Monday, the 15th, was the anniversary of two seminal events in my recent life. Annoying, inconvenient, but seminal.
Monday, October 15th, 2001, was when I was laid off from my cushy tech writing job. I've talked about the reason why in my posts on 9/11, so I need not amplify that.
Friday, October 15th, 1999, I had an emergency appendectomy.
Thursday night I had Chinese food, and a friend came by to play some Spellfire, which was TSR's answer to Wizards of the Coast's Magic: The Gathering. (Yeah, this was in the dark ages, last century, before WotC bought TSR.)
While we were playing the game I gradually became aware of increasing discomfort in the lower right quadrant of my abdomen--just a heavy sensation, really.
The next morning it was hurting, though not badly. I thought about calling in sick; instead I gutted it up and went in. It wasn't pleasant, though, as every little bump in the road gave me another stabbing pain in the gut. But it got better once I got to my desk, had some food, and got to work. But around 9-ish, the pain was back, so I called the doctor's office to get an appointment, then let my boss know I was going to go see the doc.
My doctor wasn't in that day, or had too many other patients to see, so I saw one of her partners. He said, "You might have appendicitis." Big surprise. Anyway the doc sent me to the hospital for a CBC, chem 7, and an ultrasound.
On the way to the hospital, I began thinking: "Okay, assume it's appendicitis. They'll want to take it out, and I'm not gonna stop them. So what do I do?"
I was in Cedar Rapids and my parents had just gotten home from a trip to Maine, to see my sister, the day before. I finally decided that I'd call my friend Darla, who had a key to my apartment, and let her coordinate with my parents.
Got to the hospital and parked the car, then walked in for my tests.
I gave blood first, then went down to Imaging for the ultrasound. The poor tech was trying to get a good picture of my appendix, but when she moved the probe, it hurt. "I'm sorry!" She said.
"Look, don't worry about it hurting. Just get the image," I told her. But I couldn't help wincing when she shoved the probe against my abdominal wall, and she was too sympathetic just to get the image.
Once that was done, the test results were in, and the doc from the clinic told me--on the phone--"You've got appendicitis." Big surprise.
I was given some instructions; one of them was to go up to the 3rd floor to be admitted.
So I walk up to the third floor and went to the nurse's station, and identified myself.
The nurses were incredulous. "You walked up here?"
"Well, yeah," I said.
Anyway, they got me admitted. The room was a semi-private room but there was only one bed in it, so I was just as happy with that.
Then I began executing the plans I'd made on the way to the hospital. I called Darla and gave her the news, and told her what I was going to tell my parents, and told her that I expected they would be coming out; I wanted her to meet them at my apartment and let them in, etc.
I called my parents and told them the news. They were understandably upset--worried--but I was told that they'd be out as soon as they could manage it. It's a four-hour drive, after all. I'd be in and out of the OR long before they got there. I gave them Darla's number so they could talk to her, and such. And then I settled down to wait.
The surgeon came and talked to me; I told him I was not going to risk a burst appendix but asked why not do a laparoscopic procedure, rather than a traditional one? It was the only intelligent question I could think of and I think I inadvertently insulted him, but I was genuinely curious about that. I didn't really care one way or another, to be honest.
The guy came to shave my belly, and although it really tickled I stayed as still as possible. I was being prepped for abdominal surgery and here I was worried about being nicked by a safety razor--yeah.
Then the nurses came to get me ready to go down to the OR, and then I was on the gurney for that, and as they wheeled me through the hospital I started humming "Ride of the Valkries"--and then stopped, because I realized that the valkries are choosers of the slain and I was trying to avoid that.
I waited in the pre-op area for a while, met the anasthesiologist, and signed a bunch of papers, and then felt really lonely, trying not to think about statistics.
You see, the common appendectomy is a mature procedure; it's been performed for decades and it's a relatively simple procedure. But Shit Happens; some miniscule fraction of appendectomy patients die during the procedure. Most of the time they are complicated by this or that, which is what kills the patient, and I was hoping for a simple, uncomplicated appendectomy. Despite all that, though, I knew that there was a finite, non-zero chance that I might not wake up once they put me under.
But of course I also knew that the chances of an uncomplicated appendectomy--performed on an otherwise healthy patient in his 30s, by a competent surgeon, in a modern, well-equipped hospital--going bad were pretty slim. I had little to worry about. But I worried about that "little".
So much so that when they wheeled me into the OR--which was fricking cold--one of the nurses remarked, "You look like you're scared to death!" *sigh*
After the anasthesiologist started his work, I was out pretty quickly. I remember waking up during the procedure, just enough to hear someone say, "Breathe, Ed." I tried, but only managed a kind of a little hiccough. "Breathe," they said again, and I tried again. The third time I managed it and drifted off again.
There was a long hazy time in the recovery room, and then I was being wheeled up to my room. One of the nurses asked, "Ed, do you think you can get up?" I knew the answer was "no" and shook my head. "Okay, we'll have to move him." They transferred me from gurney to bed, got me settled, and I drifted off to sleep.
When Darla and my parents got there, I was on morphine and woozy, and only allowed ice chips. I desperately wanted one square of Hershey's chocolate, so the nurse let me have it; I let it melt in my mouth but even so, it made me heave.
I don't really remember a lot of Friday after the operation, to be honest; I was woozy and sleeping a lot. I was on morphine, too.
* * *
Saturday was another adventure. I had a full bladder, so the nurse walked me to the bathroom and waited outside while I tried to uriniate, but I couldn't get a stream started--when I tried, my incision hurt. After an approximate eternity the valve loosened and I was able to go, and then hobbled back to bed.
Some of my friends showed up around mid-morning, including the friend I'd played cards with on Thursday. We'd been planning to play more cards that day, so my friends and I played a game there in the room.
They discharged me Saturday evening.
I wasn't allowed to drive for a week after the operation. My parents stayed over that week. I was to walk for 15 minutes at least three times a day--nothing hugely strenuous, just get on my feet and move under my own power. I'd been given something for pain but it made me itch, so they substituted ibuprofen.
Most of my incision had been closed with Krazy Glue, but there were dissolving stitches holding the skin closed at the surface. One suture got infected, and I went to see the surgeon again; he removed it, gave me a prescription for antibiotics, and told me to walk more. "Walk all the way to Illinois," he added. I don't think he liked me.
I had Darla drive me to the office one evening so I could get my briefcase. I wasn't supposed to lift more than 15 lbs so I wasn't sure how I'd carry it, but one of my coworkers happened to be there and carried it to the door for me. That was nice of him.
Once I could drive, I went back to work. My boss told me that I shouldn't push it, but other than one or two days when I felt lazy, I was back at work full-time after I was able to drive again.
Although I was putting on some weight that year, I was basically healthy, so I just worked as much as I felt comfortable with--which turned out to be an 8-hour day, more or less.
Overall, I was impressed with how little it hurt, to be honest. I was never in any serious pain. The surgeon had mentioned that my appendix had been cupped around the end of my colon, which sounds like "just before bursting" to me. But although it hurt, it only hurt when it was prodded or jogged; mostly it just felt heavy and uncomfortable. And after the operation, there was no serious pain from the incision; I think the super glue had a lot to do with that.
I had a few panic attacks in the week after the operation, but that was largely due to the stress of having my gut sliced open and a hunk cut out. But there was little emotional fallout from it, too.
Overall it was something of an adventure, really.
But what gets me is how--just two years later, to the day--another misfortune befell me. And so, now, every year I worry about October 15th.