Am I Sickly? I Think I’m Sickly!

Exploratory Surgery, Concussions, and Grape Juice

Photo by Daniel Adesina on Unsplash

I think I may be what some would call “sickly.” Just like the whole fat thing, I don’t see myself that way but writing every day is making it abundantly clear how often I am not feeling well. Most of the time it can be linked to depression. Today, it is a sinus infection. Before I even think it through, I’ve announced this to three different groups of people,

“Oh, sorry. My brain is foggy. I have a sinus infection.”

“Please forgive me for being late, I have a sinus infection.”

“When I was at the doctor today being diagnosed with a sinus infection, I got antibiotics.”

What a complete bore I must be! I just ended a call with someone and for just a quick moment I stepped outside of myself and heard what I must sound like to others. It is truly a wonder that I have any friends at all!

If you had told me when I was seventeen years old that I would be fat at 49, I would have said, “Yes, I’m sure you THINK so, but that won’t happen to me.” If you had told me when I was seventeen years old that I would complain about every ache and pain and act like I was dying when I had a cold, I would have . . . well, I’m not sure what I would have done because I was probably laying on the couch asking my mom to “please bring me some chocolate because I feel bad.”

The sicker people are in our family, the quieter they are about it. So, if I’m announcing a migraine or a sinus infection, y’all shouldn’t worry too much. My siblings who are really suffering aren’t saying shit about it.

One of those siblings had major surgery when she was about 14 years old. At the local children’s hospital she had “exploratory surgery.” Yes, they used to do exploratory surgeries on children! She had been sickly her whole life — at least since I came along. Is there a connection? I don’t know. You be the judge.

When the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, they decided the best thing to do was to put the teenager in the hospital and cut her open and poke around a bit at her organs to see if they could see if anything was wrong. Other than having to recover from major surgery, she was fine. That was a long recovery.

This happened when I was in third grade. And, at the exact same time she was going through exploratory surgery, I got knocked unconscious during recess. I was tiny in third grade. That did not mean I was athletic. But my BFF at the time wanted to teach me how to do a new trick she had learned in gymnastics. For some reason, everyone thought this was a good idea.

Do you remember those chin-up bars on playgrounds back in the day? There would be three, each at a different height. Well, BFF said, “Come on. You can do it. I’ll help you.” (This, btw, is not the same BFF I’ve written about before!)

She and another friend helped me climb onto the lowest bar. Seriously, they were pushing and prodding, using their hands for me to step onto. It was ridiculous and at every moment, it was clear that this was a BAD idea.

“Okay, now put one leg over the front and one leg in the back. Hold on loosely. You are going to spin around upside down then come back to the top again.”

She told me this was called a “Cherry Drop.” I don’t think that is the right name because I just Googled it and can’t find anything like what she was forcing me to do. It will always be “cherry drop” in my memory, though.

I was terrified. Never in my life had I done anything remotely like this. A somersault was a feat for me. I didn’t even know it was called a somersault. I called it “A Front Roll!” Now, here I was straddling this chin-up bar while BFF barked orders at me. And, just as I was working up the courage to try the flip (apparently, you were supposed to be able to do many turns in a row when you were really good at it, then end up back on top of the bar before dismounting) — well, before all that could happen, the lights went out.

I don’t remember the lights going out. What I remember is waking up while BFF and buddy DRAGGED me from the chin-up bars across the playground. They were trying to take me to the teacher.

Why? You may ask. Did it not occur to them to bring the teacher to the unconscious child? I never got that answer. I woke up and can still feel what it felt like at that moment.

The toes of my shoes were literally being dragged across the playground dirt. My wobbly little arms were thrown across the wobbly little shoulders of two other third graders. And, when my eyes opened, it felt like my entire head was inside a jack-hammer. You know that high-pitched sound they always use on movies when someone gets knocked out or experiences some kind of explosion? They use that sound for a reason! I still have a high-pitched tone in my ears, tinnitus, I guess. It may have started that day.

Once I could speak, I informed BFF and buddy that I HAD TO SIT DOWN. The closest place to sit was at the bottom of what we called “The Monkey Bars.” I imagine you would call it a “Jungle Gym.” Both of those names feel like they should be problematic now. Are they?

