Last weekend my appendix very nearly turned me into a vegetarian. Friday night I picked my partner C up from the airport and we drove to Inn and Out for dinner. Within minutes of finishing my meal, I discovered two angry, unbudging fists of pain right in the center of my abdomen. Instantly I was reminded of the SVU episode I watched just before picking her up, which prominently featured a man in a wheelchair who had been paralyzed by a hamburger. That’s right, a hamburger. One minute he was eating a burger at a family picnic, and the next he was on his death bed with e-coli or bochilism or some equally horrible food-related problem. The rest of the episode was dominated by shadowy scenes in a meat packing house overrun with rats and feces. Convincing, to say the least. The domino’s inside my head were off and rolling, and soon I was remembering an e-mail my coworker sent several months ago that described the slow and painful death experienced by a friend or acquaintance of a distant relative, also executed by hamburger. Why had I so quickly forgotten my SVU-inspired resolve and eaten the fated hamburger? Why, for that matter, had I not stuck with the vegetarian pledge I’d taken at the tender age of seven? I soon remembered that it was probably because at the time I’d had a prior commitment to avoiding beans of all shapes and sizes, for textural rather than moral reasons. Also, I avoided any and all white creamy substances, including ranch, mayo, sour cream, and cream cheese. Beans, meat, and creamy substances were staples in my mother’s cooking and once I stopped eating meat my normally thing frame became somewhat bony and alarming. So my parents started force-feeding me thick, lukewarm cans of Ensure each night as penance. Needless to say, the vegetarian phase did not last long. But as the pain in my stomach grew more and more demanding, I still found myself lamenting my young lack of resolve.

Although inwardly somewhat paranoid and neurotic, I tend to be outwardly stoic. So I mentioned casually to C that the Inn and out hadn’t agreed with me and settled in for a night of catching up on the long list of tv shows neither has time to watch during the week.

By 3 am I am vomiting, passing out, the whole deal, and C is pissed. Over the past seven hours I repeatedly ignored her suggestions that we head to the emergency room and she now groggily reminds me that stoic is just another synonym for stupid. C loves the ER. I mean, loves it. In our first three months of dating, I had to take her twice for falling down the same set of stairs. For her, its partly bad luck, but probably mostly also growing up with a nurse for a mother who prescribed aspirin for everything. What with her mother’s long shifts and high exposure to trauma, none of C’s childhood injuries even registered on her mother’s raider. I quickly learned that if I didn’t attend to C’s injuries, they would rapidly escalate into an ER visit. Now, I usually take a pre-emptive strike and suggest a visit to the ER whenever she tells me of an ailment. “Well,” she’ll say reluctantly but with an extra bounce in her step, “it’s not quite that bad yet…”

I, on the other hand, abhor doctors, hospitals, emergency rooms… the whole bit. I’ve only been hospitalized once before for an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug the week of my sister’s wedding. They let me out in time for the wedding but it didn’t do me much good because I don’t remember anything about it except that I was still swelled up like a balloon so my bridesmaid dress didn’t fit and my head looked like a misshapen full moon in all the wedding photos. So really, how great can the ER doctors be? Besides, I was convinced that if I did agree to go to the emergency room I would get diagnosed with gas or indigestion or something like that and die of embarrassment instead.

At 3:30 am C got silently but somewhat aggressively out of bed, picked up her I Phone, and tossed it at me: “It’s dialing the Kaiser advise nurse,” she said, “maybe you’ll listen to her.” I listened dutifully to a message that said something along the lines of “You’ve called the talk network, where you’ll find something for everyone. Press one for great conversation. Press two for something more. Please me advised that all fees apply.” Was I delusional? I didn’t think so. I hung up and dialed again. Same message. “Honey?” I said to C, who was covering her head with a pillow, “I don’t think that’s the right number.” “Stop trying to get out of it and talk to the damn nurse!” she grumbled. Eventually I convinced her to get the right number and reached a drowsy nurse who casually advised me to leave for the hospital immediately. I reached the end of my resolve and off we went.

The Kaiser emergency room is nothing like you might expect from the ER scenes in the movies. We were the only ones there, and I had a hospital bed within five minutes. This, unfortunately, did us little good because I also got assigned to Dr. Don’t Give a Damn. He was a handsome, darkly tanned man with long wavy hair who closely resembled a cheap portrait of Jesus. I explained my symptoms to him and he poked around my stomach, provoking the two angry fists of pain who had taken up residence in my abdomen to scream in protest. Unfortunately I did not. He asked me if it hurt, but apparently he had taken my lack of screaming as a no because he was already on his way out of the room. “I’ll order you some meds” he said over his shoulder. And with that he was gone, less than two minutes after he had first arrived.

