Appendicitis: a teenager’s insight

Berklee K. Cohen
Clarksville, Maryland, United States

 

Berklee and his sister displaying their appendectomy scars in front of the community hospital where they underwent surgery.

If we have enjoyed good health for most of our lives, we often take that health and happiness for granted. An event occurred during summer break that enabled me to truly appreciate my own good health and made me more aware of the challenges for people facing serious illness.

One day after hanging out with my friends during a school break, I started feeling discomfort in my abdomen. Since I otherwise felt normal, I ignored it.  This is atypical, as I often focus on little physical things that don’t mean anything. My dad, who is a physician specializing in pain medicine, has jokingly told me I have “hypochondriasis.”

That night, I could not sleep as jolts of pain awakened me anytime I closed my eyes. The next morning, my stomach pain persisted. Later, I lost my appetite, and walking became uncomfortable. After two sleepless nights, my mother took me to the emergency department at our community hospital. Six years earlier, my little sister had been diagnosed with a ruptured appendix, so my parents didn’t want to delay treatment. The nurse gave me an enema that provided me with temporary relief, so the doctor diagnosed me with constipation and sent me home. The next day my pain returned, so we went back to the hospital and I had a more extensive workup. I was nervous that having my blood drawn would hurt or that I might even pass out, but it was easier than anticipated.  Half an hour later, they told me my white blood cell count was high, which indicated I might have an infection. The doctor couldn’t see what he needed to on the ultrasound, so they sent me for a CT scan, which showed a ruptured appendix. That night, a surgeon who specializes in treating unborn babies with abnormalities took out my appendix. Although I was nervous, I don’t remember anything after they put the anesthesia mask on my face.

After surgery, I spent the next few days in a hospital bed, which quickly became boring. It was embarrassing relying on my mother to help with simple tasks such as using the bathroom, getting out of bed, and walking.  My health affected my mood, which was sour most of the time. One bright side is that my cousin drove down from college in Delaware to see me. Before this we had talked infrequently, but since then we speak every few weeks.

I was released from the hospital after three days with no complications. It felt great having my IV taken out. Being in the hospital was lonely, and I felt energized hanging out with my friends again. Although my parents told me how lucky I was that this happened when I was home on break, I felt unlucky that it had ruined my vacation. However, this experience made me realize the value of good health. I used to stay up late at night and feel tired the next day, but now I make an effort to sleep eight hours every night. The expensive hospital bill made me appreciate health insurance. I also felt more empathy for those that struggle with financial hardships.

Although the surgeon who took out my appendix specializes in fetal surgery, he also studies appendicitis. He told me that like many conditions, there is a genetic component to appendicitis. In addition to my sister having a ruptured appendix, my brother may also have had an episode of appendicitis. Five years ago, while we were on vacation, my brother complained of a stomachache and couldn’t eat; that evening, he was doubled over in pain under the table in a restaurant. The next morning he vomited and we decided to return home. But as we were preparing to take him to the hospital, he was eating ice cream and his temperature was normal, so we never went. I asked the surgeon whether my brother might have also had appendicitis; he said it was possible. He mentioned that nowadays doctors in Europe sometimes treat the condition with antibiotics rather than surgery.

My hospital experience provided me with new insight and motivation. My dad compared it to a deployment or medical training. Although it’s challenging at the time, once it’s finished, you’re glad for the experience. It made me realize the value of things I used to take for granted. My father gave me a book during my hospitalization called The Physician, which takes place in the era before anesthesia, where people died from this “unknown illness.” Although my friends and I often complain about how hard it is to live in the digital age, I now believe I am lucky to be alive in this time.  Whereas being deprived of my health for a few days felt disheartening at the time, I now have a greater appreciation for what I have in life, empathy for people less fortunate than me, and am more motivated to live a healthy life.

 


 

BERKLEE K. COHEN, is a sophomore at Mercersberg Academy in Pennsylvania and is interested in computer engineering, Boy Scouts, Tae Kwon Do, chess, and soccer.  He has done clinical research on back pain published in Anesthesia & Analgesia, and is an observer in the lab of Srinivasa Raja at Johns Hopkins, who investigates spinal cord stimulation in animals.

 

Summer 2018  |  Hektorama  |  Personal Narratives