Saturday, February 4, 2017

Kidney Stone Fun

My apologies that my blog has turned into an issue of The American Journal of Medicine, but health issues have made up a large part of my life these last 6 ish months. Hopefully this will be my last hospital adventure for a long while and I will feel up to taking more outfit photos soon so my posts will be a bit more varied :)

After having Henrik, I had a fair amount of abdominal and occasional back pain. Most of it was related to normal postpartum recovery, but about two weeks after he was born the pain got pretty severe. I kept in touch with the nurse at my OB's office and she said it was probably normal, but to come in if things got worse or if I had any other odd symptoms. Every time I was in pain and got close to going in to see my doctor, the pain would subside so I would just stay home. These painful episodes happened several times the last month and would last for a few hours. I figured eventually the episodes would stop completely and I'd be fully recovered from the birth.

About a week ago, my symptoms got worse. I found myself having to go the bathroom pretty frequently and feeling like I had to go even if I didn't really need to. Again, I had severe pain in my stomach and back but it never lasted more than a day. This made me think I maybe had a UTI, but it seemed odd that the symptoms would come and go. I didn't know what else to do so I called my doctor's office on Tuesday and the nurse suggested I go get tested for a UTI. She also scheduled an ultrasound for Thursday to look for ovarian cysts, clotting, etc. She asked if there was any chance I was pregnant. Ha. Good one, Nurse Liz.

That afternoon, I went to have my lab work done. I wasn't feeling great, but the pain was manageable. I was mainly frustrated that they wouldn't get results for two days so I couldn't start any sort of treatment for at least 48 hours. I was sick and tired of these symptoms and wanted to do SOMETHING to make them subside. Because I was breastfeeding, they couldn't give me much by way of medicine to help in the meantime either.

I spent a lot of Tuesday evening with a heat pack on my stomach, which sort of made a difference. I was able to help Chris get dinner together, take care of Henrik, etc. We ate and then I went to a friends' house for a girls night. I felt pretty good while I was there and thought maybe my symptoms had decided to go away for the day and I was feeling grateful.

I got home and into bed and suddenly the pain was back with a vengeance. This time, I had pain in my lower abdomen as well as my right side. I alternated heating both areas with my heat pack while Chris and I watched TV. After moving and shifting around a bunch, I was finally able to find a semi-comfortable position and fell asleep.

At 3:30 am, Henrik started to fuss a bit so I got out of bed to feed him. I carried him into the nursery and sat down but could NOT get comfortable. The pain in my side had intensified and no matter how I shifted or moved, it wouldn't go away. Henrik kept trying to latch on but I was moving around too much for him to get in the right position to eat so he started to cry and I felt HORRIBLE. I needed to feed him so badly and yet I couldn't see how I would be able to while I was writhing in pain. I managed to stand up, albeit hunched over, and hobble back to our bedroom where I yelled at Chris to wake up (he's a deep sleeper) and hold Henrik so I could go to the bathroom. He jumped out of bed and obliged and off I went. Once I was done, the pain had not only not gone away, but had gotten even worse. I shuffled over to the couch and started flopping around like a fish out of water trying to get comfortable. I thought there was a decent chance I was dying or at least that there was something seriously wrong with me. I started mentally trying to think of what could be causing the problem. Appendix, gallbladder, kidney stones all popped into my head but the pain was right on my side, not in my front or back where any of those organs are so I wondered if maybe it was just a severe side cramp of sorts and that if I stretched enough, it would help my muscles relax. So I tried that. It did not work. Meanwhile, Hungry Henrik wailed and Chris asked me if we need to go to the hospital. I told him no because if it really was just a severe muscle cramp, that would be pathetic and embarrassing to go all the way to the expensive ER just to be told that.

After about five minutes of struggling, I was able to contort my body in a way that was not excruciatingly painful and feed Henrik. Chris sat with us and took him as soon as he was done so I could hobble back into bed while he changed Henrik's diaper.

It's a miracle I was able to yet again find a semi-comfortable position and sleep until 7 am. Once I woke up, I optimistically thought maybe the pain had gone away on its own, but it hadn't. I finally decided I should call my OB's office yet again (Liz the Nurse and I are now good buds) and see if they could see me today instead of Thursday. I described to her my symptoms and she said it sounded like my gallbladder and that I should go to the ER as soon as possible. At that low moment, all I could think about was how if I had my gallbladder removed I wouldn't be able to eat french fries anymore. Tears welled in my eyes and I called my mom to see if she could take me to the ER. She said yes and told me she'd be there in about 20 minutes.

