My Story: When Routine Surgery Goes Bad

Day 2 in the hospital.

How did I ring in 2012? With an outpatient surgery followed by an additional emergency surgery, an ambulance ride to the hospital, a CT, three blood transfusions, 8 people sent to my room to revive me when I had shortness of breath, another CT scan and an unexpected three-day hospital stay. Here is my story:

The end of the year seemed like the perfect time to finally fix my umbilical hernia, a simple outpatient surgery that would eliminate the imminent risk that my bowels could become strangled…yeah, good idea to get that fixed. As long as I was going under, my OB could also perform some necessary repair surgery I needed along with ablation since my periods were at least two weeks every month. Things would be slow at my job, Breezy Mama was on “vacation” and I already had my first week of January posts ready to be emailed, the holidays were winding down and my appointment was made.

While my three big kids spent the night with my dad and his wife Leslie, the hubby and I headed down to the surgery center at 7am after my mom arrived to take care of the twins. Though a little nervous of the pain I was forewarned about that I would feel after, Maya reminded me that I would be put under, not feel a thing and then just take my pain meds, so I was actually fairly relaxed.

Joking around before surgery.

First, we met with a nurse and I was put in a robe that filled with air to keep me warm, which my husband and I had several jokes to make about. The nurse and I discussed the cover of National Geographic was about twins and I lamented that I hadn’t bought it the night before when I stocked up on magazines in anticipation of my recovery. It was all very casual when I was told it was time to go in.

My husband walked me as far as he was allowed to go and we hugged good-bye and I headed in when I just had this slight moment of hesitation that I had given him a wimpy hug and, JUST IN CASE, I better make it a better one. I turned around, walked back and gave him a bigger hug and he gave me a kiss when one of the five or so people in scrubs waiting for me yelled, “Get a room!”

Next I was on the operating bed and met the anesthesiologist and the staff of nurses. Everyone was incredibly sweet and I was fast asleep in a matter of minutes, with visions of my husband and kids.

When I woke up, I was in a recovery area and my husband was by my side and I immediately started joking around. I felt great. Then a nurse I was meeting for the first time raised my bed… instantly I felt a tremendous amount of pain and told her. She upped my pain medication, but it wasn’t working. Noting that my bladder may be full and putting pressure on my lower pelvic area, she suggested I try to use the bathroom… nothing happened in there… but she did have to send in the janitor because of all the blood every where. I really, REALLY wish this would have raised a red flag for her.

Two tries in the bathroom later again followed by this poor janitor, I was really beginning to think something MUST be wrong. She then sat me in a recliner in a TV area next to my husband and across from another couple where a woman had just gotten out of surgery and was moaning. It was hell.

My pain was now so intense I was doing all I could not to scream and the nurse finally decided to put in a catheter as she was convinced if we just drained my bladder all would be well.

As I was directed to lay back in a gurney in a recovery area separated only by a curtain, something just seemed wrong! At this point, I turned to my side and was holding onto my bed rails for dear life as my pain was so intense – and this is while I was fully medicated. My husband lifted up my blanket and was floored by my blood filled bed and ran out to the nurse insisting something was wrong and that she call my doctor…NOW.

Unfortunately, my beloved doctor actually had the day off and had come in just to do her portion of my surgery earlier that morning and was now with her baby frantically trying to find someone to baby-sit, meanwhile sending her partner over.

Once her partner arrived and saw me and the blood, it was a matter of minutes before I was sent back to the operating room and my buddy the anesthesiologist was there and I asked, “ARE YOU PUTTING ME UNDER?” and when he responded yes, I said “THANK YOU. I JUST CAN’T TAKE THIS PAIN.”

This time, I woke up to nurses scrambling around to get a sandwich together, then stressed about finding chips… they were doing all they could to get my husband food because they were really worried about all he had been through. It was incredibly sweet.

Turns out one of my stitches had come undone and there was a blood clot inside me the size of a football at that point that had to be removed. NOW, everything was okay but I had lost a lot of blood and would need to be taken to the hospital, so the hubby and I were boarded onto an ambulance and on our way.

