This past weekend, I experienced what I am feeling was the worst day…no, hour… of my life. And I thought I had already experienced unusually hard things that couldn’t be topped. Let me tell you about it, and then let me tell you how it has already been used to bring Glory to God.
Now, you’ll see on some of my previous blogs hint at some of the medical trauma I have been through in my life. By the time you’re reading this, you may even have already read the blogs I intend to write chronicling those experiences. If you know my story, what I’m about to tell you might make you go “Wait, Jessica. WHAT?”
Friday morning, I said goodbye to my bubbly 3-year old as I left for work. Nothing was different from our other mornings. About an hour or so later I see texts between my husband and mom in our group chat that Maddie had fallen asleep on the way to Grandma’s and was unusually sleepy for the morning. “Lethargic” was the word they used. They continued to discuss how she was slowly waking up more, but how something was definitely off with our spunky, energetic little girl.
About a month previously, Maddie had a similar day we attributed to eating too many cherries and then becoming constipated. So we all assumed something like that was happening. Especially because we all knew she already has a sensitive digestion system. But what caught my attention most was her complaints of pain near her belly button, and lower right abdomen. With a 3-year old, this can mean many things, as they are still learning how to communicate pain and feeling unwell. But this was the second time we were having an experience like this, so I sought advice from Dr. Google, specifically searching “pain near belly button” for a 3 year old.
The very first result - Appendicitis.
Now, I don’t know about you, but growing up, anytime I felt pain in my lower right abdomen, I worried it was appendicitis. It always felt like a worse-case-scenario situation that I talked myself out of. I think that was partially due to the fact that I’m a 90’s baby. Anyone recall the movie Madeline and how she had appendicitis? I remember hearing horror stories of an appendix rupturing and becoming an emergency. Something about those experiences has always made me feel fearful of the appendix causing issues.
Like I usually have to do, I started telling myself that it was probably something else and that I was just catastrophizing the situation. But, being that we were now going on Friday evening, and medical help would not be so easily sought over a weekend, Joey and I decided to take her to the doctor. We searched for urgent care appts at the local children’s hospitals but, no luck (unless we wanted to drive our 3 year old an hour away to a 9pm appt, an hour after her bedtime). We found a Zoom Care appt for 7pm and booked that, later finding out it wasn’t your typical Zoom Urgent Care, but actually their local ER. But, we pushed on knowing that even if there was a small chance that Maddie needed immediate medical attention, we were going to make it happen. I packed an over-night bag, which you’ll see more about in a bit.
We got the Zoom Care ER and were the only one’s there. They took Maddie’s vitals and to our surprise, she had a fever over 100 degrees. That explained some of the crankiness. She was doing so well, and it really helped that she had her dada/hero with her, but she was still a bit off. They brought her Ibuprofen in apple juice and then continued their diagnostic testing. Maddie only drank a little bit of the apple juice with ibuprofen, but it must have been just enough because her fever broke, and like the switch of a light, she was back to her normal self. It became a bit confusing, and you’ll read why soon.
They performed different scans, including an ultrasound, X-rays of her abdomen and chest. (I have to admit, we don’t know why they took a chest x-ray). They came back into the room and said that unfortunately, they had found something. It looked like Maddie had appendicitis and we needed to take her immediately to the children’s hospital for emergency surgery.
Now wait, pause for a moment. There is really important information about my history that I need to tell you about before we continue this story.
A year into our marriage, my husband, Joey, spent an entire weekend in bed with a terrible migraine. He was no longer able to keep down fluids, and was becoming increasingly dehydrated, so I made the call to take him to the doctor, on a weekend evening. I packed an overnight bag because of my previous experience taking a family to the hospital for an emergency. On my way to urgent care, I had called to tell them I was on my way, and they told me that they were actually closing and that I would need to go to the ER down the street.
Once Joey and I got to the ER, we met his mom and went inside. They started taking his vitals and began running tests. They started doing scans, like a CT and we waited in the dark room (Joey’s headache worsened with light). They came back into the room and said “Well, we are glad you brought him in, because we found something“. They were calling an ambulance and rushing us to a hospital for emergency surgery. Is any of this sounding familiar??
Taking Maddie to the ER almost identically mirrored my experience to taking Joey to the ER, aside from the different diagnosis’s. All the while, I am pulling from the tools God had equipped me with since through counseling. This wasn’t God’s doing, but He was going to use it for His glory. I was holding onto that, white knuckles style.
