Crazy, Fragile Life

drop of water danist soh

Photo by Danist Soh

On Thursday night, March 19, I had dinner with two dear friends. Friday morning, I took the dog for a run, and got some decent writing done. That evening, I met two other friends for a glass of wine, then had a lovely “date night” dinner with my husband. During those two days, I also got some quality time with my kids, chatted with my mom, and caught up with a few other friends over email and the phone. The long, seemingly relentless, New England winter was finally coming to an end, and things were looking up.

So when I awoke on Saturday morning, March 21, with a stomachache and vomiting, I assumed it was food poisoning or some sort of virus. One more little “storm.” But the pain lingered after the vomiting stopped, and by late Sunday afternoon, it’d really intensified. I told my husband I needed to get to the nearest emergency room.

After doing blood work and an ultrasound, the ER doctors felt extremely confident that the problem was my gall bladder. They admitted me to the hospital, saying I’d have one more test in the morning (a HIDA scan), and if their beliefs were confirmed, the gall bladder would come right out. With some luck, I’d be home Monday night.

Not what I’d expected, but it sounded fairly uncomplicated. Laparoscopic surgery and a brief recovery period. I went to sleep peacefully—protected from pain by medication.

The following morning, however, I was awakened quite early by the surgeon, who examined my belly and told me he wasn’t sure the problem was the gall bladder. In fact, he had a slight suspicion it was my appendix, or maybe something else. “Of course I can’t tell just by pressing on your stomach,” he said, “so let’s see how the test turns out.”

I admit I felt slightly aggravated. I wanted a simple answer and a simple solution.

When the test was complete, several doctors spoke with me, all of whom agreed that the gall bladder was the problem. Late in the afternoon, I was informed by my nurse that she’d soon be getting me ready for gall bladder surgery. At what time? Well, the surgeon was at another hospital, but soon.

My husband and I sat together, talking and joking on the phone with family and friends. Then we were told that the surgeon wanted one more test: this time a CT scan. Just to be sure. I should mention that I was on my third day of not eating (first there’d been the vomiting, then the lack of appetite, then fasting for tests and surgery) and now I’d need to drink barium sulfate and have a scan. Seriously?

“Please trust the surgeon,” said my nurse. “He’s very thorough, but very good.”

Afternoon passed into evening, and the CT scan happened. More waiting. Finally, around nine p.m., the surgeon called, explaining the delay. He said he was so glad he’d ordered the scan, because he could see that my appendix had already ruptured. I was needed in the operating room immediately. Oh, and I’d begun to run a fever.

Everything changed right then. In the OR, the surgeon met somewhat frantically with my husband and me, diagramming in pencil the various procedures he might need to perform, based on what the scan seemed to indicate. I won’t go into detail, but some of the options were quite frightening. The doctor wouldn’t know how bad things were until he could look inside.

Now I’ve had a few surgeries in the past—an ovary removed, several breast lumps, a melanoma on my back—but never have I signed consent papers with the same level of anxiety I felt that time. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t have much time to worry, because I under anesthesia moments later.

The procedure took almost three hours. When I awoke, I was kept in the recovery room for over six hours because of low blood pressure. I had peritonitis, and would be on strong antibiotics for a couple of weeks. A nasogastric tube was draining poisons from my stomach, and two surgical drains were protruding from my abdomen, pumping out fluid and pus.

The following day, as I sat in bed hungry and draining, the internist from my floor came to meet with me. He said he was so glad the surgeon had insisted on that CT scan, and then said, “I think if you’d gone two more hours, something very bad would’ve happened.”

I cried then, knowing what he meant. As a parent to teenagers, I’m constantly telling my kids they’re not immortal, but hearing someone tell me I’d been that close to the end—and with very little warning—was overwhelming. It still is.

After five nights in the hospital, I’m home now, and feeling much better. I took a little walk in the snow yesterday and let it all sink in. It’s a cliché to say that your perspective shifts after such an event, but it’s also true. Everything—every laugh, every hug, every snowflake—feels a bit more real. I realize I’ll never be able to thank that surgeon enough for what he did–and for his very existence–but I can try to “pay it forward” and be a better person. And yes, I wore big sunglasses, so the people I passed wouldn’t notice the occasional tear rolling down my face.

I was still feeling weepy as I stood on the sidewalk, preparing to cross a busy street. When it looked safe, I stepped into the crosswalk and started walking, but just then, a car came speeding along. Who knows? Maybe the person was texting, or adjusting the radio; in any case, they didn’t see me. I jumped back, and the car continued on its way.

At that moment, I understood that despite the drama of the past week–and despite the fact that my life was spared–it could end just as easily today. Or tomorrow. So I guess all we can do is make the most of our time here. I wish I could say something more profound, but as I sit here typing—and feeling darn grateful for that ability—it’s about the best I can do.

About Mary Rowen

My three published novels, LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner), LIVING BY EAR, and IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY focus on women figuring out who they are and what they want from life. Music and musicians have a way of finding their way into the stories. I live in the Boston area with my family and pets.
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16 Responses to Crazy, Fragile Life

  1. jan says:

    What a horrible experience! Yikes. So happy the surgeon ordered a second test and also glad you are home and on the mend. Take care! Jan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. judithworks says:

    What a terrible ordeal. Take care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So scary, dear Mary. I’m so so glad you made it through ok!

    I used to call on physicians and surgeons. One of them, an FP, became a very good friend. He was also an amazing diagnostician. I think that’s a real gift. He told me that the 80/20 rule applies to doctors just as it does to people in general (or anything, really) — most are just average.

    Thank goodness for that 20% who aren’t, and that he was there for you. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Rowen says:

      Thanks, Rachel! That’s a frightening number, but I guess it makes sense. I will always be grateful to that brilliant surgeon, and all the nurses who helped me. Nurses are angels, no doubt. And, of course, I’m so blessed to have a wonderful family and supportive friends. Life may be unpredictable and brief, but it’s also pretty amazing. xo


  4. So frightening… I am so glad that you are recovering!!! Take good care of yourself and give yourself time to heal! xoxo ~bru


  5. Mary Rowen says:

    Thanks, Bru! I hope your recovery is also going well. xox


  6. DenaRogers says:

    What a frightening ordeal. I’m so happy everything worked out. Hope you’re feeling better!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mary Rowen says:

    It was scary and surreal, which I guess is good. And yes, I’m feeling MUCH better. Thanks so much, Dena! xo


  8. wccunningham says:

    Wow! Glad you made it through this and hope you are feeling better. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mary Rowen says:

    Thank you, Bill! I feel very blessed! xo


  10. slyonwords says:

    Very scary for you Mary. So glad you are on the mend. 🙂


  11. Judith Post says:

    I lived that experience through you because your writing was so crisp, so factual, with no melodrama. I’m glad you survived the ordeal, but want to compliment you on your gorgeous writing!


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