My eyes were heavy and my eyelids greasy when I rubbed them, I felt a perfect and simple peacefulness as my mind woke up and tried to sort out where I was. And then I felt the sharp, searing pain throb from my abdomen and I remembered I was in OR 3 in the Africa Mercy hospital. I was now on the other side of an emergency surgery with Dr. Michelle and Jen making me comfortable as possible as I woke up.
How the hell did I become a patient?
Over the years I’ve learned I have an insanely high pain tolerance. I’ve also learned that if I think something hurts enough for me to even consider seeing a doctor it’s probably something substantial. So when I was almost in tears around 1am from abdomen pain I thought about calling the duty nurse and when I discovered a lump I quickly rolled myself out of bed and down to the hospital. Upon seeing a nurse I stated, “I think I’m broken.”
The nurses calmed me down and took a look at me. Looked at each other and decided to page the on call doctor. He examined me but since I didn’t have any other symptoms or visible signs of pain (again with my way too high tolerance) I was understandably sent back to bed with paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Saturday morning I woke up feeling alright and carried on with my plans for the day and spent an afternoon at the market. I started to feel a touch nauseous but still thought it wasn’t much and decided I’d wait until Monday to go see the doctor again. I made an offhanded comment to a friend about my little trip to the hospital the night before, to which he promptly, and emphatically, convinced me I had to see someone that day, after all it could be appendicitis.
The next 90 minutes were a complete blur.
I saw the nurse, apologizing to both her and the on call doctor because I was sure I was overreacting. Time seemed to speed up and slow down all at once after the doctor took a look and quickly paged a surgeon. As we waited for Dr. Noyes I was told I probably had a hernia and it might mean I need to go home for surgery. My brain started working fast and I focused on trying to calm myself down… that can’t be, I’m a perfectly healthy 31 year old woman… how do you process that you’ve developed a hernia, (which, by the way, is not a “pretty” medical issue)? Dr. Noyes arrived, examined me and said, “We’re not putting her on a plane, this needs to be taken care of today,” turned to me and asked, “When did you last eat?”
Its hard to believe my mind could work any faster trying to process what was happening but somehow it did, after a short time it crashed and all I could do was cry as Esther began admitting me and asking who I wanted contacted. Gracefully, she held me and prayed over me while I cried on her shoulder and got mascara and snot on her scrubs. Shortly after, Dr. Michelle and the OR nurse, Jen, were in my room asking questions and explaining what would happen, then prayed over me too. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt prayers before but something in that moment of time made it so I did. And that feeling brought such a calm to my spirit even if my eyes were still wide with shock and tears still flowing.
I remember laying on the table looking up at the OR lights and listening to Dr. Michelle and Jen get me ready and thought how incredibly thankful I was that they were the ones with me in surgery, they are the best and their gentleness and confidence create an immediate feeling of trust. I also discovered a new connection to our patients, realizing how many have laid there under that same light and how many have had that same twinge of fear as the anesthesia drugs kick in and you fall into darkness.
And I can’t even have a normal hernia.
Through no effort of my own I’ve become a bit of a “Go big or go home” person when it comes to medical issues, so I can’t say I was all to surprised when Dr. Noyes came down to check on me and with a slight smile and excitement in his voice asked me, “Did they tell you about it?”
Turns out that yes I did have a hernia but it was actually a very uncommon and rare one where it was a benign cyst that had come through instead of guts and stuff (still not pretty but definitely better than a typical hernia!). He then thanked me for the interesting case and told me to rest well and he’d check on me in the morning. I smiled to myself, at least I’m consistently unique, even when it comes to medical emergencies.
With a thankful heart
So now I’m rocking a good six inch scar but I have to say that I was incredibly blessed in so many ways; the timing for this to happen was perfect as we had a general surgeon on board, Dr. Michelle is very rarely on call on the weekends, swift action was taken, friends prayed over me before and after surgery and friends sat with me that first night, my nurses, Amy, Esther and Romina, were all beloved friends and their care was exceptional.
But also I got to see my friends doing what they love and find a greater appreciation for the work that goes on just a deck below my home. We made jokes about how finally a translator wasn’t needed to explain things to a patient, that I should see about getting on the “Befriend a Patient” program and about getting a front row seat at ward service.
All jokes aside though I know the loving care I received was exactly the same that the patients on the ward receive. And that made me see why our patients sing and dance down the halls and smile bigger than most, why they fall in love with their nurses and why they laugh and play with them… because they know they are loved.