Under the Knife, Ahead of the Game

I’ve been away for a week. Want to know why? Life happened while I was busy making other plans.

It started last Tuesday night. I was with some clients when my abdomen started to swell and get tender. Yup, I was hurting. Yet, I dismissed it as “woman troubles”, thinking I just needed to give it a little time. Wednesday morning came around and WOW! my body promptly informed me that it wouldn’t be that easy. By 10:00 am I had to put aside what I was doing and lie down.

I spent the day in what I would call a “very uncomfortable state” (I flopped around for much of the day trying to find a comfortable position, which I never quite figured out) and by 6:05pm that evening, I’d had enough: I asked Mr. F2P to drop me off at Emergency. Deep down, my gut told me it was serious so I had showered and packed a bag an hour prior to leaving, readying myself for the long wait (books, electronics and chargers, a few toiletries, a bit of money and my medical identification). 

Funny side story: At around 10:00pm, I went to get blood work done. I warned them that I’m a “fainter”. Sure enough, I fainted. They worked to wake me, twice—by digging in with the fingers right under the collar bone. OUCH! I had a good laugh because my cautions had initially been dismissed, as they usually are. But wait, here’s the funny part: they were doting on me for something that’s pretty standard for me, which I got a kick out of. And, when I offered to move to another chair to let other patients come in, they asked me if I was “for real”. I guess not…

I got to the ER waiting room at 6:30pm and was admitted at around 10:30pm. Not bad, given I’d stated that my pain level was a 6/10 and that I had no medical history indicating a serious chronic condition—making more serious and insistent statements would have expedited my admission. I was pretty sure I knew what it was, which meant that it would make very little difference whether I was in a waiting room or in a gurney on the other side of the wall. Uncomfortable is uncomfortable, no matter where you are.

By 12:00am, I’d had my CT scan confirming I had a case of acute appendicitis. Laparoscopic surgery (phew!, 3 small incisions as opposed to a large one) was immediately scheduled for mid-morning the following day. The procedure took approximately 25 minutes, as planned, and I was discharged just over 24hrs later. I loved how quick the whole ordeal was. It exceeded my expectations and then some!

So What’s the Deal? Why Talk About It Here?

A lot of people get appendicitis and subsequently go under the knife (1/2000 people have their appendix removed).

What is strange is that I wasn't the norm. According to the medical staff is that a was a treat to cut into.  At every step of the way, I was being asked the same questions by nurses, doctors and surgeons:

  • What medications do you take? Answer: None.
  • Are you managing any chronic conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.)? Answer: No.
  • Have you had any other abdominal surgery? Answer: No.
  • Do you have any allergies? Answer: No.
  • Do you have any prosthetics (including dental work)? Answer: No.
  • Did you suspect your diagnosis prior to being admitted? Answer: Yes.
  • Do you need any medication to manage the pain? Answer: No.

The discovery for me was that they were telling me that I was officially weird: physically active, healthy & happy; a sound sleeper; not taking prescription drugs; a non-smoker/non-drug user, etc. They also were quick to say that this made all our lives easier, as they didn’t have to take additional variables into consideration and therefore my procedure and its associated recovery would likely go very well (read: low risk).

I was in essence reaping the rewards of having made investments in a non-financial savings account: my personal health account. These investments included eating real food, moving, lifting heavy things inside and outside the gym, getting quality sleep and spending time with family and friends.

Top 10 Benefits of Healthy Investments

My health-related investments over the years resulted in the following 10 benefits:

  1. Reduced need for medication pre-op (I only needed a bit of Gravol to ease nausea after a tough trek to the washroom and a 1/2-dose of morphine a few hours before surgery when pain became sharp).
  2. Easier & faster procedure thanks to a healthy body weight (laparoscopy was 25 mins!).
  3. Shortened recovery time post op (no nausea or dizziness—I felt pretty good!).
  4. Positive outlook regarding my current situation and prognosis.
  5. Positive interactions with the medical and support staff, which made being at the hospital a better experience.
  6. Ability to get mobile within hours of surgery.*
  7. Ability to deal with a lack of food and water. I felt fine and just waited it out. **
  8. Quicker discharge time—out just over 24hrs after the procedure.***
  9. Quicker recovery time (so far so good—I’m sleeping well, even spent Easter Sunday with family out in the country). I’ve managed almost everything on my own since being discharged, including driving (except from the hospital, which is not allowed), stairs, light housecleaning, etc. I missed no appointments with clients so far, though Mr. F2P helped me with two of them and it looks less and less likely by the minute that this will recur.
  10. Lower use of pain medication post-op: I’m now on Day 4 and I’m already off pain meds entirely (I'd weaned myself off from 2 T3s every 4 hrs to 1 every 6 hrs to now taking nothing but naps :)).

