I made a mistake when I played sick to get out of going to school in the 8th grade. It was just the one time. I had spent the weekend in a state of heightened ecstasy, because my foster father had procured tickets for me to attend a concert by one of my favorite bands. Studying was the last thing on my mind. Who could study when they had tickets to the Duran Duran concert? Not me. I spent the weekend listening to my Duran Duran albums, and calling every one of my friends who would listen to me babble about my good fortune. They were all jealous. For once, I felt like the cool kid among my peers. This was a first for me, and I rode that high all weekend.
Monday morning, I woke early and with a sense of dread: we had been warned about a test in History class. The topic was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Not only had I barely cracked my history book to study, but I hadn’t paid much attention during the class discussion on the topic. There was no way I could go to school unprepared for this test. Drawing inspiration from Ferris Bueller, I decided to play sick. How hard could it be? I could spend the day in bed. Maybe my foster mother would bring the TV into my room. I could have some soup, watch some TV, study a little. Tomorrow, Mr. Farley would let me make up the test, and I could maintain my A in history class. Good. A plan.
My foster mother came into my room to get me up for school. As was her habit, she raised the shades and gently shook my shoulder, chirping a cheerful, energetic “good morning! Time to get up. You don’t want to be late for school.” Trying to look and sound pathetic, I opened one eye and groaned, “I don’t feel good.”
A look of concern immediately crossed my foster mother’s face. “Oh dear. Oh no. I hope you aren’t coming down with something. You don’t look well. What’s wrong?”
Try to keep it vague. Nothing too specific. A general stomach complaint would do the trick. Another groan: “my stomach hurts.”
Now the concern shifted to alarm. “Your stomach? Oh no. Where?” She laid her hand against my forehead. “You do feel warm. Ok. You stay here in bed. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” With that, my foster mother left my bedroom. I anticipated her returning with tea and toast, and maybe an aspirin.
I was wrong. She returned empty handed. “Come on. Let’s get you dressed. You’re going to see a doctor.”
“What?” This wasn’t part of the plan. “I don’t need to see the doctor. I just have a stomach ache is all.”
“Yes, dear, I know. But a stomach ache could mean appendicitis. And appendicitis can kill you. So we need to get you checked out.” She tossed me my jeans, helped me button my shirt.
I sulked on the ride to the doctor’s office. This would certainly cut into my soup eating, TV watching, studying time.
The doctor saw me right away. He looked me over, remarked that I looked a little pale (I am naturally pale). He opined that I was a little on the thin side (also my usual condition). He took my vitals, frowned at my blood pressure, said it was a little high. Of course it was. I was nervous about getting in trouble for playing sick, and I was impatient to be cleared to go home and watch TV and study.
Then he had me lie down on the exam table. “Where does it hurt?” Before I could answer, he began palpitating my stomach. I only meant to issue a little, downplayed groan. Just enough to convince him I wasn’t faking it. But his hands were cold, and that groan came out with more force than intended.
That did it. That was enough for the good doctor. Addressing my foster mother, he advised her that I should be admitted to the hospital immediately for an emergency appendectomy.
An. Emergency. Appendectomy.
Terrified, I immediately sat upright. “No. I don’t need an operation. I just have a stomach ache.”
“I know,” the doctor soothed me. “But the symptoms sound like appendicitis, and that’s nothing to fool with. You can die of appendicitis, you know.”
“Yes, but what if I don’t have appendicitis? Then you’re cutting me open for nothing.”
“Well, if you don’t have appendicitis you’ll be ok too. You’ll live a nice normal life with no appendix, and you’ll never have to worry about it again.”
Now a nurse entered the exam room. “Come on dear… we’re taking you upstairs to the hospital to get you fixed right up. It’s just a few steps. I can get a wheelchair if you can’t walk.”
At this point, I decided it was time to drop the ruse and come clean. “I don’t have appendicitis! I just didn’t want to go to school because I have a test and I didn’t study! Please don’t cut me open. Please. I don’t need an operation.”
The doctor told my foster mother, “we need to get this done. She isn’t making any sense. She’s delirious, probably from the pain.”
By this time I was crying. None of this was supposed to be happening. “Please, please don’t cut me open.” I was begging in earnest. The nurse tried to calm me down on the way upstairs to the emergency room. “It’s all right, dear. You’re going to be just fine. It will hardly leave a scar. You’ll be good as new.” My foster mother walked alongside me, promising to be there when I got out of surgery. Shit. She should be home making soup, serving it to me in bed while I watched Different Strokes reruns.
I was ushered into another exam room. The nurse undressed me, replacing my clothes with a hospital gown. As soon as she was finished, the anesthesiologist appeared. “You’re gonna be just fine,” he assured me. “I’m gonna give you something to make you go to sleep and when you wake up, this will all be over and you’ll be on your feet again in no time.”
Defiant to the end, I struggled against the mask he placed over my nose and mouth. The nurse held me down while the anesthesiologist calmly instructed me to breathe deeply and count backwards. Fuck him. I wasn’t going to count. The last words I said before losing consciousness: “you can all fuck right off”.
I woke up crabby, itchy, and still groggy. I was in a private room, with an IV in my arm. It took me a minute to remember what had happened. The history test. I played sick. They took my appendix out. My fucking appendix. The fuckers cut me open.
I shifted the blankets aside and lifted my hospital gown to look at my stomach. Sure enough, there was a big gauze bandage on my right side. They actually went through with it. They actually cut me open and took out my appendix. Indignant at this invasion, still half out of my mind from the anesthesia, I started frantically pressing the call button to summon the nurse. She came in briskly, bearing a tray of jello and tea. “Oh, good! You’re awake. See, we told you it was just a little operation, no big deal at all. How are you feeling?”
“You cut me open.”
“Yes, dear, that’s what we have to do when someone has appendicitis. But you’ll be fine. It’s all taken care of.” The nurse set the tray on the table next to the bed, and tried to get me to eat some jello. I fucking hate jello. I especially hate red jello. This was red. Trying to cheer me up, the nurse turned on the TV. They had cable TV at the hospital. “Oh look, have you seen this movie? Ferris Bueller. This is great. So funny.” Fuck you, Ferris Bueller. You got me into this mess, you know that?
This was in 1986, when an appendectomy meant a 3-4 day hospital stay as a matter of course. They kept me for five days. I guess that’s because foster kids have insurance.
I had visitors, of course. My foster parents came to see me every day. They brought me books, and flowers, and a big stuffed bear. They hovered and fussed and promised a trip to my favorite pizza restaurant upon my discharge. I scowled and refused to be placated. They took my fucking appendix, and pizza wasn’t going to bring it back.
You know who else came to visit me? Mr. Farley, my history teacher. He brought me two candy bars: M&Ms, and Reese’s peanut butter cups. The nurse confiscated these, as they did not conform to the clear liquid diet ordered by the doctor. Mr. Farley had something else for me, too. “I know you’re a conscientious student, so I figured I’d drop off your homework so you don’t have to fall behind. It will give you something to do while you recover. Also, we had a test a couple days ago. I can just administer it to you now, so we can get that out of the way.”
Maybe the worst part of the story, is I aced that fucking test. I got 100%. So I really did lose my appendix for nothing.
I didn’t play sick again after that. I figured I didn’t have any more body parts to gamble with.