I don’t know what’s wrong with me

At first, I was hoping I just needed a really good fart.

During my class on Tuesday evening, I began to experience an uncomfortableness in my lower left abdomen. When I got home from work that night, I chalked it up to gas pains.

By 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, I couldn’t stand the pain any longer. I could not find a single position that didn’t aggravate my belly. So I drove to CVS to buy some Gas-X.  After a few toots, I fell into a fitful and somewhat painful sleep.

When I woke up Wednesday morning, I still had the pain, but I thought some movement might do me good. So, I went for a swim. I also had a run on my schedule, but I figured that might be a bad idea considering I was having trouble walking without mild discomfort.

Yeah, some might call me a genius.

After the swim and another Gas-X, I talked myself into believing that I was feeling better. So, into work I went.  After a day of standing on my feet teaching, the pain had reached almost intolerable levels. I could feel a constant ache, and if I moved too quickly, I received a sharp jolt to the gut.  The pain made me a leaner – like the athletes you see bent over, hobbling over the finish line at an Ironman.

I kind of felt like that wasn’t a good sign.  Again, more evidence of my superior intellect.

Joy, my friend and co-worker, teaches courses in Health Communication, and I have made a habit of thinking of her as my secondary doctor, despite her regular reminders that she is a PhD, not an MD.  Ah, that’s a small detail in my world, especially since she always has good advice.

I walked into her office and explained the pain.

“That doesn’t really sound like gas, especially since it’s not getting any better,” she replied. “Why don’t you call your doctor and see what he says?”

Okay, that sounded reasonable. That’s what I would do. No need to panic, just making a phone call for some professional advice. When the woman answered the phone, I found myself uncertain what to say.

“Um, I’m a patient of Dr. Nahas. I have pain in my lower left abdomen, which started yesterday and hasn’t dissipated. I thought it was gas, but I took some GasX and that hasn’t done anything. I’m not sure if I need a doctor, or if it’s just gas, or nothing, I mean I don’t want to be an alarmist…” and on and on I rambled, nervous, anxious, uncertain.

“Well, if it’s really bad you should go to urgent care or the emergency room. The doctor isn’t in right now, but we can’t really say from here what to do.”

The tone of her response, more so than the words she used, made me feel like an idiot.

Not wanting to admit that I had an “emergency,” urgent care seemed a suitable option, although not the option I wanted. I really just wanted someone to pull my finger and make the pain go away!

That didn’t seem to be happening though. So, urgent care it is. I called John to tell him.

“I’m going to urgent care.”

“The pain isn’t any better?” he asked.

“Nope.” In an instant, I was on the verge of tears. What was wrong with me? It was becoming painfully obvious that my problem wasn’t a simple case of needing to cut the cheese.

About 2 minutes after we hung up, John called back.

“Why aren’t you going right to the emergency room?” He wanted to know.

Um, because I don’t want to admit that I might have an emergency? I thought. But, that didn’t seem like the right answer.

Instead, I said, “Well, my doctor said to go to either. I thought I’d start with urgent care.”

“Yeah, well, if there’s a problem, they won’t be able to do any of the tests there and they’ll send you to the emergency room in an ambulance. Why not just take yourself to the emergency room?”

Now I really wanted to cry. An ambulance?  What the really-bad-four-letter-word is wrong with me?!

I knew he was right, so it was off to the hospital. I work an hour away, so, there I was: an hour drive, sitting in pain, by myself, trying to avoid the hysteria that might engulf me at any moment.

Naturally, before I left work, I googled my symptoms. Here’s a partial list of what might be wrong with me:

  • Diverticulitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Endometriosis
  • Kidney stones or disease
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Appendicitis
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hernia
  • Tuboovarian abscess (pus-filled pocket involving a fallopian tube and an ovary) – oooh! Yummy.
  • Cancer

As soon as I saw cancer, my mind went beserk. Needless to say, it was a long drive.

Once in the emergency room, I started to calm down a bit–after all, they were going to get to the bottom of my pain, weren’t they? After a short wait in the lobby and an interview in triage, I was taken to room #9, and by this point, John had joined me.

We sat in that room for over an hour before the doctor came in to ask for a list of my symptoms, a list that I had already given to at least two other people. Was this a test? Then, he asked me a list of questions about possible prior medical conditions.  Negatory to all of those.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Hmm. That’s odd, huh?” Oh, yeah, sorry to put you in a pickle, doc.

“Well, I guess we’ll run some blood work, and do an ultra sound. If the ultra sound doesn’t show anything, then we’ll do a CAT scan.” I don’t want to put you out or anything…

While John and I waited another two hours for the ultrasound, I was asked to drink a liter of a barium sulfate cocktail, which would make my insides light up if/when I got the CAT scan. The nurse joked it might also turn my hair red.

Ha. Ha.

Eventually, the nurse came to take me for the ultrasound. For the first time, I got to ride on a gurney. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of the evening. I commented that they might want to consider selling tickets to increase their revenue streams. I’m not sure the nurse appreciated my humor.

The ultrasound tech was incredibly thorough. I feel certain there isn’t a part of my insides that missed out, especially during the internal examination.

The room was incredibly cold, and the tech kept asking me to relax. I tried not to laugh as I considered how absurd that request was. I had drank a liter of ice cold fluid, the room was cold, and I was practically naked with a strange woman navigating a probe into and around my hoo-ha.

