For better or worse, life always has many surprises. And like surprises, it’s abrupt and, well, just surprising, and at times shocking. One of the surprise that life has thrown in my way recently is in the form of appendicitis.
Everyone’s born with an appendix (maybe, I haven’t done the research), this part of our intestinal system that some claim has no purpose or contribution at all to human body, although that’s still debatable. This appendix of mine went crazy in the most abrupt manner which resulted in me lying down on a surgery table, unsure, and excited about my first and my last appendectomy and how I thought that the appendix did serve a purpose after all.
On the Tuesday, April 5 evening, after a USG scan, after the doctor found a large inflammation in my lower right abdomen, I was hurriedly taken on a wheelchair to a surgery room and asked to strip and wear an ugly brown gown that barely covered my butt.
While I waited for them to summon me to the surgery table, I thought of Rebecca Solnit book that I currently read at that time. In one chapter, she talked about her own surgery, calling it her medical adventure.
You might be interested: [Book review] The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
This surgery would be my medical adventure too, though it’s rather unwanted and I was afraid of the idea of being torn open and stitched back like I was some kind of a fabric. But it’s still an adventure in a sense that it’s a journey to the unknown which also means many firsts for me: blood being drawn, urine being tested, getting anesthetized, losing consciousness, parts of me being taken away, and most of all, having to trust my life and survival to a bunch of strangers.
In the surgery waiting room, I also thought of my last roller coaster trip and told myself: “you’ll never know, you may come out of this okay and get to tell one hell of a story about it.” Acknowledging that you don’t know a thing about the future, that it’s unknown and that it holds mysteries, sometimes calms you down.
So when they called out my name, I was excited. Afraid and scared, yes, but mostly excited. The surgery table was shaped like a cross. They told me to lie down on my back and spread my arms like Jesus. They installed medical apparatus on my arms and gave me anesthesia. I could feel the strange substance traveled through the vein in my left arm and to my heart. The next second, my legs went asleep and it seemed that somebody just turned everything off in my body. And then I gave in. As I closed my eyes, just before I passed out for good, I let myself cheered: “oh so this is how it feels to be anesthetized!”
It felt like a fast forward to the future, skipping the moment when some doctors made an incision in my belly, cut off a part of me, and sewn me back. I found it odd that I could miss the most violent and possibly horrifying moment in my life, that I could get through it without having to feel pain, although it did left a scar. To be anesthetized is to be amnesia.
I stayed at the hospital for about two days and people came to see me, mostly my parents’ colleagues, bringing a lot of bounties. I told my manager and coworkers that I couldn’t show up at work for the next several days and they sent me lots of good wishes (and the HR granted me extra five day paid leaves. Woo!). When I made my way back to civilization, my friends came to my kostan, bringing the most delicious sweet martabak I’ve ever tasted and stories about people with weird names and laughter that hurt my not-fully-recovered abdomen.
My girlfriend, she is just the best. Juggling between college and work, she was able to give me the unwavering attention and devotion. She took care of me with compassion, patience, and love.
And my parents, they do what parents do during my crisis. I remember that when the anesthesia started to wear off and I was still half conscious, my mother and my father gave me a kiss on my forehead. It was the first time in so many years. And I remember holding their respective forefingers and saying “thank you” before I blacked out again.
The night before the surgery, I felt a blinding pain in my stomach. I went to the doctor that evening and she told me I was having an acid reflux, that nothing was serious. But the pain stayed even after I took the expensive medication that the clinic had me buy. It was so excruciating that I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking that I was going to die that night, that death was just a blood puke away. It was just like when I had a major asthma attack in the fourth grade. I was suddenly very aware of my mortality.
It turned out that I survived the night but the pain remained and was worse. By the morning, I decided to go home to my parents house on an Uber and asked for their help.
That’s right. I was asking for help.
I used to think that I could be entirely, totally, independent of my parents. I used to arrogantly think that I didn’t need them or anybody else for that matter, that I could be just fine on my own. Then, appendicitis adjusted my perspective a little bit. And I came across this on my hospital bed:
Illness mitigates solitude in another way that it attacks any notion that you are separate, autonomous, and independent. You require bone marrow or blood from another; the care of experts and of the people who love you. You are made ill by a mosquito or a virus or an unknown environmental toxin or by an aberrant gene you inherited or some exciting combination of these things. You cannot ignore that you are biological, mortal, and interdependent.
Then I think to myself: I survived appendicitis, and many calamities that happened in my life, because I had asked for help and because people had helped me.
Before appendicitis and before The Faraway Nearby, I always thought that asking and receiving help or generous gestures would put me in debt and thus it did feel like a burden. Little did I know that this kind of indebtedness actually would bind people together.
I didn’t tell my friends that I had a surgery. The reason why I did that was unclear. They eventually knew and when they came to my kostan, they told me: “Lain kali mah ngomong kalau ada apa-apa teh.”
“…There are gifts people yearn to give and debts that tie us together. Sometimes to accept is also a gift.”
To wrap it up, let me just quote yet another lines from The Faraway Nearby, the book that my kind girlfriend got me for my birthday in January.
A major illness or injury is a rupture that invites you to rethink, to restart, to review what matters. It’s a reminder that your time is finite and not to be wasted, and in breaking you from the past it offers the possibility of starting fresh.
So I guess the appendix serves a purpose after all, at least for me. It turned into an illness and the illness, with the help of the wonderful book about stories and empathy that is The Faraway Nearby, turned me into somebody new who will not hesitate to ask for help.
Featured image courtesy of Gratisography.