Tuesday, March 29, 2005

How about this, does this hurt?

So two years ago, I woke up on a Thursday morning with a stomachache. No fever or anything else, just a pain in my lower right quadrant. But I didn’t yet know it was called my “lower right quadrant.” I lay in bed for awhile, but the pain didn’t get better, so I called my mom. I’m not sure about my brother, but my sisters and I all feel the need to run our symptoms by our mom – who is a nurse – before we can go to the doctor. I talked to my mom, and she convinced me that I should go to Student Health, even though I felt embarrassed to go see the doctor about a simple case of indigestion. But it did hurt kind of a lot.

I called The Doktah to ask for a ride, because I didn’t think I could walk the mile or so to Student Health. The Doktah hung up on me. It’s pretty funny, actually. She hung up on me because it was early-ish in the morning, and she figured I was calling to find out if she would be at the lab soon, and did she want to go get coffee. She answered on the second call with an impatient, “What!” and I asked her, in a voice on the verge of tears, for a ride to the hospital.

She still feels bad about that.

At Student Health, the triage nurse confirmed that I had no fever. So I just had the pain. Oh, and I threw up a few times. But I still didn’t think it was anything, because books, TV and the movies had led me to believe that people with appendicitis have a fever and pain so bad they can’t stand up. But when the doctor pressed down on my lower right quadrant, we started to think it might be appendicitis.

I had a series of tests to rule stuff out, and finally had a CT scan which confirmed the diagnosis of appendicitis, but I had to wait awhile for the surgery thanks to the noxious contrasting agent I had to drink. In the meantime, my mom, who was incredibly calm and nurse-like on the phone with me, was hysterically calling my brother and sisters and The Doktah and The Husband. Or so I’m told. The Doktah, in an effort to make up for hanging up on her friend in need, was serving as information coordinator for The Husband, my mom, The P.I., and the rest of the lab. And she also came over to the ER to keep me company, once I was officially checked into the hospital, post CT scan.

Which means she was there for the series of doctors, interns, and medical students who came over one at a time to press on my stomach and take a history. By the end, the Doktah could have told the story herself. “I woke up with a pain in my stomach. It felt like indigestion. I took two Phazymes, but it didn’t get better. I threw up three or four times. I haven’t had a fever.”

Then the doctor/student would push on each quadrant of my belly and say, “Does this hurt? This? This? This?”

“No, no, no, yes.”

Then he’d say, “Well, all signs point to acute appendicitis, and your CT scan confirms it.” One of the doctors drew me a little sketch of my intestines and appendix to explain what appendicitis is. And one of the doctors went digging for gold in my stomach. He pressed on my upper left quadrant and said, “Does this hurt?” The appendix is in the lower right quadrant, but any quadrant hurts when someone is feeling for your spine from the front. The Doktah, who was sitting with her eyes level with the bed, swears she saw his whole hand disappear into my abdomen. I was also interviewed by a social worker who asked if I was afraid in my own home, I guess to make sure that someone didn’t beat the appendicitis into me.

The Husband arrived – I had called and asked him to come down when the appendicitis was confirmed (he was only The Fiance at the time, remember), and they finally wheeled me into the operating room around ten that night. The Husband and The Doktah waited for me until 2 am or some such hour, when they were told that I wouldn’t be awake until the next day, and to go home.

The next day, I was in a fair amount of pain, but they kicked me out in the afternoon anyway with naught but a prescription for Percocet and instructions to rest. (My mom still gets really mad when this is brought up.) So my first night at home was really rough; a hospital bed would have been a great improvement over my hundred-year-old mattress of which I was the third owner. Nevertheless, I continued to improve, and by the time my parents arrived on Sunday I was able to go for brief walks and everything. But I didn’t go into the lab that weekend, or even that Monday.


The following Tuesday I had also been planning to do an experiment that I had begun setting up weeks before, and I didn’t want to have to start over. I couldn’t manage it on Tuesday, but I went in the next day to do it. Because my wedding was in a few months, and I was running out of time to get experiments done. And because I really, really, really did not want to start the experiment over. Weeks of preparation here, people. And because that is the life of a grad student. Major surgery is nothing compared to the pain of postponing your graduation.

The experiment? One sentence of my thesis.


Beth said...

Dude, many things strike me as wrong in this story. I am someone who has spent a good deal of time in hospitals and I can't believe you didn't BITE one of those doctors/residents/interns/janitors who were busy molesting your intestines. Was this at a teaching hospital? Man... I have an "assertiveness training" program for sick people. Leah can tell you about it - she is one of the trainees and she passed with flying colors. I know you are an assertive person when you need to be, so I'm hoping that you just left out the "bitching out the doctor" part of the story. Maybe the point is that your thesis project made you temporarily insane. Wow. I'm upset for you and it was two years ago!

Mo said...

Nah, they were mostly good. Yes, it was a teaching hospital. And the one doctor who buried his fingers in my belly was really more amusing than anything. It didn't hurt that much. Possibly because I was on a lot of drugs by then. But you'll have to tell me about the assertiveness training.