The Christmas Appendix

When I awoke four days before Christmas, visions of wrapping paper and baking projects were dancing in my head not, contrary to how my day would turn out, non-essential internal organs.

In fact, it wasn’t until after supper that evening that I even gave the appendix a fleeting thought. I know, how selfish of me.

No one thinks about the lonely appendix at Christmastime.

Boy #3 had been acting fine. (Well, normal, anyway. I’m not sure I would describe any of my boys’ everyday behavior at home as “fine.”) He ate his supper of made-from-scratch chicken and noodles, fresh rolls and homemade pie frozen chicken nuggets, an apple and a handful of Christmas cookies kindly given to us by one of those “good moms” who doesn’t just buy the ingredients to bake at Christmastime but actually bakes.

Shortly after consuming his highly nutritious meal, he began complaining of a stomachache. And it got worse. Then he started telling Herky, our puppy, to “eat my stomach.” Which, yes, is really weird.

Of course the first thing we think of with stomachaches at our house is poop. (Remember, I have four boys, counting Husband…) So Boy #3 thought he should try that and see if it helped his stomach.

Well, he did go (because I know you were dying to find out that part), but his stomachache kept getting worse. He curled up on the couch until Husband got home later that evening, and we knew something was really wrong when Husband picked him up to move him and Boy #3 starting screaming, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”

Now, we probably should’ve taken him to the hospital right then and there, but we did what any good parent would do and decided to watch an episode of “American Horror Story” first and then check on him to see how he was feeling. (Seriously, people, it was getting good!)

To my credit, I did look up “appendicitis” on WebMd while I was watching my show…

After the show was over, I told Husband to find out which side of Boy #3’s abdomen hurt worse. Yep, it was the right. And then Husband picked him up and tried to get him to walk and Boy #3 made the saddest face and gave the worst pained cry I’ve ever heard him make.

Then I cried.

So after calling my mom to come stay with Boys #1 and #2, who were asleep and clueless to what was going on, Husband and I took Boy #3 to the ER.

Gotta love a small-town ER. We pulled up to a dark entrance at the hospital and Husband said, “Is it open?”

“Of course it’s open!” I said. “It’s an emergency room!” (And I was really hoping I was right!) We did, however, have to push a button to let someone inside know we were out there so they could turn on the lights and let us in.

And so began the workup. We were at least familiar with the facilities, having been there just a month before when Boy #2 dislocated and broke his little finger. (Can’t wait to get these ER bills!) Boy #3 did pretty well, putting on a brave face. That is, until it came time to take blood and put in an IV.

I knew it was going to be bad. Real bad. What tipped me off was the memory of having to literally hold him down just two months earlier so a nurse could administer the Flu Mist. As in, the little thing that just squirts a little mist in his nose. Not even a needle involved, which we thoroughly explained to him. Didn’t matter. It was kicking and screaming the whole way. So yep, I figured several needles and three vials of blood was not going to go over well.

Aaaand, I was right.

This time it was Husband, a nurse and me, all holding down poor Boy #3 as he screamed and screamed. And screamed. (He did warn us, though. “I’m gonna scream!!!” he said. And that he did!)

“I’m better! It doesn’t even hurt anymore! I can go home!” he tried to bargain with us during this torturous procedure for everyone involved.

It just sucked.

But he got through it, and I got through it, and the doctor was able to determine that he did have an elevated blood count and could also give him some Vicodin for the pain. Sweet, sweet Vicodin.

It was about this time that Boy #3 decided to become completely obsessed with watching TV. You’d think we didn’t own a television set, let alone two XBOXes, a Wii and two computers! When the technician came in to take him for an X-Ray, he wanted to know if there’d be a TV in the X-Ray room. And later, when we found out we were going to have to go by ambulance to the children’s hospital in Des Moines, 50 miles away, he was bummed to learn that no, the ambulance does not have a TV in it either.

It was about this time that it hit me that this was a day that I woke up and decided, “You know, I don’t really think I need to shower today.”

Granted, I don’t make myself all beautiful every day since I’m mostly at home right now, and I may only wash my hair every other day, but I do shower daily. It makes me at least feel fresh and clean and, well, human. But of course, I had so much on my to-do list to get ready for school Christmas parties and cleaning the house and wrapping presents that I thought showering was one thing I could do without.

