I’ve just had my appendix removed.
It started mild. I started complaining when it didn’t ease off. My husband started rolling his eyes. Then it got worse, and I got into the foetal position. Sensing an impending crisis, so did he. I’ve borne some pain in my time, including delivering three babies (two and a half without epidural). But this pain was unrelenting and intensifying. We have three kids under five. It was bedtime on a Sunday. State. Of. Emergency.
Once we decided I had to go to hospital, our dilemma was what to do with the kids. They’re good sleepers – couldn’t we just slip out? Tempting, but not this time. So who to call? The only grandparent who wasn’t in Queensland was weekending down the coast. We needed reinforcements. Enter my 20-something third cousin. Sure, she’d been beering at the footy all arvo, but in a choice between drunk and no-one, we’ll take the first one.
Fast forward an hour and I was flotsam, awash in the corridors of a huge public hospital. It made my maternity ward seem like a resort. (You call that a hospital? This is a hospital!).
With no confirmed diagnosis, I was eventually taken to ultrasound in a wheelchair driven by a 5 foot tall technician with wild eyes and a penchant for speed. He reverse-parked me next to a dead woman. Passing nurses would slow, tilt their head, squint at her. Then she would snarl or cuss (“….don’t know nuthin’ … pain … liver … FUCK … morphine”) and they would skip away, relieved. Not dead. Mad.
My roomie on the ward was an elderly woman with a mystery illness causing vomiting, diarrhoea and a revolting, wheezy cough. I was told that as she was in isolation, we couldn’t share a bathroom and she would just do everything bedside. Delightful. All her visitors were required to suit up: gloves; gowns. There was a biohazard bin at the door. She told the nurse she had to make arrangements for her 50 year old ice-addicted paranoid schizophrenic son, who was having a bad spell and might try to visit.
My protection from all this? A hospital curtain, under which I could still see the doctor’s ankles.
Happy days in the healing place.
Every few hours I was attended by a different surgical registrar and six or so blank-faced interns clutching clipboards. I would repeat my sorry story. The registrars would nod and wisely press down on my bloated belly, hunting for the sweet spot that would confirm the diagnosis.
“So… it hurts more over here on the right, doesn’t it?”
“No, it hurts the most in the middle”.
“But would you say it is more intense on the right. Over here?”
“No, I wouldn’t. But it is extremely intense in the middle. Especially when you do that.”
Their favourite test was for “rebound tenderness”: where they press down hard and see if the pain is worse when they let go. Apparently it’s a sign of a burst appendix, and more importantly, it’s a great trick. So they tried it a lot, just to be sure. OK team, let’s give this another go! Watch her face! Ready, one, two… JACKPOT!
I have never felt as lonely as when they wheeled me off to theatre the next day. My husband was, reluctantly, at home with the kids, so I had no one to tease me about my fuzzy flat hair. No one to flap my gown open as I shuffled off to the loo. No one to revel in the silver lining that this might qualify under our insurance policy. And no one to reassure me I’d survive the operation but die from having to walk past Isolation Lady.
I sent him a text when they came for me, but got no response. If the worst happened, this was a less than ideal way to go. Alone, with fluoro hospital socks, bad breath and three weeks overdue for a wax. (You know you’ve let yourself go when they have to give your bikini line a shave-down before they can operate on your abdomen).
Then it was done, and I was awake. Back in our room, Isolation Lady was still alive. Maybe I’d survive the night after all. Then, in he strode, with supplies (clean undies, hair straightener, chocolate) and dried baby vomit on his back. He’d arranged for Mum to fly down that night. He showed me a card my boy had made for me (pink glitter!). He showed me photos he’d taken of me ugly-sleeping on the trolley the night before.
This was more like it. Rebound tenderness indeed.