If you read my Fitness Challenge for 2018, you already have heard the punchline of what happened to me in December — my appendix ruptured and I had to have surgery on Christmas Eve. Since it was a pretty significant life event for me, I figured it was worth sitting down and writing out the whole story. But if you’re just here for the bullet points, here they are:
- December 22 – Vomiting, Fever, Abdomen Pain, Went to Urgent Care. They told me it was probably food poisoning or the flu and to sleep it off.
- December 23 – More Fever, Chills, Shakes, Stabbing Abdomen Pain, Went to ER. Was there for four hours for various poking/proding/MRI-ing before they told me to come back and put on a gown. Diagnosis: Ruptured Appendix.
- December 24 – Surgery Early in the Morning. Have to have a drain in my side because there was so much infection.
- December 25 – Discharged from Hospital.
- December 29 – Follow-Up Appointment with Surgeon to Remove Drain.
- January 29 – Follow-Up Appointment with Primary Doc. She says I’m healing well and am well on the way to being back to normal.
Okay. Now, for those of you who want to hear the whole long saga, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t write it all out for you? I honestly considered writing it as a third-person novel or a script, but that would take me for-EV-er and I want to get this out there, so you just get the first-person blog version.
December 22, 2017
I didn’t sleep well the night before. I blamed it on the taco shop food we got after work as our Winter Solstice celebration (believe me, I will take any excuse to have a “holiday” meal…), because I had heartburn and indigestion (I thought). It also was the last day before my two week vacation, so I honestly thought it might be psychosomatic and that it was just a form of “senioritis” because I didn’t want to go to work and wanted to be on vacation already.
But, I got up. My stomach felt off, so I skipped my usual morning Shakeology and just got dressed, and drove myself into the office. I made it through my first (only) meeting of the day, and went and got a cup of coffee. I drank it…and felt like I was going to puke. I got chills all over and stumbled into a coworker’s office and told him “I feel…really off. I need to go home. Now.” I sent an email to all my coworkers letting them know I was leaving (and offering up my lunch to whoever wanted it — I’d ordered from our delivery service already, and I was too late to cancel it). I texted my husband that I was heading home, and got into the car.
K, gross stuff coming now. You’ve been warned. Feel free to skip the next paragraph if you want.
I made it about 20 minutes north on the freeway when I began a desperate search for an exit for anything with a bathroom. I found a gas station, made it inside and to the toilet, and…let’s just say I was in there for at least 10 minutes. 💩 💩 💩 I felt a little better and at this point was definitely convinced it was the taco shop food from the night before. I started to head back to the freeway…and immediately pulled off to the side of the road and 🤢 🤮. And it was just water and coffee, so, that was miserable. But after that, I felt reasonably better-ish, and kept driving. Well, I live far from my office, so after another 25 minutes in the car, I was DESPERATE to get home, because I could tell I was about to vomit again. Which I did, the second I ran into my house. And again, 30 minutes later. And again, 30 more minutes after that. By the sixth time I was retching up air (since I couldn’t even hold water down), we decided it was time to go to Urgent Care (my husband drove, since I could barely stand up or see/think straight at this point…)
By the time we got to Urgent Care, my entire core was in so much pain, I couldn’t even sit in the chairs. And the floor in there was DISGUSTING, but I didn’t care. The only position I was somewhat comfortable in was lying curled in the fetal position so that’s what I did. After 3 hours of waiting, they finally called me back. I was so dehydrated at that point, I couldn’t even provide a urine sample. They gave me water to drink, and I immediately threw it up. So, they gave me an anti-nausea shot and tried again. I was able to keep the water down and was finally able to give a urine sample. Urine sample showed…nothing. They didn’t have an ultrasound machine, and if you’ve been watching the news, you know that SoCal was gripped by a horrific flu epidemic at the time. Plus, I’d told them about my taco shop dinner. Based on all those factors, they said it was probably food poisoning or the flu, and gave me a prescription for anti-nausea medication that I could take at home (Zofran) and sent me on my way. The doctor did tell me that if I couldn’t hold water down, I might need to go to the ER to get IV fluids, but to see how I was feeling the next day.
So we went home.
December 23, 2017
I woke up (not that I’d slept much the night before) and felt horrendous, so I tried the Zofran. It helped a little, but I could barely drink water. My nieces were in a Christmas Nativity Pageant that afternoon, so I was doing EVERYTHING in my power to convince myself that (1) I wasn’t sick, (2) it was just food poisoning, and (3) if I could actually get myself to sleep, I’d feel much better and could still have enough time to shower and make it to their church by 3:00PM.
