Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On the Brink of Death: The Terrifying True Story of This Past Month

(Note: I haven't blogged in one whole month, which has never, ever happened before. This blog post will tell you why.)

On the morning of October 10th, 2013, I woke up at 7:45 a.m. with big plans. It was the second day of the Frankfurt Book Fair and I would have lunch with a friend from Berlin and hang out with a fellow author who was in town for the week. I also had a few changes to make to my final draft of CHASING BEFORE, based on feedback my editor had sent on the revisions I'd been working on for weeks and just turned in on October 8th (another reason for my blog silence).

But, I just hadn't been able to shake the low grade fever I'd had the past four days and now I had slight pain in my lower right torso. "Where's your appendix scar?" I asked my husband.  Same place I had the pain. Was I about to have appendicitis possibly? But if that were the case, wouldn't it hurt more?

I'd been to several doctors over the past three weeks complaining about stomach/intestinal issues, but none thought what I had was very serious. They prescribed some medicine to alleviate stomach cramps, lesson the amount of air in my system and to protect the lining of the stomach, told me to eat bland foods, and to get lots of rest. One went as far as to do an ultrasound that showed nothing out of the ordinary. The most pain I was in at any time during this time was the caffeine withdrawal headaches I got when I couldn't drink coffee anymore (they were unbearable, so I started drinking black tea.)

Coincidentally, I thought I had an appointment with my GP that day for my 6 month thyroid check-up, so even though I was feeling under the weather, I decided to keep my appointment. I walked with Daniel to the subway and headed to the doctor. At her office, I found out that I had mixed up my appointments and that I wasn't due in for another week. Fortunately, my doctor made time for me anyway. She looked at the results of my lab tests and noticed that I had a bacterial infection. She couldn't say where, and considered prescribing me antibiotics and sending me home, but decided to send me to the emergency room to get more tests. This saved my life.

I took a taxi to the Buerger Hospital and reluctantly cancelled my book fair appointments. In the emergency room, they asked about my pain level (low/tolerable) and were concerned by my continued fever. I had another ultrasound. The technician saw nothing terribly suspicious, but recommended a CT scan.  The CT scan showed that I had an abscess right around my appendix. I was admitted to the hospital and prepped for surgery. The doctors suspected that either my appendix had burst or a cyst on my right ovary had, but they couldn't be sure without going in via laparoscopy. It would be a small procedure, they said, through my belly button. It wouldn't leave a scar and I'd be out of the hospital within a few days.  Scary enough! I signed all the papers, including ones that said it could possibly be a more serious procedure (though I was assured this was unlikely).

They wheeled me into surgery and put me under.

Six hours later I woke up in the ICU. I was informed that the surgery had turned out to be major, open surgery to repair a hole in my colon, clean out the abscess and remove my appendix. Parts of my colon had been eaten away by bacteria. I would be at the hospital for at least two weeks. In short, I was a mess.

Once I finally got out of the ICU (two days of drugged out bliss and two days of wide awake torture) and into my quiet single room, the doctors explained that I had been hours away from death. If the abscess had ruptured, and it surely would have sometime on Thursday (at the book fair?), I would have gone septic. What they couldn't understand is how this all could have happened to someone so young and someone who walked into the ER with so little pain. According to their textbooks, someone in my advanced condition of infection should have been crawling and screaming in pain. The pathology report is still not in, so we still have no idea what the cause of the rupture was, and we may never, ever know.

I steadily improved over the next nine days in the hospital, and finally was released today. I will have many follow-up appointments over the next months, including a surgery planned for early January to continue to repair my colon. The doctors are hopeful of a complete recovery by February.

In the meantime, I'll be taking it easy. No heavy lifting. No sit-ups. No hard-to-digest food. Just lots of cat cuddles, walks in the park, and hopefully getting back into reading and writing soon. Oh, and I do have some upcoming concerts I'm excited about too (Passenger, Ms Mr, Bastille, The National), and the venues have been accommodating with handicapped seating (I can't stand for long periods of time).

I want to thank you for all your support throughout my hospital visit. I could only read messages on my phone, but I was inundated with well wishes from all corners of the globe. Your comments, tweets, cards, flowers (from my agency and from Lissa Price, author of Starters), etc kept me positive even through the pain, frustration, nightmares, severe nausea, and sleeplessness. One doctor told me he'd rarely ever seen a patient with such a serious diagnosis have such a radiant and positive attitude.

I'm not sure what the takeaway of this is, other than, listen to your body and get thee to a hospital post haste if you have a fever for over a few days. The doctors told me there was nothing I really could have done differently, that no one would have suspected the infection that lurked within me. I had a close brush with death, but I am alive and ever so thankful for it.

Here I am today:

PS: my few changes to CHASING BEFORE can be done in conjunction with copyedits.