When we’re children, the best stories always seem to begin with “Once upon a time…” We know from the moment those words begin that we’re in for an adventure. A damsel in distress will be saved by a hero and everyone will live happily ever after. I loved those words so much that I used them in my wedding vows to my husband. I even promised that we were beginning our happily ever after together.
We were married on 10/10/10. Just seven months later, our happily ever after took a detour neither of us saw coming. Mere days after my thirtieth birthday, I started complaining that I felt nauseous all the time. I would get up in the morning and the thought of breakfast made me sick. Often, I would force myself to consume something, especially on days where a twelve hour nursing shift was looming over me. Coworkers would comment that I sounded exactly like they did when they were pregnant, boosting my hope that after five months of trying to conceive perhaps my husband, Milo, and I had been fortunate enough to start a family.
Two weeks later, Mother Nature made it truly apparent we were not going to have a baby. Despite that, I didn’t worry about the nausea yet. Several other people at the hospital had been fighting off a “stomach bug” that was lasting up to a month. I just attributed my nausea and low appetite to that. It would go away.
Over a month had passed and I had no relief from the symptoms. In fact, they appeared to be getting worse. I had called in sick to work twice due to severe abdominal pains that kept me up all night. Some nights, I couldn’t keep food down at all. Others, I couldn’t eat more than crackers. In two weeks time, I had dropped ten pounds. I had attempted a gluten free diet as well as a dairy free one, both without success. Milo and I tried valiantly to find foods I could tolerate besides Jell-o, with little luck. Good days were hard to find and I’d often curl up on our bed or the couch and sob. I was tired of being sick.
When I first called my PCP for an appointment, she was out of town. I had to suffer four more days before I could finally get some medical advice. The appointment lasted about ten minutes. She listened to my complaints, did a quick assessment and barely noted that when she touched the right upper quadrant of my abdomen I flinched. “It’s a virus,” she told my husband and me with little emotion. “Take some acidophilus, follow a BRAT diet and give it a few more weeks. You’ll be fine.”
I should mention I hate doctors. Ironic given my line of work, I know, but I do. I will only see a doctor if I am seriously sick. Since becoming a nurse at a hospital, I usually just pick the brain of a hospitalist if the symptoms I am experiencing are serious. I know from experience, a lot of things get blamed on viruses when we simply don’t have an answer as to why a patient is sick. When my doctor said it was a virus, I wanted to believe her, but I didn’t. I’m a nurse and I know that the pains, the inability to eat, the vomiting up meals were all signs that something was seriously wrong. I thanked her for her time and went home to make an appointment with a GI specialist. I needed a second opinion.
Dr. K, the GI specialist I chose, is a family friend and family physician. He has taken care of both my parents with great success. I knew if anyone could figure out the conundrum of my symptoms, he would. Unfortunately, we were both on our way to vacations (mine, our honeymoon) and it would be three weeks before I could get into his office. The symptoms seemed to grow worse over that time. I could barely keep anything down, all I wanted was to lie down and sleep. I had little energy and tended to be more emotionally labile. I felt horrible that the two week vacation we planned for our honeymoon was not near as active as my husband and I had wanted. I was ready for my life back.
Dr. K immediately thought gastroparesis, a slowing of stomach digestion, when he heard my symptoms. He recommended an EGD –a scope of my stomach—and an ultrasound of my abdomen to rule out gallstones or obstructions. Both tests occurred the same day. I had never really been a patient before and was completely terrified. The ultrasound was done first and the tech was completely sweet but hurried. She was being slammed by outpatient and the ER. Despite her frazzled nature, she was thorough, especially when she hit my right upper quadrant and I yelped in pain. She became determined to get a better picture, despite my discomfort, and I could see by the look on her face she could see something.
“You can’t tell me what it is, can you?” I asked her and she just frowned. I already knew the answer.
When she was done with her pictures, she wished me lucked and flew off to continue her busy morning. I was taken to the GI lab for my EGD. As I had selected the hospital where I trained and work for my procedures, I knew the staff in the GI lab. Sandy, one of the nurses, popped an IV in and made me laugh with her antics. She liked to torture my father, who she knew well, and I told her if my pregnancy test –a requirement for all women under 55– came back positive she could taunt him with the information. Before I knew it, I was being taken back into the procedure room, some propofol was pushed into my IV and the rest was dreamland. I woke up after the test with a completely clean EGD.
I was not so lucky with the ultrasound.
The following Monday, they called to tell me that they had seen a lesion on my liver during the ultrasound. As a medical professional, I knew what lesion meant. They had found something, a growth of some sort, that they couldn’t name because of the type of test. Another picture would be needed. Dr. K felt it was probably a hemangioma –a “tumor” formed of blood vessels that I could have been born with. Estrogen might have made it large enough that it was applying pressure to my stomach. We’d do an MRI and then see if there was a surgical option.
Omar, an MRI tech I had talked to several times on the phone when coordinating my patients’ MRIs, was running the machine the day I went for my MRI. They had told me to be there before the lab even opened, which meant I sat around for an hour starving before I could even be admitted. The process was fast enough; they did my paperwork, had me put on a gown and remove my bra (damn underwire!) and then Omar popped an IV into my arm like it was nothing. He set me up on the table, connected my IV to the dye infuser and the test began. It was loud and cramped, with lots of moments where I was asked to hold my breath for twenty or more seconds. I kept reminding myself that Milo was waiting for me, that I was safe. I would close my eyes and imagine I was anywhere but in the hospital for a test. I tried to focus on the music playing through the headphones they gave me, but there was no real luck. My mind just kept thinking, “Please let this not be serious.”
Rule: If they call you right away, it’s serious.
I was told it would take forty-eight hours to get my results. When I recognized the number on my cell phone, I knew right away. It was Dr. K and the news wasn’t good. It wasn’t a hemangioma; whatever had begun growing inside me sometime over the last year was very much a tumor. I would need a biopsy.