Halloween Trick: The Blind Intestine

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At one in the morning, Chris nudged me awake. “Take me to the hospital.”

Groggily, I got on my coat and trudged out to the lingering Halloween drinking crowd. Our street has over two dozen bars and the revelers would perhaps have stomach aches in the morning, but not like the one my husband was experiencing at that moment. He tottered to the car, doubling over with pain. I drove to the nearest hospital, a five-minute drive.

I expected the emergency room waiting area to be full of alcohol poisoning or pyrotechnic accident victims, but it was a ghost town. There was only a man with his son, there to admit the mother. She apparently liked to mix illicit drugs with her many antipsychotics and the husband no longer felt he and the child were safe with her in the house.

Before we knew it, Chris was hooked up to a morphine drip and at least getting some relief from the pain radiating from his navel. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Tests, tests, tests.

At almost six in the morning, we got the pronouncement that it was appendicitis and Chris would need surgery within the day. He was promptly wheeled over to the surgery wing to await a briefing with the surgeon.

“What is ‘appendix’ in German?” I asked Chris.

“Blinddarm. A blind intestine. Because it doesn’t do anything,” he answered.

I had enough foresight to have brought along my laptop and a book. But by nine in the morning, I was tired of chair-sleeping in an icebox and I needed to get Chris a change of clothes, his iPod and some books from home. I hurried back to the hospital because they’d said the surgery would happen in the morning. However, then we heard four-thirty. And then five or later.

I knew that removing an appendix is a routine surgery, but that knowledge did not stave the fear of a freak accident on the operating table. I tried to push it out of my mind, even as he was in the pre-op waiting room, ready for the anesthesiologist to wheel him away. The moment came when I could follow him no further and my stomach plummeted to my feet.

Dutifully, I went to the surgery waiting room and got my pager. Just like at a restaurant except the first beep is when the procedure is done and the surgeon is ready to meet with you. The second beep is when the patient is done in the recovery room and being taken back to their regular room.

Removing an appendix normally takes an hour, maybe two. Very quick and simple. It didn’t stop me from worrying. I tried to distract myself with reading or checking email, but I couldn’t concentrate. A family was falling apart in front of me.

I recognized Chinese from my recent vacation, but I couldn’t make out exactly what the many family members were saying. It didn’t matter. Grief needs no translation. The women held each other, called relative after relative in the home country. The men also cried, stamped the floor angrily, and called relatives. I could tell it had been sudden and without warning. I could tell the person who died was very loved.

The scene was a hard one to witness, but I’m grateful for it. If you ever need to straighten out your priorities, all you need is time in the hospital waiting room. There is no question what truly matters, what is honestly precious.

The seventy-five minutes I spent in the waiting room felt like days, but eventually I got my loud beep and the surgeon came to tell me everything went absolutely fine.

When Chris was wheeled in, he looked like a corpse. White and waxy, utterly bloodless. The nurses assured me he was fine, but I wasn’t so sure. After several tests of his vitals, I was convinced I could finally leave and go home to my own bed for much-needed rest.

He’s been home now for two days, resting. But sans an angry ‘blind intestine.’

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