I grabbed the side of my car, steadying myself before I walked inside my house. The stabbing pain in my abdomen increased with every step, but I figured I’d feel fine by the time my kids came home from school.
Sweat poured down my face as I stumbled into the bathroom, dizzy and disoriented. I vomited several times, tears streaming down my face as I prayed for relief from my symptoms.
Relief didn’t come, so I slowly walked to bed, positioning myself gently on the comforter. A burning, stabbing pain pierced my abdomen. I rolled to my left side, then my right, hoping to alleviate the continuous pain, but it persisted.
It was excruciating—worse than the time I had kidney stones, worse than the aftermath of my three C-sections.
I frantically racked my brain to remember if I had recently eaten some unhealthy food or strained myself doing something around the house. I thought about what was in my cupboard, wondering if maybe a new supplement or vitamin was the culprit. Then it hit me: It was my untreated hernia.
Years ago, my doctor had warned me that my hernia—a condition that results from internal tissues, an organ, or parts of the intestines pushing their way through a weak spot in nearby muscle—could get worse if I didn’t treat it, but I foolishly ignored his advice.
He recommended I get a mesh implant to support the impacted tissue, but I was uninsured at the time and had three kids to raise, so surgery just didn’t seem feasible.
I regretted that decision now. I somehow managed to drive myself to the emergency room and let the nurses know I suspected an untreated hernia was the cause of my severe pain. A CT scanconfirmed my suspicions, but the news was scarier than I expected.
I had an incarcerated hernia, meaning it was trapped within the muscle wall, and it had become strangulated, so blood couldn’t reach the affected tissue. I was told I needed emergency surgery as soon as possible.
I underwent open hernia repair surgery, and woke up surrounded by crying family members. A medical professional gently explained that I could have died if I had waited another 24 hours to go to the hospital. I had a severe infection in my colon that was going to require several weeks of antibiotics, and I needed to stay in the hospital for some time to recover.
The good news: I had successfully received a mesh implant crafted from polypropylene (the same material used to make certain types of home furnishings; I like to joke that I’ve outfitted my digestive system with modern decor).
It’s been a year since the terrifying incident, and I’m insanely thankful I made it to the hospital in time. But I’m also frustrated with myself for not treating my hernia sooner. I likely could have prevented the entire situation from happening if I had taken my doctor’s advice.
I hope my experience will encourage others to seek treatment for hernias, as well as educate themselves on the symptoms of a potentially dangerous complication like the one I had. This important information might just save your life.
This article first appeared on Health.com.