“I told you!” I wailed to C, “He thinks I have a stomach ache, he’s going to prescribe some pepto bismo or something. I HATE THE ER!!!” She was fully awake now and noticeably less irritable, so she offered soothing noises until a nurse walked in. The nurse was a short Pilipino woman who teetered into the room on platform shoes with a big sigh. She looked at me, looked at C, and then said: “Not your nurse. Just swing nurse who fill in while people on break. It’s horrible.” She looked at us expectantly so I made my best sympathetic face. “I’m sorry to hear that.” She nodded, “I hate it. Always taking over other nurse cases.” I was not sure what to make of her open distaste for having to be my nurse, so I just waited in silence until she finally produced a needle. “Doctor ordered medicine that only come in butt shot.” It took me some time to absorb this news. “Butt shot?” She nodded, “take off pants, roll over.” Reluctantly I complied. She must have been warming up to me after all because she suddenly grew jovial: “Not to worry, this my specialty. I do excellent butt shot.” “Oh,” I replied, a high, thin sound that attempted to show appreciation for her specialty. She took it as encouragement and continued: “don’t worry, won’t feel pain. Really good at this.” Bam, she made her entry. I congratulated her, as I had in fact not felt a thing. Maybe she really did have a calling. But she was not nearly as pleased with herself as I was, shaking her head back and forth emphatically. “No good. You skinny but meaty. Should have gone with bigger needle.” She shook her head again in apparent wonder: “Yes, skinny but meaty.” I tried to think of an appropriate response but none came to mind.

She then began pounding the site of the injection in a way that quickly made me forget about my stomach pain. This “nice massage” as she called it went on for several minutes, with her pausing every few seconds to shake her head and repeat under her breath: “so skinny but meaty,” as if she was holding me personally responsible for ruining her perfect record with butt shots. This moment quickly surpassed being a balloon-faced bridesmaid and my fear of being diagnosed with indigestion as top reasons to avoid the ER.

Over the next six hours I encountered plenty more nurses, as Nurse Skinny but Meaty followed through on her assurance that I “wasn’t really her patient” and quickly disappeared after my injection. The next nurse was there only long enough to tell me that I had been treated for nausea and should be feeling better soon, but before I could explain that I didn’t have any nausea she was already gone. Next came a voluptuous young Hispanic nurse with cascading curls who looked exactly like Callie on Gray’s Anatomy. I began to perk up, since Callie is one of my top reasons to watch television, especially since she started dating women, and a look a like here in my very own hospital room could only be a good sign. But soon enough Nurse Callie-look-alike explained that the previous nurse had traded me to her because her caseload was too full in a tone that let me know she was none too pleased with this arrangement. I nodded, feeling more than slightly rejected. Still, nurse Callie-look-alike was warm and kind for the few minutes she graced us with her presence, and brightly offered to bring C a fresh cup of coffee before disappearing, never to return.

Next came a young nurse with a thick Jamaican accent. C tried to explain to her that my pain wasn’t getting any better and we needed to see the doctor again. “And who are you?” the nurse said pointedly. “Her partner.” “Partner?” “Yes. We’re together, a couple.” “Wow! You know I have a friend who has the gay, and he wanted to get married, and I just think it’s wrong that people get so up in arms…” She went on, but C and I were busy trying not to laugh. We have a dear friend whose mother refers to her lesbianism as “they gay,” like it is some horrible disease her daughter contracted and she is still waiting for the cure to be discovered. Normally, we adore hearing anyone use the term, but when the nurse used the remainder of her time with us to finish the story about her friend with “the gay” and then she too disappeared, I began to grow frustrated that my sexuality was more interesting to her than the condition I was seeking treatment for.

I saw Dr. Don’t Give a Damn only once more. He passed by my doorway six hours after I had arrived and said the word  “better?” as though it were a complete question. “No,” I answered, but he had already breezed away again before my reply even made its way to his wavy locked head.

