See Appendix A, infra

October 8, 2010

Wednesday found me at the Legislative Office Building, a perfectly functional, albeit less architecturally inspired, adjunct to the lovely, gold-domed Capitol. The LOB, as it is know to all, is a multi-story, marble-and-carpet-bedecked affair in which hearing rooms and committee offices line horseshoe-shaped hallways, which line the sides of a soaring, skylit atrium. When the legislature is in session, the hallways and common spaces bustle with lobbyists – all grey suits and pearls and unctuous confidence – and staffers – impossibly young and preppy, moving purposefully when alone, lingering in pairs, or in larger groups, surrounding and trailing behind actual legislators like the tail of a comet.

I was there in the off-season (so to speak) to attend a training, which the sponsoring agency had incentivized by providing vouchers for free lunch at the LOB cafeteria (and by filling the day with fascinating speakers and material, OF COURSE). I had the chicken parm and a salad, and everything seemed right with the world – I settled onto my plush seat at 2:00 with a large cup of coffee and a notebook to listen to Yale Law students talk about the collateral immigration consequences of criminal convictions. (And let’s face it: THEY ARE SO CUTE! They know so much about abstruse points of law and are precociously conversant in the dialect of their areas of expertise, but they also don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ when it comes to real life.)

And then, around 2:30, the first pang of sharp gut pain. I imagined myself as Captain Kirk in “The Wrath of Khan,” holding up an angry fist and shouting, “Chicken Paaaaaaaaaarm!” then I slipped quietly off to the bathroom. But the bathroom trip proved useless and by the time I left the training at 5:00, the act of getting up from a crouch after unlocking my bicycle caused stabbing pain on the right side of my gut. When I picked up Max from school, it took all of my energy and concentration to walk the four blocks to our house without crumpling.

Long story short: it was appendicitis, and now, a day and a half later, I am sitting in hospital bed with a tube in my arm, a belly hilariously half-shaved of hair, and with three small, gauze- covered holes in my gut through which fancy tools and little cameras entered and, shortly thereafter, my appendix departed.

And that’s about all I can offer in the way of narrative. Hospital stays, even short ones like mine (they expect to discharge me today), comprise a lot of nothing punctuated by periods of pain, amusing overheard statements from outside the room, and bad television. So here is the hospital stay as I have experienced it, in a series of isolated events:

Sitting across from me in the ER waiting room is the mother of one of my clients (small world, I guess). For a while I resist the urge to ask how my client is doing, but finally we run out of things to talk about. It turns out the mom doesn’t see any problem with discussing her daughter’s behavior issues in great detail in a public place.

Beside me in the waiting room is a sous chef who cut off two of his fingers at work. He is a vocal and mercurial Yankees fan of the sort who will sing a player’s praises to anyone in earshot as the man steps up to the plate, then call him a bum moments later when he grounds out. The sous chef will end up in a room down the hall from me and I will learn the following things about him: his name is Costanza; he is originally from Bridgeport; his cousin is the head chef, see? And he don’t do his prep so good, so Costanza had to do a bunch of stuff to cover for his cousin and then run to his station to his own work, “and that’s how I ended up cuttin’ off my fingers, do you know what I’m sayin’?” I will hear Costanza laugh and say, “I hope nobody’s gettin’ the pepper salad!”

Elsewhere on my hallway is a young man who is undergoing some sort of uncomfortable procedure and cursing liberally. “Whatever you tryna get in there,” he shouts at one point, “you better get it, ’cause you ain’t gettin’ another chance!” l will later hear him say, “Yo get that shit out ’cause it’s ripping my, my shit.” Another man will scold him gently for complaining and tell him it is his own fault. When the painful procedure is over, the patient will recount the occasion on which he bought drugs after being clean for four years. He will attribute this, in large part to his mother and her unwillingness to support him emotionally. I cannot decide if the other man in the room is his brother or his parole officer.

I am attended for a while by a sharply dressed doctor with a sonorous African accent, named Jude. He calls me “buddy,” as in “Well, buddy, I think it’s the appendix.” Before giving me a rectal exam, he does not tell me what he’s going to do. He just hands me a wad of toilet paper and has me roll onto my side.

The phlebotomist and I figure out that we are both from Brooklyn, a fact he excitedly announces to a doctor. The doctor, without missing a beat, asks, “What’s he doing all the way up here?”

The operating ward is gloriously empty at 4:00 in the morning. Everything is one or another shade of blue in the pre-op area, with all of the curtained-off rooms except mine dim and empty, and many filled with spare gurneys. There is no natural light, but the panels covering the recessed bulbs are sky blue with cottony clouds on them. When the surgeon arrives and introduces himself, I say “How are ya?” and he says, “Better than you!”

In the operating room, the doctors and nurses buzzing around me explain everything they are doing, as though I might object. “We’re just going to put these leggings on you, ok? They help with circulation during the surgery.” I tell them they could put strips of bacon on my knees and I would assume it was right and necessary, but they just look at me quizzically. Then I pass out.

When I come to in the post-op room, the nurses are laughing and jovial. They say I have been talking for a while and I am very funny. I wonder what I said.

In the recovery ward, I get a room with a gorgeous view:


My bed, in addition to being adjustable in the familiar, push-button fashion, seems to have a mind of its own: every now and then, without any warning that I can discern, parts of the mattress inflate or deflate, gently shifting me this way and that. I suppose it’s probably sensing my weight and trying to support me evenly, or perhaps making me move a little to avoid bedsores. I’d prefer, though, to think that the bed just needs to assert its presence sometimes, so as not to be taken for granted.

In the recovery ward I am attended by teams of nurses and medical assistants – Ashley and Brian, in the first instance. (Later, I will have Bill and Mercy, whose names are also essential elements of modern medical care.) At one point, I eat too much food too quickly and cause myself a stomach ache so severe that I am starting to black out from the pain. After nurse Ashley has helped me out of bed to the bathroom, then upped my pain meds, MA Brian comes in for a scheduled check-in. “How we doing?” he asks. “Well,” Ashley says, “Our patient had a really rough five minutes.” “Five minutes?!” Brian says. “That ain’t nothin’.” He’s right, of course.

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3 Responses to “See Appendix A, infra”

  1. I like fall risk. It is, after all, October. And if appendicitis ain’t a risk, I don’t know what is.

  2. Kerri said

    WTF?! You say that this chef chopped off two of his fingers, but don’t even hint at what restaurant he works in?! At least give us the town.

    Also, pleased that you got through this, minus one piece.

  3. El Prez said

    Kerri,

    I can’t say with certainty where he works, but his apron was from Hot Tomatoes. I wouldn’t let that turn you off from there, though. I mean, look – accidents happen.

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