I spent most of the day staring at the TV. I don’t even know what was on… I think maybe How I Met Your Mother? I was drifting in and out of sleep, but the pain kept getting worse. Around 2:00PM, I had a sudden fit of shaking and chills — nothing I did could stop it. I was underneath three blankets and I felt like someone had tossed me out in the snow. That’s when I called the on-call doctor at my primary’s office. She asked about the pain, about what had happened. And she said the thing I should’ve made a bigger deal about before this point — “Is the pain worse in your right side?” Why yes, yes Doctor, it is. Oh, hey, I’ve watched EVERY TELEVISION SHOW EVER. I should’ve probably known what that symptom meant, right?
She recommended we head to the Emergency Room right away. At this point, I was still thinking it might be the flu. I had worked up a whole story in my head about how I probably just pulled a muscle on my right side during all the vomiting the day before…
I had told my holiday fit group about the taco shop and possible food poisoning, so I sent them this picture when I actually arrived at the ER (since, at this point, we were pretty sure this wasn’t the food’s fault…).
Much like at Urgent Care, I was so dehydrated I couldn’t produce a urine sample, but of course at the ER they wouldn’t give me water at first (I later found out this was because they needed my stomach empty in case I needed surgery right away). They took my vitals and they were not, like, terrible, but they were pretty low (blood pressure, pulse, etc.). I was given a quick cursory examination by the doctor who noted the pain in my right side. He then listed off a bunch of things it could be – appendicitis, gall stones, kidney stones, diverticulitis, ovarian cysts. They’d already done a pregnancy test so we knew it wasn’t that (his initial concern was something ectopic that may have ruptured). He said I’d need to have blood drawn, give a urine sample, and go to radiology.
The phlebotomist (that’s right, I know doctor-y words!) was super friendly and, despite how dehydrated I was, managed to easily find a vein to draw all the necessary samples. She did finally give me a mini 4oz. bottle of water to drink so I could produce a urine sample (this was the first water I’d had in almost four hours) and then they sent me off to radiology.
The radiology lab at my local hospital is incredible. They have the BEST staff. They made me feel completely at ease, they laughed with me and talked to me. It was wonderful, especially since they had to shoot dye into my arm and give me an MRI, so it was good to feel comfortable in the situation.
The Dye — have you ever had iodine dye shot into your system? It is SO WEIRD. Like, so so so so so weird. Some people get a weird warm sensation like they’ve peed themselves. Some people taste pennies. I had both happen. I mean, I guess it was okay because focusing on the SUPER WEIRD sensations made me forget about the whole “I’m getting an MRI” thing done. And, by the way, we have an open MRI machine which is only a partial tube and I was still having a claustrophobic freak-out.
Anyway, so I went back to wait in the waiting room for any sort of read out or diagnosis. By this point I was still in pain and still woozy, but nothing compared to what I’d been feeling earlier that day or the day before (I would soon find out why).
After about 30 more minutes in the waiting room (which, by the way, was packed), another nurse came out and asked us to come back. She said “Okay, can you go ahead and change into this gown and get into the bed? We’ll be with you soon.” I was flummoxed and said “Um, sure. Is someone going to tell me what’s wrong with me?” She looked shocked. “Oh,” she said, “The doctor hasn’t talked to you yet?” Me: “Um, no.” Her: “Okay, get changed and I’ll go see what I can find out.”
She came back a few minutes later. “Okay, so I talked to the doctor and he’s with another patient, but he said I could tell you a little bit. Your appendix has ruptured. We need to get you into surgery.”
Turns out (I found out later) that once your appendix ruptures, the pain actually subsides a bit. That’s why I was feeling better(ish) than I had been the day before. But it had ruptured, like, HOURS ago, which meant the infection was spreading through my whole abdomen. Not great.
So, this is when the group text messages start flying. My baby brother and his wife came to see me for a bit and brought me a phone charger (life savers!). My brother actually had his appendix removed when he was eight, and we compared stories while hanging out in the ER bay. My “adopted” sister came over after her girls’ pageant that I missed and brought me a bright pink pillow that basically became my Linus’s blanket through the whole ordeal. And my mom came, of course, and my husband had been there the whole time. After about an hour waiting downstairs, they told me I was being moved up to the surgery floor. They told me surgery might happen that night, but it might not happen until the next morning.
