living an unconventional life, one cocktail at a time

People, listen to your body: My night in the emergency room

Flowers from my coworkers

So, almost a month ago, my appendix was removed in the middle of the night. Turns out, there were at least four appendectomies performed in the emergency room in a twelve-hour span—including one on a friend. How crazy is that? I have no idea if appendicitis is that common or if it was a fluke. But since so many people have asked, here’s the story.

To start WAY back in the beginning, I had some weird stomach pain last fall. Not indigestion, not nausea, not cramps…just weird pain. It wasn’t isolated in a specific part of my belly, it was all over. And it was enough to keep me laid up on the couch or doubled over in pain when I wasn’t. I went to my doctor, who sent me off for an ultrasound, which showed nothing, so they sent me to a GI specialist, who thought it was probably nothing, and everyone along the way recommended probiotics. Which I bought, and constantly forget to take because they’re in the refrigerator and not in the bathroom with the vitamins I take every day. Then the pain went away and I forgot about it.

Until January. On a random Thursday, we took Cooper to see Marvel Universe Live (thanks Dan and Scotty!). The stomach pain came back that night, but I’d drank a lot of soda that day and chalked it up to too much carbonation—even though, again, it wasn’t indigestion or nausea or upset stomach or anything like that. And even though I regularly drink too much soda but don’t have pain like this. I went to work the next day and still had the nagging, uncomfortable pain all day. It was bad enough all weekend that I crashed on the couch for two days….but only because I could, thanks to a sweet husband who took care of everything else and a relatively easy-to-deal-with kid who likes to watch movies.

Monday rolled around, and I was determined to get off the couch. It was a holiday, but honestly? I would’ve have gone to work if it wasn’t. The pain was still there, but it wasn’t debilitating. And it was still all across my belly, not in any one specific area, and I didn’t have any other symptoms of anything.

I took Cooper to gymnastics, we went to lunch, and then we drove to his pediatrician’s office in Overland Park for his four-year checkup (spoiler: he’s still in the 99th percentile for everything). That’s the part that freaks me out a little—that I was driving a decent distance on the highway, with my kid.

On the way home, I started feeling weird. My chest felt tight. Then my arm started feeling funny. My left arm. It wasn’t quite tingly…and it wasn’t falling asleep…but it felt like it was on the verge of something like that. It just felt weird. I keep saying weird, but there isn’t really any other way to describe it. I wasn’t in horrible, awful pain, I just didn’t feel *right.*

And of course, I was starting to freak myself out. There’s a lot of early heart disease on my mom’s side of the family tree. My grandfather died of a heart attack when he was only 56. He had low blood pressure, which both my mom and I inherited. Other relatives have had various other heart-related issues, some at even younger ages. I’ve read plenty about how women’s heart attack symptoms are very different than men’s.

The odd chest-and-left-arm feelings persisted after we got home, and I still had the stomach pain, though it hadn’t gotten any worse. In my head, I kept debating whether or not to go to the emergency room. I felt silly, but I also was afraid. Since having a child, I’m also much more willing to spend money on unnecessary medical things just to make absolutely sure nothing is wrong with me. But I still felt like I was overreacting.

As we were sitting at the table eating dinner, I mentioned it to Dave. I still wasn’t sure what to do. I texted Becki, who manages the cardiology practice at the local hospital. “I know you’re not a doctor… but does abdominal pain ever accompany heart issues?”

“Yes,” she texted back. Great.

We talked a little more, and decided I should go to the emergency room, just in case. Can I just say, if you go to an emergency room and mention any kind of potentially heart-related symptoms, they are ON IT. There were three people crowded into my room, hooking things up and checking me out. They weren’t frantic at all, just very calm and quick. They did an EKG, and then everyone disappeared. For like an hour. I finally realized that my heart must be fine since no one was checking on me.

