One night last March, I went to bed feeling fine but woke up four hours later with abdominal pain that wouldn’t go away. I finished the ensuing day in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy, for which I am very grateful.
First, I’m grateful for surgeons and their handiwork, which offered me much better options than a ruptured appendix. I’m also grateful that appendectomies today aren’t what they used to be. In modern laparoscopic surgery, as the nurse explained to me just before the procedure, two small incisions are used to inflate the abdominal cavity like a beach ball, giving the surgeon plenty of room to look around inside and snip off the appendix. The surgery only leaves five small scars in all and recovery goes very quickly.
Which makes me grateful for general anesthesia; however brief my career as a human beach ball, I didn’t want to be there for any of it. In fact, anesthesia in general is a pretty great thing. When I was in the emergency room, waiting for the medical professionals to figure out why I was in pain, a doctor came by and offered a shot of morphine. I told her I wasn’t sure I needed it yet. Well, what are you waiting for, she asked, and stalked off to find patients who would better appreciate the relief she was offering. Really, any particular moment with an infected appendix wasn’t any more painful than intense exercise, like the track workouts I had in high school, except appendicitis doesn’t give you a cool-down lap between repetitions. It took me a while to figure out that gutting it out wouldn’t help anyone; this was not pain that would make me stronger, just pain. The next chance I got, I took the morphine.
And I’m glad it was appendicitis, only appendicitis. Some people wake up with abdominal pain, go to the hospital, and never come home. Some people are diagnosed with diseases that surgery can’t cure or lose organs that aren’t optional. I got to spend most of the day considering all those possibilities while the medical professionals tried to figure out what my problem was. The pain wasn’t in the normal place for appendicitis and it took more than the usual number of tests to figure out that my appendix did not hang down, but instead was flipped around and pointing straight up. Did you know appendices could do that? Neither did I.
I’m thankful that my appendix had an impeccable sense of timing. Six months earlier, an appendectomy would have left us with a heavy burden of medical debt, at least for our circumstances. Four months later would have put my surgery and recovery in the middle of an international relocation. There is no time in my adult life when an appendectomy would have been more convenient than the moment my appendix chose to get infected.
By the way, I can recommend an appendectomy as a great exercise in empathy for married couples. It was my turn to wake my spouse in the middle of the night, demand to be taken to the hospital, and insist that there was absolutely no humor in the situation. Meanwhile, my wife got a chance to put pressure on the doctors on my behalf, hold my hand during the ultrasound, and bring the kids to visit after it was all over. (That is as close as I want to come to experiencing pregnancy and childbirth, however. For one thing, removed appendices are much more cooperative about letting you sleep afterwards than newborns are.)
Also, you know those pneumatic leg wraps they put on your lower legs after surgery that periodically squeeze your calves to stimulate circulation and hinder blood clots? I wore those for two nights in the hospital, and I’ve got to say that they’re pretty darn comfortable, just like a leg massage while you sleep. To whoever invented them: I am very grateful.