My Very Own Emergency Surgery

Well then.  This type of thing just doesn’t happen to me.  It happens to others.

Until Thursday night, that is.

Part I: Introduction and Setting the Stage

I’m writing this for two reasons.  First, I’m a writer/blogger and this is how I cope with things. This is my therapy.  Second, to document it, either for people who are curious as to what the symptoms are, what to expect after you go the E.R., or for people who are just curious to know how we spent this 18 hour period.

I’ll start with the week’s plans.

This week I had what I call my January 17th webinar.  This was on the new LinkedIn Profile. I decided to do this webinar myself, and charge people, instead of recording it for another company and making a flat amount or a percentage.   This took a LOT of work, including letting people know about it (marketing), keeping track of sales and getting people receipts and info to get on the webinar. I was blessed to have this webinar qualify for CEU credit, which is awesome on many levels.  It was one of my busiest times at work, ever.  Lots of thinking, preparing, tracking, follow-up, etc.

Combine that webinar with a “staycation” my wife had been planning for a while.  We “dished out”  our kids to friends Wednesday morning (they come back tonight, which is Saturday), and we had a lot of plans.  We actually did about 1/2 of what we had planned, including dejunking our storage room which has in desperate need of attention and catching up on movies Kaisie got from the library.

Combine those big things with essentially being out of a kitchen.  About a year and a half ago we put “fake wood” (aka, laminate) in our main level.  It was a big, expensive job, and we have generally loved it.  Moving away from carpet was easily the right decision for our home.  A few months ago we noticed some movement and buckling by the fridge, and long story short, found out we had a slow leak on the water line that goes to the fridge’s ice maker.  That leak found it’s way under the fake wood (which is like compressed cardboard, really). I tore it up and for about 6 – 8 weeks we’ve had our floor go to about 8 feet of the fridge, which left an ugly subfloor.  Not a horrible thing but subfloor looks like it is more porous and we are a very active kitchen family.  We were concerned about how long this could go on, contamination, cleaning, etc.  After doing some research we decided to engage a friend to put in decorative, or stained, concrete.  Why am I telling you this?  Because our kitchen has been moved to our living room for the last two weeks.  No sink, no working oven… just a fridge and microwave, and a small pile of dishes that my wife will run to a neighbor’s house to clean.  If you’ve ever done anything like that you know how being without a kitchen (and without the living space in your living room because that’s where your cabinets, oven, fridge, etc. are) is a major pain.

Regardless, we were excited to have our weekend to ourselves.

Thursday night (I did the webinar in the morning, and another webinar for UCLA at 1pm) we put in a movie.  Then we put in another movie and we both fell asleep. I had “heartburn” or something from eating (not sharing) a big Olive Garden lunch, and then for dinner we scrounged up some frozen Jimmy Dean sausage patty sandwiches — so a day of lots of fat that I’m not normally used to. But no big deal… I thought.

Part II: Symptoms of Death and Prolongued Immense Physical Pain

At 12:30 am Kaisie woke me and said she had fallen asleep too, and let’s go up to bed so we could sleep well.  We went up but when I laid down my “heartburn” wasn’t any better.  Weirdly, it was worse. I put on some DoTerra essential oils and took pepto-bismol and tried to sit or walk around as the pain started to get worse.

I had this painful sensation in November while I was a webinar.  It was a very hard pain right below my sternum, about the size of a softball.  I don’t remember if it was a sharp pain or a dull pain but it was big and really intense.  On my webinar I excused myself thinking I had some serious gas (I hear that many times this pain is just gas), and tried to take care of that for about ten minutes.  Fortunately, the people on my webinar could wait, even though I didn’t tell them I was in immense pain.

That happened and I didn’t think anything of it after that. Just bad gas, I thought.

Another symptom that I always wondered about but usually ignored has happened over the last two or three years.  I would be walking (never sitting, laying, lifting something, just walking straight) and I would feel something like a spear go through my back, through my lower ribs.  It was really, really sharp and intense, but it would only last for a few seconds, then go away for weeks or months.  I knew it was something but it was so irregular and quick that I wasn’t interested in paying for a doctor to say “Hm, I’m not sure, but you can pay $85 on the way out :) .”

