Dang! A cowboy's work is never done!
A lot has happened since I last wrote a post, and although it hasn't all been pretty, I've learned a lot and think I'll be able to serve my patients that much better going forward.
First and foremost, my appendix ruptured July 14th. Ten days later* I submitted to my patient wife's gentle suggestions and went to see my physician, who rapidly diagnosed my condition and sent me to the emergency room. A few hours later I was the proud owner of a gigantic vertical scar on the midline of my belly, and I have now made an almost complete recovery -- in fact, I am as insufferable as I have been in years. I would like to thank my excellent doctor, Larry Ginsburg, of Lewisburg, PA; my skillful surgeon, Gary Ayers, also of Lewisburg; and the friendly, efficient and no-nonsense staff at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg. We are very fortunate to have such a fine facility in our little town, and I am very lucky to have such wonderful doctors looking out for me.
I hope you understand that I intend to use this adventure as my excuse for being offline for so long.
But never mind my sloth, here's some of what I learned and would like to share with you. First of all, I don't know whether to be proud of being so tough (see: cowboy reference above and Aggie reference below) or ashamed of being so out of touch with my own body (see: title of blog, with attendant reasonable expectation of some level of self-awareness, healthy habits and sensitivity to self and others). Maybe I have experienced more intense pain than I care to recall and so have become inured to it (Blessed is humanity's poor memory for pain! Thank you, Mama, for continuing on after my older brother was born!!), but the pain I experienced with my acute appendicitis wasn't anything so special. I mean, my stomach hurt and I didn't feel like going to the amusement park, but I frequently don't feel like going to the amusement park. So the first thing I learned is that appendicitis doesn't necessarily cripple you with pain.
If not for the persistent fever over the next ten days, I might've thought the malaise and discomfort were just a lingering hangover (although I hadn't had a drink in 4 months), or possibly the effects of a bad conscience. As it was, I initially thought I was just constipated, and when I continued to feel poorly after moving my bowels, assumed I was dying of pancreatic cancer, like my late brother. Honestly, it was the combination of my wife's pleas with the tearful awake-all-night planning of what I would say to my three young sons that got me to the doctor. Thank God and Goddess that my melodramatic, paranoid and guilty assumption was wrong. I would describe this as the second thing that I learned, but based on a lifetime of evidence, "Get some help, dummy!" is something that I haven't yet gotten a handle on.
Finally, perhaps the most important thing I learned is based on the aftermath of the surgery. After I was all healed up and had gotten my legs back underneath me, I experienced something very unusual for me. Although it reflects very poorly on my vain and superficial character, for the first time that I can remember, after my surgery I didn't feel sexy and attractive. I didn't particularly think of my belly as an erogenous zone or a particularly attractive part of my body, but once it had a long, dark red, zig-zagging seam up its middle, I didn't much feel like taking my shirt off. I certainly am not feeling like I want to proposition anyone or strut my stuff anywhere. Fortunately my wife still finds me attractive (and I have always felt like I am getting away with something, being allowed to be intimate with such a beautiful, vivacious and talented woman), but it has been a shock, how much this healing experience has left me feeling maimed and undesirable.
Besides saving my life, this realization has been the most valuable part of the experience for me. Many of my patients have had hysterectomies, C-sections and other abdominal surgeries, and many of them have reported feeling undesirable and emotionally disconnected from their sexuality after such surgeries. I only understood it in the abstract before, but now I understand in a much more personal way. It doesn't matter if the car works -- on some true level, if it doesn't LOOK good, it's not much fun to drive. Oh, it will get you to the grocery store and back, but you don't feel much like cruising the Strip or dragging a stranger at a stop light.
I'm sure I'll learn something else after some time has gone by and I've gotten used to my scar -- probably something about thankfulness and letting go (or maybe something about the pleasures of winning races in a beat up Buick with a tank of nitrous under the hood). But for now I am feeling for everyone who has gotten to middle age and then something happened on the outside -- Pffft! -- and everything changed on the inside. It's kind of the opposite of a mid-life crisis, or maybe it's my first experience with an end of life experience(!). Things feel hopelessly, inexorably sober. Responsibility is no longer an option, but the norm. I am fully a father and an adult. I'm not depressed (I know -- I've been depressed), but gravity definitely has a stronger hold on me.
It sucks, but there are worse things.
And soon it will be spring!
February 10**, 2013 on the Chinese calendar. I'll write again then.
*This reminds me of an Aggie joke, and as the child of an Aggie I feel comfortable telling it: A minute before half-time of the annual Texas A&M and University of Texas football game, someone in the crowd threw a firecracker. The Longhorns, thinking it was the gun announcing halftime, filed off the field and into the locker room. Three plays later, the Aggies scored.
** If you read this before today (12/18/12), I had the wrong date... oops, sorry!