I woke up from severe pain. Seemed to be around my stomach. I tried to remember the last time I'd felt anything similar, and my mind drifted back to a severe bout of food poisoning. I tried to remember what I'd eaten yesterday that could have caused such severe discomfort. Bubble tea? I logged onto Guild Wars to help pass the time, hoping that I would throw up soon and be done with it.
After a some fun times extinguishing red dots with good friends, I was feeling a bit feverish on top of the relentless pain. Roommate Shirley to the rescue! She found me some Tylenol as she was leaving for work, and told me to call her if I needed anything. I cancelled my morning appointments at work and attempted to sleep a bit more, hoping to make it to my afternoon meetings.
At this point, I was in considerably more pain. No vomiting or nausea. I started to doubt my initial diagnosis. I cancelled my afternoon appointments at work and spent an hour debating whether to tough it out and see if it would pass, or actually choose to think this might be more serious. I tried all sorts of things to see if that might make me feel better. Walking. Sitting. Slouching. Lying on my bed. Lying on the floor. Lying upside down. Nothing helped, and the pain remained. This is when I put out the infamous Facebook status query:
Ok friends with medical know-how, what do you think. I thought I had food poisoning, but now I'm not so sure. Been suffering from constant abdominal pain since 4am and it's getting worse. Had a slight fever this morning. Do I take some tylenol and wait it out or try to skytrain to a clinic or something?
It should be noted that I was in so much pain at this point it took me about 10 minutes just to write the status. All the while thinking to myself, "Is it really THAT bad? I mean, it could be worse right? Is it bad enough that this might be serious? Maybe I'm just being a wimp about it."
One of the excellent responses to my query was the suggestion that I call the dial-a-nurse line. Excellent! I did so, and the nurse recommended I go see a doctor within the hour. Hmm. I also received a phone call from one of my best friends back in Ontario, whose mother had seen my facebook status and alerted her to my condition. If I wasn't already decided on going to see a doctor, I'm pretty sure she would have forced me to over the phone. This is what good friends are for.
I tottered off the skytrain and arrived at the walk-in clinic. The receptionist is brusque and dismissive. "Care Card. Phone number," she intones. "There's a 2 to 2 and a half hour wait." Well, that was discouraging, but not entirely unexpected. If people left and failed to return, the line could be shorter. I figured I'd take my chances here rather than going to emergency, because my possible ride, aforementioned excellent roommate Shirley, was otherwise engaged picking up Chopper the boston terrier from Doggie Day Care. Chopper's mommy, roommate Marie, had left that morning for a trip to Vegas. And there was always that elusive chance that the line would be shorter than expected. I had brought my knitting but couldn't pull it out. Couldn't do anything except sit still and concentrate on enduring the pain. All the while praying, "Please Daddy, let them call my name next. Let me be the next patient. I can't take much more of this."
"It seems like it's your gallbladder," pronounces the doctor, "since the pain is a bit higher up. Not unusual, in a young woman. It looks very inflamed. Sometimes these things calm down on their own. You're in quite a bit of pain though, and there's the chance it could be the appendix. You should go over to emergency and get checked out." And so that was that. "Looks like I'm headed for emergency after all," I remark with a rueful smile to the gentleman that's been sitting beside me for the past 2 hours in the waiting room. We wish each other good luck and Shirley drives up to whisk me away to the hospital.
Shirley offered to stay with me for a bit in the ER, but there's no telling how long the wait will be, and she has a number of things to accomplish before CG that night. (CG being community group, the part of the week where the large impersonal mass of people in the church is broken down into smaller 'families' where we hang out, share, and pray with each other.) Due to a recent flurry of changes within the church, CG's have been reshuffled a bit, my CG included. It was supposed to be our first meeting together that night. Our CG leader, Keum, was newly appointed, and that night marked his first night leading. I texted him to update him on my status. After a bit, of conversation back and forth he replies with, "We r coming. B there soon."
