Why I've been gone - medical errors, surgery, and more.

So those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I haven't been blogging or tweeting much since LATFOB (the end of April), and I just wanted to do an update post explaining why.

The Tuesday after LATFOB, I ended up in emergency surgery for a perforation in my digestive system (it turned out to be a hole in my stomach), and life became very complicated, very quickly. If you want the short version, skip to the paragraph after the picture with me holding my diploma. If you want the long version, here it is: 

I had some horrible pain Monday evening in my abdomen and shoulder, went to the ER, they put me on pain meds, took x-rays, and mistakenly told me I had done something to my shoulder and the pain was just so bad that I couldn't breathe. This was actually plausible, considering I had spent the weekend lugging around heavy bags of books the entire weekend; the problem was that the ER then sent me home hopped up on pain meds and told me to call my doctor in the morning. I woke up about five hours later, in screaming pain, unable to move (I couldn't even sit up). Then, the ER calls us back (which apparently never happens) and told us that I needed to get back to the ER RIGHT NOW and to call 911. Apparently someone who actually knew what to look for on the x-ray figured out that air had escaped and was trapped in my side and my shoulder joint, thus indicating a hole somewhere in my digestive system. So I arrive at the hospital and the doctor is waiting outside the door. They took me directly into a room and started prepping me for surgery, which they got me into less than an hour later. I was in the hospital for a week recovering, and then I was discharged but I couldn't return to school. 

The biggest issue, though, was that the biopsy can back negative for ulceration, and thus began the great goose chase of finding a cause. The first possible cause my doctors looked at was a gastrinoma tumor, which would cause high level of stomach acid. They did a blood test, and my gastrin levels were three times the normal human amount, and thus told me I had a tumor.

Finding out that I had a tumor was the hardest part of this whole process - when I was in the hospital, I knew I was getting better and that I would eventually be discharged and everything would be okay. But suddenly we were talking about more surgery, about the high probability of the tumor being cancerous, and asking questions like “Is it worth going to college for four years when you may not make it through the next five years?”

We had a CT scan done, to try and find the tumor. But they couldn't find the tumor, and so decided to repeat the blood test, but have me stop taking the acid-suppressing medication I was on. The blood test showed normal levels of gastrin. See, gastrin is the chemical signal to make stomach acid, but I was on acid-suppressing medication, so my body was overcompensating - much like how if your computer freezes, you click the mouse a bunch of times to try to get a response. So I never actually had a tumor, just false-positive test results.

During this time, I was experiencing some digestive pain, so I called the surgeon’s office to see if I should start taking the acid-suppressing medication again. I was then told that my symptoms were “probably my gallstones.” Apparently my doctors had only read the part of the CT scan report that said “no tumor” and failed to read the sentence below that said “multiple gallstones are present.” I was promptly told then that I had to stop eating all dairy and all fat. So we took a copy of my medical file and went straight to my gastroenterologist, who I’ve been seeing for a couple of years now, since we were a little frustrated with the surgeon’s office at that point.

I should probably say that though I did eventually return to school, I didn't take any of my AP tests, and I was checked out of school a couple weeks before graduation (my teachers gave me grades based off of my work that semester without taking into account the finals that I never took). So the day that I go to the gastroenterologist is the day of graduation. I go to graduation rehearsal, then drive straight to the gastroenterologist’s office, where I am finally told that I definitely don't have a tumor (and never should have been told that in the first place - the diagnosable threshold is ten times to normal human level of gastrin, and I only had three times the normal human level), that the gallstones are nothing to worry about, and that I can eat whatever I want - the digestive pain was from my anxiety. So I go back home, put on my cap and gown, get my diploma, go straight to bed, wake up the next day, grab my suitcase, and get on a 10-hour flight to London. So that was a bit of a whirlwind. 

I am now back from Britain and in good health. Everything still isn't back to normal, but I’m getting there. The next step is to get back to blogging - I read lots of books during my recovery and my trip, so starting next week, you’ll be getting YA Friday book reviews again! Bear with me, though, some of them are from February, but I’ll try to catch up the best I can. I also want to get back to the archery range, and am starting to go back to church, too. Life is slowly returning to normal. I am happy to announce that I will be attending Westmont College this fall.

A couple of other things:

Many people were shocked when a recent study revealed that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America, but I wasn’t so shocked, considering that I would have likely died if a more experienced radiologist hadn’t examined my x-rays after I had been sent home.

Hank Green of the vlogbrothers posted this video today, and it deeply resonated with me - he discusses chronic illnesses and how hurtful typical responses can be, and the human tendency to want to find underlying reasons for difficult situations. If a person with a chronic illness can just solve their medical issues by doing [fill in the blank], then they are implicitly at fault for their own chronic illness.

 

One last thing - I’d like to thank the amazing nurses I had while I was in the hospital. Every single one was kind, helpful, and knew exactly what they were doing. They were the ones who cheered me on in my recovery, and I am indebted to them. 

You can expect a new YA Friday book review next week, and recaps of LATFOB and my trip to Britain soon.

Carolyn is a teen blogger who shares her favorite YA reads and favorite book related finds with readers on Fridays.