Living

The other side

When I was 10 years old, my 5-year-old brother got appendicitis. His stomach was hurting intensely, and after a period of home remedies, we took him to the doctor, who diagnosed him with a swollen appendix, and he went to the hospital.

It turns out his appendix was swollen, and they did surgery to remove it before it burst. This was the early 80s, and as I recall it, he went into the hospital one afternoon, spent the night in the hospital, had his appendix removed, and then spent another night in the hospital before coming home.

The evening before his surgery, I was talking to Monty, the elderly lady who lived next door to me and who was, in my objective AF opinion, the best cook in the world. She was born in 1910 and had lived through two world wars, the flu pandemic, and a global depression, had raised three children – two whom she had not given birth to – and all as a well-digger’s wife. She had seen some stuff.

When I told her my brother was in the hospital, she asked what had happened. I explained he had appendicitis and that he was having surgery in the morning, but I had seen him at the hospital, and he was doing OK. She began to weep, then cry, and finally wail. Huge alligator tears ran down her weathered cheeks, and her wrinkled hands covered her face.

There was no air conditioning in her house. The windows were wide open, and the box fan hummed in the corner. Otherwise, it was silent, except for her heaving, low wail. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. I didn’t understand – I had read books that mentioned that the appendix was not a necessary organ. I had read that appendix surgery was very low risk. I thought it was sorta cool that he was in the hospital. Honestly, I was sort of jealous.

She got up and left the room. I sat at the chrome and Formica table and watched the dust waft through the sunlight as it came through the window, low in the evening sky. Eventually, she came back, and neither of us spoke of what had just happened. Soon, I was walking home through the pasture that separated our houses and got home in time for supper. I don‘t remember what we ate that night, but I remember Mom was not there – I think she was at the hospital – and it was just Dad and me.

I told Dad what had happened.

“But I don’t understand why she was so upset. Appendicitis is a simple surgery. You don’t even need your appendix. He’s going to be fine.”

Dad explained to me that to us appendicitis was not dangerous. But Monty had buried many people who had died of things that were no longer really dangerous but once had been. Before vaccines, before antibiotics, before ambulances, a lot of people died. And in her head, she was remembering all the people she knew who had died because their appendix had burst.

Earlier this summer, a dear friend of mine got COVID. He was traveling for work, and somewhere along the way, he was exposed and then tested positive. When I heard, I was devastated. He is one of perhaps 3 people I would drop anything and go where they were, anywhere in the world, if I was needed, no questions asked. When I read the text message, I just wept.

He assured me his symptoms were mild. He had all his vaccines and boosters. He was sick, to be sure, but was under a doctor’s care and would be fine in a few days.

I know this intellectually. But in my head, all I could think about was the folks I personally know who died from COVID. The endless stream of names on my timeline of loved ones of friends who had died. The horror of dealing with Dad’s death from COVID.

There was every reason to think he would be fine on the other side of this. But in my head, it was the summer of 2020, and folks were dropping like flies.

I don’t know how long this will last, or if I’m just changed, the way Monty was forever changed because of the pain she had lived through. But I do not like it.

Not one little bit.

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