I couldn’t have been more excited the day of the operation.
Only once had I been cut up before, and it was for this laser eye surgery vision thing. It’s not exactly the biggest deal. The doctor doesn’t make you wear a gown with the open fanny area. You’re not doped up with medical grade opiates. You can wear your business suit during the procedure. You open your eye lids, hold still for 20 seconds, and congrats, you now have eagle vision. You’re back in your cubicle by lunch.
I remember thinking after that procedure, “Well, gee, I hope my next surgery is more thrilling.” Maybe I’d be lucky and get my hand chopped off in a lumber mill accident and have to get a cadaver hand sewn on. (I don’t work in a lumber mill, but a boy can dream, no?) What if the donor’s hand was more tan than me and the coloring didn’t match at the wrist? Or what if they gave me a woman’s hand because that was the only one in the freezer at the time? What if after the surgery I was at an important business meeting and I went to shake someone’s hand, and my new hand came right off my arm and the other guy stood there shaking an orphaned hand? That would be embarrassing.
As it turns out, my second surgery wasn’t much more exciting than the first. It was just a boring old umbilical hernia surgery. I wish I something way cooler to report. But I don’t. I only had like a 2% chance of death while in the operating room. Snore. I didn’t even bother to update my will beforehand.
So, what is an umbilical hernia and how did I develop one? No idea. I guess it just happens. A natural part of aging, the surgeon told me. I didn’t even bother Googling it after the diagnosis, that’s how boring the thing is. How I found out that I HAD an umbilical hernia is sort of interesting, however. Several months ago I was dating a woman named Maureen and she was staring at my belly button one evening (as women do). All of a sudden Maureen’s face turned sour and scrunched up. I asked her what was wrong. She said, “You have something wrong with your belly button.” I looked down because, well, I wanted to see what she saw.
I’ve probably only looked at my own belly button one other time in my life and that was back in high school when I at a party and poured a shot of Early Times whiskey into it and asked if any girl would care to slurp it out. No takers.
But when I looked down, at now forty years old, to examine my navel for exactly the second time ever, I sort of saw what she was referencing. There was something wrong. My belly button wasn’t totally fucked up or anything. But it wasn’t, well, normal, either. It was misshapen. The best I can explain it without having you retch all over your Pumas is that some of the inside parts started making a dash for it. A move toward the light. To freedom!
I could have showed 20 of you my belly button at the time and 18 of you would have said, “Dude, you have a really sexy belly button. I mean, aside from the dark hair surrounding it. Wait, aren’t you blonde? Shouldn’t those stomach pubes be lighter?” In other words, to the non-medical professional, it looked no different from the male models gracing the cover of Men’s Health. Well, a little different. Less ab definition. I’m talking about the actual hole. It’s a pretty killer hole, if I do say so myself. And I do. Or rather, I just did.
But now it was less killer. Like an aging Hollywood starlet, it had lost symmetry. And like an aging Hollywood starlet, there was only one reasonable option – surgery.
Oh wait, let me go back to the discovery. I’m not good at linear storytelling.
So, Maureen, being a senior graphic designer at a prestigious advertising agency, knew a fucked-up belly button when she saw one. That previous sentence was meant to be sarcastic, because Maureen had no medical training at all. Her best skill was designing print advertisements for the largest cheese distributor in Utah. A noble skill, but not one that included the hippocratic oath. But since I believe virtually anything anyone tells me, I assumed she knew stuff about hernias.
I started freaking out and ran to the bathroom to see my now-imperfect belly button staring back at me. I yelled over to Maureen to ask why she was confident that I had a hernia. I pressed my right index finger directly into the hole, because I thought hernias were supposed to hurt. I was a little grossed out, but there wasn’t any pain. She replied that her last boyfriend had the same shape in his belly hole and it turned out to be an umbilical hernia. She went with him to the hospital for the procedure. Also, nursed him back to health. She promised she’d do the same for me.
The next day I called a surgeon that knows about this stuff. I walked into his office and fifteen seconds later he confirmed what my ladyfriend had asserted. I had an umbilical hernia. He told me there was nothing I could have done to prevent it and that it was not a big deal. He suggested I get the surgery, but said I didn’t have to do it immediately. I had a suspicion that Maureen was on the verge of dumping me and I wasn’t about to go back out in the dating world with a messed up belly button. It’s hard enough being single. The doctor told me to think about it and I said, “No need. Let’s do it!” He didn’t say so, but he must have been impressed by my decisiveness. It was an act of leadership.
On the way out, I casually mentioned to the surgeon, “Actually, doctor… I’ve had a hernia before. TWO, actually.” He stopped and said, “Oh, really?” And yes, that much IS true. I did have a double hernia once. But, to be honest, I was just showing off. I told him that when I was born the doctors screwed up my mom’s epidural and hit her spine with the needle. It immediately put her in a coma. I was born and hustled off to my two grandmothers while she recovered. And from day one, my two grandmothers put me on human food. A tactical error in hindsight. My dad probably didn’t know any better (I was the first child), and he was probably bummed his wife was in a coma. So, he didn’t notice I got fat pretty quick.
When my mom woke up from the coma a few weeks later and they took her home, I was already obese. A big, fat, disgusting baby. And babies are already disgusting, even when they’re not huge slobs like I was. It was so bad I was raced back to the hospital where the doctors performed an emergency double-hernia surgery on me. The doctor yelled at my mother for letting this happen and said, “I’ve never had to cut through so many layers of fat in a baby before. You ought to be ashamed!”
Funny enough, I’ve never had a weight problem since. I was only fat as a baby. Which is the best possible time to have a weight problem, now that I think about it.
Anyway, after I was done telling this story the doctor laughed. I’m not sure if he believed me, but he clasped his hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, D.J., congrats. You’re about to have a second hernia surgery.” I corrected him and said, “Third.” His mouth started to open to correct me that a double hernia isn’t really two hernia surgeries, but he realized I was just making a joke. He laughed and pointed at me with a look that said, “Good one!”
I left the office and took stock of my emotions. I wasn’t sad. Nor scared. Not even angry. I was kind of excited, actually.
I called Maureen and said, “Remember that thing about my belly button? You were right!” She was in the middle of a cheese video shoot for an Instagram campaign. I told her I’d need a ride to and from the hospital in two weeks. and reminded her of her promise.
My belly button was about to get back to perfect. And, even if Maureen dumped me, I’d once again have a perfect hole and likely a cool scar and we all know chicks dig scars. The only scar I possessed at the time was a two-incher on my butt where I fell through a glass table in high school. It’s not exactly the kind of scar that you’d call a panty-melter.
I was excited. Who wouldn’t be?
… part II coming up …