So, this sounds weird, right? Like, EVERYONE I talked to has said ruptured appendix = emergency, get into surgery ASAP. Yeah, well, more on that in a bit…
So, we settled in for the night. It was a looooooooooong night. I got multiple bags of IV fluids (potassium, dextrose, and…I think that’s it? I mean, and, like, water) and five rounds of IV antibiotics. They had to check my vitals throughout the night. PLUS because the surgery time was still TBD, I couldn’t have any food or drink. I wasn’t hungry – no appetite at all in 48 hours, actually – but I was DESPERATE for a drink of water and I couldn’t even have that. Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep, though we tried.
December 24, 2017
Merry Christmas Eve, kids. My mom rejoined us at the hospital that morning. At around 7:15AM the surgeon finally arrived and introduced himself. He told me he actually had two appendectomies to do that morning, and that mine would probably be second because “it’s more complicated.” (Um, great?) This is when he ALSO explained some things I didn’t know about appendices or about my current situation:
- Your appendix doesn’t actually burst. Like, it’s not a balloon. It perforates, and the infection can spread as a result of the perforation, but it doesn’t explode.
- My vitals were REALLY low. So low, in fact, that’s why he waited to do the surgery, and why I needed so many bags of fluid + antibiotics. Plus, anesthesia can dehydrate you, and I was already super dehydrated. So, generally, yes, a ruptured appendix = rush someone into surgery right away, unless the surgery would be UNSAFE because of their blood pressure/pulse/hydration levels, in which case, I guess you wait it out?
- The infection was gangrenous. I don’t know why I associate gangrene with pirates (like, scurvy is the pirate thing), but I do, and so as soon as I heard this I decided I was a pirate. Pretty sure this was additional appendix-related delirium.
A couple of hours later, a nurse came in to wheel me down to surgery. We chatted for a bit, and he made me laugh – again, this was very important to me because it kept me from freaking out about what was happening.
I do remember being wheeled into the pre/post-op area and thinking “This would be a really cool set…” When I finally decide to sit down and write a pilot script for a medical show (because, you know, TV doesn’t have enough of those… ), I’m going to keep that pre-op bay in mind.
I did almost have a bit of a panic attack as I was getting situated because the only other person in the area was NOT doing well post-surgery and there were tons of nurses bustling around here and it made me really nervous. But then my anesthesiologist came over. This woman, whose name I sadly cannot remember, was awesome. Like, there was just something about her — her energy, her presence, the way she talked about what her role was and what was going to happen — I immediately felt at ease with her there.
After signing a bit of paperwork and giving my mom and my husband hugs and kisses, they wheeled me off to the OR. Now, I was lying flat so I don’t remember much of our course, but I do remember thinking “Hospital sets on TV shows are too busy. There’s not that much crap in here!” Yes, this is how my brain works, and rolling into surgery is no exception.
We got into the OR and I almost laughed at the size of the table. Like, take a yoga mat, cut it in half, and that’s about how big the operating table seemed to be (it was actually about the exact width of my body, but it felt SUPER small). Again, nothing like what I usually see on TV, I remember thinking. They did let me slide myself over from the hospital bed onto the operating table. The room felt HUGE for such a small table. And it was really bright! Again, I expect every hospital to look like the set of Scrubs and this looked nothing like those rooms.
Anyway, the anesthesiologist came over and said she was going to “put some medicine in my arm.” I think I was awake for maybe four more seconds once she started, and then I was out.
I don’t know what time it was when I woke up the first time in post-op. I do know that the second I woke up, my head was turned to the right side and I could see the bathroom door. In my loopy, still drugged state, I called to a nurse and insisted that I needed to walk to the bathroom. He told me I couldn’t walk yet. I said I really needed to go to the bathroom. He said he’d bring me a bed pan. I tried to convince him I could walk there. He told me I had to try the bed pan first. By the time he’d brought it to me, I’d basically fallen back asleep again.
The second time I woke up in post-op, I was much more aware of my surroundings and significantly less loopy (though still very tired). This time, they said I was able to go back to my room, so they wheeled me to the elevator and back upstairs. I did need to have oxygen for a while still, and there was the whole drain thing (more on that in a bit), but I’d made it through surgery with no issues.
Finally, after almost 24 hours, I was allowed to have a drink of water. It was the best water I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously, go 24 hours without drinking anything (actually, don’t, but) and you will see what I mean about the pure euphoria or that first sip. Amazing.
