About two weeks after returning from spring break during my fourth year of college, I developed appendicitis and had my appendix removed about three days after the onset of symptoms following two trips to the emergency room. Having appendicitis in college is a common experience for many students, but dealing with suspected appendicitis while living in a dorm and balancing classwork while recovering from an appendectomy can be challenging, so today I will be sharing my experience with having appendicitis in college and how I used resources available at my college to get the symptoms under control and make a full recovery.
All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. If you believe you are having a medical emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Make sure your phone’s emergency contact and medical card is up to date
My appendicitis symptoms started shortly before a Tuesday morning class, and I ended up leaving the classroom to go to the bathroom for what I thought would be a short period of time- I didn’t take my phone, backpack, or blindness cane with me because I was a short distance away from the classroom. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling lightheaded and fainted in the bathroom, and my professor went to find me after class when they noticed I had left all of my things behind in class.
When I was in another class where there was a medical emergency, one of the most helpful tools that was available was an emergency medical card and emergency phone contacts that could be accessed from the device without having to unlock the phone. On my phone, I keep a list of current medications, allergies, a brief medical history, and other helpful information that can be shown to first responders or copied down in an emergency room setting. Since I had fainted in the bathroom, my professor and campus security advised that I get checked out by paramedics, and having information like an up-to-date medication and allergy list meant that I didn’t have to spend time trying to remember the strength of the bottle of Tylenol in my room.
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Getting a security escort/ambulance ride
If you had told me two hours earlier that I would be leaving my class building on an ambulance stretcher, I would not have believed you and insisted I was probably just dealing with food poisoning. Since I was feeling unsteady, a call was made to campus security by my professor to arrange for a security escort to walk me back to my dorm, but after they performed a basic exam they called paramedics to come do another evaluation while I was sitting in the lobby of my class building. While I know a lot of college students are skeptical to take an ambulance somewhere, ambulance rides are generally covered by health insurance and students at my college do not have to pay any additional fees.
The decision was made that I needed to be checked out at an emergency room near campus, and I requested that the ambulance turn off flashing lights when loading me into the back because I get migraines from flashing lights. Once I got to the ER, I was treated for nausea and did not receive any diagnostic testing for appendicitis, and was discharged a couple of hours later.
Because I had left campus in an ambulance, I was able to call campus security again and request a ride back to my dorm- students who are taken to the hospital from campus can have campus security pick them up and drive them back to on-campus housing instead of having to call for a ridesharing service.
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Picking up prescription medication
Before leaving the emergency room, I was prescribed an additional medication for nausea that needed to be filled at a local pharmacy. Instead of having the prescription sent directly to a pharmacy, I took a paper copy of the prescription since I wasn’t sure if the pharmacy near campus took my insurance. I went with a friend later that night to fill the prescription at a grocery store located a mile from campus since it couldn’t be filled at the hospital pharmacy.
If I didn’t need the medication that night, I would have tried to get the medication delivered to me- many national pharmacy chains offer free or discounted medication same-day or next-day delivery for medications that are not considered controlled substances. Since I am legally blind, the national pharmacy chain I use for medication permanently waived the delivery fee in my profile so I don’t have to worry about finding transportation to the pharmacy.
Figuring out food
Later that night, one of my friends called me to ask if I wanted to go to the dining hall, and I told them I wasn’t feeling well and the only food I could eat without feeling sick was plain toast or plain bread. My friend asked if I was going to use the “sick meals” program at the dining hall, which allows students to get pre-packaged meals from dining services delivered to their dorm by an employee or another student, and is included as part of student meal plans. I didn’t use the sick meals program at this point because another friend had kindly brought me some bread slices and I wasn’t interested in any other food or drink options, but this is a great option for students who aren’t feeling well and can’t get to the dining hall.
