Friday, January 19, 2007

Appendix-- Literal, Not Literary

Last Friday night I was feeling ill, then I was feeling really ill with stabby pains in my right ride. That, I thought, was ominous, probably not appendicitis, but I woke up Paul and we decided to go to the Foothills Hospital. By some miracle we got there right before the regular weekend-night population swell and I was admitted and got a bed in the emergency right away. Soon after, I would hear the mysterious "Code Yellow" and "Code Burgundy" announcements as the remaining beds filled up with alcohol-poisoned, drug-overdosed, and beat-up patients (I just hope no one person embodied all three of those problems) while I writhed and moaned and threw up on my precious cot in my coveted partially-curtained-off spot.

The really nice nurses squeezed blood out of my arm, one nurse chided me for trying to force myself to throw up before I came in to the hospital as she took down my story ("I thought if I ate something bad it would be better to get it out!?" "No no no no no never stick your fingers down your throat") and I managed to pee ONLY into the cup for once in my life. I waited a long time before a doctor saw me, but started to feel better after one last puke (so there, chiding nurse) and I settled down to wait, try to sleep, content to know that my blood was likely in a centrifuge in a lab and that at that very moment, someone was looking at my pee with a microscope.

By about mid-morning (after being there for about 6 hours) a doctor with two first names, such as John Frank, although that was not his name, came to see me. I like to call him Dr. First-name-first-name in my memories. He was very nice and for about the third time I told my story. He even did that hand-on-patient-other-hand-tapping-hand thing that I thought was some sort of stage-doctor convention, but no, all the doctors did it to me as the day wore on. Then he revealed that he was going to go talk to his advising doctor or some such thing, as he was some sort of intern, and so I realized I would be waiting, yes, a little longer, and telling my story, yes, at least once more. Which I did, then strained to hear what the two of them were deciding as they chatted over my chart by the nurses' desk across from my cot. They came back and told me they suspected gall stones. Gall stones? What is that? Who gets gall stones? I never even heard of anyone with gall stones. They told me if I had gall stones I would need surgery and a "probe." Any questions? asked Dr. First-name-first-name. "Where does the probe go?" I was most scared of being probed through an incision, but the reality was not really encouraging, and I wished I hadn't asked. (The throat, and they anesthetise you).

The diagnosis is made using ultrasound, so I was wheeled to a room that looked a lot like a massage uh room. It was dimly lit, and I was asked to lie back on a very massage-like table, and the technician spread warmed stuff on my abdomen. Except the stuff was called "Muko" and the lights were dim so she could read her screen more easily without glare, and there was a doctor in the room working at a monitor. Anyway, no gall stones, so back I went, wheeled by a porter, who all wear burgundy. The halls were packed full by this time with patients in beds, and I got a glimpse of the waiting area, and every seat was taken. Ugh. "Code Burgundy" means that all the beds are full and that there is only room in the hallways. I wonder if it has anything to do with the way the porters wear burgundy, so it's as if the hallways are their domain? I still don't know what "Code Yellow" means. I didn't see anyone wearing yellow. The emergency nurses wear navy blue.

The next thing that happened was that I was to have a CT scan, which is one way of checking for appendicitis. I was supposed to drink 1 1/2 litres of radioactive dye in a two hour period before-hand. This didn't sound good, but it turns out that it is mainly water, and you really can't see the dye or taste the dye, and since I hadn't been allowed to have anything to drink since I arrived (about 8 hours earlier) this was really not so bad. I wish they would have chilled it, because lukewarm distilled water is not the tastiest thing to quench your thirst with, but I wasn't about the give up my vats of water for a second.

