Gallbladder Surgery – St. Joseph’s Hospital

It was in fact my gallbladder.

Here’s what happened:

  1. I woke up at 4am on Tuesday morning with severe pain in my mid-back – around my rib cage. For about an hour, I was convinced it a weird muscle/back pain from hunching over my computer all day Monday. But the pain continued to get worse and worse. I woke Erik up and took the first leftover painkiller I could get my hands on. He rubbed my back, cracked it, massaged my muscles, and generally did anything I could come up with that made me feel better. I rather suddenly passed gas and burped and within a few minutes the pain went away. I assumed the two were related and abashadly sent Erik off to work and went back to sleep. At 10am I woke up writhing in even more pain than I had been in the first time and determined that it was only the painkiller that had delivered me from the pain. I was literally collapsed on the floor with the doggies licking me nervously. I managed to get in touch with Erik to get him home and called my doctor to get an appointment for that afternoon.
  2. I went into see my doctor who guessed that it was my gallbladder and sent me off the the emergency room at St. Joseph’s hospital. Note: The hospitals all over Tucson have apparently been overrun in the last month or so with flu patients. Every bed in every emergency room is full of patient’s that can’t be cured, but need IV fluids, etc.
  3. At 2pm I was ushered into the “waiting room”, which at St. Joseph’s is literally a hallway where patients are assigned vertical beds. In my case a wheelchair next to the other chairds. In some cases, patients are discharged having never left this hallway. Doctor’s visit patients, IVs are put in, medications are administered, all from this hallway.
  4. Sometime around 6 or 7pm I was officially admitted to the hospital with tentative plans to remove my gallbladder the next day. By 10pm I wanted to send Erik home, but I was still sitting in a wheelchair in the waiting room, hooked up to an IV. Erik practically begged the staff for a bed, and they found me a stretcher in the hallway, which was much preferable to the wheelchair.
  5. I slept in the hallway until 1:30am when they moved me to a bed in the ER with another patient. In this room, I had a nurse that was assigned to me. I also had a roommate whose blood oxygen levels made the machines beep incessantly every time he went to sleep. I slept for twenty minutes at a time every time the nurse gave me morphine.
  6. At 5:30am, the staff finally moved me to a room on the surgical floor. This was waaaaaay better. A very comfortable bed, a nurse and a tech, a private room. Finally, sleep!
  7. I met the surgeon some time that morning and she confirmed I was having my gallbladder removed at 11am. The surgery took less than an hour and I’m honestly not sure if the pain was worse before or after the surgery. Everyone says it should have been way better after the surgery, but because of all the morphine before the surgery I was in very little pain. After the surgery, the morphine wasn’t enough to eliminate all of the pain.
  8. My liver function was funky after the surgery so the doctor’s decided to keep me another night to make sure everything went back to normal Thursday morning. It did and they discharged me Thursday afternoon.
  9. I am still experiencing pain and a few other unfortunate digestive symptoms as a result of the anesthesia, pain meds, and having my gallbladder removed. But I am told this will all go away in a few days to weeks.
  10. Despite the endless wait and horrific experience of having to sit in a wheelchair for eight hours, my visit to St. Joseph’s hospital was one of the best hospital experiences I have ever had.

Almost every single staff member that we interacted with was incredibly nice. Even the nurse’s, techs, and paramedics that I only saw once remembered me when they saw me again and asked how I was doing. They were compassionate and kind. When they put me in the hallway on a stretcher, the hallway lights were ultraviolet bright. One of the paramedics wandering around the ER took it upon himself to use a privacy screen and an IV stand set up on either side of me with a sheet thrown over them to block the light out of my eyes. Everyone was very apologetic about the wait and did what they could to make me more comfortable.

I am incredibly grateful for all of the St. Joseph’s staff and for the competent care that I received at their hands. I couldn’t have wished for a better care staff.

Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow – like how I hate anesthesia and it almost always induces anxiety and depression. Here’s looking out for it…

image courtesy of carondelet.org

Absence

Dear Readers,

Last week and this week have thrown me some pretty interesting and very disruptive curve balls. Right now, I’m sitting in a hallway/waiting area in an ER in Tucson. It looks like I’ll be having my gallbladder removed some time today or tomorrow. And then I’ll be recovering for about a week I guess.