Eventually the night shift left and I was assigned a new doctor. By this time the sun was well into the sky and our patience had evaporated. He made several sympathetic noises when I explained my symptoms and said that he had heard Inn & Out hadn’t agreed to me. “Listen” C said, rising from her nest in the corner of my room, “Danielle and I have been together for some time now, and here’s the thing. She doesn’t complain about pain. Ever. So this is not just a stomachache. Something is really wrong, and we need to get it taken care of because we have been here all night and we’d really like to not have to come back.”

Amazingly, he listened. And within in minutes I was assigned the task of drinking two fowl bottles of thick, creamy vanilla flavored chemicals that would color my insides and ruin vanilla milkshakes for me forever. Another hour passed in silence and then I was greeted by a doctor who’s name tag clearly read “surgical team.” “Surgery?” I asked, and he nodded perkily “yep.” “But last I heard I was about to be discharged with a stomachache.” “Well, now its looks like you’re going to have an emergency appendectomy. I just need to call in my boss to confirm it.” He seemed immensely pleased with his diagnosis. His boss, an overwhelmingly kind East Indian man who was the attending surgeon, must have been pleased with it too because the next thing I knew I was being wheeled towards the operating room.

It took some convincing to get the admitting nurse to put C down as my nearest relative so she could receive updates and visit after the surgery. She eyed C skeptically. “Well, do you have any documentation to prove your relationship?” she demanded. “Of course we do.” C snapped. “Well can I see it?” “Sure you can, right after we take care of this little emergency surgery we’ll drive home and get you a copy. How’s that?” “You don’t have it with you?” “No, did you bring any documentation of your relationship to work with you today? Did the patient next door bring their’s with them?” The nurse sighed. “Alright, what’s your name and phone number?”

In the operating room yet another nurse confiscated my glasses, and without them the room looked suspiciously like a space ship. It was bright and metallic and an indistinguishable blinding disk hovered over my face. “Don’t go towards any bright lights,” C had teased tearfully as they whisked me away, but what choice did I have? I was strapped to a table under the brightest UFO I had ever seen. Besides the light, the only thing I could make out was the faint outline of a blond doctor behind me. There were at least a dozen doctors and nurses in the room but none had spoken directly to me. Instead, Dr. Blondy was busy complaining that there was a heart surgery going on next door and she would much rather be working on it. It made me feel strangely comforted, as though the world was exactly as it should be. Gray’s Anatomy was turning out to be a perfect replica of a real hospital. Drama, unruly egos, and now operating room bickering about the best surgical assignments. Still, it seemed somewhat inconsiderate, and I thought about saying something like: “Hey Dr. Blondy, I get that my appendix isn’t all that exciting for you, but could you at least wait until I’m knocked out to complain about having to operate on me?”

Instead I found myself beginning to panic. You teach people how to cope with stress for a living, I told myself sternly. Surely you can handle a minor surgery. And even if nobody in the operating room knew my name let alone my profession, at least I would know that I wasn’t the therapist who lost her shit on the operating table. So instead I worked my way through the exercises I teach my clients. Take slow deep breathes. Tense and release each muscle group. Visualize something calming.

When I woke up from the surgery, these handy techniques were not the least bit helpful. I was thirsty. So thirsty my lips, tongue, and throat were stuck together in one parched, deserty mass. The recovery room nurses were the worst by far. The others had just been good for a laugh. But these were nasty heartless bitches. I asked for water and they refused me. I asked for ice-chips and they refused that too. I asked them when I could have some water and they said eight hours. Eight fucking hours? Therapist or not, that’s when I lost it. I was convinced I was dying. Here I survived appendicitis and I was going to die of a stuck together airway. Hysterical and hiccupping, I croaked out a request for C. The nurses glanced up from behind their desk and shrugged, “We can’t have your friend in here.” “She’s not my friend!” I screamed, but no sound came out. Or maybe it did. Because the next thing I knew, C was there, taking my hand.

In the end I traded my appendix for a week off of work and school, and an extra week with C. When you’ve been living apart for almost a year, that’s a pretty good trade. When they released me from the hospital we packed up the car and C drove me up to Sacramento. My organs were still pretty angry about the surgery and trying to figure out where they belonged with the extra room in my abdomen. So we had to tie a towel around them to keep them from jiggling around too much, and whenever we hit a bump, C reached out to help me hold them still. I sympathized with them. There have been a lot of changes lately. A lot of newness and some losses too. But I guess if we can just hang on to our guts and to each other, it’s not a bad start.

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