Apologizing My Way Through Appendicitis


My absent hunger was the first sign something was wrong. Normally, even when I'm physically full, the suggestion of, say, a gooey cookie will open a vacancy in my stomach.

This fateful day, though, I skipped breakfast, and then headed to lunch with a co-worker.

"Huh," I thought. Every bit of bread and cheese and chia on the menu sounded repellent. I ordered a smoothie. It tasted like paste.

"Huh," I thought, when the smoothie was not agreeing with me. "Huh," I thought, driving down the highway later with a generalized maelstrom of pain.

"HUH," I thought, hunched on the couch at home, sweating as the clock ticked ever closer to middle school pickup. "HUHHHHHH," I thought, driving to the school tensed up like a tiny crab.

Now's when you may remark, "Why didn't she ask for help? Why didn't she stop driving everywhere?"

These are valid thoughts! I figured I had menstrual cramps, even though I knew the timing was off, and this pain was different. I'd had a similar bout a few months earlier, and my gynecologist chalked it up to rupturing ovarian cysts. I experienced my first cyst rupture when I was 13: pain like a hot bolt of lightning.

For those of you without the benefit (?) of a uterus: Many of us walk around regularly with abdominal and pelvic pain that could take down an ornery bear. We tolerate the discomfort, headaches, bowel issues, bloating and bleeding while being told to smile in the shampoo aisle of CVS, while running corporate meetings and delivering packages and coordinating family lives. We have become adept at relaxing our facial masseters and putting others at ease so they may never know Bruce Willis is rappelling from a proverbial Nakatomi Plaza near our fallopian tubes.

Whatever this was, I'd been training for it my whole life. Not only are women cursed with recurrent physical pain, but we are also tasked with being likable.

I went home and lay down in the shape of a comma. The pain started to ease, and I thought, silly lady! You're fine! The next morning, I felt sore but better, with plans to chalk the agony up to the Beautiful Mystery of Womanhood. Health care, who needs it?! I started work, yet I remained distracted by pain congregating ominously in one area.

Between each sentence I typed, the sensation nagged. I turned to Dr. Google, who offered the words "lower right quadrant" and "appendix." I poked my lower right quadrant and began the calculus unique to Americans: weighing the cost-benefit ratio of urgent care versus primary care versus worst of all, the panic button known as the emergency room. I was lucky to have insurance, I reminded myself, and would be foolish not to use it.

My doctor's office was able to fit me in with a nurse practitioner. She prodded.


"Can you jump up and down?" she said.

"I would rather not," I replied.

She wrote "STAT" on the CT scan order. I relaxed my masseters as the receptionists argued about who had to call the imaging center. I apologized to everyone, saying, "Whenever you can squeeze me in!"


At home, I checked my electronic portal, thinking there was no way I actually had appendicitis. They'd tell me to avoid cashew butter in smoothies. Or take an Aleve. Or see a therapist for anxiety manifesting in the lower right quadrant.

"Appendicitis," it read.


Not knowing what to do next, I took the dog out. During the walk, the on-call doctor phoned and said I should head to the emergency room, haha! We caught the appendix at an early enough stage that it had not yet ruptured, turned gangrenous and put my life at risk.

At the hospital, I chatted about favorite bourbons with the friendly surgeon who would soon laparoscopically snake into my belly in three places and cut out the rascally organ while I snoozed under general anesthesia.

"You're very stoic," he said, looking into my eyes. "When I saw you across the room, I didn't believe you had appendicitis."

After surgery, the nurse said I was her favorite appendicitis patient, which made me feel like I won The Hospital, which made me feel ... huh? Like I should probably start examining the need to be liked and chill, even when losing a toxic organ. This work will be ongoing!

I spent a few days watching Anne Hathaway rom-coms. The surgery pain replaced the pain in my lower right quadrant, magically gone, kaput, no small mercy. The moral here is to listen to the language of hurt, respect bodily oddities, fight the urge to rationalize problems away, even if you fancy yourself some kind of smiley, friendlier John Wick.

I checked my online patient portal to read the surgery notes.

"Very pleasant 40-year-old female presents to ER with approximately a day and a half of abdominal discomfort."

On my face crawled a vacant drugstore smile.


Stephanie Hayes is a columnist at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. Follow her at @stephhayes on Twitter or @stephrhayes on Instagram.


Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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