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4 year old with an appendicitis

July 4th my son, Xavier, swallowed a cherry pit. I jokingly told him a cherry tree would grow and he’ll get a belly ache.

July 12 we spent an extended weekend celebrating his 4th birthday.

July 22 he was having emergency surgery for appendicitis.

It’s so difficult as a parent to determine when something is actually wrong with our kiddos. I’m a trained medical professional (not a doctor) and I still didn’t recognize it for what it was. So, I’d like to document our experience for others to learn from. Please note, this is not medical advice, please consult your pediatrician if you suspect your little has appendicitis.

At 11:00pm Thursday evening my son came out of his room complaining that he had to poop. He spent a brief amount of time on the toilet and returned to bed. He woke up again an hour or so later with the same complaint. Since it seemed something was amiss, I decided to snuggle him in bed in hopes that being close to mom would relax him enough to sleep. Instead I was up all night with him attempting to poop and puke without luck. So I threw him in the bath in hopes that it would relax him and help him release some gas. The bath worked well. He stopped complaining of having to use the bathroom and we got up for the day.

I called into work for the first couple hours on Friday to get some much needed rest. The day passed and everything seemed fairly normal, except that Xavier would not get up to dance to Danny Go because his tummy hurt. His appetite was also diminished.

I made it through my work day and was thankful to see my kids going crazy jumping around on the couch together doing normal and crazy kid things. I decided to run an errand to go pick up an item from the store. While I am out I call and order pizza for dinner. I return home approximately an hour from when I left and I can hear my son crying from the driveway.

Again, his tummy hurts. Since the bath worked well before, I think maybe he has some gas again and I toss him in. It does nothing this time. He is clearly in pain, he points to about an inch below his belly button as where it hurts.

At this point is when I consider that we may be spending the night in the ER. I explained to Xavier that since it hurts so badly we need to take him to the doctor. He immediately tells me it doesn’t hurt that badly and he doesn’t want a shot. He stops crying. I explain further that hospitals are good places and that they are there to help people if they truly need it. I explain that they can save lives (such big conversations for the littles). He still tells me he is okay and will not go..

While we continue to monitor and think through if we should head to the ER I start to pack a go bag. I think its so important to pack a go bag if you have time to head to the hospital. If you are admitted you have no idea of how long you will be there by your child’s side. Items I recommend to bring:

ER Go Bag:

  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste (both for you and child)

  • A full change of clothes (again for both you and child)

  • Diapers if needed (the hospital should have these but just in case)

  • Slippers (for you. Chances are you are going to be hopping in and out of hospital beds to snuggle your baby)

  • Water bottle (mostly for you; your kid may be ordered nothing by mouth)

  • Snacks (also mostly for you)

  • Tablets for entertainment (ensure you have their favorite movies downloaded in case of no wifi)

  • Phone and tablet chargers

Once I had the go bag packed, I hear my son start begging for me to take him to the hospital. This was a matter of like 2 minutes after he assured me he was totally fine. He is hysterical and wants to leave NOW. The pizza I ordered while on my errand arrives at this time.

I take my son out of the bath, put him on his bed to rest. And advise him that mommy needs to eat a slice of pizza and we will be on our way. –This may seem cruel but hear me out – my daughter has asthma and I have been admitted with her for days at a time in the past. On our last admission together it was the hospital’s policy not to provide meals for any caretaker unless they are breastfeeding. I sat there and starved rather than leave my young child’s side. I am lucky as I had a support system to bring me food at least once a day, but not everyone has a support system.. Note: If this is your hospital policy, please know that it is cruel and you can do better!

I ate my one slice of pizza, and we were on our way. When we arrive at the local ER, my son tells me he has to puke. I told him he didn’t need to puke and we walked towards the entrance. He puked. All over the parking lot. All over his shoes. We continued to walk to the ER entrance and he puked again on the sidewalk. We get into the check in and I immediately ask for a vomit bag and try to clean him up. We were extremely lucky and he was brought straight back to a room.

The doc checks him out. An x-ray and ultrasound are ordered. As well as some ondansetron for nausea. He immediately pukes up the ondansetron. We wait. IV fluids are given since he isn’t holding down medication. We watch Puss and Boots on repeat while we wait.

The x-ray is taken with minimal fuss. The ultrasound however, is hard. Really hard. Xavier cries in pain the entire time and asks repeatedly for it to be over. He is clearly in pain and the ultrasound is exacerbating it. It took approximately twenty minutes and despite my best efforts to convince him that slime on his tummy is totally awesome he continues to scream.

The tests come back showing nothing at all. It’s now 11pm. The ER doc comes in again and advises that they have not been able to rule out appendicitis. The next step is a CT but they are hesitant to expose children this young to radiation. The only other option is wait and see, but they don’t want to delay care if appendicitis is a possibility. We discuss that his pain has been so consistent, with no other known cause and proceed with the CT. As we wait for the CT, I question if I am doing the right thing and feel guilty that a little tummy ache is going to end up causing him cancer down the road. Mom guilt is real guys!

We all go back for the CT. At this point, Xavier has had enough of the hospital and tries to convince us all he is fine and doesn’t need anymore tests. I am given a vest to protect myself from the radiation. I stand over him and convince him to lay still while playing the Moana soundtrack to keep him calm.

The CT comes back and appendicitis is confirmed. IV antibiotics are started. Surgery is scheduled for the morning. We are admitted at approximately 1:00 am. I do not tell Xavier what is going to happen so that he doesn’t worry. We snuggle and he drifts off to sleep for the night.

When he wakes the next morning he has a 102 degree fever. He clearly does not feel good at all and I choose this moment to explain to him that he needs surgery. Luckily, I had abdominal surgery earlier in the year so he had some concept of what that meant. He is always asking to look at my scars. I spin it the best I can and tell him now our tummies can match! But he is so sick I am not sure he understands anything.

We are taken down to pre-op. He is too sick to care when he is taken back into surgery. He isn’t bothered at all by our separation. Surgery goes quickly. An hour tops. I am allowed back shortly after he is done. He is still out from anesthesia and takes a long time to wake up. When he does he is immediately upset that he has owies. “I didn’t want owies!”

We are taken back up to our room. And I am informed that this hospital does feed the caretakers (thank god). But I still save my first meal for when he is sleeping again. We spend the night Saturday at the hospital again and are released Sunday afternoon.

Aftercare is easy enough. No baths or swimming for a couple weeks. Besides the first day or two after surgery, he is back to his normal self.

A couple weeks following surgery, Xavier tells me he will never swallow cherry pits again as he doesn’t want appendicitis ever again!

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