I’ve always been a Type A, cover-every-base-twice, kind of girl. You could argue this is genetic since Mom and Dad are the same way. Ivan originally fell somewhere on the Type B spectrum, but the past five years have convinced him that our best shot at “normal” life requires anticipating – and eliminating – potential hazards.
As most of you know, my seizures have stabilized enough over the past year for us to buy our own place, even though that means we no longer live down the street from my parents. I knew enough to keep myself safe until Mom could finish the twelve-minute drive, we reasoned. And VCS and Hillside were only seven minutes away if I were really in trouble. But last Monday we discovered none of us had anticipated a run-of-the-mill emergency.
Last Monday, I woke up at midnight with a stomachache. It’s been at least six years since I had a true stomach virus, so I’d forgotten what the average bug feels like. I also have an unusually high tolerance for pain, which persuaded me that my virus probably wasn’t bad.
By 8 am I was more nauseated but still determined I was okay, so Ivan texted Mom to be on standby (even a cold can trigger surprise seizures) and went to work like usual.
10 am found me growing suspicious of my little bug, so I called Mom for an objective opinion:
“You remember that thing you had a few weeks ago – that thing where you got nauseated every time you ate?”
“Yes! I was up and about every morning after a couple hours…Do you think you have that?”
“Did you have a stomachache?”
“Like by your right hip?”
Silence for a minute.
“That would sound kind of bad to me…except you’re still talking like normal. I’ve heard that appendicitis hits people like a wave. I think you’d be doubled over by now, barely able to get a word out. Why don’t you go back to bed and give me another update in a few minutes.”
I hung up and lowered myself tentatively into bed. Something was definitely wrong with my stomach. When my phone timer went off twenty minutes later, I couldn’t sit up.
It took Mom, Dad, and Ivan to get me out of bed, into the travel chair, and down the sidewalk. Looking back, I believe my main motivation for surviving the twenty-yard trek was to skip the ambulance fee – plus any possible embarrassment should this turn out to be a bad stomachache after all.
We arrived at Kaiser around 12:30 pm, only to discover that the real battle had just begun. My brain injury allows me to bring a caregiver with me in spite of Covid – a special providence since I was nonverbal from pain and I can’t always think straight under stress, even in normal life. But the brain injury that typically pushes me past triage during neuro emergencies suddenly seemed to work against me for a “routine” emergency. The nurse seemed to think that a TBI patient signaling her pain was at a 9/10 could mean anything – even after Ivan assured them that I usually under-reported pain. How could they know I didn’t cry like a baby every time my stomach hurt? For our parts, we didn’t know that appendicitis usually occurs in teens and young adults, so I was actually a bit old for the infection.
They finally called my name around 4 pm. I’d been doubled over in the waiting room for over three hours.
Thankfully, my situation improved once the CT scan showed a very inflamed appendix. My attending doctor ordered surgery immediately; although this involved waiting until the OR opened at 8 pm, at least the next few hours included a warm bed, antibiotics, and pain medicine. Surgery finished at 10:30 pm and I was discharged at 12:30 am.
As Ivan posted last week, we really appreciate your prayers during the surgery. Appendectomies are routine, but general anesthesia is risky for me since it can cause blood clots and I’ve had two strokes and a brain injury, and also take several seizure medications. Anesthesia can impact “cognitive rebound” post-surgery as well: it was a couple of days before I could complete a simple task like writing an email to ask for homework extensions or walk down the hall without wobbling.
This post would be remiss if I didn’t thank my wonderful family for their support. Things look a bit different since we no longer live in the same neighborhood and I could only have one “caregiver” at a time in the hospital, but everyone jumped in to keep things going, as usual. From the group effort to get to the ER, to Mom staying with me pre-op, to Dad waiting at our condo until 1 am to help get me inside, we couldn’t have survived those twenty-five hours without them. Special thanks also go to Anna and Robert for hopping on grocery duty later in the week, and to Ivan’s family for their prayers.
This past week has been a good lesson that “no emergency is routine when it’s happening to you,” as Dad likes to say. The 3-6 week recovery window seemed like no big deal when I was still loopy in the post-op room, but it now feels like a very big deal as I watch Ivan checking off all my chores from his daily planner and thank Mom for yet another pot of chicken noodle soup (nausea is a thing!)
Moving forward, I hope I’ll be slower to say “That doesn’t sound too terrible” when I hear about someone else’s ER run. God might be reminding my prideful side that a lot of pain has nothing to do with being hit by a car.