A little boy of about 4 years old stares at me and points. "Sad!" He looks over at his mother, "Sad, Mommy." She gathers him into her arms and says, "Shhhh, just sick, honey. People here are sick. The doctors will make them better." I'm huddled over in my chair, trying to stop the leaks that have sprung from my eyes. I didn't think the pain could get worse, but it has. Constant. Unrelenting. Thank you Jesus for this strategically placed box of Kleenex on the low table in front of me. Other patients in the waiting room keep flashing looks of concern my way, shaking their heads and furrowing their brows. That girl is in trouble, their eyes say.
Keum arrives first. I seemed to have stopped crying by this point, though probably more out of dehydration than anything else. I've had nothing to eat or drink since the day before, and I've been cautioned not to both at the doctors and here in case I end up needing surgery. It's reassuring to have someone there just to sit with me and pray for me. My own prayers at this point consist of, "Can this be over now? I can't take it... I can't stand it..." While we're still waiting, all of a sudden out of nowhere, a wave of nausea washes over me. I jump up and run to the bathroom and throw up a few times, even though there's nothing whatsoever in my stomach. In retrospect, I'm fairly sure this is the actual point at which the appendix ruptured. Not long after, my good friends Sonja and Tyson arrive. We pray together quietly in the waiting room. It's a different kind of CG tonight, but CG nonetheless, doing what CG's do best: being family, being there for each other when you need it most.
I lost track of time after this. I think I was called in around 6pm but things after this point get harder to remember. Sonja came with me and I don't know if I would have gotten through without her. I was in so much pain that I was shaking and convulsing. I was breathing too quickly and all the muscles in my body started to seize up all at once. I'm not sure how long this lasted for. Too long. Finally, after the doctor had given me a preliminary examination, they hooked up an IV and gave me some morphine and gravol. Why gravol? I thought, until the morphine went into the IV and I felt suddenly nauseous. Oh, that's why. It did nothing for the pain. They gave me more morphine, and it took the edge off enough that I started to un-tense. All the while, Sonja stayed by my side, a constant presence of sweet peace and comfort throughout my ordeal. She took care of all the nurse-fetching, family-notifying, message-passing, and whatever else needed to be done. Though we're not blood-related, I am honoured beyond words to have this deeply loving and sweetly caring woman as my sister.
My brother Josh came as soon as he could after his opera rehearsal ended. It's been nearly 2 years since our positions were reversed and I had a phone call that he was in Langley hospital getting an appendectomy. By this time, my doctor was starting to suspect the appendix as the culprit. Whereas the pain had been higher previously, it had now settled to the lower right. Not a good sign. The CT scan technician had already gone home for the night, so they had to call her back in. The doctor said that in the case of young men, they'd schedule the surgery right away, but for me they needed a scan because there are so many 'fiddly little woman parts' packed into the abdomen, and therefore a lot more things that can go wrong for women. I already knew what to expect, since I'd had a CT scan a few years ago (long story... involving my own stupidity and a half-pipe). At that previous time, I'd been freaking out about having to get an IV in my arm. Practically passing out the whole time just thinking about it. This time around, I had no problems with the IV or any of the needles they stuck into me. Being in a lot of pain tends to put everything else into a different perspective.
The surgeon hands me some forms to sign and a nurse slaps a bracelet around my wrist signifying that I've been admitted to the hospital. As he collects back the forms he reassures me that he does 2-3 appendectomies a night, and that I have nothing to worry about. As we speak, my appendix is spewing poison into me, and it's imperative to remove it as soon as possible. Sonja writes down a list of things to collect for me from my house. Josh shares with me his stories of his own appendectomy. He's so funny, I can't help but laugh. They both accompany me up to the 4th floor where my surgery team is making preparations. I'm completely relaxed. Maybe it's the morphine. I'm more than happy to trust my safety to the friendly and confident team donning their surgical masks. I bid farewell to my companions and am wheeled into the slightly chilly operating room. I have no idea what anyone is doing at this point because I'm no longer wearing my glasses. Everything is a fuzzy blur of colour and motion. The doctors are joking and laughing together, pulling me into their good-natured conversation, asking me with interest about my research, and sharing stories of their own of growing up in Ontario. The last thing I remember saying before waking up is, "You guys are awesome."
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2!