Pediatric Anesthesiology 2012

My Experience as a Patient: From the eyes of an adolescent

Cameron RossBy Cameron Ross
High School Senior, Chapel Hill, NC

I knew something was wrong at school that Monday afternoon over a year ago.  I hadn’t felt like eating lunch and my classes seemed to be dragging on.  I was nauseated and felt a slight pain in my lower abdomen.  It was bearable, but it was a feeling that was certainly not familiar.

When I got home, my symptoms worsened.  I knew that a fever was developing, but how high the temperature had reached, I can’t remember.  There was no relief from the pain and my energy had been drained.  I stayed in bed, unsuccessfully trying to alleviate the discomfort and nausea.  My dad got home first, did an examination, and diagnosed my appendicitis.  He is an ENT surgeon but he thought it was a classic case.   He drove me quickly to the hospital, which I remember well due to the stabbing sensation in my right lower abdomen with every bump and stop.  Upon arrival to the hospital and its sickening septic smell, I met with a general surgeon who confirmed the diagnosis.  My condition had changed so much within such a short period of time.

My mom arrived to the hospital just as I was being taken to the brightly lit waiting area.  I had changed into the traditional faded hospital gown, but had no interest in the humor that otherwise would have been present with the open back. It was only then that I was aware of the fact that I would be undressed in front of these strangers in the operating room and wondered what they would be thinking, or if they cared at all.  I was also self-conscious about the fact that they had me remove my earrings and, being newly pierced, that the holes would grow over.  That was the last time I ever wore them.

I became distracted with these concerns with alternating sensations of the unrelenting feeling in my gut and the fact that everyone was extremely nice and professional.  A nurse with a low, hoarse voice was assigned to take care of me and seemed to be able to read my mind. She provided me with warm blankets during my wait, and then my memory faded with the intravenous medication that took away the anxiety as well as the pain.

In the recovery room, my parents were speaking to the anesthesiologist who relayed that I came out of the anesthesia wild and swinging.  He seemed amused.  It is a strange concept to think about your body responding in ways that your mind does not control while still under the effects of the anesthesia. 

I was only in the hospital overnight.  According to my surgeon, my appendix was almost ready to burst, and I was lucky.  The recovery was fast and I didn’t have to take any narcotic pain medicine after that first day.  I went to school 36 hours later with some ibuprofen and occasional acetaminophen.

You can barely see the scars from the surgery. I don’t think about the situation now, but I would want anyone to know who is taking care of a teenager having surgery is that we aren’t kids.  Stickers and pencils will not ease the situation.  Although it was comforting that everyone was friendly, it was also important that they made sure I would be a part of the conversation and be able to understand what was going to happen.  Taking care of the anxiety and pain were crucial, but so was making sure that I was warm and that I was covered up as much as possible to avoid embarrassment in addition to everything else that was going on.  Most adolescents are also going to be concerned about missing school and seeing friends.  Anything that can be done to help speed the recovery process, such as taking measures to decrease nausea and to shorten the period of narcotic pain medications that cannot be taken at school, are also important. 

My recovery was easy and the transition from the hospital back to my usual state of wellbeing was smooth.  This should be the goal for all patients, but with some special considerations for the teenager.

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