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A Gut Feeling: One Employee’s Emergency Experience

Courtney Barton
Salem resident Courtney Barton wants to make sure her Emergency Department experience doesn’t go unnoticed.

Published on March 19, 2024

Read Time: 4 Minutes

Three Things to Know

  • Last September, after battling severe stomach issues, Courtney Barton first visited the Phelps Health Emergency Department.
  • After running different tests, her care team determined she had a small bowel obstruction, along with ovarian cysts.
  • After a successful operation, Courtney is getting back to eating a more normal diet. She is thankful for the care and attention she received from Phelps Health doctors and nurses.

As a patient access representative at Phelps Health, Courtney Barton, age 37, is most often sitting at the front desk. You may have seen her checking in patients at the Main Entrance, the Medical Office Building or the Emergency Department (ED).

Last fall, however, the Salem resident experienced the Phelps Health ED firsthand, this time as an incredibly sick patient.

Courtney graduated from college in December 2022 and began experiencing stomach issues the following Sunday. These symptoms would continue to pop up over the next several months.  In September 2023, after battling severe nausea and uncontrollable vomiting, she messaged her primary care provider, Family Nurse Practitioner Ariella Martin, through MyChart. (MyChart is Phelps Health’s secure patient portal.) Ariella urged her to seek medical attention right away.

“My husband and I went to the [Phelps Health] Walk-In Clinic in Rolla first,” said Courtney. “The doctor there said, ‘I don’t think this is just a flu bug. I honestly feel like something is really wrong. Please, please go to the ED.’”

As a fellow ED employee, Courtney didn’t want to unnecessarily burden her busy coworkers. But when they saw her, they knew she needed to be seen, saying, “Get her back here now.”

“No one recognized me,” Courtney said. “I had a ballcap on, so most of them didn’t even know who I was. But everyone, including the nurses and techs, were so nice. Dr. [Laurence] Hutchinson, [MD,] was my physician that day, and he was really attentive and listened to my concerns.”

To determine the cause of her intense nausea, Dr. Hutchinson ordered computerized tomography (CT) scans. What they found was a small bowel obstruction, and Courtney was admitted to the Hospital for 3 days. A bowel obstruction is a partial or complete blockage of the small or large intestine (bowels).

While hospitalized, her care team also found large cysts on her ovaries. Concerned that these cysts might be cancerous, Gerardo Gueco, MD, Courtney’s hospitalist; Dana Voight, MD, a general surgeon at Phelps Health; and an oncologist met to determine a care plan.

Thankfully, through different tests, Courtney’s cysts were deemed to be benign (not cancerous). At this time, her care team does not suggest removing them, as this type of surgery might do more harm than good.

The small bowel obstruction, which may have been triggered in part by a medication, did require surgery.

“I feel like Dr. Hutchinson saved my life,” she said. “He took the time to talk to me and my husband, letting us know what was going on.

“When it came time for the surgery, my surgeon, Dr. Voight, came in and explained everything to us. We had several visits with him before the surgery, and after my surgery, he stopped in and made sure that I was OK. He went above and beyond what he needed to do.”

When facing a serious medical issue, having a support system is key. Courtney’s doctors made sure that she had one in place.

“I remember Dr. Gueco saying, ‘Listen, this is a big deal. You can’t do this alone; you have to have a support team.’ And I did, thankfully.

“I was honestly so sick, that I couldn’t advocate for myself at times. But they [my care team] would talk to my husband, and to my mom, when my husband couldn’t be there.”

With her successful surgery behind her, Courtney is getting back to eating a somewhat more normal diet. Last fall, she was restricted to a bland – and at times – liquid diet.

“I’m learning to eat again,” she said. “I still have to be careful around certain foods, like raw fruits and vegetables. But anytime I have a concern, I can message Dr. Voight’s team through MyChart.

The ED has not only served Courtney well, but also been there for her family members. When her grandma, and later her dad, needed immediate medical attention, she insisted they also go to the Phelps Health ED.

“My grandma got sick and ended up in the ED, the same time as me,” she said. “I remember one ED nurse in particular, Summer. Every time she would check up on me, she’d also ask me how my grandma was doing. Our nurses have hearts of gold.”

Courtney, who continues to watch her diet and monitors for any new symptoms, wants to make sure her experience doesn’t go unnoticed.

“I see the backend side of it [the ED], and how those nurses never sit down,” she said. “They're always running. But they took such good care of me. I want to make sure that people know that we have great doctors and nurses here. They really do care about the patients.”

Trust Your Instincts

If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out. The Phelps Health Emergency Department is here for you, day or night. Experiencing a non-urgent medical concern after hours? Consider a KeyCare video visit or a visit to one of our Walk-In Clinics in Rolla and Waynesville.

Found in: Dietary Emergency General Surgery Health MyChart Nausea Ovarian Cysts Stomach Surgery