A friend of mine had asked his wife (one of my best friends) if this meant I could eat ice cream for all my meals now. She laughed and pointed out that this was appendicitis and not tonsillitis. But, it put the idea in my head, so once I was allowed to order food, I got chocolate ice cream. And chicken noodle soup:
So, the surgeon came back to chat with me about the procedure. He told me everything had gone well and that eventually he wanted me to get up and walk around a bit, because I needed to be ambulatory in order to be discharged. Until I was ready to walk, though, I had to have these compression thingies running on my legs:
Then he explained the drain. This is another gross bit. Feel free to skip it…
So, because of the pirate-y gangrenous infection that had spread across my abdomen, I had a surgical drain hanging out of my side. I didn’t take any pictures of it, so I’ll do my best to explain it. Imagine a flexible clear plastic grenade attached to a long tube about the thickness of a Boba Tea straw hanging out of a huge square of gauze dressings taped to your left side. That’s what it was, lol. And it was filling up with a liquid that looked like Hawaiian Punch. (Good luck ever drinking Boba or Hawaiian Punch again, me. And, well, maybe you after you read this…). Basically, every time the squishy grenade got about 1/2 full (since it works off of suction), I had to empty the liquid out and squeeze the grenade part so it would start to fill up again. And I had to do this for at least four days (the surgeon said it would depend on how much liquid was still draining and what color it was…).
Then, the good news – he said that he hoped I’d be able to be discharged the next morning, which meant I could actually spend some of Christmas at home. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. By the afternoon, though, I was able to get up and walk around a little bit:
My mom helped me the first time, because my husband had run home to pick up some stuff for us (and clothes for me for as soon as they’d let me get out of the stupid gown). When he got back, my mom left to go to Christmas Eve with the rest of the family and to give them an update on me. My husband brought A Charlie Brown Christmas back with him, and a laptop, so we could watch it together and maintain one of our annual holiday traditions. We also took a few longer walks up and down the hall, where I discovered Christmas decor in one of the waiting rooms and had to take pictures with it. And for dinner I ordered Italian food, since that’s normally what we have at home on Christmas Eve.
December 25, 2017
2:00AM. This is not what I wanted for Christmas, Santa.
I did manage to fall asleep after dinner, which meant I was laying in bed in a single position for a few hours. When I woke up and needed to go to the bathroom…ugh. The pain as I tried to sit up, then stand, and then walk was THE WORST it had been since the start of this whole ordeal. My whole abdomen was on fire, all of my joints were stiff, my head was pounding… I burst into tears. I cried not only for the pain, but for all of the emotions I’d been bottling up. The fear, the frustration, the sadness – it all came out my eyeballs in a deluge of huge, salty tears. Honestly, it felt REALLY GOOD to cry, but I also know I scared the hell outta my poor husband who didn’t know how much of it was from physical pain and how much of it was from me just needing to have a break-down (hindsight, the split was probably 50/50). I was thankful that by this point I’d stopped trying to be tough and had allowed them to give me morphine for the pain. I was bummed I was about two hours away from another dose, though…
About a half hour later, my pity-party abruptly ended when I heard them call a Code Blue in the room next door. Actually, first, I heard two different nurses go in and call the patients name/try to wake him up. Then I heard the alarm go off down the hall. People running. The crash cart being wheeled in. Shouts. “Clear.” Beeps. More shouts. More people running. I think I started shaking. I couldn’t see anything, but the noise was enough to cause me to start to panic. I’d been watching Scrubs on Hulu. I quickly turned that off. Suddenly, fictional hospital scenes weren’t entertaining anymore. I think they wheeled him away – down to the OR again? To the ICU? I don’t know. Later that morning, the room was empty.
This isn’t what anyone wanted for Christmas.
After turning up the laptop volume, I eventually let the sounds of Friends on Netflix lull me back to sleep. When I woke up later that morning, I ordered breakfast. They didn’t have cinnamon rolls on the menu (our normal Christmas morning treat), but I did pretty okay:
During the nurse shift, the new nurse came in and said “Oh! You’re the girl I’ve seen walking around! You’re doing great!” That made me feel good, especially since – as I mentioned earlier – being ambulatory was a requirement for discharge. She mentioned the surgeon would be by soon. Another nurse came in to do a final blood draw to check levels (everything was fine). My husband and I took one more walk together up and down the hallway — walking was getting easier, thankfully:
The surgeon came in and went over my discharge instructions. I’d have a follow-up appointment in four days, and if the infectious fluid had started to clear, he’d remove the drain at that time. He gave me a prescription for a really strong pain killer and for a week’s worth of antibiotics to continue fighting the infection. I was able to get dressed, which felt SO GOOD (you don’t realize how much you miss clothes until you spend 48 hours in a hospital gown…), and then they wheeled me down to the parking lot in a wheelchair, and my husband helped me into the passenger seat of our car.
