Friday, April 26, 2013

My Surgery Story

I realize this is ridiculously long. I wrote it mostly for me, though, so I allowed myself to blather on and on. For the abridged version, read just the yellow text.

I am 38 years old, and aside from a broken nose in seventh grade (field hockey accident), I have never been hospitalized for anything unrelated to pregnancy or childbirth. That is, until this week.
Tuesday, April 23rd, was a regular day.  The older kids were in school; Josh and Zack were home. I had some stuff to do around the house, but spent most of the morning just puttering around. Doing a little bit of this, avoiding a little bit of that. I did manage to get in some exercise, but only because I was putting off folding some laundry.
The boys were playing outside, and I started to make them lunch. I was standing at the kitchen counter and felt a pain in my stomach. It felt like a gas bubble or something, but pushing on my stomach didn't make it feel any better. I hadn't eaten much that day - only a couple bites of dried fruit - but it didn't seem like a hunger pang either. I walked around a little bit, and it felt better. But then it quickly returned. And again, pushing on my stomach didn't help. Pushing on my stomach actually made it feel worse. I walked around and did some deep breathing. Minor relief. I finished making the boys' sandwiches and went to sit down. I found that if I sat on the edge of the chair, with my legs apart and my head bent over, with my belly pushed out, the pain didn't seem as sharp, but it still wasn't going away.
I did not know what was going on, but I started to fear it was something serious. I asked Josh if he knew how to dial 911. I said, "If Mommy gets really sick or if something is really wrong, pick up the phone and press 'talk' and then press 9-1-1 and talk to the person who answers the phone." 
Josh said, "911? To talk to the police??" 
And Zack chimed in, "The police?? They arrest you for getting sick??" 
I had a good laugh and then explained that the police would send an ambulance to bring me to the hospital.
I couldn't decide if my pain was serious enough to call 911, so I called the doctor's office to get their opinion.  I talked to the secretary, then was placed on hold, then I talked to the nurse's assistant, Robin, then placed on hold again. By the time Robin was back on the phone, I no longer wondered if I needed to call 911. I was sure of it! That's how fast the pain escalated.
Robin offered to call 911 for me so I could hang up and try to find someone to come over and stay with the kids. At this point, I started crying. I became overwhelmed with concern about what might possibly be wrong with me. I wondered who could come watch the kids. I worried about leaving the kids home without first having planned for my absence. (Some of you know I like to create actual manuals for this type of situation!) I worried about how long I'd be gone. I worried about calling Neil to come home from work because I knew how much he'd worry about me. All of these thoughts went through my head in the span of about 1.2 seconds.
I tried calling one neighbor down the street who wasn't home. I was going to call my neighbor across the street and realized I didn't have the phone number [Note to self: add their phone number to contacts.] Then I remembered that Dick & Shirley, some of our very best and nicest neighbors were probably home. I called them, still crying, and Shirley answered the phone. I said, "We have an emergency. Can you come over?" She said, "Yup!" and hung up the phone before I could say goodbye. She and Dick were at our house in less than a minute.
I called Neil and asked him to come home. I explained (through tears, of course) that there was something wrong with my stomach, that Dick and Shirley were coming here to watch the kids, and that 911 had been called and an ambulance was coming to get me. (And then I prayed that God would get Neil home safely because I was having a hard time picturing him not driving 100 mph to get home.)
Within a few minutes, the ambulance was at our house. It wouldn't have occurred to me to request female EMT's, but two female EMT's are who showed up - and I was very pleased about that. I wish I remembered their names, but I don't. They were both so nice and caring and gentle and reassuring. Really wonderful! [Another note to self: find out their names and send a thank-you note.]
As the EMT's got me ready to go, Shirley could see how much pain I was in and how stressed I was about leaving. She offered to ride in the ambulance and come to the hospital with me. Normally, I'm fairly private about personal stuff and prefer to keep my potentially embarrassing misery to myself, but I also knew what a baby I become when I don't feel well. I knew I'd want someone with me, so I accepted Shirley's offer.
Before we even left the driveway, they performed an EKG and started an IV. Everything looked good, so off we went! (Over the next ten hours, it was simultaneously encouraging and terribly frustrating to hear how healthy I was!)
We took what seemed to be the scenic route to the hospital. Seriously, I couldn't understand why we went the way we did - - it took so long! During the ride, I was able to communicate via text and facebook. (I love technology!!) I found out that my parents were on their way to my house and would relieve Dick of his child-watching duties so Neil could come be with me in the hospital. My sister Missy had informed the rest of my family what was going on with me, and I was able to text with my sister Jeannine about what was going on, as well. In some ways, all of the facebooking and texting helped keep my mind off the pain.
