When you weren’t expecting surgery

I know that life throws unexpected things at us sometimes, but there are certain unanticipated events I would prefer to avoid.

Like surgeries.

Last Wednesday, I had been feeling weird all day at work. I’ve had some kidney issues this year, but they’ve all been on my right side, and this pain was on my left. I thought it might be a kidney stone, but I also thought maybe I was just having really bad cramps or had eaten something that hurt my stomach. But there was also pain in my back, though I was trying to ignore it.

I went through the entire workday, but something simply felt off, and I was hurting pretty badly. My solution was to go home and go running. Listen, I don’t always make the wisest decisions in life, and this was probably one of the unwise ones. It turns out that, even though running often makes me feel better when I’m sad or even feeling a little sick, it’s not helpful for all of my ailments.

I got home and quickly showered so that I could go meet some friends for dinner. I was talking to my sister on the phone one the way, and she told me I probably shouldn’t go to dinner if I really wasn’t feeling well. I should have listened to her, but I didn’t. I showed up at one of my favorite taco places, but within three minutes, I left to go to the ER.

I’m becoming all too familiar with that place.

I was given lots of pain meds (after they only blew two of my veins that night), and then I went back for a CT scan. Surely enough, it was a kidney stone. The doctor told me it was a very large one and was the cause of the pain I had been feeling all day. But he said it was far enough along that it had almost run its course, so he sent me home with pain meds and another medication to help it pass. My sweet friend Bonnie had come to the hospital in case I needed a ride home, but apparently I was OK to drive, even after everything that had been pumping through my veins. She was a real trooper and followed me home and even stopped at two different pharmacies with me (we were misled to believe one was a 24-hour pharmacy, but it was not).

When I woke up the next morning, the pain was worse, and it was in the same spot. I was worried that somehow the stone was stuck. Bonnie called me to check on me, and thankfully she hadn’t left for work yet, because she ended up driving me back to the ER. The doctor there found that the stone was indeed an obstructive stone, which meant that it was so large that it had actually gotten stuck and was blocking stuff inside me, and I needed to have surgery to remove it. I told Bonnie to go to work since it was probably going to be a rather long day, and then my mom ended up coming to be with me. It was a rough day—none of the pain medicines they gave me were working, so they finally gave me what they said was the strongest medicine possible, and it sort of helped.

Bonnie and Michelle are keepers.

I was admitted to the hospital, but my surgery couldn’t be done until Friday, so I was basically just treated for pain all of Thursday and the majority of Friday. My mom stayed with me most of the day Thursday, and then my sister stopped by for a bit, and then Bonnie came back with my friend Michelle to help bring some smiles to my rather miserable situation.

I didn’t get much sleep that night, and I had to disconnect the heart rate monitor completely so that the machine would stop beeping at me. (I have a naturally low resting heart rate, but the nurses wouldn’t put it on a lower setting, so I told them I wasn’t going to wear it.)

Finally, the time for the surgery rolled around the next day (at which point I finally put on the hospital gown they gave me), and my mom and sister were both there at this point. Before taking me back to the operating room, the anesthesiologist gave me something that was supposed to relax me, but I don’t remember a thing after that until I woke up. I asked where my Wheat Thins were (priorities, people), and then I said I needed to talk to my sister and my mom. I briefly got to see them, and my sister told me the surgery was not successful.

Say what?

Apparently the stone was so large and in a difficult location that the doctor was unable to get it. He tried multiple times but told my mom and sister that if he had done anything more, he would have lacerated my ureter, which would have led to much worse complications and a much more extensive and invasive surgery to repair it. So, somehow he was able to push the stone back up into my kidney. I currently have a stent inside me that I have to wear for two weeks until I go see the doctor again for a different surgery that will hopefully get rid of everything.

But I didn’t have much time to react to any of that news—I was immediately taken away from my mom and sister because I wasn’t breathing right. They weren’t allowed to come back there with me, and the nurse kept telling me that I needed to breathe. I was still very woozy, but I thought I was breathing. She shoved breathing tubes up my nose and told me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, but I don’t think I did a very good job because she took those out and then put an oxygen mask over my face. It was kind of a scary 30 minutes or so of not knowing if I was actually breathing or not. According to the machine beeping at me and the nurse coaching me, I wasn’t.

When I finally returned to a normal state, I was able to see my family again, and I was taken back up to my hospital room. I really just wanted to get out of there so that I could make it to my niece’s first birthday party the next day. (Yes, I know going was overdoing it, but I couldn’t miss that party for anything in the world—not even surgery.) My precious sister and heart-of-gold mom had bought me a bear while I was in surgery (we named him Bow to go along with my koala named Tie), and my mom took care of me all night and checked on me so many times to make sure I was still breathing.

If I could not go through this again, that would be great.

