You might not think it’s possible to mistake an appendicitis attack for the flu, but if you ask Karen Kurz from Bracey, Virginia, she will assure you it was actually pretty easy.
Karen was scheduled for a colonoscopy on a Wednesday at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital and began her prep on Tuesday. But prior to starting the prep, she began experiencing stomach cramps, which she attributed to being hungry since you can’t eat prior to a colonoscopy.
Being a compliant patient, Karen started her prep, but quickly realized it wasn’t going to work as she got sick to her stomach. Stomach cramps, nausea and what inevitably happens when you begin prep for a colonoscopy certainly check off a lot of boxes that would lead a lay person to believe she had the flu. She also started running a slight fever that first day.
Move to day two and now the fever is rising and all the other symptoms continue unabated. She even had her husband text their son to let him know they wouldn’t be traveling to visit the grandkids that weekend because she ‘had the flu.’
Day two saw her fever spike to 102.2 with no let-up of her other symptoms. Unable to keep things down, Karen was quickly becoming dehydrated. Fast forward to day three and she finally experienced right lower quadrant abdominal pain - severe enough abdominal pain to prompt a visit to VCU Health CMH’s Family Care.
There she was seen by Teresa Parham, nurse practitioner, and Dr. Paul Weidman. A blood draw showed an extremely high white blood cell count, coupled with severe dehydration, nausea and pain and the Family Care providers moved her quickly to the Emergency Department.
That move, according to Karen’s husband, Ken, most likely saved her life.
“You have to know my wife to understand how tough she is,” he said. “I knew she was truly ill because she didn’t fight going to the doctor. For two days she thought she had the flu. But Teresa (Parham) took one look at her and sprang into action ordering a stat complete blood count to go along with a urinalysis and the physical exam. I firmly believe they, along with the ED staff and Dr. Michael Tozzi, saved her life. I can’t say enough good about the care provided by them and everyone at CMH.”
As Karen was wheeled from the CARE Building to the emergency department, things were already in motion. A CT confirmed a ruptured appendix which meant emergency surgery on a Thursday night.
Ken explained, “Dr. Tozzi came in and told us he would be performing the emergency appendectomy and he feared that she was going to face a serious ordeal. He explained that he would most likely have to open Karen up completely to take care of the problem.”
Normally the appendix can be removed through laparoscopic surgery, but because of the rupture, Karen would be looking at a full-blown 3-4 hour surgery.
“Karen was really, really sick,” her husband said. “When we got to the doctor’s office her blood pressure was 80 over 50 and everyone was afraid she was going into septic shock. Dr. Tozzi told me after surgery that she was in shock. This is the kind of stuff that people die from.”
According to Ken they worked in the emergency department infusing fluids into Karen prior to the surgery to get her BP up, but they also began an extensive regimen of antibiotics to battle the poison that was flooding her system from the ruptured appendix.
A three-hour surgery that saw Dr. Tozzi use about 10 liters of saline to flush Karen’s abdominal cavity saved her life.
“I can’t say enough about how everyone worked so well together, from Teresa and Dr. Weidman through the Emergency Department, Dr. Tozzi and all the nurses,” Ken said. “When someone you love experiences a life-threatening emergency, you don’t want to worry about the people taking care of that person. I will tell you that I never once worried that she wasn’t receiving outstanding care. They kept me informed throughout the surgery, they all answered questions about what was going on, what could happen, what should happen. It was exactly how I feel things should have been handled. They showed confidence in their abilities and I felt they were certainly capable of taking care of my wife.”
The good news is, Karen is home now after a six-day hospital stay. She has an eight-inch incision to show for her “flu.” She does face a prolonged recovery period because of the seriousness of the surgery, cutting of her stomach muscles, and the infection because of the ruptured appendix, but the prognosis is very good.
“I believe we owe an incredible debt to VCU Health CMH, Teresa Parham, Paul Weidman, Michael Tozzi and all the other staff,” Ken said. “I know they saved Karen’s life.”
Karen Kurz, a native of Ohio, whom currently resides in Bracey, VA.