my atavism ran over your buddhism


Today’s blog goes out to our next-door neighbor, great friend and honorary Uncle to Lucy: David Petrarca, who was struck with appendicitis on Saturday night. After an emergency appendectomy in the wee hours of the morning, he emerged groggy but unscathed. Man, times have changed. David was in the hospital for only one day, and is able to walk, albeit uncomfortably, just 24 hours later. Apparently all appendectomies are now done through the belly button, with two other tiny incisions elsewhere. The stitches dissolve by themselves and there’s absolutely no scarring.

However, for those of us who got our appendix out in 1972, it looked a little more like this:


That’s orange iodine stain covering my belly from the operation, which put me in the hospital for four days (am I right about that, Mom?) and it was emblazoned on my scrapbook as The Great Appendix Caper. I still have the scar, which is no smaller than it was during Nixon’s term.

I remember the hospital being more fun than I could imagine – I got grape Jell-o on command, lots of visitors, and a ceramic dog that held a plant I kept alive for years. I loved the nurses, and they would pal around in my room. This experience made me a little weird; I actually enjoy hospitals. I know they make most people want to kill themselves, but I’ve always appreciated them deeply.

Oh, and by the way… what the hell is up with appendixes? The tail end of your large intestine that just sits there like a time bomb ready to kill you? I take it from research that it is probably the vestigial remains of a distant evolutionary relative who ate a lot of leaves, but why does the appendix have to be so mean-spirited? The male nipple, wisdom teeth, our coccyx, ear muscles and body hair may all be useless reminders of our forgotten past, like an ancient dinner guest who says nothing and eats little, but at least they know how to behave!

0 thoughts on “my atavism ran over your buddhism

  1. ken

    I still have my appendix and tonsils (waiting for both of those to flake out anytime now) but parted with the wisdom teeth circa 1986 and like your episode in the hospital, I rather enjoyed it, no pain and I still got vicodin. Oddly I also once had a root canal without novocaine that was largely pain-free. More vicodin for that one too.
    I almost lost a friend to appendicitis last year but two sugeries later, he’s all good now.
    The appendix never goes quietly, does it?

  2. Alan

    I got mine out in Christmas of grade ten in 1978 after moving to a new town. I was a shortwave radio nerd and the head nurse thought I was the devil because I listened to Radio Moscow on my little transistor model. I think I was in for days. Elvis Costello was on SNL the night the fever came on which makes my recollection even cooler.

  3. Steph Mineart

    Stupid appendixes. Mine asploded in 2003, and the resulting infection attacked my mitral valve that was already prolapsed, deteriorating it further, requiring repair in 2005, which in turn has caused repeated lung inflammations for which no one can figure out the source.
    Timebomb indeed.

  4. Mom

    Yes, Ian… it was four days. And after the first day, you took over the peds floor. I don’t know how you managed it, but by day two the doors and halls were festooned with signs (in your hand lettering) that said “This way to Ian’s room” or “Ian’s room straight ahead.” and finally “This is Ian’s room. Come in.”
    I think you managed to bribe some of those nurses to hang the signs, because you were pretty immobile for the most part. I do remember that you really liked the experience (once it quit hurting and you were fully awake). For me it was super-scary. The hours you spent in surgery were the longest of my life, as any other parent will confirm. Appendicitis at the age of four or five is rare of, and if it hadn’t been for the intuitive and incredible Doctor Barthel, you might have died. The other docs in the OR were sure you just had a tummy ache.
    Thumbs up for Uncle David!
    Oh, and Happy Birthday to No. 2 son and brother Steve!

  5. the other Lee

    hey, don’t besmirch the ear muscles, I can use mine to move around my ears and scalp. It’s not really useful but it gets laughs from toddlers so I consider it a good talent to have.

  6. Anne D.

    Had an emergency appendectomy when I was 12, so c. 1963. ONE WEEK in the freakin’ hospital for recovery. I was in the children’s ward and was taken in my jammies by the nice candy stripers (most only a few years older than I) to make crafts with the little kids in the playroom every day.
    Clearly procedures have improved! Get-well wishes to David.