By this time I think I had seen the nurses change shift three times, and I had thoroughly read a fall Chatelaine and This magazine that Paul had stolen for me from the waiting area. I wasn't in pain, not really, except when I or a doctor pressed on my abdomen (so don't do that, haha) so it was just really boring. I tried to figure out what was wrong with each of the patients in my ward, and sneak peaks at them as I walked by on my now frequent bathroom-visits. This was sort of interesting but mainly depressing, and not really a fun kind of voyeaurism at all. For example, I listened for hours to the four women next to me talking to their elderly mom. Whenever one of them would take her to the washroom, the remaining daughters would immediately begin to talk about how to convince her to get some sort of assisted living. On the other side, there was a long discussion of what kind of catheter was most comfortable for someone who needs one all the time. All this against the backdrop of another very elderly woman who never stopped moaning through her oxygen-mask. I tried to listen to the nurses instead, and there was a fun interlude when one of the nurses told off a lab technician over the phone for refusing to use a blood sample that had a label that the printer had partially squashed. Those nurses were awesome. They were all (aside perhaps from the chiding nurse) really nice and stood up for their patients ("I don't think it's appropriate to take more blood from an emergency patient just because of protocol-- you can read the health-care number, right? So what's the problem? Yes, have your supervisor call me back.")

Finally it was time to be ported again, to the CT scan place. This time I actually just got an escort though, since I could easily walk. The CT scan technician gave me a "top-up" drink of dye and injected me with dye too. The circulatory system is phenomenal! I was told I would feel a "warmth" through my body as the dye dispersed, and within 2 seconds I felt in in every extremety. It was quite something to realize how quickly our blood circulates. The CT scan is the machine that looks like a big doughnut and the bed you are one moves through it. My CT Scanner had a name. It was "Soma-- something. Something like "Somatron" or "Somatastic" or "Somagic."

Back to my pen. I waited probably another hour, then Dr. First-name-first-name came and he looked actually gleeful when he announced that I had appendicitis. I'm not entirely sure why he was so happy-- was it because the mystery was solved, and they guessed right, or because it wasn't something worse, or what? I felt-- a little scared because it meant surgery and I was wishing it was nothing, just some weird gas or I don't know what, but then I realized that it would be far better to have a clear diagnosis and one that had a treatment that was relatively uncomplicated. So then I was not exactly gleeful, but glad, in a "Hey everybody! I have appendicitis!" kind of way.

Then I got to tell my story again to a surgical intern, and then to a surgeon, and then I got to go up to a real bed in a real room. No bed ever felt so comfortable, after 12 hours in an emergency cot after a night with no sleep. I got a sponge-on-stick that I was allowed to dip into ice water to wet my mouth with, because I wasn't supposed to drink anything before surgery. It was my favourite thing, as it allowed my to covertly suck some water as I was pretending merely to moisten my mouth. I played with the bed controls a bit, and dozed a bit, and Paul went home when visiting hours were over at 9 pm, and still I was on call for surgery. I finally fell asleep, and then in the middle of the night it was my turn. The anesthesiologist talked to me, then the surgeon, then the nurse, then I went in to the operating room (this time ported on my whole luxurious bed, although they moved me to an operating bed once in) and they put me to sleep. Not like dogs and cats get put to sleep, though. I didn't get to count backwards, I was out within probably 3 or 4 seconds.

Lord, this story is getting long. Ok. so I woke up gasping and panicing in a large dim room with monitors glowing on the hazy edges of my vision, and a nurse was in front of me urging me to cough and breathe and helping me to sit up. That was probably the worst moment of the whole affair. If I ever claim to have been abducted by aliens, remind me that all the images and feelings probably come from this one moment of coming out of anesthesia. It was truly terrifying-- I was completely disoriented-- I didn't know where or who I was, I couldn't breathe, and I felt like I just came up from almost drowning. The worst of it was over in less than a minute, thankfully. I got wheeled back up to my room with my underwear in a bag on my chest with my name on a label (not squashed) printed on it. The nurses put things like velcro leggings on me that rythmically contracted and let go, this was to help my circulation apparently. And I got ice water to drink (Hooray!) and warmed blankets and morphine. In the morning I realized I had a catheter (Horrors!) and I got a popsicle, jello and vegetable broth for breakfast, which I had absolutely no interest in. I believe Paul ate my jello.

