My recent health ordeal began two Tuesdays ago. I woke up in the morning with some pretty severe pain in my lower back that I had never experienced before. I took some Advil and went to school because I had a busy day ahead, including an after school commitment to read the mock AP US history tests. By the end of the day I was in so much pain I backed out on reading the tests and went straight home; I laid down on the couch and fell asleep for about an hour. When I stood up to use the bathroom, the pain had shifted to the right side of my abdomen – in a big way. Immediately, I was frightened by how serious the pain had gotten. It felt like a cement balloon had been blown up on the right side of my abdomen. Within a few minutes, I started getting chills – fever was setting in.
Lessons Learned from a Health Emergency
I called my friend and explained what was going on – she immediately came to my apartment and drove me to the emergency room. Luckily, I got right in to see a doctor without a wait. The doctor was pretty sure it was appendicitis, but a CT scan revealed that a portion of my colon was seriously enflamed and infected. In fact, it was so swollen it was very hard to see anything, like what might be causing the infection. I had to be admitted to another nearby hospital at 3 AM because the doctors were very concerned about the severity of the infection.
I was immediately started on IV antibiotics and some very heavy painkillers which made the next three days go by in sort of a blur. Luckily, I responded very quickly to the antibiotics and the infection started to clear. That Friday (two Fridays ago), my parents drove down to VA and I was released from the hospital to finish my recovery at home. Yah! The doctors still weren’t sure what caused the infection, but because the pain was pretty much gone and I was eating, they thought I’d be ok.
Well actually, I was ok – at first. I slept through the night that Friday, ate a normal breakfast and lunch on Saturday, and took the oral antibiotics without a problem. Until Saturday night. It started with a little mild nausea while I was watching a movie with my mom. Then I threw up a few times. Then I started throwing up every half an hour; I couldn’t even keep water down and I definitely couldn’t sleep. My mom called the doctor at 2 AM and he insisted I go back to the emergency room because I was becoming dangerously dehydrated.
So back to the ER we went. I was actually happy because after getting some anti-nausea medicine and a lot of fluids, I was able to sleep. I was re-admitted to the hospital for another two days, during which time I spiked a high fever, had another CT scan done, and broke out in a terrible rash from one of the medicines I was getting (we still aren’t sure which one). But by the end of the second day I was doing much better again and the doctors had found another oral antibiotic to let me finish up my recovery with that wouldn’t cause such serious nausea and vomiting. So I was released from the hospital again with strict orders to take the rest of the week off of school to finish healing.
As of right now, I’m doing ok. I still feel a little discomfort and bloating on the right side of my abdomen, but I finished the antibiotics without incident and am going back to the internist next week for a check-up. Also, I have to go back to my GI doctor for a colonoscopy to get a final diagnosis of what caused the infection, but they need to wait six weeks to be sure my colon is fully healed from the infection. There are a whole host of possibilities in terms of what caused the infections, and frankly, some of them are pretty scary. But I won’t know anything until the colonoscopy is done, so I’m just choosing not to think about it for the moment.
So what have I learned from all this? A lot, actually, and if you’ve read through this whole post, thanks! I’ll keep the lessons learned brief:
1. If you don’t have health insurance because you think you’re young and healthy, you’re gambling with your financial future in a very big way
According to my health insurer’s website, the total cost of two ER trips, two hospitalizations, two CT scans, and an ambulance ride would have been just shy of $20,000, not including all the prescriptions I had to fill – but blessedly, my total out-of-pocket cost will be $70. I’m 26. Until two weeks ago, I was in perfect health. If I had had to pay for this (completely unexpected) care out of pocket, I would be in financial ruins right now. Seriously, you need health insurance. Seriously.
2. Be a hard, responsible worker and don’t waste your sick days
I missed a week and a half of work, but because I’ve developed a reputation as a hard worker, no one questioned my integrity when I had to back out on a number of commitments. In other words, my principal and co-workers understood that if I was taking that much time off, I was really sick, and many people really stepped up to help me out. I also didn’t have to worry about missing any pay because I have a whole bunch of sick days stored up for this type of situation. Both of these factors really took a huge weight off my shoulders when I was trying to get better.
3. Cultivate good personal and professional relationships with at least some of your coworkers
While many of my co-workers offered to step in and help me out with my school responsibilities while I was recovering, my department members were especially helpful in devising substitute plans, getting messages to my students, and just making sure my classroom needs were taken care of while I was away. I’ve spent the past four years developing close personal and professional relationships with my department, and they were more than happy to step in and help me out in my time of need. This experience has shown me how invaluable those relationships are, and I just hope I can repay the favor!
4. Get renter’s insurance
When I returned home after my first hospitalization, my mom discovered a gas leak in my stove. The night I returned home from my second hospitalization, the building had to be evacuated because the fire alarm was blaring. Neither of these situations turned out to be serious (thankfully) but the last thing I would have wanted to worry about while I was recovering was how to replace all my stuff if a disaster had occurred.
I guess I could sum up everything I’ve learned from this experience in the following statement: Be prepared. I never thought something as serious as this would happen to me, but I’m so thankful that I had the social and financial resources to deal with this emergency when it occurred. The outcome could very easily have been disastrous.
Wow, this might be my longest post yet! Thank you so much for all the kind words and wishes. I’ll be back to the hard-hitting financial content soon, but for now I’m just going to enjoy feeling better and spending time with family over the holiday.
What’s been going on in your world recently?