The Time I Had AppendicitisEvery now and again, if I've been doing lots of walking or lifting, of if the weather is just right, I'll get an awful pain in my left hip. It's usually bad enough during those times that I'll walk with a pronounced limp.
"Why are you limping?" someone may ask.
"I tore my hip flexor back in high school, and it acts up sometimes," I'll say.
They wince. "Ouch. How'd you do that?"
Depending on how much I'd like to feel embarrassed that day, I'll say either, "Long story," or "I fell down a mountain and got appendicitis."
I realize that maybe saying "I fell down a mountain and got appendicitis" sounds a bit too incredible to be true, but I'm only slightly exaggerating.
It'd be more true to say that I fell down part of an incline on a mountain and only had appendicitis while I was in the emergency room of the mountain hospital, but even that does not fully clarify what probably is on my list of Top Five Worst Days Ever.
So the summer after my Freshman year, I go up to Running Springs, CA for my church's summer camp for a week of prayer and worship and hiking and swimming. One of the activities we'd have is Quiet Time: an opportunity for you to spend time alone with God. You could go on a nature walk, find a corner in the sanctuary, wherever. As long as it was just you and Jesus. I always chose to take a walk, and listen to the way a Creator could speak to us through the rustle of leaves in a breeze, or in the babble of a stream, or in the calls of birds and beasts. And yeah, I'd do my share of praying. It was a different life back then.
|A fairly accurate representation of what happens.|
It took a long time for me to feel comfortable in my own skin. And especially in high school, I was not the most coordinated of individuals.
So I'm taking a hike one morning, and just outside of the main part of camp is a 45-degree-ish (totally guessing) incline down into more untamed forest (as opposed to the landscaped forest of the camp). It was off the more well-traveled paths, so I knew I wouldn't run into anybody, which was my goal in going that way.
Unfortunately, not running into anybody can be a problem when there's an accident.
I wasn't walking straight down the incline, but cutting across it at an angle to control my descent, when my right foot - the foot lower on the incline - hit a loose patch of dirt and started to slide downward. My left foot, rather than pulling inward to lower my center of gravity and control my slide, got caught on a rock. My right foot continued to slide until I ended up in the splits, at which point my left foot came free of the rock and I slid 20-30 yards down the incline in an incredibly uncomfortable position. That was the first and only time I've ever done the splits and needless to say, my hip flexor was FUBAR'd.
So I just messed up my hip and slid my crotch down thirty yards of mountain, and I need help. Naturally I had chosen to hike in a direction away from the well-travelled paths. What a fantastic moment to be alone with God! I'm able to painfully pull myself to my feet, but when I tried to climb back up towards the camp the pain was excruciating. There was no way I could get back up there by walking. So I crawled. Using both hands and one leg, I pulled myself back up to camp.
Once I made it back up to the flatter terrain of the camp grounds, I got my feet under me and limped to the nurse's station by the pool. Of course it's by the pool. By the time I get there, Quiet Time is over and Play Time has begun. I limp past the pretty and popular kids, who use the pool to flash a little Christian skin and flirt with Christian smiles, and tell the nurse what happened.
She fills a huge bag with ice and tells me to apply it to where it hurts. Of course, the bag covers significantly more than just where it hurts and I spend the next half hour applying ice to my balls in the pool area with my cheeks burning in embarrassment.
|The pool area|
"Get. Help." I gasped.
So one of them ran to get the nurse, and then together they all got me into her car, and we raced off to the Mountains Community Hospital in Lake Arrowhead, about thirty agonizing minutes away. We check in to the emergency center, and the night doctor says, "I'm pretty sure it's kidney stones."
He orders a bunch of tests and says a nurse will be in to hook me up to an I.V. filled with a soup of pain killers and muscle relaxers. I get an x-ray done, and then an older gentleman, that in my memory looks like Christopher Walken from The Prophecy movies, administers a rectal exam.
Now I was old enough to have a vague understanding of what a rectal exam was, but young enough to not understand what was actually required. He had me lay on my side and lower my pajama bottoms down past my ass. And then he jammed a vaguely lubed cold metal rod approximately the size of the Washington Monument into my rectum (damn near killed 'em!), with nothing in the way of warning. Not that a warning could have prepared for the steel tidal wave up my ass.
|Anyone else notice how the two paths look like a scrotum?|
A kind-looking old lady opens my door and shuffles in. "I'm here to hook you up to your medication."
I roll onto my back, and she sets up shop next to my bed. She ties off some rubber tubing around my lower bicep, and pulls out the needle. She hovers over my arm, waiting for the vein to present itself. She presses on the vein in the crook of my elbow, on the vein in my wrist, and on the top of my hand.
"Hmmmm," she says.
My eyebrows start to go up. This was taking a while.
Finally, she settles on my wrist. She pushes the needle in.
"Whoops," she says.
She missed the vein! So she starts digging around with the needle while the damn thing was still in my wrist. At one point, I see my skin raise like a small creature was trying to push its way out of my arm. At this point, I'm more in shock than pain, but when she pulls out the needle and releases the tubing around my arm it sets in pretty good as the blood flow comes back into my arm.
She grabs a new needle, and then ties off the tubing onto my other arm. She finds the vein in my hand pretty quick, but when she pushes the needle in, she pushes it in straight down. The needle goes right through the vein and hits a bone.
With a yelp, I jerk my hand away. The poor old nurse, horribly flustered at this point, apologizes and shuffles out of the room. A new, younger nurse comes in and efficiently and more or less painlessly gets the I.V. hooked up to the vein in my wrist.
The doctor comes in with my test results, rubbing his chin. "Well," he says, "I don't see any kidney stones show up on your x-ray, but I'm sure that's what it is. I want to wait for the morning doctor to come in for a second opinion however, so make yourself comfortable."
An hour later, the morning doctor comes in, looking over my test results, rubbing his chin. "Well," he says. "It's not kidney stones."
Ok, that's good news, right?
He says, "It's appendicitis."
Unfortunately, the medication was making it difficult for him to perform any abdominal tests for confirmation. So they pulled me off I.V. and were going to wait for it to wear off to confirm, with the caveat that if the pain returns they would need to operate immediately in order to prevent the appendix from rupturing. A little while later, my mom showed up, having been contacted that there was an emergency. She looks at the doctors, and the facility, and says, "Come on, we're going to our doctor."
So they release me, and we drive down the mountain back to Orange County. I was leaving camp four days early.
We go to our hospital, and the doctors there perform all the same tests, though they were much more gentle and efficient, and after another hour of waiting, the doctor comes in to the room with a small smile on his face. "Well," he says. "It's not appendicitis."
Great, now what?
His smile gets a little wider. "It's not kidney stones either." He says, "you have a condition that we call F.O.S." he says, chuckling.
I blink, not getting it.
"Full Of Stool," he says, clarifying.
It still wasn't sinking in. I look at my mom. She says, "You're constipated, Mike."
I was only slightly mollified to learn that you can actually die from constipation, so I felt a little better that the stabbing pain in my guts was not merely me overreacting. Still, I was mortified. It felt like I was dying, and all I needed to do was poop!
The doctor prescribed magnesium sulfate, which is like Drano for humans, and by that afternoon I was no longer Full Of Anything.
Eventually, after a very long time, the story stopped being embarrassing and I started to find the humor in it the way everyone did right off the bat.
On the other hand, I do wish, every time my hip starts acting up, that the pain didn't remind me of one my Worst Days Ever.