A half hour before the Princeton High School Class of 2013 was to be at their school to prepare for their graduation ceremony last Friday evening, PHS senior Sarah Lemke was just coming out of surgery from having her appendix removed. On top of that, Sarah was having an asthma attack.
But yet Sarah made it to the school on time, though in a wheelchair, to enter the gym with her class as “Pomp and Circumstance” was played. She was among the 217 PHS seniors receiving their diploma that night.
“It’s been a crazy week,” Sarah’s mother Sandy said over the phone on Tuesday, her voice choking up at times as she surmised what could have happened to Sarah.
Sandy explained the events that led her to think about the what ifs:
Sarah woke up at 6 a.m. the morning of her graduation day, telling her mother she hadn’t slept because of pain. Sandy thought about Sarah being nervous about the upcoming graduation, and gave Sarah two Tums, and told her to lie back down. If she wasn’t better by 7 a.m. Sandy told her, she would call the doctor.
Sarah wasn’t better at 7 and Sandy called Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton. Sandy found that not only did their doctor, Jeremy Peterson, not have openings, but neither did other doctors there. Then Dr. Peterson redid his schedule and took Sandy in at 9:15 a.m. Sandy and Sarah mentioned that Sarah’s graduation rehearsal was scheduled for 10 that morning, and before the exam was to begin, Sandy suggested they cancel it because she thought she was feeling better. Sandy advised that since they were there, Sarah should go ahead with it. Sandy took a note to the school explaining why Sarah couldn’t be at the rehearsal.
Sandy said that when Dr. Peterson had Sarah lie down and pressed against Sarah’s right lower side of her abdomen and then let up, Sarah felt “extreme pain.”
Dr. Peterson scheduled a CT scan and for sometime after that, Sandy and Sarah waited at the hospital for the results. Before they heard back what the scan showed, a medical person told them that Sarah had to get surgery right away.
Dr. Peterson found a surgeon who could do the surgery at about 4 and 4:30 p.m. at Fairview Northland.
A healthy appendix is about the size of a “pinky” finger, but Sarah’s was inflamed to four times that size, Sandy said. She also remembered Dr. Peterson saying that if Sarah had delayed surgery until the following week, she likely would have ended up in the emergency room with a burst appendix.
“It just makes me sick thinking of what could have happened,” Sandy said. “She could have died.”
Sandy, not unlike many other parents, is not immune to having verbal battles with their teen children and Sandy expressed guilt Tuesday over the verbal tussle that she had gone through with Sarah not long before the appendix attack.
Sandy said she had been arguing with Sarah about college plans last week and had also accused Sarah of being lazy when she noticed Sarah lying and sleeping on the couch for much of the week. Sandy said she informed Sarah that she was not going to spend her summer like that. Sandy said she realizes now that Sandy’s body was dealing with a worsening appendix.
Reflecting on the conversation about the couch and the events that followed, Sandy said, “I feel two inches high.”
When the big moment came for picking up the diplomas at the graduation ceremony, Lemke was in the back row in a wheelchair. About two hours earlier she had been invited to lie down in the school’s nursing room prior to the ceremony but declined because she wanted to have photos taken with senior friends in their graduation gowns.
When it was time for Sandy to get her diploma, her father Gary pushed her wheelchair up the ramp to get the diploma and then down to have her photo taken by the hired professional photographer, before being returned to be with her class.
Sarah also attended the all night graduation party that night, staying up all night, her mother said.
But when Sarah said she wanted to go to the local horse camp Saturday morning, Sandy let her sleep until later in the day. Sandy then attended horse camp the rest of Saturday and during the Sunday and Monday segments, but didn’t ride horse.
Sandy said she is watching Sarah to not let her strain the 13 staples the surgeon put in Sandy’s abdomen during surgery.
“She is a trooper,” Sandy said. “I just can’t believe how when we were waiting for her results from the tests at the hospital that Sandy had said, ‘I almost feel better,’ and ‘It’s almost like nothing is wrong with me.’” What if Sarah had been allowed not to get an exam or get the tests that day, Sandy asked.
But Dr. Peterson had told Sarah that she “looked like crap,” and with the wonderful care at Fairview Northland, Sarah received the surgery in time, Sandy said. Sandy noted that Sarah had been diagnosed with asthma only several days earlier and that the asthma attack Sarah had when waking up from the appendix surgery was “horrific.”
But for the Lemkes, that scene was far better than what Sandy expressed could have happened if the surgery was delayed.
“We’d been planning her graduation all week,” Sandy said, choking up. “What if she had not been there? Holy crap!”