Emergency Surgery

Hospital Desk

I recently found myself rushed to the hospital with a strangled hernia. First, I want to thank all of our wonderful customers who sent well-wishes and get-well cards. Your thoughtfulness is beyond words - I feel so blessed.

I've had so many inquiries about what happened that I felt it was easier to share here about my experience than address each inquiry individually. I'm hoping by sharing my story I might help anyone else with an untreated hernia avoid finding themselves in the situation I was in.

I am not including photos in this blog because they were just "too much" when I sorted through what I'd managed to collect. I'll leave it to your imagination for this one!

I'm sharing all of the details for anyone else who finds themselves with a medical problem that they are a little afraid to address or need to find the right doctor for. You are not alone.

How I Got Myself Into This Situation:

Around 2013 I noticed a small lump on my upper abdomen. It was smaller than an egg. I also had excessive heartburn that I'd had trouble with ever since my daughter was born in the late 1980's. 

I went to a doctor and she brushed the lump off as a ventral hernia that was too small to do anything with. She told me to take Prilosec for my heartburn and said I probably have a Hiatal Hernia. A Hiatal Hernia is where the flap that holds in the contents of your stomach ruptures. She said "we don't do anything with these issues." And told me I'd just have to live with it for the rest of my life.

Armed with Prilosec and a bottle of Tums I proceeded forth in life. Over the following years I developed extreme GERD at night which caused me to cough. The coughing forced the hernia out more.

Around 2015 I changed doctors and medical systems. I went to the new doctor with my hernia concerns. This doctor gave me the same answers as the first doctor. She brushed my issues off for several years until my ventral hernia had grown to larger than the size of a softball. It was now large enough to cause concern for the doctor.

In late 2019 I was finally referred for an x-ray and to a surgeon. This surgeon told me I needed to lose weight before she would do surgery on the hernia. Evidently if you are overweight the success rate of hernia surgery goes down. The surgeon said the hernia would just appear again because of my weight. She said "Just eat 1200 calories a day and see me when your Body Mass Index (BMI) is 27." And that was that.

Now I will pause to tell you I've been on a diet most of my life - I'm an emotional eater and needed time to deal with that part of my weight gain before I could lose weight permanently. Also, post-menopause my weight had crept up further. I know - making excuses for myself here - but it is what it is. I had some mental work to do before I could lose weight successfully. 

I went all in on tackling my weight issues, emotional eating, self-talk, and I gave it my best try. I lost 25 pounds fairly quickly but was still far out of reach from a 27 BMI. 

The World Tilted:

There are just times in our lives when everything hits at once. Times like this is why consistent self-care ALL the time is so important. It's to keep yourself in fighting shape for the tough times.

Covid hit in Spring of 2020. Doctor and hospital visits were restricted. I was quarantining and dieting.

My 89 year old mother died from Covid in December 2020 after 30 days in the hospital.

This was followed six months later, in June 2021, by the death of my 91 year old father in home hospice. Then followed months all of the activities that go along with the death of both parents. 

Three months later, in September 2021, my grandson was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hepatoblastoma, a very rare liver cancer that had traveled to Gavin's lungs.

Only about 1 in one million children get Hepatoblastoma. His mother (my daughter, Alyssa Van Doorn) is 7 Day Glow's founder. As soon as Gavin was diagnosed Alyssa had to leave her job with 7 Day Glow to provide full-time care to him. She was also four months pregnant with their second child when Gavin was diagnosed.

After months of Chemo that eradicated the cancer from his lungs, in January 2022 Gavin received two liver transplants. The first transplant failed and was followed 10 days later with a second successful transplant.

I spent a lot of time at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota helping care for Gavin during 2022 as he battled complications. Also during this time Alyssa was pregnant with her second child due at the end of March. I was happy to be able to be there to stay with him in the hospital and provide support wherever needed so my son-in-law could work and maintain their insurance.

Through all of this I also was running 7 Day Glow and my own business, Brown Barn Botanicals, while also assisting my husband with his business and trying to be there at least a little as a mother to my adult son and wife for my husband. I am very lucky to have these men in my life, they were so supportive.

I'm proud to say I did not gain weight during these years. But I also did not lose any weight. I am so glad I had tackled that inner voice and emotional eating issue before all of this happened!

By 2023 I was exhausted, emotionally drained, and flat out burnt out. It took all of 2023 for me to get back on my feet and for all of us to begin the recovery steps that follow a life-threatening illness with a child. I also had the first real chance to mourn the loss of my parents.

Self-care was of primary importance in 2023. I had nothing left to give anyone.

Finding the Right Doctors:

My experience with Mayo Clinic through my grandson's health journey was wonderful. They saved his life. Their team approach and the genuine care of the doctors and nurses was so different from my current doctors that I switched to Mayo in the fall of 2023. 

With new doctors on board through Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, Wisconsin I hit the reset button on my hernia issues. In the fall of 2023 I met with my new primary care doctor who referred me to a surgeon who specializes in exactly my issues.

By this time I'd had my ventral hernia (the one that started out as the size of an egg) for over a decade and it was now approximately the size of a Nerf football. I couldn't wear anything but oversized shirts because it showed. Heartburn was a constant part of my daily life thanks to the Hiatal (stomach) Hernia. I was tired all of the time and exercise was a genuine challenge.

My Mayo Clinic doctors made a plan for me that included a CT Scan and stomach x-ray where I drank colored liquid while the diagnostician watched it go to my stomach. They let me watch the video and this helped me understand much better what was happening inside my body. The surgeon later explained that I actually did not have a Hiatal Hernia - I have a very wordy diagnosis that basically means part of my stomach has been forced up and out. This will require surgery to repair.

