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DAY OF RECKONING: Got up the morning of the 27th and took it easy that morning. The ache was barely recognizable, which of course was very welcomed. Made my way upstairs and plopped down into one of Mom and Dad’s ultra comfy couches, and like a light switch, the pain was back on, definitely there. Something about the way I relaxed into the seat, without strain or slowness. I noticed it all too clear, and, frankly, I like to think this is where I got a little smarter.

Or, got up enough courage to make the call to go in to the Emergency Room. But, fuck, one tiny moment of courage amongst four weird days of half-ass denial, folky soothing, wondering, preoccupying, diagnosis lottery, whatever. So dumb. I don’t like writing these words down, but I don’t want to forget how bad I played my hand.

Leigh came back out to the house, I showered up, and we headed into town to Munson Medical Center’s Emergency Room.

Maybe that’s where I got a little wiser. By relenting? By giving up control? By facing my fears?

I know this shit sounds dramatic, but, for me, it was pretty rough, and I want to get that down forever. My dumb, little story, and I’m embarrassed by these words, and the simple act of heading in to get checked out was a very scary moment for me. It was time. My innards were telling me that loud and clear.

- - - -

FEAR: The Emergency Room was pretty dead, and I walked in, spoke briefly with the greeter and made my way into a nurse’s station. I sat down with a four nurses, and instantly, was floating, almost unable to articulate whatever reason I was there. I just don’t like these places. And it is completely unfounded.

I remember a kid sitting in a wheelchair holding his wrist, in a controlled state of agony, with this horrible look on his face. Broken wrist. And I remember feeling jealous of him. Cuz he knew what was wrong. I didn’t know a goddamn thing, and knew less and less by the second.

The nurses checked me in, took my blood pressure and walked me back to a room where I sat for a bit, trying like hell to remain calm.

A nurse came in, asked me some basic questions and listened to my over-focused telling of my tale, with prob’ly too many details and apologies and worries and wonders. Then she left and in came an emergency doctor. He pressed on my guts, asked questions, pushed here and there, listening to my breathing, pressed on my throat nodes or whatever they are, and leaned back and said, “Okay, we’re gonna do a couple tests. Both urine and blood, and we’re gonna want to get a couple pictures of your insides, too.”

And this is where the world stopped. Blood test? With, like, a needle? He looked at me like I was a nut, but, being someone who never allowed novocaine to be prepped before a set of stitches, I was flooded with fear I felt when I was six, in the first grade, just terrified to death of the most simple prick to the finger to test for diabetes or whatever. A 37-year-old five-year-old, just reduced to a pile of terrified mush, weepy and losing my shit in front of the doctor.

They had me drink two glasses of a weird-tasting “contrast” fluid that would light me up in the cat scan. A nurse from the radiology department came in and said, “The solution usually induces instantaneous diarrhea, so just call us if you feel anything weird.” She wasn’t lying. That stuff went to work on me in record time, and we’ll leave it at that. Man. Humbling chemistry.

In came a couple nurses, one for the I.V. and one to calm my big ass down. I just don’t like the idea of having a needle, or anything for that matter, inside me. Terrifying. The old soundbyte of “a little poke” instantly intensifies into this horrific world filled with violation and pinpricks and fluids and blood. This was the roughest part of the day for me. By far. Honestly, I don’t even remember the “poke” but then again, that’s what everyone says, right? I was so hopped up on good ol’ fear I just laid back, held the hand of a nurse with ’80s bangs and let the I.V. nurse do her deal. Which, she did well. Thank you for putting up with my shit. 37-year-old three-year-old.

They wheeled me down to the catscan room, took a couple pictures and wheeled me back. When they put the radiactive stuff in you, you can feel it warm yer arm, then yer shoulder, then yer back, then yer chest…all the way down to the toes. I’m still amazed by that moment, just feeling every little part of myself warming up.

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TERRIFIED: And then the waiting began. I had an hour to wait for the urine, blood and cat scan stuff to add up, and then I’d talk to the doc about the next course of action.