Yeah, that’s exactly how I like to relax. It was becoming quite clear that I was simply a body, not necessarily a person. I can understand why doctors and nurses have to think that way, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

After the ultrasound, I waited for almost two more hours, after which time I was informed that the ultrasound didn’t show anything, so now it was time for the CAT scan.

Yay. Another gurney ride.

I had never had a CATscan before, so the only thing I knew about them is what I’ve seen on TV. I had visions of House, and unnaturally attractive doctors fighting over petty interpersonal differences while they scanned my insides. But, no luck.

The tech was a really normal, nice guy who didn’t seem to have any trouble with being friendly. Bummer.

Before the test, he shot me with some iodine, which made me feel warm all over, and a little bit like I might have peed myself. Just like a shot of Jagermeister.

During the scan, the tech asked me to hold my breath while he took the images. The machine had a pacman-esque illustration to indicate when I could breath and when I needed to hold my breath. I desperately tried not to laugh because I didn’t want to get in trouble for moving. They had already told me to stop fidgeting once.

After the CATscan, I went back to the room, waiting another hour or so wondering what the heck is wrong. Did they find cancer? cysts? diverticulitis?

Finally, the nurse came in and said, “Okay, you are being discharged.”

Uh, pardon?

“Huh?” I said, a bit incredulous. I mean, I’m laying in this hospital bed in pain, and I hadn’t heard mum about what might be wrong with me.

“The doctor will be here in a minute, but the tests were all negative. You can go home.”

As if on cue, a new doctor, not the one I met earlier, cruised right on in.

“Well, all the tests were negative,” he said cheerily. Why yes, negative is good. But, could you please explain why I feel like someone is stabbing me?

“So, it’s just mystery pain?” I mean, it seemed like a reasonable question.

“About 50% of all the patients that come in to the ER with abdominal pain leave with a ‘mystery’ diagnosis,” he smiled. “So, we’re going to send you home with some pain killers. If the pain worsens, or you develop a fever, come back. And be sure to follow up with your GP. Any questions?”


John said, “Could this be from training?”

“What are you training for?” he asked.

“We do Ironmans,” I said.

“Oh, that’s cool!” He was a younger doctor, and clearly fit. “Sure, it could be a muscle strain. How much do you run?”

I started to explain that I wasn’t running that much because of ITBS, but then I realized he wasn’t asking in relation to my health, he was curious about Ironman training. Who cares about guts when there is triathlon talk that could be had?

So, John and I spent about 10 minutes talking to him about Ironman training.

As he was leaving he said, “Well, here’s your prescription. Hope you feel better!”

Two days later, I am feeling better. The pain has subsided, but I still don’t have a clue what was wrong with me.


  1. Wow. Quite an old article but definitely something I can relate to. If I run further than 5k (or push my pace too hard) I end up with a sore abdomen on my left side (next to the pubic bone). I have IBS too, so sometimes it’s hard to determine if it is just gas pains or something more serious (anxiety about it sure does not help either!).

    I suspect that my Psoas are just too tight and it’s my fault for not stretching properly after running, or my Plantar Fasciitis causing me to run at a funny angle, causing a referred pain. Glad I have never had it so bad that I have ended up at the ER though!

  2. kitty

    That story sounds a lot like my life, except my pain is still constantly happening a year later. It started with evening sickness, then the reason I tried a doctor at all was at some point is that I started seeing blood in my vomit. Now I don’t have the evening sickness; sometimes nausea, sleep coughing, but lots of pain. I did those tests you mentioned, plus an endoscopy; nothing, just a fatty liver and left with no answers.

    1. Thuy

      Hi, i also has that kind of pain for a year, and from yesterday until now its really pain, but i have checked it tiwce, but as always, the doctor just said there is nothing wrong with me… i dont understand. Im very scared that i got cancer. :((((

  3. Rex Caveness

    Lower left abdominal pain is the most common area for abdominal pain. You will know how debilitating lower left abdominal pain can be – whether it is an acute episode or chronic condition. The effects of abdominal pain can be devastating not just for the person living with the problem, but also for their family, friends and carers. The simplest chores and activities from shopping to walking may become impossible. Constant physical pain can impact on an individual’s emotional well-being. People living with a chronic condition may become depressed, and in some cases driven to suicide to escape the pain!are totally unsuitable. They are too bulky, move out of position, compact and cause oreness.;

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  4. Great story – thanks for sharing!! Really can’t stand those mystery diagnoses – had one about a year ago for a stress fracture, and it took 6 months to diagnose (or to train enough to make it big enough to be detected…who knows).

    Glad the pain finally went away! Happy training.

  5. Pingback: A series of stressful events » Running A Life

  6. Sandy

    OMG…this is exactly the same thing that happened to me around Christmas last year. I was in so much pain for a couple of days before I made the same call to my doctor and was told to go to the ER if it was “that bad.” I finally went, had the same tests, and was also discharged with nothing found! However, I was told that I could have had an ovarian cyst that burst, but because I waited some time before going in I would never know because it wouldn’t show after a certain amount of time had passed.

  7. carole donohue

    man, that sucks . . . but glad that you are feeling better . . . . mystery pain? nice . . . but I love your humor and it sounds like you got yourself thru all of the above with the intact! Hugs girl! you need a vacation I think . . . .just around the corner!!!

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