Life Gets Real: 13 Tips About Appendicitis

So just when I was getting my blogging mojo back, life hit us with a curve ball… Actually it was more of a fire ball of badness, better known as appendicitis!  
Husband had a very severe case two weeks ago and we caught it quite late so his appendix had already burst. It became absolutely necessary for them to remove it and it was incredibly scary and unexpected.  We ended up having to stay one night in the ER and another night in the hospital.  
We thought that was it, but then, the following week at home, husband started complaining about pain in his lung.  And he had a low fever.  So we went back to the ER only to find he had a partially collapsed lung (which apparently is a possible complication from surgery).  Breathing exercises were assigned and antibiotics were prescribed.  We went back home thinking THAT was it.  But the following day, husband’s fever quickly escalated to 102.6.  So it was back to the ER.  More cat-scans and labs confirmed that because of the burst, an infection had developed.  He had to have another procedure and be put on full time intravenous antibiotics.  We ended up spending 5 more days in the hospital.  It was intense.
My only real understanding of appendicitis before all this was pretty much based on the Madeline children’s books.  You get a pain in your tummy, they cut it out, you’re left with a big scar. And I guess that is how it works for most people, but after going through all this, I felt like I needed to share some basic tips based on what we learned, so that if you’re possibly in the same situation, you can have some clearer ideas of what steps to take and what to expect.  
13 Tips About Appendicitis 

1.  Appendicitis is hard to diagnose, but there are some tell-tale signs.  Firstly, be aware that the initial pain often moves in your body.  It can start higher up, just below your diaphragm or by your belly button, and then over the course of a day or two it generally will move down towards your right side.  
2.  For most people this pain is really intense, and continues to worsen, but for my husband it was more of a dull pain and uncomfortable, bloated feeling.  He didn’t even need pain medication as we waited for the surgery!  So even if the pain isn’t much, still be on the look-out if your pain moves in this way!
3.  Don’t wait.  Our big mistake was waiting 5 days before going into the hospital.  But again, the pain was so minimal, we totally thought it must just be something more benign like heart burn or an upset stomach.  Because of our lack of haste, his appendix had burst and that is the thing that can cause all the complications after!  
4.  If you’re having this pain AND a fever, even a slight one, go to the ER right away.  
5.  Don’t feel embarrassed to ask about the possibility of appendicitis.  When we first came in to the ER, we felt slightly embarrassed that we were taking up a bed with what we figured was something mild, but obviously we were wrong to be so nonchalant about it.  It’s serious business so if you have any suspicions, ask your doctor to do what he/she can to rule it out.
6.  The best way to be sure you have appendicitis is through a Cat-Scan.  Additionally, the doctors will do blood work to see if your white blood cell count is high (which indicates a problem your body is trying to fix.)  BUT you could be like my husband and have a totally normal blood count.  The scan is the only way they can be sure there is an inflammation of that area.   
7.  The process of getting a Cat-Scan takes about 1-2 hours.  First they have you drink this liquid called “contrast” so that your insides will show up in different colors.  Then they scan you, then it takes a little while to get the result.  
8.  If it is appendicitis, they can generally remove it through microscopic surgery in which they make three small incisions, blow air into your stomach and use long tools to get in there and remove it.  This means you’re not left with a giant scar and post-op healing generally happens faster.  But depending on the situation, they may need to make more cuts to completely remove the appendix and any pus that may have leaked out.  
9.  Recovery time varies from person to person, but generally you will be discharged from the hospital within 48 hours of the surgery.  You’ll then likely need at least a week to recover at home. 
10.  Try to walk around and breath deeply after your surgery.  A common occurrence in patients is that they keep their breathing shallow after an operation (because they feel a twinge of pain when they inflate their body with air when breathing deep.)  This can result in lung collapse and actually increases the pain.  So breath deep and try to be as mobile as possible.  It may be annoying or painful in the beginning, but it will make everything better faster!  
11.  Things to watch for after your procedure, particularly if your appendix did perforate include a fever, shallow breathing or trouble breathing, night sweats, pain in areas unrelated to your surgery site, swelling or leakage from the surgery site, and nausea.  If you notice any of these symptoms, just go back to the hospital.   
12.  If an abscess develops it will cause you to have a high fever and your white blood cell count will go up.  You need to get on antibiotics right away and in most cases, the doctors will have to go back into the site and drain the abscesses.  They can do this without surgery in many cases, but will use tiny tools to inject and suck out the bacteria sites.  They may also insert a drain which they can leave in you for anywhere between a few days to a few weeks!  The main objective is to use the drain and antibiotics to destroy and remove ALL the pus and bacteria from your body.  
13.  Ask questions.  In our experience, we found that doctors will often not tell you every detail, because they don’t think it’s necessary, or it just doesn’t occur to them.  So whenever you have an audience with one of the surgeons or doctors ask a lot of questions!  I found it helps to actually keep a little notepad and jot down questions as they occur to you.  Ask your doctor why they are making certain decisions, ask them about risks for every procedure (even scans) and ask them about alternatives for every decision.  The more you know about all your options and all the possibilities, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with everything.  
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So that’s my two cents about appendicitis.  I know this is totally not in the style of my usual blog posts, but I hope it’s helpful to any of you out there who may be going through the same thing and have concerns.  Please remember that I am NOT a doctor and this is just a list of events based on my husband’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as any kind of medical fact.  


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