Now, back to the story of this weekend. We ended up driving Maddie to the hospital, because she truly was behaving like she felt better and all of us agreed that would be okay. As we were leaving, I was group texting my parents and 3 siblings of the news. Now, you should know that Maddie is the only Grandchild, and while someone has called her spoiled, I know she is the light in all of our lives and is cherished very, very deeply. Immediately, they all responded with “What’s the hospital address?”. Another thing you should know, is that my family has been through a lot. together. We do things like this together and we are the support system for each member of my immediate family.
We arrived at the ER at the Children’s Hospital and got Maddie checked in. We waited for over an hour to go back, and the entire time we saw other kids coming in with injuries or illnesses and felt the heaviness that is a children’s hospital ER. Once checked in, Maddie’s Grandma, Grandpa, and aunt arrived. There were still pandemic restrictions in the hospital, but they were able to come in to the ER waiting room to at least give Maddie a kiss. My mom was even able to obtain “caregiver” status as she is Maddie’s 3rd primary caregiver because of childcare. My other sister and her husband were on their way to pick up my brother and come to the hospital. They arrived shortly afterwards, and I was just feeling so supported and grateful to have them. They were the literal strength I needed to get through this time. God knew what He was doing when He put them in my family.
(If you started reading this before I finished it, start here):
Something I think you should know is that Maddie is a little chatterbox, and she is always introducing herself to strangers, making friends on the playground, and winning hearts everywhere she goes, and this experience was no different. I think she confused people because she was her typical, cheery and talkative self, but she was supposed to be so sick she needs surgery.
We finally were brought back to a room in the ER. Did you know they have 50 rooms in the ER?? And we still had to wait an hour in the waiting room, at 9pm on a Friday. I just need to comment on hospital’s staff and how amazing they are in trying to help so many and doing it so well. Everyone we met was so kind to my daughter, and to us as her parents.
It took a little while for her to get fully checked in and set up, and they took her vitals again. They brought the surgeon in to chat with us and they told us they wanted to run more tests to be sure, including blood tests. I immediately knew this was going to get interesting as I have taken Maddie for blood draws a few times and knew she was a very strong girl who did not like getting poked.
They had me sit on the bed behind her while some nurses came in to attempt the 1st of many pokes to draw blood and then place an IV. I wrapped one arm around her chest and used the other to try and hold down the arm they would be working on. Joey worked on distracting her with Peppa Pig, the show we only let her watch when we need her distracted. As soon as she saw a needle or felt a poke (I’m not sure which came first), she immediately pulled her arm back, straightened her body, strained the other direction, and started fighting them. She is 3, but she is mighty. I thought I was strong, but let me tell you, a 3 year old who doesn’t want her arm poked is very, very strong.
Twenty min of fighting later, they told us they were going to give her time to cool off and then come back to try again. They did come back, we did try again for who knows how long, and although they collected some blood, they still were not able to place the IV, so they called in the IV team. At this point, Maddie had seen a teddy bear on the desk outside her room, and just kept asking for one. I kept asking every nurse I saw for one, but we never got one. (I wish I had gone out and asked to take that one, because it breaks my heart thinking that she went through all that while staring at the teddy that she couldn’t have).
About a half hour later, 3 new people came in and started setting up. I had told them how difficult Maddie had been in the past, and looking back I wish I had thought to ask if they can sedate her a little (which I don’t think they could of because of the pending surgery).
The next two hours would traumatize Joey and myself, and I’m sure had a huge impact on Maddie. The IV attempted one arm (the same one that had been attempted a few times already). Maddie immediately fought them, this time yelling “That hurts!” & “OW!”. (I am so proud of her for communicating). Her body was even more stiff than before, and she tried to fight out of my arms and their grasp. I sat behind her for at least an hour, but it felt like two, and held her so tightly because I just wanted it to work. FINALLY, they got the IV placed. We all took many deep breaths. The IV team cleaned up and headed out.
As soon as the IV team left the room, the surgeon came in. She said the blood tests were coming back normal, with normal white blood cells. She told us they wanted to send us home and keep a close eye on her, and if she worsened we would come back and do an ultrasound. Before the IV situation, I had expressed to the surgeon a strong feeling I had that Maddie needed another Ultrasound (very similar to the feeling I had with Joey where I told them they can’t do a spinal tap, and then a nurse told me later that saved his life. Thank you Holy Spirit!).