I was given some pain medicine through my IV, which helped take the edge off. It brought my pain level from an 8 down to a 7, maybe. If I had known then that I'd be experiencing Level 10 pain for a large portion of the rest of the day, I might have rated the ambulance-ride pain a 5 or 6 instead, but at the time, I didn't know better. The whole ride in, I couldn't help but think of the Boston Marathon bombings only a week before. Surely, the people who had limbs blown off were in worse pain than me. Who was I to rate my pain so high when clearly there was conceivably much more room above my level? But trying to remain humble didn't do much for my pain, either, so I went back to complaining about how much it hurt.
At the hospital, things seemed to move rather quickly. I was never left alone for long. I felt that everyone cared and was doing their best to help me. Unfortunately, nothing was helping me. I was given various pain killers, none of which really worked. The pain was like being in labor, but much worse. It was like experiencing one long contraction that NEVER. ENDED. And unlike labor, I didn't know why I was in pain. I couldn't tell myself, "Your body is made for this!" I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I didn't have the promise of beautiful, squirmy newborn to help me fight through the pain. It just HURT, period.
The worst part of the day was when they decided to give me morphine. The morphine did nothing for my pain; I'm pretty sure it made it worse, actually. My legs were heavy and numb, my arms went numb all the way up to my neck and face, my hands were stiff and knotted, and the pain in my stomach was intensified. Yeah - I was not a fan of morphine.
One doctor came in and was poking my stomach. I understand they need to touch the area to get some kind of assessment, but it had already been done. Several times. And it hurt. Every time. And with the added bonus of the negative reaction to the morphine, I couldn't stand it. I yelled, "Stop poking me!"
I think he may have tried to explain why he was doing it, but he didn't stop poking. I got mad and (with my eyes still closed in pain) I whacked him with the (empty! clean!) throw-up bag I was holding. (Oh, did I mention that either as a side effect of the narcotics they were shoving through my veins or as an additional element of my stomach pain, I was also vomiting every so often? No? Well, I was. And that was all kinds of fun, let me tell you!)
So, anyway, I whacked the doctor with one of these:
It is a plastic ring with a light plastic grocery-type bag attached to it. I hit him with the soft part. Did I mention that it was clean? And empty? Well, the doctor turned into No-bully Nelly and stated loudly in a most offended voice, as though he had rehearsed it in a seminar, "Ma'am, do NOT hit me!"
If I hadn't been in so much pain, I would have laughed in his face. As it was, I was concentrating on trying not to die, so I just said, "I whacked you with a bag." And he insisted, "You hit me. Please do not hit me!"
So I responded, loudly, "Then stop poking me!!"
He left after that, and I didn't see him again the rest of my time there. Good riddance, pimple-nose!
That was one bad experience. The other was with another male -- this time a nurse -- about 20 minutes later. As I mentioned, my pain was intense. It got so bad that I was writhing and yelling in pain. Not my finest moment, I'll tell you that. Poor Shirley felt so bad for me, she left the room to find out if there was anything that could be done for me. A male nurse came in. Did he give me any medicine? No. Did he ask if he could help? No. Did he pat my arm and say, "There, there. You're going to be ok." No!
He said, "I don't want to sound like a jerk or anything, but yelling isn't going to do you any good. You need to get control of yourself." And then he left!! Thanks a lot, JERK!!
At that point, I just felt dejected and embarrassed. No, yelling clearly wasn't going to do me any good. So I buttoned my lip. I laid there in pain, cursing the world, pitying myself. I tried repeating a prayer my sister Michelle had told me about. "God, help me bear this!" I repeated it over and over and over again. It didn't feel like it was helping, but if I was going to die -- and at that point, it felt like a real possibility -- I at least wanted credit for trying to be holy!
But the pain continued. And the tests continued.
All vital signs: great!
Another EKG: perfect!
Blood work: normal!
At one point Shirley tried reassuring me that my color looked good, and I yelled at the poor woman. "I don't care what color I am! I just want the pain to stop!!" (Sorry, Shirley!)
X-rays: all clear!
Dick arrived to pick up Shirley, and they both stayed with me until Neil got there, which wasn't much longer after that.
Ultrasound: fantastic!
They could find nothing wrong with me.
They had never seen such a healthy sick person! WHAT THE HECK???
One of the nurses told me that gastrointestinal issues are "tricky" sometimes. If it was something with my gut, they may not be able to find out what the problem is. She started talking about what kind of medicine I could take if they had to send me home... It all became a little fuzzy at that point. Send me home?? There was no way I was leaving that hospital until I knew what was wrong with me and someone fixed it!! I was scared and worried and still in so much pain.
