On Thursday, January 2nd, I found myself in the parking lot of the Urgent Care. Conveniently, it's attached the the ER. I walked in, and it was swamped. Crying babies. Frustrated parents. Sick teenagers.
I walked up to the desk. "What's the problem?" The woman asked. A man next to the desk raised his eyebrows as he awaited my answer.
I looked around at all of the people looking at me. "Abdominal pain," I said.
She blinked back at me. "We don't handle that here. Follow those double doors back to the ER, please."
I laughed. Of course. OF COURSE this is my life, I thought. To the ER I went.
In August, we had an in-service. Before the lunch started, I went home. What I thought was ovarian pain, or ovulation pain had me doubled over. I took a nap and felt better. I came back after lunch and continued to work.
In September, I spent a Friday night with a heating pad on my back, praying for relief. If I can just sleep it off, I thought. I'll feel so much better.
October rolled around. I called in sick. "I think it's ... digestive issues? I don't know," I told my principal. I prayed it would end before we flew to San Antonio to surprise my grandparents.
Thanksgiving came. I didn't feel right. I decided to track it with my "life tracker" on my phone. Was it always the right side?
And then, New Years Eve. Craig and I went out for a late dinner and were home and in bed before ten. I didn't feel well, and he had a huge work weekend that weekend. I was tired of feeling like crap once a month. I went home the next night, cleaned up the rest of the Christmas mess, and convinced myself to go to Urgent Care.
"It's REALLY not that big of a deal," I told the nurse in the ER. "Seriously."
It's fine, I texted Craig. I can't call you because I'll cry. I'm in the ER.
Seven p.m. turned in to 8. Eight p.m. turned into 9. I looked at my hospital bracelet. Should I call my boss? I had to work the next day.
The PA came in after my CT scan and pressed on my appendix. I nearly crawled through the roof.
"I've called in the surgical team," she said. Her white coat sleeves were too long for her arms. "They're on their way in. That appendix needs to come out."
There are few things that would've shocked me more.
I just told Craig to stay home.
I hadn't even called my parents.
"Are you SERIOUS?" I started to cry. And by "cry", I do not mean some kind of delicate cry. I mean full on sobs. I did NOT have time for this ... again. [Long-time readers my recall that my gallbladder had to come out, too.]
"Well, doctors in Europe are finding IV antibiotics work in some cases. But not for you." She washed her hands and I sat stunned.
I texted my best friend, Betsy. She responded with researched, valuable questions to ask the doctor. Because that's what friends do for you. They show up.
I texted my boss a picture of my hospital band. "Won't be at work tomorrow," I said. I figured she'd believe me if I had proof that I was actually sick. And then she got in her car and came to my room in the ER. She sat with me. She walked with me to surgery. She made jokes and talked to the nurses and told me it was going to be okay. Because that's what friends do for you. They show up.
Craig wasn't going to make it in time for surgery, but he was on his way. My boss wore my engagement ring until he showed up. I clutched the bed rails and tried to quit crying.
It was just an appendix, right?
My surgeon came in to talk over the procedure. "If I was your wife, what would you do?" I asked him. Kleenex were scattered around me like confetti.
"If you were my wife, you'd already be on the operating table." He didn't blink back when he looked at me. He didn't fidget. Confidence rolled off of his shoulders.
I signed the consent forms.
In pre-op, I tried to remember everyone's name. Bridget. Lisa. I think. I swore up and down that I was going to remember each of them. I was so sure that I would never forget their faces. But now, all I can remember is that they were so compassionate.
In my head, I kept repeating kind and brave, which is the mantra at my house. I tried to remember to say thank you.
(Even when the anesthesiologist said she'd have to put two tubes down my throat - one to help me breathe, and the other to suck out the Mexican food I had eaten for dinner. So gross. I know.)
I shivered and they layered on blanket after blanket. They transferred me to the operating table, and when they put the mask over my mouth, when they told me to count backwards from ten, all I could think of was kind and brave, kind and brave.
They wheeled me into my recovery room and my boss was still there. It had to be like one in the morning by that time, but she was still there. Craig stood next to her and he had on his glasses. I was so confused about time - I thought it was the middle of the day. I wondered why he had on his glasses when he only really wears them at night.