Things like this always remind me of how incredibly flawed our health system is. Of course, I’ve had plenty of trouble with the mental health system, but I mostly stay out of hospitals.

Four hours in the ER and I only just received any medication, despite my intense pain. And we haven’t been told anything about surgery or what could be wrong with me, besides the very vague, it’s probably your gallbladder.

I feel very uninformed and there’s no one who knows anything to ask.

Still, I am blessed to have excellent health insurance, access to a hospital, and an incredibly supportive and loving husband.

I’ll be back in a few days or so.

❤️

Surviving Suicide and Finding a Diagnosis

This post originally appeared on ConquerWorry.org.

Sadness, depression, anger, feeling out of place, knowing something was wrong with me; these are among my first memories.

I saw my first therapist at the age of seven, shortly after my parents split up for the first time. I was experiencing shortness of breath and coughing fits so extreme I would vomit. The inhaler didn’t help me breathe and the doctors wanted to put me on tranquilizers. Eventually, I recovered from the physical ailments, but the emotional ailments stuck with me.

It wasn’t until my teenage years that I started seeing a therapist regularly. I hated her. She didn’t listen to me. She asked me questions she thought would give her the information she needed. There was no silence inside those sessions, no room for me to find my words. I used to write letters to my therapist that I never gave her. They were full of words I couldn’t bring myself to say.

No one knew I had tried to kill myself.

When I was fifteen, I started hurting myself and attempted suicide for the first time. My therapist suggested to my parents that I see a psychiatrist. But the psychiatrist only asked me questions in front of my mother. When she left the room, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to say, but I still couldn’t find the words to tell the truth. No one knew I had tried to kill myself. It was a dirty secret that I was terrified to admit. I thought my parents would be angry.

At sixteen, my diagnosis was depression. At seventeen, it was depression and anxiety. At eighteen, I went off to college and attempted suicide for the second time. The university psychiatrist got me into regular counseling. I was diagnosed with major depression and given my first anti-depressant, which had no effect.

I thought I was just a lazy, weak, and useless person.

At nineteen, I moved across the country for a geographic cure and finally found a counselor that listened to me, but still didn’t get the right diagnosis. I was given anti-depressant after anti-depressant, each of which gave me new side effects, but no symptom relief. A part of me thought that the anti-depressant’s not working meant that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me, that I was just a lazy, weak, and useless person.

After graduating from college at the age of 23, I finally found a psychiatrist who put the pieces together. He asked detailed questions and got a thorough history. He drew a physical timeline of my moods that made the bipolar pattern emerge. He was the first doctor to give me a useful diagnosis that made sense. Rapid Cycling Depressive Bipolar Disorder II.

Sixty-nine percent of people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed, and one-third of these don’t get the correct diagnosis for more than ten years. Anti-depressants can be incredibly dangerous to people suffering from bipolar disorder, exacerbating symptoms and generally making people feel worse or having no effect at all.

Picture

Photo by kropekk_pl via Pixabay

But because we don’t talk about mental illness, it is impossible for people to know if they are getting correct diagnoses or medications. From my first diagnosis, to the correct diagnosis it was almost ten years. And once I received that diagnosis, it took another five years to find a medication that actually made a difference. Three hospital stays, two more suicide attempts, and fifteen years of avoidable suffering.

The moment I was properly diagnosed changed my life.

The moment I was properly diagnosed changed my life. It was the moment that I realized I wasn’t a lost cause. There was a reason anti-depressants didn’t work for me. I wasn’t just a lazy, useless person. There was an illness that explained my suicide attempts, self-harming behavior, depression, and anxiety.

Getting the proper diagnosis made a world of difference. I am not a failure. I have a chronic illness that can be treated.

