A Mother’s Instinct
On Thursday, November 19th, I had one of the most adventurous and scariest days as a parent.
It started like any other day, although it was a half day at school for parent-teacher conferences, and I had my daughter’s IEP that afternoon. It’s a big IEP because it’s her transitional one to middle school. I had been prepping for weeks, researching what I was entitled to fight for her, what I wasn’t, what to expect as this was only her second IEP.
So I dropped my twins off at school, and headed home to get some more prepping done, get some work done, etc. At 10AM my son called from school that his stomach was hurting way more than ever before. He has had a history of lower stomach pain, and even had an ER visit at Children’s Hospital to rule out anything major. Everything was ruled out that was related to his pain, and Advil was the solution. So I picked him up, knowing that it was just a half day, and he could come home and have some Advil, relax with the TV and then continue with his playdate that was scheduled that afternoon during his sister’s IEP.
I showed up to school and found my son, pale from pain, in the nurse’s office. On the way home he was crying for Advil so I pulled it out of my purse and gave it to him right there. His dose has become two adult Advil for the pain, but it always works. We get home, he curls up in my bed, and within an hour comes out to tell me he’s thrown up. Thankfully the housekeeper was there while I was hugging my son with my arms, using one foot to keep my dog back, the other foot to keep my cat back, and crying out, “Ayuadame Adelia!” Adelia, with the patience of a saint, first hugged my son, and then cleaned up my rug. She looked at me and sternly said, “Take him to doctor” but I just figured his stomach ache was some bug, although he wasn’t presenting a fever. I gave him a bowl to curl up with while I headed to the IEP. I check in with him before the IEP starts via text, and he texts back, “I threw up again.” He repeated that message in different forms at least 5 more times. I am sitting there fighting for my daughter’s future, and freaking out about my son who is at home throwing up almost constantly. Fortunately my twins go to an incredible school and everyone in the IEP was following this drama with me. We wrapped up the meeting with attention to my daughter, but the haste of a situation that needed to get me out of there. The IEP wraps up, I run down the hallway to get my daughter from her art class, and we race home to see my son. My daughter (and I) are crippling emetophobes so my daughter is ready to keep a 6 foot barrier between her and her twin brother as soon as we walk in the door. I find him on the couch, curled up and looking absolutely miserable. He’s thrown up again. I go to rinse his bowl and wash my hands, and remember that he complained of a stomach ache after school the day before, which was resolved with Advil. So I go back to the couch and lay him on his back. I try and touch his stomach under his belly button and he cries out in pain, guarding the area.
He then goes to his top bunk to try and get comfortable while I call his pediatrician. I mention to them that I think that something is up, possibly appendicitis, and tell them the symptoms I’ve seen. they tell me to come on in. I drag my reluctant son out of his very comfortable bed to the doctor. At this point I begin my social media phase of this adventure and post this picture/caption:
Now at this point, it’s important to say that 75% of my friends are thinking to themselves, “Oh look, Maggie is being neurotic again” while 100% of all of them are concerned for my son. Trust me, I’ve crowdsourced that statistic, it’s accurate.
We get to the pediatrician and J crawls onto the bench in the exam room waiting for our beloved and absolutely flawless pediatrician, Dr. Larry Kagan. He walks in and comments on how pale J looks and asks us what’s up. I give him the brief history and he asks J to climb up on the table by himself. J easily stands on the bench and crawls onto the table, but lays on his side. Larry and I are both relieved, because typically, a kid with appendicitis wouldn’t be able to move like that, right? Larry asks J to lay on his back and does an exam, palpating J’s stomach. And as it presented at my house, the pain is primarily just under his belly button. And still, no fever. Larry asks J to hop off the table. I stay quiet because I know this is all a part of the exam. J easily hops off the table, but then stays hunched over a little, wincing. Larry asks J if it hurt. “Yes, it does.” “Show us with one finger where it hurts” J points to that area under his belly button. Larry asks J to jump up and down. Mamma bear is trying to keep it together, because I’m sure that he’s going to start hurling everywhere. He jumps and winces. Points to the same area. Larry turns to me and says that he is showing symptoms of early appendicitis, that it usually presents with pain under the belly button, vomiting. That it doesn’t hurt to jump up and down with a stomach bug. This was vital information for me to hear. I had no idea!
