You know the movie Groundhog Day? The one in which Bill Murray’s character gets trapped in a series of repeating events at a Groundhog Day celebration. At times, I think my life is like that, only it’s called April Fools’ Day. Life’s punching bag. The world’s practical joke. A never-ending farce. In one of their hits, the Bee Gees sing, “Oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.”
I couldn’t take it any longer. The silence in my apartment had become deafening, as they say. Running out of options in the city in which I lived, I embraced the idea of moving again, not to NYC this time but to its polar opposite in Northeast Wisconsin. From one extreme to the other.
On one hand, I felt defeated, like surrendering to the pressures of an unemployed depression. Remember, I had just moved into my own place in November, only five months earlier. On the other hand, I was tired of running into dead ends. Somewhere deep within me, I convinced myself that moving closer to my family and their support system was what I needed at that particular moment in my life. Maybe not for forever, but at a critical time in which I was searching for my identity and scrambling for a sense of home. It could ground me. It could provide direction. It could offer the refreshment of a renewed perspective.
And so I began applying for jobs there.
That meant occasionally driving two hours north for interviews, staying with my family for extended weekends, and then driving home to await word from prospective employers. On one such weekend, I reached my breaking point, the bottom of the barrel.
This story is very personal, as you’ll soon learn. It’s personal because it reveals a part of me that even I was unfamiliar.
One Friday evening, my parents and I agreed to Chuck E. Cheese’s with my sister and her family. It’s the kind of place that adults hate but kids love. It’s the kind of place that makes you swear off having children for eternity. It’s where common sense and The Golden Rule go to die. It’s not even really a restaurant but a gathering place of poor parenting, where eating is replaced by observing and judging societal deviants. Still, my two-year-old niece sports wide eyes and a rainbow smile each time she walks through the doors of that childhood Shangri-La, a paradise of fun. And so we obliged.
Say what you want about the food. I would probably agree with your analysis, which is why I thought my gut rot and constipation were nothing but side effects of a greasy diet. Early the next morning, I awoke in nausea and stomach pains — merely symptoms of the flu I rarely get. Frequently throughout the dawn hours when I was alone with my thoughts, I hunkered down in the bathroom and prayed to the porcelain god — yet my sacrificial offerings didn’t outpour. I prayed I would just vomit; surely it’d make me feel better, and I could move on from that horrific state.
Dawn transformed into noon. And noon turned to afternoon. I was still in bed, not sleeping but resting on my stomach because the pressure eased the pain. Mustering all my strength, I forced myself out of bed around dinnertime. Because I’m prone to sleeping late on weekends, my parents initially thought it my typical behavior, but they ultimately had the same reaction — the flu — when I communicated my poor health.
That night, I had a movie date with my sister. After fumbling through a shower and then gingerly dressing myself, I drove the 20 minutes to her house, cursing at every pothole and bump in the road that intensified my discomfort. I remember barging through the doors of her house like some intruder, pushed aside the yelping dogs, and sprawled out on the couch where I remained motionless. Like the mother she is, my sister took it upon herself to nurse me back to health. So a trip to Walgreens resulted in stool softeners and, eh hem, an enema kit.
“You want me to put that where?” I thought.
But I was desperate. I would’ve done anything for a bowel movement of any kind. So I shuffled to the bathroom, my head hung in shame. I read the instructions, horrified at the graphic imagery that coupled them. Meanwhile, my sister and her husband were within earshot of the whole charade, adding insult to injury. Then, I did the unthinkable. I engaged in a horrific act of self violation. The giggles outside the door were drowned out by my introspection, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Let’s skip ahead, shall we? Recalling that scene has me squirming in my seat. I managed to watch the entire movie in a slightly diminished pain. Afterwards I softly said to my sister, “You might have to help me into bed.” Her astonished response, “If I’m helping you into bed, you’re going to the hospital.”
Before I knew it, she was Googling my symptoms and phoning Nurse Direct. I reassured her that I’d go to the hospital in the morning if I didn’t feel better by then. Yes, it’s a total “guy reaction” to pain, but another rationale was causing my resistance to professional healthcare — I had no medical insurance because I had lost my job in February. It wasn’t until Nurse Direct informed me that letting a possible case of appendicitis go until the morning could result in a ruptured appendix. That pain would make this seem like a walk in the park. My attention was grabbed.
At midnight on April 1 (yes, April Fools’ Day), my tired, pregnant sister drove me to the nearest hospital, where we were met by my mother. Unable to hold myself upright, I limped up to the emergency-room counter and checked myself in. There, I was forced to drink a lemony liquid over the course of two hours. Lacking sleep often awakens emotions that normally don’t see the light of day, and so I reached my breaking point. With my mom and sister looking on as I rested in an unflattering hospital gown and hooked to an IV, the tears flowed.
How much more can one man take?
The timing of this couldn’t be any worse, having fallen on the heels of the shit storm my life had just witnessed.
No job. No insurance.
When it rains, it pours.
The legend of April Fool lived on.
The results of the tests revealed what we expected: appendicitis. The good news was that the appendix hadn’t ruptured, but we needed to move quickly. Had I waited till morning as originally planned, the results may have been a little different. Turns out I had shoved a foreign object up my ass for nothing.
Normally, the story would end there – with a qualified surgeon performing an emergency appendectomy. However, the prehistoric hospital I visited, which was set back in the boondocks, neither staffed a surgeon on weekends nor had one on call (a very cruel April Fools’ joke). At 2:00 A.M., my overtired sister drove me 30 minutes to another nearby hospital. Finally at 8:00 A.M., after a full night in a sleepless daze, my appendix was no longer part of me.
The health benefits of the appendix are debatable. General sentiments are that it’s unnecessary. But I have a tough time thinking that we’re born with something that has no meaning, no purpose for existing. As if God got distracted and forgot to finish the project. Surely everything has a purpose. Like the tiny scars that will forever line my abdomen; they are a constant reminder that things can always get worse. They’re a symbol that I was put at that place at that exact time for a reason. I needed to be there on a night when I severely needed a helping hand, when life was getting away on me, when answers were out of reach. Would I have driven myself to the emergency room on that unforgettable night?
And who knows what might’ve been.