Health And Wellness

A Sobering Wake-Up Call In The ER Forced Me To Drastically Change My Life

Photo: antoniodiaz / Shutterstock
woman with stomach pain laying on couch

“Do you have a living will?” the medical assistant casually asked me as she checked me into the emergency room.  

I laughed because that’s what I do when I’m incredibly nervous. And especially since I’m a healthy 35-year-old woman.  

“No,” I said, pausing to gather my thoughts before blurting out a naive question. “Should I have one? Is it too late?”  

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The kind woman smiled back at me and said, “Check the box that says 'No' on the pin pad.”  

And we moved on to the next question.  

Earlier that day, I bent over my toilet, hurling everything I’d eaten.  I tried to figure out what I had eaten and why I was so sick. 

I must have food poisoning, I thought.  

The list of items ran through my head:

  • Coffee with oat milk. 
  • Apple. 
  • English Muffin. 
  • Eggs.  

Holding my side, I went into the kitchen to look at the expiration dates on the food. Everything checked out, so what was wrong with me?  

I’d experienced digestive issues for over a decade. Still, multiple doctors told me my bloating, indigestion, and weight gain were a part of aging. They suggested I “eat more fiber” and “exercise more.” 

Despite the pain, I didn’t want to go to the emergency room because I didn’t want to be told that my problems were all “in my head.” I felt so silly, so when the throbbing pain started again, I tried to sleep it off.  

I was exhausted and knew something was seriously wrong, but I kept trying to be strong and hoped I could power through the pain.  

I had stopped trusting myself because I’d been medically gaslit for so long. But when the next wave of pain nearly took me to my feet, I couldn’t ignore it. 

I had to go to the emergency room.  When I got there, I was blunt.  

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“I have excruciating pain in my lower right abdomen,” I winced to the intake nurse taking my vitals. Another physician leaped from his computer and rushed toward me.  

“I think it’s appendicitis,” he said with urgency. “We need to get her a room now and order a CT scan.” 

Well, crap, I thought. This is serious. 

“Confirmed! She has acute appendicitis. Get her morphine and antibiotics,” I overheard another doctor order the ER nurse before he came bustling to my bedside. The next few hours were a whirlwind.  

I had many rapid-fire questions thrown my way like I was on trial. And somewhere in the middle of it all, I was asked for a copayment and credit card while wearing only a hospital gown.  I finally got into pre-surgery about six hours after arriving at the hospital. 

“Don’t worry. We will take care of this,” the surgeon said, reassuring me that he has performed many appendectomies. Minutes later, I was wheeled into a tiny operating room, and the anesthesia kicked in. I was out.  

I woke up in recovery around 2:30 a.m.  

“You’re lucky,” a female doctor said, explaining further that gangrene had already set in and my appendix was on the brink of bursting.  

Those words didn’t set in until many, many hours later. While a ruptured appendix is always considered an emergency and requires immediate treatment, if left untreated, a ruptured appendix can lead to widespread infection, abscess, sepsis (an infection in the bloodstream), and even death.  The following 24 hours were another blur as I recovered in the hospital.  

I wasn’t in pain anymore, but my brain was on overdrive. I’m an overthinker, so being alone in a hospital room made me reevaluate everything.  

One life-changing decision — to suffer in silence — could have cost me my life. That sobering wake-up call was what I needed to change my life.  

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From the outside, I had it all. 

  • I was engaged to a successful guy. 
  • I lived in a beautiful apartment. 
  • I was living in the epicenter of the world: NYC. 
  • I had a six-figure salary. 

On paper, I had accomplished everything society told me I needed to be happy and prosperous.

Still, my insides (which had physically turned against me) told a different story. I was unhappy — simply checking boxes. I was so unfulfilled and needed profound change.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was cruising and accomplishing milestone after milestone with the desire to go all-in on my dreams — tomorrow or the next day.  

I wanted to start my own company and leave corporate America. I wanted to write a memoir and share my stories and experiences as a motivational speaker to help other women. I wanted to live in a new city and have an Italian Greyhound.  

While lying in the hospital bed, I promised not to put off my dreams or happiness one more day. I didn’t want to wake up five, ten, or 20 years down the road in the same place I was now, making money for a company that could easily replace me or in a relationship that was causing me more sorrow than joy.  

While it took a health scare to wake me up, I hope my story lights a fire in you to start living your dreams and stop settling for the status quo. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so NOW is the time to start living the life you’re meant for.  

I’m happy to report that my life turned out even better than I imagined. I have more freedom and work/life balance working remotely from Pittsburgh. I have a playful Italian greyhound who reminds me daily of the importance of play and rest. I’m a published author with a memoir coming out this summer, fittingly titled I Blew Up My Life and I’ve Never Been Happier

You don’t have to know the exact path, but everything will fall into place if you follow your heart and passions. Now is the time to find your happiness before it’s too late. 

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Amber James is a freelance writer and author of Notes to Self: 30-Day Guided Journal.