When I was ten, my parents took me and one of my older brothers on a two-month trip to the U.K. and Europe. It was going to be my first plane ride. I was bit apprehensive about the whole flying in the air thing, but looked forward to the trip. We were going to camp most of the time in a rented Dormobile – it’s like a Volkswagon campervan. My mom was planning to meet her Welch pen pal of thirty-five years for the first time, and we were searching for relatives.
About three months before we left, I started having trouble with my guts. I ended up having a proctoscopic exam, which, by the way, was extremely traumatic because the medical personnel did not explain what was going on, and I was awake during it. The findings were inconclusive and I was sent on my merry ten-year-old way.
My intestines, perhaps too freaked out by the exam, laid low until we landed in London. But I don’t blame them for acting up when they did. The plane ride was rather stressful.
The first leg of our journey was fine. We flew from Minnesota to Detroit, where the plane picked up additional passengers. I got the window seat in our row of three. My mom sat next to me, and next to her in the aisle chair was an elderly man who boarded in Detroit.
The pull of gravity on takeoff and the feel of the breaks upon landing impressed me. There were a few air bumps, but nothing too bad. I was enchanted by the “cloud castles” we passed – the tops of storm clouds reaching high in the air above the other clouds.
We continued to England. When we neared London, air traffic was backed-up and we had to circle Heathrow for two hours. All the circling proved too much for the gentleman from Detroit, who started moaning, turning green, and throwing up. I was left alone with him while my mom searched for a doctor.
It seemed to take forever for someone to attend to the man. In the meantime, I resorted to plugging my ears and closing my eyes to escape the scene. I had never seen anyone turn green before. Eventually, a doctor who happened to be on the plane helped the poor man. I don’t recall my mother returning to her seat – perhaps she stayed away to allow the doctor room to work.
Like the proverbial three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, I kept myself blind, deaf and mute. We heard later that the Detroit man had a heart attack, but that he survived and was able to return to the U.S.
Once we landed, although I was glad to be on the ground again, I didn’t feel so well myself. We were scheduled to camp for several days outside of London. I don’t recall much else except lots of bathroom visits (and being impressed that the toilet water tank was on the wall above the toilet, not attached to the toilet bowl like back home.) After maybe two nights, I was throwing up green bile and I was out of it. I told my parents I thought I was dying. They called a doctor, who called for an ambulance. I was whisked away to Sydenham Children’s Hospital (which I hear is no more.)
I passed out in the ambulance. When I awoke in the hospital, I threw up again. I remember my mom sitting outside the exam room, crying. I don’t remember anything else until I woke up after surgery, feeling much better. They had taken out my appendix and explored around the rest of my intestines, which made for a larger scar than usual. The doctor said my appendix probably didn’t need to be removed, but that my intestines were inflamed. The pain was gone – that’s all I knew.
I spent the next two weeks in the hospital, screwing up my parent’s travel plans and pen pal visit. I was in a ward with maybe ten other children, and made great friends with Steve, red-haired Steve, and little Robert. We talked a lot from our beds and I tasted my first orangeade and learned British phrasing for food. With no television for distraction, we children shared what our home lives were like.
One phrase endures, which I have passed to my children. Little Robert would talk about how he’d say to his mum, “I have to go pee.” She would answer back, “Go on then, I’m not stoppin’ ya!” We would all laugh, so he would repeat it again, and again. What can I say? There wasn’t much else to do.
I developed a crush on red-haired Steve. I don’t recall why he had casts on both of this legs, but he seemed the nicest. Alas, we parted when I was well enough to travel again.
My parents managed to salvage the pen pal meeting. I missed travelling to Loch Ness, but hope to make up for that someday. Eventually, we crossed the English Channel to Amsterdam and visited Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. The flight home was uneventful, and I appreciated the familiar foods and smells of home.
That, my friends, is the story of how I left my appendix in London. Want to see my souvenir? (Grins and lifts shirt.)