The Cost of Appendicitis (Otherwise Known As a Medical Emergency)

It is insanely expensive to have an emergency medical event in the United States. I had appendicitis, which ruptured, resulting in a hospital bill of over $25,000. Here’s what happened:


I woke up at 2am with stomach pain. I thought it was gas and tried to go back to sleep. I couldn’t so I eventually tried taking some gas tablets, and when that didn’t work, I tried taking Tums, and when that didn’t work, I tried drinking baking soda with water. That didn’t work either, so I basically didn’t sleep and sat around downstairs figuring I would feel better soon. At around 7:30am I went upstairs and suddenly felt an insanely intense burst of pain in my lower left abdomen. It was similar to when you get a charlie horse, where you get tense for a minute and wait for the pain to recede, but this pain didn’t. Instead, it got worse. Unfortunately, this sent me to the emergency room.


I walked in, obviously in pain, and instead of being sent for medical treatment, was first brought to a desk where I could sign in, meaning provide my insurance information. At least they were kind enough to give me wheelchair. So when I finally get brought into a room, I still have to wait for a doctor, or anyone for that matter. I wait for about 20 minutes, still in horrible pain, before nurses come in to administer painkillers. They give me morphine, and that doesn’t really help, so they give me something else as well. (The beginning of what will eventually total $1,474.35 worth of pharmaceutical drugs). During this period, a nurse is asking me what is causing the pain. I tell her that I don’t know, as that’s pretty much why I’m here in the emergency room. This is not confidence inspiring. The drugs drop my pain to about a six out of 10 on the pain scale, which I hate. It’s way too subjective, but that’s another story.


So I’m just sitting there waiting for a doctor for a while, feeling like I’m going to fall asleep from the drugs. Eventually, a doctor arrives and examines me. He doesn’t know what the problem is. It could be an ovarian problem or it could be appendicitis. (In a better-run hospital, this uncertainty wouldn’t be a problem, but in this one, it will later cause my surgeon and my neurologist to comment that I could have died, which is comforting). To figure it out, I will be sent for tests. I wait a bit longer for someone to take me, just hanging out in the emergency room, where the process, tests and drugs – not included, obviously – will cost $2,613.


I get brought upstairs for a transvaginal ultrasound, which is about as fun as it sounds. It’s even better when your insides are in excruciating pain and it takes them about 30 minutes to do ($1,441). Afterward, the nurse accompanies me to the bathroom, literally, because they are concerned that I will fall because of the painkillers. Company while you pee just makes the day better.


Back downstairs, they don’t have the results yet, but they are going to send me for a CT scan for more detail in case the ultrasound isn’t enough. To do this, I have to drink something mixed with cranberry juice in a container the size of a small bucket. I have two hours. It tastes weird.


While waiting, the doctor returns with the ultrasound results. They are inconclusive, other than that something is floating around my insides that shouldn’t be. He doesn’t make it sound that serious. I’m still waiting to get sent for the CT scan. That drink makes me keep going to the restroom, which I reach by essentially limping along after getting assistance to get out of the bed, which is a process all on its own. My hospital room provides a toilet out in the open. Literally, there is a curtain you can pull around it. I can still walk, even if slowly and hunched over, and I’m going to use the regular restroom where I have privacy, thanks.


When, hours later (seriously, I got to the ER around 7:30am and I went for my test around 5pm) I was wheeled up to get my CT scan, there was a line, or that’s the closest descriptor I can think of to describe it succinctly. To describe it in a way that is not succinct, there were patients on gurneys waiting for tests, or because there was just nowhere else to put them (and this was pre-covid). They filled the hallway to the point that it was difficult for hospital employees to get through (you know, doctors and nurses, kind of important for them to be able to access the patients rooms). The gurneys crashed into each other as they were pushed along, sometimes on the way to their destination, sometimes just because they were in the way, like a game of bumper cars, just with sick people.


I had my CT scan ($3,910.30), which wasn’t really that exciting, though it makes you feel like you are peeing yourself even though you aren’t, which is really weird. I am told to drink a lot of water because the liquid they make you drink before the test is dehydrating. I don’t have a ton of access to water, but I’m insanely thirsty so my mom gets me some ice water. The doctor tells me my diagnosis is appendicitis. My appendix ruptured, which is why it was so incredibly painful, and they have to do emergency surgery that night. However, surprise, you’re not supposed to drink anything before the surgery. Now you tell me. This causes a great deal of drama, as the nurse wants me to identify the person who told me to drink water, which I can’t. I’ve only seen about a million different nurses and techs by this point. There is a big to-do by the nurse as to whether I can have the surgery. No one ever really gives an answer and I’m sent up to pre-op. I ask because she made it seem so important, where I’m told for the amount of fluid I consumed, it just isn’t important. Did I mention I have anxiety? So, yeah, that helped.


I am then brought into the operating room, where the anesthesiologist tries to insert an IV into my left hand, which is insanely painful and doesn’t work, so she has to try the other hand. My hands are swollen to the point that they are unrecognizable as my own hands. The anesthesiologist says it’s because I’m so dehydrated that she is having difficultly. Meanwhile, as she is doing this, a nurse takes the rolling cart and starts walking away with it. It’s still connected to my arm. I try to get her attention, but of course, I’m only the patient, so I’m basically ignored until the nurse has pulled the IV out of my arm. This hurts, by the way. She is apologetic, but I’m still really annoyed because I tried to tell them, but no one was paying any attention to me


They cover me in blankets, which don’t cover my feet. Another nurse kindly gives me socks so my feet aren’t cold and holds my hand while they administer the anesthesia to knock me out ($4,430.05). I then have an appendectomy ($7.197). Apparently, when you have surgery, they set aside blood for you in case of a problem. At least, this is my assumption based on the hospital bill I later receive because I was not informed of any transfusion ($359.72). The cost of this should make you feel really good about donating blood. It will save people’s lives, but they will pay the hospital over $350 for it, and if it’s just for in case, and that probably happens multiple times, until someone actually needs it. You donate blood as a volunteer to save people, which the hospital then makes a nice profit off of. Awesome.


I wake up on a gurney being rolled into a hospital room for recovery ($598). There is a weird plastic device attached to my abdomen where the surgery was performed ($941). I later find out it’s because there is still stuff from the surgery draining. Trust me, you want no more description than “stuff”.


It’s only around 7pm. The anesthesia has mostly worn off, so I’m awake, but not that tired. I try to watch a little TV, and give up at some point to try to go to sleep. To go to the bathroom, I have to carry the entire IV contraption with me, and I can’t shut the door all the way because the anesthesia causes me to be considered a “fall risk” though I don’t feel unbalanced at all. Getting in and out of bed is also still extremely difficult. Anyone who has ever been to a hospital knows that trying to sleep is also futile, as what seems like every hour, someone shows up to take your vitals, including pulse, oxygen, blood pressure, and temperature. Every hour.


When the surgeon shows up for a follow up visit in the morning, she spills some of the “stuff” on my gown and blanket while removing it. She also tells me that my appendix was gangrenous. I didn’t know that in the 21st century people could still get gangrene. Apparently, you can and I did. Awesome.


I go home that day after spending a little over 30 hours in the hospital. My total bill is $25,371.42. Fortunately, I have health insurance with decent hospital coverage. I can’t help thinking of all those who don’t.


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