Still my weight was holding up surgery! In Fall 2023 I hit the dieting hard again and lost yet another 25 pounds but was STILL not within the 35 Body Mass Index the Mayo doctors preferred before doing hernia surgery.

My surgeon referred me for Gastric Bypass Surgery but my insurance refused to cover any weight reduction surgery or even counseling.

At this point we were in the beginning of January 2024.

Emergency Surgery:

On Monday, January 22, 2024 I woke like normal at 6 am and had drank about a half of a cup of coffee when I started to have an uncomfortable burning sensation in my upper stomach. I was used to this happening sometimes and brushed it off as gas pains that were irritating my hernia.

Within an hour the pain was so bad I told my husband we needed to go to the hospital. I remembered my Mayo surgeon saying to me, "minutes are inches, if you have any pain go straight to the hospital". 

By the time I was somewhat dressed and in the car I was screaming with pain. We drove a mile and I told my husband to call 911 as I honestly didn't know what to do from the pain. We were met a few miles down the road at an ambulance center in Cornell, WI. After a short wait an ambulance pulled in but we were told they could not help us as it was just one person on duty at that time. We were told to drive to the next town (Cadott, WI) where yet another ambulance would meet us to take me to the hospital.

After a harrowing 15 mile drive where my pain had increased to the point I was screaming non-stop and praying I would just pass out we finally connected with an ambulance.

The best description I can give of the pain is that it was as bad as my worst childbirth contractions but there was no break from it. At least in childbirth the contractions come and go. This was non-stop.

I was administered Fentanyl that only nudged the edge out of the pain, reducing me to loud groaning and judicious select words followed by "Sorry" to the EMT's. 

Around 8:30am we had arrived at Mayo Clinic Emergency in Eau Claire, WI. I was back to screaming with pain as the pain killer was wearing off. They gave me increasing amounts of strong pain killers that only managed to take the edge off. My stomach had been bloating through the morning and was now approximately the size of a full-sized football.

They could not do more for me until a CT scan and blood work had been processed. The doctor eventually told me that my hernia had become trapped and "strangled" and I also had a blood clot in a vein in that area. I would have to have surgery.

All I honestly cared about by this point was for them to end my pain. 

Around noon (and this is based on my memory through extreme pain so take these times with a grain of salt) a very sweet nurse came in and kindly told me she was going to insert an "NG" tube into my nose. The doctor and nurse said this would help alleviate the pressure in my stomach and would help the pain a lot. 

I am by far not a brave patient. But I was familiar with an NG tube as my grandson had one for over a year during his cancer treatments and liver transplants. I just closed my eyes and told myself if little Gavin could do it I could do it and that helped me get through.

Just a tip if you ever find yourself with an NG tube - close your eyes, relax, and go to your happy place. Swallow when they tell you and you will be fine. It does not hurt, it's just a little disconcerting. Don't think about it, just do it.

Thankfully the tube helped with the pain as it drew the gas out of my stomach. By 6pm I was far more comfortable, the bloating was beginning to go down and they were ready for my surgery. 

Post Surgery:

In the end my strangled hernia had caused part of my intestines to die off. The blood clot was formed in response to the trauma of the strangled hernia.

Happily, the surgeon I had been working with was on-call and she was the one to perform my surgery. She had to remove over a foot of my small intestine, she also found a second hernia to repair that I'd not even known about. For the first time in over a decade I did not have a large hernia sticking out of my abdomen. 

Because I'd developed a blood clot I was put on blood thinners as well. I was told the blood clot was not in a place where it could travel to major organs but it still had to be dealt with. I'll be on blood thinners for several months as the blood clot dissolves.

I have a long incision down the center of my abdomen with about 25 staples, which were removed after three weeks. I have had very little pain through the entire process and only needed some Tylenol here and there to manage.

I had the NG tube in my nose for three days following surgery. I was not allowed to eat or drink anything for almost four days to allow my intestines to heal then was put on a soft diet. It was all fine, I did not have any hunger while the NG tube was in.

I spent a week in the Med-Surg Unit at the Mayo Clinic - Eau Claire hospital. The room was beautiful with a view overlooking a lake and park. The nurses were absolutely amazing and so very nice. I felt very well cared for and pampered through my entire visit.

My stay was 3 days longer than initially planned because my hemoglobin level did not recover as planned. I needed a blood transfusion to get things working again. A big shout-out to anyone who has ever given blood - Thank You! The transfusion did the trick and my body started recovering nicely.

The blood thinners for the blood clot made me feel foggy brained and a little loopy. It took over two weeks for me to feel well enough to do a little work or even write a social media post. It took over three weeks for me to be well enough to write this.

I'm very limited in my lifting for over a month yet but this is the small stuff. Mostly I'm just thankful to be alive.

And yes, I STILL have to lose weight! This surgery is a "temporary fix". The doctor needs to go in and place mesh to hold it all together for the long run and we have to do something yet with the hiatal hernia. We have a goal of having this entire thing over with within the year. 

Now I am home, back on my diet, practicing extreme self-care, and slowly coming back to work with 7 Day Glow. 

Thank you so much to everyone who sent cards, well-wishes, and for hanging in there through ALL of this with us. I'm looking forward to living a normal life again and putting this season of medical issues behind all of us.

If you have an untreated hernia go get it taken care of! 

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Christine Untiedt, CEO | 7 Day Glow LLC

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