Forty for Forty – #1. Watch Out – He’s Gonna’ Blow!!!

I’ve got a little tradition ’round these parts. Every one who resides under our roof gets their annual birthday post. Usually, I’ll latch on to something momentous that has happened in the past year (or waits just round the corner from our present) and I’ll gush all about it, as a small way of paying tribute to my precious family members. I started it just after the creation of my children, which conveniently aided the birth of this Blog – and now it’s become an annual event. Of course, when my Big Day rolls around, it falls on me to scribe my own tale – which is cool. I’m the go-to guy for jotting things down in our home, and honestly I live and love to do it.

Knowning that my 39th Birthday would greet me on June 6th, I hit on an epiphany earlier this year. Instead of one post, why not Forty for Forty. It would make for a nice way way to track the major moments in my life that have led to this – The Beginning of the End. Over-dramatic, of course – but also, something that could be a little fun.

Basically, I’m using this feature as a way to throw the spotlight on the moments/experiences/events in my life that have been most meaningful. But it’s not as simple as just grabbing a person and writing some anecdotes about them – or simply waxing rhapsodic on a particularly great day. For starters, I’d fear that I’d leave way too many people out. No – I’ve decided that I want to focus on things that have just informed or inspired or entertained me in a way that has uniquely led to creating “ME”. The Ed you see before you. So, in one post I might write about a favorite movie or just a great all-night chat I had with someone or the first time I journeyed with my pals to find a body buried deep in the woods. (All right – maybe I’ll save that last one for my death bed – I want to make sure I’m kept nice and snug from any pesky plagiarism laws.)

So, keep checking back here as as tick down Forty for Forty.

As for today…

40.   Watch Out – He’s Gonna Blow

Originally, my first Forty for Forty was simply going to be about the concept and the Birth of this Blog. Then I went under the knife for the first real surgery of my life, even if it was just minor surgery, and I knew I had  a brand new tale to tell. Having recounted this tale several times Saturday, I knew printing it here would do wonders for my vocal cords – already frayed from a three-month stint spent rehearsing and representing a weezy-geezer on stage in Murder’s in the Heir.

It all began this past Memorial Day – a holiday which was marked by a very early blast of July heat. After three full days of sub-tropic weather, Andi and I bent our household rule and decided we should install the air conditioners. What this entails is Andi cracking a window and me my back, as I hoist those behemoths from the basement to the two floors above. Having successfully completed the job and sealing off any tiny open spaces, we went around turning them on and got the happy little surprise that the 100 lb unit I just lugged into the first floor window no longer worked. So, on a day in which we aimed to celebrate Aria’s impending 6th birthday, while also searching for a nice garden memorial to our dear departed pup, Chatham, we added new AC to the itinerary and beat the streets looking to cool this heat.

It was during our afternoon adventure, that I first felt some nagging pangs plaguing my belly. It was a dull, mild ache and I waved it off as just the after effects of all the hard labor. Just some mild muscle strain. So, we went about the day and enjoyed a nice lunch and birthday treat for Aria. The remains of the day passed by without incident.

Tuesdays I work from home – and it was in the home office, about midway through the morning – that the abdominal pain returned, a bit more severe than the day before but nothing too debilitating. I thought it was either muscle pain or some slight indigestion leftover from our Memorial Day feast. So, I hunted down some Maalox and poured a metric ton down the hatch, hoping that would do the trick. And then I continued working. While the pain never subsided, and I continued to chase my first dose with several more chugs from that bottle, I was merely feeling mild discomfort. I’d certainly worked through worse in the past. And so, Tuesday passed without further escalation.

That night, I tossed and turned and everytime I ended up on my belly, I shot out of bed. It wasn’t a sharp, stabbing pain but certainly enough to wake me up. At some point my body finally relented and going against my normal routine, it let me fall asleep flat on my back.

Wednesday I woke and felt the same. While standing still, or remaining stagnant when seated – I was fine. But when I walked or coughed or laughed, I felt it deep in my belly. My gutt told me something was wrong but I went into the office all the same. Again, it was painful but not severely and I felt I could certainly make it through the day. Again, I’ve worked through worse.

When Thursday dawned, I felt exactly the same. No better. No worse. But no idea what was going on. By now, muscle pain should subside. And if it was a stomach bug, why didn’t I have other symptoms? I shrugged it off and headed for work, with Andi’s pleas that I call the doc echoing in my head. “I’m fine!”, I said. Famous last words. I figured, if I felt the same when I got there, I would heed her advice, as she was beginning to worry it was appendicitis – a fear  I chased away when my WebMD search revealed a high temp and horrible, shooting pains as two of the top symptoms. Two symptoms that I did not have. Besides, the last thing I needed was surgery. Not with our Disney trip looming in 3 weeks.