I sat there and stared at this one spot on the ceiling the whole time, just scared shitless. Pouring over catastrophic scenarios, possibilities, probabilities, happenstances, whatever. A waiting game, just terrified of the unknown, and the ache on my side.

And then the doctor came back in, sat down and said, “Okay, it looks like you’ve got a small inflammation of the tip of your appendix, which isn’t all that bad…” And of course, I started to freak out, and ask questions, totally talking over him and while I’m rambling, I hear him say, “So we’re gonna have a surgeon come in to talk to you next. We’re gonna want to have that appendix out…uh…tonight.”

And I just sat there, mouth wide open, staring down the guy. Tonight?

“Yep, tonight. Within the next couple hours. It hasn’t burst, so consider yourself lucky to have gotten in here when you did. But we gotta get it out of there.”

And I wasn’t scared anymore. From complete terror to complete relief. All this shit? For a stupid little fuckerface appendix tube? I laid there completely exhausted and ashamed and relieved and oddly at peace with the whole mess, and what I was facing.

I knew this much: That goddamn tube was in my arm, and I knew they could flow me shit that’d make everything very forgettable the next couple hours. So I wasn’t sweating anything else. Leigh came in from the waiting room, then Mom and Dad. Thank you for yer patience with my little ordeal that afternoon, family. Sorry for the rollercoaster of dumbness.

- - - -

RELIEF: Dr. Slikkers came in and we had a quick discussion about the surgery, and how commonplace it was, and how streamlined it was, and the number of incisions, and how quick I’d recover, and how I’d be in the hospital for the night, with a possibility of discharge the next afternoon. That quick and that routine. That procedural. He was a nice guy with a soothing way about him. We had a couple good laughs and shook hands.

Then the nurses came in got me into my gown, special socks and all the I.V. tubes readied.

- - - -

UNDER THE KNIFE: They wheeled me upstairs, I met my anesthesiologist and her assistant and they pumped me full of something that made me very free and easy and loose. Wasn’t worried about a thing. The last thing I remember was getting scooched over and up on the operating table, my arms completely stretched out, looking up at all the impressive operating equipment, and everything going to black. It was very comforting. Felt thankful, and in good hands.

Then I woke up, talking with the nurses, about logos, about living Out West, about whatever. Felt good to talk. Didn’t feel too much in the guts. Just felt warm and calm and relieved as hell.

They took me up to a room, got me into a big bed and started the around-the-clock care. Nurses in, nurses out. Still hopped up, I couldn’t sleep for the life of me. I got to know my roommate Russ, a fellow appendicitis survivor! He had his out that day too! Appedicitis brothers! We shot the shit all night about everything under the sun, and that was great. Thanks, buddy.

A long day. A scary one. From ache to no ache, just like that. Thank you Munson Medical Center. Thank you modern medicine.

There Are 2 Comments

Aaron, am getting caught up, here and see I’ve missed a lot! Very glad to hear you’re on the mend, if not fully recovered.

I had my gallbladder out in early October, after suffering periodic bouts of terrible gut pain for a year. The worst ever gallstone attack occurred while I was sitting in the SLC airport waiting to board my connecting flight to Oakland from Denver. The worst! Was admitted to the hospital back home for four nights (pre-surgery), five counting the first ER visit that didn’t yield the proper diagnosis.

All this to say, I hear you on the hospital dread. I kept wanting to feel embarrassed about my concerns about a relatively minor surgery, the chance I might not wake up from the anesthesia, fear of contracting a hospital infection, competence of staff, etc., but I went easy on myself in the end, for there is no such thing as a routine hospital stay. Ever.

In missing organ solidarity,


Posted by: Michelle on 01/15/11 at 2:24 PM

Hell’s bells, man — I’m catching up here, so bear with me a bit.. sounds like I’m not the only one..

Anyhoo, goddamned glad to hear of resolution and recovery of The Ache. Agreed on all fronts about WebMD (“I have AIDS?! Oh, no, just a cold..”).

Hope yer back on your feet and all of that, catchin’ up, and otherwise just feeling top-notch!


Posted by: Joseph X. Burke on 01/15/11 at 8:32 PM
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