When I woke up Tuesday, still in pain, I expected something…but this wasn’t it. Have you ever looked back on a day in your life and known God was there?
It started many years ago. During the third trimester of my third pregnancy, I was plagued with “false labor pains.” This didn’t seem at all extraordinary until I needed to be induced in order to deliver my son early, because he wasn’t growing in the womb. I started at a zero. At the time, I didn’t think much of it – being rather worried and in pain – but if I were really having “false labor pains,” then shouldn’t I have been at least a little dilated?
My “false labor pains” became extraordinary when they continued after my son was born and kept coming after my uterus had resumed its normal, contracted position. It was during a severe, three-day bout of this inexplicable pain that my mother took me to the doctor. He tried to dismiss it as a “back strain” due to a recent pregnancy (or three) and my excessive weight. I was curled in on myself, assuming as close to a fetal position as could be obtained in a hard plastic chair, so I was not able to advocate for myself at the time. My mother, not so encumbered, pointed at me and screeched, “She’s crying. She never cries. You’re going to do something!”
So, I was sent down for an X-ray. I tried to lay myself flat for the X-ray, but couldn’t quite do it. The technician just shook his head and said, “She shouldn’t be here. She should be in ultrasound. It’s her gall bladder, not her back.” Turns out he was right. I was given a prescription for oxycodone and a referral to a surgeon. The surgeon explained that I would have a six-week recovery after the surgery during which I could lift no more than 15 lbs. and that I was not to allow any little person climb or lay on my abdomen. That nixed that, and so I stuck to homeopathic treatments (sarsaparilla), recommended by an Internet friend who lived in India, and I was “fine” for years. There were occasional bouts of pain, when stones passed, but the duration was short and the treatments helped. It was manageable.
All of that change last Friday night. A “gall bladder attack” started and it seemed like normal, except that it continued on into Saturday, and then into Sunday. On and off, it continued through Monday. Except, it wasn’t just continuing, the pain was getting worse in little leaps. Tuesday morning, I’d had enough. Things were different now. I expected to go into the doctor, get my prescription for pain medication, get my referral, and schedule surgery for some time later in the week or maybe next week. But that’s not what happened.
I was going to get some sleep, if I could, and call that afternoon, but I couldn’t sleep and I felt a strong need to call right away. I called for my appointment and discovered that my doctor was only in the office during the mornings today (Tuesday). He could see me at 9:45, but he would have been gone if I’d waited. So, I got myself ready and arrived early for my appointment.
I explained what I’d been experiencing to the nurse and then again to the doctor. This facility uses a 0 – 10 pain scale, complete with happy faces and very unhappy faces. To put this in perspective, giving birth usually comes out at an 8 for me, which is fine considering that I get a baby out of the deal. Untreated fibromyalgia, at its worst, is a solid 7; with treatment, it’s a manageable 5 to 6. My broken wrist was my only 9. My previous “gall bladder attacks,” as I called them, were solid 8s – with no baby as a reward. This doctor was the same doctor I’d been seeing since shortly after Ben was born. He’s a good doctor who listens and cares and responds with as little prescribed medication as possible, which is something both Mark and I appreciate. He knew me and knew that I wasn’t prone to exaggeration (at least not during medical appointments) and he knew I would avoid narcotics whenever possible. So, when I told him that my pain was at a 9, he took me seriously.
He had me lay down and he probed my stomach. He stood back a little and had me sit up. He watched while I did so. He looked at me thoughtfully and he responded honestly. He told me that my responses didn’t correspond with a “gall bladder attack,” i.e. it didn’t seem to him like I was passing stones. He also said, almost to himself, “the disease doesn’t follow the book.” He wrote down on a piece of scratch paper some OTCs (over the counter medications) and handed it to me. “This is what I would give you,” he said, “but a 9. You say it’s a 9?” Then, again to himself, “Must have a high pain tolerance or there would be more reaction.”
While he ruminated over what to do, I thought to myself, Well, I didn’t think screaming when you pressed down would help matters any. I was no longer the young woman who would curl up into a ball in a plastic chair and let my mother handle things. I was my own woman; so yeah, call it high pain tolerance or, better yet, self-control. It didn’t mean the pain wasn’t a 9.
This doctor knew me and that’s why I didn’t just go to the emergency room. He knew something must be wrong, even if he didn’t know right away what it might be. So, he sent me to the hospital to get a CAT scan, with the understanding that the OTCs would hold if they didn’t find anything. The plan, as far as I knew, was for me to get the CAT scan and to go home and wait for his call. That’s what I was expecting, but that’s not what happened.