Disappointing news last week: I went to the hospital hoping for a five-minute five-lb weight loss and a miraculous reduction in the size of my pregnant-looking belly. No go. I thought my swelling was due to excess fluid (bum livers can do that), but no. The radiologist I saw suggested another possibility for my distension: my ginormous spleen.
Blood disorders enlarge spleens, and I’ve got two (blood disorders, that is, not spleens), so the darn thing should be huge. Liver problems and enlarged spleens also go together. Yet more reasons someone my age may look pregnant when she (or he) is not.
My spleen has been getting larger year by year since my polycythemia diagnosis in 2000. Most spleens are shy, retiring organs, tucked behind the lower ribs on the left side and hard to palpate except in really skinny people. Mine is three times normal size, bold and brazen, outgoing, maybe even exhibitionistic. Nothing like me. My special organ creeps all the way down to my belly button, creating an outie out of my innie, and can’t be missed by anyone looking for it. (Note to fitness instructors: do NOT tell me to draw my belly button toward my spine. I just can’t do it; there’s always something in the way.)
Many a physician-in-training has uttered “Wow!” upon palpation of my belly. A first-year medical student who has difficulty locating my really big spleen should be removed from the program. Symptoms of an enlarged spleen can include pressure in the abdomen–seems pretty obvious since there’s only so much space in there–and shortness of breath from that pressure. A feeling of fullness after a small meal is common, even a loss of appetite, although I’ve never experienced any of that.
I’ve asked my doctors whether they could remove the darn thing, but unfortunately that’s not an option. I’d consider it cosmetic surgery–anything to get back my innie–but I guess doctors view the situation as a little more complicated. People can live without a spleen but the liver has to jump in to do its job, and my liver is already taxed as it is. Would it be able to go from working half time to two full-time jobs? I don’t think it’s up to the challenge. So for now, I am resigned to my pregnancy. I will continue to avoid all contact sports, which isn’t a problem because I’m wholly unathletic and afraid of objects flying toward me.
So I guess I can’t rely on the usual quick fix for my belly this time. Oh well. But there’s an important silver lining here: my liver is functioning pretty well right now and I can reduce my diuretics, which help me to keep that fluid down. When my liver shut down a few years back, every few days I had to undergo this fluid-reduction intervention I was hoping for, so I’ve come a long way. Just don’t expect to see me in a bikini anytime soon. And, as before, please don’t ask when the baby is due. This baby is very happy where she is.