I am thankful for my appendectomy

November 20, 2006 | 13 comments
By

One night last March, I went to bed feeling fine but woke up four hours later with abdominal pain that wouldn’t go away. I finished the ensuing day in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy, for which I am very grateful.

First, I’m grateful for surgeons and their handiwork, which offered me much better options than a ruptured appendix. I’m also grateful that appendectomies today aren’t what they used to be. In modern laparoscopic surgery, as the nurse explained to me just before the procedure, two small incisions are used to inflate the abdominal cavity like a beach ball, giving the surgeon plenty of room to look around inside and snip off the appendix. The surgery only leaves five small scars in all and recovery goes very quickly.

Which makes me grateful for general anesthesia; however brief my career as a human beach ball, I didn’t want to be there for any of it. In fact, anesthesia in general is a pretty great thing. When I was in the emergency room, waiting for the medical professionals to figure out why I was in pain, a doctor came by and offered a shot of morphine. I told her I wasn’t sure I needed it yet. Well, what are you waiting for, she asked, and stalked off to find patients who would better appreciate the relief she was offering. Really, any particular moment with an infected appendix wasn’t any more painful than intense exercise, like the track workouts I had in high school, except appendicitis doesn’t give you a cool-down lap between repetitions. It took me a while to figure out that gutting it out wouldn’t help anyone; this was not pain that would make me stronger, just pain. The next chance I got, I took the morphine.

And I’m glad it was appendicitis, only appendicitis. Some people wake up with abdominal pain, go to the hospital, and never come home. Some people are diagnosed with diseases that surgery can’t cure or lose organs that aren’t optional. I got to spend most of the day considering all those possibilities while the medical professionals tried to figure out what my problem was. The pain wasn’t in the normal place for appendicitis and it took more than the usual number of tests to figure out that my appendix did not hang down, but instead was flipped around and pointing straight up. Did you know appendices could do that? Neither did I.

I’m thankful that my appendix had an impeccable sense of timing. Six months earlier, an appendectomy would have left us with a heavy burden of medical debt, at least for our circumstances. Four months later would have put my surgery and recovery in the middle of an international relocation. There is no time in my adult life when an appendectomy would have been more convenient than the moment my appendix chose to get infected.

By the way, I can recommend an appendectomy as a great exercise in empathy for married couples. It was my turn to wake my spouse in the middle of the night, demand to be taken to the hospital, and insist that there was absolutely no humor in the situation. Meanwhile, my wife got a chance to put pressure on the doctors on my behalf, hold my hand during the ultrasound, and bring the kids to visit after it was all over. (That is as close as I want to come to experiencing pregnancy and childbirth, however. For one thing, removed appendices are much more cooperative about letting you sleep afterwards than newborns are.)

Also, you know those pneumatic leg wraps they put on your lower legs after surgery that periodically squeeze your calves to stimulate circulation and hinder blood clots? I wore those for two nights in the hospital, and I’ve got to say that they’re pretty darn comfortable, just like a leg massage while you sleep. To whoever invented them: I am very grateful.

13 Responses to I am thankful for my appendectomy

  1. Aaron on November 20, 2006 at 9:04 am

    Thank you for sharing that experience with us. It just goes to show that the Lord is there to provide for us, especially in times of trial. Your statement about the timing was interesting as well. That just proves that our Father in Heaven is watching all of his children and is all-knowing. He knows are financial situation and even when we are moving. He knows everything that is going on in our lives to the extent that he knows how things are going to turn out in every situation that we are in. Not to say all of our trials come at a convienent time but through following the Lord and His counsel, we will be helped and guided through any trial that we may face.

  2. RayB on November 20, 2006 at 9:41 am

    I recently experienced severe pain in my lower right abdomen. After a few hours I decided I was suffering from appendicitis and asked my wife to drive me to the emergency room. Turns out I only had a kidney stone (only!) which I apparently passed as I walked over to the admitting nurse. Although I didn’t get home until 3 a.m. that Sunday morning, I dutifully got up a few hours later to teach my Sunday School class…and I did so very, very thankfully!

  3. Mark B. on November 20, 2006 at 11:42 am

    My dad’s appendicitis/appendectomy likely kept him out of the paratroops in World War II. Surgery was more serious back then, and recovery took longer, and the time for transferring to the paratroops passed while he was in the hospital.

    It was just one more fortuitous event that increased the odds of his surviving the war. Casualty rates among the paratroops were awfully high.

    So, I’m thankful for my dad’s appendicitis.

