History: Appendicitis did not become popularly known until about twenty years ago--not till it was christened and baptized in the blood of the surgical art. Of course the appendix has always been subject to inflammation, just as it is now, but in former years the disease we call appendicitis bore various names, depending upon the diagnostic skill of the attending physician. Typhlitis and perityphlitis were the names used to designate the disease now covered by the word appendicitis.
The diseases that appendicitis may be confounded with and must be differentiated from are obstruction, renal colic, hepatic colic, gastritis, enteritis, salpingitis, peritonitis due to gastric or intestinal ulcer, enterolith, obstipation, invagination or intussusception, hernia, external or internal, volvulus, stricture and typhoid fever.
The old text-book description of typhlitis and perityphlitis is so similar to the description of the present day appendicitis that it is not necessary to reproduce it. The symptoms given show conclusively that they are really one and the same.
In the surgical treatment of appendicitis the American profession has taken the lead, and the mention of this disease brings to mind such names as McBurney, whose name is given to an anatomical point--McBurney's Point--midway between the right anterior superior spine of the ileum and the umbilicus, Deaver of Philadelphia, and Ochsner and Murphy of Chicago. Those who are interested in the surgical treatment of the disease can look into the methods of these men, and many others. The medical literature of the day abounds in exhaustive treatises on the subject of appendicitis and its surgical treatment.
We are living in an age that will not be properly recorded unless it be entered as The Age of Fads.
Following immediately on the announcement of Lord Lister's antiseptic surgical dressing which rendered the invasion of the peritoneal cavity comparatively safe, came the laparotomy or celiotomy mania. When it was discovered that opening the abdomen was really a minor operation, it was soon legitimatized by professional opinion, and rapidly became standardized as a necessary procedure in all questionable cases--in all obscure cases of abdominal disease--where the diagnosis was in doubt. The result of popularizing and legitimatizing the exploratory incision, was to cause those who failed to resort to it, in doubtful eases, to be in contempt of the court of higher medical opinion, and to license those of a reckless, selfish, savage nature to play with human life in a manner and with a freedom that would make a barbarian envious.
The wave of abdominal operations that swept the country in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was appalling. The slightest pain during menstruation, or in the lower abdomen, in fact every pain that a woman had from head to toes was put under arrest and forced to bear false witness against the ovaries. It was a very easy matter to trump up testimony, when real evidence was embarrassing, to foregone conclusions; hence pains in obscure and foreign parts took on great importance when analyzed by minds drilled in the science of nervous reflexes, sympathies and metastases.
Normal ovariotomy (removing normal ovaries for a supposed reflex disease) swept the whole country during the eighties and threatened the unsexing of the entire female population. The ovaries had the reputation of causing all the trouble that the flesh of woman was heir to. Oophorectomy was the entering wedge, since then everything contained in the abdomen has become liable to extirpation on the slightest suspicion.
Those surgeons of greater dexterity or savagery, I can't tell which, prided themselves in operating on the more difficult cases. Taking the ovaries out was a very tame affair compared to removing the uterus, tubes and ovaries; hence the surgical adept embraced every opportunity for an excuse to remove everything that is femininely distinctive.
About 1890 appendicitis began to attract the attention of those surgically ambitious. The ovariotomy or celiotomy expert began to feel the sting of envy and jealousy aroused by those who were making history in the new surgical fad-- appendectomy--and they got busy, and, as disease is not exempt from the economic law of "supply always equals demand," the disease accommodatingly sprang up everywhere; it was no time before a surgeon who had not a hundred appendectomies to his credit was not respected by the rank and file, and an aspirant for entrance to the circle of the upper four hundred could not be initiated with a record of fewer than one thousand operations.
Thanks to the law of supply and demand the ovaries retired and gave women a much needed rest. If they had continued to misbehave as they had been doing before the appendix got on the rampage, the demand for surgical work would have exceeded the supply of surgeons. Diseases of all kinds are very accommodating; as soon as a successful rival is well introduced they retire without the least show of jealousy, showing that they are not strangers to the highest ethics, their associations to the contrary notwithstanding.
There are many well written articles on appendicitis, but I believe the monograph by A. J. Ochsner, M. D., is decidedly the best, and when I refer to the best professional ideas on etiology, pathology, symptomatology and treatment I have in mind the opinions set down by Ochsner, for he has taken more advanced grounds in the medical treatment of this disease than any other physician I know anything about in this or any other country. If his "A Handbook on Appendicitis" brought out in 1902, had come out three years before, I should give him credit for being the first man on record to proscribe the taking of food in appendicitis, but as my first written advice on the subject was in the July, 1900, number of A Stuffed Club,* two years before his book, I shall give myself the credit for being the first physician to announce to the world the only correct plan of treating the disease and suggesting the probable cause which the intervening time has proven to be correct The only reason I have for making this announcement is that in all probability no one else will ever do so, and, as it is just and right that I should have the credit, I do myself the honor. The general rule is that if a new method of treatment comes out, or a discovery of importance is made other than in the regular professional channels, it will either be ignored or adopted (cribbed is more expressive) and no credit given. This is a small matter, and of no special consequence, yet it carries a meaning.
*(Editor's note: "A Stuffed Club" was the newsletter or journal published by Dr. Tilden for many years.)
Previous to 1890 the most popular treatment was probably the giving of opium; although this was far from ideal, "it had the advantage of taking away the patient's appetite, relieving pain, and putting the bowels to rest."--Ochsner. If there were any way to prove it, we should find that next to surgery opium is still the most popular way of treating the disease.
To-day there is no other disease which brings surgery so quickly to mind as does appendicitis, especially if the victim can stand for a good, large fee. It is only human I presume, for surgeons to defend the operation. They believe in it, and are not willing to investigate, for they are satisfied. They know or should know that ninety per cent of all the surgery practiced to-day has no excuse for its existence--no more right to be protected by the laws that weld society together than has any other graft that exists by the grace of public ignorance and credulity. This operation has for some time been the largest single item of revenue for the profession.
Thirty-four years ago I was called in consultation to see my first case of what was then generally recognized as perityphlitis or typhlitis --inflammation of the connective tissue about the cecum. It was a typical case of what is today called appendicitis. I advised the doctor to cease his fruitless endeavors at securing relief by giving drugs, and give the patient nothing but water. As I remember now, it took about four weeks for this patient to recover. This plan--positively nothing but water--has since been a part of my treatment in all such diseases.