November 6, 2011

Irony, Missed Celebrations, and Appendix Surgery

Just when I thought I was going to be happiest, celebrating, and relishing a rare opportunity for pure enjoyment, I got shot down. Not literally, but figuratively, by appendicitis.

It crept up on me unexpectedly, as I suppose it does for anyone who gets it. On Halloween night, Margo was working late, and I was still getting over what I thought was a 24-hr bug over the weekend. So we'd opted to replace going out trick-or-treating with the baby on Halloween for going out two nights later (Weds) to see the Dia de los Muertos altars downtown. I was also excited to celebrate receiving my Mexican naturalization that same day. So Margo came home early, and got himself and the baby ready, but I was still languishing on the couch.

What's wrong, he asked. I complained that my belly was so swollen, and I couldn't figure out what was going on with me. I looked up a few things online, and started to wonder if maybe I was presenting symptoms from an old Giardia infection I'd found out I had when I was 9 months pregnant. At the time, I couldn't take the medicine because of its potential danger to the baby, but since I wasn't showing symptoms, it seemed like a non-issue. Maybe it was still in my system. After the pain got worse, I finally accepted the fact that we weren't going out that night, except to get some medicine. The bumps of the road were intolerable, enough to make me wonder if it wasn't a mistake to not go to the ER. Back home, it got bad enough that I called my mother and mentioned it to a friend who knows a pediatrician, and both of them worried that it might be appendicitis.

Now worried myself, I called my gastroenterologist's clinic, the one who's seen me before for other issues (Mexico, unfortunately, has a rather unpleasant characteristic of causing plentiful GI problems). When I described it over the phone, relayed through the secretary, I was told to take a painkiller and wait until the morning. When I checked the compatability with breastfeeding, I discovered that the meds had been discontinued in the U.S and were not OK for lactation, so I toughed it out that night. There were a few intensely painful moments, but not worse than any pain I'd felt before in my life, so I was still optimistic that I'd be better by morning.

When I went in Thursday morning and the doctor checked me, he said he was pretty sure it was appendicitis, but he wanted to run tests to be sure, and put me in observation. I stayed at the clinic in a private room watching TV most of the day, and when he came in to check me again that afternoon, the clinical signs convinced him that it was appendicits. Even though appendicitis is technically a medical emergency because of the risk of rupture and infectious complications, and although my abdomen was quite swollen, the weird thing was, it didn't hurt as terribly as it had the night before but that was probably because I hadn't eaten anything in almost 24 hours. But he explained that some cases develop more gradually than others. The sign for him that clinched the diagnosis was localized pain upon pressure in my lower right abdomen, and more, severe pain upon letting go of the pressure, or Blumberg's sign, which indicated onset of peritonitis. I was in the OR less than half an hour later.

There was some initial confusion about whether I'd stay and be operated on at that clinic, or whether I'd seek surgery at the public hospital where I have free state insurance (Seguro Popular). But since I'd already waited so long and the doctor indicated it was urgent (if I went to the public hospital I'd likely have to wait again), and since it was my first surgery, which scared me, and I really wanted to be able to room in with my family (at the public clinics they separate you from your family), I decided to have it done at the clinic.

On the operating table, I got upset that it'd somehow been my fault. Hindsight is 20/20, but this view was still obscure. Even so, I wished there'd have been some way to prevent this, and felt something akin to failure. The nerves of being put under also crept in and I started to cry, blubbering that I ate well and I'd gotten this far in life without ever having been operated on, so why did this have to happen? But the assisting physician was a woman who spoke English, and she whispered, "It's going to be OK, it wasn't your fault. It could have been some seeds you ate!" At least partly, she was right—I did end up OK. As for what caused this, I may never know, and I may just have to leave that answer to the gods.

The practical moral of the story for me is that I may have to get more regular checkups (even for the rest of my family) to make sure sure we don't have any lingering or unknown infections. I also might have to trust more in the public medical facilities, for a variety of reasons, although I have an equal number of reasons why I'm still hesitant to do that.

As for getting over missing out on my celebrations and starting swim lessons, something I (with great difficulty) had recently carved out for myself (ironically, to improve my overall health) but won't be able to do until I heal, I can only chalk it up as an initiation rite of becoming a Mexican citizen. Oh yeah, and just to be safe, I better get my Day of the Dead altar up on time next year...don't want to take any more chances that I've pissed off any espiritus!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Nicole,
    Glad to hear you made it through alive.
    I too had this experience in Mexico... not so fun for sure. I thought it was so bad Chinese peanut food for days, until reality hit me, "wait a minute... this isnt normal." You know that moment when you realize you're in Mexico in a hard way!
    Take care,


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