Friday, May 8, 2020

My First Surgery: Appendicitis During Quarantine

The whole situation began Thursday night, when I had some pains that I assumed were just gas from the spicy Italian sausage I used to make spaghetti with. I climbed into bed extra early (by 8 PM) and watched a little Grey's before falling asleep.  Ever since they took Friends off of Netflix, Grey's has become my new bedtime show. That night I dreamed I was in the hospital with the Grey's characters. Premonition???

Maybe I should go to the ER?

I woke up with a stomach-ache right in the middle of my belly, near my belly-button. It wasn't terrible, but uncomfortable enough that I had to literally hold my stomach as I walked to sit down in my chair in the living room. Despite having a tray of cupcakes sitting on the counter, my appetite was zero. My stomach began to feel better, but still felt off. The uncomfortableness was very mild, and had shifted to the right side of my stomach. "Oh crap, my appendix." was my thought. So, I did what any responsible sick person would do - hit up WebMD.

Symptoms of Appendicitis
Pain starting in belly-button area ✔
Pain in right side of stomach ✔
Mild fever ✔
Loss of appetite ✔

I figured if I thought it was appendicitis, it wouldn't actually end up being appendicitis. But just in case, I did the dishes, took out my jewelry, made sure my water pitcher was full and bed was ready to be crawled into, and packed a small hospital bag just in case. We had a faculty Zoom at 12:30, so I figured if I still felt bad after that, I would make an appointment with the On-Site Clinic.

After our Zoom I still had a 99.7 fever, so I made a teledoc appointment. I knew if it was appendicitis there was nothing they could do for me, but I'd rather have some sort of free confirmation that I should go to the ER rather than just show up there and pay a bunch of money to be told I was fine.

Sure enough, after explaining my symptoms to the doctor he told me there was nothing he could do and that I needed to go to the ER for a CT. Cue the first round of tears. I knew it was a possibility, but this started to make it real. He asked if he needed to schedule ambulance transportation for me, and with dollar signs flashing in front of my bulging eyes, I told him I could get myself there. I hung up, closed my windows and blinds, grabbed my hospital bag, and headed out the door. (Luckily I had googled where the ER was two weeks prior because I realized it should be something that I was familiar with just in case of an emergency. Another premonition??)

Then, the real adventure began.

In order to enter the ER, there was someone at the front door taking temperatures. They screened you for COVID symptoms, and did not allow children in as visitors.

I signed in and was wheeled off to an ER room where two lovely nurses named Hannah and Olivia came in to draw blood for some tests. What should have been a five minute blood test took an hour. I got in there at 3:45 and they finished drawing blood somewhere around 5 PM. Not because they needed a lot, just because my veins were not cooperating. I was very dehydrated (I hadn't eaten or drank anything minus a sip of Gatorade and piece of toast that morning) and every time they got a needle in, my vein would collapse. Also, my heart rate sky-rocked to 140+ every time they tried to stick me, sending the heart monitor into a beeping frenzy. I DO NOT DO NEEDLES, Y'ALL. Though the nurses did promise me that they would find me at the next Jazz and buy me a drink and I am holding them to that!

I had seven pieces of gauze taped up and down my arms when the nurses decided to go get Todd, the master blood retriever and IV putter-inner.  Sure enough, he got it in one go! (Next time I am asking for Todd straight away). After the blood was drawn, they immediately hooked me up to three bags of fluids via IV and told me they would need to get a urine sample once I had some fluids in me. 

At around 6, I text my friend to let her know I was in the ER waiting on a blood test. I figured someone should know where I was, but I didn't want to tell my parents yet in case it was nothing. At this point they wheeled me in my ER bed down the hallway to get a CT. I remember thinking, "Wow, this feels really over-dramatic...don't they know I can walk??"

This was my first CT scan also. It felt really weird to have the glowy fluid (not the technical term!) float down through my body so they could see my organs. It was quick and painless and I was wheeled back to my ER room in no time.

Eventually I had to get them a urine sample, but due to COVID procedures, I couldn't go to the bathroom. They had portable potties in each room! You had to pee in a bowl in a little contraption thingy! I was amused.

