published Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Cook: Could you please pass the appendix?

WARNING: This column contains graphic images. Mild-mannered adults may wish to turn the page. Kids, however, will love it.

It began, as many things do, with something small. And forgettable. Kind of like black jelly beans. Or Malta.

My appendix.

Funny thing, that appendix. Little guy that serves no biological purpose other than stringing along like a windsock at one end of my colon. I've gone decades without thinking about my appendix. Eyes? Feet? Lungs? Love 'em every day.

But my appendix?

So last week, the little guy took revenge. Because for one terribly long night, my appendix had my complete attention. A gastrointestinal dance party with my appendix clogging like some medieval monster.

(Release the Kraken!)

Rushed to the ER. Morphined up. One emergency surgery later, it was over. Or so I thought.

Two days later, my colon went on strike. Stopped working. Within hours, I was blocked up worse than Interstate 75. Worse than a Lego convention. Worse than H&R. (OK, you get it).

So I got the top-shelf, reserve bottle of laxative and began shotgunning. But the stuff couldn't loosen the roadblock, so like a Macy's parade balloon, my midsection ... grew. I was like the "Before" pictures in those weight-loss commercials, all in the span of about three hours.

And oh, the pain.

(Release the Kraken! And Godzilla!)

Back to the ER. Then for an extended stay at the hospital where, finally, things got ... um ... moving. Remember the scene from "Dumb and Dumber"? Ha! Child's play.

It was like I'd checked myself into the hospital bathroom, while taking periodic trips to the hospital bed. Trailing behind me like a patient butler was my IV stand, the only witness to my long and desperate struggle over the functioning of my colon.

Along the way, another -- ahem -- appendage decided to stop functioning. That's when Ruth the nurse carried in the instrument of torture so feared by men I won't dare utter its name on such an otherwise fine Sunday morning.

It came wrapped in a plastic sleeve, kind of like a windshield wiper from the auto parts store. It felt about as long as an Escalade, especially since it took Ruth about five times to insert it.

"If you could relax," she told me. "You're a bit tense."

Relax? Tense! You're sticking a basketball goal into my bladder! An oak tree into my urethra!

Turns out, she was right.

And by the time the catheter reached my bladder -- although I swear Ruth routed it there by first going through my esophagus -- I realized my nurse had given me some pretty good advice.

Relax. And the pain softens.

Her advice would be matched only by the words of my preacher, who stopped by the next day.

"God, help us remember this is the only day we've been given," he prayed.

Over green Jell-O, broth and Sprite with crushed ice, I realized Thanksgiving had come early to this columnist.

I am thankful for the nurses and doctors who cared for me as if I was their own. Never a fan of hospitals, I remain in awe of modern medicine and the human compassion behind it (Ruth and Lisa, you were nurses exemplar. Jon Drumm, your ER care saved my backside. Literally.)

I became thankful for the things of everyday life. Toilet paper. Ice. Television. Comfortable pillows. Indoor plumbing. The view outside the window.

To my family who stuck by like glue and friends who sent flowers, called and visited, bringing me laughs like medicine, and even smuggling in a cold can of Coors.

To those who are suffering far worse than I ever did, to whom my experience is silly and slight in comparison, you have my prayers. May pain never get the final word.

Yet this list would be empty without you, dear reader.

It's hard to write with a catheter in the way, so I missed this column. Which means I missed you. No one pays you to read this strip of newsprint, and to all those of you who do, I say two words that should never be slow in coming.

Thank. You.

To my detractors and critics, I am also grateful. It would be no fun if everyone agreed.

And you know what? For a couple of days last week, you were totally right.

I really was full of it.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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