Last Saturday evening, I came home from a day at my mother’s with my kids to find my husband on the couch, holding his lower abdomen with pain. He also had urinary symptoms, and a high fever, and shaking chills. I felt his belly: it was soft, but very sore, with definite rebound tenderness in the right lower quadrant.
I stood there, frozen. My husband never, ever gets sick, or complains about anything, really. Not to mention, it was the night before the Super Bowl, and not a night that any sports-minded guy wants to get sick. And there was no doubt that he was pretty sick.
Oh My God, I thought. What is this? Does he have appendicitis? Will he need surgery? I tried to think. He’d had some weird GI symptoms last month, with some urinary symptoms then also, but not this bad, and no fever. He had seen his own primary care who sent bloodwork and urine, and all was totally normal. Was this the same thing but worse? Was this stuttering appendicitis? Or maybe a kidney stone? My brain was on aternity leave- a totally useless fog of emotion and sleep deprivation.
What do I do? Our 6-week-old infant girl was already fussing, due for a feed; our 20-month old toddler boy was banging his toys, and he was due for a bath and bedtime.
Meantime my husband was rigoring on the couch. There seemed little doubt that he needed to go to an emergency room. But with two little ones, how do I do this? I was pretty close to a panicked shutdown, so I did the only thing an independent, self-sufficient, responsible adult can do:
I called my parents.
My dad is also an internist, and he rushed over. As he was on his way, I worried that maybe I was overreacting. But dad laid hands on my husband’s belly, and confirmed my exam and suspicions: We need to go to the emergency room, now, he said.
My mom settled in with the kids. I worried how she was going to handle bedtime, and possibly a very long evening, for both of them, when I can barely handle both of them for very long.
I worried about what hospital to go to. My dad encouraged us to go to his hospital, the small Catholic hospital down the street. My hospital, by contrast, is a behemoth academic medical center downtown. My mind did a few calculations: Yes, my hospital is world-famous, but, it will take longer to get there, and there may be a long wait to be seen, and we’ll have to push past layers of interns and residents to get anything done, because I have no clout whatsoever. If we go to my dad’s hospital, we’ll be there in 3 minutes, and things will likely proceed quickly, because as a big fish in a small pond, he can make that happen.
And so we went to the local hospital, and I prayed. Thankfully, and probably not surpisingly, the ER was almost empty. It was the night before the Superbowl, after all. My dad conferred with the ER attending. The ER attending was excellent, wonderful bedside manner, very thorough. Though it was not clear what was going on with hubby, with a fever of 103 and that belly exam, and there was no doubt it was serious. The nurses were fantastic: within a jiffy Hubby was settled under layers of warmed blankets, pain meds given, his labs cooking. He drank his contrast and a CT scan was done. All this took nanoseconds, compared to the typical timeline at my great hospital.
While we waited for the CT scan results, I sat in a hard chair, and rested my head on the sharps container. I was so tired and so cold. My dad gave me his jacket, and I actually fell asleep with tjhe sharps container as a pillow. Hubby was also asleep. My dad was the only one alert when the ER attending came with the results:
Sigmoid diverticulitis with perforation and an abscess.
Hubby is non-medical, thank goodness, because the only treatment for this that I am familiar with involves emergency surgery and a diverting colostomy. Holy S—t, Holy S–t. I was still half asleep, and I think I almost threw up.
The attending continued: The abscess was small, 1 cm, and walled-off. There may not be a need for surgery, but my husband needed to be admitted to the surgical service, and started on triple antibiotics, now.
Of course, hubby’s main question was: “When can I go back to work?”
There was an attending surgeon by the bedside in about 5 minutes (pays to be a big fish in a small pond on a quiet night!) She also explained everything in detail and allayed our fears—though she did tell hubby not to expect to go back to work for at least a few days!
We had no choice but to leave my husband there in the care of the surgeons (and a private room!) Dad drove me home and I relieved mom. Even though the whole deal only took about 5 hours total (Thanks dad!), it was still after midnight and she was tired. Both kids are pretty tough, especially when they’re both crying at the same time, which they did. She managed, with aplomb, but I felt bad. (Thanks mom!)
Babygirl was then awake until 3 am. I sat on the couch holding her and worrying, even after she finally fell asleep.
The next days were a nauseating blur. The first few days, we weren’t sure if he would need surgery or not, which was terrifying. Them, we didn’t know how long he would need to stay inpatient. My mother was the mainstay of help, but I didn’t want her to get exhausted, so I reached out to neighbors and friends and our church. People were amazing: every day, folks were at our house helping with the kids, or bringing food, or just calling to offer support and prayers. Our pastor not only visited hubby in the hospital, she even went grocery shopping for us. My friends who could not be here at least called and went over the case with me, or made me laugh. Between everyone, we managed to arrange enough care so that Babyboy ate well, both kids had attentive care, and I could spend time with hubby at the hospital.
But the cumulative sleep deprivation was killing me. Babygirl was up until 3 or 4 am every night. This was fine when hubby was home to help out, so I could sleep in a bit. But with this situation, I was only getting maybe 3 hours of disjointed sleep every night. One day, mom covered so I could sleep in, and that one 2 ½ -hour midmorning nap probably kept me alive!
Hubby was a champ, “the easiest patient ever” per the nurses. His biggest question continued to be, “When can I go back to work?” His fevers eventually came down, and the pain got better, and he started eating. Then, Wednesday night, he came home.
And, today, Saturday, he is at work.
We are not completely out of the woods: Sigmoid diverticulitis can recur, and I am really not sure how we are going to deal with this walled-off abscess long-term. He has outpatient followup with the surgeons at my hospital, and if surgery is required, he will have it there. But we were so pleased with the care at the local Catholic hospital- connections or no, they provided consistently terrific care.
Now, we have a bit of breathing room, and we reflect that when we are able, we need to give something back to our community. So often we see emails that so-and-so is having surgery or someone’s kid is sick, and we sometimes reach out, but often we don’t. Now, I see what a difference even one friendly, supportive phone call or email can make. A night of dark worry and a day of grey uncertainty can be lit and lifted, with the concern of one real friend.
So Thanks to all who reached out to us, and we mean to give back.
Meantime, someone please tell my hubby to relax and stay healthy!