Under Larry’s advise, we head over to the emergency room. A lovely and kind volunteer gets J a wheelchair and helps us make it to the emergency room, because Mamma in a panic can’t read signs and did the valet parking on the wrong side of the hospital. This lovely and kind volunteer wheels J across the courtyard, and then steps to the side of J’s wheelchair to open the gate. At this point J leans over EXACTLY where this kind and lovely volunteer is standing, and barfs on his canvas shoes. My daughter nearly bolts back to the car in panic, the volunteer doesn’t even flinch, and I grovel for forgiveness while he is more than happy to walk away at this point. We get to the ER and they bring us back immediately. Still no fever, by the way. They do the abdominal exam and now the pain is starting to migrate to the side, where typical appendicitis presents itself. They keep trying to talk in code in front of J, and I keep telling them that he can only handle the truth, no riddles. He proves this over and over again by asking them clinical questions to their foggy answers. J is now curled up in his “sleepy pose” waiting for an IV and we are all in limbo. Still no fever.
At this point I start texting everyone that my daughter is comfortable being with, and my best friend Jan comes to get her and hang out with her for the evening so that she can hang out with her best friend, Jan’s daughter. Jan comes to the room to pick up E, and I can exhale knowing that my daughter is exactly where she should be. They get an IV into J. which is the only thing more painful than his abdominal pain, and he is feeling better and more hydrated. Now the fever starts to present itself, 100. We take J up to an ultrasound where he is now in such extreme pain, that they have to give him morphine in order to tolerate the exam. Mind you, between asking for the morphine and actually getting it, they continue to try and perform the ultrasound while he screams, cries, and begs them to stop, as well he should. Meanwhile I am doing everything I can to avoid becoming Shirley MacLain and demanding pain meds for my child. Morphine administered, exam completed. I sit and wait in the room and get a text from the pediatrician: Confirmed appendicitis.
Now here’s another new piece of information I learned. Early appendicitis can be treated with antibiotics. A resident comes in and lets me know that this is an option. J listens in, and says “Absolutely not, I want surgery.” Which is honestly how I am feeling too. I text his father to talk about it and we are all on the same page. No way we want to risk a recurrence of this, let’s go for surgery. I text my best friend to make sure that my daughter can sleep there, her first ever sleepover. My friend sends me texts of adorable photos of my incredibly confident daughter overcoming one of her biggest fears and accomplishing a huge social milestone with the two people she trusts and loves as much as she does me. I then call my parents who drop everything to drive over to my house, get my son’s loveys, get us some comfy clothes (I’m still in my business casual IEP clothes), toothbrushes, iDevice chargers, etc. Here’s my advice to you in the future: Even if you are at all skeptical that your child has appendicitis, but go in for the exam, pack a go bag just in case.
We’ve been in the ER for about 6 hours, and are finally transferred to our room in the pediatric wing, where we wait to find out what time we get into an operating room. All we know is that it will be sometime after midnight. My parents meet us there with our bag(s) of comfort and hang out with us for about an hour, while the nurses generously ignore their visiting hours to allow this giant baby to have her parents by her side for a bit. J is now appreciating narcotic relief. I am reading his book to him, The Martian, which is strangely complicated but the fact that I have to whisper all the curse words so as not to upset any of our neighbors. Lots of medical people are coming in and prepping him for surgery. J now has a fever of 101.
We have our surgery time, 3AM. It’s 11:30PM now and we decide to go to sleep now so that we get about 3 hours before surgery. I figure out how to recline the barcalounger in the room and drift off to sleep. Someone rubs my leg and says, “Mom, it’s time for surgery” I open my eyes to find the nurse waking us up and getting us ready to wheel to the operating room. It’s midnight. 20 minutes of sleep. J is scared, as he should be. I’m concerned but strangely not scared at all. I know that this is what he needs, and we have been so well taken care of by the staff there, that I cannot imagine anything happening to him. We now have three anesthesiologists, one nurse, and one transport guy surrounding us outside the operating room hallway and making sure that the little man is feeling safe. We are all shocked by how hot his skin feels. I’m not sure what his temperature is now, but I know that it will completely resolve itself once that pesky organ is removed.
