Exactly two years ago tomorrow, on a beautiful summer afternoon, I suddenly felt intense pain in my lower abdomen. It was such incredible pain; I could barely breathe. My body shook uncontrollably. I could not stand up straight and ended up on my bed in the fetal position.
I was fortunate not to be alone. I had plans with a friend who had arrived at my place about thirty minutes before the worst of the pain set in. I was fortunate because my friend didn’t panic. He called our local telemedicine service to speak to a nurse. After working through a checklist of questions, she transferred him to 911 because I was showing signs of going into shock. He elevated my legs as instructed while we waited for the ambulance to arrive, and kept talking to me to keep me alert.
Firefighters arrived ahead of the paramedics. They went through the same checklist the nurse had. Then they tried to talk me through getting my breathing under control; it was shallow because breathing deeply hurt. When the paramedics showed up, they had a minor struggle trying to get the stretcher through my front door. The firefighters pushed furniture out of the way but they still couldn’t get it into my bedroom, which was fine with me because it was already crowed enough with three firefighters, two paramedics and my friend all standing around.
The paramedics examined me while I lay on my bed. They took my vital signs. I had a mild fever, but after going through their checklist – which meant confirming I wasn’t pregnant for the third time in about twenty minutes – they partially carried me to the stretcher. Just having my feet touch the floor caused more pain to shoot through my abdomen. I wanted to pass out, but the paramedics kept talking to me to keep me conscious. I wish they hadn’t. Being rolled to the ambulance on the stretcher was agony and the bumpy drive to the hospital was even worse.
It didn’t take long for me to go through triage in the emergency room. Lower abdominal pain on the scale I was experiencing gets you seen by a doctor quickly. I struggled to get undressed and into the hospital gown. The nurse caring for me immediately suggested that I might need a strong painkiller to help me. I refused. The doctor came to see me and tried to convince me that a dose of Oxycodone would help reduce the pain so she could examine me. I still refused. I told the doctor that I wanted to have a clear head so I could clearly communicate with her. She relented but gave me an intravenous anti-inflammatory medication to take the edge off my pain so she could touch my abdomen. However, when she started the examination I almost wished I had accepted the Oxycodone because the pain was excruciating – picture cartoons where cats are so scared they jump up to the ceiling and hang on for dear life.
The doctor sent me for a series of ultrasounds (full abdominal and trans-vaginal) after her brief examination so she could rule out appendicitis, a burst ovarian cyst, or ovarian torsion – which just means a twisted ovary – as the causes for my pain. When the ultrasound results came back, she was surprised, which made me nervous. She said the imaging revealed something unexpected that she hadn’t even thought of. According to the ultrasound results, I had a tubo-ovarian abscess that measured 9cm x 3cm. If you’d ever met me, you wouldn’t believe there was enough space for anything but my vital organs in my lower abdomen; or that I wouldn’t have felt something that size before. I guess the upside was she didn’t tell me I was pregnant because that would have been truly unexpected.
Unfortunately, that doctor’s diagnosis was wrong and it would be the basis for me to receive the wrong medical treatments and incorrect level of pain management for almost a year.
Ray Charles – I Don’t Need No Doctor