December 6th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 49
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Turkey in the Craw
Looking Back
Location of the defunct appendix
Have I got a Christmas story for you. It is one in which I almost got taken out. Permanently! It left me thankful to be alive and mindful that things can go drastically wrong, especially at Christmas.

Let's set the scene. It is Saturday afternoon, Dec. 27th, 1997. A whole bunch of family has just arrived from Bow Island and my old house in Fernie, where I lived for 25 years, was pandemonium. A new Nintendo 64 game was going full blast somewhere and a wonderful spread of leftover turkey supper was being set out for the gang. Everything was hunky dory except for one thing and that was me. Throughout the day a dull, disturbing pain had settled across my lower right mid-section, a pain type quite foreign to me.

We all generally come to know our physiology quite well and usually recognize most going's on with our bodies. I should say at this point that I have the metabolism of a high speed train and do not know the meaning of constipation or trapped gas. So when late Saturday night came around and I was stooped over with that progressively worsening dull ache in my stomach I knew something was terribly wrong.

As much as I hated to leave the visiting family that night I eventually did around midnight and checked into emergency. I did a serious mental review of the previous 24 hours, diet wise, at the hospital and came up blank. I had eaten fairly lightly and managed to behave myself quite well through Christmas or so I thought.

The attending physician in emergency that night ( an intern in training just to make it interesting) poked and prodded, questioned and mused and after all the checklists were run through she suggested I was showing signs of appendicitis, an affliction whose symptoms may or may not be typical depending on the individual.

Then in a bizarre last minute diagnostic move she decided to submit me to that horror of male horrors, a prostate check. From there it was all downhill folks. Personally I think that particular test was designed by women to get back at men somehow.
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The surgeon was called in later on and confirmed her suspicions that it was most likely my appendix. I was checked in and scheduled for surgery in the morning.

The apparent cause of all this pain, it seems, is a bit of a mystery organ when it comes to us humans. It is about the size of your baby finger and is located at the junction of the small and large intestine. What does it do? Why apparently not much of anything. The surgeon suggested to me that it is possible the appendix is a left over from very early man's physiology. He informed me that they are quite a bit larger and perform an important function in creatures like rabbits. For us Homo sapiens though the appendix is a useless remnant from our revolutionary past. A defunct little organ that is naught but a pain in the side, in the end.

So it was that on Sunday morning they wheeled me in to surgery for the first time in my life. Then it was count backwards from 10,9,8 and lights out. After that comes a groggy memory of the surgeon and the anaesthetist talking and one holding up a small plastic envelope with something in it. Someone said: "Hey John, look what we found in there" and then everything went black again. Much later came pain big time and my wife's sweet smile was the first thing to greet me on regaining consciousness in my room.

The story that came from the surgeon later was an interesting but scary one. They "went in" and found that the appendix was fine but then noticed an inflammation around the outside of the appendix and the surrounding area. This is usually a sign of leaking digestive juices irritating things so they proceeded to examine further up the small bowel a few feet until they found the culprit sticking out of the bowel and causing the life threatening leak. It appeared wooden and about the size of a long toothpick so it was put down as that and promptly extracted along with my appendix. You see, if they make a typical incision for an appendix extraction and find it is not inflamed they take it anyways. If they didn’t and down the road you wound up in a hospital and a physician saw the scar there they would assume it was from an appendectomy. What followed the surgery was about a week of intravenous antibiotics as gastrointestinal perforation is serious business.
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Man has been swallowing organic and nonorganic things of different sizes for a long time now. I'm willing to bet that throughout human history more than a few of us have been taken out by slivers of bone or wood that hung up somewhere in our systems undetected.

I'm reminded of an amusing incident that involved my older brother that fortunately "came out all right" so to speak. He was rushed to the hospital by my teary eyed mother many years ago where she informed the doctor that he had swallowed a fifty cent piece. In a somewhat insensitive, tongue- in-cheek fashion, the one and only Doctor Aiello said to her: "Don't cry Mrs. Kinnear; you'll get your fifty cents back." And she did! But man was she pissed at Aiello for that comment.

Incidentally, I wasn't the first Fernieite through that Christmas season to swallow a foreign object and lose their appendix. I was preceded by another "toothpick" candidate on Christmas Eve! Further examination of my so called "wooden" culprit revealed it to be a fibrous ligament or cartilage from the side of a turkey leg. (A late night snack Christmas day). Chances are if I wasn't such a Cro-Magnon Scotsman in my eating habits that bone probably would have been caught in time by me.

At any rate I survived, thanks in the most part to a sharp surgeon and a host of other medical professionals. So watch yourself at Christmas. Make sure you know what’s going down if you know what I mean!

Author’s Note.: A story broke that Christmas 1997 weekend in Britain about a new cell phone given as a gift which promptly disappeared. The giver dialed its number to try and locate it and astonishingly it rang in her friend's bloodhound's stomach. Just like my brother’s fifty cent piece, she got her cell phone back in perfect working order two days later. And so it came to pass, so to speak. Merry Christmas to all.
December 6th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 49
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