On Thursday at 12:30 am I didn’t think of either of these things.  I just thought I was having bad gas OR needed a bowel movement (sorry but this is a medical post.  And if that bothers you, get this book for yourself).  Ten minutes passed, then twenty, then thirty, and the pain wasn’t going away. It stayed very intense, so of course I got online to see what it might be.

That was a MISTAKE!

I searched for “burst appendix,” because I wanted to know what that really was, and I heard it is fatal.  I was looking at the symptoms of burst appendix, thinking “I don’t want to die in my basement tonight… that would ruin my wife’s morning :/”  Luckily she was out like a light, getting the rest she needed, which is what I wanted her to do while I was in my pain (I like to be in immense physical pain by myself).

Appendicitis symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen. Mine was in the upper gut.  BUT sometimes the pain starts in the upper abdomen and moves down and to the right (where the appendix is). I was becoming hyper-sensitive to where the pain was, was it moving, etc.  So far it was just staying in one place.

Other symptoms: was nauseous?  Not really.  Did I have gas that wouldn’t pass or was it hard to urinate?  No.  Other symptoms? Not really.  Hopefully not a burst appendix, YET.

The night went on and the pain was so intense I was in fetal positions around the basement… from my office desk to the beanbag to leaning against the couch…walking, fetal, walking, fetal, walking, fetal.

And then it happened.  I got the feeling to throw up.  It was the hardest throw-up session I’ve ever had.  It was like dry heaving, and I knew I had stuff in my stomach, but nothing would come out.  It was like my stomach said “GET OUT!” and my throat said “we’re closed!”    The pain of trying to get it out with the pain of keeping it in, and my brain was like “dudes, let’s do this … get it out!”  I was trying to talk my throat into cooperating.  It hurt very bad.

Worse than that pain was knowing the symptoms of the fatal appendix burst was vomiting.  Now I had two symptoms of appendicitis :( .

I was getting scared.  Partially because I didn’t want to have a physical problem this major, and partially because I knew it was going to be expensive. (I wrote about the actual expenses here)

At about 2:20 am, after struggling by myself and getting more concerned about not dying before my wife woke up, I knew it was time. I called the Emergency Room (ER) with two questions.

First, with my pain, what can you tell me?  What am I looking for and when should I really come in.  He “couldn’t tell me” over the phone, but said if I was concerned then they were there and would be happy to look at me.  Strike one.

My next question was how much money should I expect to pay?  Hundreds of dollars?  Thousands of dollars?  Again, he said he had NO idea.  I would just have to come in.  Strike two.

I didn’t want to have a strike three.  After about 10 minutes of realizing where I was at, and prayer, I knew it was time to get Kaisie.

I knew how she would react (“Let’s go!” without any judgement), but I was still nervous. I really didn’t want to go to, and pay for, the emergency room!

I went upstairs, opened the door.  ”Are you okay?” she asked.  ”No. I think I need to go to the emergency room.”

And with that, we were off.  My wife knows I’m not one to voluntarily ask to go to the E.R., and if I say something like that then it’s serious.  After more than two hours of struggling alone I was relieved to know that if it was serious, I wasn’t alone anymore, and we were going to go to the right place to get this taken care of.

I can’t undermine the pain of those last two hours, but I know others have, and do, struggle worse.  I’m amazed at how much physical pain there is in this world and it makes me grateful for the people who are compassionate and help alleviate pain (mental, physical, spiritual, etc.).

Part III: Leaving Home and going into Surgery

What do you do to get ready to go to the emergency room?  I don’t know.  We weren’t necessarily rushing out because I wasn’t dire just yet.  I got my phone and charger and stayed in my comfortable clothes (pajama bottoms, walking shoes, and a church sweater.  I did not look cool. I almost changed, but quickly  thought “I DON’T CARE.”  Goofy clothes it as.

After Kaisie got dressed and grabbed her purse, we were off.

Then I dropped the bomb on her.

I said “I want to go to Jordan Valley,” which is an older hospital that is kind of close to us, and where we have had our hospital experiences (2 kids born there,  and two non-kid surgeries).  I’ve always liked Jordan Valley with their bedside manner and staff, and they have a 50% off policy for self-pay (which is what we are).

