Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Chronicles of Hernia

Upon experiencing a piercing pain in my abdomen, right around my navel—one that rendered me unable to stand straight or even take a step without excruciating pain—I hollered to my husband and limped to the nearest dining chair.

“What happened?” he asked, as he moseyed in, finishing a Go-gurt and tossing the wrapper in the trash can.

“I feel a sharp pain in my stomach whenever I stand,” I explained, wanting to add and while I walk or sit.

“You probably just pulled a muscle.” OK, so his bedside manner isn’t going to win an award any time in the near—or distant—future.

“You think that’s what it is? I was wondering if it could be a hernia.”

I lifted my sweatshirt and began self-diagnosing. “Feel this hard lump, right above my belly button.” I guided his hand—as well as everyone else’s in the house—to the spot.

“Yep, you pulled a muscle. That’s exactly how my calf felt after I pulled that muscle going for a rebound.”

“What should I do?”

“Well, take a couple of Advil, put some ice on it, and don’t move,” he said, moving toward our extra freezer in the laundry room.

I managed to chicken-walk to our bedroom, brush my teeth hunched over the sink, and crawl into bed—still clothed in the t-shirt and sweats I’d worn to the cheer competition. The stabbing pain, my new constant friend, lasted another day and a half.

Call me a baby, but in this instance I wanted to see my own doctor. Turns out, he wasn’t available—at least not when I didn’t already have a hair appointment scheduled—until Wednesday afternoon.

While I acknowledge the fact that only a handful of males actually read this blog, those few out there are scratching their heads, amazed that I’d place a higher importance on my hair than my health. All I have to say to that is, look at your hair, then look at mine. ‘Nuff said.

Oh, and I’m forgetting that men usually allow really important things—like golf tournaments and company hunting trips and the March Madness—to get in the way of scheduling regular prostate exams.

So, can we just agree to disagree on the priority—or lack thereof—of any health crises?

Anyway, at the appointment, Dr. B. felt the marble in my abdomen and calmly stated that he would schedule me an appointment with the surgeon that afternoon or first thing in the morning.
Something about a strangulated hernia.

Now I don’t know about you folks, but I find the Internet to be a love/hate relationship. I love that I can find the location of every Half-Price Books in the Metroplex with the touch of a button. I hate that not every bit of information available on even medical-looking and –sounding websites is necessarily correct.

However, after researching for less than five minutes, my outlook wasn’t good. No wonder Dr. B. wanted to get me to a surgeon right away. If I coughed or laughed too hard, bent the wrong way, or laughed too hard while watching Liar, Liar, I could strangulate my hernia, causing sepsis and possibly death in as little as six hours.

(I’m thinking that because I’m writing this entry near the end of March you’ve figured out that didn’t happen . . . )

The surgeon’s office managed to squeeze me in. I didn’t even mind the hour and a half wait. By this time I knew I’d be having surgery, and now sounded better than later with the scary type of hernia housed behind my belly button.

Dr. Kenneth Bryce walked into the exam room where Bret and I sat reading—him a Sports Illustrated, me a book I’m reviewing for a friend. He shook our hands and asked how we were doing.

I played along. After all, he knew why we were there. I appreciated his effort to put me at ease.

“I don’t know if you remember us, but our daughters played soccer together—years ago. We’re Molly Wilson’s parents.”

“Oh sure,” he nodded, true recognition behind the gesture. (Seems like kind of silly thing, but I felt comforted sort of knowing the doctor who would be rearranging my innerds.)

“Well, let’s see what you’ve got.”

I lifted my shirt to reveal my tummy, and he poked around for a few seconds. He certainly knew his stuff.

“Yep, that’s a hernia. Let’s operate tomorrow.”

Now usually when someone tries to force his or her will, opinion or schedule on me, I don’t respond with all the proper social graces. In fact, I’m irritated that my youngest son’s baseball coaches scheduled team practices for Friday and Sunday evenings this season. Have they no social life? And I’ve had trouble adapting to added practices before cheer competitions or the school play. Do such folks think we can just drop everything to be available at their beck and call?

However, when the surgeon who knows all about my condition—and apparently it ain’t that great—says I need surgery the next day, well, for that I can clear my schedule.

Come Friday morning, “Don’t eat or drink anything past midnight” rang through my ears and played like a drumbeat in my head as every hour passed. Parched, I asked Bret for a piece of gum. Ah, the relief that provided, as saliva washed down the desert gorge of my throat.

