Well, it's been a hell of a few weeks! Usually, I don't get too personal on ScienceLush, as I figure if you really want to know what I'm eating for lunch or which guilty pleasure TV show I'm currently obsessing over, you can follow me on Twitter (I Tweet about science & culture, too, but there's a lot more random stuff thrown into the mix). However, the last few weeks beg some shearing' here, as I've been on my own personal medical science adventure.
So here's the deal: last Friday, I had an emergency appendectomy. This was complicated by the fact that I'm 4 months pregnant!
I've never had surgery. Ever. Never even spent the nigh in the hospital. So surgery + pregnancy was a pretty frightening undertaking.
It all started when I had some low-level cramping on Sunday, Feb 28th. When it got really bad on Monday, as in doubled-over-in-pain-at-my-desk-bad, I called my OB/GYN. She had me come in and checked me out. The good news was that the baby was doing ok; the bad news was that my pain could be due to several things, including a rather large fibroid growing in my uterus. Fibroids are non-cancerous uterine tumors that are extremely common in women, and they tend to grow during pregnancy due to the extra estrogen in the system (mine is currently about the size of a large plum, which is making me feel a bit like Sigourney in ALIENS). At some point, a fibroid can start to die when blood supply is diverted to the fetus, and this process can be extremely painful. Given the size of my fibroid, that seemed the most likely culprit.
Throughout the week, the pain got worse. We eliminated possible causes one by one until we had boiled it down to either my fibroid friend or my appendix. But it turns out diagnosing appendicitis in a pregnant lady is a tad difficult, in part because the organs have all moved around to accommodate the uterus. Nothing is quite where it's supposed to be. Plus, my symptoms didn't fit perfectly with either diagnosis - I was demonstrating the milder symptoms of appendicitis like fever and an elevated white blood count, but - thankfully - no throwing up. Of course, that could in part be due to the fact that overtime I ate something, it caused more pain. Part of the reason we needed to solve this riddle was because at that point, I hadn't eaten in about 3 days. After consulting with her favorite surgeon, my doc and he decided I should go in for an MRI (no X-rays for the pregnant chick) so that he could take a closer look. Soooo, Thursday night I headed off to Cedars-Sinai Hospital to be stuck inside a teeny tube while they took pretty pics of my insides.
Did I mention that I'm EXTREMELY claustrophobic? Just another level of hell to add to this experience. Got through it by squeezing my eyes shut the entire time, and having them blast Lady GaGa on the headphones (no judgment please).
We finished up at 9pm, and were getting ready to leave when the MRI tech came out and asked us if we could "just stick around for a few minutes." Um, never a great sign. The radiologist & surgical residents needed to chat about what they were seeing, which they described as a "suspicious" looking appendix. I usually associate that word with LAW & ORDER re-runs, so we finally got someone to leak it to us that my appendix did indeed appear to be enlarged and there was some fluid where there probably wasn't supposed to be. But again, not conclusive, as an MRI offers less definition than a CT scan.
At that point, it all gets kinda blurry, partially due to the fact that I spent most of the next 15 hours curled up in a ball of pain. In what seemed like a very fast sequence of events, we went from the MRI to being admitted to the ER to me being stuck with a bunch of needles. Then consults with more docs to more ultrasounds to a very cute male ER nurse (we've nicknamed him Gay Ben Affleck) casually telling us at 2am, '"Oh yea, they're probably going to operate on you in a few hours" as he inserted an IV into me to finally getting admitted to a hospital room at 3am where they blissfully gave me some painkillers that are ostensibly safe for the baby and knocked me out for a few hours.
The final decision of everyone Friday morning was that while the evidence of a screwed up appendix wasn't definite, the risk of sticking a camera inside me and checking was much lower than not checking and having the appendix then rupture, which would be really bad for both me & the kiddo. The plan was to go in, take it out either way, and then I'd never have to worry about this particular health issue again. So, on Fri at about noon, off to my first surgery and general anesthesia (going under = fun! coming out = not so much).
According to all, the surgery went well. The appendix actually looked rather healthy when they removed it, so they sent it to pathology for a closer look. One one hand, it was almost disappointing to hear that the fibroid was the culprit - no one wants to have unnecessary surgery. On the other hand, though, I felt a hell of a lot better after the surgery. The insane pain was gone, and if it did come back, at least we'd know it wasn't dangerous - just something I'd have to get through. So the docs and I were still all in agreement that we had made the right decision. Something had clearly not been right in my system and the operation helped. And plus, now I'd have some cool scars as souvenirs! I spent another night in the hospital (Cedars Sinai tip: they have really good chocolate chip cookies - request them if you get the chance), and then a week at home recovering.
I went for my follow up with surgeon yesterday, and guess what? It was indeed appendicitis!! Even though the organ looked pretty healthy on the outside, apparently when they cut the sucker open, there was some nasty stuff inside. I never thought I'd be relieved to be diagnosed with acute appendicitis, but the husband and I were actually thrilled to find out that that's what was behind the pain.
I know someday all this will just be an anecdote we tell our 10-year-old when she's misbehaving ("Do you know what I went through when I was pregnant with you?!?"), but right now, it's still fresh and raw. In a way, the husband and I feel like we turned into parents last Thursday night. For the first time, we had to make life or death decisions about not just the two of us, but about the kid as well. Up til now, the pregnancy hasn't felt quite real. But now I know in my gut she's coming (as if the morning sickness during the first trimester wasn't enough to tip me off!). And I'm guessing she's going to be pretty stubborn...I'm due in August, and she's already demonstrating typical Leo qualities of dominance by kickin' my appendix out of her space!
It was also an experience to see a very human side of my doctors. They were pretty damn jazzed when the pathology report came back. As my OB/GYN said, "Even though we had all agreed that the surgery was the course of action with the least risk, no surgeon likes to cut into someone unnecessarily." They were just as relieved as we were to find out that the surgery had indeed been needed, and that in fact, we were quite lucky to catch the appendicitis as early as we did. A good lesson in trusting my body, and in finding docs who don't let up until they have explored every possible avenue. I've always enjoyed writing about bio-ethics and advancements in medical science - seeing it in action has given me a new perspective on it all.