Thursday, June 30, 2011

Niagara or Bust

OR "My Escapades as an Undercover Investigatory Journalist Uncovering the Secrets of the Canadian Healthcare System"

Today, I was hoping to post pictures of Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake, which I was going to visit on Tuesday, but instead, my body decided to go bust. Here are all the sordid details of my experience with appendicitis that you probably didn't want to know.

Unsurprisingly, my flight on Sunday was delayed in Chicago, so I had an extra 3 hours to burn. I daringly got a turkey bacon guacamole sandwich at 5 (daring because I have the digestive system of a pregnant lady) and felt sick after eating it. But I just kept feeling sicker and sicker, even hours after I ate it. I spent a lot of time hiding in the Chicago bathrooms, because I felt more comfortable hugging my belly in pain in there. (And by the way, though I dislike the Chicago airport, they do have good bathrooms.) Eventually I did get to my hotel at 1:45 am, and I mentioned to my poor coworkers who had to pick me up that late that I was feeling a little sick.

That night, I kept waking up in pain. It felt like the round ligament pain I routinely have in the night with pregnancy, but just much more steady and painful. I got up many times in the night and was in enough pain that I couldn't stand up straight, but had to walk doubled over. I wasn't too concerned in the night, though, because I was too sleepy and out of it to think clearly. In the morning, I googled abdominal pain in pregnancy, and sources said it often was caused by gas or constipation and that sometimes a bath can help. So I took a long hot soak, but that did nothing.

When it was finally 6 am in Colorado, I called my father-in-law (doctor) who told me to go to the doctor. It was good I talked to him because it gave me the courage to go to the hospital. (I was afraid I was going to make a big deal about it and then I'd be embarrassed and have to tell everyone, "Sorry, guys, I was just constipated!")

My coworker, Aaron, and his wife, Emily, were kind enough to drop everything (even her day off without her two kids) to take me to the hospital. Eventually, we made it up to the ob/gyn department. By this time, the pain wasn't just constant, but occasionally also stabbing. I tried very hard to sit patiently while reception tried to figure out how to check in an American. At one point, one of the ladies said to the other, "Make sure you capitalize that," while she was entering data, and I wanted to scream, "Don't you know I'm in pain and my baby could be in danger?!" But instead I sat demurely and politely (I think).

Next, the nurse and doctors did a number of different things to figure out what was wrong. They did an ultrasound of little Alexandra, so that was one bonus. I was in too much pain to focus very well, but I did get to see her heart beating and her practice breathing. (Babies "breathe" amniotic fluid before birth, so you could see her little ribs going in and out.) I also got to hear her heartbeat a whole lot, as they kept me hooked up to a monitor, and even got to hear her hiccups on the monitor! The whole experience was bonding with my baby in that way.

Last, they did an ultrasound of the rest of my insides, looking for problems with the ovaries, kidneys or appendix. By the time I got down to this department, the stabbing pains were pretty bad. Luckily, Emily was still by my side to distract me. We chatted about family and kids and I have no recollection whatsoever of what she said or what I said. :) In the ultrasound, it was pretty darn obvious where the pain was. The tech repeatedly jabbed at one point, making it quite clear (and painful) that was the focus of the pain. I had to turn on my side several times, which was very difficult with the pain.

She left me in the room while she went to talk to the doctor, then they wheeled me up to the doctor. By that time, I had guessed that I had appendicitis, which I did. One of the doctors said that they found the ultrasound images "exciting," as they made it so clear that I had appendicitis, and sometimes it can be difficult to diagnose and detect in an ultrasound. Everything happened very quickly from there. There just happened to be an opening in surgery, and they could take me in right away. If that opening hadn't been there, I might have had to wait 4-5 hours or even another day.

From that point, it was a blur of people poking me, talking to me, and having me sign waivers. The resident surgeon got to tell me everything that could go wrong: You could get an infection, you could get AIDS, the uterus could be accidentally hit and the baby could die, etc. etc. I said, "You're the fun guy, huh?" But I think he thought I was making a comment on his dry personality, which is a reminder that you shouldn't try to lighten the mood and make jokes when you're in severe pain because the humor might not come through.