The anesthesiologist gets the sedative to put in the IV. I start to tell J that he is about to get some medicine to help him relax, when the anesthesiologist tries to cut me off and say, “no, no, we are just cleaning your IV, nothing going in” and J sees the vial of sedative out of the corner of his eye and freaks out. So I then continue what I was saying about the meds, he totally calms down, and the anesthesiologist looks at me and realizes that this is no ordinary patient. No unicorns and rainbows for us please, just the straight truth!
They wheel my son back while I am fully prepared to break down into tears. And I don’t. I am calm and peaceful. I have been alone with him since we got to the ER and my daughter went off with her friend. But I never felt alone, thanks to Facebook and Instagram. However when I walk into the room, I see families all banded together and I sit alone. Now I feel it. And now my friends realize I’m alone as I never shared that before, and are all collectively and lovingly mad at me for not asking for help (not my strongest suit.)
I know the surgery is going to last 45 minutes, but I also know that if the appendix ruptures, it could last longer. 45 minutes later, the doctor comes out to tell me that yes, it was appendicitis, everything went smoothly, and he’ll be wheeled to recovery soon. I sit and listen to all these families get their good news from their doctors, and I wait for my turn to go see my baby boy. Finally an anesthesiologist comes and grabs me and takes me back to see him. I hear the recovery nurse jokingly reprimand the anesthesiologist for bringing me back too soon. The doctor simply says, “You know I have a weakness for kids, they need their parents.” And I find a chair next to the bed while I sit in vigil. No fever but lots of shaking because of the toxins that were inevitably released from the appendectomy. And then there was all my shaking while I watched over him, desperate for him to wake up and be his talkative self.
By 3:30AM we finally get moved back to our room. We sleep soundly until 5AM when J sits up and wants to use the bathroom. With the help of me and the nurses, he is able to go use the restroom and climb back into bed. At 7AM we are quickly waken up by rounds who turned the lights on and then told us to protect our eyes. I feel like I’m still trying to focus my eyes, three days later.
Later that morning, his sister is dropped off to the hospital to be with him. She was so anxious that she wouldn’t even let me thank my friend, she had to see her twin right away. I brought her up to the room and she went right to his bed to be with him.
We spend the day spoiling him rotten with anything he needs. Thanks to my little partner in crime, I am able to get up and leave his side while she takes good care of him. Liquid diet for breakfast and lunch for him, and hopefully solid food for dinner and then we can go home. Thanks to an afternoon dose of medicine, he settles in for a nice, long, two-hour nap. During his slumber, we find out that he is being progressed to a solid diet, and may be able to go home before dinner. Thanks to Sister by his side, I can step away and get him a chocolate milkshake from the deli across the street to get that ball rolling.
I promise J that the afternoon will include a visit from is best friends. And the promise is fulfilled when they come in and check on him. It’s the first moment that his face lights up, still too weak to really talk or laugh, but definitely happy to have his tribe surrounding him. Sister takes them for a walk around the ward, and he decides to try and go with them. He only lasted a few steps, but it was great to see him get up and start moving.
My friend joined us for dinner, bringing Sister and me the coveted meatball subs from Bay Cities Deli, some gifts for J, but the best gift of all, she wouldn’t leave my side until J was released from the hospital. Another friend drove way out of her way into directions, during Thanksgiving break traffic in Los Angeles, to get J the only solid food he wanted to try, a Noah’s Bagels bacon and egg sandwich on a toasted bagel with butter. He took about 5 bites, which was all the staff needed to see to let him go home. We were finally released by 9PM that night.
We got home, bumps and all, curled up in our beds and slept the night away. The next day he was where he wanted to be – on the couch, playing Star Wars Battlefront on his XBOX One, with his sister by his side bringing his water glass to his lips. The only breakfast that sounded good to him was cookies and cream ice cream, so my mother drove over with a pint for him. He’s recovering nicely thanks to catching it so early.
And to all the moms and dads out there: Trust your instinct. Don’t ever doubt your concern for your kids’ health. Because when you are right, you are right.
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