Upon reflection, when I think of all of the times that I have been visited by life-saving luck, I turn my eyes to the Great Mystery and say a silent prayer of thanksgiving. I’m just lucky to still be alive.
The Burst Appendix
My closest call was medical. Sometime in early 1987 I was stricken with something that the doctors found mysterious. This was not surprising, on two counts. For one thing, our medical provider at the time was a clinic of family medicine staffed by residents who were medical students at UCLA. They were not completely ignorant, but they could mimic ignorance pretty well. For another thing, my family had no health insurance, which means that you’ll get the bare minimum standard of care, if you’re lucky. My wife and I were self-employed, and health insurance for a family of four was more than our family economy could bear.
My wife (ex-wife) got us into the clinic as a half-way measure. We got very low cost care and a ticket into Santa Monica Hospital if necessary. She also checked with the social worker and made sure that we qualified for Medical. It was a lot better than nothing. My wife’s efforts were a bit of luck for me in themselves. More on this in a minute.
I seemed to come down with a stomach flu that put me out of commission for a couple of days. This condition became recurrent and persistent. I never got a fever, so the doctors just prescribed muscle relaxers for the vomiting and sent me home. “Drink lots of fluids.” After a few episodes, major, long term diarrhea was added to the symptoms. The doctors told me, well, somehow you’ve managed to strip the lining off of your small intestine or something. This all went on for six months. By the end of that time I was so weak that I could only speak in a voice that was hard to hear. I had already lost some weight, going from 145 pounds down to 140.
During this time I was occasionally subject to the “bounce test” for appendicitis. I passed every time. Those young docs let that go as proof that it wasn’t the appendix. The lack of health insurance meant that further tests would not be recommended.
On the last day of this saga I came down with yet another “stomach flu.” Same drill at the doctor’s, but this last guy must have seen something in the cards. He said, “if you get a rigid abdomen, come right to the hospital. Don’t wait, and don’t call first.” I’d never heard that one before. “How will I know?” I asked him. “Oh,” he smiled, “if it happens, you’ll know it.”
Well it happened, and boy did I know it. It knocks you off your feet. It’s the worst pain that I’ve ever felt; it just shoots way up off the chart and stays at that intensity. I had to struggle to get dressed. My wife was deeply annoyed at having to drive me to the hospital. She was missing her show! (“Jeopardy,” I believe.) She kept giving me that “men are such babies” look as I sat in the car, doubled over and moaning.
But God bless her, she’s a tough one. A real tigress! The residents, knowing nothing, wanted to send me to County rather than admit me. I might have died on the trip, that’s forty or fifty minutes away. My wife said to them, there were two, “let’s talk out in the hall.” When they came back, after a few minutes, I swear there was steam coming up from their collars. They looked like they’d been mugged. “Well,” one of them said, “we’re going to admit you now.” Thanks, Ann!
They admitted me for an abdominal exploratory, because no one had any idea what was causing the rigid abdomen. Sure enough, my appendix had finally burst after a six month illness. The next day I was visited by the surgeon and he said, “how are you?” I let him have it. “Are you fucking kidding me? I got tubes hanging out all over, I got a Frankenstein zipper from pillar to post . . .” In that vein. He just laughed, “you sound like you’re doing fine. And boy, did you surprise us. You know where the appendix is usually found? Well yours was way over here (indicating the area of the left hip) and tucked behind the bone. It was a merry chase to even find it! What was left of it!”
So, medical history, and lucky to be alive. Rich people all over the world die of burst appendixes every day.
Chapter one seems to have run a bit long, so I’ll save other episodes of near-death for chapter two, if that’s okay with y’all.