When I got to work, I had a hard time walking – the discomfort was much greater (although not killer pain – just not a great way to start the day) but I made it to my desk and set forth on my morning routine. About the third time I rose to grab something off the printer, I decided enough was enough. Each trip was wearing me down. So, I called the doc and made an appointment for 10 am. It helps that he’s located a stone’s throw from my office. I told my boss I was gonna’ jet out for a moment and I shot out a few minutes later. They did the standard battery of tests and I was back by 11.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited.

At 4:00 p.m., I got the call. My blood test showed elevated levels of white blood cells – indicating an infection. That coupled with the pain in the abdomen prompted them to order a CT scan for 7:30 p.m. that night. Which meant staying late at the office as the hospital is on my way.

The worst I’d felt through this ordeal (which again – was never really THAT bad) was when I got to the hospital parking lot. It was about 6:25 p.m. and the sun was still up, although it had descended enough to lend the late-Spring air a little crisp edge. Enough that I felt a little chill which quickly raised goosebumps. I run slightly warm so this got my mind to thinking maybe this was that dreaded fever finally revealing itself. The walk from the car to the hospital was the worst yet, and as I glanced to my right and saw the bright red ER sign, I actually considered the thought – “Maybe I should swing by when the test is done.

But first the test. Before they can scan you, you need to drink two big jugs of barium fluid which helps with the imaging. It’s no Dunkin’ Iced, I’ll say that. After choking down that chalky cocktail, I finally got the call to be slid through the great irradiated doughnut. This is how superheroes are made. The scan took all of 5 minutes and by the time I stood up, my belly was in knots. Knowing the tech wasn’t going to be reading the scan, I mentioned that my doc had made a follow-up visit for next Wednesday, 6 days from then. That seemed like much too long. “If they see something that raises a red flag, they’ll call it in, right?,” I asked. “Of course! You’ll hear by tomorrow.”

So, with that reassurance I bagged on skipping over to the ER and decided to chase down some food. Afterall – I’d been fasting since lunch and with the clock closing in on nine – I should have been famished. The problem is – I wasn’t. I didn’t have any ounce of appetite. Yet another little warning sign. Regardless, I knew I should eat so I grabbed a sub and noshed that on the way home.

Getting in, I hit the sheets early. I’m a night owl so going to bed anytime before midnight is unheard of. Sliding into slumber before 10 is usually the best indicator that something is dreadfully wrong. But I couldn’t stand to sit and watch TV. So off to bed I went.

When I woke on Friday, I actually felt a little better. My abdomen felt a little bloated but the pain was gone. I hit the web and found that sometimes, if your appendix bursts, the pain will go away however you will get a horrible fever and quickly get very sick. Also, when it does blow, it’s usually marked by shooting pains. A real sucker punch. I didn’t have any of that but I also didn’t have any pain, either. It was curious.

I work from home on Fridays as well, so all day long I kept getting e-mails and Sametime messages from co-workers curious about the results. I told them I was just waiting to hear. By midday, I decided to call my doc. He said they had their eyes open but so far the results weren’t in. I told him I felt a little better so maybe there wasn’t anything to this. Maybe just muscle pain afterall.

It was about 4:25 when I realized I hadn’t heard back from the doc. I called the office and got the typical recording letting me know the office was closed and if this were an emergency, I should have called 911 by now. Great – there goes my weekend. Now I’d spend it all worrying and wondering what truths the CAT scan might hold when I could be out rough housing and carousing… or at least hitting up Bed, Bath & Beyond for some new basinette fixtures.

Andi had to work that night, so about fifteen minutes later she departed and I began pulling out the ingredients for dinner. With just Colin, Aria and me requiring table-settings, we’d do something easy. Home made chicken fingers, steak fries and salad were on the menu. Just as I finished slicing the chicken breasts, the phone rang. It was my Doc. His opening line – “Ed?” “Yup!” “Can you go to the ER? NOW!!!

At that, I glanced around. At the sizzling pan of olive oil on the stove. The kids that were scampering in the back yard. The little yellow lab staring up at me, trying to work her canine telepathy on every errant scrap of food stuff. And Andi nowhere nearby.

“Now?!?!?”

Yeah. The results came in. It looks like appendicitis. But that’s just off my read. I’d like to have you head over to UMASS Memorial – the ER – and have a surgeon review the scan. I’m thinking you need that out now but they’ll know best.

I told him I felt better so he said I could potentially wait it out and go Saturday morning but he wasn’t 100% convincing that was the right course of action. So I called Andi and she headed home immediately. She wanted to drive me in but I really thought they were just going to read the film and schedule something for the morning. So, I told her it was best if she stayed home. That way we didn’t need to track down a babysitter and she could be spared the fun filled Friday night in a Worcester area ER. If you’re hoping to live a full life without being bitten by a werewolf, that’s the first place you should avoid.