Anyway, what I called the monkey bars was a tall structure of criss-crossing pipes. It was round and wider at the bottom than the top. If you could climb to the top and sit up there, then you were in charge of the playground. I never made it to the top.

On this day, I just used one of the metal bits as a seat while I tried to figure out where I was, how I got there, and why the world sounded like it was muffled and loud all at the same time. Then, I puked.

I failed to mention how I got from straddling the chin-up bar to being unconscious. I learned later that this particular boy, a real rapscallion, had thought it would be funny to run from behind, up under my legs while using his hands to flip me. He was just trying to help, I’m sure. Everyone around could see how scared I was. I imagine he expected me to make the turn and end upright again having completed the trick. Instead I flipped right off the bar and landed on my head.

While I was being concussed, my parents were at the hospital with a child going through surgery. The memory is foggy. I had a concussion after all! Of course, there were no cell phones, so I’m wondering who was called if my folks weren’t at home or work. It could have been my oldest sister, but I think it was the organist from the church.

(After reading this, Mom reminded me that it was “Aunt Louise.” She was one of two BFF’s my mom had since they were five years old leading me to question my ‘You can only have one BFF theory.’)

However I got picked up from school, my Dad ended up taking me to see the pediatrician while Mom stayed at the hospital with my sister.

We had the same pediatrician for years and he was the perfect mixture of Robin Williams in Patch Adams and Mr. Rogers — except for the breath. He had horrible halitosis. I mean it was HORRIBLE. I’m sure you have experienced this kind of bad breath before, but imagine that person is the one sticking the tongue depressor in your mouth and saying, “Now, say ‘ahhh.’” Our “ahhs” were always said with grimaces on our faces. I guess he thought we didn’t like being examined. It was really because of the breath. If he were a cartoon character, when he spoke there would be a cloud of green haze coming from his mouth. I’ve tried to paint a picture here, but I know you cannot even begin to imagine it. This is something my siblings and I share. All we have to do is mention his name and that smell comes back to each and every one of us.

Anyway, Sweet Bad-Breath Doctor told Daddy that he thought I would be okay. That I likely had a concussion, but since they had another child in the hospital at the time, maybe going home would be okay. I was already vomiting, but he told Dad that it should be fine — “unless she throws up blood. If she vomits blood, get her to the ER immediately.”

Sweet Bad-Breath Doctor never wanted us to suffer. When I was ten years old and in his office AT LEAST twice a year with strep-throat, I literally begged him to take my tonsils out so that the strep would stop. He hadn’t wanted me to have to go through surgery and kept putting it off again and again even though he told us that would likely be the answer. He was awfully sweet. It was the answer. I’ve only had strep throat sans tonsils once and it was because I cuddled up so closely with my youngest when they were sick.

So, Dad, who was a great, loving father, but who left the bulk of the “care-giving” to Mom, took me home. He put me on the couch to watch whatever TV I wanted! He gave me a bucket to puke in. And, he went somewhere else in the house to read. Or, likely, he was outside drinking sweet tea and smoking cigarettes.

I was thirsty. And, other than a headache, I felt okay. So, I went to the kitchen and got a drink. It happened to be grape juice. A few minutes after that, I threw it up and guess what it looked like to me and my dad. We rushed to the hospital.

The ER doctors examined me and kept asking me what I had had to drink and eat. Dad was telling them, “She really hasn’t had anything.”

“Okay, we need to admit her to the hospital.”

All that goes with a hospital admission ensued. And, just when they were about ready to move me from the ER to a room, I said,

“Oh, wait. I did drink some grape juice. Do you think that could be it?”

Dad was pretty pissed, though he wouldn’t show it. The doctor laughed. “Yes, that is probably it. But, since we’ve admitted you now, let’s just keep you here to watch you for a night or two.”

It was just easier because my sister was already there and all. We both recovered. My parents did too. That must have been the most stressful day!

The next year, in fourth grade, Rapscallion (the one who caused the fall that caused the concussion) was my boyfriend.

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In no particular order: Writer, pastor, Mama Bear, LGBTQ+ ally, wife, preacher, watcher of TV, seeker, mystic want-to-be

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T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

In no particular order: Writer, pastor, Mama Bear, LGBTQ+ ally, wife, preacher, watcher of TV, seeker, mystic want-to-be

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