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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Apendicitis and I Love Lucy

I have clear, brief memories of the week when I had my appendix removed. I did not remember, however, the year nor date. I knew it was winter, but was I in second or third grade? I thank “I Love Lucy” and the world wide web for all the clarifying detail I can, in 2017, add to this sketch.

It was March. I was sick. My stomach hurt. Probably the flu. It was a weekday. When I woke up feeling worse than the night before my mother was concerned. Obviously I would not go to school. Dad had already gone to work at the rip track at Northtown Yard of the Northern Pacific Railway in north Minneapolis. My sisters went off to school. For a reason I do not remember my mother had to leave also. I do not think she had yet started work at Brown and Bigelow's calendar factory seven blocks away. Her obligation was not social; Mom didn't have social obligations, and, in any case, she would have stayed home to be with me. Before Brown and Bigelow she did try for a time to go back to cleaning houses (for “We Folks” I believe) and waiting tables and counter at some coffee shop somewhere. These stints were brief. More important, I remember she had no choice but leave me alone and that it seemed quite fine and logical to me that she would.

I didn't realize quite how sick I was until I got out of bed to go the bathroom—located next to my bedroom. I took one step before collapsing to the floor in pain. The dull pain I had felt lying down became sharp and excruciating when I stood up. I had to crawl on all fours to the bathroom and the toilet and back to bed. I think I endured this short, torturous trek more than once.

When everybody was back home, it became clear to my parents that this was serious. My dad expected appendicitis; he had had his removed when he was a kid. They called our hospital, the Northern Pacific Benefit Association hospital just four blocks from our house, I don't believe the hospital had anything that would be called an emergency room, but without a long delay we were there and I was examined by a doctor who probably came in after the phone call. Someone was in the lab; they took some blood for analysis. Then the doctor started probing. I remember him pressing slowly, firmly down. He asked, “Does this hurt?” The pain did increase somewhat, so my response was, “yes.” Then he quickly withdrew his hand; the pressure on my abdomen was zero; I was suddenly, briefly in excruciating pain. I believe they call it “rebound pain.” No, Wikipedia corrects me:

Blumberg's sign, also referred to as rebound tenderness, is a clinical sign that is elicited during physical examination of a patient's abdomen by a doctor or other health care provider. It is indicative of peritonitis. It refers to pain upon removal of pressure rather than application of pressure to the abdomen.“
By any name, it hurt. That commenced many comings and goings and consultations by the doctor with colleagues in and out of the hospital. It was clear I was not leaving the hospital. Under discussion was whether or not to bring in a team and operate that night. Whether for logisitical or medical reasons or both, it was decided in consultation with my parents that I would have my appendix removed the next morning.

My memory goes blank from then to the day of my departure from the hospital, with one exception. I remember being put to sleep with ether. What I most remember is that before I lost consciousness I saw spirals—the kind I had seen in comic books and I suppose in a couple of Saturday movies and on television when people are shown to go unconscious. I think I also heard the swirling sound that goes with such spiral images, but I doubt myself on that detail. For a few seconds I was fascinated and mesmerized.

When the day came for me to leave the hospital my mom came to get me. Dad was at work in the family's one car, so she walked over. The weather and walking were miserable, however. The previous week, March 22 and 23rd, St. Paul had a 14.1 inch snowstorm.

Pardon me while I digress. That is still the 14th largest snowfall in the weather history of the Twin Cities. I'd say I don't remember the storm itself, except that I see that that was also the only one of the top 20 snowfalls that happened during the years I attended St. Columba. As I write, I realize this tells me something. I remember walking after a 14-inch snowfall (yes, I do remember “14”) to St. Columba. When kids, eager for learning, arrived from all directions at the school's front door there was a note and perhaps a person that told us that the bus which nuns took from downtown to St. Columba each day could not make it because of the storm. It was a rare-to-my-memory snow day. I feel certain I had a smile when I trudged my few blocks back to home. My teacher that year was not a nun who had to come on that bus. Miss Hickey probably trudged to the school through the snow as well, I wonder if she was happy to be turned away.
Records show another significant snowfall, likely about five inches on the 30th or 31st. Mom had to take me home from the hospital that Monday, the 31st. She had no choice but to call a taxi rather than have me try to walk four difficult blocks with my belly wound from surgery, I remember I found it hard and a little painful to get over some deep snow and into the taxi which arrived on a side street to the hospital.

Finally, I get to the fun part of this little story--the reason I remember so much of it. That evening, March 31, Mom and I sat on the couch together watching television. I was in my pajamas with a blanket over me. I have no memory of other people watching with us, but it seems likely some would be there. The “I Love Lucy” show came on--a favorite. That night the episode was “The Pioneers”. For a complicated setup of crazy reasons Lucy had to make bread from scratch for the first time in her life. She misread the recipe and put in 13 cakes of yeast rather than 3. When she opened the oven door the bread shot out as a loaf that looked to be more than 8 feet long. It pinned her against the cabinet on the other side of the room. As the show ended, her friend Ethel was trying to saw the bread in two using a large, old push-pull saw typically employed by two men to cut down trees. [Note: Since, these episodes played only once at that time, I found the exact date in an I Love Lucy archive.]

Mom and I found the episode hilarious. She laughed so hard she wanted to cry. I laughed so hard I absolutely had to cry. Every belly laugh was excruciatingly painful. I'd laugh, then wince and double over in pain, then laugh again, and suffer yet more pain. It was true torture. The absurdity of my situation made me want to laugh more, but I had to pay a big price in pain to do so. My grand reward is the gift of a memory I savor, and, I suppose, my lack of fear that I would ever again endure appendicitis.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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