Hang on loosely, but don’t let go.
An appendectomy is a tough surgery. Don’t let folks fool you into thinking it is a general, easy procedure comparable to a tonsillectomy or having a mole removed. To remove an appendix from a living body, a horizontal cut needs to be made through the abdominal wall on the lower right side of the torso, just above the belt. An inflamed appendix is comparable to racquetball in size. If the appendix has ruptured, the bile and puss and contaminated fluid leaks all through the vital organs and without the miracles of medical science, is deadly. A vacuum type device needs to be used to squeegee the other organs of all the contaminated fluid. The routine surgery can last for hours and any remaining contaminants can poison the body.
Most hospitals use morphine drips as pain relievers after such a surgery. Timed interval self-dosage had been determined to be the least addictive. Essentially, a morphine drip is connected to an IV, every eight minutes,
if in pain,
can click a button to distribute a small amount of the opiate into the blood stream. Some patients stay up all night and click every eight minutes. These patients are taken off the morphine and given a shot of Demerol every four hours.
I was the second type of patient of the worst. My appendix had burst. I was fourteen years old. A priest had read me my last rites in recovery. I rang the nurse every three and a half hours to remind that my shot was due in half an hour. Fifteen minutes later, I rang to remind again, and when I got my shot… bingo. I found baseball and blue skies.
It was late May when I first felt the pain in my gut. I was a runner then and logging miles. I had just had the annual fitness test and had completed too many sit-ups in a minute. My stomach hurt and I half feigned my way out of a day of school. I popped on the boob tube and watched a few episodes of The Great Space Coaster. Then it felt real bad and I thought my balls had blown up. I called my dad.
My hospital room was private one on an adult floor, pain plain patterns of pastels adorn the walls and a lone window faces the projects of the South Side of Chicago. Half dialysis, half adult surgical floor, Lung Cancer, Liver Cancer, Cancer. I was just a skinny white kid weighing a buck twenty-five. Wired. Sinew. Muscle. Alive and strong, doped up. “Appendix Burst”, they’d say. Check charts, suck my blood. Every afternoon at two thirty a woman named Gertrude came in to mop my room with the antiseptic hospital soap that smells like fear. She’d mop and I’d look through her deep black bloodshot eyes, smelling bleach, hearing her mop wash away nothing. I felt like I was stuck in the wrinkles of her face.
One afternoon after my shot, Gertrude came in and she spoke,
”Mind if you turn on the Cubs game?” She asked over the tip of her broom.
The Television control was embedded in the rail of the bed. I clicked on the TV and found WGN.
My friend across the street, Armand Browning had got me into baseball card collecting the summer before but I still hadn’t really watched a game. I’d been to a few White Sox Games, but I didn’t have a semblance. We had played catch and Whiffle ball and he was desperate to make me understand. He was patient with me, but I still didn’t care, until that moment with Gertrude.
We watched the whole game and I asked the doctor when they all came around with their charts if Gertrude could watch the rest of the game with me. She did, only because they thought I was a goner. My Aunt was a head psychologist for terminally ill kids at the hospital. She visited me every day.
At night, when the White Sox won, the old Comiskey Park would set off fireworks. I’d be strung out and buzzing watching the sparks fly high in the distance, reflecting through the window, through the deadly air and right into my Chicago heart. I was in love.
I’d take a walk, get my shot and flip on a Cubs day game. I’d have visitors and Gertrude would come around and I hammed it up with the nurses. One nurse, Herb was an overweight black, gay rod, over jeweled, cork clog wearing, run of the mill fag that brought me balloons every day. Well, Herb came in one day after I had been there for about three weeks,
”Robert,” he said, The tree that bends with the wind lives the longest. That’s why weeping willows live so long and oak trees crack.”
I shuddered with a wave of remorse.
I had an NG tube through my nose down into my gut and it sucked out all the bile and jung into this container on the side of my bed. The pump was comforting to me, huffing every five minutes, extracting the contents that my body created to break down food I didn’t care what wasn’t there.
I’d walk the halls with an open gown, carting my IV rack next to me like a puppet that only yawned a look away. I wasn’t a car accident, and the folks roaming all around me were either dying or not wanting to. I barely said a word.
I couldn’t eat or drink. All my fluids came from the IV along with lipids and vitamins. I craved 7-up.
Rain would splatter the windows sometimes and I’d pretend to smell it and feel it wet on my skin to the bone. I’d remember the soakings of our Midwest thunderstorms, dark clouds and cats and dogs. I always used to love when it rained on one side of the street.
Before I knew baseball, I had planted my mother two rose bushes on our front lawn on Easter. Green thumbs didn’t grow in our family, so we didn’t expect much. We had had dead rose bushes every spring for years.
I watched Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Mike Bielecki, and Andre “The Hawk” Dawson rip it out.
Meanwhile, rockets red glare of the South Side burst through my windows.
I began to love the Cubs. I loved them and like a new adolescent love, it was forever.
I went home to the old elms over all the streets in my neighborhood arching majestically over the historic asphalt. My father brought me a six pack of seltzer and I chugged it all down the Eisenhower expressway. I belched the sound of cocoons hatching. It began to rain.
My father seemed proud that I had lived.
As we drove in the car, I felt my freedom of life bud. The miniscule elements of the world sung. Under the canopy of right turns down covered bridges of elms I leaned into my father over the front seat of the car I would wreak in two years,
“Hey Dad, when I was under something happened. I was waiting for a train. The train was to Heaven. I kept waiting and waiting.”
My father looked at me over his mustache that hid his pain and said,
Was your ticket for the caboose or the engine?”