The minor dilemma is that we just got a new big hospital, an IHC regional hospital, just minutes from our house.  Do we get there FAST, which means the IHC hospital, or do we go to the hospital that I feel more comfortable with and loyal to, and the one that will work with us financially?

My wife was said she would go to either one, but I knew deep down she just wanted to get me to the closest E.R. and not spend the extra 10 minutes driving to Jordan Valley.  She later told me it was one of the longest times of her life, as I was moaning and writhing in pain next to her on that long trip.  I felt bad for acting that way but it was how I could try to cope with the pain.

We get to the emergency doors at Jordan Valley and I walk in while she parks the van. I get to the reception desk and the lady asks me walk a few more steps so I could sit down to check in.  I thought those last few steps where horrible and wished she could have just done it right there…

She asks my name, which I could barely get out.  She asks me to fill out the paper and I could barely scribble my name.  I was in the right place but the pain and some emotion had overtaken me.  If that wasn’t sign enough for her, when she put the thermometer in my mouth I pulled the garbage can from under her desk to throw up.

Now I was communicating well!  My body language was saying “please don’t make me wait in a room for hours before someone checks on me.” That’s how I perceive emergency rooms… you wait and wait and wait for hours.  But with my vomiting and inability to write or talk, they got the message :)

In my room the first nurse (an EMT) took blood but couldn’t hit a vein for the IV.  So he got another nurse. As I continued to moan I felt bad that he thought it was because of his continual attempts to get the IV in (aka, digging around), but that was nothing compared to my belly pain that was not letting up.  His needle prodding was like petting a bunny, in comparison the other pain I was feeling.  Give me bad needles all day long compared to that tummy pain.

At this point we still had no idea what the problem was. I was thinking it was appendicitis.  My moans didn’t help my wife, who was in that horrible place of feeling completely helpless and you just want to say “get all the doctors down here and fix this, NOW!!”

Finally, I got the IV from another nurse. I remember he had a camouflage  shirt. I thought that was weird, but you know, didn’t care too much at the time.   He was good and quick and got the vein (in my bicep, not my elbow-pit) so he could give me 5 units of Morphine.

Morphine.  You know, in movies this is the drug they give to people on the battlefield who have serious wounds, and they need relief immediately.  Morphine, I thought, was top-of-the-line.

Five units wasn’t touching the pain.  It didn’t make one difference.  They gave me another five. Then another five.   Then another five.  With four times the original amount, and no pain relief, I wondered if I was resistant to morphine??

They then gave me something else, which is a man-made (synthetic) morphine, 10 times as powerful.  The pain went from what I’ll call a 10 to a 4 or a 5… so it helped, but the 4 or 5 still hurt really bad.  Apparently by this time I was in and out.

Right before I was to be wheeled to the operating room two angels (that is, two men who I would like to consider best friends) came to give me a “blessing.”  I know many of you do not share the same religion as I do, although you have faith in something.  A blessing is when two priesthood holders follow instruction from the bible and current revelation, anoint your head with oil (like in the bible), and lay their hands on your head (like in the bible), and pray to God (like in the bible).  This is a comforting thing, but it can also come with healing powers, whether for your body (like the healings that happened in the bible) or to help the doctors and nurses be inspired.  If you want to know more just ask…  I include this because this brought tremendous comfort to me and my wife.

Finally, my bed was being wheeled to the operating room area.  I remember thinking, as I was getting wheeled down the hallways, that  it looks totally different than in the movies.  My other thought was “where’s Kaisie?” I knew she was close but I wanted to see her AND I wanted to see that she was okay.  She didn’t need to comfort me, but just seeing her would have comforted me.  I wasn’t scared, though.

We then went into “the room” where they have you sign papers and tell you what is going to happen.  This was the same room where Kaisie was when she had her last surgery.

