Remember when brightly patterned backpacks on wheels were cool? The girls in middle school thought so. Fast-forward to high school and the old trend became social suicide. Enter college and somehow the professors get away with their rolling luggage, but as a student, rocking the wheeled book bag is less-than-acceptable. After an emergency appendectomy during my sophomore year, “rolling backpack kid” became my fate.
It was a Thursday night in September. I found myself rereading the same incomprehensible Spanish sentence over and over, trying to ignore the burning sensation near my abdomen. I had to finish before my family flew into town for Parents’ Weekend, but focusing was impossible. Tums and Pepto just weren’t cutting it.
In search for a cure, I headed over to University Health Services to discover the pain on the lower right side was a characteristic symptom of appendicitis. Just my luck. Off to the ER I went where I was hooked up to an IV and examined. With difficulty, I downed nearly half a gallon of orange carbonated contrast liquid to prepare for my first CT scan ever. I couldn’t make out the image of my swollen appendix in the beautiful mess of grayish blobs, but apparently it didn’t look good. I was shipped off to surgery prep, where the anesthesiologist administered the drugs… and I forget the rest.
I woke up without pain. My family had arrived—their fun weekend plans in Boston abandoned in favor of spending time with me in the hospital. I stayed overnight and all day the next day, still loopy, brooding over what might happen on Monday morning when I didn’t have that paper done. The surgeon said I had to take it easy. No heavy lifting, no vigorous exercise and no stair climbing for four to six weeks. The words no heavy lifting stuck. As a pre-med student, lugging my chemistry and biology books simulated carrying around an extra limb. The solution? A rolling backpack.
My caring mother bought me a bright blue box of a backpack on wheels, insisting I use it. It was embarrassing. I absolutely did not want to drag this backpack to classes or have to strategically hunt down elevators amongst Boston College’s stair-riddled campus. As if the detours weren’t enough of an embarrassment, I dreaded walking into class dragging the hideous, impossible to conceal rolling backpack. At first I gave flustered explanations to strangers who looked at me, as if they were questioning me with their eyes.
On top of difficulty getting around, the recovery from surgery was brutal. It wore me down. My insides screeched upon every twist, it hurt to sit or stand for too long and the pain meds made me sleepy and nauseous. I devolved into self-pity mode: Why did this have to happen to me, God? During those weeks, thoughts of my aching body invaded my mind. I tried to cope. I rolled out of bed and went to my three-hour chemistry labs and classes, only to feel completely fatigued afterword.
My grades dropped. Every extracurricular that kept me sane was pushed to the side just so I could keep up with my rigorous coursework. My friends were sympathetic, doing what they could to make me feel better, but they had no idea what I was going through. I just wanted to go home.
Though my affliction was temporary, this experience gave me a small glimpse of what it’s like to be a student living with a health problem. Being sick is not always temporary, and being sick away from home is hard. The strength it would take to excel and enjoy college while being ill is an incredible endeavor. I realize there are no limits to working hard, and when life gets tough or illness strikes, you can be tougher.
In retrospect, I could have been a little more positive through my recovery. I was lucky to have my family there when I was sick, to have suffered for only a month and to have great roommates and a support system. This experience made me a little stronger and a lot more grateful. Emergency surgery was not the ideal start to my second year of college, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I spent a month with a rolling backpack by my side and I may have no appendix in my body, but I have something better: a new perspective.