Every novelist includes autobiographical material when writing fiction - especially first-timers like me. This excerpt is about what happened to me and set my life on a course to understand the interrelationship of body and mind. For fifty years after the event, I thought it must have been the power of prayer. But during those five decades nothing like it happened again. Only now, have I come to the conclusion that the bodymind is real and can manifest such events.
Chapter 2- My Appendix
I am home at Christmas just before turning ten years old. During the five years since Mom returned from Jamestown, she had made several positive steps. Though prone to fits of anger and administering far too many spankings, she had gone back to cooking and baking and even participating in PTA. She reactivated her RN license and began working part-time at the hospital.
Of course, everything was far from being okay. Christmas, in particular, had a painful script that didn’t change much from year to year. Some parts were good: lots of homemade baked goods; scores of Christmas cards coming and going; growing anticipation of opening presents. We kids always went to the movies on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Mom stayed home baking a whole chicken and soaking a slab of fresh lutefisk. Dad did what salesmen were assigned to do on Christmas Eve, he delivered pints of whiskey to each of his local accounts. It was required, of course, he share the festive libation with each and every one of his clients. One thing about Dad’s drinking. It never caused us kids any problems. But it made Mom blow like Vesuvius. Dad was a happy, jolly drunk. Never angry, falling down, or profane. We kids rather liked him that way.
Every Christmas Eve afternoon at five o’clock Terry, Kate, and I would come home to good smells and Mom busy in the kitchen. We were responsible for picking up around the house and setting the table. About five-thirty Dad would walk in and Mom’s volcano would erupt. “Chris, you’ve done it again. You’ve ruined Christmas for everyone, especially the children.”
Well, I was one of those children, and it didn’t bother me in the least. Dad protested he wasn’t that drunk. We kids agreed. Nevertheless, Mom would increase the volume and profanity of her contempt. Ultimately collapsing on the kitchen floor and screaming at Dad. “You’ve done it again, you goddamned bastard, you’ve ruined Christmas for everyone.”
Later, a variety of scenarios played out. Everything from my Dad stomping from the house and being gone for days, to a hasty, sullen truce and we all pretending nothing happened. But this particular Christmas Eve had a new twist. Our parents decided our failed Christmas Eve gatherings were the fault of their three kids. When five o’clock arrived, we came home to an empty and very quiet house. Presents, normally under the tree, were nowhere to be seen. An hour later, Mom and Dad—both drunk as skunks staggered in the door. They took turns cursing us, telling us how bad we were, how we didn’t deserve any Christmas presents.
If we tried to utter a word in our defense, they shouted at us, “Don’t talk back.” When we pushed it too far, Dad took off his belt—and for the first and only time in our lives—he administered a beating to each of us. Before Dad even hit Kate, she started crying. Terry tried to be tough and not make a sound. Big mistake! He didn’t realize if you started crying, you’d only get hit a couple times more. I screamed with the first hit and got off with only three hits.
Punishment completed, they ordered us to bed without supper and told us if they heard any noise from us, there would be more belt action coming. We shared a small upstairs room with a curtain down the middle to provide privacy for Kate. On our side of the curtain, Terry and I shared a three-quarter sized bed.
When we were young, Mom taught us how to say our prayers. Always fold your hands and shut your eyes. Lying in bed was okay. But, don’t kneel by the bed! That’s what Catholics do. Next, in a quiet but audible whisper, start with, Now I lay me down to sleep. Then the Lord’s Prayer and finish with blessings on all of our relatives.
We didn’t talk out loud that night. We withdrew into our thoughts and started a night of intense prayer. Usually, when I said my prayers, I stuck to the script and added nothing else. Except once when I was about four, I remember asking God to tune in Satan so I could administer him a tongue-lashing.
That night, I went all out. In Sunday school, they told us if you say a prayer and then add this specific phrase, “I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.” If you do that to the letter, and do so with a pure heart, Jesus was obligated to answer your prayer exactly. No ifs, ands, or buts. Period. Guaranteed.
Another interesting fact about our family; everybody was expected to have their appendix removed. That Christmas eve, I was the only person in the family that still had one. The cool thing is, if you have surgery, everyone will be nice to you for almost two months. I recalled my fool-proof prayer instructions. I should be detailed in asking specifically what I want. Here’s what I prayed for: The third day of school when Christmas break was over, I want to wake up with appendicitis. By nine o’clock I want to be at the hospital and have my appendix removed. Mom and Dad would worry about me and then be very nice to me for at least two months.
Now, my parents never sustained their anger for more than a couple of days. They would return to their roles of cursing one another. Besides, two days after Christmas, my dad would be out on the road again. He was usually gone four nights a week. By New Years, I had forgotten the whole affair—including my impassioned prayer.
School restarted and we all fell back into our routines. On the exact Wednesday morning I had prayed about; the third day of school; I woke up feeling awful. My stomach hurt. I was nauseated. I had no energy at all. When Mom called us to get up, I remembered my prayer.
Oh, no! I forgot to un-pray it. Quick as I could, I un-prayed it—Jesus name, the whole nine yards. Then, I waited to start feeling better. But, I didn’t. My stomachache got a lot worse. When Mom looked at me entering the kitchen, she turned on her concerned-nurse mode.
“Peter, honey, what’s the matter?”
“My stomach hurts . . . really bad.”
“When did it start to hurt?”
“I dunno. I felt this way when I woke up.”
“You’re so pale.” Touching my forehead, she added, “I think you have a fever.”
In a jiffy, she took my temperature—it was 101. She probed my abdomen and located the tender spot, low on the right side. “Oh, dear! You have appendicitis.”
I vomited a small amount of thin yellow fluid. Mom was a whirlwind. Kate and Terry had left for school earlier. Dad was out of town. Within twenty minutes, Mom was in her white nursing uniform and we climbed into a cab to go to the hospital. My memory is a little blurry about what happened after we got there.
I awoke from the anesthesia later that afternoon. It was already getting dark. Mom in her uniform, Dad in his gray suit, together with Kate and Terry, were gathered at my bedside. Just like I envisioned it in my prayer. The open-drop ether anesthesia continued to make me vomit. The pain in my side was the worst I’d ever felt, but it went away when Mom gave me a hypo. When I awakened again, a well-dressed man was with Mom. They had something that looked like a pregnant earthworm lying on a piece of gauze.
“Hello, Peter, I’m Dr. Ingalls. I took your appendix out. Your mother said you were a very bright little boy; you might even want to become a doctor. Well, this is your appendix. See the swollen area? That’s where it was bursting. We call it a rupturing appendix. If your mother didn’t get you to me in time, you could have died.”