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Going to class with appendicitis
The day after my ambulance trip, one of my professors announced that all students had to attend class in-person for a special lab session and that they could not accommodate remote attendance- failure to attend class would cause students to drop an entire letter grade, and I was anxious about missing such an important class. I attended my first class of the day remotely from my dorm room and then had a friend drive me to my second class, which was in close proximity to the mandatory lab session later that day. Another option for getting to class would have been to use the disability transportation service, which uses golf carts to take approved students to and from class buildings- I already qualified for this program because of a pre-existing Disability Services file, but could have applied for short term accommodations since I had a recent hospital stay and emergency room doctor’s note requesting reduced activity.
Even though my professor had said attendance was mandatory with no exceptions, they let me leave halfway through the class period because my abdominal pain was so intense that I ended up sitting on the floor in the front of the room. To this day, I have no idea how I got back to my dorm after that class, though some guesses include calling another security escort, using disability transportation, or another friend/professor driving me back to my dorm.
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A phone call from student health saved the day
The Student Health Center at my college is notified whenever a student is taken by ambulance from campus, and called me the next morning to schedule a follow up appointment. I missed the call because I was asleep, and the nurse ended up calling the emergency contact listed on my profile, which was my mom. The nurse insisted that I needed to come in after my mom mentioned that I hadn’t been feeling better, as they suspected that I had been misdiagnosed with food poisoning and actually had appendicitis. My mom then called me to let me know to call Student Health, and I booked a follow-up appointment for about three hours later.
Student Health is similar in set up to an urgent care at my college, and a friend walked me to the appointment since I was having trouble walking due to the increased abdominal pain. Once I got to Student Health, the staff performed a physical examination and said it was highly likely that I had appendicitis, and needed to be seen at the main hospital in town for further imaging. They called the hospital to let them know I was coming, and ordered a ridesharing service to take me to the emergency room. I am forever grateful that Student Health had called to follow up, because otherwise it’s likely my appendix would have burst.
Getting ready for an appendectomy
The appendicitis diagnosis was confirmed after I had a CT scan and ultrasound at the emergency room, and I was scheduled for an appendectomy the next morning. My mom started driving to the hospital once I was admitted to the observation floor, and I spent time resting in the hospital room texting with friends. My appendicitis had become symptomatic on a Tuesday morning, and I had the appendectomy at 9 am that Friday morning, three days later.
Talking to professors and getting extensions
Since my appendix hadn’t burst and was able to be removed laparoscopically, I was discharged from the hospital about four hours after my surgery. Once the surgery medication wore off, I sent an email to all of my professors telling them I had an appendectomy that morning and was going to be recovering at home with my family. My surgeon told me that it would take me about two weeks to recover, though it ended up being closer to three weeks as I had to go back to the emergency room again.
After sending a copy of my hospital discharge papers with identifying information redacted, my professors granted me extensions for all of my assignments that had been due for the week I was dealing with appendicitis, as well as assignments for while I was gone. The post-surgery medication made it difficult for me to think clearly, so I didn’t attempt any assignments until about ten days after the surgery.
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Filing for an incomplete
Since I ended up missing three weeks of classes right before finals, I was a candidate to apply for an incomplete grade, which allows students to work on assignments and take exams after the semester has ended, with the deadline to turn in assignments being six weeks after the start of the new semester (excluding summer). While I was able to take some exams and complete assignments for classes before the end of the semester, other professors filed an incomplete grade for me so that I would be able to take the exam at a later time- for two classes, I took my finals remotely during the summer, while the others were scheduled during the fall semester.
Students who need additional time beyond the six weeks of the next semester can ask their professors to file for an incomplete extension, which gives them until the end of the next semester to turn in assignments. If a student does not turn in assignments by the deadline, the incomplete is converted to an F.
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Other tips for dealing with appendicitis in college
- I stored emesis bags (also known as barf bags) in a few different locations in my dorm, including the pocket of my sheets, on my desk, and in a backpack- it was easier to have multiple bags instead of worrying about cleaning a trash can. These were given to me by the emergency room and were extremely helpful to have!
- When I got back to campus after surgery recovery, I would have qualified to use disability transportation services for a few weeks with a note from my surgeon if I had needed it
- Do not try to push through pain or illness to finish assignments- it is no longer your best work at that point.