Monday, June 24, 2013

Appendicitis or something more?

Seventy one years ago, my grandmother had appendicitis. She was one year older than I now am. Her presentation was not typical, leading to initial misdiagnosis and thus delay in treatment. Her appendix ruptured. She developed peritonitis and died. 

While I never met her, I feel close to her from the stories I heard about her and the photos I have of her. I recall meeting her youngest sister when I was nineteen. She had not seen my grandmother since she left Poland for America in her late teens. My great aunt insisted on calling me by my grandmother's name, which is my middle name, because I looked so much like her, though she said it looked like I had been dunked in bleach since I am a bit fairer than she was. She also commented on similar mannerisms and speech patterns, though I knew little Polish at the time and my grandmother knew no English when she left Poland. Others, too, have commented on the similarity, mistaking a photo of my grandmother and mother for my mother and me. 

A few months ago, I almost followed my grandmother. I thought I simply had the flu. Unfortunately, my appendix also ruptured. But, fortunately for me, antibiotics are now available to treat the resultant infection. While I was in the hospital sick with the infection, I thought of my grandmother who died of the same disease. I recovered from the infection. An appendectomy was scheduled two months later.

The delay was to allow the infection to quiet down in the hopes of being able to perform the appendectomy through small laparoscopic incisions. At the time of the surgery, the appendix was too large to come out through one of the laparoscopic ports, so I needed to have a longer incision anyway. I even discussed this with surgical colleagues, since I am in a different specialty. So, we waited for the infection to quiet down. I had the interval appendectomy.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of my story. The appendix contained a tumor, which was not identified until two months later when I had an interval appendectomy.At the post operative visit, I was told that the enlargement of the appendix was not simply due to the infection. That it contained a cancer. What had been a simple problem suddenly became a life changing one. I wonder if the wait allowed the tumor to grow. Was it the right thing to do in my case? I don't know, but it made sense at the time.

I had been thinking of not taking any more time off work this year due to the amount of time I took off for the first two hospitalizations. Now, time at work seemed less important. Time with my family seemed more important. I wondered how much time I would have with them. My children are still in elementary school. They still need their mother for many more years. I worried that I might not see them grown. Time to travel and show my children the world seems more important than another week of work.

1 comment:

  1. What a frightening post-op discovery. Your new priorities makes sense to me. I certainly hope and pray that you will indeed be around for your kids for many more years. Thanks for sharing the story.