In order for my husband to be able to stay the night with me, they decided to put us on the labor and delivery floor. Um, we have five kids… we were back to a place we never thought we’d be again and laughing about it.

That evening I had a CT scan to make sure everything was okay and it was, but I would need blood transfusions in the morning. The next day, my hubby headed to one of his all time favorite places: the hospital cafeteria. Now, you may think I’m joking, but it is literally one of his favorite places to eat. When he returned, he had bought me a National Geographic with the twins story. I love him.

Later, my bestie Leslie came to visit and though she and her fam originally were going to come to our house for New Years along with Eli’s bestie and family to ring in ’12 by 9pm –a.k.a. New York New Years – as I rocked my PJs in recovery mode, we were joking that we MAY need to cancel. It was the 30th. Les left when my first blood transfusion started… followed by a second and my vitals were looking up and things were looking good.

As I was making pain medication induced jokes about Millionaire Matchmaker that we were watching on TV around 8pm, I suddenly had no breathe. None. When I gasped, I told my nurse, “I can’t breath” and within minutes at least 8 or so people were in my room, one holding paddles as I faded in and out, breathing through an oxygen mask.

When I saw my husband’s face, I just kept saying to myself: don’t die. I realize that’s a bit melodramatic, but in the moment, I really did think that was it for me… and I was pretty annoyed about it.

“THIS is how I’m going to die?!” I thought… as my poor husband watches… that’s so F’d up to do to him… and I don’t even know if my brother Cameron is okay or not… and at my age?

Before I could even fathom thoughts of my children or anything else, I decided to size up the people in my room to decide if they were going to save me or not. There was the woman checking my vitals… no, she wouldn’t be able to pull it off. There was a guy checking my heart… he just didn’t give me the vibe he’d be able to… the few other women in the room didn’t seem like they would be able to… but the one woman by the door ready to go with the paddles looks like she could do it… And then I saw HIM. The slightly overweight dude at the end of my bed that was practically bouncing off the walls ready to go at a moment’s notice. THAT dude was NOT going to let me die. So I calmed down, focusing on taking in the air from my oxygen mask.

Meanwhile, though I couldn’t quite catch my breath yet, I was trying to keep my husband calm and tell him I was okay… it wasn’t really working with 8 people surrounding me.

Once I was breathing steadily, they replaced my mask with those lovely tubes that go in your nose, the emergency staff went on their way and I was readied for another CT scan… which meant I needed yet another IV in my arm (there were already two in and another two that had been removed). At this point my arms were black and blue, with needle marks throughout them, and my left arm was swollen from an IV that was entering my system incorrectly. With my luck at this point, it was not surprising that the first nurse couldn’t get the IV in my right arm after poke one… nor could the second nurse who tried. It wasn’t until poke number three by an anesthesiologist that there was success and the results of the CT coming back normal made it all worthwhile.

Ultimately, I needed a third blood transfusion and would receive one in the morning. It was now 1am.

Feeling woozy the next day, my third transfusion was ordered and I have to say… Twilight’s Edward is onto something as receiving blood made me feel about 1000 times better. Though I was finally ready to admit I would not be having our friends over for New Years.

As I spent the day resting, my hubby headed home to see the kids. We are SO LUCKY that my parents were such troopers dividing and conquering our five for an unexpected few days. After taking the kids to pizza for dinner, my husband had me on speakerphone in the car and when I heard their voices I lost it emotionally. My heart ached so badly and I needed to see them. As a result, they were now on their way to the hospital.

Ahhh... my visitors.

Words can’t describe how good it was to see my tiny troopers! Just feeling their skin against mine made me feel so much better. When they headed out – after some cafeteria treats of course — I just had to had to had to make it back home. It was 8pm on New Years Eve and the only thing stopping me was I couldn’t be released until I was able to… well… pee.

After my husband got the kids home and in bed and my mom now had allll five at our house, he headed back to the hospital to a New Years date who was drinking more juice and water than you can imagine while determined in the bathroom. Two hours of trying later, I did it! And I rang the nurse and our check out proceedings started. It was 11pm.

