Saturday, September 09, 2006

Faith and an appendectomy

I woke up this morning and didn't hurt.

And while I figured I would when I got out of bed - and I did, a bit - before I got up, I lay there thinking that the human body really is a miracle. That this thing, the way it heals itself, the way everything works together in such harmony (most of the time!), the way it is so intricately engineered - it can't be an accident.

God made it to do these things.


This bout with appendicitis has been good for my faith. When I was in discomfort on the boat, I wasn't sure what was wrong with me. I wondered if I was getting seasick for the first time in my life. It would have been distinctly embarrassing to have to admit I was, but we were rolling heavily while tied to a buoy in the Potomac and I hadn't felt well when I woke up. I supposed that, if I were to be seasick, that would be the time. But me, seasick? Hadn't happened yet. I put the thought out of my mind.

Another one popped into it, unbidden.


We had a boat full of divers, most of whom were staying on the after deck. I was, mostly, alone in the pilothouse, which is where I spend most of my time aboard Roper - they dive, I drive. When Captain Dave came inside from tending divers, I asked him, "Hey, where's the appendix?"

"Left side, I think," or words to that effect.

Left side. But I hurt on the right. Couldn't be appendicitis, then. Maybe I'd aggravated my old hernia. I'd been doing a lot of heavy lifting lately, after all.

(Turns out the appendix is on the right. As Dave later told me, "Never ask a sailor for a medical diagnosis. But never let a doctor sail a boat, either!")

But I still hurt.

I was planning to stay another day, but I wasn't sure that I should. I just didn't feel right. I prayed, "Lord, should I stay?"

The answer was clear. "No, you should go."

And "appendicitis" stayed right along with me, barely heard, not even loud enough to be audible in the "still small voice" that told me to go, but still there.

I headed for home. On the way I talked to my father, who had appendicitis years ago, and I talked to my mother, who went to nursing school and raised four children through myriad ailments. They had me talk to my aunt, who is a nurse. She described in great detail what symptoms to look for. But sitting in the car, I thought the pain was lower than it should be for appendicitis. A conversation with a friend helped convince me further. Strained the old hernia repair, probably. Tore it at worst, but it didn't feel like that either.

I prayed, "Lord, is it appendicitis?"

"It's appendicitis."

I didn't want to believe that.

When I got home and got out of the car, I poked and prodded myself a little more, trying to localize the problem.

Damn. Appendicitis. I called my parents and headed for the emergency room.

Sitting in the ER, I knew it was appendicitis. Even before the doctors ran all their tests to confirm the diagnosis, I knew it was appendicitis. I had known since I asked God for an answer while I was crossing the US 301 bridge over the Potomac. And I knew it meant surgery, which scared the hell out of me. (There really ought to be better clich├ęs than "scared the hell out of me" for writings on faith.) See, this whole surgery thing - it's just a little bit outside my comfort zone. Because you don't know. Sure, an appendectomy is about as routine as a hangnail - but things can go wrong. All the forms and disclaimers they give you don't help much, either, even if you can discuss the anesthesia risks with the doctor and as you sign observe wryly that, well, "shit happens."

Because it's all well and good to be wry and cynical about shit happening, but you very much do not want it to happen to you.

But I prayed that the Lord would protect me and bring me through the operation safely, and I heard the still small voice promise that He would. And that was enough.


And He did, because His word is good.

I'm glad I went to the hospital, of course, because as unpleasant as it is to be operated on, my appendix wasn't going to fix itself. It had to come out of there, and it was better to get it sooner than later.

In the book of Genesis, chapter 22, Abraham and his only son, Isaac, go up on a mountain to offer a sacrifice - Isaac himself. But even as Abraham holds the knife over Isaac, God honors their willingness to sacrifice, and provides a ram instead. And Abraham calls the place "YHWH Yireh," which means "The LORD Will Provide."

I'm not saying that my appendix is Isaac. It wasn't much of a sacrifice - I didn't want the thing anymore! But in order to heal my body, I needed to trust that YHWH Yireh. See, this faith thing - it's more than just words. It's more than just saying "The LORD Will Provide." It's going up on the mountain. It's putting yourself under the knife. It's trusting that you'll wake up on the other side of that knife, either in the Kingdom of God or in the recovery room - and believing that either way, God will have seen you through.

It's doing what God asks and believing that His word is good. He provided Abraham and Isaac with a ram on that mountain in the land of Moriah, and Isaac lived. He provided me with a surgeon in that hospital in Norfolk, and I lived. And He provided all of us with His Son on a cross at Calvary, that we all might live.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

One of our vestigial organs is missing...

...The Surgical Department of Norfolk General Hospital regrets to inform you of the death in action of Theodore's appendix. The appendix was lost approximately eight hours into a mission to the emergency room. The rest of Theodore's organs returned safely the next morning.

Woke up Sunday morning feeling poorly, having not felt great for about a week prior. Attributed it to sleeping outdoors on a cold damp night aboard a boat after spending the evening hanging out with several miscreants aboard said boat, one of whom smokes heavily. Continued to feel poorly aboard ship while hunting the fearsome FeOB (iron-oxide eating bacteria sampled from two wrecks in the Potomac River.) Returned to Norfolk that evening, suspected appendicitis or possibly an aggravation of an old hernia, went to emergency room of Nortolk General about 2130 Sunday night. After much poking and prodding, a cat scan revealed no kittens but did show an enlarged appendix. Surgery performed around 0500 Monday. No complications; according to the chief cutter (of a team of four, this hospital being attached to a medical school), who said I had "garden-variety appendicitis." Operation performed laproscopically, meaning three small cuts instead of one big one. Also means I checked out of hospital about 1200 Tuesday. Now rather sore but otherwise intact.

If you are ever in Norfolk and require a trip to the body shop, I highly recommend Norfolk General. Good docs and nurses from ER all the way to departure - efficient, patient, and not just willing but actually eager to explain to you exactly what's happening, what your options are, and what's going to happen with each one. One of the surgeons actually told me, "hey, you're the customer." In a hospital!

So now my biggest complaint is that I'm going to end up missing a week of classes!