Hello, Sara? It’s your body. We need to talk. It’s time you started taking care of me. Thanks.

At 7:21 p.m. on Friday, June 17, 2011, I made my first call ever to 911. Just two hours earlier I had picked Brian up from work and we made plans for dinner. He dropped me off at the house so I could lay down for a bit while he went to pick up groceries for my visit home. I’d been in Arizona the last six weeks and had flown up to spend the six days surrounding his thirtieth birthday with him and our friends and family.

6:50 p.m. on Friday. I wake up – in pain. SO. MUCH. PAIN. And I’m sweating. Sweating like crazy. I strip off my clothes and lie down in bed. Still pain. I’m tossing and turning. Sweat soaks my hair, the bedding. I head to our bathroom and try to make myself throw up. Nothing. I alternate between standing over and hugging the toilet. Nothing but spit and tears. Is this valley fever? I’m scared, pissed and alone.

Shaking and blubbering, I grabbed my baby blue cherry and vines headband, pull my hair out of my face, and made my way to my office/dressing room. I pulled on my friend’s UMD sweat pants that I’ve kept forever and a hot pink tank top. Sweat immediately soaks them both. I head back to our bedroom. The pain backed-down for a few minutes, but came back with a vengeance. And I couldn’t get a grip on it. I was nauseous but couldn’t puke, hurt but could not make myself comfortable. It was terrifying. Again, I soaked the bed in sweat, constantly rolled from one side to the other, and the pain got worse.

But I had experienced a similar type of pain – in much, MUCH smaller doses – before. Three years ago, I had created and participated in a Biggest Loser-type weight loss competition. A few months after the competition, I had my first diet cola in more than 20 weeks. My body didn’t know how to react. I started shaking, sweating, and doing a lot of the things I was doing at 6:50 p.m. on Friday. Brian actually drove me to the emergency room that day. We made it as far as the hospital’s parking lot and by then I’d “recovered”. We didn’t go in.

At the start of the weight-loss competition, I had a test done by Dr. Judy of Active Health Chiropractic in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, that was able to measure the amount of water inside and outside of my cells. What they like to see is a ratio of 2:1. Mine was closer to 1:2, which meant that I had nearly twice the amount of water outside my cells than inside my cells. I was toxic and needed hydration. And that was three years ago.

Flash forward to Wednesday night. I had just wrapped up my last shift at Red Robin before my trip home, and I was hungry! So before I left, I ordered and quickly ate the Burnin’ Love Burger with fries and ranch and a Diet Coke. (I know, Diet Coke with a crazy, high-calorie meal – 1400 calories and 78 grams of fat – not including the ranch sauce. I’m THAT person.) Usually I opt for the petite version, but I was incredibly hungry, so I went big. (FYI – at the time, I had no idea the meal had that many calories or that much fat in it!) The drive from Gilbert back to Tempe was miserable! I was a wreck. I thought I had food poisoning. Headache, sweating like crazy, white-knuckle driving, nausea, mis-re-ble! I walked through the front door, told my roommate I felt like ass, changed clothes and proceeded to dry-heave for a good three-minutes. I didn’t puke, but I did feel a bit better. I opted out of a birthday party and dinner that night to lay on my bed in the dark in some on-again, off-again pain. And after reassuring my roommate that I wasn’t dying, I slept-off my self-diagnosed food poisoning.

7:16 p.m. on Friday, I call Brian. The phone goes to voicemail. I hang up. “Help need to go to er” was the message I texted to him at 7:18 p.m. Two minutes of excruciating pain later, I called him. Voice mail. I don’t remember if I left a message or not. I think I did judging by the 27 seconds the phone call took. Panic, sweat, nausea, pain, pain, PAIN. 7:21 p.m. I call 911.

And it went a lot like it does on TV. Surreal. She asked a ton of questions to keep the line open and me talking. We were on the phone for seven minutes. It felt like forever. All I wanted was for the ambulance to be there so I could stop answering questions about our dogs, how I was doing, where I was in the house, if the door was open, etc., etc. A few minutes into our call, I vomited. And the first thing I thought was great, I called an ambulance and now I’m going to feel better because I was finally able to puke. But the pain persisted throughout the call, and she let me know that the ambulance had arrived. I stepped over my puke on our bedroom floor, walked frantically through living room and the dogs, and met the medics as they were walking up our driveway.

The guys confirmed that I was the one who had called for help and I stepped into the bus with their assistance. The ambulance ride was filled with more questions. Are you allergic to any medications? What have you had to eat today? You just flew in from Arizona? What’s valley fever? Then Brian’s call came through. The medic handed me my phone and I was finally able to talk with him. He had called six times and couldn’t get through. I told him the ambulance had picked me up and that they were taking me to Luther. He said he’d meet me there, we said our “I love yous” and hung up. Back to the medic’s questions. How long have you been feeling like this? Should we notify anyone for you? What’s the pain feel like? Where’s the pain? Which hospital do you want to go to?

The ride seemed to take forever. When we arrived at Luther, I was wheeled from the ambulance bed and into an emergency room. It was the same ER my sister had been at a year or so before. Emergency room number four. Familiar. More questions. Stripped down, hospital-gowned, puke bags utilized – twice, blood drawn, pain-scale questions, morphine injected, fluids started. Husband allowed in. Insurance cards handed over. Hospital bracelet clasped.

