Funny thing happened on the way to writing my Sunday blog post, my husband decided to get appendicitis. Funny, or rather not so funny, is that as we went through this process of determining that my husband had appendicitis and the aftermath, I realized how little people knew about how unreal serious this condition is. So forgive my soapbox but I think it is so very important to know about this subject.
Late Sunday morning, around 11:30am, my husband started to complain of moderate upper abdominal/lower chest cavity pains. Now this may be TMI but my husband has a well working gastrointestinal system and this bloated and gaseous sensation is rare for him. The pain didn’t relieve itself, so he took a couple Tylenol.
A few hours later, the pain had gotten worse. It felt like having trapped gas but not, cramping but not. The best he could describe it was bad indigestion, so bring on the Tums. The pain caused him to stop working and he resigned himself to the couch. Positional adjustments to promote relief of bloating were tried to no avail. A few hours later, no relief, bring on the Mylanta and it’s lovely chalkie cherry flavor. Still no relief. My stepson reminded my husband that “Dad, you never get sick. Things don’t knock you down and this has you down and out for the count.” My husband finally consented to go to Urgent Care.
He and I arrived at Urgent Care at 10:10pm only to discover they were closed. Complaining that he didn’t want to go to the ER for gas, he refused to make the two minute trip in the opposite direction to our local ER. Instead, he opted to go home and try more home remedies. So home we drove.
When home, I went straight to the big guns, a remedy that I find disgusting but extremely effective. Baking soda, lemon juice and water. Almost impossible to get down, it works by either relieving you of trapped gas by inducing evacuation of gas (either end so be prepared) or dissipates the gas. Either way, relief is pretty fast.
Through a series of events that when retold could be a vaudeville act, I finally got him to go to the ER at 11:30pm. Triaged by 12:00am, he had a low grade fever, upper abdominal pain, bloating sensations with an inability to release gas, and an earlier bout of diarrhea followed by constipation. Suspecting that it was a case of severe gas or possible ulcers, the nurse suggested a cocktail of milk of magnesia, lidocaine and prescription strength anti-acid. If it were either of these, the pain and bloating would be abated within 10 to 30 minutes. While it might mask an ulcer, it would rule out most major gastrointestinal issues.
At 2:30am (which for those doing the math is two and half hours since the cocktail), no relief and the pain, while still dull in the upper abdominal and now the back in the kidney area, had migrated to the lower right side and become quite sharp, especially to the touch or when he took in a breath. With a busy ER full of severe cases, we were not brought back to the ER “rooms” until 3:30am and were not seen by the doctor until 5:00am.
Within 10 minutes, the doctor had diagnosed my husband with appendicitis. I asked the doctor, “then you will be removing it?” The doctor confirm his appendix would need to be removed if it was in fact appendicitis, which by an hour and half later was confirmed by a CT scan. Blood test results also showed an elevated white blood cell count, also indicating an inflamed appendix.
While we waited for the CT scan results, I shared with my husband that when we came to the ER, I was definitely not expecting him to be going in to surgery that night. He said, “No, I’ll schedule in a few days or weeks from now.” Flabbergasted and quite insistent, I told him, “No, they will be removing it today. You can’t wait. Your appendix is on its way to bursting.” After a small debate and him confirming it with a few medical professionals, he expressed he didn’t think or remotely know that it was that serious.
Sure enough at 6:45am, the ER doctor shared the results of CT scan. By 7:30am, my husband met the surgeon. By 8:00am, we headed down to pre-op and by 8:45am, my husband was in surgery having a laparoscopic appendectomy to remove his appendix. At 10:30am, the surgeon met with me and shared that my husband’s appendix would have burst within the day had they not removed it. He was admitted to the hospital for 24 hours of antibiotics.
So in less than 24 hours, my husband had gone from the first signs of being symptomatic to removal and with a little over 12 hours away from it bursting. That should tell people how serious this was. Yet, I was amazed at how uninformed people were to the ticking time bomb that all of us potentially have in our body and what an inflamed appendix (appendicitis) really means.
Perhaps it was because appendicitis is common that people dismiss it as being not serious. But just because something is common, does not by any means make it any less life threatening or serious. In fact, an inflamed appendix can be fatal.
What Is Appendicitis?
It is an inflammation of the appendix – a small tube attached to the intestine. The appendix gets clogged, often by stool though not exclusively, causing a build up of infectious fecal material. It is a medical emergency that requires prompt surgical removal of the appendix and antibiotic treatment, just as they did with my husband.
It is a common medical emergency occurring approximately 1 in 15 people. Though more typically seen in people aged ten to thirty, anyone can get appendicitis.
That said, it is a serious condition. If left untreated, the appendix will eventually burst releasing infectious material into the abdominal cavity. This can turn into a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity lining. If not treated quickly with strong antibiotics, this can prove fatal. Once symptoms start there is an approximate 24 hour window (plus or minus a few hours) before an appendix ruptures.
What Are The Symptoms?
Classic symptoms include:
- Dull pain in the upper abdominal cavity that becomes a sharp pain as it moves to the right side
- Pain becomes worse when you move, cough, breath or to the touch
- Low to moderate grade fever (99-102)
- Abdominal swelling
- Nausea or vomiting after pain starts
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to pass gas
Less common symptoms include:
- Dull or sharp pain anywhere in the abdomen, back or rectum
- Vomiting before pain begins
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Painful urination
- Severe cramps
- Coated tongue and bad breath
My husband had most of the common and less common symptoms. But these symptoms are also characteristic of many other conditions from as benign as indigestion and UTIs to more serious conditions such as gallbladder problems and Crohn’s disease.
Reality is our body only has so many symptoms it can give us when something is wrong with our body. Abdominal pain can be a symptom for so many different conditions. You may think its indigestion or gas that you can’t pass. But if it is not going away, if home remedies or over the counter medical means are not working, then head to your doctor, urgent care, or the emergency room. Even if it turns out to be something small, you will gain relief. But how grateful will you be that you went, if it turns out to be something serious.
As I told my husband, “If we pay a $150 co-pay to find out you have severe gas, it is the best money I have spent to have the peace of mind that it is not something more serious. But if we don’t go so we can save face and cash and it turns out to be something serious, especially life threatening, I will never forgive myself for not pushing you harder to go.”
I can honestly say the $150 we spent on Sunday night/Monday morning is the best $150 I have ever spent. It saved my husband’s life.