I had a stomach pain that didn’t go away. A dull pressure in the center of my abdomen. A complete loss of appetite. At first, I wrote it off as something I ate. I took some antacids and rested for a few hours. After that, I started feeling better. I even started painting my son’s bedroom. By the evening, the pain came back even stronger. Not even antacids gave me relief. The pain forced me back into bed.
The next morning, the pain increased.
This time, it focused on my right side. Antacids did nothing to relieve the pain. I could only eat a slice of toast with Nutella, and I couldn’t even finish it. My daughter urged that we go to the hospital right away, but I said that my doctor should look at it first. I called his exchange, and we set up an appointment. His assistant examined me. Her slightest touch on the right side of my abdomen made me moan with agony. She told us to go to the emergency room immediately.
I still couldn’t believe that something in my abdomen can be so serious that it required a trip to the emergency room. I had digestive problems before. Doctors would run all sorts of tests, make me drink barium milkshakes, and stick tubes down my throat. Each of these ended with a shrug and an admonition to eat better and exercise more. This time, the doctor gave me a different verdict. I had appendicitis.
Appendicitis? Isn’t that a kids’ disease? I remember being taught in the 1960s and 1970s that the appendix was a leftover piece of flesh that had the sole purpose of getting infected. Some parents would have their children get appendectomies as a preventative measure. It wasn’t a disease for a 50-year-old man. It wasn’t like the stroke that brought my mother to the emergency room when she turned 50, or the heart attack that felled my father at 55.
The surgeon assured me that the surgery would be fairly simple. He would use a laparoscopic procedure to remove the appendix. It would require three small incisions. If it couldn’t be safely removed by that method, he would need to make a larger incision and remove it directly. I would be under general anesthesia. He went over the benefits and risks, but the operation had to be done right away. I agreed to get the surgery. It would be done that night.
I don’t remember anything about the actual surgery. I slipped under the anesthesia right away, and woke up fully alert in the recovery room. The doctor said the surgery succeeded. They were able to remove the appendix using the laparascopy, and I didn’t need the larger incision. They did have to stick a draining tube in my abdomen because the appendix had become gangrenous. They wanted to get all the fluid out.
I realized how foolish I was for waiting to go to the hospital. I wondered what would have happened to me if I had waited longer. Although the danger was gone, the most difficult part of this ordeal was about to begin.