Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why I'm a terrible patient...: Part 3

(Continued from Part 2.)

When my son and I finally got home from the hospital, I thought we were in the clear.  I had a nasty case of mastitis, but I went to the doc, got some medicine, and it cleared up, no problem.  Recovering from pregnancy was tough, but I figured it would take a while for the aches and pains to go away.

Then, right around the time my son turned 4-months-old, one day at work, I got this bad pain in my abdomen while I was standing at the register.  It kept getting worse, until I was just about doubled over, but I figured it was just a stomach bug, maybe food poisoning.  But I tried to use the restroom, and nada.  I was off the next day, so I just stuck it out for the rest of my shift.

I spent most of the next day in bed, only getting up to take care of my son.  (Fortunately, 4-month-olds are relatively low-maintenance.)  Around 2:00 that afternoon, I couldn't take it anymore, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to give my son the attention he needed.  So I did something for the first time ever in my life.

I called my husband at work, and asked him to come home and take me to the hospital.

This was so out-of-character for me, that he left work that second, calling his boss on the way home to let him know where he was going.  We got my parents to watch my son, and he took me to the ER.  When they finally got me scanned, they saw something that definitely didn't belong.

A tooth.  In my abdomen.

They told me I had a dermoid tumor the size of a softball in my ovary, and that it must have gone unnoticed for so long because my son would have been in front of it during my prenatal ultrasounds.  I was scheduled for surgery for two days later to remove it.

When they got in there, they found I actually had a dermoid in each ovary (which occurs in only about 10% of cases), but fortunately, each tumor was smaller than they'd expected from the initial scan, only about the size of a baseball each.  (Lucky me!)  They had to take about half of each ovary to get everything out, and my awesome, bizarre doctor showed my family pictures from the surgery.  Because surgeons are weird.  (Fun fact:  Dermoids are teratomas, which means they're like stem cells and can form into anything.  So my tumor included a tooth, fat, hair, and skin.)

So I got home from that surgery, and started the process of recovery.  Except I never really felt 100%.  I felt better for a little while, but then I started getting this awful pain in my left side.  It felt stiff and swollen, and there was so much pressure in the area.  It got to the point where, December 23rd, I was curled up on my bathroom floor, vomiting uncontrollably and screaming.  I said then and I stand by it:  this pain was worse than labor without an epidural.  My husband dropped my son off at my parents and drove me to the hospital in pouring rain, me throwing up in a bag in the car.  They scanned me and found...nothing.

Literally.  They couldn't even find my right ovary at first, and scared me by telling me so.  (As one of my friends put it, that's not like misplacing your keys.  I think I would have noticed if I'd lost it.)

They said they could find no reason for my pain, gave me some drugs, and called my doc in.  He said he could do an exploratory surgery to try to find out what was going on, but it was two days before my son's 1st Christmas, so we agreed to put it off.  They got me on the books to come in mid-February.

I spent those two months very drugged up, trying to fight the pain.  They went in expecting to find nothing, but instead found that my tattered left ovary had wrapped around and adhered to my bowel.  (Adhesions can't be seen on x-rays or ultrasounds.)  They seperated everything as best they could, but I lost another bit of that ovary in the process, bringing it down to 1/3 of its original size.

From that point, history repeated itself almost verbatim.  I had agonizing pain, and doctors tried to ply me with meds to shut me up.  I got treated like a hypochondriac, and my husband practically screamed at doctors that something was wrong, and they needed to fix me.  Scans were done and showed nothing.  I was on Vicodin and Tramadol for pain, Flexeril (a muscle relaxer), and an anti-nausea med to help me keep them down.  My good doctor was more understanding, and agreed to another laproscopy.  I signed a waiver agreeing that, even if they found nothing wrong, I wanted them to do a salpingo-oophorectomy (remove my ovary and tube).  I wasn't taking any chances.  I just wanted the pain to stop.

The good doc wasn't taking any chances either.  He had another surgeon assist, just to be sure they found everything.

They got in and found that my left ovary had just plastered itself to my abdominal wall (as opposed to, you know, healing).  There was also another dermoid (which are supposedly not recurrent) growing in it already.  They also took a small, more harmless cyst off my right ovary, 'cause, hey, they were already in there.  And they sewed me back up.

Now, in an ideal world, I could say that I'm 100% pain-free.  Of course, this is the real world, and that's not the case.  I can say that my pain is a lot less, and that the bad days are a lot less frequent.  It's all very, very manageable, and that's good enough for me.

I suppose the best news is, I've learned my lesson.  I'm a much better advocate for myself and my health now.  The worst thing a doctor can do is be dismissive and the result is that I feel foolish.  The worst thing I can do is not speak up and call them on it, and the result could be that I jeopardize my health, or even die.

Doctors aren't perfect.  Not every case is textbook.  Mine certainly wasn't.  You just gotta remember, that seemingly omniscience guy, in the white coat, with the fancy diploma?  He works for you.


Jessie said...

I came across your blog when you advertised it on something else (ha, can't remember now what it was). I was interested in the cyst thing because my sister and my aunt had one, and I have tons of cysts, but none that have been surgical, and none of them have been dermoid!

I hope things are better now for you!

1st-Time Mommy said...

I hope things are going well for yourself and the other women in the family. I've had cysts that were non-dermoid, and I know that even the ones that don't require surgical removal can still be really painful.

I checked out your profile. You have great taste in music. I can't remember the last time I heard anyone talk about Kutless!

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