At 7, a lady came into the room to let me know that my appendix was inflamed and she would go call the surgeon. Cue tears, round two. You know why I don't do needles? Because I don't do pain. I mean I know that nobody likes pain, but knowing pain is coming TERRIFIES me. (I just googled the term, Algophobia - fear of pain. It took me two hours to get my ears pieced when I was nine because I was so scared).

At this point I called home. Dad answered the phone with, "Now what?" (Because they are use to getting phone calls for bizarre reasons from me). I spoke with my parents and they asked if I wanted them to come down, and through another round of tears I said I would be fine, I had plenty of people to take care of me if I needed it. I knew my fear was irrational and that I would be fine. Grey's, which like WebMD is what I base my medical knowledge off of, has taught me that appies are quick, easy procedures!

Then I called Angel to fill her in again, and she asked (read: told) me I could stay with them until I was healed up. I said I would think about it and let her know. Mom called me and told me I had to. (This is one of those times when I admit that mom was right).

To the hospital!

A little after 9 I was wheeled out of the ER room in my bed up to a hospital room where I transferred beds. I was really surprised to find that I was sharing a room with another girl. I thought they would keep people more segregated during COVID, and the hospital seemed to be pretty dead. I still had no idea when surgery was going to take place and was very anxious about it all. (Knowing the procedure was so easy an intern could do it was not reassuring enough for me. I knew the anxiety would not go away until the whole thing was over). Another nurse, Heather, eventually came in to get my information and said that my surgery would probably take place in the morning and that since there were no elective surgeries scheduled they should be able to squeeze me in early.

To no ones surprise, I slept like crap. Partially because 4 AM was a normal quarantine bed time for me. Partially because I was anxious. Partially because the girl in the room with me blasted Facetime at 1 AM and I forgot to pack my headphones. Also with all the IV fluids they were still putting in me, I was dragging the IV rack thingy to the bathroom every hour, on the hour. I would tell you how many times I got up to pee, but in the words of one Cady Heron:

Upvote "The Limit Does Not Exist" from Mean Girls for that THICCCC ...

I was kept company through the night by a mix of Mayday Parade and Lady A's newest album. I think I could have had visitor's and many friends offered (Thank you!!) but honestly it never crossed my mind. I appreciated the offers but I think I would have felt like I had to entertain and how the heck do you do that in a hospital?? 

The next day...

By 5 AM when the nurse came in I was about ready to lose my mind. I had been in bed for nearly 13 hours and I didn't even have a book. She said the surgeon was an early bird and was always in the hospital by 6:30 AM on weekdays, usually not much later on weekends. When they switched nurses a couple hours later, she said the same. My Saturday nurse was amazing. Her name was Sheldon and if I could pick her as my nurse for the rest of my life, I would.

Finally, a little after ten, Sheldon told me that the nurses from surgery were going to come get me, I told her I would believe it when I see it. After 18 hours in bed, I didn't think I would ever get to leave it. Sure enough, not fifteen minutes later they showed up and told me they were taking me to the recovery room to get me ready, at which point I started to cry again. They re-assured me that everything was going to be fine. I re-assured them that I knew everything was going to be fine but my body was going to cry anyway and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The whole way down the hallway the nurses told me good luck, it will be over before you know it, etc. (Note: I am VERY chatty when I get anxious like this. Everyone who knew of my existence in this hospital knew I was terrified and was going to cry about it. They also knew that I couldn't wait to eat tacos again.).

Once downstairs, the nurses explained to me what was going to happen. I asked a lot of questions and made sure they would not put a catheter in me and that going to the bathroom wouldn't hurt afterwards. I said I needed to use the bathroom right before surgery because I had to go every hour and they told me I would have to use a bedpan afterwards because I wouldn't be allowed to get up and walk to the bathroom due to anesthesia (which I didn't love the idea of, but I'm all for new experiences - I didn't end up having to though). They took my vitals again and hooked me up to the heart monitor, which once again I kept setting off. Because I was so anxious, my heart rate was constantly up. I truly don't think it dropped below 100 BPM the whole time I was in the ER/hospital until after surgery, which was only causing me more anxiety.

