When I woke up yesterday, I thought, "Hmm. Today feels like a great day for appendicitis!" (I kid! I kid! (Sigh.) There is no good day for appendicitis. "Ain't nobody got time for that!") The bottom line is that I am now in a hospital bed, one appendix lighter (and one hernia repaired that I didn't even know I had).
As a child, someone read me Ludwig Bemelmans's story, Madeline, and I was obsessed. I would lie awake in my bed at night acting out the story as the title character, imagining what it would feel like to ride in an ambulance, being at the hospital, having your appendix removed. It seemed very glamourous and dramatic to my six-year-old self.
My six-year-old self would be so disappointed. I didn't ride in an ambulance in the middle of the night. There was very little drama, and certainly no glamour. I was much more Miss Clavel than Madeline, turning to my husband in the night and calmly saying, "Something is not right."
Yes, something was not right. The next morning, I asked around to see what appendicitis feels like. I was pretty sure that was what was going on. So, we loaded up and hit the road. On the way to the hospital, the conversation went like this:
Four-year-old: Mama, why are we going to the hospital?
Me: Oh, you're not going. I'm just going to get checked out to see if I need surgery. And if I need surgery, I'll have it. Nothing to worry about.
Three-year-old: That's cool!
Me: Yep! Are you excited for Daddy to go with you to gymnastics today?
And that was the entire conversation regarding the hospital. My husband dropped me off at the hospital circular drive in our minivan with the baby in a car seat/stroller (and my trusty breastpump) and drove away to take my daughters to gymnastics and then to school. (Because when you have other kids, you can't just stop the truck in the road, y'all.)
We all know there's a lot of "hurry up and wait" going on in hospitals. I knew that I was going to be there all day and, when you have a little nursling, you don't have a lot of options. (Side note: I took him because I needed to save the little milk I had stored at home and figured I could feed him throughout the day. I knew that I couldn't nurse him for twenty-four hours after surgery due to the anesthesia and he isn't so keen on bottles. Have fun with that, family! Glad I'm not home right now! Suckers!) But really, it never crossed my mind that bringing the baby was unusual. He's four months old. He goes where I go, right? Oh, wait. I couldn't get the CT scan unless I had childcare. Shit.
I'm so used to doing things on my own that I had forgotten that I might need help. I'm not used to having to ask for help. I'm a mom. I just do it. But now, I couldn't just do it. Cue the flurry of phone calls, trying to track down someone to stay with my (sleeping) baby so I could get injected with neon dye and put in a tube.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that I was in a pretty charmed situation: My brother-in-law is a surgeon, so I was able to walk into his office to be examined and he also made calls on my behalf, getting me where I needed to go and volunteering his nurse to be my childcare during the CT scan (party of the flurry of phone calls). Yes, I got to bypass the red tape. And, YES, it absolutely occured to me in that moment that I was very privileged to have an inside track.
Another plus: I had caught the appendicitis very early, so I wasn't in a lot of pain (yet). So, that was good. But the best part of the day was knowing that I have a fantastic network of friends and family that sprang into action, offering to pick up kids from school, grab formula for the baby, bring meals to my family, lift up prayers, etc. I was so touched to get messages from all over (some from literally across the world) with good wishes and offers of help. I was wrapped in a bubble of love.
I think what I forgot was that I was having surgery. Like, real surgery. Like, intubated-and-under-general-anesthesia surgery. I had spent most of the day playing with my four-month-old. I don't really get to do that very much, having time with just him. I had him belly laughing in the surgeon's office. He fell asleep on my chest. I lovingly handed him to my husband and watched him grab (and try to eat) his Daddy's nose. The doctors and PAs and nurses came in and introduced themselves. We joked about kids and YouTube videos. It was actually a delightful way to spend a day in a hospital. He was such a distraction that I really had forgotten I was actually having surgery.
And then the moment comes that they are ready to wheel you away. And it's real. And it hits you like a Mack truck that you are not in control. You have absolutely no control over what happens to you. This could be it. It could be the last kiss I give to my husband. It could be last little squeeze of a baby's hand. Had I told everyone that I loved them? (Yes, of course, logically I know that this procedure is so common that the surgeon could probably do it blindfolded. Yes, I know that the chances of me, a youngish healthy woman, not coming through surgery are extremely small. But that doesn't mean you don't get hit with it. It doesn't mean that you don't feel that fear and panic.)
Yes, I got hit right between the eyes with the "Let Go and Let God" moment. In my everyday life, I pray. I pray pretty regularly, giving thanks for little things throughout the day, often praying for patience (usually to get through the three-year-old's temper tantrum), asking for forgiveness (usually when patience fails). But for all the little prayers, I do have trouble being still. Really still. I'm someone who operates out of an energy that constantly moves, constantly spins. So, to be hit with the stillness and quiet of the realization that you're not in control feels humbling. And terrifying.
Rolling down the hallway, I breathe deeply and intentionally. I think how I would tell my own children to be brave. I cry. And I move into a different kind of prayer, almost a mantra that I repeat over and over again in my mind as we make our way to double doors: "God, I know that you are holding me in the palm of your hand. I know that you are in control. Please quiet my fear and bring me your peace."
It is almost always the same prayer. I pray it on airplanes. Or when my husband travels. Or when I'm worried about my kids. Or when someone I know is suffering. Sometimes the pronouns change, but the thought is the same. And so is the result: lovely, quiet stillness.
My gurney bursts through the doors to the O.R. It is bright and happy, almost like a bouncy surgery party. "Young Folks" is playing on a speaker. I smile. I remember dancing to it in jazz class years before kids, spinning across the floor in pirouettes. "Thank you," I pray.
The next thing I know, I'm in the recovery room, a little groggy and with an awful taste in my mouth from the breathing tube and blind as a bat without my glasses. Across from me is a little boy who is also just coming out of surgery. He is panicking, not able to express how he feels or understand why he feels this way. The nurses are doing their best to comfort him and one of them brings his mother in from the waiting room.
And that's the moment when I find grace. I say another prayer. And it is all thanks. I am thankful for my life, to keep doing what I do. I am thankful for my village, for the community of family and friends and friends-of-friends that rallied around me. I am thankful for the caregivers, the doctors, the PAs, the nurses, the staff who work tirelessly in service of others. I am thankful for my healthy children and my husband, who is truly my partner in everything. Yes, today, sitting in this hospital bed, I am profoundly thankful. I am even thankful for my appendix, that little four-inch, seemingly-useless organ that caused all the commotion in the first place and forced me to be still for a while. Maybe it wasn't so useless after all. Thank you.