It began Wednesday as intermittent sharp pain in the lower left quadrant of my abdomen. I’d been having what I’d taken to calling gut issues for a while, and in July I was diagnosed with gastroparesis–a condition in which the stomach muscles don’t function normally so digestion is slowed down. We all digest at different rates, but the digestive time frames for folks with gastroparesis is much wider than for folks without it.
I’ve been learning about what foods I can eat without digestion problems as well as eating more but smaller meals throughout the day. And generally speaking, things had been going pretty well.
So I was concerned about the abdominal pain, but didn’t think too much of it. It was a flare up or something and would be gone soon enough. By early evening, however, the pain was worse, and I began to wonder if I needed to go to the ER.
I’m not one to go to the Dr often, so considering going to the ER was a big step for me. As I lay in bed and the pain grew more intense, I finally awoke Mr. Desert and asked, “How can I tell the pain is severe enough to go to the ER?” He noted that if I was asking that question it meant I needed to go. So we headed off to the ER around 11:30.
Took no time at all for the ER staff to have me in a room, vitals recorded and some tests ordered. An x-ray and then a CAT Scan showed I had diverticulitis. Apparently many of us have diverticulosis–small pouches form in the wall of the colon–which go unnoticed unless seen on a colonoscopy or, as in my case, they get inflamed or infected; it’s that inflammation and infection that’s called diverticulitis and I can attest to the fact that it is incredibly painful.
So the ER Docs tell me I can go home and it’ll take 8-10 days of antibiotics and a clear liquid diet to get the pain and infection under control, or, what they’d prefer I do is stay a couple days so they can pump me full of IV antibiotics, observe my progress, and keep me on a clear liquid diet. As much as I didn’t want to stay, I could see Mr Desert wanted me to, and I was in a whole lot of pain, so I agreed. Turns out that was the second smartest decision I made that day.
They get a room set up, take me in, hook me up to IV antibiotics and fluids, and I wait. Eventually Mr. Desert drops off my laptop, iPad and phone charger, so I’m set. I can take in all the meds they want to give me, and I can get some work done. I kept busy, was occasionally beset by terrible pain, and had my vitals taken every few hours. As hospital stays go, it was fine.
Later that morning a doc comes in and tells me they spotted something on the X-Ray and CAT scan and would like to do a follow-up ultrasound. When I ask for details, the doc says they think I may have a cyst on my left ovary–same side where the diverticulitis pain is located–and want a closer look. Yes, the pain might be a combination of diverticulitis and the cyst, and yes, I do have diverticulitis, the discovery of the cyst hasn’t changed that diagnosis. They would just like to get more information.
So, off to ultrasound I go. And not only do I get the usual ultrasound, but I also get . . .yes, you guessed it . . .a transvaginal ultrasound. Not necessarily painful, but certainly an uncomfortable procedure. I asked the tech if she’s been called Cuccinelli, but she doesn’t seem to get the reference. The images from the transvaginal ultrasound were turned away from my line of sight, which I assume would not be the case when the procedure is used to shame women seeking an abortion. More on that at another time. At least thinking about the politics of the procedure kept my mind occupied as she poked around quite a bit.
Once the ultrasound was done, they wheeled me back to my room, and I spent the day soaking up antibiotics and pain meds and wishing I could eat something other than red jello and chicken broth. Every so often someone would come in and take my temperature and blood pressure, draw some blood, and give me a heparin injection.
As it nears the time when shifts change, I call my nurse and ask about the ultrasound results. She checks and finds nothing noted on my chart and shares the ole “I guess no news is good news.” I spend another sleepless night being poked, prodded, cuffed, and let, and am happy to discover as the sun rises that coffee has been added to my list of fluids. So as Mr. Desert joins me for a breakfast of veggie broth, red jello, cranberry juice, and wonderful coffee, and I get my first sip of the tasty bean in three days, the doctor enters the room and gently takes the coffee from my hand. “The ultrasound results show you have a rather large cyst on your left ovary, and we need to take it out. No more coffee or liquid of any kind for you for the rest of the day. Surgery is scheduled for 4:30.” And out the door she goes.
So what last night was “no news is good news” became big cyst and has to go. I have to admit I was taken aback by this. I’d had no indication anything was wrong other than some diverticulitis and was anticipating leaving the hospital that or the next afternoon. I’d spoken to a GI doc and a nutritionist about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid, things to pay attention to that might indicate a flare up, and the like.
Now there was an entirely different issue to consider, and no one any longer seemed interested in diverticulitis. Time slowed down, and I spent the day grading papers and catching up on email. Finally about 4:00pm, the pre-op staff came into my room, unplugged a few things and plugged in some new things, asked me a few questions, and then wheeled me over to pre-op.
During the process, I felt as if people were holding something back. Each time a nurse asked me if I was aware of what was going on, and I said I was told there was a large cyst on my left ovary that needed to be removed, she would smile, look at another nurse and busy herself with some task. Once I was properly suited up with various tubes bringing sleep inducing drugs my way, the surgeon walked in and delivered the following bombshell:
So, a number of us have gone over your films and have concluded that you have a very large tumor on your left ovary. The plan is to go in and using a sac, gather the tumor, your ovary and fallopian tube and pull it all back through the incision. However, once we get in there, if we spot other tumors, we’ll wash everything and close you up, and your next stop will be an ovarian oncologist. Any questions?
Any questions??? When did this become about a tumor and the possibility of cancer? I try to ask as I drift off. The next thing I recall is Mr. Desert repeatedly asking, “so there’s no cancer” and “when did you or anyone else know this was possibly about cancer?
That all took place on Friday, and I came home mid-day on Saturday. Since then I’ve had some pretty powerful pain, more so than what took me to the ER in the first place, and we’ve learned very little about how the conversation moved from diverticulitis to cancer. The surgery went well; the tumor didn’t move beyond the ovary, they got it all, and appears to be benign–path reports will be back early next week–and I am recovering as expected.
I will see my surgeon a week from today and will then learn more about the probable development and growth of the tumor, its discovery, removal and what the future holds.
Since it seems the discussion of diverticulitis has come to an end, I’m scheduled to see my doc on Friday to see where she things we need to go from here.
Remember when the Reader’s Digest would publish those short, informative pieces titled “I’m John’s Pancreas,” or “I’m Jane’s Ovary”? It would feature a human organ speaking in the first person, telling readers all about its functions, size, shape and the like. So, I guess in some ways this is my (slightly altered) homage to the Reader’s Digest series. I wish I could have told one of those stories instead of this one. So simple and straightforward and uncomplicated. I fear those are things my stories will never be.