Posted on April 21, 2015
Not much bad health-wise had ever happened to me until my appendix burst at the end of 2011. For two and a half weeks my internist had misdiagnosed my stomach pain. She was a mild mannered thirty-something woman who took careful notes but never really looked me in the eye. Impaction? An x-ray had ruled out blockage. Diverticulitis? Ovarian cysts? There was a weird ridge on my right side that she pressed, mystified. Over those seventeen days she prescribed: Fleet enemas, laxatives, white foods, no nuts or seeds, liquids only, and a torrent of antibiotics – aimless warriors, shadow boxers – which slowed the infection but tore up my stomach. I couldn’t keep any food down. I’d lost 15 pounds. When my lab work showed a white blood cell surge, she finally ordered a CT scan. It confirmed what had never been ruled out. She phoned and said, “Get yourself driven to the hospital.”
My husband Malcolm hurried home from the office to take me to the hospital that before Katrina was called Baptist Memorial. In the ER, the admitting doctor was young, energetic, and on the ball. “It’s like your appendix exploded,” he said, looking at the scan. “You should be curled up on the floor.” But the pain hadn’t been that bad. It was an old habit to not want to be a bother or make a fuss for fear that your family might suffer over you. A kind and burly male nurse gave me a shot of morphine, anyway, and I got admitted and prepped. That night Dr. Wren was the surgeon on call. “He’s a good one,” the nurse said.
First, Dr. Wren tried taking my appendix out laparoscopically. He punctured my stomach in three places but found too much infection. He needed more room to work so he sliced me open navel to C-section to break up the abscess with his hands. My appendix had adhered to my colon, trying to seal itself off in a battle against time. My body tried, but it alone could not have saved me, and the muted pain that kept me calm was not on my side. I spent two days in the ICU and four more in the hospital, waking to find Malcolm beside me in a turquoise chair reading the newly dead Steve Jobs’ biography. You trust your spouse would do anything for you but how so? Malcolm handled the worried phone calls, the traffic of visitors, ran back and forth to feed and walk the dog, disconnected from the office, kept his own fears at bay. Our marriage shifted into a gentler mode. Sickness rearranges us, places us at each other’s mercy. I loved Malcolm not more, but harder. I missed him when he went home at night to sleep and I brightened up when he came back in the morning.
(This essay can be read in full – thanks to Roxane Gay – at The Toast)