Appendicitis or Ectopic Pregnancy?


My appendix began rupturing in the middle of the night when I was 20 years old. I woke around 2 a.m. with sweat rolling off me. It was an unseasonably warm night in early September, so I did not think much of it. I stumbled to the window to turn on the air conditioner unit, grabbed a towel to mop the sweat from my face as I moved back to the bed. Jump forward to 7 a.m. I woke with a start. Before I opened my eyes, I realized I was in pain. Not normal ‘I have a headache’ or ‘must have pulled a muscle’ pain – this was something more intense than I’d ever felt in my young life. Panic tried to take over, but I knew I had to figure out what was happening. I tried to take inventory, make a mental list of what I was feeling to hopefully reconcile the symptoms with a cause. No luck. All I knew was that I had an intense burning pain in my stomach/abdomen area. And again with the sweating. I finally realized I was sweating from fever, not the unseasonably warm temperatures. It didn’t take long to figure I needed to go to the doctor.

Trying to get dressed, I realized I would not be able to drive. It was a weekday morning, so I jumped on the telephone trying to reach any of my friends who may have not already left for work. No luck, but did finally reach a good friend who was running late for a class – and managed to talk her into skipping class to take me to the doctor.

I couldn’t bear to put jeans on; the pain around my middle was too intense. I think I ended up in a pair of over-sized sweatpants and t-shirt. I guess I’d scared my friend on the phone. She was there to pick me up in minutes flat. Not sure where to go, we ended up at the neighborhood urgent care center.

I guess I looked pretty bad because they took me right back, immediately taking blood samples. Within minutes a doctor came in holding a clipboard of papers and asked if I was aware I was pregnant? Now the interesting thing here is that I had been sure I was pregnant, about four months along at that point, but all pregnancy tests I’d taken showed negative. I’d scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week to investigate. But here I was, in the urgent care, doubled over in pain so strong it really hurt to even breathe. I told the doctor I had thought I might be. He shook his head and said that it was not good news; he believed I had an ectopic pregnancy and that it was rupturing. I really had no idea what this meant; I just needed someone to make the pain stop. The doctor asked if I wanted to go to the hospital by car – or if I wanted him to call an ambulance. This was my first clue how serious this really was.

A painfully slow 10 minute car ride later, I was at the hospital, being examined by what felt like every doctor in the building. Plus a few extras they called in just for me. Apparently a rupturing ectopic pregnancy and appendicitis have similar symptoms. And they were having trouble deciding which was happening to me. I like to think the doctors finally listened to my request but am sure it was the only medical option they had at the time, but when I finally very loudly requested they just cut me open and take a look – well, they did.

Because I was pregnant and there was a chance it may still be a viable pregnancy, they did not put me under general anesthesia. So a few short hours after waking in excruciating pain, I found myself in the operating room, head propped on a pillow, arms tied over my head, and a curtain hung across my chest to block my view as they cut into my stomach – while I was wide-awake. Pretty cool from what I remember. I could feel everything they were doing, but without the pain (thanks to a local anesthetic.) I actually carried on a conversation with the surgeon. He was irritated with me at one point because I kept begging the nurse to move the curtain and let me look. How often do you get the chance to look inside your own body?? Of course they said no.

When I woke that morning I had no idea I was in such serious condition. If it had taken minutes longer to get into surgery and the rupture had been complete, massive amounts of infection would have been sent coursing though my body. That can be fatal. Luckily, mine did not have the opportunity to reach completion and a simple oral antibiotic for several days after surgery was all that was necessary to clear infection.

I was left with two souvenirs of that day, just in case I ever forget the details. One is a six-inch long, one-inch wide scar across my lower right abdomen. I was never shy about showing my scar by wearing a bikini to the beach. If anyone had the curiosity to comment on it, I’ve had a great story to tell. The second souvenir is my son, who turned 26 earlier this year. Thankfully it was my appendix that was rupturing; my pregnancy was safe and sound in my uterus as it should have been. As the incision healed and turned to a scar, my belly was growing with the baby inside. This caused the scar to stretch as it healed; now looking quite as bad as the story sounds. I don’t mind at all.

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