DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 13-year-old son went to band camp for five days. On day three, he had terrific stomach pain and started to vomit. The instructors were alarmed and took him to the local hospital, where doctors diagnosed appendicitis. We had to give phone permission for him to have an operation. Everything went fine, and he recovered quickly.
My wife and I have a few questions. Could he have eaten something that caused appendicitis? What does not having an appendix do to people? No one in my wife's or my family has had such an operation. We're ignorant about all this. -- G.G.
ANSWER: The appendix dangles from the first part of the colon in the lower-right side of the abdomen. It looks like a slender worm, and has an average length of 3 inches (8 cm). The function of the appendix isn't clearly defined, but it might have a role in body immunity. Life without an appendix goes on as normally as life with one.
The appendix has a hollow core, which is lined with lymphoid tissue, the same kind of tissue found in lymph nodes. Bacteria from the colon can invade the hollow core and cause the lymph tissue to swell. Swelling cuts off blood supply, and the appendix begins to disintegrate -- appendicitis. Undigested food or hard fecal material also can block the appendix's core and lead to the same situation. Nothing your son ate is likely the cause. All the other campers ate the same food as he, but he was the only one to develop this problem.
The pain of appendicitis most often starts in the area of the navel (bellybutton) and works its way toward the lower-right corner of the abdomen. Temperature rises. Vomiting is common, and sometimes diarrhea is part of the picture. A doctor, by what he or she hears from the patient, along with the examination of the abdomen, usually can make the diagnosis. In confusing circumstances, an ultrasound is most helpful.
Millions of people worldwide live without an appendix. They do quite well. So will your son.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When I was about 10 years old, I got the mumps. Now I am 30 and have been married for three years. My wife and I want to have a family, but we aren't having any luck.
Do you think the mumps made me infertile? -- J.Z.
ANSWER: In around 40 percent of men who get the mumps after puberty, the virus also travels to the testicles. That results in impaired fertility in only 13 percent. Sterility almost never happens. If both testicles are infected, then sterility might be a problem.
Before puberty, testicular involvement is rare, and infertility isn't a problem. You were only 10. It's highly unlikely that the mumps caused you to be infertile.
You and your wife shouldn't have to handle this problem on your own. Why not consult a doctor so both of you can be examined? An answer to the question why you aren't having the family you want will be found, and a solution, if possible, will be suggested.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.