Another one from the archives, brought to mind after the most recent adventures under the scalpel…
The fog of anesthesia was still dreamily persistent. Perhaps that’s what made the throwaway comment temporarily acceptable. “…Oh and we removed your appendix while we were in there.” I felt obliged to rouse myself enough to ask the question. It wasn’t as if there was much left ‘in there’ for them to rummage through anyway. They’d already had more than their fair share of my innards and they never put them back where they found them when they’ve had them out to play.
“It was unusual.” Anesthesia is a wonderful thing when you are dropping the arbitrary removal of body parts into a conversation. Waking up was suddenly my main priority and it wasn’t happening. But no-one ever reads the appendix anyway.
“You can go home now.” The surgeon’s voice dragged me back. Couldn’t I just sleep instead?
“…But you’d better stop at the pharmacy and buy some painkillers,” added the nurse. “We haven’t got any on the ward.” Even this seemed almost reasonable at that moment. It probably had something to do with the psychedelic crocodile…
That was it…I was still unconscious!
I was home an hour later, but not for long. The emergency paramedics were very good. I spent the next few days wandering through morphine-dreams.
This all happened a few years ago, I hasten to add.
I had gone in for exploratory surgery and came home one appendix lighter, for no known reason other than that it was ‘unusual’. There was no further clarification and … not unreasonably, I feel, having been rather intimately attached to the thing until that point… I was curious.
It wasn’t until several months later, on admission for further surgery, that I got the answer. I was unable to ask the original surgeon. The nurse’s eyebrows and voice went in opposite directions as she told me he had been ‘obliged to retire’. As to the missing appendix… Unusual? Yes, apparently the thing had been unusual. Not diseased, inflamed or in any other way unhealthy… just unusually long.
Was this, in itself, a problem? From my position of challenged verticality, the implication that size actually does matter seemed to add insult to the injury. Nor was it at all reassuring when they were busy sharpening the scalpels again…
The inference was that my appendix now resided in a
trophy specimen jar on some dusty shelf. I wasn’t entirely happy about that, although doubtless the formalin would guarantee it a longer shelf-life than the rest of me.
The drive to work is usually accomplished in heavy traffic. Minds wander, and mine had wandered off in search of that missing appendix.
I suppose I could have complained, but I had signed the consent form, the one that not only details the precise procedure they are planning, but which has the
sneaky catch-all clause in the small print, allowing them to do anything they deem medically necessary ‘while they are in there’. It wasn’t as if I really needed an appendix. And they couldn’t have said, ‘oops, we’ll just put it back…’ On the whole, they may even have done me a favour, if you take the long view. It was just the principle that bugged me.
The medical profession are more than welcome to any bits of me that can be of service… but, on the whole, I’d rather they wait until I’ve finished with them. This helping yourself willy-nilly business seems a bit ‘off’. It’s like putting your hand in the bag when offered a sherbert lemon and pinching the only liquorice allsort too… ‘while you are in there’.
With sweets it might be forgivable.
Body parts? Not so much.
But… I’d signed the consent form. Given permission… even though I didn’t know what I was actually giving permission for. And it struck me that this is the kind of thing we do all the time.
Now, okay, it doesn’t usually result in a nice selection of pickled body parts, but bodies are generally easier to heal than minds and emotions and we are adept at ‘giving permission’ for people to go beyond what we intend. Every time we allow ourselves to be walked over, bypassed, abused or ignored, we are silently implying that it is okay. You could be thinking ‘politicians’ here, but it isn’t only a problem at election time.
In the small events of everyday life, it doesn’t take long before the exception, the ‘just this once’, becomes the norm. The boss who now expects you to stay late or work through your own time. The ‘friend’ who turns up late every time or not at all. The child who has no respect for a parent. And sometimes, it gets serious. The one who belittles you, undermining your confidence, self worth and belief. The one who raises a hand…and then a fist.
I’m not advocating contention. It is true that we could stop these things happening right at the start, before they become a habit, simply by learning to say no. It is easy to write, not so easy to do, as these situations are insidious and creep in between the cracks of our awareness and often, by the time we begin to notice the problem, it is a big one and the damage well on the way to being done. Many find it hard, many never learn how.
What we can do though, is learn to be aware of our own actions and their implications, looking at them as closely as we would a medical consent form. With our own actions, we can cross out that ‘catch-all clause’… and make very sure we have read the small print before we give permission.