Admittedly, I was exhausted, my head was spinning and my pain was kicking in, but I just focused on my bed that I would soon be in and the five extra faces I would get to wake up to.

As we finally arrived home, it was 11:30PM, December 31st and my mom was walking down the stairs… in my PJs! Um, when you’ve done all you can to get back to those cozy PJ’s, the first words out of my mouth were: WHY ARE YOU WEARING MY PJs?! It turns out she has the same PJ Salvage pair I have… we have since laughed hysterically about this moment.

It felt sooooo good to be in my bed and we turned on our TV just in time for the ball to drop… happy 2012.

Back at home with my buddies.

The next week was pretty grueling… it wasn’t the pain. Hello – I’ve delivered five kids including having a C-Section – I’ve known some pain, but I was incredibly dizzy and nauseous every time I attempted to be out of bed. It turns out it was all a matter of my blood count coming back up and would just take something I’m not all that used to lately: rest. If you ever wonder how much you REALLY do, the best way to find out is when you can’t do any of it. Though it was a week of lots of tears (just ask Maya when she came to visit… or my mom who wiped a few…) out of frustration, having my 5 buddies and hubby to cuddle with as we watched TV in my bed was the best feeling in the world. Life is good.

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  1. Wow….I am so so sorry for all you went through but so thankful you’re recovering well. So scary….

  2. You are a brave and strong mama. I can’t believe all that you went
    Through. I loved our visit and seeing your face glow when all the
    Kids were around you. I love you and so sorry
    You went through this. Thank you for such an honest
    Blog about your experience. It brought tears to my
    Eyes…again;). Keep healing!!

  3. Thank you Caryn 🙂
    And Maya — you are amazing for everything!! XOXO

  4. Oh Chelsea! I had to finish reading this post on my phone in the bathroom because I couldn’t stop cussing as things went from bad to worse. So sorry you had to go through this. The way you described your experience of being revived was so eerily familiar to my own experience after I had Mia. I remember going in and out of consciousness while searching the room full of doctors for a pair of eyes that I could count on to save me. The memory of my husband’s face while helplessly holding our newborn is something I’ll never forget. The only clear thought I had was “This is so F’d up”. Glad to know I’m not the only one to drop an F-bomb on death’s door! There’s nothing like an experience like that to appreciate what you have and not sweat the little things. Thanks for sharing, you are so loved my friend!!

  5. Wow…I’m glad you’re ok. I had a similar complication from my c-section in September. I wish I had been more vocal that the pain I was in was NOT normal recovery pain, but never having had surgery, I didn’t know and kept being told it was ok. Sitting alone in a wheelchair in that long, cold, white hallway waiting for my CT scan with my baby girl and husband upstairs was terrifying!

    Lesson for me – get the opinion of your dr, and be insistent, if you think something is wrong. The nurses were great, but once my dr heard how much pain I was really in (and my blood count!) she was upset that she hadn’t been told sooner.

    I’m so glad you made it home in time for New Year’s and that you’re doing well!

  6. Chelsea,
    You are truly amazing and inspiring – to have such strength and wit through a difficult time! I was laughing about how you sized up your medical team when all was going crazy! Glad you are back home with your family and getting stronger everyday!

  7. Awww…Chelsea, so sorry you had to go thru all that but happy to hear you’re doing well now and back with your “buddies”! Bummed to have read all this a week before my consult to fix my umbilical hernia…argghh!
    btw, your articles always make me tear up and laugh 🙂

  8. Mary – So sorry that happened to you! Thank you for making the excellent point that, if in pain, insist on seeing your doctor. I am kicking myself for not saying that in the piece now. My doctor was very upset it took 3 hours for her to receive a call! Again, so glad you made that point!

    Maria — I miss you! I thought I was the only one who would size up whether I was going to be saved -lol. That visual of Shane and Mia breaks my heart, too. I officially need to see you asap 🙂 And, very true, I having definitely kicked off ’12 with a different attitude about the small stuff! XOXO

    Susie — thank you so much 🙂 I have to say — it made me laugh after the fact that that is the way my brain was working at that moment.

