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in which Beth muses about some miracles of modern medicine

Well, my blog friends, because we’re dealing with the queen of story here, you’re waiting for the appendix story, aren’t you? It won’t surprise you to know there is one. As follows:

The hospital ordeal started at 4 on Monday afternoon, when I couldn’t stand the pain any more and finally headed to Emerg – at St. Mike’s, a huge old downtown hospital, not the best choice, I saw later, but I’d visited Wayson there often and he loved it. (Later I remembered it was the people he’d loved, not the hospital, and he was right.) It was a long process to be seen, to wait for the scan, to be scanned – being slid into the big white machine just like in the movies – waiting for the diagnosis – “acute perforated appendicitis with significant inflammation.” 

Frightening. They said they needed to keep me in because the condition needed to be monitored, and at 1 a.m. took me up to a room. 

The next day they prepared me for surgery – shunts in both arms, an antibiotic drip, no food or drink for hours. Twice, because they said they didn’t have a place in surgery yet for me. At first the operation was to be at midnight Tuesday, then they said I could drink and eat until midnight Tuesday b/c it’d be sometime on Wednesday.

I spent Tuesday in bed, hooked up to the drip and filled with pain killers, cancelling my life – two classes, a piano lesson – letting family, friends, and colleagues know where I was and dreading an operation. When I headed to Emerg I’d not expected to stay – what was I @$#@ thinking? – so the only practical thing I’d brought was my cell phone charger. I’d forgotten my reading glasses. Stuck in bed in hospital with no reading glasses! Sam offered to buy some and bring them, and Tuesday afternoon he did. They wouldn’t let him in, but this bag of goodies appeared on my bed. Including a notebook and pens and card from Ben. Almost cured me right there.

By end of Tuesday I still had no idea what was planned for me. More fasting overnight. This morning I was a hag with hair sticking out in all directions, had not brushed my teeth for days, was a total mess. Mostly in hospital, especially if you didn’t plan to be there, it’s the helplessness, waiting, like a child, for the grownups to tell you what’s going to happen to you. It’s such a shock, coming from your actual life to that. You’re in control of nothing, least of all your own body. Your time. Nothing. No sleep possible unless you’re one of those miracle sleepers which I emphatically am not, the hospital nightmare of noise and – well, you know – BEEPS! Not knowing what day it was or for me even if it WAS day, since my sweet roommate Danielle had the window side of the room, and her privacy curtain kept out all light to my side – until we became friends and pushed it aside quite a bit. The gowns, the pokes and prods, the food, my god, even the worst jokes couldn’t do justice to this food. But I was grateful to get it because much of the time I wasn’t allowed to eat, which for me is suffering. I eat every two hours no matter what. Last night the nurse said, we have sandwiches. Yes! She brought me an egg salad sandwich on squishy white bread, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, especially as I was about to enter another fast. 

At 10 this morning I called my nurse in tears with still no idea what was happening, and she said she’d call the doctor. Who actually appeared an hour later. She apologized for the lack of communication. No kidding, I said. 

We’ve decided your appendix is so perforated that we possibly couldn’t even remove it, and anyway the surrounding area is so inflamed that surgery would be dangerous, we might damage something. But you are responding well to antibiotics. So we’re going to prescribe a course of heavy duty oral antibiotics, and do some more blood work to be sure you’re getting better. If it seems to be working, you can go home maybe even tomorrow.

You mean I can eat and drink? I asked breathlessly, taking a sip of water. I’m going home tomorrow? Oh sweet Jesus. I didn’t understand a thing, really. Wouldn’t this just happen again if they didn’t take it out? Apparently, probably not. 

So I waited for my antibiotic. They took some blood and ordered me a late breakfast, which came about an hour later. The nurse told me it wouldn’t be much because the kitchen was overloaded and this was late. There was brown water that I think was coffee and juice and a muffin and yogurt. And then I lifted the black warming cover off the plate to find this delicacy. Smile by coffee stain. 

When I told Ruth this story, she said, Are you sure it wasn’t a balsamic reduction?

It was good to laugh, even though it hurt. Danielle also laughed, though it hurt her too, after a hysterectomy. I know, I know, it was kind of them to rustle up something for me.

