You wake up on Sunday morning with cramps. It feels as though a baby sloth has taken up residence in your torso and with its claws sometimes stabs your pelvic floor. Occasionally it writhes its body around, taking your unassuming interior abdominal wall with it. Fucker. Your insides feel bigger too, as though the sloth has creaked open a French door somewhere and is waiting for a party to start.
After breakfast, the pain is still there. Led by instinct more than anything, you head to the ER, leaving your two young children in the care of your husband to set off smoke detectors, or whatever it is they do when you’re not around. An hour later, a CT scan reveals appendicitis, which was your hunch. (You’d always had this irrational fear of appendicitis, as though your appendix would burst at the most inopportune time, like during your hike in the Grand Canyon a few years ago). Things happen quickly after that, and you’ve barely enough time to call your mom and your husband. The latter doesn’t pick up right away, and when he calls you back, the conversation is like “They are taking out the sloth inside.” Then you are wheeled away. The last thing you remember is the nurse saying you’d be given anesthesia.
You wake up in recovery with a swollen belly and a huge bandage that covers your navel and then some. You are disoriented and sore, and cannot get up to use the toilet by yourself. It’s embarrassing. When you do go, pee keeps falling out long after you stop peeing. As you become more alert, you resign to a night of mostly no sleep, and you watch a Modern Family marathon, which makes you happy. Nurses come in and offer you Jell-O and pudding, which you accept gladly because you’re no fool. You don’t even need to hide it from the kids.
In the morning your husband arrives. The kids have gone off to school and you’re being discharged. The surgeon comes by and tells you about the stitched-up incisions on your belly and the no-big-deal staple on the side of your intestine. He’s kind of hot, so you’re secretly waiting for him to whisper how becoming your insides looked. Instead he announces that you had a hernia as well (surprise!), nothing that a little nip tuck couldn’t fix, as long as he was in the area. This is undoubtedly from pregnancy, you think. Now maybe you have a decent chance of getting in shape. But now you will need to actually get in shape. Thanks, Doc.
When the kids see you at home after school, they want to hug your belly and name it Ned. When you lie down to nap, you feel movement inside you. But instead of a baby (the only thing that’s been inside you — besides the sloth), it’s just angry, bitchy bowels, a vengeful colon that is protesting the removal of her shrunken pouch, her vestigial buddy. You tell them to get over it, that they didn’t need some useless organ cramping their style. At night, your belly gets its own pillow. Ned does best when supported and not flopping around in the dark.
After a few days, you stop taking the heavy meds and cautiously start driving. Railroad tracks freak you out, but you barrel forward anyway, headstrong and brazen. At pickup at your daughter’s school, people ask when you’re due, and you want to punch them in the face – except that might require more stitches to your guts. Besides, in all fairness, you are wearing borrowed maternity clothes, which are way more comfortable and fashionable than your pilly sweatpants.
Over the next week you eat soup and more soup. It’s the only thing that sounds good. You enjoy chicken gnocchi, split pea, and loaded potato. Sometimes you throw in oyster crackers to mix it up a bit. Gradually you graduate to spaghetti. Each day you put a prescribed powdered laxative in your water. Thank God you bought all that toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic. Your husband is doing a pretty good job at being Mr. Mom, but he wants to know when you can have sex. You want to punch him too – but again, the stitches thing.
Patiently you wait for your energy to return, the incision pain to relent, and the kids to stop wanting a ride around the house on your belly. There’s no way. A booster seat, maybe, but not a ride. You think, there will come a day when Ned will be gone, when train tracks won’t freak you out, when your poor belly button will stop permanently smiling at you like it’s drunk. You just don’t know when that day will be. Until then, you nap. Then you wake, and blaze forth like a woman with nothing to lose – except a writhing sloth.