Side note, we decided it would be best for Chris to stay home and be with Henrik instead of my mom because he was swamped with work and would be able to work from home while Henrik slept. Thankfully, he had brought his work computer home with him the previous day and had everything he needed.

Having learned from previous experience that you're almost always at the hospital longer than you think you will be, I packed a bag with snacks, chargers, a book, socks (always bring socks), and a few other essentials. My mom arrived a few minutes later and we were off.

I explained to the nurse at the front desk what was going on and emphasized that I was five weeks postpartum and had a nursing baby at home so the sooner I could be seen for his sake, the better. They immediately wheeled me back and put me in a private room with my mom. They drew my blood and got a urine sample then hooked me up to an IV. The nurse then asked me about what was going on so I tried my best to explain in detail the symptoms I had been having. She offered me pain medication, but I declined because of the breastfeeding issue and the fact that my family doesn't respond well to pain meds.

The doctor and her team came in shortly thereafter and she ordered an ultrasound for me after I described my symptoms to her and told her we suspected gallbladder problems. She was really nice and helpful and I was grateful that she wasn't wasting any time with me.

A few minutes later, I was having an internal ultrasound done. But where the wand was, I could tell that it would not show gallbladder issues. I asked the ultrasound tech and she confirmed that was the case. I was a bit annoyed/confused since at that moment, my pain was mainly in my side and only a little bit in my abdomen and the ultrasound wouldn't show anything in my side. But I figured we might as well rule out any issues with my cervix, ovaries, etc. and hope that the doctor would also order an ultrasound on my gallbladder.

About 40 minutes after the ultrasound, the doctor came back in and said everything on the ultrasound looked fine and all my lab results were normal as well. I told her yet again that the pain was primarily in my side and that I wanted to see if there was something wrong with my gallbladder. She said my lab results would have indicated if there were gallbladder issues but that we could go ahead and check for kidney problems such as kidney stones just to be sure through a CT scan. But she sounded hesitant and unconvinced that it was my kidneys since that pain would be more in my back. I insisted that we do the CT scan and she said we would and that if everything came back normal, I would be sent home. This sounded horrible so I suddenly started praying that something would show in my CT scan just so I would have a diagnosis.

The CT scan took about 15 minutes and as they were helping me get back onto the hospital bed, the CT tech said that they should have some answers for me now. She wasn't allowed to tell me the results of my scan, but the way she said that made me pretty confident that something had shown on it. I started to feel more optimistic.

While we waited for the doctor to come back, I texted my sister to give her the update. Earlier, my mom sent her a message saying she was at the ER with me and that it could be kidney issues or maybe gallbladder. Brooke was very concerned but in class so we couldn't call her to explain in more detail what was going on. I texted her that they did a CT scan and we were waiting for results. She then asked how mom was doing. I texted back that she was fine. I was a bit confused by this since mom was just sitting in a chair next to me and I was the one writhing in pain. It then occurred to me that none of our texts to her had directly specified that it was ME having the issues and not our mom. I then asked if she knew that I was the one admitted to the ER, and in fact, she did not. She assumed it was mom since she has had kidney issues in the past and that, no offense to mom, kidney and gallbladder problems seemed like "older people issues". We all laughed.

Meanwhile, Henrik was about due for another feeding and I was not going to be home in time. I had left in such a hurry this morning that I didn't think to pump some breast milk or bring the pump with us to the hospital. Another miracle occurred and one of the lactation ladies who helped after Henrik's birth was around and was able to bring me a hand pump and show me how to use it. Once I had the milk, a good friend of ours came to hospital, picked up the bottle and took it to Chris and Henrik. Thankfully, Henrik took his first bottle like a champ and polished it off in minutes. He was happy, fed, and asleep again so Chris could continue to work.


Henrik downing his first ever bottle. 

The doctor  eventually came in and said that I, in fact, had a giant kidney stone in my right side. She said that a 5mm kidney stone is incredibly painful, but can pass, and that mine was 8mm. She said I must have a very high pain tolerance because she would have expected me to be passed out/vomiting/screaming from the pain and yet I was so "stoic". I told her at 3:30 am that morning I was not so stoic. She said that the stone was big enough that it would need to be surgically removed in the next few days since I was at risk for infections and other complications based on where it was stuck. She referred us to a urologist and said to insist that I be seen today or tomorrow at the latest.


My mom found this helpful comparison chart of different size pearls so she could get a better idea of how big my 8mm stone was haha. 

We called and luckily, they had an appointment available that afternoon. We headed over to the office across the street to see the doctor and he described the procedure to me and miracle of all miracles, they were able to fit me in for surgery the next day (Thursday) at 11 am. Most patients had to wait several days for surgery so I was feeling incredibly grateful that they had one spot open in less than 24 hours.

