Of Many Things
In late September, after more than 24 hours of stomach pains, 11 hours in the emergency room and one hour in surgery, I lay in a recovery-room bed feeling cold and groggy. Yet even in my post-operation, painkiller-induced delirium—or perhaps because of it—I felt compelled to ask the nurses a question. Calling out in what, at the time, I imagined to be a calm and polite tone, I asked to see my appendix, which had been removed from my body only a short while earlier. It made sense to me, but the nurse had little sympathy for my sudden wave of nostalgia. “What’re ya going to do,” she said, in what I’m sure was her own best attempt at a polite tone, “keep it and put it on your mantle?”
Now that I am feeling more coherent, I’d like to be able to say that my morbid curiosity has disappeared. It has not. The odd, vestigial extension of an organ that was my appendix was a part of me for over 28 years, and I can’t help but wish that, before it was gone, I’d at least caught a glimpse of it. But these days, what seems even more curious to me, is the truly routine nature of the procedure.
Despite my presurgery apprehension, I quickly realized that in the long term little in my daily life would change post-op. It is for this reason, I assume, that no one mourns the “loss” of an appendix. The word is used in cases of mastectomies or amputations; we use it to mourn the most useful parts of ourselves when they are taken by disease or disaster. We grieve the loss of limbs, of sight, of breath—things that, if we go without them, change our lives dramatically and instantaneously. And it applies, of course, to things outside of our physical selves, as well—like jobs.
This fact hit home in the weeks following my surgery when my father informed me that after 24 years with a company, he had been laid off. My initial reaction to this news was surprisingly similar to the stream of consciousness that filled my brain after being diagnosed with appendicitis: This is common; this happens to people every day; it’s just that it has never affected me; this is scary.
Sadly, my father’s story is all too common. When I consider the 15 million Americans currently unemployed, my heart goes out to them. But when I consider the fact that my father is now one of them, my heart breaks. He, like many, has worked so hard for so long. Now he puts into his job search the same work ethic and dedication he has shown as an electrical engineer, as a supervisor, as a father. But these are uncertain times.
Still, in the midst of my worry, my thoughts again return to my surgery. How strange it is that removing my appendix—literally part of myself—could both save my life and leave it, in the long run, wholly unchanged, while my father’s job—something so abstract and detached—when taken from him, has the potential to upend everything.
Having a job offers a sense of security, purpose, routine, and the disruption of those things is unsettling. There’s no doubt that my father’s job was intricately intertwined with his life; but while it was truly a part of him, it has never defined him. There is dignity inherent in simply being a child of God, no matter one’s occupation. But in the vulnerability that comes with job loss, this fact can seem difficult to believe, if not irrelevant. Nevertheless, my father remains optimistic and focused. He’s moving forward, arguing that there’s little use in remaining overly attached to those things that cannot be regained.
In the days after my surgery my doctor offered advice for my at-home recovery: Ask for help. Refrain from carrying heavy objects. Relax. Slowly, he said, life returns to normalcy. The path to recovery following my family’s loss isn’t quite so clear cut, though my doctor’s advice may still come in handy. We will strive for normalcy. We will try to relax a bit, learn to ask for help. And we will support each other, so that no one is left carrying more than one person can bear.