As told by Shannon Jennett
One day I woke up with a pain in my stomach. At first I thought I had the stomach flu or ate something bad, but as the day went on the pain got worse and it became apparent it might be appendicitis. I took an Uber to the ER in the middle of the night; they did a CT scan and ultrasound, rule out appendicitis, and decided a cyst must have burst in my ovaries and sent me home with pain pills. A couple days later I was still in a lot of pain and was running out of pain pills. I went to the OBGYN, she sent me back to the ER. They did a blood test and an ultrasound. They told me I was healing and sent me home with stronger pain pills.
Ten days after the first day I went to the ER my parents were in town and noticed how sick I was. I couldn’t stand up straight, wouldn’t eat, and couldn’t sleep. I had lost color in my face and had lost a lot of weight. My mom brought me back to the OBGYN. She looked at my CT scan and noticed my ovaries looked fine, and told me this was not an OB problem. So, she sent me back to the ER. This time around it took a while to get a room. Once I was finally in a room, doctors came in one by one to listen to my story. Each time I felt more exhausted. My mom told me later, the doctor kept asking her if I “always looked like that” and that at one point they lifted my leg and I screamed in pain, but I have no memory of that. Eventually, they sent me in for CT scan and when they put the dye in my IV, I screamed in pain. The whole week I was in 10/10 pain, but this was 100/10. I didn’t know this pain was possible. Turns out my appendix had burst; they couldn’t see it in the scan.
Once I got back to my room, things went downhill. I began to have trouble breathing. It felt like the airway to my lungs was the width of a pin. My body felt weighted, I couldn’t move anything. I was burning hot. I tried to think of ways to say how I felt with as little words as possible because I couldn’t breathe. “Can’t breathe,” “face swollen,” “thirsty.” My mom assured me my face wasn’t swollen and I remember being so confused because it felt like I must look like one of those cartoons that have been stung by a million bees. At one point I saw my mom crying as she talked to a doctor. At that moment, I thought I was going to die. Then, they rushed me to the OR. According to my records, they did an “open appendectomy,” to wash out the infection in the peritoneal cavity (basically, all around the organs). After surgery, my surgeon told my mom it went well, but the bad news was I went into septic shock.
Every morning my blood was taken to check my white blood count and lactic acid and every few hours my vitals were checked. Doctors and residents would come in every morning to report on my WBC, check on my wound, and redress it. I was on broad-spectrum antibiotics and put on fluids to give me electrolytes and cleanse the infection from my body. I looked twice my size in a couple days. Not only was I weak from sepsis and sore from surgery, I was also incredibly uncomfortable from this huge change in body size. My hands and feet looked like they were going to pop. The swelling made it difficult for the nurses to take my blood every morning. So I was poked a lot. When they would take off the rubber band strip, my arm looked like a balloon animal. One day we lost my IV, it hurt so they took it out but I was so stuffed with fluids none of the nurses could find a vein to get another IV in me. I had to wait for a special guy with an ultrasound machine to find where my real arm was under all this fluid-arm. I think he said he had to go 1.5 inches deep to get to my vein. This set back my healing process because I wasn’t getting antibiotics for about half a day.
The sixth day in the hospital my white blood count spiked again. A CT scan showed I had a bunch of abscesses in my abdomen, which they said were probably from splashes when they cleaned my organs of the infection during surgery. They said my body should fight off the little ones but they wanted to get rid of the big one. The procedure involved me laying on my freshly cut tummy while a doctor put a needle through my right butt cheek into my pelvis region. The doctor sucked out the insides of the big abscess as I was moved in and out through an X-ray machine multiple times. The good part about this was I had an excellent nurse who monitored my pain the whole time and gave me a new IV, called a midline, which lasted the rest of my hospital stay.
I spent 2 or 3 nights in the ICU and 14 days total in the hospital. Since then I’ve dealt with depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I now have a 5-6 inch vertical scar down my belly. I lost what felt like all of my muscle. I lost 25-30 pounds. Months following, I lost more than half of my hair. I lost my job. It took months to be able to breathe or eat without pain. This experience completely changed my life.