The summer sun beamed across the bedroom floor as I hung out of bed, head in a red plastic bucket, body doubled-up with pain.
“What’s wrong with me?” I groaned, dripping sweat.
My mother patted my back. “I don’t know.”
Despite being sixteen years old, I’d never been to a doctor. My mother didn’t trust them. Apparently they asked questions, the kind she didn’t want to answer.
“Will I die?”
She shrugged. “I doubt it. But you should see a doctor.”
So I had to be very very ill.
Once the pain receded, she made an appointment with Dr Abbott at his hospital rooms. I don’t know why she chose him. Perhaps his name was the first in the phone book.
Dr Abbott squinted through bi-focal glasses. “When did the pain start?”
“A year ago.”
He tut-tutted and turned to the computer screen. “How often do you get it?”
“Every few weeks.”
He tapped on the keyboard. “How long does it last?”
“A few days.”
No wonder my mother didn’t trust doctors. They asked questions – and recorded the answers.
On the examination table, Dr Abbott prodded and rolled his fist on my abdomen. I yelped.
“You have appendicitis.”
Heart pounding, I sat listening to his phone conversation.
“Textbook symptoms. Severe abdominal pain. Vomiting. I’d like to operate tomorrow.”
I’d planned to go surfing with my friends.
At the hospital, Mum leaned close. “Don’t trust a soul.’ She squeezed my hand. ‘Anything could happen in the operating theatre.”
Her words rang in my ears as I lay listening to the beep of monitors and sounds of sick people grunting and making noises rarely heard in polite society. Within easy reach, a buzzer hung in a loop beneath a NIL PER MOUTH sign. I lay immobilised by white linen, my pulse racing at the thought of an operation. Acute anxiety led to acute diarrhoea and I was up and down all night like the lifts from Emergency.
When the time came, I donned a bonnet, bootees and a white gown tied in three bows at the back. I closed my eyes in the operating theatre waiting for a sharp prick to my wrist. The needle transformed my terror to relief as anaesthetic surged up my arm and into my body.
Time meant nothing when I woke, befuddled. I inhabited a foreign world of drifting consciousness, sterile air and a sea of white. Antiseptic vapour clouded my thoughts, drying my mouth and throat. My eyelids fluttered shut.
They opened again in the Recovery Ward where white-clad bodies reclined on their sides like beached whales. On a trolley alongside lay a man with his back to me, gown agape. I blinked and re-focused. Level with my eyes was a huge hairy bottom. I gasped. My mother’s words had been prophetic. Either something had happened while I was anaesthetised or I had died and gone to hell.
published 29 February 2012