This is a lengthy post, a bit of a narrative, in fact. It’s about our six-year old son and how he ended up in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
Mom’s Girls’ Weekend Away is a Bust
About a month and a half ago, June 27, to be precise, I was all set to embark on a wonderful girls’ weekend getaway to Grail Springs that my friend, Liz, and I had been planning for months, snapping cute and relaxing photos and formulating a blog post in my head.
“I don’t want to see you girls till Sunday night,” my husband had called out to us as we hit the road on the Friday afternoon. The weekend was a long time coming, with both Liz and me wrapping up the school year, and, in my case, ending a busy birthday month and racing season (more on that later). The weather was perfect and we were ready to relax.
Well, our ‘weekend’ ended up being more of a 24-hour whirlwind of relaxation treatments and cleansing teas. You see, the tranquility ended abruptly Saturday around 2pm when my cell phone went off.
I’m pretty sure I blanched at the sight of my husband’s name on the caller ID because WHY ELSE WOULD HE CALL UNLESS SOMETHING WAS WRONG? Immediately my heart went into my throat. I looked at Liz and said, “Uh, oh. Something’s happened.” Mobile service was sketchy at best in our neck of the woods so even after nervously answering, “Hi? What’s wrong?” and him barely uttering the words, “We’re at the hospital,” the phone cut out with a crackle.
Texts weren’t transmitting.
Of course, they weren’t.
My phone rang again. The conversation resumed with my bullet-point questions, “What?! What happened? Who?” In that split second my mind raced with visions of one of the kids being stitched up or fitted with a cast, thinking that could be the worst. Instead he managed to tell me that our youngest son, one of our twins, Xavier, was being prepped for emergency surgery. His appendix had ruptured.
What??!! Mind uncomprehending. How does this happen? Is he ok? I mean he was fine when we’d left the day before! What did this mean?
Pause. Breathe. Hit the re-set button. Pack up. Hit the road home. Take a wrong turn. Of course. Regroup. Try again.
(Following is my husband’s no-nonsense, non-dramatic version of how it all went down. For the record, I really wanted him to write it in his own words but I ended up documenting his experience during our summer road trip. He’s not into the drama of the situation, so it’s really more of a play-by-play.)
Dad: Telling His Side
Sometime after midnight I awoke to crying. It was Xavier and he felt pretty hot so I took his temperature, which was 103.5ºF.
(Mom sidebar: We generally do not treat our kids’ fevers with medicine, letting the body fend off the infection on its own. Also, he had had a fever earlier in the week which lasted about 24 hours with no other symptoms. Still unsure whether this may have been related to his appendix.)
Our boys share a room so, as to not wake Aidan, I brought him into our room. Not long after, he threw up. In our bed. As Erica said, I was flying solo, so I put a towel on his bed and laid him down while I cleaned up our bed and put on a load of laundry. Made up our bed, laid another towel down and brought him back in with me.
The whole time, and for the rest of the night, we would get no sleep due to Xavier’s constant, agonizing pain. He didn’t want to be touched so I just lay beside him and tried to comfort him as best I could in my sleep-deprived state. He just kept crying, “My tummy hurts,” over and over.
So, at breakfast-time, likely around 7:30 or so, he was lying on the couch, worse, not better.
“Where does it hurt?” I asked. He pointed to his belly button. When I tried to touch it, he screamed. At that point I knew something was very wrong. This was more than just some stomach bug. So I gathered up the four kids and went to our clinic as soon as it opened; fortunately, it is only about two minutes away.
Unfortunately, we still had to wait an hour to get in to see our doctor; but as soon as he examined Xavier, Dr. C basically said, “I’m sorry, but I have to send you to the hospital because I can’t be sure that it’s not his appendix.”
(Mom sidebar: Pretty sure at this moment, had I been the one sitting in that doctor’s office, that I would have lost my shit. Luckily for me my husband tends to take this medical-emergency stuff more in stride. Also, thank God our doctor called it.)
6 Signs Your Child Could Have Appendicitis
As always, to confirm or rule out appendicitis, always consult a doctor. However, some telltale signs (and Xavier had nearly each one of these) are:
- significant abdominal pain, especially around the bellybutton or in the lower right part of the abdomen (perhaps coming and going and then becoming consistent and sharp)
- low-grade fever
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- diarrhea (especially small amounts, with mucus)
- swollen or bloated abdomen, especially in infants
If appendicitis goes untreated, the inflamed appendix can burst 24 to 72 hours after the symptoms begin. If the appendix has burst, the pain may spread across the whole abdomen, and the child’s fever may be very high, reaching 104°F (40°C).
Appendicitis is treated by removing the inflamed appendix through an appendectomy. Surgeons usually either make a traditional incision in the abdomen or use a small surgical device (a laparoscope) that creates a smaller opening.
Intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics will help prevent complications and decrease the risk for wound infections after surgery. If needed, your child will receive pain medication.
Knowing the wait at the hospital would likely be longer than shorter, we took a quick detour home to pack a bag of necessities (read: snacks, water and gadgets) and then headed straight to Southlake.
By the time we arrived at the hospital, it was around 10:30am. Admitting still took awhile with 5-6 people ahead of us. We were then sent to Yellow Zone (Fast Track) where, after waiting another half hour, the doctor ordered blood work (totally not fun), x-rays and an ultrasound. That was when they put in the IV (super not fun).
That was rough.
The doctor did it anticipating surgery so that he would have only one poke instead of two. He screamed. Then he was wheeled in for an ultrasound. By then he had had enough. He was very distraught during the ultrasound, crying, “It hurts! Leave me alone!”
The results were the determining factor.
