Eight days after school let out for the summer in 1975, I had plans to go on a two-week camping trip with my friends. I finished the chores, trying to ignore an ache in my lower right side that had come out of nowhere earlier in the day. Since I had painful menstrual cramps every month, I blew it off. Unfortunately, the pain only got worse as the day went on.
I fed and exercised my horses, choosing to work them in a pen instead of riding because of the pain. I came inside and tried to begin dinner. I remember reaching for a pan in the lower cabinet and feeling a searing, gut-wrenching pain that sent a scream out of my lungs that made everyone jump. When I came to, I was on the couch with my mother and family looking down at me. I curled up in a ball, grinding my teeth and finding it hard to breathe.
My mother decided a trip to the hospital was in order; I was never one to say anything when I was in pain. The previous summer, I had fallen from my horse onto a boulder and cracked four ribs; I joked that it was hard to breathe and only hurt when I laughed. I just didn’t pay attention to how much it hurt.
I had developed a habit when I was in pain and scared that some people find annoying; I tell bad jokes and try to blow everything off. I’m really trying to take the edge off the seriousness of what’s going on to keep me from losing it, but over the years, it hasn’t always worked on people. It didn’t work on the ER staff, either.
I was told I had appendicitis and would need surgery. I stopped laughing; I had heard horror stories from my grandparents about relatives dying after being cut on. Suddenly, I wanted to go home and tried to convince everyone I was fine. The doctor told me to jump off the table and walked. When my feet hit the floor, I nearly collapsed. I was lifted onto the table and then prepped for surgery.
After I recovered, I discovered I had a small, straight scar on my side. I wasn’t disfigured, there was no infection and the doctors didn’t take out the wrong thing. My friends and I went on the camping trip as soon as I was strong enough.
I missed a few things such as my sister’s play, my older brother’s football game and my younger brother’s basketball game. And I didn’t have to go to a “family day” picnic for my mother’s workplace. I guess surgery had an advantage or two after all.