They, of course, don't like operating on pregnant women because of the risk of pre-term labor or accidentally damaging the uterus, but the risk of not operating was higher, so I consented. I was very lucky to get appendicitis exactly when I did in pregnancy, because after 28 weeks, your risk of pre-term labor during surgery goes up. I just happened to be in the short window of when the risk is lower to operate during pregnancy. I also was lucky in that I was in a hospital that has the reputation of being one of the best ob/gyn facilities in the country or province or something like that.

During all this, my husband is calling madly to try to find out what's happening to his wife and baby. There's no cell phone service in the hospital, so Emily was relaying information to Aaron, who would then step outside and call Mike. Mike was a bit desperate trying to navigate the hospital phone system and kept getting sent to the wrong people. We tried calling him several times, but had to decide to go into surgery without talking to him, lest we missed the open slot.

Is This Long or What?

Sorry this is so long. But I assume only my grandmother is still reading by now, so I'll keep going for her sake. The head anesthetist looked just like Roy Peter Clark (well-known writing coach), so that was fun. I woke up (kind of) in the recovery room. I was shivering violently (I tend to do that), so they kept piling blanket after hot blanket on me. (The next day I counted, and I had about 8 heavy blankets on!) My face itched like crazy. People kept saying various things to me, but I have no idea what. They told me the baby was OK, and that's all I cared about.

The guy in the next bed over from me was unruly. People kept shouting, "Jack, stop it!" "Jack, why are you doing that?" "Don't do that, Jack!" "Stop spitting, Jack!" It seemed to be a cantankerous old man who was spitting and doing something he shouldn't have (I couldn't turn my head to see what.) I remember being amused. I had to go to the bathroom sooooooo bad. So they gave me a catheter which didn't make things any better from my perspective.

Sometime later, I woke up in my hospital room. It was a great room. One wall was all windows and had a view over London. Since I couldn't go to Niagara Falls, I figured this was recompense. I had the room all to myself, with a nice bathroom and a cool computer thingy from which I could call, surf the internet and watch TV. My nurses, Shannan and Roberta, were super nice. All the nurses and residents had heard my story (that a pregnant lady had gotten appendicitis on a business trip out of the country), and came to talk and empathize with me. My nurse said I was their resident "VIP." :)

I don't remember that night much, though I know I talked on the phone to Mike and my parents. I sounded pretty pathetic apparently, so my poor hubby spent all night worrying about me. I felt much better on Tuesday, and Aaron even brought me donuts (Yay!) from his mom's bakery. I couldn't have much but I had part of a delicious apple fritter. I spent the rest of that day laying in bed, talking on the phone, having visitors, and trying to take short walks. I selfishly posted my status on Facebook (which took a lot of energy), specifically so that I would get lots of sympathy messages, which I did.

Alexandra seemed rather unperturbed through the whole ordeal. She kept to her usual schedule of activity, and was kicking my little guts out. (Quite painful, but I was very glad for it.)

They released me on Wednesday around 11, and I came back to the hotel, where I still am now. I got to sleep a lot last night (thank you, ear plugs and eye mask), and am flying out today at 5. My pain is much better, and I'm all drugged up in preparation for the flight.

And that concludes my adventures in Canada. I would turn it into a tell-all expose on the Canadian health system, but it turns out they're all really nice and take wonderful care of you. :)


Candace said...

Oh, Amber, you're so funny and valiant and brave. I'm proud of you and so relieved that you and Alexandra are doing well. Thank you for letting us know all the details. (I love the details, and I'm not even your grandmother!)

Thank you, too, for directing us to Liz' blog. I don't know her, but I love so much about her.

Safe travels, sweet girl.

Tara said...

Thanks for all the details Am! I think it helps us all feel better about the whole ordeal since we couldn't be there with you to hold your hand. You really are a very strong person! I am so happy that your co-workers were so nice to you and took such good care of you. I hope your trip home is uneventful!

Anonymous said...

Amber, You were so brave. We wish we could have been there to help and reassure you. It makes me feel bad that you were so far from home when this happened. Thanks to the wonderful friends in Canada for taking such good care of you! Mike will have picked you up and you can both get some much needed rest.

H.E.R. Impressions said...

Enjoyed all the details, Amber. Thankful that God in His providence worked it out so that you were able to have surgery promptly. Recover soon!