A nurse came in with a jug of red liquid that looked like fruit punch. (It was not fruit punch, by the way.) There was a form attached to the side of it stating that I had to drink the liquid, and I'd be having a CT Scan at 21:15. I must have been mildly delirious at that point because I remember being proud of myself for figuring out they meant 9:15pm, like I had decoded a secret message.
One sip of that juice and I knew I couldn't do it. It was horrible! The orange sugary stuff you have to drink during pregnancy for the glucose test is blissfully delightful compared to this crap. This red stuff was 100% awful. I cried. I agonized. I told Neil I couldn't do it. I wailed, "It's not going to do any good anyway! They're not going to find anything!"
It had been a very long day with no relief and I was in despair. But somehow, Neil talked me through it. He told me to have faith; that they would be able to find out what was wrong. He asked the nurse if I had to drink ALL of the liquid (I think it was a full quart!) or just some of it. She told me to do my best. I think I got through 1/4 of it before they came to take me for the CT Scan. I was confusing the CT Scan with an MRI. I didn't have to go in a tube. I just laid on a long table, and a big white donut thing passed over me. Or I passed through the white donut. [Mmmm... donuts.] I'm actually not really sure.
After a few scans, I was injected (via IV) with an additional solution to help with additional imaging. I was warned that I'd feel some warmth in my throat and that it would travel down to the seat of my pants. And that's just what happened! It was the weirdest feeling. For about 60 seconds, I felt like my spine must have actually turned RED to show up in the scan - it was so hot! But then it dissipated. The whole CT Scan only took about 5 minutes.
And it worked! They found the problem! My small intestine was twisted! A section of my small intestine had somehow adhered to some scar tissue, and over time (or suddenly?), had twisted in on itself, causing a blockage and severe pain. My understanding is that my problem was of the "abdominal adhesion" category, possibly from my last c-section, in 2007!! I'm really not sure.
All of this information was delivered to me by a 3-person team of surgeons. Guess what? Surgeons don't come talk to you unless they're planning to operate on you. (It took me a little while to figure that out, so I wanted to share this helpful bit of information in case it helps someone else!) They weren't speaking hypothetically about what they would do to someone in my situation. They were telling me what they needed to do. To me. Right away.
A-ha! Ok! NOW we were getting somewhere! Action! Something was going to be done to fix my pain! Hallelujah!! I was all in favor of whatever they were telling me after that point. I had the wherewithal to request a priest to come administer Last Rites, but other than that I just agreed to whatever they said.
The priest came, and one of the surgeons prayed with us. (Woohoo!) It was really cool, and I wasn't scared at all.
Shortly after midnight, I was wheeled into the operating room and given general anesthesia. I had laparascopic surgery to detach my intestine from the scar tissue and untwist it. Three tiny holes; all fixed! And that, as they say, was that!
I don't know why the pain came on so suddenly. I don't know what caused the intestine to twist. I don't know if there's anything I could have done to prevent it from happening. I don't know if any of it will have (or has had) any impact on the dietary changes I've been making for the last several months (no gluten, no dairy, increased dietary supplements, etc.). I have been given no medical restrictions from the hospital - dietary, physical, or otherwise. As long as I'm feeling fine, I can assume I am fine, which sounds really great to me!
My first night home, I had some serious neck and shoulder pain. Apparently, it is a very common side effect of laparoscopic surgery due to the CO2 gas used. The pain has continued, but gotten less severe over the last 24 hours. Last night I was even able to sleep on my side a little bit.
I'm recovering well. My mom stayed an extra day to help with the kids and the house. Neil is home from work, catering to my every whim (though I haven't asked him to peel me a grape yet!) and playing the quintessential Mr. Mom.
I want to thank everyone who kept me in their thoughts and prayers over the last several days. Thank you, God, for sparing me from serious injury and getting me through this ordeal. Because of facebook, even people I didn't know - friends of friends - were praying for me! Thank you to my parents, family, friends, neighbors, and everyone who dropped whatever they were doing and offered to help. I appreciate it so much, and your kindness means so much to me!


  1. Great blog Tiffany despite all the suffering. Ever thought of writing novels? I am wishing you a speedy total recovery. Regina

    1. Thanks, Regina! I have thought about it many times, but have never done anything about it. Maybe some day! :)

    2. Thank you for sharing this. I have had months of test and pain not knowing what was wrong. The twisted intestine came up with the scare tissue from my surgery in 2007. As of the end of January I have been pain free. They saw something in my 3rd CT Scan. I am scheduled to swallow a camera in May.