When a Loss is a Gain

Ten years ago, I lost part of myself.

Not figuratively.

I truly lost part of myself.

The day began with an intact Michael and ended with Michael and his appendix residing on different floors of the same hospital.

I had abdominal pain the night before, thinking it was the usual flu or whatever. But as I spent most of the next morning in a tightly-wound fetal position, it became clear this was something serious. I called my girlfriend (and future wife) and told her I needed to get to the E.R… immediately. By the time we got to the hospital, I couldn’t stand up straight and needed a wheelchair just to get inside.

After a blur of long-winded insurance questions and necessary tests, I was suddenly lying face up on a stretcher with anesthesia rolling into my veins. As I started counting, I noticed my mom and my girlfriend were both wearing red and then I conked out.

When I came to, I was being rolled out of an elevator. There stood my mom, my girlfriend, and three of my best friends. The angst on their faces told me I was in a world of hurt. I thought for sure I was headed under the knife, but the knife had already done his part and I was on the road to recovery. I was also on the road to the room that became my home for the next eight days. I wasn’t going anywhere soon. I found out later my appendix had ruptured right there on the operating table. It was a nasty predicament that required some deft maneuvers on the part of the doctor and nurses to clean me out and prevent peritonitis. But hey, if your appendix is gonna explode anywhere, the operating table is probably the most opportune place to be, right?

The next eight days were filled with all kinds of fun: trying my best to not dislodge the tube coming out of my side, getting spacey on morphine, puking casually in the middle of a conversation with my friend, puking after getting a whiff of the overnight nurse who covered up her cigarette smoking with nauseous perfume, and of course, getting a fever and then getting chills and then getting a fever and then getting chills and then breaking out into a sweat while somehow freezing my ass off at the same time. Walking became a challenge and I celebrated when I dragged the IV pole behind me and made it to the bathroom all by myself like a big boy.

By no means was the stay entirely a downer. Visits from my parents, my brother, my uncle, my friends, and my pastor reminded me I was loved. My dedicated girlfriend slept on a nearby cot every night to ensure I never felt alone. And when I wasn’t tossing my cookies or getting loopy on painkillers, I had ample time to realize how lucky I was. One stupid little useless malfunctioning organ could have killed me, but here I was, laid out in a haze, daydreaming about inhaling fresh air again.

Finally, on November 10, 2006, the hospital released me. I left behind one appendix and 25 pounds, which was almost 20% of my body weight at the time. Frustration and I became the best of friends. I was weak and had no appetite (if you know me now, you won’t believe that part about “no appetite”). After collapsing more times than I care to admit, I forced myself to regain strength by walking laps around the inside of my apartment.

appendix-nov-2006
This is me at Thanksgiving 2006. I didn’t have much of an appetite yet, but real food never tasted so good.

The remaining 80% of me braced for the impending medical bills, which totaled $23,000 before trusty insurance swooped in and covered the majority of the costs. Sure, $23,000 sounds like a butt load of money. However, if I had had no choice but to pay it, it would have been worth every damn penny. Be honest: if you knew it’d take $23,000 to save your life, you’d pay it in a heartbeat.

Even if you couldn’t care less about someone else’s ruptured organ, there’s a lesson to be learned here. Sometimes you have to lose something to gain something. In the decade since my appendix went bye-bye, I’ve said hello to a new approach to life. Steadily, day by day, year by year, I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I refuse to be lazy, I refuse to sleep in (even on weekends), and I find myself squeezing more out of life than I ever did before.

I can look down and stare at the scar on my abdomen. I can rummage through my closet and pull out the medical bracelet and foam green socks from my hospital stay. But those are feeble reminders compared to the resolve and determination I will carry with me the rest of the way.

Researchers have discovered the appendix has more of a purpose than they originally thought. Ironically enough, my broken appendix gave me more of a purpose, too.

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