My life fortunately has been devoid of hospital stays. Other than being born in one and having a tonsillectomy as a young kid, the only other time I was ever hospitalized was to have kids of my own. I never expected to be back. But my four-decade pattern of hospital-free living all changed a few weeks ago in a bizarre way.
It started with excruciating abdominal pain. After waiting nearly two days for the pain to pass, I ended up in the local emergency room for what appeared to be acute appendicitis. It wasn’t. It was ovarian torsion.
Ovarian torsion is the twisting of an enlarged ovary, which cuts off its blood supply, producing necrosis (death of body tissue), and causing severe lower abdominal pain. As in many other ovarian conditions, there are few warning signs and they are easy to miss. Ovarian torsion can occur at any age, but most cases occur in women under the age of 30. Nice to know I am so youthful!
Surgery is the treatment of choice for ovarian torsion. In early cases, the ovary can be untwisted to restore blood flow. In severe cases like mine, urgent surgery was necessary to remove the necrotic ovary. Unfortunately, I was not a candidate for laparoscopic surgery, and the eight inch row of railroad ties marking me from stem to sternum indicates that my bikini days are over. Other than that, I am mending well. But I learned a few things from my hospital experience that I think are worth sharing.
1. There’s a good time to go to the ER. The best time to go to the emergency room (as if people can usually choose!) is on a weekday at 2:00 am, preferably when it is snowing. At that time, you are least likely to have to contend with that stereotypical impersonal ER triage nurse who makes you wait for hours behind the heart attacks, the bleeding and the stroking. (Of course, this does not always work if you live in a high crime area; I am fortunate in that regard.)
2. Dialogue about whether you should be admitted. If your situation is not very clear cut, and if you can talk – or someone can talk for you – try to discuss with emergency room staff their rationale for admitting you or sending you home. Some ER doctors and nurses, while incredibly efficient, are also extremely compassionate. They will make the extra effort to advocate for your admittance so you can get a surgical consultation within hours, instead of allowing protocol to send you home to await days in agony to get an appointment for a consultation that would determine you needed surgery anyway. (Thank you, Dr. Rosa. Fortunate again.)
3. Don’t completely trust the first test. CT scans and the well-trained radiologists who read them, especially in the ER, cannot always provide clear answers as to what is going on. They provide best guesses. In my case, the radiologist who read my CT scan thought I likely had ovarian cancer. I didn’t. So don’t panic. Wait until you have a lot more information, even second and third opinions, and then even if it’s cancer, don’t panic — contact us
4. Your surgeon does not need a personality. It would be nice if he or she had one, but in the operating room, you are asleep anyway. Superior skill and cut-and-dry-in-and-out are what count. On the other hand, my anesthesiologist was hilarious! I only got to hear a few of his jokes before I went under, but I assume he kept everyone else’s morale up throughout the procedure. (By the way, other than while you are anesthetized for surgery, do not expect to get ANY sleep while in the hospital.)
5. Question and challenge everything. Why this test? What can it show? What can it rule out? What is in this IV? What is it for? Why this procedure? What does it entail? What are these pills? Why were they prescribed? These types of questions won’t be welcome, but they can allay your fears, help avoid mistakes, and may save your life! In my next blog, I will cover five more interesting — and more pithy — lessons I learned in the hospital.