Think Zebras, Not Horses: Saved by a Novice

Hello dear readers. Forgive my lapse into taking care of the mundane items that demand attention and neglecting to finish at least this part of my painful journey.

So I am relaxing (if you could call it that) in my oxygen tent at Washington Hospital. As I look back now, I can still recall the room, the tent, my hospital bed, and the feeling of relief.  Of course it would never have occurred to me that this was just the beginning of a very long and painful journey.  I am still that way; if I am in a bad spot, I tend to try to fix the immediate circumstances, and believe that I am in control.  Sigh.  I am never actually in control, as I have come to find out, but happily, I believe in the goodness of God.

I understand that doctors are trained to make diagnoses with the caveat “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”  That makes sense. But every once in a while, horses are not the correct answer. In my case, I was temporarily on the mend as I spent my first week in an oxygen tent. Now that I am a parent, I know I would be praying and pleading with God, making secret bargains that I would not be able to keep. I would have pledged anything to have my child recover, and I am sure many such prayers went out for me.  At first I seemed to be improving, and a general sigh of relief was expressed.  I even began eating again, and could breathe while laying flat on my back.  However slowly, not sure how long really, I began to sink back to a new low. I lost my appetite, and a lot of weight, and my antibiotics did not seem to be working. I had very good doctors, and to be fair, no one looks for appendicitis in a pneumonia patient.  No one except a novice, who tosses out conventional wisdom and follows his gut.  That is what happened to me.  It was the weekend, and the young doctor who was assisting our family doctor was really upset that they could not crack my case.  He knew that I was feeling sick to my stomach, and that for the past 24 hours was sweating, vomiting and in horrific pain. But the white count numbers were low, which did not point to appendicitis.  However the other symptoms and the tenderness in my abdomen did.

Apparently, my appendix was about to rupture as he reviewed my case, and by the time he came up with his diagnosis, it had indeed ruptured. All I recall is that he and my parents came into my room that morning and said “We need to operate–NOW.”  Operate who?!! as Bill Cosby said in his Tonsils skit.  There was no time to calm me down, explain the procedure, or hold my hand.  It was off to the O.R. and then somehow I found myself back in my room in a lot of pain, but this time confident that I would recover.

I would lay in bed and think about how just 24 hours ago, I wished to die, in fact, I had hoped that I would.  How happy I am that God does not answer such desperation prayers. Had life ended for me at 13 I would have missed most of the goodness that I have known:  marriage, friendships, children, and home ownership (ok, I am just kidding about that last one but you get my point).

It would be one month before I left the hospital and began a new chapter of my life called I Should Be Happy to Be Alive, but now I had hope.  Even at 13 I was a pretty analytic person.  I thought about the young doctor who saved my life, and how the older experts do not always know everything. I wondered how that went down. I was glad that he had the courage to press his point to the more experienced doctor.  I thought about how now I could go back to school and see my friends, flirt with boys, eat chocolate cake, listen to the Beatles, and play kick ball again. I wanted to move on and forget all the sadness of the past month, and be normal.  I wondered what would happen to the young boys who raced wheelchairs each afternoon, or to the young burn patient whose screams I had heard each morning when his dressings were being changed.  I was to leave this sad and scary world and join the ranks of the busy, optimistic, living again.   I wondered how I would ever gain enough weight to look normal (was down to 80 lbs. at 5’4″).  All my wonderings were of the immediate future, which I think is pretty normal for a young teenager. It never occurred to me that my ability to have children had been severely compromised.  I had no idea that a ruptured appendix in a female may cause infertility.  There was no Internet, so I was not googling anything, but even if I had known about the potential infertility, I am sure that alarm bells would not have gone off. I loved children, but not in a maternal sense. I had more of the babysitting love; I enjoyed them for short, reimbursable periods of time.

I was so happy to be feeling better, but about ten years later as a young newlywed wife, the pain revisited me in a different way.  I became an unwilling member of the Infertility Club, and although I fought like crazy to unsubscribe, I still am an active member. I will try to explain what that feels like next time, for those without first-hand knowledge.  It does not hurt to share my story now, but somehow it is much easier to write about it, than to actually speak about it.

About allthingslizard

I have done just about everything I have always wanted to do: worked as a campus minister, became a teacher, married a nice man named Joe (36 years now), adopted three wonderful kids and watched them reach adulthood, lived overseas, earned my Ph.D., and recently became an RN. However the only thing I have not yet done is to write about my life's journey, even though I have written a lot of personal poems, mom notes to my kids, academic papers, and thousands of letters. I have a lot to write about because all those things I have done were accomplished on smooth roads with beautiful vistas, as well as on scary, twisted, hurricane alleys. Maybe you will find something here that you can relate to. And yes, I know that a preposition is a terrible thing to end a sentence with.
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2 Responses to Think Zebras, Not Horses: Saved by a Novice

  1. Kim Smith says:

    Liz, although I’m “relieved” to know not just the end of “this story,” but the end of “your story,” I also am still just waiting with bated breath to hear all of what’s in-between . . . thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Kim! I appreciate you taking the time to read and if need be, weep with me. But there is laughter in it too. And yes, you were there for the end of the story, and even taught two of our miracles! 🙂

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