This is something I've hesitated to write about. I am fully aware that so many people out there have had it much worse than I ever have, and that I was extremely lucky and blessed in how fast I healed.
December 20, 2011 I woke up feeling worse than I had ever felt in my life. I was so sure that I had a stomach virus, courtesy of one of the wonderful germ-carrying children I work with. But this was the third day that I had stayed in bed, and the acid-like feeling in my stomach was growing. It hurt to move. Mom asked me if I wanted to go to a hospital or a med-stop, and I replied med-stop, because I didn't want an unnecessary ER bill and I wasn't sure what was wrong [insert statement about what's wrong with our healthcare system here]. She waited for me to shower (later, I was grateful she made me shower) and get dressed. When I went to put on my recently loose-fitting jeans, I realized that me belly was distended and at this point I knew something was wrong. I told Mom we'd better go to the hospital instead. She helped me to the car, and it was terrible pain (to the point of screaming) to try to lift myself up into the front seat of the car. Mom said "I think it's your appendix." I thought it was crazy talk.
The emergency room was almost completely empty but we still had to wait a few minutes. I sat in a wheelchair, and I was realizing that I was feeling worse as time went on. They wheeled me back to triage, took my blood pressure, and it was so low that I was immediately taken back to a room. This is the part where I don't remember much. I know I wasn't allowed to drink any water, and I was so thirsty. I know now that they were pumping fluids into me for hours to raise my BP. I was in an out of consciousness. A CAT scan was done, and it showed my appendix was ruptured. The ER doctor came in and pressed on my belly, but it was a constant pain. The PA came in for a minute and told us that they were going to admit me, give me antibiotics for 24 hours, then do surgery the next day. The PA was wrong, and that's all I know. I was septic. My kidneys weren't working and my BP was too low. During surgery, they cleaned me out. The infection was "all over the place". The surgeon would fuss at me every time he saw me afterwards, telling me I almost died and that I shouldn't have waited so long to come to the ER.
After surgery, I stayed in the ICU for 4 days, and I don't remember a lot from this time. I remember asking my mom if I was being admitted to the hospital. I vaguely remember some family coming to visit. I know (now) that it was a close call. I was told that my appendix had ruptured at least 48 hours before surgery. I know that during this time, Tim met most of my family. I know that I've never seen my dad cry as much as he did in the ICU. I know that Candence fed me ice for awhile, but then I got sick and I wasn't allowed to eat it again. I know that I was on some high-powered antibiotics, a sedative, and of course amazing pain killers. I know that people brought me a lot of sock monkeys and My Little Pony stuff.
They put a wound vac in the open wound that was left from surgery. They hadn't stitched it up or stapled it because that would increase the risk of infection. I was told that I would have the vac for a few weeks. That felt like an eternity to be attached to a machine.
On Christmas Eve, I was half-awake while I was given a shower cap shampoo (side note: If you ever get a shower cap shampoo, make sure you follow the instructions and towel dry your hair completely... Until it's dry. Otherwise, it will make your hair feel more oily). The ICU nurse told me and my parents that they were waiting for a room to open up on the surgical floor for me. I was told those nurses would make me walk around. When you haven't walked in 4 days, and moving around in bed causes the worst pain, that is terrifying to hear. I was wheeled up to the surgical floor, and a lady with a Christmas tree hat and a big smile with red lipstick told me that I would be walking 6 times around the floor every day -- SAY WHAT? I thought she was absolutely insane. Luckily, not much was happening since it was the holidays, and no one forced me to be active. I remember asking on this day about where Tim was, and my parents told me he'd be by around dinner time. I was confused -- he was supposed to fly back home for Christmas. They told me he canceled his flight so he could be at the hospital.
My wound vac sponge was changed this day, and this time I was conscious. I was given pain killers right before, but nothing could touch this kind of pain. It felt like someone was ripping out my insides. The "sponge" that is inserted into the wound is not spongey and soft. It's hard and rough. I'd say that this was by far the most pain I've ever felt, and probably will ever feel for a long time. After it was over, I honestly felt broken. I didn't want to do anything or see anyone for the rest of the day. The good news is, it got better with every sponge change as my nerves died off and the wound healed more.
On Christmas Day, my mom's side of the family changed their holiday plans and came to my hospital room. That room was so nice and big. I remember that they had food, and I was still on a clear liquid diet (Jell-O). I don't remember opening gifts. That was okay, though, because I got to open them again later at home and it was Christmas all over again!
