Ache? We're talking face to the knee, this-will-probably-kill-you-pain accompanied by vomit with impressive projectile qualities. More pressure than the downstairs shower, that sorta thing.
After watching his wife tough it out for a few hours, John ordered a quick fun trip to the Emergency Room. Yee-ha! She knows how much fun ya'll have had there, too! After determining that she did have not stones in any organ, the ER physician suggested -- based on the fact that the Matron was breastfeeding an eight-month old baby -- that her problem was INDIGESTION. Something about estrogen roughin' up the esophagus. So sick was she, that she bought this line, hook, line and lethal sinker. But she inquired after morphine (denied!), for her heartburn.
ER Nurse, pulling aside the Matron as she hobbled toward the exit: "Honey, women who've birthed three babies don't ask for morphine for indigestion. Get to your own doctor the second that clinic opens in the morning!"
The Matron felt a wee bit better when she saw her family doc the next day. Funky, odd, a slight discomfort, but, better. Still, a CT scan was in her future -- the following day. Which meant her sweet little appendix had oh so much time to grow, grow, grow. Turns out you can puke so much that you push the appendix out of its regular place and into something more comfortable. Which she did.
Here comes the part where the Matron sits on a hospital bed for over 8 hours, waiting for the surgeon who is rushing toward this emergency appendectomy. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Yes, over eight hours. E-M-E-R-G-E-G-E-N-C-I-E-S generally indicate speed?
During this 8 hour wait, the Matron's pumps grew and grew and grew and grew. Her breasts blew into small leaking watermelons. Breast pump? She inquired? Begged! Demanded! While the hospital staff was trying to figure out where such an item would be located and how to order one (uh, there's a maternity ward at your hospital, sweeties) John had to bring in Merrick to nurse, twice. While Mommy was waiting for surgery.
When no surgeon came running in direction by 8:30 pm, (after a weeping phone conversation with a friend who is a corporate attorney and accustomed to getting his way), she walked up to the nurses' station, yanked out her IV and said, "I am going to die at home."
That's when somebody called the surgeon. Yes, they FORGOT to call the surgeon. Don't worry, there is much more fun up ahead!
Looking at the CT scan that is well, about ten hours old by now, the mortified surgeon notes that the appendix is way way too big for laparoscopy and requires a big huge slice down the middle. Fine. Stop talking to her and take that damn thing out! Which he did (thank you, Nice Surgeon!).
And as she lay recovering, say 40 minutes post-op at 2 a.m., the night nurse wheels in a dusty machine with tubes flying every which way out of it. Here's what she says to the drugged, weary and milk-soaked Matron: "Here's the breast pump. I sure hope you know how to use this thing because I sure don't."
With that, she left.
The next day, the Matron's five star hotel experience continues. Watching the antibiotic drip from the bag into her veins, she asks the nurse (many of them, actually), if the drug is compatible with breastfeeding? Can anyone tell her? Remember, she needs a drug that works with babies? Yes, yes, she knows this might be troublesome and extra work, given all her allergies to consider, to boot, but that baby thing?
After about two hours of this, she gets a phone book and dials Bober Drug, the family owned pharmacy she patronizes. She tells Lloyd what's going on and what's dripping into her blood stream.
Lloyd: "Pull out that IV! That's the worst possible choice! I can't believe they gave you that!"
For the second time in two days, the Matron pulls out her IV but this time she is crying. She is DONE. The second shift nurse is newly on duty, and finally finally finally someone notices the Matron. Within half an hour, that nurse had the surgeon, pediatrician and Lloyd on a conference call, concocting the antibiotic that would work with the allergies and the baby. Thank you, Nurse Nancy!!!!!!
The Matron knows this is a long story and thanks you for hanging in there with her. There's more.
Sooooo. . . . . . . six weeks later, the Matron has pretty much recovered from both the surgery and the various tortures. Indeed, that appendectomy was nothing short of a miracle. Before the surgery, the Matron's body had been behaving badly. Hot flashes without the menopause part! She would turn fire engine red and then the sweat would start popping. Please don't get her going on, ahem, the bathroom. Seems like food just went right through her.
But all those problems were cured by her appendectomy! Indeed, she joked about that, all the time, how her appendectomy cured her high blood pressure and tummy troubles. Today, she's relaxed. Comfortable, sitting in her chair in the surgeon's office, listening to the nurse prepare her for the follow-up physical exam.
Nurse, reading out loud through the Matron's chart. Imagine tone of voice slowly changing, pace slowing: "Okay -- Surgeon X operated and that's who you'll see today. Emergency appendectomy at St. Joseph's on October 29th. Forty-year old female - oh! Oh my! You have cancer. They found cancer in your appendix. Did you know you have cancer?"
Here, the nurse catches herself and very very anxiously attempts eye contact with the Matron: "Did anybody tell you?"
Now because the Matron's blood pressure has just reorganized her entire ecosystem and she is living in a world that is entirely completely different from the one 30 seconds earlier, she has a hard time remembering Language, but when she grasps that function again she says: "No. Nobody told me."
Turns out the pathology report on the appendix (standard procedure) got lost until the janitor found it, that very morning, on the floor somewhere in the hospital.
Sometimes when the Matron tells this story, she cannot quite believe it herself. But this is one time she doesn't have to stretch the truth for the sake of a story.
The next six frightening weeks were spent assessing. Now, the Matron took over. Instead of relying on her assigned oncologist, she herself sent her appendix to the Anderson Cancer Center in Texas and consulted with not one, but TWO national experts on carcinoid cancer. Because those hot flashes and diarrhea? The Matron had been symptomatic for carcinoid syndrome! Her tiny tumor had been working hard on its host's destruction.
Even though her surgeon poo-poohed the carcinoid ("Happens all the time"), her oncologist did not, noting that of all people who die from carcinoid cancer, 1/4 to 1/3 have tumors originating in the appendix.
Thank God-Buddha-Allah-Oprah, both national experts, the pathology tests and her very own oncologist determined that the chances of carcinoid recurring were about 1% and that percentage point was only because a weak tip of the tumor had invaded a blood vessel, potentially tapping the entire well-traveling vascular system.
But the Matronly imagination could not help but wonder what would've happened had that appendix burst? Say, because she thought she had indigestion? Or while she was waiting for the surgeon? Cancer cells popped like corn, could have coursed and seeded throughout her body.
Rage rekindled, the Matron filed a report with the Minnesota Department of Health, chronicling all the fun times she has just recounted, here. She sent a copy of her six page complaint to the hospital, whose attorney and ombudsperson nearly killed one another in their fight to become the Matron's BEST FRIEND.
Imagine their shock when she didn't want to sue! Indeed, they would do anything!
Here's what she wanted and got.
- Breast pumps on every hospital floor
- Breast pump training for nurses
- Firmer procedure for medications and breastfeeding patients
- Letter to Matron's insurance company stating that Matron never ever ever had to enter those doors again and could go anywhere else!
- Appendix itself for a two day stint in the library at her children's elementary school
And then the State of Minnesota made it even better by finding that the hospital violated not one, but two federal regulations and fined them thousands of dollars! Now, that was fun for the Matron!
She's fine, these 5 years out, but still has annual check-ups and -- a different outlook. Today was one of those days when she remembered and the world looked a little more lush, a little sweeter. Thanks to this man, who is sharing his journey with the cancer that will soon kill him, with all of us.
That's the end of her cancer story. She hopes.