Then, I was wheeled to the operating room.  They asked me to scoot from the bed to the operating table.  I was thinking “are you freaking serious?” I didn’t feel up to scooting.  Why should the guy in immense pain and on narcotics have to be the one scooting?  In the movies they pull you over… :)  AND, the operating table seemed like it was for skinny people :P

Alas, I scooted.  And they put something in my IV. And I felt the icy liquid go through my arm and shoulder and then I didn’t care about anything.  The ice going through my veins was a neat sensation and I wondered how much more I would feel. I thought the anesthesiologist would talk to me and ask me questions so he could figure out when I was out. But he didn’t talk to me at all. That drug put me under within 5 seconds.  I was OUT.

This was my first time in surgery (except when I was six months old when I had surgery on my head) and I was relishing all of these experiences.  I’m grateful for the systems and technology and knowledge that has gone into this type of procedure.

Part IV: Post Operation

I’m not sure where I woke up. I think I remember being wheeled to my recovery room and hearing it was room 322 (“322″ I thought, “we should tell people I’ll be in 322!”). I don’t remember, though.  Kaisie was told “I was a fighter” when I came up from the anesthetics.  I wish I could have a video of that.

I do remember the recovery nurse (or whoever he was) trying to get me to breathe.  Of all the things I had to do, I didn’t want to breathe.  It was so laborious. I know breathing is important but it was really hard, and I just wanted to sleep.

So he tried to do stuff to get me to breathe through my nose, where the oxygen tubes were. I kept dozing off and the nurse and my wife would wake me up and say “breathe through your nose.”  What the heck is so important about nose breathing, I thought?  Just let me take a little nap and I’ll breathe later, okay?

I was joking about things, I remember, because Kaisie said “well, he’s got his sense of humor back… he’s getting back to normal.”  I had very little sense of humor a few hours earlier.

The joke I remember was when I said “I feel sorry for this guys wife!”, about the nurse trying to get me to breathe through my nose.  He was such a nag.  My comment was funny to me, and I hope it was funny to him. I recognize that his job was to get me healthy and I sure appreciated his role, even if I didn’t want to breathe just then :p

We were in that room for about 14 hours, from 7am to about 9pm.  For what seemed like a few hours, after the guy had left, Kaisie took over the whole “breathe in through your nose!” thing.  It was not fun, but I had to do it.  I also had this breathing exercise thing where I inhaled through a tube and a blue ball/disc would go up the tube.  The goal was to get it up in one inhale.  I still can’t do it but it felt good to try.  The purpose of this thing was to exercise the lungs, considering you do a lot of laying around.  I think someone said it prevents pneumonia.

I was in a hospital gown and really didn’t care about being naked.  No concern at all.

I had these really cool white cast-like things on my legs from my ankles to my knees.  About every 30 seconds or so they would fill up with air and compress my calves.  I think this was to get the blood moving since I wouldn’t be walking much.  I LOVED these.  We actually got to take these home, but don’t have the air pump.  The nurse said some people love them, some people hate them.

One of the hardest things to do was to pee.  I was laying in bed with a “urinal” where I was supposed to pee.  I had oxygen in my nose, an oxygen monitor on my finger, an IV in my arm, and the leg things. They gave me this portable “urinal” since it’s supposedly easier to just pee in that than unhook everything and walk to the bathroom.

I think I spent about an hour having a conversation with my brain: “No really, it’s okay to pee in bed.  Everyone does it.”  My brain/subconscious: “DO NOT pee in bed!  Remember that’s a bad thing?  Where do you pee?  In the hole!” (that’s what tell my three year old: you pee in the hole (aka toilet)

My subconscious won the argument.  No matter how logical or charming I was, my body would not pee in bed.  So we unhooked everything and as soon as I was in the bathroom my body was like “YEAH!  We won!  Don’t tell us how or where to pee!”

Too much information, I’m sure, but it was an interesting inner dialog.  In the end, I got what I wanted: an empty bladder!  Considering that’s the only bladder I have, now, I want it to feel right :)

Kaisie went to the pharmacy where she stole a moment to call the kids and update them.  She said waiting for the narcotics to be fulfilled was a very long wait.

While she was gone I got my dinner.  It was okay, but nothing I’m anxious to get back to.  The menu was rich, but I wasn’t in the mood for that food.  I ate all the vegetables (might as well turn over a new leaf) and the chocolate pudding, but the “Asian stir-fry” and the “clam chowder” didn’t do it for me. I’m guessing that was a high-fat diet, which surprised me.