  4. Mike on November 20, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Ah, November the season of kidney stones.

    I’ve experienced both kidney stones and appendicitis. I was 14 years old and ran my first sub-five minute mile, at track practice, barely under the school record. The cramp in my right side never went away, and gradually grew much worse. A few hours later the surgeon was joking with me on the operating table about being late for high counsel meeting. He had me in recovery in 10 minutes. I still remember the narcotics fondly, how powerful and nice they made me feel. It was a warning to never mess with that stuff recreationally, or anything else like it. I was sent home early from the hospital the next day when I started fiddling with the thermostats and playing pranks with the electric beds. This wise but strict nurse sent me directly back to school and I only missed part of one day of classes. I was on the track in 3 days, and split my incision open. The old surgeon cussed me out as he repaired it, which took a couple hours, and threatened to cut my hamstrings if I stepped on the track again that season. No school record for me.

    About two decades ago I began to be afflicted with kidney stones. The first one was small and after 10 minutes of the most severe pain I have ever imagined it passed. Each one seems to be worse. After a few hours of kidney stone pain, I feel like I have run a marathon. There is no joy as great as when they pass and the intense pain leaves almost immediately. I have this theory that the joy of resurrection morning will somehow be parallel to this experience.

    There are several different types of kidney stones. One common type which afflicts me is caused by oxalates; either eating too much of them or my body makes too much of them. Oxalates are a two carbon molecule with carboxycyclic acid groups on both sides of it. (HOOC-COOH). They form completely insoluable salts with calcium. The key to prevention is to wash them out with plenty of water when they are at the size of very fine grains of sand before they get to the size where they block ureters. Oxalates are found in great quantities in chocolate, peanuts, cola, spinach and many other foods. Moderation or avoidance of these foods is helpful but not as important as drinking lots of water. I’ve been told 3 liters a day, which is ridiculous.

    The November season of kidney stones is directly related to Halloween candy in my case. My kids love to collect hundreds of pounds of it and they really don’t eat very much. So dad wolfs as much of it down as he likes. It took a terrible experience for me to learn my lesson about this time four years ago. The horrible colic hit me around midnight. I got up and vomited from sheer pain for several hours to the point of dehydration and un-consciousness. I wallowed in the vomit on the floor and didn’t even care it hurt so bad. I hate going to the ER late at night when they think you are just trying to con them out of narcotics. I thought I could make it until the morning and go to my doctor’s office where they know me. My wife had to call an ambulance to get me out of the house, she didn’t or couldn’t move the quivering heap I had been reduced to. I recall only brief moments of clarity in a blur of unimaginable agony. Looking at the cannas and the pine tree in my yard and thinking they both would outlive me. Hearing a paramedic say on the radio, “His wife claims its a kidney stone, but I don’t think so. Ruptured aneurysm or something like that. Get the OR ready.”

    I had two six millimeter stones, one blocking a ureter and one up in a kidney ready to move and block the other. The doctor thought there was maybe a 50-50 chance I would pass one of them which would make his options better, but it was going to hurt. He thought it best to watch me closely and wait. So began an ordeal of several weeks. Three hours of narcotic sleep, followed by 15-30 minutes of feeling about 50% normal and then the horrible agony would crescendo. I would beg my wife for the “Limbaughs” as I called them. Dilaudid, Lortab, Hydrocodone. Around the clock we followed this schedule strictly while the doses needed to control the pain doubled and doubled and doubled again. Multiple visits to the doctor every week. I was terrified of dying of a narcotic overdose and terrified of the horrible pain. I would rush to do things during the rare intervals of near normal, like eating or taking a shower. And I was half way through putting tile in the kitchen, so one day I thought it would be a good idea to finish that project. What a mess.

    So after a long while the surgeon decided to go after one of them, the blockage was starting to damage the kidney. The standard option involved this black wire somewhat thicker than a bicycle cable being put up places I don’t even want to think about. Or the new method, called lithotripsy. I think of it as sort of like being kicked 100 times by a mule in the same spot in about 30 seconds. It leaves a large bruise on your flank. They do it in the operating room and they put you under light anesthesia. The night before the prodecure, the doctor had me drink a 16 oz bottle of “Go Lightly,” a bowel prep. The narcotics had me so much more full of sh*t than usual that the doctor thought a good cleaning out was in order. After one bottle didn’t do anything at all in 8 hours, I decided, in a narcotic induced flash of genius to drink two more. My wife bought these extra bottles, why I don’t know, its not like you can serve up the stuff at the ward Christmas dinner. About midnight they worked. Whether coincidence, providence, or cause and effect, this explosion loosened the kidney stone and I passed it about 2 hours before the scheduled procedure. The doctor decided he was through fooling around and he already had the OR scheduled and it had taken my wife no less than 12 hours the previous day to fill out all the forms required. So he blasted the second one and it came out in fragments later that morning.