There is no way the above would be my reality if I didn’t pay attention to my quality of life and health status prior to being admitted. Of course, getting to where I was right before seeking medical assistance wasn’t without its pitfalls. Some days were better than others but, as is the case for any type of savings behaviour, it was the fact that more went in than came out over time that made the difference. 

I'm guessing my feelings of gratitude are akin to those any retiree feels toward his/her past self for being a responsible saver. I’m reaping the rewards and I’m very grateful to my past self for her decisions.

Getting Back to Saving

Special Thanks: I want to acknowledge the medical staff at St. Boniface Hospital. It's hard to beat the effectiveness, professionalism and level of care & empathy the staff demonstrated during my stay. The nurses, doctors and aides are top notch. I am deeply grateful. Thank you so much!

I’m already focused on what I need to do to top off my emergency health savings account. I’m thinking of how to carefully ramp back up to full throttle over the next 2-3 months so that my account provides a nice cushion of savings in case I ever need to tap into it again—and in this life the chances of something happening are more of a “when” than an “if”. I might even want to grow it a little more now that I know just how great it was to have it at my disposal. 

The types of questions I’m asking myself are:

  • How much more can I lift?
  • How much faster can I move?
  • How flexible can I get?
  • How’s my endurance?
  • How can I integrate even more healthy choices into my schedule? 
  • What other sports can I try to keep things interesting and keep me learning new things?
  • Can I lose a few more pounds of fat to be even healthier? What tweaks can I make to my diet?
  • Am I sleeping as well as I should? Do I need to improve my bedtime rituals?

How’s your personal health account looking? Are you satisfied you’ll be able to bounce back? If so, great! High five to you. If not, is there anything you should or could be doing differently?

*Walking is essential in accelerating the rate of recovery and increasing comfort after abdominal surgery. It gets everything moving again more quickly. I was up and walking every 2 hrs during the night and every hour or so during the day. It just felt right and, sadly, I had the hallway to myself most of the time.

**There’s a need to abstain from ingesting food or water within 24hrs of surgery, as it can cause difficulties (intubation is part of the protocol in the administration of a general anesthetic). Folks who eat a lot of high-sugar junk food have a hard time not getting a “hit” during a 24-hr period. Their body becomes dependent on a steady intake of sugar of all sorts.

*** I was to be discharged the same day, but surgeons could not make it to my ward as they were dealing with an unstable patient. That meant that I had to extend my stay from 9pm to 11:30am the next day. My preference was certainly to go home, but I made the best of it.

Additional Resources

Want to work on your own Emergency Health Account? Here are a few resources you might find useful:

Additional Notes for My Non-Canadian Friends

I’ve been asked many questions about Canada’s Healthcare System, especially since serious discussions around a single-payer system in the US started.

Here are the facts around my experience:

  • I could have gone to a walk-in clinic and been referred for a CT from there. I chose to go to the ER, as it’s 5 minutes from my home.
  • My total time in hospital was from 6:30pm Wednesday evening to 11:30am Friday morning (40 hours).
  • My ER wait time was about average for a non-critical case on that particular day (wait times are posted on the wall—shortest, average and longest wait times).
  • Once called and blood drawn, I was given a private space in the ER.
  • Once on the ward, I was in a two-patient room with a shared bathroom with the adjacent room (though I only had a roomie for about 1hr in total, which I understand is not the norm).
  • Food service offered 3 squares a day, including modifications based on dietary restrictions and allergies. Nothing much to write home about…it’s hospital food.
  • My out-of-pocket costs for my “experience” were the cost of my prescription for T3s (Tylenol with codeine) and stool softeners, both purchased at a local drugstore after having been discharged. 

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