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Friday, May 27, 2005

Appendix postscript

We interrupt this blogging hiatus to bring you the backstory of the emergency appendectomy, along with this update: I’m doing fine.  Thanks to everyone who’s written to me with get-well wishes; they seem to be working.

There was no drama leading up to the surgery itself.  On the contrary, I was in very little pain and had no other symptoms: no nausea, no fever, no nothing.  Perhaps, I thought, I have a high pain threshold (I once played the final five minutes of a hockey game with two broken fingertips), but, as I learned when my dressing was changed on Saturday and when my Jackson-Pratt drain was removed on Tuesday, my pain threshold isn’t all that high.  Anyway, it wasn’t as if I was wheeled frantically into an operating room while I writhed on a stretcher in mortal agony.

Instead, all the drama—and all the scariness—of the episode unfolded in retrospect.  For the important thing about last Thursday was this: I was supposed to meet about fifteen of New York City’s finest bloggers for dinner and drinks at seven that night.  The May meeting of the MLA Executive Council took place last Friday and Saturday, and a couple of bloggers—chiefly Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged and Seth the mysterious Talking Dog—got in touch with me to set this thing up.  For weeks, I was eagerly looking forward to it.  (I also had fun plans for Saturday afternoon and evening as well.) I even got all my suits dry-cleaned for the occasion; I was going to pick them up at 11, drive to Harrisburg to catch the 1 pm train, and be in Penn Station by 4:30.  And then off to Chelsea for some fine food and absinthe with bloggers I admire and have long wanted to meet!  What’s better than that?

My first sense that anything was wrong came on Wednesday afternoon, in the form of what felt like a little indigestion.  It was so mild, however, that it did not stop me from doing my full-dress two-hour workout that afternoon—a workout that begins with three sets of 390-pound leg presses (I have a T. Rex body, if you must know, unlike all the other guys in the gym, who have frog bodies).  Obviously, if I knew that my appendix was the size of a summer sausage and was going to burst its casing within twenty-four hours, I would have avoided the gym altogether.  I was a little puzzled when I got home and felt bloated rather than honed, but it didn’t stop me from playing baseball with the boys in the backyard—and, crucially, pitching overhand to Jamie for the first time.  (Thanks to everyone who suggested I do this, in response to my post about Jamie’s Little League.  He resisted mightily at first but then found to his delight that he was hitting balls over the hedges and onto the roof.  A real breakthrough!) The rest of the night was uneventful, and I didn’t think about my gut again until 2 am, when I suddenly woke from sleep with the realization that the pain had gotten sharper.

Still, I had no intention of missing my train.  The next morning, I thought I would cancel my cardio workout and ask to see a doctor instead; I was still thinking I’d be free by 11.  No doctor was available, so they told me to come into the ER—which I did, but not before putting away all my laundry and packing my travel kit.  I was in no hurry.  Then I drove myself over to the hospital, hoping I could be out within the hour.  Only after they made me drink a Big Gulp-sized cup of contrast dye and sent me in for a CT scan did I realize that I wasn’t going anywhere that day.

The point is that if I had blown off what felt like an upset stomach and only gradually resolved itself as a sharp pain on the lower right side of my torso, I would very likely have been on Amtrak train 42 somewhere around Trenton when the crisis finally hit (and my surgeon assured me that my appendix was an “ugly” thing; maybe, he said, I had a couple more hours, but no more than that).  And that would have been really, really bad.

So I’m sorry that I missed dinner with everyone—Elayne Riggs has pictures of the event—and I’m especially sorry that Janet’s phone messages to Julia didn’t get through, so that no one realized I was in surgery until they’d been at the restaurant for some time waiting for me (at which point Julia checked her cell phone voice mail).  But on balance, I’m very glad I didn’t go to New York last Thursday.

Just a few observations about my hospital stay (this was my first major surgery):

-- Morphine is the shit.  I weaned myself from it by Saturday afternoon, but long before then I had come to appreciate its extraordinary and fast-acting powers.

-- It is physically impossible not to sit on your IV tube when you crawl back into your hospital bed.  I tried everything, including wrapping the tube around my neck three times, but it was like something out of Alice Through the Looking Glass:  the harder I tried to avoid sitting on my IV tube, the more of it I wound up covering with my butt.

-- I have learned that I am quite shy about urinating from the side of the bed when there are strange people in my room.  This is not a critical insight, and I don’t think it says anything important about me (after all, I clearly have no inhibitions when it comes to blogging about urinating from the side of the bed), but it was critical to my well-being on Thursday and Friday, because unless I started producing more than the piddling 50 cc I’d managed to that point (being shy and all), I was going to be catheterized.  They actually did an ultrasound to determine that yep, my bladder was full (and I could not resist asking whether they could tell if it was a boy or a girl), and would have to be emptied one way or another.  So for the next 48 hours, I played a fun game called Avoid the Catheter.  But every time I clammed up upon hearing someone on my roommate’s side of the screen (he was recovering from hip-replacement surgery, which made me feel rather like a wuss), I would have to unplug the damn IV machine from the wall and shuffle over to the bathroom.  This proved to be so tiring that by the time I was released on Sunday afternoon, I could let fly with 400 cc from the side of the bed with the best of ‘em.  I hope this comes in handy later on.

-- For all their hideousness, hospitals have moments of eerie calm.  In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I lay in bed wide awake but without moving a muscle for about half an hour, eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply.  Suddenly I felt a cool rushing sensation in my left arm, as if a wave had rolled over it, or more precisely through it.  Alarmed, I opened my eyes and looked over at my IV machine—and found that the mefloxin (antibiotic) drip had run its course and that I was now getting straight saline. Holy shit, I thought, I felt the switchover.  The rushing sensation no doubt had to do with the rate of the drip—the mefloxin was set to 100 ml/hr, the saline to 175—but the feeling of being “watered” was distinct. And I lay there for about another half hour, acutely aware now of my circulatory system and hearing the gentle fluttering of the IV as if it were some kind of paper helicopter hovering over my bed.  How could I go to sleep with all this excitement going on?  Actual saline coursing through my bloodstream and a gentle fluttering noise by my bedside?

As for the present:  I’ve been walking a little bit each day, but there will be no weightlifting until July and very possibly no hockey all summer.  So much for my dream of playing as an NHL scab next fall.  The staples, all nine of ‘em, come out this afternoon.  They tell me this is no big deal.

Thanks again to everyone who’s wished me well, and to all you fine New York City bloggers for sending me that cute card.  I think I’m going to extend my blogging hiatus a week, into mid-June.  Reading the news is vexing beyond measure, so I’ve consumed more novels and movies in the past week than I’ve managed all year.  Which reminds me: yet another thanks to Janet, this time for buying me the portable DVD player that made my hospital days so much more tolerable.  And thanks to the English Department colleague who visited me last Friday and brought me the hilarious travel guide to Molvania, even though it turns out not to be a good idea to laugh just after you’ve had abdominal surgery.

Posted by Michael on 05/27 at 09:30 AM
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