    The next day was Thanksgiving. I was pain free and starting to fell normal again for the first time in many weeks and off the “Limbaughs” and not going through withdrawal yet. It was the best Thanksgiving ever. I was grateful to be alive and not in any pain. Even though I missed quite a bit of work, my boss did not fire me, that was nice. I am grateful to be afflcted by a condition which is best treated by the medicine called water.

    Remembering this makes me want to go get a 40 oz drink of water. You too RayB.

  5. tom on November 20, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    the “k”stones
    i have passed several of these stones—what fun
    i have women friends who have told me that passing a stone is like giving birth—if that is the case than this male would not have children
    women are very brave and strong

  6. Herodotus on November 20, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Some random reflections from someone who did laparascopic appendectomies during internship (although they lie outside my current area of expertise):

    1. If you’re in the U.S. at an academic hospital, chances are that the person doing your appendectomy is just out of medical school being taught how to do the procedure by a resident three years out of medical school. At my institution even when your surgeon specifically told you that they would do the case personally there was at least a 50/50 chance they were lying.

    2. A laparascopic appendectomy didn’t require five incisions where I trained. It makes me wonder if they struggled in your case.

    3. This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone say that they like the pneumoboots. Maybe I only notice the complainers.

    4. One of the funniest stories from training happened to a friend of mine as he tried to assist a particularly nasty general surgeon (a specialty known for their nastiness.) Apparently this surgeon felt that my friend’s help was counter-productive. At some point during this procedure he turned to my friend and said, “Hey, if I’m ever in out in the woods and a rabid bear suddenly attacks me, don’t help me; help the bear.”

  7. Proud Daughter of Eve on November 20, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Then there’s the occasional few who head to the hospital with intense abdominal pain and come home with a baby they didn’t know they were carrying.

  8. spencer on November 20, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    PDOE, if that had happened in Jonathan\’s case, it would require much more than a single blog post to explain.

    When I had my appendix out, I was left with a 4-in scar in my abdomen. It\’s almost as big as my wife\’s C-section incision. I was laid up for a week.

  9. Proud Daughter of Eve on November 20, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    Spencer, I kinda had that figured. :)

    I’ve heard twice now about women who’ve gone to the doctor because of indigestion or other abominal problem and been shocked to learn that they were in labor!

    The first one I heard about seemed really nice though; she and her husband had been having difficulty getting pregnant. I thought it was neat that she didn’t have to go through all the worrying and pain as she prayed for the pregnancy to continue and it’s great that this surprise baby was definitely wanted.

    (Not that in the other case the baby wasn’t wanted but it was an unplanned surprise for the (unmarried) couple involved.)

  10. Julie M. Smith on November 20, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Re #9: these cases always boggle my mind. I’ve been pregnant three times and think I would have been less aware of having an arm amputated by a woodchuck than I was aware that I was pregnant on any average day. I’m not sure how a woman could not know she was pregnant.

  11. paul on November 21, 2006 at 8:39 am

    Spencer,

    I agree.

    Jonathan,

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been told there is only one male form of pain which approximates pregnancy and labor, and it involves an organ quite different from the appendix.

    By the way, I respect you much more for having a retroverted appendix.

  12. Marjorie Conder on November 21, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Two comments–
    First from experience. Having had six kids and one “large and barbed” kidney stone that had to be surgically removed, I can say with some authority that the pain is similar. The major difference is that labor pain comes in waves, while kidney stone pain just “is”. And of course expectations are different too–kidney stone pain just goes on and on to no good end. With labor there is the hope and expectation (usually realized) of a healthy baby at the end.

    Second comment about timing. Going back to my baby days, I knew I would be no good at all if I went into labor (which is real work) already exhausted. I always prayed that I could go into labor when I was rested. This was a prayer that was honored every time. While this is the most dramatic example, over the years I have offered many “timing” prayers, always with the tag that these prayers be answered with God’s understanding of the big picture and needs beyond my own. I am at a loss to think of a time these prayers were not answered. I have come to believe that we “recieve not because we ask not” (to slightly paraphrase James 4:2) Also consider the warning in Matthew 24:20, which of course is also repeated in the Pof GP to “pray that your flight not be in the winter.” I really do think our concerns, however mundane they may appear can be brought to the Throne of God.

  13. Kelli on December 1, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    I was also confused by the comment of five incisions. I just had my appendix removed laprascopically 3 days ago and I have only 3 very small incisions. I was wondering though has anyone else who had this procedure endured intense pain in shoulders and neck afterwards?