Intrepid Freelancer: 6 Lessons Learned from Appendicitis

Welcome to The Intrepid Freelancer, web a blog series in which I talk about the pros, pill cons, medicine and overall lifestyle of being a freelancer. Whether you’re a part-time, full-time, former or aspiring freelancer, I hope these blogs hit home in some way. As a disclaimer, the views I express are mine and not reflective of any clients I have previously or am currently working with. Please feel free to comment, share, and engage!

One of the biggest banes of every freelance or self employed person’s existence is the issue of health insurance. For many of us, it ends up costing far too much to pay for independent health coverage, so many of us slide on by with our fingers crossed that no major medical incident will happen. I’ve been fortunate to have been without solid health insurance for nearly 2 years now with no big mishaps, but my lucky streak ended over Memorial Day weekend with a sudden bout of appendicitis. It was day two of the annual Sasquatch Music Festival at The Gorge in eastern Washington, my third year in a row photographing it for media, and first ever shooting for Wire Image. Suffice to say, Sasquatch is always a huge deal for me not only professionally, but socially, as it’s a great time of year to commune with local media folk all while catching some awesome bands (summary of my coverage here). Also, this won’t be a post about insurance for freelancers…that will be another topic very soon when my medical bills arrive (gulp).

Photo by Jim Bennett | Photo Bakery

Photo by Jim Bennett | Photo Bakery


I was filled with nothing more than disappointment when my second day of Sasquatch began to fall apart with the start of gut wrenching stomach pains in the middle of the day. Brushing it off as a minor affliction, I made it about 6 hours through the day before the stomach pains, combined with extreme nausea and cloudy vision literally pulled me off my feet as I was shooting Divine Fits. Determined to make it to 12:30am to shoot the final band of the day (and a personal favorite), Empire of the Sun, I insisted on taking a quick rest in the medical tent. The moment I went horizontal, I never got back up again. The stomach pains increased in intensity, and eventually my friends, Jim and Alex, and the paramedics insisted it was time to visit the hospital. Tears of pain and disappointment rolled down as I listened to The xx take the main stage–the first time ever when I physically wouldn’t be able to finish a job.

Upon reaching a 24 hour medical clinic in nearby Quincy, it was determined through blood tests and a CAT scan that I had acute appendicitis. It was news that was somewhat relieving, since it was curable and made my hospital visit worthwhile, yet at the same time terrifying, being without medical insurance. After the diagnosis, I was transported to an ambulance and driven to Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee, where I was operated on a couple hours later, after I spent the bulk of the ambulance ride editing and uploading my images from the day before (have to meet them deadlines!). Thankfully, the appendectomy was performed laparoscopically, meaning it was minimally invasive, lasting under an hour, and I awoke several hours later with just 3 small incisions in my belly area. The pain was centered in the abdominal area, feeling like I had performed a thousand situps the day before.

Exactly 17 hours after my sudden departure from Sasquatch, I was back in action, hobbling around with only my camera body and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to do the job, due to my mandate to not lift more than 20 lbs for the next week. In retrospect, the experience taught me a lot, and I’m actually somewhat glad it happened when it did. Here are the takeaways:

Photo by Alex Crick | Crickontour

Photo by Alex Crick | Crickontour

1. Listen to your friends.

Even when I was writhing in the medical tent, certain my insides were going to explode, I tried really hard to make it through the rest of the festival, aware that I would not only be ending the night for myself, but for my friends who had driven me and also had an obligation to finish covering the festival. I couldn’t have been luckier to have two friends with me who knew that seeing me in tears due to pain was a highly unusual occurrence. Had we waited any longer, who knows what would have happened, and I’m thankful I had friends with me who knew this and pushed me to see it that way as well. Also, what an awesome welcome back reception from friends at Sasquatch–very cool.

2. Follow through with your promises.

This is probably a debatable point, but it’s one that is very important to me. I signed up for the weekend with promises to upload images every day, and this was what ultimately pushed me to get through the rest of the weekend (that and getting to see The Postal Service, of course). I remember sitting in the hospital telling my anesthesiologist I needed another 10 minutes to finish uploading before he could commence he services…he shook his head at me, but also humored me since I was apparently the only sober person to come through the hospital that night. A bit extreme? Perhaps. But it got the job done!

Photo by Martin Genev

Photo by Martin Genev

3. You can do more with less.

As most photographers will admit, there is a lot of eye candy out there that tempts your credit card on a daily basis. Whether it’s a brand new lens, camera body, or contraption to improve your photography, there are tons of gadgets out there that all of a sudden seem necessary for getting the perfect photos.  I was thankfully reminded this weekend that when push comes to shove, all you need is the bare minimum. Being unable to carry my full bag of gear with me for the rest of the weekend, I was left with just a camera body and a 70-200mm f/2.8 to shoot, and I found it almost easier to make do with just one lens, not fiddling through my bag for the others. Arguably, I ended up with some of my best Sasquatch photos ever under these circumstances. Less is more!

4. Hospital people are awesome.

Again, probably a hugely debatable point, but once my IV started up, I had a great time chatting with all of the hospital staff I encountered over the next 12 hours. Everyone from the paramedics to the nurses and even my doctor (with a British accent) were a delight to talk with, and they all did a great job of keeping me comfortable throughout the whole night. It might have been the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, I was the only sober person to come through, but for a first time hospital stay, I have to say I was impressed with the staff.

5. Your decisions are yours and yours alone.

This one is similar to point number one, but it has a slightly different message. My quick reappearance at Sasquatch was met with mostly positive feedback, but I’m aware that there were probably many critics who didn’t think I should have showed up back to work as soon as I did. My family and boyfriend were such critics, essentially scolding me for even thinking about going back to a music festival after such an ordeal. I did actually look very hard at the consequences getting back on my feet so soon, and took proper precautions, sitting out on all of the rowdy bands, and essentially cutting my coverage plan in half. I decided to accept full responsibility if I ended up worse off for it. In sum, I was appreciative for those who expressed their concerns, yet ultimately allowed me to choose for myself.

6. Injuries are the perfect lessons for teaching you to slow down and seek help.

Going off of the idea that less is more, I’ve been getting used to taking life slowly these past few days after Sasquatch. The simplest things such as opening a door, pushing a vacuum, or even coughing have been incredibly difficult and thus very frustrating for someone who prefers to do everything herself. I suspect I’ll make a terrible elderly person, insistent on doing everything myself til the day I die, but for now, appendicitis has been a great way of showing myself to slow down and ask for help when I need it.

Photo by Paige Parsons

Photo by Paige Parsons

Did I push it too hard over Sasquatch? Perhaps, since I spent the full 3 days after Sasquatch conked out on my couch. Do I regret any moment of it? Absolutely not. Would I do it over again? Hopefully I never have to!

Suzi Pratt is a Seattle event, food, and travel photographer available for hire. She is also a contributing writer at Digital Photography School and runs a blog teaching others how to start a photography business.

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