The pain came out of nowhere and it came on strong.
It’s an odd phenomenon to be sitting at your computer having a normal workday and suddenly feel like your stomach is on fire. But that sharp pain was the first sign that I was experiencing pain beyond “I must have eaten something funny” type of pain. It was a signal that I was about to have an interesting next 24 hours.
The appendix is one of the human body’s great mysteries. We’re all born with one of the two-to-four-inch, worm-shaped organs, but we can also live without them. Experts have long debated the purpose of the appendix: Some believe it’s a “safehouse” for good bacteria storage, while others think it’s a remnant of a once-vital organ that lost its function through evolution.
But what nobody argues is the trouble the appendix can cause. It can become inflamed and infected, resulting in a condition known as appendicitis, where the organ swells to the point of bursting. And that happens fairly often: appendectomies, or appendix removals, are one of the most common surgical procedures, making up about 25,000 hospital stays in Canada every year.
Along with the undeniable pain, signs of appendicitis can include nausea, fever, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea and bloating. The problem is, sometimes you only experience symptoms that overlap with other common ailments like gas or constipation. I thought my pain was gas-related too, but luckily I was familiar with one of the other telltale signs of appendicitis, because I had written an article about it.
When the pain first hit, I tried to tough it out and figured it would go away in time. It wasn’t until I skipped dinner and went to lie down that I noticed something had changed.
While lying down, I pushed on the left side of my abdomen and didn’t feel any pain. But when I pushed on my right side, just to the left of my right hip bone, I felt a sharp, stabbing sensation. I knew I needed to see a doctor.
Another tricky problem with appendicitis is the pain can come and go. After waiting a couple hours in the emergency room, my pain had completely dissipated. I was seconds away from leaving without even seeing a doctor when I got the call that they had a room for me. If not for that bit of good timing, I would have gone home assuming my problem had solved itself.
When appendicitis is left untreated, the appendix can burst after about 72 hours, sending the buildup of pus and fluid scattering throughout the abdominal cavity. That bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause serious and life-threatening conditions such as sepsis or peritonitis.
Thankfully, instead of going home, I saw the doctor, and a CT scan confirmed my initial hunch: appendicitis. But they wouldn’t know if it had burst until they had a look inside. The next morning I was prepped for my first surgery and experience with anesthesia.
The doctors explained they would be inflating a balloon in my stomach to make the area easier to operate on, while making three cuts for the laparoscopic procedure. Two cuts for the surgeon’s hand tools and another for the camera.
Before I could blink, I was laying on the operating table while they asked me what kind of music I wanted to go to sleep to. I chose classic rock, and slipped away to a rather melodramatic Led Zeppelin song. (In hindsight, I’m glad it wasn’t “Stairway to Heaven.”)
They told me when I woke up that my appendix had grown to 50 per cent larger than its normal size, but luckily, it hadn’t burst. The scars are minuscule, and I was able to go home the morning after the surgery.
After about ten days, I started to feel normal again. But that whirlwind couple days made me think about how efficient the human body is, sending us signals before things really go wrong. Maybe I should learn to listen to it more often.