A burst appendix reminds me that I need to tune into my symptoms

Sometimes pain and nausea are more than the same old everyday stuff

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by Lara Govendo |

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I live with some level of pain and nausea on the regular. I’ve become numb to these symptoms because I’m used to them, but that’s sometimes a problem.

A few weeks ago, I had intense nausea and belly pain. It seemed normal, given my cystic fibrosis (CF), medication side effects, and postsurgical changes since my double-lung transplant six years ago. I didn’t think anything was out of the norm, so I went to work per usual, partook in activities with friends, and continued my typical routine.

My biweekly blood draw, however, showed elevated levels for my platelets, white blood count, and kidney function. I knew something was wrong; I just didn’t know what.

I called my transplant team, which is the best, the next morning. Even though it was a Saturday, my team has an on-call doctor available. And even though I’m a few states away, the team works well from a distance. After relaying my symptoms and bloodwork results, the nurse shared the doctor’s recommendation that I get checked at the emergency department, along with a list of tests I should have.

Once I got to the emergency department and registered, the staff quickly took my vitals. I had a new symptom, a fever, which brought a level of panic. Fever after transplant is a red flag that something’s imminently wrong. I was relieved when a staff member took me back to a private room immediately.

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When the doctor came in, he asked a series of questions related to my symptoms and their duration. All of a sudden, he uttered words I’d never heard before: “It sounds like you have appendicitis.”

“Excuse me, sir?” I asked. Confusion washed over me, as I’d never thought about my appendix before, let alone talked about it.

A CT scan with contrast confirmed the doctor’s suspicion: The problem was my appendix. It had burst and formed an abscess because of an infection. I heard “emergency” and “surgery” in the same sentence and freaked out. How could something unrelated to CF or transplant be wrong with me?

I was admitted to the hospital, providing that moment of relief that comes from having permission to be sick. It sounds weird, but I find it validating when something’s horribly wrong because I can then be honest about how bad I feel.

After several conversations regarding my complex situation, the team decided that surgery was too risky, given the raging infection coursing through my abdomen. Instead, the plan was to continue antibiotics for a month until I get a repeat CT scan, which will hopefully ensure that the infection has cleared. Then, in a few months, doctors will remove my appendix to prevent an attack from happening again.

Lessons learned

It’s apparent that I’ve become desensitized to my body’s warning signs that something’s wrong. That explains why a situation like my appendicitis can arise. I’ve become numb to my constant symptoms and ignore most discomfort.

This health crisis is a timely reminder that I need to do a better job of listening to my body. Even though I’m used to pain and nausea, that doesn’t mean they’re always benign. It’s important that I allow myself to be sick so I’ll do something about the problem; I don’t have to muscle through it just because I’m pretending it’s fine.

It all goes back to having permission to be human, which we all need.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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