Kaisie called the finance office and learned that we could stay until 7am the next day, and after that we would be charged another $1,300 (that is after applying 50% off).  That made us feel good about leaving that evening! I just had to have my oxygen ”past 90,” which means:

My finger monitor was a device that helped measure how much oxygen I had in my body.  When I was on narcotics/anesthetics, or sleeping, it dropped below 90.  When I walked to and from the bathroom it was up to around 95.  When I sucked on the lung exerciser it was between 92 and 95.  BUT I still had oxygen coming in through the pipes in my nose.  They wanted to ween me off of that and have me still above 90.  Around 7pm I took the oxygen off and was able to stay over 90, except when I dozed off.  Long story short, I was finally above the 90s on my own, and that was the last thing I needed before I could leave.

I remember asking the nurse why I had a flemmy cough, which I didn’t have before (although I had just recovered from the flu).  He said it was because I was intubated.  That means they put a tube down my throat to help me breath during surgery.

I asked why I had a horrible pain on the right side of my chest.  That, he said, is the gas they put in my body when they do laparoscopy… basically they put this gas in my belly between my guts and my skin so their cameras and tools can move around easier.

I remember Kaisie had this pain but wow!  It is seriously painful.  It’s more painful than my incisions.  Right now I can’t lay down or the gas makes it impossible to breath.  I hear it goes away over the next few days.

We got home, slept well, and Kaisie left at 7:40 to get the kids to their stuff. Taylor was supposed to have a make-up birthday party since we all had the flu during her birthday, but that is now moved.  Poor girl.  All the anticipation is really building up, though.

The surgeon said he pulled out a three inch gall stone.  Apparently this was big.  Most sites say your gall bladder is about three t0 four inches, so this stone was hogging up all the room in the bladder.  And, there were other stones and and all the regular gunk in there. Crowded :)

I have entered the “one bladder per person” club.  Here’s to a speedy recovery. I’m sure my wife has more memories that I’m not including here. I’m just glad to be on this side of the ER, since we know what the problem was and that it’s not a problem anymore.

FINALLY

It’s been amazing and emotional to get the outreach that I have gotten, from friends, neighbors, colleagues.  I’ve definitely felt loved and appreciated these last few days (more than normal).  I love my kids, my wife, and my extended family. I always have but you know how things like this make it easier to get your priorities right…

 

 

18 Responses to “My Very Own Emergency Surgery”

  1. Recruiting Animal Says:

    Jason, this is amazing to me. It’s hard for me to imagine that you put off treatment for so long because of financial concerns. We never have to worry about how much a doctor’s visit is going to cost. And I thought the emergency dept in the USA was free. I’m not saying you were wrong. You’ve got a family and you have to budget. I’m just saying it’s surprising to someone from Toronto like me.

  2. Susan Says:

    Jason–As someone who has had eight surgeries and was last in the ER just a few months ago, I totally get it. And I am so sorry you went through is. Every time I have a medical issue, I think: “I hope no one else has to go through this.” Hang in there and get better soon. Oh, and there are some good self-insurance policies out there but you’ve probably already investigated that…

  3. Jason Says:

    @Animal, interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing. My initial “put it off” was because I thought it was heartburn, or bad gas, and it would be corrected soon. Within the two hours (I didn’t realize 2 hours had passed) and after I vomited (a symptom of the bad stuff) I knew it was something serious, or serious enough to go to the E.R.

    One thought was financial but it wasn’t the main thing that made me wait, I just didn’t realize how serious it was.

    I’ve heard stories that many men think they are having a heart attack when in fact they just have a lot of gas. But there came a point where it was time to go, and when that time came, there was no second guessing. :)

    BTW, ER visits are not free :p

  4. Jason Says:

    @Susan, thanks for your thoughts. We’ve investigated the self-insurance route but it’s a beast and hasn’t worked out yet. Still trying. Going through this isn’t “fun” at all but I had some great experiences with people.

