Personal Stories

When Things Go Wrong

In December I had a doctor appointment with my primary care physician (PCP). At the appointment, she asked me if anything else was bothering me than my usual issues. I told her something just felt off. I felt bloated; like when I was pregnant. In addition, I was getting pains out of nowhere in different places on my body, like my elbow and my collarbone. The collarbone one worried her and she did an EKG in the office and I was supposed to go for a stress test, but I never did. I didn’t think it was anything cardiac-related.

January came and I found there were more days where I just didn’t have an appetite. You’d think that would mean I was losing weight, but I wasn’t. If anything, the bloating was getting worse. We went on our 16-day Panama Canal cruise in February, and even on the ship I was telling my husband I was “fooded out” and not eating. We came home and I weighed myself and I saw a 10 pound gain.

We got off of the ship on February 20th. The flights to the East Coast left before noon, so we stayed in California another couple of days before flying home. I was getting around fine, except for the feeling of being bloated. We flew home on the 23rd and arrived at our house around 3AM on February 24th.

The first day home I was sluggish, but with all the time changes and travel time, I chalked it up to that. Saturday the 26th, I started feeling pain in my abdomen. I normally don’t google symptoms, because I have found that generally leads to hypochondria, but I noticed the pain was mostly on the right side of my abdomen and it was tender to the touch. The first thing that came up on most of the medical sites was appendicitis.

When we first moved up here, I was told not to go to the emergency room at the hospital here unless it was a matter of life and death. There have been problems that I know other people have had over the years, so I probably should have had my husband take me right down to the emergency room at Maine Medical Center in Portland. I didn’t, though, thinking that removing an appendix was something pretty simple. The hospital here was still not allowing visitors, so all my husband could do was drop me off at the emergency room.

After a few tests, I was proven right – appendicitis. They called in the surgeon who said they would try to do it laparoscopically, where they make a couple of incisions and basically inflate the abdomen and use a scope to go in and find the appendix and remove it. He told me I might go home that night. I had my doubts, since it was already 4PM when they were getting me towards the operating room.

When I woke up, I found out they couldn’t do the surgery laparoscopically and had to cut me open all the way. There was simply too much scar tissues from 3 c-sections, gall bladder surgery, and a partial hysterectomy. The appendix had been perforated but hadn’t burst. I think it’s likely that was what was starting to bother me as far back as December. They thought at that point I would be in the hospital overnight.

When they tried to get me to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t go, even though I knew I had to so then they placed a catheter in me. They also ended up putting an epidural in my spine. I wasn’t in that much pain, but I couldn’t get the muscles to work and they thought it would help. They’d cut through my core muscles to do the surgery and I was feeling it.

I then started with low grade fevers, between 99-100F. In the evenings it would go up and sometime overnight it would break and my hospital bed would end up soaked with sweat. One day turned into a week. The doctor thought there might be an abscess in my abdomen somewhere, but they didn’t want to do a CAT scan of my abdomen again because if it was too soon, it might not show up. After 8 days in the hospital, they sent me home.

I was grateful to go home, because 8 days without seeing my family was taking its toll on me. I only ended up home for 36 hours. I slept good Sunday night, but felt a little feverish and in the morning my bedding was damp from sweat. When I woke up Tuesday morning after sleeping Monday night, my bedding was soaked through from sweat. I knew there was something still wrong. I called the surgeon and they had me come in for another CAT scan. It showed an abscess down near where they had removed my appendix, but it was in a kind of precarious spot. They decided to send me down to Maine Medical Center in Portland to potentially have a drain placed using radiology to minimize the possibility of having to open me up again.

The ambulance ride there was rough – it kept feeling like at any moment my intestines were going to spill out. Since we were waiting to do a procedure, I was back on a clear liquid diet. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning so I was pretty hungry. I got 3 things of jello and that was it. It was too late in the day for them to do the procedure that day, so an overnight stay on a liquid diet. I was not thrilled, but hopeful this would solve the problem.

I was brought down to radiology the next morning for the procedure. Unfortunately, the location they were looking at wasn’t a good place for a drain. I was still throwing the low-grade fevers and having to have my bedding changed every night, so they didn’t send me home. I was put back on a regular diet and monitored. My blood pressure was also rising and why white blood cell count was going up. I was put on IV antibiotics that took 4 hours to infuse. It meant I was hooked up to the IV antibiotics for 4 hours, then off for 4 hours. This went on for 3 days and the white blood cell count was still rising.

On Friday, March 11th, I had gone to bed for the night. I woke up around 11PM and needed to use the bathroom. As I started to get up, I felt something in my belly let go. There was now a noxious smell near me and I could feel wetness. I buzzed the nurses in and said something had burst. What had burst was the initial incision for the laparoscopic surgery that they had closed up when they couldn’t do the surgery. Apparently, that was where the infection was located while everyone was looking at the area of the appendectomy. After bringing up the on-call surgical team, they bound me up for the night until a surgeon came in on Saturday to decide what to do.

I had a 14cm long tear in my abdomen from my belly button down to my private area. It was 2cm wide at the top, 4cm wide at the bottom, and 5cm deep. After sending me for another CAT scan of my belly, I was anaesthetized, and the surgeons went in. It was 2 hours later when I woke up with a wound vac on my belly. They’d cleaned me out good and found two abscesses.

I started feeling better almost immediately, but it was still a slow process getting my confidence back. My white blood cell count normalized and stayed there when they switched me off the IV antibiotics and onto oral antibiotics. The first bandage change on the Monday after the second surgery was brutal, but then on Wednesday the bandage change went smoothly and I came home.

I’ve now been home for a week after spending nearly 3 weeks in two different hospitals. I think it’s good. The visiting nurses have been coming on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to change the bandages and it’s healing good. It’s now only 10.5cm long and 3.5cm deep. I have a follow-up with the surgeon next Wednesday. Meanwhile, I’m very antsy having to sit here and not do much. I have been driving my granddaughter to school in the morning and my son to work, but other than that I’m in the house all day long. I don’t want to aggravate this any worse than it already is, but I’m not a patient person.

I was very lucky that this didn’t flare while I was on our cruise. I always buy an annual travel insurance policy, so we would have been covered, but the thought of having the surgery in a foreign country where I didn’t know the language is scary. MY husband and son would have had to leave the cruise with me and then we would have needed help from the travel insurance company getting all of us home. If this had to happen, the timing couldn’t have been better.

11 replies »

  1. Good Lord Patti!! I’m so glad that you are home and healing! This sounds like a real nightmare. You are lucky that it happened at home. I’m hoping that your recovery is short and uneventful. Sparky is planning a vacation to geocache the National Parks in Utah. He just asked me if I wanted to hike 3 miles (taking 2-3 hours) to a sight at Arches National Park… I’m not sure I’m up to it. I guess I’m going to have to improve my stamina!

  2. That’s quite scary complications, especially the tear that happened. What a nightmare. I had an appendicitis when I was 13 years old, and it burst, but I got surgery right away and I had no complications. It was over in a few days. That was in Sweden. In your case things did not go well. I am sorry to read about your suffering but I am glad it is coming to an end. I hope the rest of your recovery is less eventful.