In the afternoon, my parents came to see me, and we went for a celebratory lap around the floor, pushing my I.V. pole along, the reward for which was to have my catheter removed (Hooray!). Chris and Sandy came to visit, and brought me a little stuffed elephant whom I named "Sniffy" and then Andrea and Jason came to visit, and brought a little stuffed elephant whom I named "Pinky." Paul had brought me a little stuffed cat that looks just like Hunter, and we sort of called him "Hunterette," but that's not final. I got my I.V. taken out (Hooray!) and got to switch to Percocet from morphine (I much prefer Percocet). I played with a mysterious device called "Voldyne 5000" that's meant to help you oxygenate your blood. I stayed another night, feeling better all the time, and the next day I was able to go home in the evening, with no problems, except I puked into the gutter from the car just as we left, causing some smokers to inch away in disgust. Ha ha!

So, I have been home since monday night, and Hunter and I have been watching a lot of Project Runway and Arrested Development (Thanks Andrea and Jason!) and sleeping a lot and getting really really bored as I feel better and better. The recovery is supposed to take 2-3 weeks. Last night I think I pulled apart an inside suture. I called the invaluable "Healthlink" line-- (did you know you can call and talk to a registered nurse over the phone any time of the day or night? I didn't know that! How handy is that?!!) and today I am back to hobbling a bit and walking carefully and trying to keep still, bleargh, but I am feeling better all the time aside from that little set-back. I only have three little "stab-sites"-- they used some sort of chopstick-scalpel or maybe a laser and a camera to remove the appendix. One is sort of IN my bellybutton, one is just above my public hair, and the third is the only one that will really show, off to the left side. I don't have stitches, just tape over the stab-sites, although I guess I have some sutures with dissolvable stitches inside, as the Healthlink nurse explained.

That's my story! Hooray for the health-care peeps at the Foothills Hospital, it was fast, efficient, and everyone was really nice and explained things to me. Thank-you to all well-wishers and most of all to the heroic Paul, who's getting awfully tired himself after all this-- if you see him, give him a chuck on the chin! Goodbye to my appendix! Silly thing really. Who needs it!Thanks to Sniffy for demonstrating what my large instestine looks like before (at start of post) and after (here at the end)!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you probably don't want to hear from me, but I'll take that risk ...
I have heard about your health, and I wanted to offer my sincere wishes for your speedy recovery.
all the best

6:39 PM  
Blogger sandy said...

"I got a sponge-on-stick that I was allowed to dip into ice water to wet my mouth with ..."

HAHA, MMM... sponge-on-stick! My favourite summertime treat!

Yaay Sniffy!! Sniffy and Pinky can date :)

Glad you're all better now, Jilly!!

11:53 PM  
Blogger Natalie Zed said...


So sorry to hear you weren't well, and I am so glad you're feeling better. Appendicitis sucks. Morphine is lovely, though. Percocet always makes me throw up.The Foothills emerg' team is one of the best I've ever dealt with -- they were really good to my brother, too, when he hurt his knee.

I hope you are feeling even better soon. Ed and are are going to be in California for nine days, but when we get back on the 9th, would you be up for some company?

miss you,


3:36 PM  
Blogger blert said...


I take my appendix with a side of fava beans.



10:17 PM  
Blogger Develo said...

Wow Jill! That's a great story! Did you feel like you were on the show House as they tried to figure out what your ailment was? I remember the madness of waking from full anesthegia as well, and boy did that suck. I also remember how I got addicted to morphine in 3 days...thankfully T3's are a reasonable alternative, and didn't make me nauseous. Glad you're getting back to yourself, and I enjoyed the visual that Sniffy provided :)Soph

3:19 PM  
Blogger colin martin said...

how are you doing now? will the visible stab site leave a good scar? chicks dig scars, you know. ask paul, he'll tell you. i hope you're feeling better; i miss you guys...i never seem to get to play with my friends anymore. and you got hurt and i never heard about it, which is bad.

if you ever need to feed pinky and sniffy (who demonstrated marvelously, by the way) to a small dog, let me know. i can help you with that.

12:13 PM  

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