Friday, May 30, 2008

Appendix: Magic Mountain

I was on my parents insurance until 2 months before my appendix burst. I'd graduated from college with no debt and the universe simply couldn't stand such a blemish on the face of higher education and capitalism. So she obliged by blowing me up from inside.

When all was said and done I owed about $8,000. And that was with a discount from the surgeon who was a friend of the woman I acted with in Looking Glass Theater, the theater group I remember seeing when I was in elementary school. My fellow actor was married to a doctor and she pulled some strings to reduce the cost of the procedure which had effectively left me unable to work for the final two months of the school year.

The appendix is a little tube closed on both ends that sits in the lower right corner of your torso and serves no function that anyone can perceive. In certain people it one day up and decides to swell until it bursts. If this happens, your innards are like a computer attacked by a virus. Everything simply dissolves and you die.

Some say it is a vestige of a stomach we used to use to digest sticks and leaves when we were more herbivorous. I say it hurt like hell when it ruptured.

I'd been in the midst of the drama of meeting my now ex-wife in Providence. She was married at the time and we'd been in sporadic tragic touch since the play we were in together closed. It was a Saturday night and I'd gone out and met someone (I can't remember who) in the city for a beer. I was home relatively early and settled in to watch TV on the living room couch.

I soon became quite ill, alternately throwing up and having terrible diarrhea. I thought I must have eaten something rotten. This went on all night. I dragged myself to and from the bathroom, resigned to this night of horror. By 5 AM I was a zombie.

Only one of my roommates was in town, Tom, a guy I didn't know all that well. He popped his head into my room and asked if I ought not go to the hospital. I remember being shocked at this suggestion and realizing that it was the wise thing to do. Luckily we lived right next door to Roger Williams Hospital. He drove me the 100 yards to the emergency room. By this time my side was red and inflamed and I had started to think my appendix was bursting.

A little back story. I'd had shooting pains in my side many times before. Every couple of months I'd double over in pain, always on the right side, always sharp and shooting. I later learned that the appendix can be swollen for years before it actually bursts.

It was Easter morning.

Tom called my parents and they rushed up I-95 from Kingston, cancelling all Easter plans. The doctors began running tests on me. They couldn't give me any pain medication because they needed me to be lucid enough to cry out in pain every time they lightly brushed their hands against my stomach. They took blood, did x-rays, shook rain sticks, basically ran every test in their arsenal to make sure they wound up with enough charges to pay for their Aspen ski trip.

By 10 AM I was delirious from the pain. I felt as if I were surrounded by a several foot thick wall of heat and agony. I moaned as I sat on the white paper in my hospital robe. Finally the doctor came in and said what we all appendix was in the middle of attempted murder and I'd have to have an emergency appendectomy.

They shot me in the ass with Demerol, I believe. When I say I instantly felt better I truly mean INSTANTLY. I don't know what that stuff is but the Devil is behind it. The liquid came out of the syringe and all of a sudden I felt zero pain.

I had been up over 24 hours at this point and was raving and exhausted. I have a vague memory of being on the gurney being wheeled down to the OR. I remember double doors opening. I'm told they did the whole count backwards routine but they must have woken me up to do that because the Demerol mixed with the fatigue put me out immediately.

I woke up however many hours later to my parents and a nurse. I have no idea who the doctor was, never met him, never spoke to him, have no face in my head to put with the man who ostensibly saved my life. My side still hurt and I claimed that he hadn't taken it out, that it was still in there. They assured me that the pain I was feeling was from the incision and removal, not from the obsolete organ continuing to burst.

My Dad gave me a copy of The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann to start reading while I was in the hospital. A month ago I finally finished that colossally disturbing book.

Strangely enough, I still get those shooting pains. Phantom appendices!

1 comment:

siobhan said...

i remember the picture at easter that we took when this happened--me and jean in dresses, surrounding your bed and you are drugged adn asleep.