And when I was riding in the ambulance at 2 a.m. feeling (and looking) completely scurvy, I was really regretting that decision.

That was the first ambulance ride for both Boy #3 and me, and I have to say, it wasn’t like I expected. Much bigger inside than I thought, and way bumpier! The EMTs were so good, though. They turned the lights on the whole ride up, even though they didn’t really need to, and they even sounded the siren going through part of town, even though the streets in our small Iowa town were not exactly bustling at 2 a.m. (I’m not sure we even saw one other car.) Boy #3 was impressed, to say the least. (Although he would’ve much preferred if it would’ve had a TV, too.)

The ride up gave me some time to reflect…which wasn’t necessarily a good thing considering I wasn’t sure how long we would be up there, I was supposed to run the Christmas program, including craft and treats, in Boy #3’s classroom that day, my house was still a pit and I hadn’t managed to wrap one single present yet. And Christmas Eve, when we were celebrating with both of our families, was now only TWO days away.

But of course those thoughts left my head as soon as we arrived at the hospital and I remembered what was really important right now — getting Boy #3 better.

After arriving in our room at Blank Children’s Hospital, Boy #3 was relieved. “Mom, it has a TV!” he said. By this time, it was after 3 a.m., so programming was slim pickings for a 7-year-old, but I still had to make him turn it off after we’d settled in at 4 a.m. so he could get an hour or two of sleep.

Husband and I spent the first of two comfortable nights on a pull-out “couch.” Actually, it was more of a pull-out bench because it was built into the wall, and it only pulled out to about one and a half beds instead of a double bed. And whoever slept on the pulled-out part had to cling to the other person so as not to roll off, as there was nothing really supporting the mattress and it sloped down at about a 45-degree angle. But at this point, we probably could’ve gotten some shut-eye on a bed of rusty nails, we were so exhausted.

Boy #3 didn’t get to have surgery until around noon, and since they had the pain controlled with medicine, he was then plagued by how incredibly hungry he was. I felt so bad; he hadn’t eaten or drank anything since around 6:30 the night before, and he’d been asking for water since probably 11 p.m. He was adamant that he wanted a hamburger when he got out of surgery and was allowed to eat again. In fact, after coming to after surgery, the first thing he groggily mumbled was “Hamburger…”

All’s well that ends well, right? It was frightening at the time, and really difficult to see our little guy in so much pain, but he breezed through his laparoscopic surgery, his appendix hadn’t yet burst, my sister scrounged around in my dirty house and found me some clean clothes and brought them to me so I could shower, Boy #3 managed to eat a hamburger AND French fries for supper that night, and we were home on the afternoon of the 23rd.

Despite the stress of the ordeal, there was some light that shone through, and afterward I felt very grateful that he had something that was easily treatable and without long-term effects. I was so impressed with the hospital, too. They make it as enjoyable as it can be for kids, and they did everything they could to ensure that he could be home when Santa arrived.

It was also very touching to see how worried Boys #1 and #2 were about Boy #3. My in-laws brought them up to visit the night of his surgery, and they were so sweet to Boy #3. In fact, I’m not sure they had EVER been that nice to him. Boy #1 got right up when the food arrived and arranged his tray, cut up his food for him and made sure he had everything he needed. Boy #2 read all of the cards to him that his classmates had written and sent up. Boy #3 must’ve really noticed, too, because just yesterday he was complaining.

“Mom, how come when I was in the hospital, my brothers were so nice to me, but it only lasted for like TWO DAYS and then they started punching me again?”

“Honey, that’s just what brothers do,” I said. “But the fact that they managed to be nice for you for two whole days shows you just how much they love you!”

I managed to get the house at least presentable for Christmas, wrap all of the presents (foregoing any concern for creativity or  presentation at this point, of course, my only goal being to conceal the gifts inside) and even make a cheese ball to take to my in-laws on Christmas Eve. I was apparently running on adrenaline, caffeine and Christmas spirit! Boy #3 was able to attend our Christmas celebrations, and even though he walked like a little old hunched-over man, still play with his cousins.

I’m sorry that Boy #3’s appendix wasn’t able to spend Christmas with us (or any Christmas again, for that matter), but I would like to thank it for its years of service. It served him well (I’m assuming, considering I’m not really sure what the appendix actually does) for seven years, and it was kind enough not to burst so Boy #3 could be home with his family on Christmas.

Here’s to an ER-free New Year!

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