The next day, mom brought me pajama pants, and I walked around the hospital floor all six times. I was so glad I had those pajama pants too; many of my floormates seemed unaware that their undies were showing. It was really hard to stand up straight. I could feel the sponge in my side and it felt tight. I had several visitors again. It was this day that I realized how swollen my belly, hands, and ankles were. This was from all the fluid that they had pumped into in the ER and pre-op. The swollen belly, of course, took much more time to go down because there was much healing to me done. I also saw the black sponge covered in tape stuck in my side. It was... surreal. I was told my white blood cell count was high, so I had to have another CAT scan, which showed a pocket of fluid in my pelvis. I then had to go have a drain put in my "lower back" (booty). I remember that the doctor who checked up on me during this time was named Brent. He seemed like a nice guy. Some people just have an excellent bedside manner.
So did my favorite nurse from this stay, Eve. She was so wonderful. I trusted her. She was always checking up on me, trusted me to know how much Dilaudid (Hydromorphone) I needed, as sometimes I didn't need a full dose and it could make me sleepy, and moved along my diet so that I was quickly on a solid diet again. Never in my life have I liked grilled cheese so much.
The drain in my booty showed that there was no infection in the random pocket of fluid in my pelvis. Yay! Things were looking up, but I had a constant feeling of doom. I guess that happens when you just don't have a lot of control.
After a total of 11 days in the hospital, on December 30, I was released. I was scared. The stairs at home were terrifying.
...Except that I had to go back to the ER on January 1. This time, I was only there a couple of hours. The vicodin I had been prescribed for pain upon release was just not enough. Luckily, I had an excellent ER doctor, and my parents had enlisted my former PCP as my current doctor, so the issue was resolved quickly. I also got to people watch. There were a few people who had just partied too hard on New Year's Eve. Note to self: Do not wear 5 inch heels out to a bar.
In the next week I spent at home, I completely relied on my mother. She helped me walk around, get dressed, shower, and brought me food, and got up in the middle of the night with me when I needed something or was feeling bad. I'm sure it brought back memories of when I was a newborn. As good of a job she did, I actually missed the hospital. I missed the hospital bed. It was so much easier to get out of. It's really hard to sit up from a flat bed when your abdominal muscles are nearly useless. I missed my central line -- pain killers straight to the head (woosh!). I missed Eve.
Tim came to visit me while I sat on the couch and watched terrible TV every day. He'd bring his laptop and work while I drifted off to sleep. Sometimes he'd even bring me the food I was craving.
After only 7 days of being home, it was noticeably harder to breathe, and it hurt around my right shoulder with every breath. Guess what? PNEUMONIA. Back to the hospital I go... for another 8 days. After I got my room (that we had to wait all night for) I was wheeled down to have another procedure done. A large needle was stuck in my back and the pocket of fluid that was against my lung was drained. I believe it was well over a liter. During this, a sweet nurse came over and basically hugged me the whole time so that I could stay calm until the sedative kicked in. I was put on more antibiotics and had to wait it out, do frequent albuterol treatments, and make sure I ate more to get my red blood cell count back up. During this hospital visit, my wound healed so much that I was able to say goodbye to the wound vac. This time when I was released from the hospital, I was more excited than weary.
I spent the next few weeks attempting to be active (walking), watching the entire series of "Make It Or Break It", and wearing pajama and yoga pants. Tim still visited almost every day, and even took me out for a short while. After I finished the antibiotics, I felt so much better. I could eat more. The folks over at the wound care clinic gave me the go ahead to return to work the week of Valentine's Day. And then everything was (mostly) back to normal.
Every time I think about it, I'm amazed at how quickly I overcame this. Sure, there were times where I cried for hours. There were days where I couldn't will myself to get out of bed. There were days that I was so frustrated that my belly was swollen, and that I had no motivation to do my hair or makeup (it took a lot of effort and energy). There were days where I was so bored I could scream... And I actually got tired of watching TV. But most days, I found something to look forward to, thanks to my family, Tim, close friends, and everyone who found time to visit. Being stuck in a bed for a few weeks will show you who really cares.
I also learned that appendicitis is much more dangerous than Grey's Anatomy makes it out to be. An appendectomy? Psh, NBD.