At this time two weeks ago I was laying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of my nose and stomach, draining various fluids from my stomach and abdomen. The day before I had an emergency, life-saving surgery and I was still exhausted and miserable. It was hard to believe that just 48 hours prior everything was fine. Or so I thought.
I had been admitted the day before, after the ER doctor ordered a CT scan (reluctantly, as he thought I was faking my pain) and discovered that I had a perforated ulcer. I have to say that I really did not know much about perforated ulcers until I recovered enough to want to research them.
What Is A Perforated Ulcer?
Before talking about a perforated ulcer, first we should discuss what an ulcer is in the first place. Generally caused by either an infection from H. Pylori bacteria or too much aspirin/NSAIDs, an ulcer occurs when the protective lining of the stomach is broken down. For the majority of people, ulcers can be painful but are generally caught in time to be treated.
Although rare, if not treated for an extended period of time, the ulcer can escalate into a perforated ulcer, which occurs when an ulcer burns through the stomach lining, creating an opening in which stomach acid and bacteria leaks into the abdominal cavity. If not treated immediately it is fatal.
My ulcer was caused by too much aspirin and NSAIDs. Although I am on pain medication, the only thing that helped my daily headaches were BC Powders and I have found that NSAIDs assist my pain medications when it comes to my arthritis and joint pain.
To veer off subject for a moment, I want to take this opportunity to point something out: Millions of chronic pain patients are currently being cut off from pain medications that have worked for them for years. They are being told to take over the counter medications like aspirin (awful for your stomach) or acetaminophen (awful for your liver), instead.
Out of the four medications I am prescribed for pain, the safest ones are narcotics. The two narcotics definitely affect my body – there’s no doubt about that – but the gabapentin has destroyed my memory and the meloxicam is an NSAID that contributed to that perforated ulcer.
The Symptoms I Ignored
From the time I woke up from surgery it seemed that every new person I saw asked the same question: “Did you know you had an ulcer?” My answer every time was a resounding No.
I truly had no idea. They asked if I had any symptoms and at first I also answered no. That was until I started thinking back to the month or so before the surgery.
I thought of the time I was at work and had an extreme pain in my abdomen, right where the pain was the day before. Only this time the pain only lasted about a minute so I wrote it off.
I thought of the two or three weeks prior to the perforation when I was having weird symptoms, like random nausea and feeling hungry – or that my stomach was empty – even though I had just eaten. These are symptoms of an ulcer, but that didn’t even occur to me. From what I knew about ulcers, they were extremely painful and caused indigestion and heartburn, none of which I experienced.
An ulcer was the furthest thing in my mind. In fact, I had just jokingly told my husband the day of the perforation that I thought I might have a tapeworm. Like, I thought of a tapeworm before I thought of an ulcer.
I have always worried about being seen as a hypochondriac or a whiner. This fear only intensified as I began my journey with chronic pain. I know that the majority of people that I know have their opinions on my pain. Some believe I have none. Others think I’m just trying to get pain medications. And others still think they know the cure for my pain, even though I’ve already tried what they suggest.
It’s not just family and/or acquaintances, either. I cannot count the number of medical professionals who have openly mocked, judged or didn’t believe my symptoms in the past. Being a woman hasn’t helped me any, either.
This sticks with me, so when I have symptoms I more often than not ignore them. I feel like I’m already complaining too much, so I don’t want to add to it. Instead of heeding the warnings my body gives me, I convince myself that the symptoms are all in my head. That’s what everyone else thinks, so it’s just easier for me to think that, too.
I’ve now learned the hard way that this is ridiculous. Sure, some symptoms can be easily explained and solved, but when I’m dealing with the same strange symptoms for weeks and nothing seems to alleviate them, there is more than likely a real problem and I need to get checked no matter what.
I have to get past this stupid need to please people. I have to get past the stupid fear of other’s opinions. Who cares if someone thinks I’m a hypochondriac? Who cares if someone thinks I’m a whiner? The people who love and care about me know that I am neither and that’s all that matters.
I allowed my insecurities and need to please others keep me from following up on symptoms I knew were not right and in doing so I could have become septic or even died.
Listen to your body. Don’t ignore symptoms no matter what others might think. The body is an amazing thing and it will tell you when something is wrong. Listen to it and get checked before it escalates.
At worst you wasted time on something minor. At best you catch something before it becomes devastating.