Joey and I were shocked. She just told us after what felt like fighting for our lives to get Maddie’s IV in, they were going to take it out and send her home, where she could possibly get worse. Joey pushed to stay, even if it meant Maddie got better, because then we could have their assistance if she didn’t. I said “why don’t we skip the part where we go home and get worse and just do another ultrasound?”. The surgeon agreed and went off to chat with her boss. She came back not long after and said we would be able to get an ultrasound and that we could stay where we were.
It took at least an hour before we could get in for an ultrasound. Maddie had zonked out immediately after the IV was in from being so exhausted from fighting us. I remember dozing off in the chair next to her for, maybe 20 min? She was still asleep when they came to get us for the ultrasound, so we actually wheeled her bed down the hall with her still sleeping, and she stayed asleep through the entire scan.
The surgeon came in after they had the results (maybe 5am?) and told us their ultrasound confirmed that Maddie had appendicitis and needed emergency surgery. Thankfully, the surgery is done laparoscopically, and they told us they typically send kids home same day if the surgery is early enough. They were going to get us admitted to the hospital so we could wait in a room, and then we would do surgery as soon as they could get us on the schedule, the earliest possibly being 8am.
Once in her room, it felt like we could breathe. We knew what was going on and there was a plan. My mom was able to come in while Joey went to get coffee, and the room was quite spacious. We had originally been told we were going to be put in a double room with another child, and they even swabbed me for the virus. However, Maddie had a small cough, that she had had since being sick 2 months ago, and because of that, they put her in her own room.
None of us slept after switching rooms. So besides that 20 min doze earlier, Joey and I were going on 24 hours of no real sleep. Maddie had slept just enough to perk up and be her normal self again. We were told surgery would be around 12, as long as a more emergent surgery didn’t get scheduled. So, we waited. They gave her antibiotics to fight and prevent infection, as an appendix typically bursts by the time they have surgery, and that increases the risk of infection.
My mom and I went down to the gift shop to get her that Teddy Bear she asked for. Hospital gift shops hold a special place in our hearts because of previous hospital experiences, so it weirdly felt comforting to be in there. And, I have to say, they have the coolest gift shop with the most thoughtful toys. It’s somewhere I’d shop for future birthday presents, especially because the proceeds go back to the hospital programs.
Around 11:30a, the prep team came in and did their thing. Joey was out still so I called him to tell him surgery would be soon. Maddie was still as cheery as ever, especially since getting her teddy bear, and her other items we got her because she had been so brave. I’ve never seen her so excited to open a gift bag. Then, some nurses from the surgery team brought up a tall crib on wheels to bring her to surgery. They allowed Joey and I to walk her down, and thank God, because she was starting to get scared, and so was I.
Right before surgery, we met with anesthesia to answer questions. They as well as the nurses had to tell us all the risks, and they were particularly concerned with her cough. They even told me the normally don’t operate on any child with any cough because of the risks, unless it’s an emergency. She became so scared that she wouldn’t let go of me or Joey. At that point, anesthesia gave her some “sleepy medicine” and she started laying down and laughing. Then they gave us a phone they would call when they were done, and a nurse walked us out. This nurse walked us to where she told us the doctor would be, and then went back to the surgery area.
This next part of the story is hard for me to re-live as I write about it for you. My mom and sister had been praising me on how strong I was being through this whole situation. I had already been through so much and was taking this like a champ, or so it seemed. The second I left Maddie though, I became a blubbering mess. It is now clear to me that adrenaline plus not wanting to scare Maddie was giving me the “strength” I was being praised for. We finally made it back to Maddie’s room, where my mom was waiting, and I lost it even more. It was a healthy cry, but a cry based on fear.
Hearing all of the risks before sending Maddie to surgery, plus knowing about her previous GI issues and blood tests, plus remembering my previous experiences with family, brought me to a very dark place. I started thinking about how although we’ve had bad medical trauma, I hadn’t lost anyone yet in a situation like this, so this surely was going to be my first loss. I pictured the surgeon walking out and taking off his hat, like you see on TV. I couldn’t shake this fear.
The only other emotion I remember experiencing during this time, was anger. I was mad at myself for having been through so much before, having done so much to work on myself after, and then to now be fearful as if I hadn’t done any work at all. Why couldn’t I trust God more?