Steps to take if you need help:

  1. Make an appointment with a counselor.
  2. If you can’t get in to see a counselor or psychiatrist right away, make an appointment with a primary care doctor.
  3. While you are waiting for your appointment(s) research your symptoms. Knowledge is power. And while I don’t suggest that you self-diagnose, or self-medicate, educating yourself about what you’re experiencing can help you decide if what your doctor or therapist tells you makes sense.
  4. If you don’t feel heard by your provider, go see someone else and keep going to new people until you feel comfortable. If you don’t like your therapist or psychiatrist, they won’t be able to help you.
  5. If you can’t afford to see a doctor, most places have low-cost options. There are therapists and psychiatrists who offer sliding-scale fees and there are state-sponsored programs for low-income people.
  6. If medications don’t help or if they make you feel worse, tell your doctor. Make sure they’re addressing all of your symptoms and don’t give up on medications, because new ones are being created all the time. Even treatment-resistant mental illness can be treated.
  7. If you feel overwhelmed, ask a friend or family member for help. Reach out and don’t stop looking until you get the help you need.
Mental illness does not have to be a death sentence. You are not a failure. You are a strong, resilient person and if you have a mental illness, you have a chronic illness that can be treated.

How Our Screens Divide Us

Life has gotten busy around here. Since joining the ConquerWorry.org team, my head has been non-stop buried in my computer. I spend a lot of time on social media anyway because of my day job, and now I’m spending even more time.

My typical day looks like this:

  1. Get up, take care of dogs, make breakfast.
  2. Eat breakfast while checking in with my email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest accounts and watching TV.
  3. Leave TV on in background while working on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and checking all notifications as they come in.
  4. Miss all natural occurrences of the day, including proper time for meals, the sun coming up and going down, using the bathroom at regular intervals, etc.
  5. Erik comes home and looking up at him as he walks in the door is a revelation in non-digital reality.

So, my challenge is this: How do I get interaction with the world when my commitments (and enjoyment) require me to stare at screens all day?

I have no coworkers and no friends that are available in the middle of the day for company. Occasionally, I will call a friend or family member during the day to get some human “contact”, but most days these people are busy with their own lives/jobs.

The funny thing is, when I try to set limits on the amount of time I spend staring at a screen, I feel guilty for “relaxing” instead of working.

Last night, E and I were laying in bed each on our own personal devices. I noticed what we were doing and started thinking about what my parents’ nights must have been like when I was a kid. I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, before cell phones and tablets were ubiquitous. My parents had a TV in their bedroom so they might have watched that when they went to bed. But if they didn’t watch TV, what did they do? Did they wait to go to bed until they were absolutely ready to close their eyes and go to sleep? Or did they have before bed rituals or activities that they looked forward to? Reading a book, writing about their day, or maybe enjoying each other’s company without distraction? (That last one is pretty unlikely considering how unhappy my parents were together. But that’s beside the point.)

I’ve tried, in the past, to banish screens of any kind from our bedroom, or at least our bed, but it never lasts for very long. We are both very attached to our phones. But I do find myself wondering if maybe our marriage and our individual lives might be better served by limiting the use of our devices near bedtime. Of course there are plenty of studies that enumerate the ills of blue light before bed. But more than that, I wonder what the social consequences are of allowing ourselves to be separated and isolated by devices that were designed to connect us.

Very First #LinkYourLife

@ShareenM and @Shawnamawna do a wonderful thing every Friday called #LinkYourLife, which is a Twitter community that encourages discovering new voices in the Twitter and Facebook community. I was so inspired by Shareen’s list this past Friday that I decided to launch my first ever #LinkYourLife Friday. I hope you find something interesting to read and let us know who your favorite is my commenting and sharing on Twitter and Facebook.

Single Writing Mom has started writing love letters to those Facebook friends that she doesn’t see in real life. She wanted to give up Facebook, but didn’t want to give up staying in touch with those people and so she started the “Love Letters to my Facebook Friends Project”. She’s just getting started, but her first letter is funny, sweet, and brought me back to my own youth. I stole this one from ShareenM, but it was just so wonderful!

The Island of Lost Words by Jenny Diski This is a beautiful and moving treatise on the value of words and how they are ravaged by memory. Thought-provoking, lyrical, and tragic. It made me never want to grow old.

Visual Verse The concept? One image, one hour, 50-500 words. Anyone can participate and the results are incredible.

The Homeowner’s Management Company Poetry, writing, and photography from Ann WJ White about the mundane and the magnificent in daily life.

Without an H Exquisite photography from Jon Sanwell as he lives and moves through Southeast Asia. Breathtaking.