  5. Chip Hartman Says:

    Jason … Always distressing to learn that a friend has had to go under the knife for this or that. On the flip side, I’m sure you’re thrilled to be one gallstone lighter and it sounds like you did quite well in the Recovery Room, which, based on my own surgical experiences, is roughly equivalent to Hell. You know the feeling: When you first start to re-gain consciousness, your body hasn’t quite caught up to your brain even though your brain is telling you that all the vital body parts are still there, and nothing was left behind in the OR. You have the mental acuity of a fruit fly and who the hell are all these people walking by your gurney dressed in white, anyway? Do they work here? Oh yeah … I’m in a hospital! And sucking on ice chips finally puts enough h2o back into your system for you to realize: Damn! I’ve still got to PAY for all of this!

    Wishing you a smooth recovery. One word of caution: If you should ever have double-hernia surgery, try not to get stuck with a roommate who likes to crack very funny jokes. The pain is excruciating.

    Chip

  6. Emergency Surgery / Taking Care of Business | JibberJobber Blog Says:

    [...] About 12 hours after I finished that I was headed to the emergency room, in intense pain.  I was quickly whisked away to the operating room where I became a one-bladder man.  You can read about it here. [...]

  7. Preparing For The Worst In Your Career / Job Search :: Career-Resumes® :: Former resume expert for Monster.com Says:

    [...] week I was unexpectedly taken to the emergency room and shorty after taken into surgery. I was not prepared. I remember thinking “these pajama bottoms don’t match my [...]

  8. Susan Whitcomb Says:

    So glad you’re home and that this was a “one-and-done” situation. Having been recently sick myself, it makes one appreciative/in-awe of those who deal with daily pain and uncertain medical outcomes. Bless you!

  9. Sophie Lagacé Says:

    Hey, I’m glad the ordeal is over, or at least that you’re in recovery mode (I’m sure you still feel banged up!) Hurray for modern medicine. Get better soon!

  10. George Main Says:

    Jason,

    I am sorry to learn about your surgery and happy to learn the surgery went well!

    Your description of a “staycation” is interesting. I am reading about anxiety reduction research that suggests an exciting vacation away from home may not be best solution. We can get relaxed and regenerated when we feel in control in familiar places doing familiar activities.

    Thank you for the Staycation promotion!

    My best regards,

    George

  11. Nancy Fink Says:

    So glad you are on the mend… and that your wit is as sharp as ever.

  12. Jason Says:

    @Nancy, for the record, I wrote that while medicated… I’m guessing my wit was impaired. Still working on getting that back :p

  13. Joanne Cox Says:

    Jason, wishing you a speedy and complete recovery. Gallstone? Can we say gall-boulder!? You excel in everything you do! :)

  14. Lisa Raufman Says:

    You have a high tolerance for pain! (It sounded more like pain than gas in the last 6 months of descriptions.)

    Glad you are better! And glad it was not a heart attack!

  15. Carrie Wilkey Says:

    Jason –
    So glad you are feeling better! I had undiagnosed gallstones for over 10 years! The pain was terrible, so I can totally relate to your experience.
    Happy and fast healing!

  16. Sally Lindberg Says:

    Hey, Jason!
    I have finally had time to read your experience and, while I laughed out loud in some parts, there were a lot of “ohhhh, poor Jason and Kaisie moments” too! I’ve been in your “walking” shoes, so know your pain and am so glad you are on this side of it. You have been blessed with a rich sense of humor, a wonderful ability to observe the ludicrous nature of health care (“just hop on over here”…uh, my hopper is broken), and a great ability to recover. Hope you are totally well soon!

  17. Linda Van Valkenburgh Says:

    Hi Jason – I am glad this is behind you! You told the story so well! You had me laughing many times – and truly, most importantly – worried for you. I had gall bladder surgery when my first born was 9 months old. The episodes started when I was 4 months pregnant with him. No one could figure out what my pain was all about! It was debilitating. I am so glad you are well – hopefully the total charges are not “out of sight” I think you should have lots of ice cream and breakfast in bed! (Nice job, Kaisie!!!)

  18. What Does Emergency Gall Bladder Surgery Cost (aka: health costs when unemployed or self insured or as an entrepreneur) | JibberJobber Blog Says:

    [...] can read the entire story here (I need to clean it up because I wrote it when I was on narcotics… it doesn’t read as [...]

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