Time was fluid. Was it day? Was it night? There was ice on my abdomen and I had to pee, and Craig was snoring. The nurse was in and out and her hand was in my hair and I cried. I watched the clock and it went hazy - the hands looked like waves.
I called on my people. And my people showed up. Over and over again, I was amazed at how people just. showed. up. for me. I was humbled over and over again by their grace and their love and their prayers and their patience.
The surgeon came in and handed me a picture of my appendix. I looked at it and didn't think it looked like the pictures I had googled the night before.
"Are you sure that's appendicitis?" I asked.
"Your appendix was sick," he said. "It needed to come out."
Eventually, my mom showed up. [She flew back to California on a Tuesday, and then back to Nebraska on a Thursday.]
Eventually, I sat up, walked around, and
eventually, they discharged me.
I recovered all week long. Upstairs. Downstairs. Trying to not pick up Tucker.
Kind and brave.
I went into my doctor's appointment expecting to get cleared to go back to work. I sat up on the table, I told my surgeon that my side still hurt a little, and we joked about having an extended Christmas break.
He told me it wasn't appendicitis casually, like it wasn't a big deal whatsoever.
Instead, he told me it was cancer.
I needed to come back the next week, he said.
I nodded dumbly, carried my paperwork to the desk, and scheduled another appointment.
That afternoon, I got into my car and drove. Somehow, I wound up in the parking lot at Target in the next town over. I didn't get out of my car. My dad researched appendix cancer and sent me a plan of attack. My sister-in-law sent me intelligent, important questions to ask at my next appointment. I took deep, deep breaths.
At my next appointment, the surgeon told me the abdominal biopsies he had taken in surgery were okay, and that I'd need a colonoscopy in six weeks to be doubly sure that it was all gone.
And so we waited. All of us waited. We made jokes about appendix cancer. We went out with friends. We laughed at lunch together. I loved on Tucker. My parents checked in.
"But what if it's everywhere," I would ask Craig.
"It won't be," he would respond. "And if it is, we'll deal with it then."
My colonoscopy was today. Craig's mom drove me to the hospital in the dark. It rained last night, and everything was damp. Bridget - the same girl that checked me in for my emergency appendectomy - was there to check me in today. She remembered me, and as much as I swore I would remember every single person that helped me during those cloudy two days - I just didn't.
I told the anesthesiologist that I get a little panicky before I get taken back, and the last thing I remember thinking was that my face was felt prickly and that I needed to be ...
I didn't even get to kind and brave.
I woke up and the surgeon was standing in front of the curtain with the light shining behind him. And listen - I don't remember getting McDonald's for breakfast this morning, or really even walking to the car, but I don't think I'll forget his words for the rest of my life:
"Her colon is good! It's all good."
And then I cried. all. the. tears. of relief.
I need you to listen to me for a second. My mom had breast cancer at 30. My step-mom had breast cancer. My grandma had breast cancer. My cousin Heather is fighting cancer right now. I am 36, and I have my Master's Degree. I am young, and smart, and I know better.
I know better.
My body was a hot mess for five months. I was sick for five months, and I didn't go to the doctor. So before we put this to bed for good, and before we move on to something new - I want you to hear this hard:
Go to the damn doctor.
Schedule your annual exams. Get your physical done. If you don't feel well, go to the doctor.
I don't even want to think about what would've happened if my appendix would've ruptured. Because it would've, eventually. And that hot mess of "cancer sludge" (as the doctor so eloquently put it) would've just been ... everywhere.
So go. Go to the doctor.
Okay. I'm getting off my soap box now, and I am taking the biggest 2020 deep breath I can because finally - I can focus on something else. I feel like I just took off a 1,000 pound jacket and put it away for good.
As my very good friend Jodie says -
PS - I am so thankful for every single person that showed up for me in the last 8 weeks. You have no idea how loved I have felt, and how lifted I have felt. You guys are the best, best, best. <3
. About Moi .
I love, love, love flannel sheets and I am really passionate about lists on post it notes and most of the time I'm sad that no one else is as excited as I am about Diet Mountain Dew. I also adore run-on sentences. And if you need an awesome virtual assistant, who is full of personality and really good jokes? Email me. I'm your girl.
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He saw her before he saw
anything else in the room.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
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