Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Rogue Appendix

(I wrote this blog while still in the hospital and since so many people have asked what happened, and since this could really happen to anyone, at any time, I thought I'd share the story. This was one of my more dramatic episodes of the last 15 months, so enjoy:)

Robyn. Can't be sure but I am making an educated guess I didn't look anything like this.

Here I am in Pretoria’s Life Wilgers (pronounced in Afrikaans Vell-Hers, bru) Hospital. I have been here for 4 days. Today is by far the best day, I am sitting in a chair and not in a bed, and even got to walk around a little today with the physical therapist. The feeding tube and some other robot-like apparatuses are still in, making me look like (a completely unsexy version of) Robyn in the Indestructible video, and I am still in quite a bit of pain. I haven’t acquired a machine gun-prosthetic leg or anything cool like that (yet). But how did I go from a p90x-doing, boMake-bag-carrying, mountain-biking person to this weak creature who can hardly walk or eat bathe on their own? I’ll start at the beginning.

As a self-aware hypochondriac, I dismiss most of the health concerns as my own anxiety taking over. At the end of August, I went in for my Mid-Service Medical Review with a group of others. It was right after Swear-In, which burnt out those of us who helped with it and we were glad for the respite of 3 days of chilling. When we weren’t discussing bodily functions in great detail (#peacecorpsproblems), one of the boys entertained us by reading passages from romance novels found on the shelves of the PC library in his extremely dramatic voice and inflection, “AND THEN, she laid before him like a pagan sacrifice, he was LITERALLY a God”. They were hilarious and almost made us forget we were being tested for various types of helminthes, HIV and other diseases. Happy to be healthy, but worn out, possibly from missing an entire night’s sleep watching Game of Thrones Season 2 being social, two of my friends were crashing at my place on their way to Mozambique. I was excited for this but also not feeling great. That night my abdominal pain I’d been having in waves for months began and wouldn’t relent. I have had a history of stomach ulcers, glutenings (In case you were wondering, I describe ‘being glutened’ as a similar phenomenon to when Bella in Twilight gets knocked up with the mutant vampire baby) but this was a different thing entirely. Nothing helped. I curled into a ball to try and sleep and it wouldn’t abet. I finally got to sleep, only to wake up at 2:30 crying out in urgently-bad, God-awful, WFT pain. Thankfully my two friends were there who encouraged me to call for help, and by chance, my friend Stephanie had leant me her computer for the week so I had a way to charge my phone to make the call. If those things hadn’t occurred, I don’t know what I would have done.

What you have to understand is that I was keenly aware from the moment I made the call, I had to wait for a response and then wait for the ambulance/drivers to get all the way out to me. Instant relief or even help was just not in the realm of possibilities. I live so far in the rural area (up a rocky dirt road, on top of the plateau) that it would take, I figured, at least 3 hours full-speed to reach me. Thankfully, I received a response very quickly, but waiting for an ambulance was beyond brutal. At 6:30, a Peace Corps driver made it to my homestead but the ambulance was lost. Thank God for Babe Norman! He drove me to where the ambulance was and they took my vitals and calmed me down. No pain medication could be administered because the doctors didn’t want the pain to be masked. As a wannabe nurse, I understood this and took it as stoically as possible, Lamaze breathing for most of the 4 hour ride, but relieved to be in good hands. In the last stretch between Manzini and Mbabane, there was some sort of accident and traffic was at a standstill, unheard of for Swaziland. At this point my pain was a 9 on a 1-10 scale and I couldn’t hold back the tears, and kept saying “I will never have children!”. The driver turned on the lights and maneuvered through the cars to finally get there. After seeing how much pain I was in, I quickly got a shot of morphine at the hospital. Thank God for that stuff, if it helped the civil war soldiers I was sure it would help me. They quickly decided to send me to Pretoria, which is the capitol of South Africa, 3 hours from Swaziland because an appendectomy was likely. 

After a night of no improvement, the surgeon told me he would operate in one hour. He explained everything to me, but its very difficult being completely alone at a time like that. What can you do but nod when you hear about the possible complications you don’t even understand? I had never had surgery before and never had general anesthesia. I talked to my mom on the phone until it was time. I signed the waivers and laid on the tiny table in the ‘theater’. It was supposed to be a 45 minute, minimally invasive procedure. The anesthesia hit my veins and for some reason a cover of “Seven Nation Army” was playing in the theater, which felt appropriately trippy. When I woke up, I looked up at the clock and 3 extra hours had gone by, I was in a lot of pain and all sorts of tubes were in. I was so confused by the anesthesia, that when the doctor told me they encountered a complication that they had to take care of by opening up my abdomen, I was understandably freaking out. Interestingly, what the doctor could not know, is that my only prior knowledge with the aforementioned complication was when a family member died because of it years earlier. Different circumstances, but I had no other frame of reference and was scared. Because I was in the High Care ward, I couldn’t use my phone or receive any calls. The pain was awful but the lady assigned to me was awesome and my pain medication "button" was never far from my thumb. Unfortunately for me, real hospitals are absolutely nothing like General Hospital or any other show I have seen. I am shocked they manage to make the hospital setting into so many riveting television dramas because they are probably the most boring place on earth.

Approximately 0% like my hospital experience
After a few days, I got moved to the regular surgical ward. I was happy because I got my phone and (Stephanie’s) computer back, and also the High Care ward makes you feel like a cross between an infant and a lab mouse, lights constantly on, constantly being prodded and poked, etc. I am definitely on the mend now, but because they had to cut through my abdomen, the recovery time will be a deal longer. I am worried about how I will be able to fetch water, wash my clothes, polish my floor, ride my bike or even walk the long distance to work. Obviously both my American and Swazi families are worried. But at least the worst part is over. Yeah, I am a little shocked at how fast all of this happened and how the day before everything was going great, but that kind of blah-blah-blah-woe-is-me BS is lame. And crying is actually really painful on the wound, so its best to avoid that. So is laughing, thus I had to turn off Role Models about 20 seconds in. I have resigned myself to the notion that whatever happens from here is completely out of my hands, and whatever is supposed to happen will. So until then, I will just lie in the hospital and do what I am told (and watch Human Planet). Although it is becoming increasingly tempting to rip out this feeding tube and start threatening people for solid food (chocolate).

Thank you everyone for your support during this time and continued love and prayers. They are so appreciated, and make me feel much less lonely. I know you are visiting in spirit J.

Random SA Fact of the Week: It's actually better to lay in silence staring at the ceiling than try to watch South African Idol.

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