Now, here’s the thing. When you’re discharged from the hospital on Christmas Day with two prescriptions to fill…it’s hard to find a pharmacy that is ACTUALLY OPEN. And also, the roads in my city suck. Well, they don’t suck. They’re just really bumpy. And honestly, they’re not even that bumpy, but when you’re just over 24-hours out of surgery, you feel EVERY bump. EVERY turn. EVERY stop. Do you know how much you engage your core when you’re in a car? The answer is a lot. And I know, because I felt it.
We did end up finding one that was open (shout out to CVS for having a location with a 365/year pharmacy!) and were able to drop of the scripts to pick up later. Then, we headed home, I threw on my robe, curled up under a quilt on my couch, and stared thankfully at my Christmas tree. I made it home for Christmas.
Later that morning, my middle brother and his wife and their new puppy (aka, my nurse dog) and my mom all came up for a visit, so I did get to spend some of the holiday with family:
December 26, 27, 28, 2017
Lots of pain. Lots of being unable to sleep. Lots of frustration and depression. This is a thing they don’t warn you about when you have to have surgery — the sudden feelings of helplessness and sadness and just anger at not being able to do the SIMPLEST things. Feeling trapped on your couch. Watching everyone else enjoy their vacations while you’re basically in quarantine because even a small cold would cause huge problems right now. I was sad a lot. I cried a lot. I got snippy with people a lot.
I also binge-watched a lot of Top Chef and Fixer Upper, so it wasn’t all bad.
December 29, 2017
I actually managed to get longer stretches of sleep that night, which was good. GROSS WARNING: the fluid going into the drain was more yellowy-clear and less bright pink, which means the infection was going down.
We headed up to my surgeon’s office for an early-morning follow-up. He said the incisions looked good and the fluid drain levels were low enough that he was ready to remove the drain. Sweet! What does that entail?
“Oh, just lay back, I’ll take it out right now.”
“Yeah, I just need to cut the glue suture not skin. Lie down.”
So I did. My husband was up by my head, holding my arm. I felt a small prick as he cut the suture and then…
HOLY EFFING CRAP WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING TO ME?!?!
It was the tube/drain being removed. It’s a miracle I didn’t scream or curse or punch someone or faint. When something is stretched across your entire abdomen and is working via suction…well, having it pulled out sucks. There’s literally no other way to say it. Aside from the 2AM getting out of bed breakdown pain, THIS was the most painful part of the entire ordeal. Seriously. Especially since I’d forgotten to take my pain meds and they DIDN’T HAVE ANY TO GIVE ME at the office.
During this follow-up was when the surgeon also decided to drop this little bit of information on me. As he was prepping me to take the drain out, he said:
“It’s a good thing you finally went to the ER when you did. Another 24-36 hours, and you would’ve been in organ failure.”
Thanks for not telling me that until days later, sir.
But once it was out and more glue sutures were applied (which was very cold – a weird sensation for sure), I felt a million times better. I didn’t realize how much additional pain the drain had actually been causing me. From that day on, I just used Advil for my pain – I didn’t need the narcotic-strength stuff.
Recovery was (and is) a LOT harder than I thought it would be. I sleep on my side. When you have incisions on your side, it’s hard to sleep that way (actually, near impossible), which meant I wasn’t really sleeping well. It took almost two weeks before I could sleep through the night.
Not being able to move much also started to weigh me down. The less active I was, the shorter my temper got. I also became more forgetful, had increasingly less energy. Was still crying a lot – mostly out of frustration. As I mentioned in my fitness challenge post, I felt completely disconnected from my body. Anything that felt strange caused me to go into a panic — was I headed back to the hospital? How severe would it be this time?
My surgeon did clear me to fly to Texas for a few days at the beginning of January.
Emotionally, this was absolutely the right thing to do. It gave me a surge of positive emotions – it “refilled my cup” as it were. Physically…it was probably a dumb move. The days after the flights (both going there and coming home) I was in a TON of pain. Lots of pressure in my abdomen area. Plus, basically any activity would completely wear me out. And, I got a cold when I went there, so I came home in pain from surgery + needing more time off because I was sick.
Once I was able to go back to work (after three weeks at home on the couch), things started to get much better. I was using my brain more. I was at least walking up and down stairs and sitting at a desk and talking to people. Slowly, I started to feel a bit more like myself again.
On January 29, I had my last follow-up appointment with my primary doctor. She said I was healing really well, and that I could start exercising again. The next morning, I did Country Heat. Holy endorphin rush, Batman. This whole week, I’ve been working out again and my energy is THROUGH THE ROOF. I’m happy, I’m focused. I know I still need to take it easy (my largest incision scar feels like it’s on fire when I push myself too much), but I know I’m getting stronger every day.
That’s the story of how I had appendix surgery on Christmas Eve.