    Dana — thank you 🙂 Don’t let this freak you out — the complications were not related to the hernia surgery. My only advice for THAT is that you will be in some pretty decent pain for a few days, so make sure you have work, kids, etc. taken care of. But, honestly, the hernia surgery went smoothly and the recovery from that was actually the least of my worries -lol.

  9. Chels, it breaks my heart your routine surgery took such an awful twist! Though it’s taken a long time, I’m glad you’re on your way to recovery!

  10. So glad to hear you’re ok! Wow, way to close out 2011 with a bang. 😉 Take care of yourself!

  11. Oh Chelsea, I had no idea it was this bad even after I ran into E the other day. Big huge hugs to you and your family. I am so glad that you are in the healing phase now.

  12. WOW – Chelsea, I am so sorry to hear you had to go through all of this. You are amazingly strong, and you have such a supportive husband, and parents, and kids. I’m so glad it is all behind you. Now take it easy, will you? : )

  13. It’s times like these that make you realize what’s important in life. Health = wealth. Can’t wait to toast to a healthy 2012!

  14. I am 48 with a total of 8 kids (my ex’s, his, mine, and ours), the last of whom is our 4 yo. She was a total unexpected blessing that brought a new perspective to our lives.
    As I read through your account of the ordeal I could completely see the events unfolding, (the internal sutures not holding, the hypovolemia, the possible pulmonary embolism etc…). In the indifference to the bleeding, the pain, and even the shortness of breath later on I find that what happened, was that you were treated as “routine”. We have come to a place in time where generally things just don’t go wrong, so we don’t look for them or accept them as we should.

    A couple of months ago I ran up our stairs to retrieve another who knows what. As I reached the top I suffered an unbelievable bout of chest pressure and was unable to catch my breath. I did my typical thing and excused all of the signs and symptoms away, although when I could finally make it back downstairs I did take an aspirin, (I knew what was going on, but it wasn’t routine for someone like me to be having a heart attack). 5 days later something finally scared me enough that I drove myself in. Yes, I had a heart attack, and yes I had to have a routine angiogram and if necessary a routine angioplasty. As I was being whisked away to the cath lab all I could think of was wishing I could hold my daughter one more time, or kiss my husband one more time. I wanted to hear the voices of my other kids and grand kids. Luckily everything was routine. I did end up with the angioplasty and stint. I was the youngest in the CCU that they had seen in a very long time. I had to chuckle at your drive to get home so you could keep the party, sounds like something I would have been thinking.

    Coming home 5 days later I was so taken my daughter’s, “MOMMY!!” and her beaming little face, and cherished the feel of my husband’s cold hands and feet cuddled up against me. The faces of my kids were like those of angels and the sounds of their voices like a choir.

    We brush against life altering situations all the time and most of the time, never see them. Snuggle your kids, give that extra kiss to your spouse, and even thank your former spouse every once in a while. Take time to rest (you’ll physically feel the effects of this for some time). Make others listen to you when you feel like “something is wrong”, in my 25+ years in emergency medicine I have found that something generally is.

    Thank-you for sharing your story, it brings back into perspective what is important.

  15. Rebecca Tierney says

    Oh Chelsea this made me cry. I am so so so sorry you had to go through this but am so happy you are okay. What a terrifying near death experience. That is why I am petrified to have anything done or go under. Thanks for sharing your story and so glad you are recovering and made it home in time for the New Years Eve countdown and your sweet babies. Life is so fragile. Happy New Year old friend…I mean friend from long ago. 🙂

  16. Melissa Black says

    Chelsea, I can’t believe what you went through. This made me cry too and appreciate how fragile we all are. I hope you are feeling back to your energetic self soon. Xoxo

  17. Sylvia Ramirez says

    OMG. I was crying, laughing and everything in between as I read your story – it was so scary and yet you wrote it so well, capturing those thoughts we have in scary situations that somehow don’t seem quite real when we look at it later. I’m so so happy you are back home and feeling better with the precious 5! I wish you a much more subdued and restful 2012. And I hope I get to meet the twins this year! Lov u! Sylvia

  18. Chelsea- I can’t believe all you went through! I am so glad you are ok!!!

    Sending you lots and lots of love!!


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