Then they told me I had to change rooms. Rolling down pushed on a bed, clutching my belongings and clothes in plastic bags, to the Gastro floor. When I arrived Monday they didn’t have room there so I was on gynaecology. I’d wondered about that. I was settling into my new bed in a four-bed room with three very ill neighbours when my new nurse appeared with the face of an angel, an actual angel – Julietta, a Filipina. Welcome Mrs. Kaplan! she cried, beaming, as if I was the first face she’d seen that day. She explained how things work here, got me settled, brought me ice water in a cup with a top and a straw – a miraculous invention for people lying in bed, the straw, I guess they don’t believe in them in gynaecology. It was the first time in at least a week that I began to relax a bit, since I knew what was happening and where I was. Lunch arrived, don’t ask, and shortly afterward, a brisk woman. 

You can pack your things, she said. You’re cleared to go now.

WHAT?

The blood test showed your white cell count is nearly back to normal, you’re ambulatory and able to eat, the antibiotics are working. So here’s a prescription for them and for extra-strength Tylenol. Go home and finish the course there. Any questions?

Where’s the exit? LOL. No, no questions. Was I hallucinating?

I couldn’t hug her b/c Covid, and also brisk, but what blessed words. I called John who lives just down Queen Street and had offered to drive me home. He’d pick me up out front, call when I got there.

A final issue – I still had shunts in both arms, had to wait for someone to come take them out. A nurse did and then said, You need to be signed out by your nurse and she’s on break, but she’ll be back in around half an hour.

Half an hour?! What if I just leave? I said.

You need your paperwork, she said.

Here it is, I have it, I said, and showed her the prescription, the diagnosis, the follow up. She was reluctant but she let me go. I power-walked as fast as someone who hasn’t slept or eaten much and is still sore and feeling frail and carrying plastic bags of possessions including a card from her grandson could power-walk to the Queen St. entrance and called John. We stopped at my local Shoppers to leave the prescription; Robin went to pick it up for me later. John came in to the house with me. When I walked into my living room a few hours ago, I began to sob so hard, I couldn’t stand. 

I feel I’ve just spent time in the seventh circle of hell. But also heaven, where there are healers, helpers, so many kind good people, those nurses, how can we praise them enough, what they do to comfort, I’m weeping again. Some of them are the best people on earth. But St. Mike’s serves the roughest part of town with a huge marginalized population who have no doctor and go for health care there. And of course an old building already in very poor shape, an entire health system not in the best shape, is now dealing with a disastrous pandemic. The place was filthy and chaotic, everyone run off their feet. I didn’t see the Covid floor or floors, they’re sealed off. But God, the extent of human suffering I did see, and with a physical backdrop of neglect and dirt. It shocked me. 

While I was lying in bed, I thought, I eat healthily and keep myself fit and don’t smoke – and the most useless part of my body is the part that got me! This is why Wayson always said, when things are going badly, look behind you. When things are going well, look behind you. 

I was hit hard by something behind me. Ironically, perhaps the fact that I ignored it for so long the fucking thing shredded maybe saved me from an operation. It’s good, of course, that it didn’t kill me first. I won’t ignore pain again. DO NOT IGNORE PAIN. 

How lucky can you be, to be seventy and have only ever been in hospital for babies and an afternoon parathyroid operation, and to visit sick people. So very much time in hospitals with my mother and Aunt Do. You know that I often mention feeling grateful for various things. But never have I felt so grateful as right now, to be home, to be healing. To be home. To be healing. 

On the other hand, to show you the extent of my pettiness, after my hot bath I felt bloated so weighed myself. In two days I gained seven pounds! And not from the balsamic reduction! That was one hell of an egg salad sandwich. My friend Cathy the nurse who helped guide me the entire time by text wrote, “Your body is fighting an infection honey so your immune system is in overdrive producing all those great and wonderful fluid systems that have to rush in to do the job….  very common, don’t worry.”

And I won’t. Who gives a shit about that? Health, my friends. Do what you can to hang onto it, though I know sometimes it’s out of your hands.

There are lots of other stories, but that’s it for now. Be well. I mean that as an order: BE WELL. 

Tomorrow it will be 18 degrees. Now that’s a miracle.

PS. Sorry, readers, but in case you haven’t heard enough about the appendix, Gretchen just sent this. It’s almost exactly my case except that she was obviously in a swanky US hospital where doctors actually came to, like, talk to her. Also, probably windows. But otherwise, more or less the same case. Good to feel part of a trend and understand the science now!

https://www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2012/07/13/burst-appendix-appendectomy

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2 Responses to “in which Beth muses about some miracles of modern medicine”

  1. theresa says:

    Wow, what a story. Tomorrow you can sit in sunlight and eat something nice. So relieved that it wasn't worse.

  2. beth says:

    As you can imagine, me too, Theresa. Sunshine! It feels like weeks. Sending love over the mountains.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

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Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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