I am finally lucid enough to write about what the fuck just happened to me. Again.

Posted on 02.01.2014

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I wasn’t blogging back in 2003, I don’t think. I think I was thinking about it, but was preoccupied by things like finals at MICA, work and an emergency operation that launched a 10-year photo project. Let’s talk about that first.

I woke up one Sunday morning in 2003, maybe in March, after my last night as a waitress in a late-night sushi restaurant. I’m pretty sure the only reason I’d quit was because I was fed up with the managers, because looking back on it, I really loved that job most of the time. I had a shooting pain in my lower left side, just inside the pelvic bone. It was excruciating. My boyfriend at the time drove me to the nearest hospital, right down the block, and I was admitted into the ER. What followed was a few days of no one knowing what was wrong with me, until finally the doctors decided to ‘go in and have a look around’, as they saw that the blood had stopped flowing to my left ovary.

I woke up minus the entire left side of my reproductive system. A cyst that had formed thanks to change in birth control pills that was so large it had toppled the ovary, causing it to choke on its own blood supply, and die. Then it fell between my uterus and my bladder, blocking all urine from exiting the body. If I had not been catheterized a few hours after entering the ER, my bladder would have burst and I wouldn’t be here. But they got to that in time, thankfully. The ovary and tube we lost, but that was no problem: we function fine on just one. Like kidneys.

So as it turned out, I needed to be on my original birth control pills to keep the massive killer cysts at bay. I’ve been on tri-sprinted (generic Ortho Tri Cyclen) since then. Well, until last year.

Last year I had that surgery: the tubal ligation. Looking back, it seems almost humorous now that I was bitching about having to take a pill every day for the rest of my child-bearing years. I guess I kind of forgot. Except I didn’t: I specifically wrote that we’d have to see how it went, not taking the bcps, since they helped my cyst issue. That was July 2012. Right before I went and changed everything.

So here I am, a week away from flying one-way to Japan and a new life. And on the early morning of the 28th, I had that insane pain that I never expected I’d have again. On the other side. I somehow managed to fall asleep and said that if it was still bad in the morning, we might have to go to the ER. I woke up, was fine for 5 minutes, and then it was somehow worse.

I’m not sure how to even describe worse. There’s a pain scale they ask you about in hospitals, with 10 being the highest. I might have called it a 10, except I’ve never gone through childbirth or had an arm amputated without anesthesia. So I imagine, there might be something worse than what I felt. But it was pretty fucking awful, and even worse, totally familiar.

We got to the ER in record time and I was admitted really quickly (also my first experience with the NHS here in England as a non-EU foreigner, tricky). My only saving grace this time around was that since I’d been through something that felt similar before, I could 1- perfectly report my entire medical history and describe the pain to them and 2- tell them what I thought was happening. This got me to the gynaecology department quickly. I was admitted a 8:30am, and I was on the operating table by 5 pm. Much faster than the 3 or 4 days it took the first time. The ovary was 3x its normal size and covered in 3 too-large cysts, with a 4th that had burst and leaked everywhere. It was pretty grim that they saw a cyst and thought it was my ovary at first. This time when I went under, we knew that one of three things would be the outcome:

1- the ovary was choking, they untangle it, kill the cysts, get the blood back and it survives.
2- the ovary got the blood back and didn’t survive: removal of right side.
3- the ovary was already dead: removal of right side.

I actually went under expecting to wake up with no ovaries, to be put on hormone replacement and told I could not fly to Japan. It was a devastating thought.

***
Funny anesthesia stories, as usual

I have a ton of funny stories about the things I have said or done on the way under while laying on the operating table. Anesthesia is one hell of a drug, and the closest I will probably ever get to time travel. How else can blinking your eye once take 5 hours?

This time, I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut as I fell asleep pre-op. Then again, the doctors weren’t trying to distract me by talking to me, so it was easy not to say anything silly.

Upon waking up, however, I’m pretty sure I punched and attacked the doctors while laying down, on drugs. Anesthesia is one hell of a drug.

