the news from here.

Keep your appendix if you can. If I had to give appendicitis a Google review, it would be looking at one star. "Would not recommend."

Heavily medicated? Napping a lot? These two will console you by taking up the whole bed.

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