I made friends with the nurses in the recovery area too. They gave me some new places to explore around Tennessee and showed me pictures of some cool hiking places. We talked about everything from tacos to my stance on marriage. They promised me that when I woke up they would be there and do a little dance for me as I woke up. I promised them that I would never be returning to the hospital for surgery again and especially would not be having children because nothing about this process was something I wanted to repeat.

Eventually the surgeon came and introduced himself as Dr. Pischl. The nurses told me he was the head surgeon so I was in very good hands, which might have been a lie, but it made me feel better. I introduced myself as, "Hi, I'm a big whiny baby, please don't be offended when I cry because I will." He laughed but was very calm and soft-spoken so my fears were immediately eased. I asked him a lot of questions too, and he explained how the whole surgery would work.

Surgery time!

Apparently the surgery before mine didn't go well (not the surgeon's fault, just the injury, so that was why it had taken so long to get to mine). They told me I would be in and out in a half hour. I remember them adding something to my IV that made me a little sleepy before they transported me to the OR. Once we got in there, they shifted me to the operating table then explained what was going to happen next as I asked more questions. I made the anesthesiologist promise me that I wouldn't wake up in the middle of it. Then they told me they were going to give me some oxygen and put a mask on me, and I was out.

Next thing I remember is waking up to the nurses talking to me, and asked if they used "wingardium leviosa" to get me back into my hospital bed from the operating table. (Seriously, how did they do that?) Then I told them I needed to go back to sleep for a bit.

Wingardium Leviosa - Harry Potter REMIX by Anthony Ranuzzi on ...

Eventually I woke up for good and they wheeled me back up to my hospital room where I waited for my nurse. There was food waiting for me but I was still sleepy and definitely not hungry. 


When my nurse came in I told her I really needed to use the bathroom because it had been a couple hours and I could not wait! My roommate was in our bathroom and she took forever so the nurse set up the portable potty for me. She asked if I wanted her to go so I could have privacy, but I told her she was a nurse I couldn't care less. She asked if I had kids and was surprised when I told her no, because apparently only people with kids are comfortable enough to do that. I just assumed anyone who went out with their girlfriends in college would be comfortable enough to do that.

I tried to sleep, but mostly texted everyone to update. I felt like there was a giant balloon inside of me. They told me the gas pains would be the worst, but I was not prepared for what came. It was not gas like you think of gas pains. It was like someone literally blew my whole torso up with air and I had to wait for it to leak out. My stomach was so bloated I probably looked twelve months pregnant. Every time I got up to use the bathroom my chest and shoulders hurt just from the air being in them. Five days later and I probably only look 3 months pregnant now. Get this air out!!!

Eventually another nurse checked in and brought me a new sandwich, jello, and another Sprite since the lunch that had been brought was cold. By the time I finished the sandwich, they brought dinner too. A chicken leg and thigh, mac and cheese, fried ocra, and a bun with sweet tea. I had slowly eaten the sandwich, but was ready to inhale the hot food. I took a few bites of each because I didn't want to overdo it, but by this point the only thing I had eaten in nearly 36 hours was a piece of toast and that sandwich. I pulled up a video of a laparoscopic appendectomy so I could see the procedure - it was pretty cool and seriously fascinating how they can do all that through three little incisions. 

Sheldon told me I could be discharged whenever, that she worked until 7 and there was no rush, so I decided to stay until seven. Quite frankly, I didn't feel like changing from the hospital gown to real clothes and I was exhausted. She did come give me my discharge information though, because I had a lot of questions about when I would be able to function normally again. 

At 7, Angel and her family picked me up and took me back to their house for recovery. Sheldon wheeled me downstairs to pick up and I told her that although it was not ideal circumstances and I hoped to never return, I had a great experience with the hospital and if there was a rating system for my nurses I would give them all full stars.

Though beforehand I would have been perfectly happy to be delivered home on my own, I'm glad I had people around during my first few days of recovery. I have a long history of overdoing it after injuries, etc. and I'm sure this would have been no different. As I sit here in my bed working on this post 5 days later, I am happy to be home, but not having conversation around me sucks when I'm still so limited in what I can do. Watching Netflix and reading is a lot less fun when it is literally my only option! Though going to the hospital during a pandemic was not ideal, it is really helpful to recovery that I literally cannot go anywhere!

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