Slice of Life: My Surgery Story
What’s up with Kate?
Ms Kate has been MIA right? Well let me fill you in on what has had me out of commission. Short answer: major abdominal surgery. For the long keep reading.
My crazy story
So for the past seven years occasionally I have been taken to my knees with extreme abdominal pain. At first it was annoying and would go away quickly. Then it got a lot worse and I even went to the ER a few times, once I even thought I was in labor when I was only five months pregnant with Madeline. Scary stuff.
Each time I was assured that it was just “really bad heartburn” and sent home. Even my episode just a year ago after an ER visit I was told that they had “no idea” what had caused the pain and that I should follow up with my regular doctor. I mean she is nice and all but there is zero chance she would have discovered what was wrong with me unless she ordered a CT scan.
In early April, I spent another day in pain and agony. Hoping to avoid the high cost of the ER (we have terrible insurance) I had my husband take me to Urgent Care. After spending about 3-4 hours there and after receiving some minor pain medication, I went home. Several hours later the pain was so bad that I had to have my husband drive me to the ER.
There, by way of CT scan, it was determined that I had an internal hernia. The doctor explained that my small intestines were herniated into the cavity where my large intestines are supposed to be, and it was cutting off the ability of my body to digest anything and causing extreme pain. The doctor said that I should have emergency surgery and they sent me to a regional hospital for said surgery.
It took 3-4 hours for me to be transported to the regional hospital. There, I sat and waited for another 9 hours before I finally had another CT scan. At this point, my small intestines had migrated back out of the herniated position and the pain was gone. It was recommended that I stay at the hospital overnight just so they could watch me and to monitor the issue with follow up visits.
I made a follow up appointment for two weeks later, but I never made it to that appointment. Just one week after being discharged, I awoke to some of the most severe pain I have ever experienced. In a span of only fifteen minutes I went from experiencing pain that I thought might "go away" to pain that was so terrible I thought I might die.
Look, I have had two kids. I was induced and experienced the full array of what pitocin will do to a woman in labor. I felt my hips rip apart and a baby's head pushing through before I screamed and begged and swore for an epidural. This intense abdominal pain was more painful than that. I started vomiting everywhere once I stepped into the ER. The pain, the vomiting, the pain again, it was so bad that I could not even sit still to get an IV in.
Once they administered the serious pain meds, I felt better. I was sent for a CT and the doctor, despite my history, determined that I was fine and sent me home. This is a decision I have questioned time and time again since the moment I was notified by a nurse that they would not even bother to call the surgeon I had seen just a week prior to this occurrence. I have learned that this is probably where I should have pushed back and advocated for myself. The medical professional in charge of my care at this point clearly did not have my best interest at heart.
Well just four days later the pain was back. I thought it might pass and I thought that I might make it to my follow up with the surgeon in just a few days but it just worsened as the day went on. By dinner time I knew I needed to get to the ER. I definitely learned NOT to go back to the place where the doctor shrugged off my history and condition, and went to another location connected to a hospital. Here, my pain and my history was taken seriously. I was admitted and transported to main campus for emergency surgery. About twelve hours after I walked into the ER with pain for the third time, I was in surgery.
Lesson: Advocate for yourself!
I learned a valuable lesson in my brush with the medical profession and hospital stays. You MUST advocate for yourself and if you are unable to advocate for yourself, you MUST have someone you TRUST as your advocate to SPEAK UP for you! This kind of crosses over into my regular day job as an elder law attorney. I am always telling clients that they need to think long and hard about who they want in their lives making decisions if they are unable to do so. My husband (as I repeatedly told everyone in the hospital) is my health care power of attorney. Fortunately he did not have to act on my behalf, but we did have some really valuable conversations about my wishes given my experiences.
At the end of the day, there is no better advocate for you than yourself. Hospitals are running a business and often have policies and protocol that are in place for the convenience of staff. As a patient, you are in essence not so much a person with feelings, but a problem to be fixed and a bed to be addressed. Obviously it is important to heed the advice that will affect your medical condition, but you NEED to ask questions about the decision that are being made on your behalf and you NEED to ask questions about why advice is being given to you.
At the point where I was sent home from the ER the second time, only a week after being discharged from the hospital, I should have pushed back. I should have demanded that the doctor come in and answer my questions, call my surgeon, and not allow her just to have a nurse (a very sweet nurse, who felt so badly for me) discharge me with no resolution. I came to the ER seeking help and they only stopped the pain, they didn't try to help me. Every time I had an encounter I learned a little more that I would have to speak up for myself.
For example, I had to have an NG tube in prior to surgery. It was probably the most unpleasant experience of my life. Fortunately, a tip from an awesome nurse (during my first ER visit) saved me from 12+ hours of agony by speaking up and telling me that I probably could wait a little while before having one put in. So that first time when I was transported to the hospital I did not end up needing one after all. I found out how amazing her advice was when I did have to finally have surgery the second time I was admitted to the hospital.
When it was finally determined I would have surgery, they wanted to put an NG tube in right away at the ER, prior to my transport to the hospital. I knew that I was not being transported right away, I didn't know how long it would be before I had surgery once I got there, and I knew an NG tube was unpleasant because of that awesome nurse. So you know what? I told them to wait until I got admitted to the hospital.
And once I got the hospital, I told them I wanted to take a shower first. (I was not going to be able to shower again for TWO whole days - gross!) A resident attempted to talk me into having the NG tube put in before my shower and told me it was no big deal. LIES!!! I am so happy that I did not listen to him!
An NG tube goes in your nose, down your throat, and into your stomach. It removes the contents of your stomach. My intestinal hernia was causing a complete bowel blockage so I had to have this thing. It was hands down the worst experience I have ever had. I vomited repeatedly while they were putting it in, after they were putting it in, it was painful, and it also felt like my nose was running and stuffed all at the same time and I couldn't wipe it because they taped it all over my face. I looked and felt like grumpy cat.
Thanks to what I learned from that nurse the first time (nurses are awesome!) I stood up for myself. Instead of having this awful NG tube in from 6pm to almost 6am when I went in for surgery, I put off having it placed until 3:30am. I took a shower without that thing stuck to me and coming out of my nose. (I seriously cannot believe an actual doctor had the audacity to tell me it was no big deal. What a jerk!)
About my hernia
When I asked the surgeon about what I had, he told me to google it. On my chart is says "incarcerated hernia." That does not mean a hernia that is serving 25 to life per the lawyer lingo I am used to from my days as a prosecutor. Apparently it is incredibly rare. My surgeon (who looked about mid-fifties) said it was the first one he ever operated on. Here is an article about it if you care to learn more and bore yourself to sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4017495/
I'm okay now. Abdominal surgery is no joke. The hardest part is not being able to do all the regular active things I love and enjoy while my body heals.
I have been asked (by a man) whether I will now wear a one piece bathing suit to cover this scar. Um, heck no! I have worked hard my whole life to be healthy and stay in shape. I am not going to let a little (or big) scar prevent me from being my regular, confident self.
If someone had a scar on his/her leg no one would ask if they would stop wearing shorts! If a man had a scar on his chest or stomach no one would expect him to wear a t-shirt in the pool or at the beach! Why should I suddenly feel compelled to hide my body? Just because I no longer look like a 17 year old girl?
I have been rocking my stretch marks for the past seven years and I will rock this scar too.
I'm enjoying the sun and you'll see my scar at the beach and the pool this summer.