When we got back to Yellow zone, the doctor said Xavier would need surgery. It was around that point that I called Erica. About 2pm. As she mentioned, she was pretty shocked. I hadn’t wanted to interrupt her weekend earlier until I knew exactly what we were facing. I knew then that she would want to come home.
The doctor ordered a dose of morphine, finally. Then he ordered x-rays to rule out a chest infection because he thought it sounded like he might have one (he didn’t). By then, the drugs were kicking in; they took the edge off but still lots of screaming.
Thankfully, a woman, a stranger, witness to our situation, of me torn between being with Xavier and also keeping an eye on my three other children, kindly got drinks and bagels for the kids.
By 4:40pm Xavier was taken in for surgery. The kids sat in the waiting room while I accompanied him. While in pre-op I ironically saw a familiar face. Xavier’s former soccer coach was just finishing his shift (as an anesthetist.) So he went back and stayed to keep an eye on our boy and then reported back to me that he ‘went under’ fine.
Yes, I signed paperwork, liability waivers, okayed the morphine at some point. I knew Erica was on her way. I just kept thinking, “Thank God we are at the hospital,” over and over, thankful we got there when we did.
Surgery took about 40 minutes. Dr. S explained that he only made one incision, doing it the ‘old-fashioned’ way; that Xavier’s appendix was five times the normal size (‘normal’ being about the size of one’s pinky finger); that everything had gone fine and that he would be out shortly.
Another hour or so passed until he came out and up to the 4th floor. It was now around 6:45. Xavier was awake but groggy.
Mom was on the road back and arrived at 8pm for the night shift.
Mom: The Night Shift
When I finally arrived at the hospital room it was 8pm. My husband and three other kiddos had had such a long day that I’m sure they were relieved to finally go home and get some rest. I’d gotten into town around 7:00 but needed to drop Liz off at her car, which was still at my house. Then I threw some essentials in a backpack for Xavier and me, grabbed something for dinner and rushed off.
When I first saw my son, he was in a morphine-induced sleep. I kissed him gently. He would grow agitated as the drugs wore off, crying, at times hysterically, from the pain. The nurse had explained that, though he would fight it, it was important to get him up to the bathroom, to ‘get things moving’. Measuring his pee would prove a distraction. Also, passing gas merited a round of high-fives. It would be a couple of days before I could get Xavier up out of bed without a crying fit.
He woke up drenched in sweat and the nurse gently changed his hospital gown. This would happen twice more during our 4-day stay and the next two times, as he was weaned from the morphine and more aware of his pain, he kicked and screamed his way through the change, a tricky business when maneuvering around an IV. “It hurts! It hurts!” “Stop it!” “Don’t touch me!” and “Get away from me!” on repeat. He was not his usual charming self.
It is indescribable to witness your child in such a state of pain and discomfort.
The nurses, and there were many as the shifts changed, were patient and comforting–to me, at least. They even brought gifts to cheer up Xavier.
Once Xavier felt well enough to push his IV pole to the game/toy room to play Snakes and Ladders, I knew he was on the mend. He was released on Canada Day.
I asked my kids their thoughts on seeing their brother go through this. Though the girls were much more emotional, the consensus was that it was very scary to witness Xavier in such distress. The waiting was long and Hannah, especially, noted that she felt badly for Jeff, who was torn between being with them and Xavier. At the end of the day, Jeff said they handled it like champs.
Once home, they made this amazing Welcome Home banner for X-man. Kids can be pretty awesome.
While we were out of the woods, in a manner of speaking, Xavier was far from healed. We endured about three weeks of post-op pain and discomfort (not from the incision site, but rather from his tummy). I say ‘we’ because he kept me up most nights (Jeff either travelling for work, or sleeping in the basement so he could get some rest.) This became nearly unbearable after I, most unfortunately, broke my left elbow a week after Xavier had been released and was in a fair bit of pain and discomfort myself.
He consistently complained of pain on and off during the day during the first two weeks post-op and at night, in my bed, cried, over and over, “Oh my gosh…my tummy hurts. My tummy hurts! I love you, Mommy.” I cried with him. Unable to comfort him. Helpless. Exhausted.
A trip to Emerg and x-rays confirmed that he was ‘okay’ and recovering well but that there was still some inflammation and a bit of stool blocking the area of the surgery. The doctor, preferring natural methods vs suppositories, recommended flushing out his system with juicy fruits like watermelon, strawberries, blueberries and the like. Understandably, had we kept his diet full of these foods after leaving the hospital we could have perhaps avoided the blockage. (Hindsight: yadda yadda.) Nevertheless, this worked (bowel movements were regular, he passed gas), though it took several days, drawn out, I’m sure, for dramatic effect.
The Psychological Aftermath
One thing I do not enjoy are children’s theatrics to get attention. With Xavier there came a point where, while I don’t doubt he may have still had some residual discomfort, enough was enough.
The problem is that he experienced a very painful, very traumatic event. He also received a lot of attention as a result. But when I noticed into the third week post-op that he would be fine all day and then ‘suddenly’ at bed time he would scream in pain, well, it was hard to keep cool.
The turning point came on the Tuesday, soccer night, three weeks since he’d been released, when dinnertime brought a renewed series of tears and “my tummy hurts” after running around and playing all day. I basically told him that while maybe he might have a little pain, (because I didn’t want to disbelieve him entirely), that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as it was when he was in the hospital, right? And that the doctors had taken out all the yucky stuff and that he was ok. And to stop crying and eat his dinner.
It took a couple of times repeating this in a level voice and it was like a switch. I think he realized, “Oh. She’s not buying it anymore.” He ate his dinner, got dressed for soccer and the next day, after sleeping in his bed, soundly, all night, announced, “Mommy, my tummy is all better.”
And it was.