Emergency rooms seeing more patients putting off pain, coming in with burst appendix

MADISON, Wis. — It’s another trend resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic: more patients coming into the hospital with a burst appendix.

Dr. Kyle Martin at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital said it used to be pretty rare to see a patient come in with their appendix already ruptured, but now doctors are seeing it pretty regularly.

“It’s something that I don’t think we would’ve expected initially with the pandemic,” said Martin.

He believes along with people hoping the pain will get better on its own, they also want to leave space in hospitals for those with COVID and might be scared that they could come in contact with coronavirus while at the hospital.

“I think there’s that notion of keeping the ER open for patients that really need it, when they in fact need it themselves,” said Martin.

26-year-old Katherin Schoen didn’t want to make a big deal out of her abdomen pain.

“I’m like, ‘I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, you know, it’ll resolve itself,'” said Schoen.

After a week of trying to ignore the pain, Schoen finally went to the hospital, where doctors told her her appendix burst about a week prior.

“Mine had already ruptured and created this nice absess full of infection so they wanted to drain all of that out of my body before actually removing the appendix,” said Schoen.

She had to stay in the hospital for six days. In a few weeks, she has to go back for surgery.

Martin said if caught early, Schoen likely would’ve been in and out of the hospital in a day. But waiting often makes treatment more difficult and dangerous. There’s also a higher risk of recurring infection.

And this is a trend doctors aren’t just seeing with appendicitis.

“Strokes and heart attacks are two other scenarios where patients that may have had some stuttering kind of symptoms earlier on, if we had investigated that earlier on, we could’ve prevented it from progressing into a larger event for our patients,” said Martin.

Martin said the volume of patients in the ER has picked up recently, but it’s still down about 10-15% from this time last year, and that’s similar to hospitals across the country. But he wants people to know that coming to the hospital is safe, and catching things early can really prevent larger problems and procedures.

“You’re probably at greater risk (of coming in contact with coronavirus) going out to a restaurant, sitting in a bar, or any of those kinds of things, which I would really discourage. But I think those are much higher risk scenarios at this point for our community than coming into your ER,” said Martin.

Schoen said she was never worried about catching COVID while at St. Mary’s hospital.

“I don’t even think I was within like 10 feet of another patient at any point during my ER stay or my hospital stay,” she said. “All of the doctors and the nurses were wearing face shields and gloves, washing their hands and using hand sanitizer when they came in and out of the room.”