What Happened After His Appendix Has Exploded
British mystery writer Simon Kernick spent 3.5 hours under the knife after his appendix has exploded. But his story has long prehistory.
Like most people in today’s information-saturated world, a short Internet surf pushed the crime writer into panic mode. Possible diagnoses based on his research were bowel cancer, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and appendicitis. Kernick ruled out the last. His symptoms didn’t match those of his brother whose appendix has exploded decades earlier.
Besides, what are the chances two brothers’ would suffer exploding appendixes?
When over-the-counter drugs offered no relief, Kernick visited his doctor. She diagnosed a virus and prescribed painkillers, but the symptoms continued unabated until day five when the pain became unbearable. A race to the hospital proved that history can repeat itself! Like his brother long ago, the author’s appendix has exploded, too.
Odd or not so much?
Ask any woman who has had children if her pain matched the labor and delivery other women experienced and expect a resounding “No!” It’s the same with appendicitis. Some sufferers feel classic, easy-to-spot symptoms leading to quick diagnoses. Others, not so much.
Still, Mayo Clinic and other prestigious authorities agree that the more symptoms you exhibit from this list, the more likely you are to suffer from appendicitis:
1. Pain originating around the navel that may shift to the lower right abdominal area
2. Nausea and vomiting
3. Pain on the right side of the lower abdomen
4. Appetite loss
5. Heightened pain when walking, coughing or moving suddenly
6. Bloating in the abdomen
7. Diarrhea and/or constipation
8. A low-grade fever that may escalate with the passage of time
Since only one of Kernick’s symptoms—severe abdominal pain—matched, and since his GP concurred, he removed appendicitis from his list of possible causes. He waited. That wait could have cost him his life.
Why is diagnosing appendicitis so difficult?
No mystery here: people are unique. So are their reactions to infections. You could have a festering appendix but exhibit only shortness of breath. Perhaps you look sick but you don’t feel horrible. Some people haven’t an iota of pain, yet their appendix becomes engorged and inflamed.
Dr. Neil Pearce, the Southampton General Hospital surgeon quoted in the “Daily Mail” story about Simon Kernick’s nightmare, believes some people can’t share symptoms because they have “limited communication skills.” He adds, “It’s not unusual for childhood appendicitis to be misdiagnosed as a virus.”
He’s no child—and Kernick’s communication skills are better than most, so how did he wind up in such a pickle? Because diagnosis is tricky: appendicitis symptoms mirror many other conditions. Appendix attacks are often diagnosed as gastroenteritis. Women undergoing appendectomies often learn, after the fact, that they actually suffer from ovarian cysts, urinary tract or pelvis infections.
How to become your own advocate
Despite state-of-the-art medical tests, protocols and diagnostic tools, appendix-related misdiagnoses continue. How can you look after yourself? By becoming your own advocate. Accept the fact that more than 6-percent of all emergency department visits are for abdominal pain, and according to Dr. James G. Adams, “Of all ED patients with abdominal pain, only 1- to 3-percent of those actually have acute appendicitis.”
RELATED ARTICLE: 12 Possible Reasons of Lower Abdominal Pain
If you present with symptoms, you have a right to challenge elevated white blood cell counts because, says Adams, the test doesn’t sufficiently rule in or exclude appendicitis. One of the best diagnostic tools to assess appendix problems is the computed tomography (CT) scan. It’s an expensive tool and it’s no substitute for accurate diagnoses, but absent those eight symptoms, a CT scan is advised if classic symptoms aren’t present.
About the surgery
Getting to the proper diagnosis fast has multiple benefits. The surgery itself has become a simple procedure, most often called keyhole surgery because it leaves such a small scar. Recovery is faster because the immune system kicks into action once the infected appendix has been removed.
On the other hand, left to fester, as in Simon Kernick’s case, delays can lead to inflammation that spreads infection rapidly throughout the body. A burst appendix can cause peritonitis, making a bad situation even worse. Many years ago, a burst appendix often lead to death—reason alone to celebrate 21st Century medicine!
Happy endings-even for mystery writers
Whether he’s celebrating the completion of a new mystery novel, one of his children’s birthdays or having his work receive literary recognition, Kernick had plenty of reason to put his recovery at the top of his list. It took over three hours of keyhole surgery to clean up the burst appendix and he didn’t escape a secondary infection resulting from toxins spreading to other areas.
Secondary infections aren’t unusual when appendixes burst, said his surgeon, but the writer was stuck in the hospital for six days. For his part, Kernick isn’t complaining. He healed fast thanks to a course of antibiotics following his hospital stay and his appetite returned a few weeks later. We have no clue whether his taste for cherries or Thai-style prawns vanished, but we do hope his next book takes place in a hospital now that he has fodder for a tale about a man who comes down with a mystery disease!