In the course of my life, I have had 4 surgeries. Hospital visits are not uncommon to me.
This story, is about the one hospital visit, where I almost left the hospital to go straight to the morgue.
I was 6 years old and it was 1983. Yes, that is young but a lot of this I do remember. Some of the holes were filled in by my parents but it all fell into place with the memories I do have.
My parents, my 1-year-old sister and I were on one of those Cult Religion trips that we took every year, in September. This particular year my parents chose Tuscon, Arizona to spend the week. So, we drove from Los Angeles, California to Tuscon, Arizona. This is approximately an 8 hour drive.
We had just started the trip and stopped at a hotel. The following is from my memory:
I was taking a shower. I’m still shocked my parents allowed me to shower with no supervision. Or maybe I was independent like that, I would believe it. I dropped the soap. I see it on the floor of the shower. I was a kid, I was probably fooling around and I stepped on the soap which slipped from under my foot and sent me flying towards the edge of the tub. The edge of the tub meets my abdomen right on the lower right section.
I get up, I’m screaming and I walk out of the bathroom to meet my startled parents. I don’t remember much after that but from what my mother tells me, to her it seemed like I just had the wind knocked out of me. I was fine after a few minutes.
This scenario above will play a big role in what is to come.
We spent the whole week in Tucson with no problems. I remember going out to eat with my family and their friends. I remember staying in a nice bungalow type room for the week. I even remember playing in the stone lined pool. All was as it should be.
It wasn’t until the day before we were supposed to leave did the vomiting start. My mother told me at first she thought I got food poisoning. I always had stomach and/or digestive problems when I was younger so my mother was used to me having slight tummy aches and constipation. But this was something different.
We finally went to our last church service of the week (there were church services every morning for two hours every day of that week). We decided to have lunch at a cafeteria type place. I remember it was similar to a Hometown Buffet or Souplantation.
I didn’t eat a thing. My stomach was in full panic mode. At this point, my mother still believed it was some sort of stomach bug. I vomited half way through lunch and my mother rushed me to the bathroom. I still remember this bathroom. It was painted a yellowish-green. I remember a woman telling my mother to put a cold paper towel on my head.
I was still able to manage a smile for one family photo outside the restaurant although just minutes before I had vomited up all my insides.
I actually don’t remember if we started our 8 hour road trip back to California after lunch, later that day or the next day. But it was on this return trip back to California when the horror happened.
This is what I remember.
I was in the back seat, on the passenger side. My baby sister was in a car seat on the driver side. We were in a rental car, I think.
My stomach was on fire. Right now, typing out this memory makes me want to cry because even 30 years later I still remember that pain.
It happened while we were in the middle of the 8 hour road trip and right in the middle of the strip of nothing (as I call it) that is in between Arizona and California.
My appendix exploded.
Now, I was writhing around crying before it burst but the pain of when it actually happened was more than I care to remember. The pain was indescribable. I’ve given birth to a child and that was painful. And remember, I do have a low tolerance for pain and maybe this experience was why I have a low tolerance for pain. I was only 6. Pain petrifies me to this day. But this pain was horrifying.
Back to the moment it burst, for I knew exactly when it did. Up until that moment, the pain was more a dull stomach ache but times 20. When it burst, it literally felt like someone had stuck a huge red hot poker into my lower right abdomen and then scrambled my insides around. Remember, I was 6…and still remember the pain. That is how bad it was and how much it impacted my memory banks.
I can see my parents, at the moment this happened. My father was driving, my mother was in the front passenger seat but facing me in the back seat, behind her. They both looked at each other and seemed to tell each other that they other knew what was happening. Since they were on that road you see pictured above, with nothing around, my father floored the gas. He drove about 90 mph. My mother said that she hoped a cop would have pulled them over because maybe they could have escorted them. But surprisingly, no cops were around. Luckily, the roads were empty and it was late at night. It would have been awful if they got in an accident trying to get me to a hospital and my family was killed. Blegh…
About 2 hours after the initial bursting of my internal organ, we arrived at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena CA. Ironically, this was the same hospital I gave birth to my son, 21 years later and was also the same hospital that I had another organ removed, my gall bladder, a year after giving birth to my son.
It is necessary to note that somewhere in those 2 hours after the appendix burst, the pain had stopped, completely. Very strange.
When my father pulled up to the ER of the hospital my mother ran inside to inform them what was going on and a nurse came out with a wheelchair.
Being that I wasn’t in pain, I remember sitting in the back seat twiddling my thumbs as we pulled up to the ER. I can still see my thumbs moving between each other. And I was humming, like a bored child would. But my thumbs were the only things moving.
My father got out of the driver seat, went around to open my door and my mother went around the other side of the car to get my 1 year-old sister out of the car, who had apparently slept through this whole ordeal. As my father opened the door, out of habit I made the movements to jump out. Except that is not what happened.
My legs would not move, at all. Ah, so that is why the pain stopped so abruptly.
I was temporarily paralyzed from my chest to my toes. What my parents were later told as to why I couldn’t walk was because I had been dormant for so long after the appendix burst and poison fluids had leaked out from the burst appendix. This rendered my lower body numb. So even though I felt paralyzed as I couldn’t move my lower extremities, my body was just numb. As if it went to sleep. It was still shocking for my dad.
He scooped me up and by that time, a nurse with the wheelchair was behind him and I was placed there.
What happened next was probably the blurriest of these memories. I remember laying in a hospital ER bed, getting needles poked into me, my blood being taken from all sides. I remember my mother’s face, crying.
I know that soon after that, I went into surgery and the burst appendix was removed and all the fluid cleaned up.
I remember, being in a nice big hospital room. There were many visitors, lots of my parents friends and friends of the family. My grandfather anointed me (as was the custom in our religion to do for the sick and ailing).
I was in the hospital for 3 weeks to recover. I was weak and it took me a while to be able to eat normally. I was only 6 so I didn’t weigh much but after those 3 weeks, I weighed close to nothing. I recall a photo I found many years ago of me, just after that ordeal, and I had just turned 7, and I was still so skinny. It was bizarre to see.
I know that during that time hospital stay my mother wrote down all her thoughts. I have seen some pieces of what she wrote as she wrote a lot of it on scrap paper she found, such as envelopes and napkins. I remember reading “They just wheeled by baby into surgery…”. I could not even imagine what horror she must have gone through. You know, my mother and I may not get along most of the time and we certainly don’t agree on much of anything, but I would never wish for any mother to go through this trauma. I felt for her.
This especially became apparent when, many years later. I got to experience this all through her eyes as she relayed the experience to me from her perspective.
She said that the doctors told her two things that astonished her.
1) They told her I should have died. When the appendix burst poisoned fluids were given at least 2 hours to float around inside me, which would have poisoned every organ it touched. But to their astonishment, only about 10% of the poison escaped. What happened was that the fatty tissues of my belly (I was a little chubby), kept all the poison in one area, kind of making a bowl so that it would not to escape.
That was one time I was grateful for my fat.
2) They asked my mother this “Did she have any kind of fall or blunt trauma to the right area of her abdomen within the past week?”
A simple bar of soap could have ended my life.
Life is a crazy thing.