Monday, February 13, 2012

What’s that scar from?

Unfortunately, that’ll be a question I’ll need to answer for the rest of my life as I now have about a 3-4 inch scar right on my abdomen.  At least I can answer it sounding cool, “oh, I underwent emergency surgery in a third world country”.  For some of you, you have heard from my mom or maybe through the grapevine, but probably for the most of you, this if your first time hearing about it.  That’s because even as I write this now, I am still in the hospital.  To prevent explaining it 1,000 times, I’m writing about it here and trying to put it behind me. 
For about a week, I was experiencing pain around my right hip and thought it would just go away, but of course it didn’t.  I promised Jon that after a week, I would call the Peace Corps doctors.  I did.  After a brief, traumatic trip to a local clinic (whereby the doctor told me to stick my finger up my butt to get a stool sample, which I did not do), I was told to make the trip to Dar es Salaam to be examined by the Peace Corps doctors.  This was the reason I waited so long to call.  It takes 12, long, cramped, hot hours on a bus to get to Dar es Salaam.  So, I went and enjoyed a night with an American family and went to the Peace Corps office by 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday Feb. 15.  By 8:30 a.m., the doctor escorted me to a hospital where I quickly got blood tests, urine tests, and IV fluids put into me .  I got my first sonogram where they found an ovarian cyst the size of a tennis ball in me.  And just to be safe, for good measure, they decided to check my appendix, too.  The next test was a catscan.  The result?  Well, my appendix is out of place, it’s not where it’s supposed to be and it appears to be a little inflamed.  The third test is another sonogram with three doctors together checking out my tennis ball and my oddball appendix.
What happened then?  Well, if I had brought my passport, I’d likely have been flown to South Africa to have surgery.  But, since I didn’t bring my passport and even though the American embassy managed to make one for me in two hours, two hours, folks (amazing!!!)….the doctors agreed it was far too risky for me to do the flight to South Africa with an inflamed appendix.  The result?  An emergency BOGO (buy one get one free) surgery.  A surgery to remove my appendix and my ovarian cyst.  So, after shedding enough tears to fill up Lake Victoria and having every single Tanzanian in hospital to tell me to stop crying, I was shuffled off to the surgery room.
After a surgery taking about 1 hour and 45 minutes, I was woken up with extreme pain and maybe a few pounds lighter since I had two things removed from my body.  Oh and I was screaming for Jon, just screaming.  Do they have morphine here?  If they do, I sure didn’t get it. So much pain and such bad painkillers.  It has now been 72 hours and one good night’s sleep since my surgery and I can kind of shuffle around the room without extreme pain.
But, I want to write about how amazing the Peace Corps staff here was for me.  Peace Corps has taken such bad press the last couple of years and I think it’s unfair because they don’t get highlighted for all the amazing things they do, too.  The Peace Corps doctor was with me the entire way advocating for me.  He got all the tests done quickly, he reassured me, he kept me informed, and  was even in the surgery room to make sure all went well the entire time.  He was with me after surgery and only left for a couple of hours while I was drugged up.  He returned and stayed the night in my room to make sure I was well taken care of and that everything was fine.  He didn’t leave until the next morning when another staff member was with me.  They ensured that until Jon was able to arrive to me that there was someone with me at all times.  They brought me soap,a toothbrush, toothpaste, magazines and they even brought extra blankets, pillows, and sheets for Jon to use while he stays with me in the hospital.  Every single day since the surgery, someone has come to see me and supported me in some way or another.  The outpouring of care and support was and still is unbelievable and the way they ensured I was taken care of as best as possible is highly notable.
So, while this ranks I am pretty sure as one of the worst experiences of my life, it could have been far worse.   I will remain in Dar for at least another week while I continue to recover.  Then, I will get back to my village and take it slowly.  I am really upset by the scar and can’t really look at it (I know it sound so ridiculous), but it’s not like in America where we have doctors that work hard to try to give you the smallest scar possible.  So, there you have have it.  That’s where my scar came from.


  1. Sara - It's Marlie from SUNY Plattsburgh! Wow, what an experience. I'm so glad to hear that you're past the roughest part of the story. I had a similar surgery when I was 15, except the problem with my cist was not its size, but the fact that it burst and hit a blood vessel, which caused me to bleed internally (and aggravated my appendix). I can't imagine going through that without morphine. You are so strong! I also wanted to let you know that in the heat of the moment (and because he didn't really know what the problem was until he opened me up), my surgeon made a HUGE incision. I have two scars, one very thick 6 inch vertical scar that starts at my belly button and goes down, and a smaller 3 inch scar that's where my appendix was removed. Needless to say, they are quite extraordinary for the type of surgery (c-section scars aren't even this big!). I remember feeling sick to my stomach anytime I looked at it while I was recovering. But try to stay positive. Eventually, you will accept the scars, and they'll become a part of you. As Tom says, "they add character" and can be quite the conversation starter on the beach. If nothing else, they will be a reminder of that experience and how incredibly strong you were to get through it. Hang in there. : )

  2. Oh man. I knew you had all of that, but reading it fully is so scary! I am glad you are back to your site and doing better. So so scary.