Mercifully, the stone moved into a position that was more tolerable so I was able to go about the rest of my day feeling ok. I was also able to sleep well the night before the surgery thanks to Henrik being very tired that night. I felt very lucky that the pain had not come back and that the stone did not try to pass on its own.

I woke up on Thursday morning, fed Henrik, pumped some extra milk for him, finished gathering my belongings, and headed back to the hospital with my mom. Again, we decided Chris should be the one to stay home with Henrik so he could work, but we had several friends on call to come over and help take care of Henrik should he decide to scream and be upset while Chris was trying to work. Thankfully, he was pretty happy while I was gone.

All my pre-op stuff went well and when the anesthesiologist came in, we discussed my options for sedation. Standard procedure for this operation was to put me under using general anesthesia, but because I was breastfeeding, I told him I'd like to avoid that if possible. I asked if there was any way I could have an epidural instead since we knew my body responded well to those and it would not affect my milk. I also greatly dislike being so groggy following anesthesia and sleeping for the rest of the day after my surgery wasn't really an option with a five week old baby. In addition, I had a bad experience with a breathing tube down my throat during my nose surgery and did not want to repeat that. The anesthesiologist was very open to not using general anesthesia and said he would do a spinal instead of an epidural, but they are very similar. I said that sounded good to me and go ahead and shoot me up with the drugs.

They wheeled me into the OR and gave me the shot and pretty soon, my left leg was completely numb. But again, like with the epidural, my right leg never totally went numb. Luckily, the parts that needed to be numb were sufficiently numbed haha. I could feel some pressure and mild discomfort, but nothing painful. The anesthesiologist played Hamilton during the surgery and made jokes like he "wasn't going to throw away my shot". I liked him.

The surgery only took about an hour and the doctor said it went really well. He was able to break up the stone easily and capture all the particles. This will allow him to run tests and figure out what kind of stone I had so we can see if there's anything I can do to prevent them from forming in the future. I was quite disappointed that he didn't leave the stone in tact. I was hoping I could see it and keep it as a memento of sorts, but no such luck.

After the surgery, I was moved into a recovery room with my mom. One of the medications they gave me made me INCREDIBLY itchy, which was a normal side effect according to the anesthesiologist. It was quite annoying, but I suppose there are worse reactions. It only lasted about two hours and then went away. I ate about 15 graham crackers (not exaggerating) while we waited for my numbness to subside. My friend was able to bring Henrik to the hospital so I could nurse him, which was a huge relief. I was glad I didn't have to worry about rushing my recovery to get home to feed him and it was just nice to have him there :) He didn't cry at all and made all the nurses fall in love with him.


They loved his hat.

Speaking of nurses, all the ones I had during my time in the ER and hospital were SO kind. I tell you, nurses can make or break a hospital experience. I feel so lucky to have had nurses who were sweet, helpful, and easy to talk to. They made a huge difference and took great care of me.

About four hours after my surgery, the feeling came back in my legs and I was able to walk so they released me to go home. Since getting back, I haven't been in too much pain. At least not consistently. It's normal to feel pain where the stone has been and I've definitely experienced some of that, but it hasn't been unbearable. I have had some monster headaches since coming home, which isn't too fun. I think they're because I hardly ate anything for two days (I wasn't allowed to eat in the ER or the day of my surgery until after the procedure was over). But if I nap, the headaches tend to be gone once I wake up.

Probably the most frustrating part about all of this is that prior to my surgery, I was finally feeling like my postpartum recovery stuff was better and I was almost entirely back to normal. Now with this, I'm kind of back to square one. But I'm optimistic that I'll only need a few days to recover from the procedure rather than six weeks.

So many people have offered to help and many friends have already done so much for us. It has been such a blessing and I really appreciate it. My parents have of course been a huge help. We were really lucky in that none of us had anything scheduled the past few days so they were able to step in and help us. Chris's parents were supposed to come visit this weekend to meet the baby, but we had to reschedule because of the surgery :( Thankfully, they have tickets to come the first weekend in March so they won't have to wait too long to meet Henrik.

There were so many miracles and blessings that have occurred these last few days. I am just really grateful that they were able to figure out what was wrong with me and fix it so quickly. Henrik has handled all of this so well, which has been such a tender mercy. He's been held by new people, fed from a bottle, taken to a hospital, etc. etc. and never once cried or freaked out. I'm also grateful that the surgery itself went so smoothly and that I didn't have to have a stent left in (yay!). I have really felt the Lord's hand in my life this week. While having surgery is never convenient or fun, I truly feel like this happened at the right time and under the right circumstances. Fingers crossed I don't have any more medical emergencies! At least for a while :)

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