When I got in (around 7 pm), I was pleased to see the gunrunners hadn’t been plying their trade yet. It would be hours before the Friday Night Streetfights would send a couple dozen criminals to the ER looking to get their wounds patched before once again, unleashing Hell. So – things were fairly quiet. I waited about 10 minutes, during which time I paged through a musty-old copy of Entertainment Weekly, which had focused its cover story on The Governator’s new career resurgence. It would be weeks before  we knew Arnie had taken up Bill Clinton’s calling.

Finally I got the call and made my way to triage. It took mere minutes for the nurse to review my file (and CAT scan) and ask “”Is your wife here?

“Nope. I drove myself in.”

“Well, call her up and tell her you’re not coming home.”

“Why? Do you think it’s appendicits?

She pointed my eyes towards her screen, upon which was my scan and the analysis. “Acute appendicits. Free fluid in the area”. In other words, my reactor had already blown. And here I was, walking around. A ticking time bomb.

So, they admitted me quickly and brought me behind the curtain. While the front made it look like all was quiet on this front, behind the scenes – where the real magic happens – it was a buzzing hive of activity. All of the ER rooms were populated and patients were lying in wait on beds all throughout the hallways. They brought me to my bed (N7) which was perched right outside the nurse’s station. Conveniently, it was my nurse, so there’s that. She gave me my dualing Johnnies and told me to head off and strip down. Once that was one, I was snug in the bed and simply awaited my fate. That was around 7:30 p.m.

When I was walking in, I happened to notice that just behind my bed sat a cop in a chair. It was right near an exit so I assumed he was simply guarding that door. After I settled in, with nary a TV in site, I eavesdropped on all the hospital chatter and my ears fixed on a conversation the cop was having with the dude in the room that he sat in front of. Turns out, this was a beat cop who had collared a career criminal. The perp complained of chest pains so before heading off to the clink, the cop brought him in for observation. I thought “Awesome. After hearing this guy go on and on about his priors, he obviously ran a vast criminal empire and his minions should be bustin’ in here in moments, IN CLOWN MASKS, ready to free the Joker and continue terrorizing the city.” I’d have Blog fodder for weeks.

And then he mentioned Creme Brule. And that led to a half-hour discussion on Jamie Oliver followed by a dissertation on The Ace of Cakes. My felonious foodie wasn’t being sprung anytime soon – not so long as he and the 5-0 had recipes to swap. Things got a little interesting when another officer approached and asked where the stooge had gone to school. Turns out this new cop and the criminal went to high school together but then their lives diverged. A real world Departed playing out in my midst even if it only ended with the proper way to partion peach melba.

After an hour or so, a fleet of surgeons descended upon me – sizing me up to determine if surgery was in the cards that night. They told me that apparently my appendix had ruptred at least a day ago – maybe more – and that I possessed an awesome immune system that immediately walled off the vile toxins, preventing me from going septic. If you are in decent health and have a good system, sometimes luck shines on you. Anyway – that wasn’t a permanent fix as that poison was eating away at the protective shell – so surgery would be needed soon. They gave me three options.

1.   Have surgery that night.

2.   Pump me full of antibiotics and do it fresh in the morning. He was really selling that one as he mentioned “everyone will be rested up” so I think he was angling for a little shut-eye. What he neglected to mention was I’d likely be Dead By Dawn.. Fortunately he didn’t end up beiing the actual surgeon in the end. Last thing I need is someone taking a nap on my aorta.

3.   Perform a remote appendectomy. Essentially they pump me full of antibiotics and schedule the surgery for 6 weeks from now. 6 Weeks!!! “We’re going to Disney World in 3 weeks? What happens if it recurs while on vacation?” “Well, they have great surgical facilities there. They could easily take care of you.” Sorry, I didn’t drop thousands of bucks just to sing “It’s a Small Appendectomy After All”. We dropped that one off the table immediately.

Anyway – the team left and said they needed to discuss the first two options with the Director of Surgery and the Chief Anesthesiologist. They would be back later with their findings. One thing that was tripping them up a bit was I had eaten around 6 p.m. Just a small meal (grapes and some crackers) but they usually like  to have an 8-hour fast as any food in the belly can lead to regurtitation and potentially aspiration in the lungs – a very severe issue.

At 10 pm they returned with the verdict. Surgery that night. Surgery in an hour or so, actually. So, I called Andi and told her they were packing me up and sending me to prep. And off I went.

When I arrived in the OR ‘packing room’, I was in a different world. A squad of trained professionals was waiting to work on me alone. They parked my stretcher in front of a TV flashing the final minutes of the Sox/A’s game and I got to see them end their losing streak. I signed some paperwork and got my second compliment of the night. Earlier, one of the surgical team was listening to my heart and he leaned back to his colleague and said something of which I could only pick-up the word “athlete“. The other guy then asked me if I was an athlete which I laughed off. I’ve never been considered athletic anything in my entire life. Well, anything short of an athletic supporter. “Oh, I just asked because you have the heart of an athlete. That thing is ticking perfectly. That’s good news for your surgery.” Well, it turns out my little running regimen these past few years has had some positive benefit afterall. And here I was just angling for killer gams.

