A month ago tomorrow I had an episode that sent me to the emergency room. As a person who has foolishly played the role of my own doctor for years, it was surreal to check myself into the ER with pain I wasn’t able to diagnose or control. I have long prided myself on my ability to handle whatever ailed me. I’ve never had surgery or a broken bone or stitches, in fact the last time I was in the hospital as a patient was for my birth. That’s not to say I haven’t had my fair share of illness, bumps, bruises and burns but for the most part I take care of them all myself. I have a high tolerance for pain and a low one for asking for help. But not that Tuesday morning.
I was at work when the pain in my chest started. It came on suddenly, like heartburn only more intense, more painful. Very shortly after the pain in my chest started, I began sweating profusely… as in suddenly drenched in sweat, it dripping from my hair. I went to the bathroom and took my shirt off and began to realize the pain in my chest was so intense I was having difficulty breathing. I couldn’t get comfortable or cool down. I put my shirt back on and went back to my desk, tried to sip some water and calm my breathing… but by that point I was feeling faint and breathing was becoming such a struggle I couldn’t control it. I thought “Is this a panic attack?” and wondered if it were, why? I’d gone through SO much in the past several months, why when life was starting to balance out and feel amazing, would I be having a panic attack? I had just had my wellness check and, ironically, bragged in this blog about how healthy I was. What could be wrong? I thought of my friend Wayne and his sudden heart attack and decided I needed to go to the hospital.
In hindsight I should have asked someone for help. I should have turned to a co-worker and asked for ride to the hospital – after all it’s only across the street. But I still fall back into my stubborn, independent ways at times and still struggling to breathe and trying to focus my attention, I drove myself across the street to the ER.
“Can I help you miss?” FINALLY someone is calling me a miss! Thank you North Kansas City Hospital!
In a quiet voice, “I’m not feeling very well.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
Quieter still, “Um, I’m having a lot of pain in my chest and difficulty breathing…”
Before I could even process that I had actually gone to the ER I found myself hooked up to an EKG machine in one of the rooms back in emergency. I had nurses and doctors buzzing around, blood being drawn, chest x-rays taken. It was all a whirlwind. And all the tests were coming back without issue except one heart enzyme level in my bloodwork that the doctor wanted to keep an eye on. Naturally as soon as he left the room I Googled the enzyme, troponin. Basically the troponin level should be at zero, they are proteins found in the heart and are released into the blood when there is damage to the heart.
I began laughing out loud when I read that. Here I was, after everything was said and done, about to be diagnosed with a literal broken heart. I had gone to a counselor for the first time the night before and began to think that rehashing all the hurt and heartache from the last several months was the final straw pushing my heart over the edge. Maybe I wasn’t as strong as I thought. Maybe the emotional pain was exhibiting itself physically because I hadn’t worked through it enough. These are the thoughts that ran rampant in my head as I waited for the second round of blood work to come back. As I mentally prepared myself for a diagnosis of a broken (weakened) heart, I tried to focus on at least they’d be able to give me something to alleviate the pain… because it was still as intense all those hours later as it was when I first came in. However, the blood tests came back, the minor rise in the level was deemed a non-episode and I was released.
Um. HELLO??? I still feel like I’m dying and you’re just sending me home??? Seriously? And so it went. My orders were to follow up with my primary care physician (which meant I had to get one) and that there really wasn’t much they could do in the ER, I wasn’t dying and my heart was strong. As much as it sucked to be released with no end in sight for the pain, I must admit it felt pretty good to have a bunch of tests confirm what I thought I’d learned over the past few months – My heart is stronger than any ill-intentioned man.
So, here it is a month later (and still varying levels of pain and discomfort) and we’ve discovered the issue. A week after my ER trip I was able to get an appointment with a Nurse Practitioner and, while all my blood work didn’t indicate any issues with my gallbladder, I was feeling a lot of tenderness in that area so, after an abdominal ultrasound, it was confirmed – I have gallstones (apparently a lot and it’s probably been an issue for a while) and my gallbladder needs to be removed.
While having my first ultrasound by myself looking for what’s broken within me isn’t exactly how I always imagined that moment would go, I have to admit it felt really good to find a reason for the pain with a clear course of action to fix it. It has also been interesting to research the issue and realize that I probably have been in degrees of pain for a long time, but since I tend to ignore those things and fight through them I wasn’t aware. It’s exciting to think how much better I’ll feel after this Wednesday. But… it’s also starting to get a bit depressing now that it’s here.
I am having surgery in about 34 hours and had previously convinced myself it wasn’t a big deal. And, in a lot of ways, it really isn’t. This is the most common surgery done in the US. I am having it done robotically which will require one tiny cut by my belly button. I will, in all likeliness, go home the same day as the surgery. In my head I will be back at work on Monday (this is arguable to some, but I’m pretty tough). In a lot of ways, it REALLY isn’t a big deal… so then, why is it starting to feel like it?
This weekend I spent more time with the guy I had the epic date with last weekend and it made me sad. Really sad. It made me realize that I’m almost 38 years old and I’m having surgery and I’m all alone. Being alone is okay, I’ve been alone a lot in my life, but every now and then loneliness creeps into that alone space and it’s a very hollow feeling. This is one of those times. I think spending time with someone I feel so connected to, but am just getting to know, reminds me how lonely alone can be. I wish I didn’t have to ask for help. I wish I didn’t have to be alone. A few people have offered to help me, and I appreciate it, I really do, but the fact is it makes me uncomfortable accepting help knowing that I’ll be feeling weak and vulnerable those first few days. Thinking about it makes me realize these are the times having a partner in life would be so meaningful. That best friend you trust entirely and know will care for you not out of kindness or duty, but because he loves you and wants to just be there. It’s the wanting of that, more than anything, that has me feeling a little sad as I prepare for my gallbladder removal.
Originally I was going to Uber to the hospital and have a co-worker bring me home, but my co-worker and her husband won’t have it so he is bringing me in the morning. I do love that my new team is this caring and insistent upon helping – I know several of my old co-workers would have been as well. It’s good to have people you can rely on. But, it’s starting to get a little lonely thinking of being in surgery without anyone in the waiting room, checking in with the doctor, sending updates to family and friends. Then I think about going home alone, not knowing what my pain level will be or my mobility, and it just reminds me that I’m 37, single and just shy of a crazy cat lady. BUT, I also recognize I chose this.
So, I am stocked up on frozen meals, movies, books and comfy clothes and am ready to rid myself of this non-essential organ so I can get back to all my positive life changes! And who knows, maybe someday there will be someone there who’s help I gladly accept and who fills up the hollow spaces. If nothing else I’m learning more and more how much I still want that. And knowing is half the battle.