Nurses hovered for awhile, adding hot blankets to my bed as I continued to shake in a cold sweat, but within a few minutes Brian and I had the room to ourselves. “Love you, babe,” were the first words out of his mouth. Followed by, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Neither of us could. I’d just arrived from Arizona less than 24 hours earlier, and here we were in the emergency room and I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life on what was suppose to be a fun-filled birthday celebration week for Brian.

Blood results, a urine test, and an x-ray later, the ER doctor came in and informed me that I’d be spending the night in the hospital. I had a severe case of pancreatitis – and more tests were needed to see what was going on. I was asked how much I drank. Apparently there are two main causes of pancreatitis – gall stones and alcoholism. Nice. And while I do drink from time to time, it’s definitely not a habit, addiction or day-to-day activity. He ordered an ultrasound and CT scan. Between the initial results and the ultrasound, I insisted that Brian head out to drop-off the groceries he’d picked up an hour or so before and check on the dogs. He got back while I was getting my ultrasound done. And between all the tests, I could not get enough of those warmed blankets. It was ridiculous how cold I was. Before and after every single test, I was requesting new blankets.

At any rate, when we were both back in emergency room number four, the ER doctor came in and updated us on my condition. I had gall stones, and would need my gall bladder removed; however, my pancreatitis was too inflamed to handle surgery now. In fact, I may need to have the surgery done at Mayo. There’s a 1 in 100 chance that I might die. It’s serious. But it’s a good thing we caught it now. More tests in the morning. We’ll keep you on fluids. No eating until you have surgery – we don’t want to further aggravate the pancreas.

Stunned and in disbelief, Brian and I did our best to comprehend what the doctor was saying. One in 100. Mayo. It’s serious. I still don’t think we fully grasped it. Not then, and not now. We just hoped I wouldn’t have to have the surgery at Mayo.

Just before 1 a.m. my bed, IV and I were wheeled to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit for the night. Brian carried my clothes, wallet and iPhone. We met RN Melissa who took care of me for the night. She was cool. About our age (29), she sat down casually and ran through her list of questions. She was real. I liked it. Brian headed out shortly afterwards.

Then I made a quick call to Red Robin to let them know what was going on. With a two-hour time difference and Red Robin rocking extended summer hours, I knew I’d catch someone. Fortunately RD, the scheduling manager, was closing. Just the guy I needed. After updating him on the night’s craziness, he took me off the schedule for the upcoming week. That’s the great thing about serving, there’s enough of us who do exactly the same thing that we can cover shifts at the drop of a hat, and enough shifts to go around to keep the servers happy. We’re replaceable and necessary all at the same time. With that taken care of and pumped full of pain meds, I passed out for the night.

At 6 a.m. on Saturday my blood was drawn. My morning RN Nicole was just as cool as Melissa. I got up a few times to use the bathroom and learned that I was to pee in a bucket so they could measure how that was going. Poor nurses. I shuffled to and fro with the help of a nurse and my IV rig. Once the blood work came back, I was given the green light to have surgery in Eau Claire!!!! A HUGE relief! My numbers were still high, but trending in the right direction.

Function Normal Friday Night Saturday Morning
Liver AST 0-40 856 541
Liver ALT 7-56 820 683
Liver LDH 288-610 1,788 no result
Liver Billi Total 0.0-1.3 3.3 1.1
Pancreas Amylase 30-100 2,805 1,170
Pancreas Lipase 40-240 Greater than 20,000 8,795


Whoo hoo! Now that I had solid information, I called my parents to let them know what was going on. Nicole administered more pain medication and by 4:30 p.m. on Saturday I was heading over to the new Medical Surgery wing of the hospital.

The new wing is gorgeous. And I had a huge room – I’ll call it a suite – to myself. Private full bathroom, ridiculously huge window with a lake-view, and a remote that controlled everything – the TV, movies, internet, temperature, lighting, shades, bed, nurse…everything. The room included an extra-long convertible couch and a few chairs along with a wardrobe and curtained-off area for the medical sink and cabinets.

I couldn’t believe that this is where I’d be staying. I couldn’t believe how fortunate that this happened while I was home. If it had to happen, I’ll take major surgery at home instead of on the road any day of the week. It’ll definitely be a birthday that Brian and I never forget.

And my surgery went well. Officially I had a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Say that five times fast. But the scariest two days were over. The doctors knew what the problem was, and they knew how to fix it. I just had to give my body time to prepare itself for surgery. And so I did.

About Sara

Sara Hefty (B.B.A. and H.H.C.) teaches workaholic women how to have it all and flourish without burning out, binging or being spiteful. As an expert in transformational health coaching, she holds women accountable for letting go of unwanted weight, being brilliantly nourished, grounded in truth and feeling confident, happy and playful every single day.

As a woman with her own weight loss story, wide-ranging family heritage of cancer, and a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Sara’s appreciation for convenient nutrient-dense food, personal growth, inspiring design, financial responsibility, and social entrepreneurship led to her “Pursuit of Ownership: Health, Home, and Legacy” model of heart-on-fire-hot empowered living.

Sara is the founder of PROJECT LUX and SaraHefty.com. She currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with her husband Brian and hound-dog Raja.