I don’t like still being in pain, and I really don’t like that the surgery didn’t work and that I have to go back for another one. I don’t understand why any of this happened, and maybe I never will. But I do know that I am so thankful for my people. I don’t know what I would have done without my sister, my mom, Bonnie, Michelle, the caring doctors and nurses, and the multiple people who kept texting me to check on me.

We’re all going to face some crappy situations in life, but sometimes we need our people to help us through—and faith that everything is happening for some greater purpose and that we are going to survive those tough times.

Life sure can be ugly, but love makes it so much more beautiful than we could ever imagine.

Multiple hospital trips and realizing “normal” doesn’t really exist

I never thought I’d find myself as part of the mall walkers crowd on a Sunday morning, but I also never thought I’d be making three trips to the hospital in less than a week.

So I guess life doesn’t always pan out like we thought it would.

I’ve been having kidney pain since a little before Thanksgiving, so I had surgery more than a week ago that was supposed to fix everything. When I woke up from anesthesia, I asked the nurses where my Wheat Thins were and when we were going to the bowling alley, so I assumed everything had gone well.

But Sunday morning, I woke up with a pain I don’t even know how to describe. I called my parents, and before long they were at my apartment to drive me to the ER. I was admitted to the hospital and stayed there until Monday. They sent me home Monday morning, but that exact same pain was back that evening. I really thought I was going to die.

I called my friend Michelle, and she hauled tail to pick me up and take me back to the ER, and it wasn’t long before my sister and brother were there, as well. The time in the ER waiting room felt like an eternity, and the pain just kept getting worse. I think at one point I tried to collapse to the ground, but my sister wouldn’t let me because of sanitation concerns she had.

I guess someone has to pay attention to that kind of stuff.

I was finally taken back to an ER room and hooked up to IVs that pumped some morphine and I think other stuff in me. I got a CT scan, and Dr. Kevin (whom I credited with saving my life and my kidney) discovered I had a kidney infection. Dr. Kristen (I’m pretty sure that’s her name—I can’t say everything from that night is crystal clear) said it could have come as a result of the surgery or could have been there prior to it, contributing to the pain I’ve been having for months.

I was admitted to the hospital (again), and my sweet sister stayed with me until almost 2 in the morning when I finally got up to the room. She is pretty freaking incredible—she had to administer standardized testing that day, operating on very little sleep.

For this go-round, I was in the hospital until late Wednesday with antibiotics and pain meds going through my veins. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, and I would never wish that kind of pain on anyone—and I really mean that.

As I stayed there in that bed, I was reminded of how much we need people in life. First of all, nurses are a different breed of human. I honestly think you have to have a very special heart and personality to be a nurse. They’re so kind and comforting and have to deal with so many different types of people who are suffering from a variety of things. Yet they handle it all with such grace and encouragement.

And I needed my family. I don’t think there was a day that went by that I didn’t have one of them with me for at least a little portion of the day. My parents took of work on different days, and one night my mom even slept on one of those horribly uncomfortable hospital chairs.

I think I took this to send to my friend Bonnie at some point.

And I needed my friends. Whether they were stopping by in the hospital to visit me and bring me necessities (Bonnie with a stuffed dog I named Buddy and Jayna with Wheat Thins, a coloring book and crayons, water, and a pink phone charger) or texting me to check on me, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed in a good way by all of their prayers and well wishes.

But I also realized that life won’t always be the “normal” we want it to be. I had planned on missing two days of work for the surgery. I ended up missing almost seven. Nothing about my life during that stretch of time in and out of the hospital felt normal. My stomach was super inflated from the surgery and then all of the IV fluids, and I even had a minor panic attack when the nurse told me I had to get a shot in my stomach to help prevent blood clots while I was lying in a bed for so long, and I told her that if she stuck a needle in me that my stomach would pop like a balloon. It turned out to be a bit irrational—she gave me the shot, and nothing exploded.

I blame the drugs.

The truth is, though, that the whole normal thing I’m seeking doesn’t always exist. I know life isn’t perfect, and we have to face trials we don’t want to go through. But, for some weird reason, we need them—they help make us who we are. Sure, they may look a lot different than what other people face, but we can’t all have the same things. I’ve been learning that more and more as I see most of my friends find love and happiness, and I have to remind myself that their stories are not my story. Just like my kidneys are not like their kidneys, my fairy tale (if it exists) is different from theirs, too.

Mall walking is obviously very intense.

With each day, the kidney pain is starting to lessen, and I do look forward to feeling more normal in that regard. But I also understand that I have to be a little more cautious because it’s prone to kidney stones and now apparently infections. I can’t run for a little while more, and it was pouring rain Sunday morning, which is why I went to the mall to walk for some exercise along with some guy named Larry and a bunch of others who seemed to be regulars there. It wasn’t quite the norm for me, but it was alright for a one-time bit of a change of pace and scenery. And I’m also OK with the rest of my life not being the definition of normal I would have defined it as years ago.

I don’t think normal ever really fit me well, anyway.