At the time they told us they would be done, if there were no complications, Joey and I returned to the exact place we were supposed to meet the surgeon, so we could see her sooner. The time came and went, and I started feeling more anxious. The phone they gave us wasn’t ringing. Is it because there was a PIN # that they had forgotten to tell us? I went to ask an employee how to read the surgery sign that says what patients are still in surgery. When I returned to Joey, my mom texted me saying a surgery nurse had come up to Maddie’s hospital room to find us and said we needed to go to the surgery area right away. My heart sunk.
Once we finally figured out how to get to where we were supposed to be (it’s a big hospital), the nurse came walking quickly towards us, relieved to finally have found us. I start thinking something is really wrong. She brings us back to a dark room to wait for the surgeon. Now I really start preparing myself to receive bad news.
Then, the surgeon came in. Told us to grab a chair and sit down. I’m feeling frozen by now. Then, he says, “she’s doing great”. Before I can take a breath, I say “what??” You mean she’s okay??” and I share with him our recent experience with not being in the right place and how scared it made us. He apologized and we found out later the nurse who had directed us wasn’t usually there on weekends, and didn’t know the weekend protocol.
Maddie had done great in surgery and everything had gone as good as it could go. Her appendix actually had not burst, so that meant she could go home immediately and didn’t need extra care. They took Joey back to see her, per her pre-surgery request, and I waited, knowing they would soon come get mama. And I was right; it had only taken about 5 minutes and then she was asking for mama.
I walked back to post-op and we were the only family back there with the nurses. Maddie was sitting up eating a popsicle, and this sweet picture is now cemented in my mind as I was so happy to see her. I asked her to take a photo so I could text Grandma and say she was okay, and she looked at me and smiled with the cutest post surgery, still affected by anesthesia look a 3 year old could give (proof to the right).
They gave her a few more popsicles while they unhooked her from everything and removed her IV, and then, they sent us home. We felt like zombies getting the car and driving home. As soon as we were home, we ate and went to bed at 7pm, exhausted. Maddie slept in bed with us and I’m pretty sure we both woke up a few times just to make sure she was breathing. We were so thankful to be home, with our girl. God is good.
Dang, this is a long post already, but I just have to share one more thing. I am still processing the level of fear and anxiety I experienced while she was in surgery. I told Joey that I needed to go to church the next morning, and he said “let’s make it happen”. I was asking God why I felt that fear. On the way to church the next morning, I thought about the Fear of God being the only fear I wanted in my life.
The next morning at church, John Bevere was guest preaching. His sermon topic – the Fear of God. I kid you not. I lost it in worship, as I felt every song was sang for me. John talked about how to Fear the Lord meant to be in awe of Him and all He can do, not to be afraid. He talked about having Reverence for God, something I didn’t even think about as we waited for Maddie’s surgery. I’ll be honest. I’ve really struggled with how I reacted while she was in surgery. I felt anything but strong, I felt fear.
Today I sit here at my kitchen island, pushing through the urge to stop and take a break, to tell you this story. To bring Glory to God from a terrible situation. Why does God let children get sick? Well, to spare you another discussion on free-will and living in a broken world, please know that God doesn’t make bad things happen, but He does use them for good, for His Glory.
When I reflect back to surgery day, to surgery hour, I feel deep in my heart that I never want to feel that fear again. And since it seems my family is prone to fear inducing situations, I needed to find a way to conquer this fear. I am a “takes initiative”, type-a (ish), likes to be in control type of person. But, wait.
Where is God in this logic? Where are the things I’ve learned about myself this past year and the skills He has given me to cope? My counselor and I had made HUGE progress during an EMDR therapy session a few months back. We identified the root cause of my distress being my need to feel in control, and emergent situations causing a feeling of loss of control. God spoke SO clearly to me. He said “I am in Control.” and then I felt peace. All this had happened, and yet, I was still defaulting to my old ways.
But you know what thought I can’t escape? The fact that we are all still only human. We need Jesus, every day. I have gone through many of these situations, and each time He needed to remind me that He is Good and He is in Control. We constantly need to be reminded, because we aren’t perfect. We can’t be mad at ourselves for being true to our nature and how we were created. We need Jesus, every day. And he is Faithful to remind us as many times as we need it.
I can’t tell you how I would react if yet another situation like this occurs in my life, because I still think God is walking me through the processing of what just happened. But, I can tell you that I will hold on tight to my Fear of God, my awe of him, my reverence for Him.