I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so when I noticed a small but different feeling in my abdomen, I wasn’t sure if it was anything to worry about. The next day it was still there, but I didn’t know what “it” was. On the third day, I knew that what I was feeling couldn’t be OK; appendicitis came to mind, but I wasn’t experiencing the typical symptoms.
My symptoms were not average
I did not experience the pain — which is often severe — near the belly-button that then travels down to the lower right abdomen. I didn’t have nausea, nor did I ever vomit. One common symptom is a change in digestive behavior, having either diarrhea or constipation, but these are normal with IBS. I did have a low fever, however.
Having symptoms of something, I went to an urgent care center. The blood tests ordered by the doctor revealed that my white blood cell count was elevated, but not as much as is “normal” with appendicitis. My fever was also lower than it should’ve been. Nevertheless, thinking I might have appendicitis, the doctor told me to get to the emergency room (ER) while he called ahead so I’d be examined quickly. His call seemed to be ignored by the ER intake nurse, however, and I stressfully waited minute by ticking minute to be seen. Because I wasn’t writhing in pain, vomiting, or running a high fever, I felt a bit invisible to the staff–but significantly, my abdomen became more and more tender.
The long awaited diagnosis and surgery
Hours later, after being granted entrance to the bowels of the ER, my symptoms confused the staff. (This is not necessarily surprising since every year up to a third of child-bearing age women are misdiagnosed; AHRQ 2013.) The area affected was not the right place, they told me. Then there were delays: a gunshot victim was admitted and drew the doctors away, and, though a CT scan was ordered the scanner needed repair (!). So I waited, again.
Once the CT scanner became available appendicitis was solidly confirmed, and not something like an ectopic pregnancy. The lead doctor was very kind and acknowledged to me that a high degree of tenderness in that area can be just as indicative of appendicitis as much pain. I never did have much pain.
I was immediately attached to an IV with antibiotics and admitted to the hospital. Though my appendix had already perforated and I had a very long wait for the typical laparoscopic surgery, it went well. Due to modern medicine, I feel very fortunate to be alive. By sharing my experience, I hope that readers won’t ignore this potentially life-threatening condition simply because they don’t have typical symptoms. To learn more, go to the NDDIC’s Appendicitis page or the pediatric Appendicitis/Appendectomy page of CHOPS.