I should mention that my past operations, which were lump removal,  ovary removal and termination in the US, and a tubal ligation in Germany, all managed to have me wake up in a dimly lit room, alone, on my own terms. In England, apparently, they don’t want to wait for you to wake up, they wake you up by giving you an oxygen mask to breathe into once you’re out of the room. I woke up and immediately felt like it was some kind of alien autopsy with about 8 faces leaning over me, and I flipped the fuck out. I think I was hyperventilating, trying to pull off the mask, and the doctors were holding it in place, which was terrible since I really thought I was choking. 

There was some back and forth with the lady who handled me in the recovery room afterwards as I came off the drugs, in which I pulled up the mask to talk and then put it back down, to the tune of ‘I had no idea I was going to wake up like that, I was so afraid, I am so sorry for hitting people, I’ve never had an operation in England before’ and her telling me that they never let the patients sleep it off, you silly girl.

***

I watched the sun rise on the 29th. Room with a great view.

I watched the sun rise on the 29th. Room with a great view.

The operation took about 2 hours longer that it should have, and I was back to my room around 8:30 pm. I was begging them to take me back up because I knew Mark was waiting up there for me and it must have been hours, and they called to make sure he was still there. As it turned out, I think they liked him or us enough to get away with anything and he got to be there far past visiting hours for the ward. I think just because of the nature of the issue. I tried to stay awake to talk to my visitors, as usual, which was a pretty epic fail (and always is, those drugs take hours to wear off). They told me to go to sleep and left around 9, and I slept until midnight, when I woke up and called my dad to tell him how it all went. Mark had been on phone duty all day and I figured it would be smart to call him once I was lucid. Which I totally wasn’t.

I was dozing while talking, also dozing while facebooking and answering emails, and then finally dozed some more after watching the sun rise, but before everyone got to me around 9am the next day. I then spent the entire day trying to get out of the hospital, which involved having to prove I could pee after they removed the catheter (this was actually harder than it seemed and took hours of hard work) and talking to many doctors about what was coming next.

I have a collection of 'me in hospital bed' photos now.

I have a collection of ‘me in hospital bed’ photos now.

The verdict:

I still have my ovary. It had twisted twice on the blood line and they were able to untwist it, get the blood flowing, burst the cysts and drain all of the leakage. It went back to its normal size by the time they were finished. I have to go back on birth control pills once I hit my next cycle to keep the cysts away, and have to see a gyno in 5 weeks in Japan to make sure everything is fine post-op. I was put on bed rest until this morning and got to go back to teaching today, finally, which I was thankful for. The first day of recovery was horrible, as my entire body was sore from the exact amount of clenching I’d been doing while in pain. I’m back to my shaky-MS normal now, for the most part.

I am: annoyed that after folding 1,000 cranes and wishing for ‘supreme excellent great health’ that this happened, and that no matter what I do to be healthy, shit will happen. It’s just in my genes. Relieved that we caught this one in time and I didn’t need hormone replacement therapy. Amused at the irony of a woman who can’t ever get pregnant needing to take birth control pills for the next 13 years or so. Thankful this happened now and not next week, and that I can go to Japan and begin my new life unhindered. Mostly. Also thankful that the NHS covers everyone in emergency care. I may or may not ever see a hospital bill. We’ll discuss that as it happens.

By this time next week I’ll be in Japan, starting from the absolute bottom again: tiny bank account, retirement account gone, new job, empty home, in full recovery mode at the bottom of the health scale. Let’s see if I can end 2014 on a high note, in the green and with great reviews.

On a slightly unrelated note, laying in bed recovering for the past few days has given me some time to reflect. I am thankful for many things. I’m thankful for already having been through this once: I feel no pain in the recovery, as they went in through my 13- and 1- year old scars again. I’m thankful I knew what was happening and was able to tell the doctors. I’m thankful for this life I almost chose NOT to take. I almost went the easy way and coasted along in security. And I am most thankful for the person who said he’d follow me anywhere. It’s courageous to love someone, but even more courageous to walk away from everything you know and love and into the unknown because of it. All of the security in the world could never match that. I am so thankful for Mark.

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