  7. Neva

    Speedy recovery to you David and Steph what a terrible story. Damn appendix!
    Isn’t it amazing how medicine has advanced. Most surgeries are dayop or just an overnight stay now. Even open heart surgery has you out in 2-3 days for better or worse.
    I recently learned that in some hospitals they even have robots (yes, they call them this) doing the laproscopic procedures because they are able to do many more angles of rotation of the scope where our wrists and hands can only turn a certain number of degrees. This allows more procedures to be done laproscopically which lowers their risk and improves recovery. Many more hysterectomies for example can be done this way improving the recovery time from 6 weeks to more like 2. Of course a doctor controls the robot like a little Wizard of Oz behind the screen but they aren’t even that close to the patient!
    Ian, were you in England at the time of your surgery? I ask because when I worked in England I found their hospitals much more pleasant (if not as fancy) to be in and wonder if that’s part of your positive experience.
    Also, Steve, happy birthday to you! We are birthday twins! Have a good one.

  8. kent

    Now that surgeons are all \trained on arthroscopic surgery, a lot of surgery is now almost an outpatient thing.
    Unfortunately, I think that this ‘out the next day after general anaesthesia’ thing is driven as much by insurance companies as patient care. Did I mention I just saw ‘Sicko.’
    On the other hand, I work at a hospital, and the one thing I know about hospitalization is that it’s a lot like jail. If you’re there, get out as soon as possible, because the longer you’re there, the more they get on you.
    I have two words for anyone who wants to stay that extra day in the hospital after surgery: Resistant Pseudomonas. Hospitals are breeding grounds for nasty bacteria.
    Which brings up a third (?) point — don’t let anyone in the hospital touch you without washing their hands, and if they touch your chart ask them to wash again. Charts are always filthy with bacteria.

  9. John Schultz

    Rest up and get better David. Nice pic Ian.
    As for me, all parts present and accounted for including tonsils, wisdom teeth and appendix.
    I think the first thing to go for me will be my gall bladder. The family history is there and any amount of stress or overly greasy food initiates the bile sequence. Can’t wait.

  10. Sean

    I too have all of my parts — appendix, wisdom teeth, tonsils. Which is good because, unlike Ian but like most others, hospitals give me the heebie jeebies.
    On another slightly Sicko-tinged note, my brother’s appendix burst a few years back during a time when he was uninsured. He came out of it OK healthwise, but it almost bankrupted him. Not fun.

  11. Rebecca

    Happy Birthday Neva and Steve!
    My little redhead Henry thinks that’s a picture of him! “Look Mom that’s Henry!” He doesn’t know any other redheaded boys, so it must be him, right?

  12. GFWD

    I had my appendix removed when I was in 5th grade and stayed in the hospital a few days, I recall. I had staples instead of stitches. The scar is still there, but it has flattened and seems rather negligible now. It used to look like a big ass centipede, though.

  13. dpdir

    Thanks for the good wishes. I just hope my stomach decreases soon. I actually could not wear my pants home from the hospital! sure that pic will get me lots of dates. ;)

  14. Salem

    Excellent job David! Way to get it in one take! I got to spend four hours at Piedmont Hospital in 1992. After hours of pain, CAT scans, and X-rays, they finally decided it was my appendix, shortly after it burst inside of me. I don’t remember the next few days after that, but I think it took me three or four days to go farther than the bathroom. As a great Italian cook, you would have appreciated what looked almost exactly like a fine cold pressed extra virgin olive oil that oozed through my stitches a week later. Cheers!

  15. campbell

    Have to log my dispute with your statement that the coccyx knows how to behave. One fine evening two weeks and two days ago, I slipped on the steps and bounced about halfway down on said coccyx. I’ve been between pain and severe agony ever since with no end, so to speak, in sight. No position is halfway comfortable except the fetal one, which is getting really boring. The u-shaped cushion is my constant companion but only works on hard chairs, so no comfortable seating anywhere. The coccyx — our ancestral tail and still a pain in the ass!


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