Through the years I have heard people make fun of philosophers who contemplate their navels in an ivory tower. Why an ivory tower? Maybe the lighting is better. I don’t know about you, but my belly button is a cute little “innie” and it would be hard to contemplate it properly without proper illumination.
But my navel contemplation is more quizzical than philosophical. I recently had a laparoscopic appendectomy. My abdomen has a couple small bandages – left side, right side and a small cut above my navel so the surgeon could poke around, find, and remove my inflamed appendix.
I didn’t see this coming.
I felt a little tired and nauseous over the weekend. When I ate pizza on Saturday night (a treat from my usual healthy diet) it felt like a leaden lump in my gut. I blamed it on overeating and my age. On Sunday I felt lethargic. On Monday when I had chills, muscle aches, and a fever that got as high as 101.5, I figured I had the flu. I took it easy, drank water, and took ibprofen for the pain. Since I’m a reasonably healthy woman, and I don’t have any medical issues, I don’t have a general doctor.
I have a couple good friends who are physicians, one is Carol, an OB/GYN, and the other is Andrea, a naturopath. When I have medical questions I talk to them. On Tuesday my fever was down to 100, the muscle aches were gone and I had a little bit of energy. My appetite wasn’t great, but I managed to eat yogurt, a bit of fruit, and some soup, so I knew I wasn’t in any danger of wasting away.
Both of my doctor friends said that I should stop procrastinating and get a regular doctor who could treat me. Physicians should not treat friends and members of their own family. I knew their advice was sound. I vowed to find a family doc from the list provided by my healthcare provider. However, when you’re sick, it’s hard to get a new patient appointment, so it’s best to already have a doctor on board. Also, when you are sick and/or in pain, it’s hard to make sense of a health provider’s website.
I learned this the hard way.
By Tuesday night I still didn’t feel well, but at least my fever was gone. I called the nurse hotline. I had completely different symptoms than the day before. The nurse asked questions and listened to my responses. I thought she would tell me to take two aspirin and call in the morning. Instead, she said I should be seen by a physician. I told her I didn’t have one. She said to go to the ER or urgent care the next morning. Ever the optimist, I asked if I should still go even if I felt better, and she said I absolutely should. I was tired by this time, so I figured I would go to bed, go back to the health provider’s website in the morning, and find out what urgent care facility would take my insurance.
Which brings me to my second bit of advice; know what hospital and/or urgent care takes your insurance BEFORE you need it.
Around 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning I had abdominal pain in a band-like region across the front of my stomach. I went to take an ibuprofen, but I read the label, and it said it could lead to stomach bleeding. No ibuprofen for me. I tried to navigate my healthcare provider’s website and find an urgent care that would take my insurance. I couldn’t make sense of it, nor could I find a customer service number for help. Again, this info may seem easy to navigate under normal circumstances, but I was alone, in pain, and frankly, scared. I reached out to my OB/GYN friend Carol (who was out of town) and she said to call the nurse help line again and ask her where I should go. I knew the nurse wouldn’t have this info, but I asked, she put me on hold, got customer care on the line, and found a place near my house. A great example of how nurses go the extra mile!
I still thought my problem would be solved by antibiotics, but I went to the urgent care. I didn’t call first. I got down there at 7:15 a.m. They don’t open until 8. This leads me to my third insight. Not all urgent care facilities are 24 hours. Again, it pays to know this stuff ahead of time.
I waited in the parking lot for 45 minutes, but once I got inside things went pretty quickly. The physician poked around my abdomen and it was tender. In my infinite (hrmph) wisdom I had looked up about appendicitis on the internet and since my pain was not near my navel and I did not have classic symptoms, I ruled it out. The physician was not as dismissive about the possibility of a misbehaving appendix. And even if he were, SOMETHING wasn’t right and my pain had gone on long enough. He ordered a cat scan – stat. I didn’t even have time to pee out all the dye they gave me to drink when I was informed to get down to the ER. It was my appendix.
I let Carol and Andrea know I was on my way to the ER. Carol tried to convince me to have someone drive me. But I had already driven to the urgent care and cat scan facility, so I felt confident I could drive myself. I was lucky on this one. I made it OK. But in retrospect, that was not a smart choice. Don’t do as I did. I was lucky. You may not be. Even if no one is available to take you, call an ambulance, or even a cab. Don’t drive yourself.
Once in the ER, things went quickly. I had planned on calling my sister, Tina, and daughter, Alicia, later. I didn’t want to worry them. I thought I would have lots of time to call. Wrong again. But fortunately for me, Carol called both my sister and daughter and both of them were with me while I was getting pre-op tests etc. Having my family there meant more than I realized. In addition to the moral support, Tina had a better handle on our family medical history, and is very good at remembering details. Alicia is always calm in a crisis and was there for practical matters such as taking care of the pet bunnies and letting my friends know what happened.
Once I had pain meds on board I felt pretty good. With Tina and Alicia as my audience I managed to crack a few jokes and regale them with a few stories. I don’t know if I would have been as brave had I faced all this alone. Even with drugs, I would’ve spent less time exposing the staff to my drug-induced, unfiltered sense of humor and more time worrying. So, another insight, don’t go into surgery without telling someone. If nothing else, it’s calming to know someone is waiting for you when you wake up from the operating table.
The 45-minute surgery was a success and I’m recovering nicely. My good friend, Lauren, took me home and made sure I had what I needed (soup, ginger ale etc., prescriptions etc.). I go back to work on Wednesday. I’m not sure why I had appendicitis. I believe it is a mystery to most docs. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few things that I would like to pass on to you:
• Know which hospital, doctors, pharmacies, and urgent care facilities accept your insurance BEFORE you need to use it.
• Find out the hours of the urgent care. Not all are 24 hours.
• Don’t try to diagnose your own symptoms through webMD – especially for something that could be fatal such as a burst appendix.
• Don’t drive yourself to the hospital.
• Let your friends and/or family members know if you aren’t feeling well so they can check on you.
• Never assume your problem is minor. Flu-like symptoms often mask more serious conditions.
In retrospect I would like to say how thankful I am to the doctors, nurses, and support staff that treated me. They were the best! I would also like to thank my family, friends, and co-workers. They came through for me like champions.
While I have to admit I have been contemplating my navel more than usual these past few days, this unexpected event has me contemplating a few other things as well. Don’t wait for an emergency to react, be prepared ahead of time. It will save you time, money, stress, and maybe even your life.