Alright, that’s all I have time for today. But now that I plan on doing this every week, I’ll have more time to go through links and read posts to come up with next week’s list.

 

Depressed on Twitter

I’ve been stalking Twitter lately, using the hashtags #suicide and #depressed. I’m trying to find people who are reaching out on Twitter because they have nowhere else to go. There are so many people looking for recognition of their pain, looking for hope.

Twitter provides a great degree of anonymity for some people. And as such, it can be the perfect outlet for people wanting to tell their story or wanting help, but who don’t know how to tell the people in their lives face-to-face. These people represent a huge portion of the population that are suffering from mental illness without getting the help they need. The National Alliance for Mental Illness estimates that nearly two-thirds of people with mental illness don’t seek help.

These people are seeking help:

twitter2 twitter1 twitter3 twitter4

These are just a small sampling of the kinds of posts you can find on Twitter if you’re looking. Most of the people I reply to don’t acknowledge my message, but sometimes I get a message back saying, “Thank you.” or “I’ll try.” And I know that sometimes I am helping.

I wonder if Twitter had been around when I was a teenager, would I have reached out? Would anyone have listened? And would it have helped?

I can only assume that the people writing these tweets want to be seen and heard. And even though I don’t know any of them, I can at least show them that they are in fact being seen and heard.

If you are on a social media platform like Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram, look around using the hashtags #depressed, #mentalhealth, #anxiety and see if you can say a kind word to someone who is suffering. It might just make there day a little better. And who wouldn’t do that if they could?

Use hashtags like #NotAlone #DontGiveUp #LiveBrave #SickNotWeak #ConquerWorry to help connect them with other people who are struggling.

Let’s break the stigma of mental illness and help people who are suffering in silence and darkness come out into the light.

When Depression Almost Ended My Marriage

Mental illness threatens all relationships it effects. Anyone telling you otherwise is selling something.

I’ve talked before about the dynamic in my own marriage that resulted from my repeated, severe depressive episodes. That is an ongoing battle that requires me to find my voice and motivation for daily life.

But more insidious even than that is this idea that sometimes goes hand in hand with depression, that a change of scenery in whatever form will change your mind.

As a kid, every summer I thought each new school year brought a new chance to reinvent myself and have a happier year. And then, when I finally gave up on that, I thought junior high (which was a new school), and then high school, and then college would afford me a new outlook on life. Before each of those new experiences, I thought, here now is a chance to be happy. It will be different. I will be different. But as the cliche goes, wherever you go, there you are.

I eventually resorted to moving away, first across the country and then across the world. But I couldn’t outrun myself no matter how hard I tried to reinvent myself with every new beginning. Eventually I realized that it didn’t matter where I was or who I was with, I had to face the truth of my Self.

No matter what self-help books and other people said, I had to claim my mental illness as a part of me. I had to stand up and say, This is something I have and it may never go away. By pretending it doesn’t exist and that it can be vanquished with mind over matter, I am letting it define me. I will claim it and diminish its power over me. The day I accepted that my bipolar disorder was a fixture in my life was the day I started really managing it.

But a pattern that you have repeated your entire life is hard to break completely. And so, even though I had accepted that my life might always be a series of ups and deep downs, I still find myself thinking from time to time, I am unhappy and unsatisfied. Perhaps I am unhappy and unsatisfied because I have been doing the same thing for too long.  And this is exactly how I found myself contemplating leaving the only consistent and stable thing in my life, my marriage.

Not because there is anything wrong with my marriage. Not because my husband had stopped being the most amazing, supportive, and loving person I have ever had in my life. But because part of my illness is believing that circumstance is somehow responsible for my unhappiness.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say I contemplated leaving my husband, because it wasn’t logical. I thought about where I might live if left to my own devices, about what I would do with my time. I didn’t think about not having E in my life. But as soon as I did, I panicked and rewound, realizing that I was suggesting leaving one of the people who loves me most in the world. Blowing up my marriage wouldn’t fix my depression.

My point is this, don’t blow up your life because you’re depressed. Never make decisions from inside the darkness. Get help, get treatment and when you are feeling balanced again, reassess what you thought from inside the darkness to see if it still applies. My guess is that nine times out of ten, it won’t.

I am loved and so are you.