Inmate claims he suffered for 3 days with appendicitis

Lynn Burton

A Garfield County Jail inmate claims he languished in pain for nearly three days before being taken to the hospital for an appendectomy this week, but a Valley View doctor says appendicitis is “notoriously” difficult to diagnose.

“Symptoms vary,” said Dr. Michael Stahl, an emergency room doctor at Valley View Hospital. “And typical symptoms exist in less than half the patients.”

The inmate, Ralph Pimentel, said that severe pain was his primary symptom. “It felt like someone stabbing me in the gut,” Pimentel said.

Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri said his nursing staff monitored Pimentel the entire time, and followed proper procedures from the time Pimentel asked for medical attention on Saturday, until an ambulance was called Monday night.

When asked about Pimentel’s claim he was in severe pain for three days, Dalessandri said, “He’s lying.”

Pimentel is a carpet layer from Montrose, serving time in medium security for traffic violation, drunk driving and other offenses, he said. “I’m scheduled to go to a halfway house Dec. 19,” he said.

Pimentel said he first noticed pain on the right side of his abdomen on Saturday, and told the jail’s nurse on duty. “I knew it was my appendix,” he said.

By Sunday, Pimentel said he was asking God to take his soul. “I thought I was going to die right in my cell,” he said.

On Monday, Pimentel was walking all hunched over. “The guys couldn’t believe it,” he said.

By the time an ambulance was called Monday night, Pimentel’s appendix, “totally exploded.” he said.

Valley View Hospital spokesperson Becky Young said Pimentel, 32, was admitted just before 11:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9, and surgery was performed Tuesday morning.

Pimentel said he survived his appendicitis because he’s in good shape and works out. “A lot of people wouldn’t have been able to take it,” he said.

Dr. Stahl would not comment on Pimentel’s case, but said an appendicitis diagnosis can take two or three days. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

“But you have to pull a lot of things together,” Stahl said.

Stahl described the appendix as a little sack that hangs from the small intestine. It has no known function. “Nobody knows why it’s there,” Stahl said.

Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed and infected.

Stahl said surgeons don’t like to operate until they are confident the patient is suffering from appendicitis. Even then, in almost 15 percent of the cases, appendicitis is not the reason for patients’ complaints.

Stahl said the appendix sometimes bursts, which can infect the abdomen. Appendicitis has the “potential” to be life threatening, “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone die,” Stahl said.

Pimentel was still recovering in Valley View Hospital on Thursday. He said he was headed to California before getting put in jail. As for the future, “I’ll probably stay in Glenwood Springs,” he said.

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