So there I was, strapped to a gurney in the Quepos hospital. My bata was askew, private parts exposed, and a self-assured man in a green surgical suit was fitting a breathing apparatus over my nose and mouth. “Respire profundo”, he ordered, and I took one, two, three deep breaths. As consciousness slipped away, brutally and rapidly, my last thought was: `This must be what its like to die.´
An hour or so later I was conscious, still alive, in the recovery ward. My gut felt like someone had taken a running start and poked me with the tip of an umbrella. To my left was a kid recovering from an appendectomy; to my right a guy whose recent siring of twins had shocked him into a vasectomy. I was there following an operation to repair an umbilical hernia. We shared a common bond of midsection pain. The three of us communicated by rotating our heads slowly to the left or right and wincing.
Several hours earlier I had lain in the same room, on the same gurney, waiting my turn to be sliced open. There was no reading material, nor television, but one of the attendants had brought in a boombox, which was tuned to a religious station. The songs were actually catchy, almost danceable, but suddenly the programming switched to a manic Tico preacher who ranted on and on and on. Time passed slowly. The preacher continued his out of control raving. I stared at the ceiling, which seemed to be in motion. Weird eye dirt danced like floating amoebas in my line of vision. An unconscious post-op patient was wheeled in and hooked up to a machine that registered his heartbeats with a loud and annoying beeping sound. After a time I noticed it was just me and the unconscious patient, accompanied by the steady beeps and the mad preacher. One comes to a hospital to either get better or die and it occurred to me that maybe I had died, and this was to be my eternal purgatory. Fortunately, an attendant entered the room moments later and wheeled me to surgery.
I had given myself the hernia several months earlier in the Mucho Musculo gym. I was doing a series of kneeling stomach crunches—one kneels facing the weight machine, reaches up and grasps a bar, and then doubles slowly forward as if bowing toward Mecca, making the muscles of the midsection do the work. This is an exercise one should do with caution and lighter weights, but I was stacking 150 pounds or more for my repetitions, because I wanted to prove to my wife that I could drink all the beer I wanted and not develop a gut. That I felt an occasional sharp spasm while doing these did not deter me—no pain, no gain after all. Then one day I was showering and I noticed that my navel, a cavernous “innie”, had now become an “outie”. I didn´t think any more about it—there was no pain or discomfort, but when I showed it to my wife she immediately identified it as a hernia. One of her sisters had gotten a similar hernia in childbirth years earlier and her “innie” too had become an “outie”.
It is possible I could have gone on indefinitely without surgery; I had grown fond of my “outie”. Indeed I found it more attractive than my true belly button, which is large enough inside to house a hummingbird. But there were risks involved with letting it go, and besides, it had become my “enabler”: I couldn´t exercise vigorously, so I indulged in my vices vigorously instead.
Prior to my surgery, I was given a battery of other tests because I am now of the age that requires these preliminaries. My blood pressure, cholesterol levels, EKG, lung x- rays all were deemed excellent. If someone was to ask me to what I owe this good health, my honest answer would be, “Get enough exercise to break a sweat each day, don´t be afraid to laugh out loud , if you´re going to drink, stick mainly to beer, eat pizza at least once a week, and if you must smoke, smoke only the finest greenbud.”
Its now been two days since the surgery and the bloodstained gauze has been removed and replaced and I have accustomed myself to the sight of my cave like navel. If ever I tire of it, I´ll just have to return to the gym and start doing the “Mecca crunches” again.