A rare 6 PM call from my wife informed me that instead of taking my routine drive home from work, I would be heading to the hospital to attend my eleven-year-old’s emergency appendectomy. My head was spinning with random thoughts as I quickly shoved my laptop into its satchel. I knew people could get appendicitis at any age and any time, but in the back of my mind I was thinking about how this kid (my kid!) was a pinnacle of health. She was swimming competitively 4-5 times a week, had perfect attendance for 3-4 years a time, and even the doctor commented how rare it was to see her every couple of years for a cold. (…and most of these trips were due to proactive parents ensuring an upcoming vacation turned out well, not what one would consider urgent by any standard.) On the other hand, the situation didn’t seem entirely left field because Kate had experienced an unusual fever (~104 F) and vomiting the previous two evenings and could barely get out of bed once the sun started to set. As I calmly but swiftly drove to the east side of town, I reminded myself that modern technology had perfected the appendectomy into a minor procedure, and even though there was going to be anesthesia, I could imagine of a lot worse things to find out, like the dreaded “c” word, cancer.
As I snaked my way through the parking lot of the brand new, highly publicized children’s hospital in Austin, I had a slight feeling of relief that this place was as good as any if you were a kid and needed some medical work done. After being cell-phoned through a series of elevators and hallways, I was able to discover my wife and daughter in a prep room on the third floor. Kate looked ill but calm laying on the gurney. After seeing her grey-colored skin and the lack of sparkle in her eyes, I experienced the deeper meaning of the word “ill” because she truly looked miserable, and as they rolled her away, I mentioned to my wife that she seemed almost content to trade surgery for the pain she was experiencing. The next hour was filled with calls to grandparents and a lot of concerned conversation about how we had gotten here. My wife, DeeDee, stepped me through the day’s events of taking Kate back to our pediatrician, who had recently prescribed some antibiotics to treat a minor sinus infection about a week before. While we had thought the sinus infection had gotten worse, the stand-in pediatrician had discovered the “classic” lower abdomen sensitivity on Kate and recommended Kate be taken to the emergency room immediately. Three surgeons at the hospital had agreed, and the operation protocol had ensued.
Almost to the minute of an hour wait, the surgeon walked out to meet us. She was a confident, attractive, 30-something woman, and while I didn’t read any serious signs of concern on her face, she asked us to follow her to a conference room to discuss the situation. I remember thinking how this cannot be good, and the dreaded “c” word started to pop back into my head. I was thinking about how I should stay focused on the situation and not get caught up into a selfish fear of something chronic. As she meticulously chose her words, we learned that the surgery had gone well, and our daughter was doing fine in recovery. BUT…and this was the part I was dreading…there was nothing wrong with Kate’s appendix, and other than swollen lymph nodes, nothing else appeared to be wrong either. Immediately, my mind starting rolling with one thought after another of how this whole set of events had never seemed to intuitively match up in my mind. Sure, my kid is fine and doesn’t have to worry about her appendix in the future, but a lot of worry and risk had just occurred. Not verbalizing my frustration, I reminded myself of how appendectomies were difficult to accurately detect, and while we can get our eyeballs laser-ed in a strip mall, this particular procedure was still in the Stone Ages. In any case, three tiny scars and week out of school weren’t going to affect this kid in any memorable way, so back to the day-to-day routine for the Lunt family.
Unfortunately, the reality of that night would not be realized for a couple of weeks. Kate experienced the high fever for a few more evenings after the surgery, but she was back in the pool ten days later swimming better than ever. (We kept telling her it was because she was so much lighter.) Having grown tired of rehashing the events to ourselves, we repeated Kate’s story a hundred times to concerned family and friends, but the revelation came one evening at the swim center as DeeDee was retelling to another swim team mom. This humble pharmacist was able to deduce what 4-5 other “high-caliber” doctors could not. Within minutes of hearing about the sinus infection and the evening fever, the pharmacist diagnosed Kate as being allergic to amoxicillin…not to be confused with its close sibling appendicitis. Upon hearing this from my wife, a severe case of imbecilitis swept over us. To top the list, I’m allergic to penicillin and have been reiterating this on medical forms ever since I was nine. Doh!! Included in the hind-sighted set of bad parenting mistakes, how were we unable to correlate the evening fever and daily dose of miracle drugs after dinner each day? Gong!! We even followed the doctor’s orders to continue the prescription for three long days after the surgery. Said differently, try puking with stitches in your abdomen. Ouch!!!
Granted, this tale turned out fine, and we are much less likely to discount our own capacities to analyze the situation in the future. Still, the circumstances seem hard for others to avoid without this common awareness, and being unable to avoid a Jerry Springer final moment, I end this story with a few choice words of advice. Don’t poison and torture your kid(s) like we did.