When the nurse found out, she took that away as well, mentioning something about it causing stomach acids to churn, possibly affecting anesthesia. (It dawned on me that nurses must have their repertoire of lectures, just like teachers and parents.)

The anesthesiologist, sporting a Texas A & M surgical cap, popped behind my screen next, introducing himself and explaining procedure. I nodded that I understood. Inside I questioned the notion that an Aggie would administer medicine to make me sleep through surgery. Not really. Actually I looked forward to the nap. (Moms out there understand this weird, warped notion.)

Dr. Bryce came in to chat and make sure we felt comfortable with everything going on. I told him I hoped he would do a good job. He laughed and said he would.

Bret kissed me good-bye and promised not to remarry too soon if I croaked on the operating table.

Lucky for him, I was in good humor from the special cocktail the anesthesiologist had already given me.

After the nurse wheeled me down the corridor and into one of the surgical rooms, I had time to look around the beautiful, well-lit space, hear a brief moment of classical music, and slide over to the operating table from the gurney. Then the world faded to black.

Too bad I wouldn’t be that calm or pain-free for a couple of weeks. I wish I had enjoyed it more.

Because all too soon I got to enjoy the aftermath of my hernia procedure.

Pain. Excruciating pain.

I laugh when people comment about their high pain tolerance because how can any of us truly know the level to which someone else aches or hurts. I can tell you this: I gave birth in 1994 with no epidural or other numbing meds. Our crummy, self-employed health insurance allotted us $5,000 for everything maternity-related—including pre-natal, childbirth and post-natal care. Being ever-so-frugal, I didn’t want to spend the extra money.

And, yes, childbirth hurt.

But hernia pain didn’t promise such a happy ending. Instead of going home with a beautiful baby girl, I boasted a seven-month-pregnant-looking belly, endured constipation from pain meds, and enjoyed a liquid diet for three days.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The doctor and Bret decided—they insist they did ask me but answered them only with moaning—I should stay overnight so they could better manage my pain.

Turns out, the surgery was much more complicated than Dr. Bryce originally anticipated. Because my hernia, the result of a birth defect, had been in place for some time, its repair presented major challenges. The surgeon had to add two addition incision sites (for a total of five) to be able to access the area. He also enlarged the hernia in order to detangle it from muscle surrounding it. (The one time sit-ups don’t pay off!)

From what I hear I wasn’t quite myself (or, perhaps I was myself magnified to an unattractive degree) when I woke. The good news: I’m a happy drunk. Bret tells me I moaned, claimed increasing pain, and asked for stronger, faster-acting drugs to manage the pain.

Tell me why, then, would anyone trust my input on deciding whether I should stay overnight in the hospital? I vaguely remember agreeing it would be a good idea. Looking back, I think Bret was afraid he’d be carrying me back to the emergency room at about two a.m. for more pain medicine.

Still foggy when I reached my hospital room, Bret maintains I repeatedly proclaimed my love for him as he force-fed me Jell-O® and bullion.

The next day, my incredibly caring husband shared this info with family and friends via e-mail:

Leslie’s home now. We thought it would be better to have her stay overnight at the hospital where they had the good drugs. It took two Vicodin, some Valium, and finally a morphine chaser to get the pain manageable.

Once home, I parked in the giant leather chair in our family room. Bret placed on either side two barstools containing life’s necessities: the current novel I was reading, necessary meds, the remote control, and a few snacks.

Unable to lie on my back or either side, I slept sitting up in that chair for three nights. Again, only wonderful pain meds made even that possible.

Even in pain from the slightest movement, I craved ramen, saltines, Italian ice—anything my body could digest easily.

Night five I returned to my own bed, nestled among pillows and blankets placed just so. Sitting up from a reclining position presented major challenges—from bruised stomach muscles poked, prodded and manhandled during surgery, as well as sensitive incision sites glued closed.
Like many busy moms I occasionally daydream about being injured just badly enough or having a minor illness that would force me to bed rest for a week—just to enjoy the rest. However, his surgery changed my mind.

R & R like that just ain’t worth it.

I’m glad to be back into life, crazy as it is.

1 comment:

spaghettipie said...

Glad you're getting better - or at least well enough to write funny tales of the land of hernia. I'll be very careful which wardrobe I walk into from now on!