So here’s the story.
I was watching “The Colbert Report” on Monday night, feeling stomach pains for a few hours already. Thinking I was just hungry, I ate a salad and pizza.
Then it really hit me.
I’m talking excruciating pain in my abdomen area. It felt like I had been kicked in the gut by a pro wrester — then stabbed with a fire knife. I was writhing in pain on the bed, all the while telling Derek, “No, I’m fine. It’ll pass.”
He was convinced I need to go to the emergency room, like, two hours earlier. He called my parents who rushed to The Queen’s Medical Center to wait for me.
And it was that guilt — that my parents were already there, waiting — that finally convinced me to go.
“The doctors are going to say there’s nothing wrong,” I kept saying.
“Yeah, but you never know,” Derek said, patiently. “It’s better to go and be right than not go and be wrong.”
He had a point.
I could have kidney stones or a cyst on my ovary. It could be anything. It could be just gas. I may as well go and find out.
So I reluctantly — and those who know me know how reluctant I can be — went to Queen’s.
After getting my ovaries checked out and drinking a plastic container of some fluid that tasted a lot like peach iced tea for a CAT scan — this was over the course of about seven hours, by the way — we got the final verdict: I needed to get my appendix removed.
I knew I had an appendix. But I really didn’t know where it was or what it did.
Turns out even experts don’t know what the true function of this worm-shaped organ that sits at the junction of the small and large intestines in the lower right abdomen is.
Some say it acts as a storehouse for good bacteria, “rebooting” the digestive system after diarrheal illnesses. Others believe it’s just a useless remnant from our evolutionary past.
And apparently, removing it doesn’t do your body any harm.
In fact, I know people who got their appendixes removed and that wasn’t even the point of the surgery.
So I had an appendectomy scheduled for later that morning.
I wasn’t exactly ready for emergency surgery. (Not that anyone, by definition, really is.) But I had several freelance stories due, class to teach that afternoon, laundry to finish and two dogs to walk. Not to mention I had dinner plans that night. It just wasn’t a good time.
“Am I having the appendectomy now?” I asked the doctor on call.
He looked at me confused. “Is there another time you want it?” And before I could respond — because I must’ve looked like I would — he continued. “Yes, today.”
“Can I keep it? You know, the appendix?”
The doctor gave me that same confused look and shook his head. “What are you going to do with it?” he asked, likely rhetorically.
“Mount it,” I replied.
He left the room and I never saw him again.
The surgery itself was going to take about 45 minutes. But the recovery would be a couple of days in the hospital and several weeks after that.
I was lucky enough to get assigned the veteran surgeon Dr. Fong-Liang Fan to do my procedure. What he lacked in bedside manners — he walked over and said, “We’re going to cut you here and take out your appendix. Any questions?” — he made up with precision and the kind of skill you can only acquire after 30 years in the OR.
But I won’t lie: I was freaking out.
First, I got wheeled into the operating room still conscious.
“Um, shouldn’t I be knocked out already?” I asked the nurse.
“Some people like to see where they’re going, what the room looks like…”
“Not me! I don’t!”
I really didn’t. I didn’t need to see them lift me from the gurney to the operating table. I didn’t need to see the machines and instruments. I didn’t need to feel the sensors being stuck to my body.
“Can someone knock me out already?”
Before I could get an answer, I was waking up in recovery, wondering what just happened and why I had a sudden feeling of nausea come over me.
During an appendectomy, the surgeon makes a small cut in the lower right side of your belly and removes the appendix. A lot of times this is done laparoscopically, using small surgical cuts and a camera. Recovery time is a little faster this way.
So, of course, I got the open surgery.
Turns out my appendix was larger than normal — that was the first thing the surgeon told my parents — and part of it was inflamed. I had a urinary catheter put it and spent the next 36 hours on my back, watching TV in between medicine-induced naps. I couldn’t ingest anything but clear liquids — so no plate lunches or slush floats — and I wasn’t strong enough to get out of bed myself.
It was a pretty horrible existence.
If it weren’t for family and friends who visited and the stellar nursing staff in Tower 9 Ewa and Iolani 2, I don’t think I would’ve mentally survived.
I was discharged late Wednesday and came home to much of the same: sleeping off the nausea and headaches, dealing with a bad reaction to painkillers, and calling Derek every few hours to walk me to the bathroom.
It’s hard to believe how many people get their appendixes removed. In the U.S. 1 in 15 people will get appendicitis. And anecdotally, it seems like a lot of folks I know on Facebook and Twitter have had this organ removed — some as kids.
The worst is definitely over. I’m not taking painkillers, so it’s been a little rough for me in terms of getting around or even sitting at a computer for longer than 10 minutes. But it’s doable — and I plan on getting back in the water, hiking up ridges and eating everything in sight as soon as I possibly can.
Thanks to everyone who sent me well wishes over this blog, Twitter, Facebook, text or old-fashioned cards in the mail. All your support and love has meant a lot to me. It’s gotten me through some rough patches. And I promise, no more talk about appendixes.
But wouldn’t it have been cool if I had a photo to post?