The doctor came in and poked around on my stomach. I still didn’t have excruciating pain, and it was still all over, but when he pressed on my right side, it definitely hurt more. Once the lab results came back, they said my white blood cell count was high, so they wanted to do a CT scan. Never had one of those before—again, weird. This whole experience was just weird. And of course now I’m freaked out about the radiation from the scan.

After those results came back, the doctor came back in and said “We need to take out your appendix.”

I was a little stunned, as this diagnosis had actually never occurred to me. I assumed that people with appendicitis had severe pain on the right side along with other symptoms that I just didn’t have. Maybe that’s after it ruptures, I don’t know.

So they prepped me for surgery—I didn’t even have to wait long because the surgeon was already in the ER performing another appendectomy. Apparently this is like a five or ten minute procedure and then they send you home. One of the nurses told me it takes longer to set up all the instruments than it does for the surgeon to take out your appendix. I fell asleep, and then I woke up without an appendix and went home.

But here’s the thing, the moral of this ridiculously long story:

I never would have gone to the emergency room for the stomach pain. If Monday wasn’t a holiday, I would have gone to work. My pain was annoying and persistent, but not excruciating. My appendix would have ruptured, which would have been a million times worse. My grandma almost died years ago from a ruptured appendix.

I only went to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack. I still have no idea what the weird feelings in my chest and arm were—maybe I imagined it, maybe my bra was too tight, who knows. Maybe it was my guardian angel’s way of getting me to the hospital, since I clearly wasn’t concerned enough about the stomach pain.

My point is, pay attention to your body, and listen to it. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out. Don’t keep putting it off, and don’t think you’re being silly. It never, ever crossed my mind that I could have appendicitis.

The end. Finally. And I’m finally feeling better, after spending the rest of the week at home and then struggling through the next week. That five minute procedure sure is tough to recover from.

The flowers in the picture up there? Those were from my coworkers. The longest-living flowers ever brightened up my kitchen for weeks. Also, get-well cards: several arrived in the mail, totally unexpected and super sweet. People really need to send more snail mail.

4 Responses to “People, listen to your body: My night in the emergency room”

  1. Cayce says:

    That is the same thing that happened to my Mom. She wasn’t feeling herself for months and then suddenly thought she was having a heart attack, called an ambulance to the ER and had her appendix removed! That is crazy! So glad you are on the mend!

    • Debbi says:

      So late replying to this, but thank you for the comment! I’m glad to know I wasn’t crazy. I’m also intrigued that your mom didn’t feel well for months… the pain I had when I went to the ER was the same stomach pain I’d had months before, so I wonder if appendix pain can be mild and linger?

  2. sherryemerson says:

    So, you know what my life is like, just now catching up on my favorite blogs…

    but, hey, I had something similar!

    Tim was leaving for China (before we had kids) and I was pretending like all the vomiting from my “stomach flu” was no big deal.

    My mom randomly called me from Colorado and said she had a bad feeling that I had appendicitis. I was like, um, okay, mom. Thank you but it’s probably just a stomach virus or bad gas.

    Next thing I knew Tim’s mom showed up after dropping him and his brother at the airport and said, “Get in the car. We’re going to the ER.”

    I was so embarrassed. I had zero pain. My white blood cell count was normal. I was just experiencing nausea more than anything else.

    Hours passed. Test after test. Finally, Tim’s mom asked a nurse what she thought. She said appendicitis.

    About 25 signatures later they went in with a scope then immediately rushed to remove my appendix, which was rupturing upon removal. Later we learned my white blood cell count is typically very low making it difficult to detect an elevation.

    Crazy how some people think they are always sick while others insist they are always fine. With palm to forehead, I can totally relate.

    Glad you’re okay!

    • Debbi says:

      OMG! How scary! So glad the moms were looking out for you! It IS crazy how this appendicitis thing works… I had no nausea whatsoever, but if I’d been in a situation like yours, I’d have been the same way– thinking everything was fine. I felt dumb going to the ER with mine, but I’m glad I did!

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