While in OR prep, one of the anesthesiologists was speaking to me and said “This is gonna’ be a real treat for us. It’s like Christmas Day up here.” “Why?,” I asked. “We don’t usuallly get 160 lb guys with perfect hearts. We have a whole list of complications we tell people about but we rarely get people in as good shape. You’re gonna’ be fine.” So – that set my mind at ease and acted as a nice little compliment. And it would prove Andi right as she is often driven crazy when I come to her with my usual neuroses. “Do I look fat in these jeans?” Yeah – I’ve got a little chick in me.

Anyway, I met with my primary surgeon and was struck by how normal he seemed. No medical lexicon spewing machine. No withered old geezer who was three days from retirement and too old for this sh!t. Nope, this felt like the kind of guy you’d while away an afternoon at a backyard barbecue – just talking sports and sausage. It helped that he told me he’d done this procedure hundreds of times. I felt right at ease even when they began wheeling me into that futuristic OR and planted me under three massive lights – the same sight I imagine all alien abductees see before getting flipped over by a celestial spatula and feeling the probe.

Next thing I know, I’m waking – hours later – in recovery and am told that all went swimmingly. Then I’m blacked out again. Two hours later, I blink to life just as a night nurse strolls by. She offers me pain meds which I take willingly. And again, I’m out. Two hours later, activity begins – with new patients coming in – and I decide I’m up for good. I order up some breakfast and the TV remote and just sit there, taking it all in.

This is – after all – my first real surgery. Sure, I had my tonsils out but that’s when I was 5 – a lifetime ago. Then I had a deviated septum corrected in a drive-by surgery which took all of 3 hours before I was home. They even gave me a Happy Meal with that one. This was the real deal even if it’s minor compared to other invasive surgery. It may just be three small incisions but they were made by a knife, things were inserted into my abdomen – and I come out the other end adding new appendix to my birthday wish list.

Now, part of the whole post-op observation is the docs and nurses need to insure your safe for the real world. In other words, you need to pee and keep some food down. And not just any food. We go to the old standby joke – hospital food. If you can stomach that – you’re ready for the real deal. With that done, I figured I’d pass their next test and go mark my territory.

And that’s when I got my next big shock. First – I caught sight of the incisions for the first time. A Bermuda Triangle of small cuts – one in the belly button, one a little below and another off to the left. Yup, it was aliens all right.

Then I realize, 2/3rds of my torso are colored bright orange. Sometime overnight, as I was knocked unconscious, the Jackass crew came along and spray painted my belly. I’m told not to worry. It should fade in 3-4 weeks. And with a trip to Disney World in a little over 3, I ought to have every pool to myself when all those families catch sight of the blinding white bald guy with the blazing orange abdomen. I’ll just tell them I got bit by a radioactive ladybug and have the park to myself.

And my third shock. Apparently they decided to give me a Brazillian. I just know there’s footage of that on YouTube somewhere. Damned shock docs!!!

Sure I exaggerate, but these guys and their BICs certainly wandered a wee bit South of the Equator.

So now, I begin my R & R. No heavy lifting for 3-4 weeks. No lawn mowing. No running with scissors. Ever!!! Within a few days, I can walk for exercise. And it’s work from home for the next week although I’m taking Monday as a sick day to simply rest and recover. There has to be a better way to get your birthday off than ripping your gutts out.

So that about closes the book on #40. 39 more to go before we march to that mythic day when I actually turn the dreaded page. Then I’ll really have something to cry about.

Comments now closed (5)

  • Awesome story Ed! Kept me glued to the screen while I was reading it!
    I’m glad you’re ok and your 1st REAL surgery experience went well 🙂

  • The usual well written detailed saga – and all since I saw you a week ago – amazing. I am getting empathetic pain in the abdomen as I write this. Recover fast. You and Corkum can compare scars.

  • @Rip – Dave’s already made it quite clear. His is bigger than mine. I feel so inadequate.

  • ed, great recount! i’m sorry you had to go through all that!! but i’m glad you’re the exact picture of health!!

    on the yellow abdomen – try baby oil….that sometimes helps to get the betadine off. and if not, you’ll at least be a shiny yellow/orange color! just be glad they didn’t use the chlorhexadine, which is sometimes a bright blue color! LOL!

  • Nice story and obviously a good outcome given the thing ruptured! Some positives: You have some new recipes instead of chicken nuggets and steak fries, you are halfway done with manscaping for the vacation banana hammock and you rested in Commander Shepard’s bed (so lots of gamer chicks are jealous).