Part I: Fourth of July


Part I of an ongoing series of blog posts

According to the 2016 census, Long Beach has a population of over 470,000. That’s by no means a small city by any stretch of the imagination, but there are times when that number can be simply a number.

One of those times is on the Fourth of July when residents gather a block away to celebrate our nation’s independence and partake in the neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July Parade. And it’s a grand celebration – decorations, noisemakers, Souza marches, and an overall small-town sense of pride. We’ve participated since Anthony was old enough to do it and even when he wasn’t, I wheeled him around the parade route in a wagon replete with patriotic bunting.

As part of the good times and like mostly everyone, we have a BBQ at our house with both families. It’s not a lot of people but it’s just enough to keep the hosts – Ann and me – on our toes for at least a few hours.

And with that BBQ comes indulgence. There’s usually a slew of side dishes strewn upon the built-in lazy Susan of the glass patio table along with a plate of various meats, usually cooked to burnt perfection.

The post-BBQ activities usually include a nice nap once the guests have left then watching fireworks being lit all around us. Illegal in Long Beach, residents still manage to make them a part of the festivities.

It was in the evening while watching the night being lit up by pyrotechnics when Ann told me she had been experiencing pain in her abdomen. Naturally, since eating was as much a part of the day as the parade and fireworks, I said that she probably just had a little too much to eat. She agreed and took some Tums in the hopes of getting some relief from the pain.

That wouldn’t be the case.

On July 7, she complained that despite taking Tums and other OTC medications for a few days, the pain had not subsided and may actually be getting worse. Rather than running to the emergency room to sit and wait, as Long Beach Memorial is notorious for, she agreed to have me take her to the local urgent care facility where they have come to know Anthony on a first-name basis. Dislocated finger? Broken ankle? Yep. They’ve seen both of them on this kid.

I rushed her over and checked her in, and were seen in a time that would have never happened at the ER. But with that comes limitations.

Urgent care facilities are great for, well, urgent care for symptoms that can be easily diagnosed (like, you know, a dislocated finger). After a routine examination and reading her vitals, the doctor told us that Ann’s condition was a little more difficult to pinpoint since they lacked the proper equipment to facilitate in finding the cause.

By now, of course, the pain wasn’t constant even with the doctor applying pressure to the area in question. It was still there but just not chronic or as intense as before. Later in the day, it had all but disappeared.

The doctor gave us a few ideas of what might be causing the pain but didn’t have any concrete answers based on her exam and vitals, so she recommended Ann get some blood work and an ultrasound done in order to zero in on the source.

They were scheduled two weeks down the road on July 28.

On July 12, Ann woke up in tears telling me she couldn’t take it anymore.

I jumped out of bed, threw on some fresh clothes in no time flat, then grabbed my phone to send an email to my boss and department letting them know I would be out that day but would send updates as I got them.

When we arrived at the ER, it was surprisingly empty. Ann was seen promptly and explained her condition to the nurse as she prepped a spot for her. She told the nurse that she was scheduled to get ultrasounds and blood work done in a few weeks. Immediately, the nurse scheduled both of those to happen that day after Ann’s initial examination.

“I’m going to go get you a gown and a bag for your personal belongings,” the nurse said as she started waking toward a door. Ann nervously looked over at me then the nurse.

“Am I going to stay?”

“First, we’ll get the blood work and ultrasound going. Then it all depends on the results and if the doctor thinks it’s necessary to keep you here for observation.”

Ann began to cry a little. I held her hand. This wasn’t what any of us had expected – and it was only the beginning.

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Prelude


“Every writer is a frustrated actor who practices his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull.” — Ben Hecht

Writers draw from their life experiences to craft stories. It’s not that writers lead more exciting or interesting lives than everyone else, it’s just that they see them as chapters unfolding right before their eyes.

Everything has the potential to become a story. Except lunch – nobody cares what I had for lunch. Honestly.

Well, I’m about to start a story that’s been taking shape and still in the process of being written. And as it continues, I will pass it along here.

The topic is a health issue – read the tags and you’ll figure it out – that the family has been dealing with since early July, when Ann first complained of stomach pain. Since then, our lives have been riddled with disappointment, shock, anger, and even some happiness and good times.

I’m doing this, with Ann’s blessing, for a few reasons.

As therapy. It’s a way to get things off of my chest because frankly, I was and probably still am taking this much harder than the family (remember: empath). You’ll get a better idea when the time comes and you mustn’t be easily offended by blasphemy. It will be raw, real, and emotional. Understand this.

To inform. Hopefully, anyone with the same diagnosis who might read this will do so and feel better about their own situation. It will also draw on the importance of overall health screenings and physicals since this would have never been discovered had Ann not been suffering from stomach pain. And that alone is pretty scary.

It may take a few days between posts because I now have to sit and scribble down, from memory, notes about everything that’s taken place since July 4th. That’s almost two months of pulling stuff from my brain and remembering details but I’m pretty sure it can be done.

If you’re used to the silliness my blog usually entails, this will be a far cry from my typical content but it’s something that needs to be done.

And it will all begin with the next post.

Thanks for reading.