My Alien – Something I Choose To Live With.

I live with an Umbilical Hernia and have been doing so since 1991. Recently, a few Blog Followers asked me if I would write this story as it is a major part of my life. It is an embarrassing condition to live with and I underwent 13 surgeries to try and correct it.

For those that don’t know what an Umbilical Hernia is, this happens when you strain yourself by either picking up something heavy or even coughing with force. It can occur in the groin area, abdominal area or anywhere that the muscles are under strain. There is a fine layer of tissue that connects all muscled together and in my case, the muscles next to the navel or “Belly Button” where stressed. The muscles joints tear and whatever is behind the muscle comes through the hole that has been created. In my case, my intestines.

This is the story…….

During Spring Low tide along the coast line of the Ciskei, South Africa, the access to the coast is almost unlimited for any beach vehicle. As the tide is low, you can have about 3 hrs to explore the coastline as the high water mark moves back some 20 meters. What is left behind is smooth hard sand on which you can drive your vehicle. On one such occasion, a friend and I set off to go snorkel dive a natural pool that was always exposed at Spring Low tide. The dive in itself is an terrific experience as along the beach, fishermen make the most out of, what were before, unreachable reefs. The to and fro banter between us in vehicles and them standing ankle deep in the sand and water is always friendly and great. The pool itself is beautiful and can only be likened to you taking a plunge in an aquarium. The aquatic life seen in that pool is breathtaking. The pool is about 20 meters wide and about 15 meters long. It is only about 3 meters deep but as the sun’s rays filter through the clear blue water, everything looked at is magnified in all it’s glory. One can easily loose track of time in this wonder world. Which is what happened to us. I felt a sharp sting on my back as I came up for air and it was my friend throwing small pebbles at me to call me to go. Unknowingly, we had been diving for around two and a half hours and with the distance to cover on our return, with the incoming tide, we knew we were cutting it fine. we hastily packed our things and started heading back to the river mouth where we had gained access.

About 5 kilometers into our trip, my friend noticed a small beach vehicle up one of the small rivers. It seemed to be parked but as we examined it we saw that it was stuck in sand up to it’s rear mounted engine. Whoever was with that vehicle would surely need our help to muscle it out of the suctioning sand. We circled back and found a young woman and two small children sitting up against a sand dune. She told us that she had misread the sand conditions as being firm but as she had entered the fresh river water, her wheels had just simply sank in. She said that she knew better than to spin tires and just sat and watched as the sand sucked her car deeper.

As we were used to beach trips such as this one, our vehicle was equipped with the necessary emergency equipment for such a situation. Soon we were positioning our vehicle to pull her vehicle out and we were issuing my friend with the reverse directions to line up the two vehicles. We had to pull her through the river water (soft sand) and the tow rope that we had with us was about 3 meters short. While contemplating pulling her in reverse, a large wave came in and nearly reached the back of our vehicle, making us worried that we too would become stuck. I looked at the situation carefully and summed it up that if we could just get her rear tires out of the sand, we could free the vehicle. We considered pulling her to one side but again faced the problem of the river sand and the incoming tide. In a moment of stupidity, I lifted the front of the car and pulled it to one side dislodging the one rear tire. I dived aside and she managed to apply full throttle and free the vehicle. (No, don’t be alarmed at this stupid strength that I lifted this car with as the type of beach vehicle that it is is designed using fiber glass and a metal frame which is not that heavy.) The vehicle was quite light to lift but as I pulled it to one side, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I thought I must have pulled a muscle or something like that and never gave it another thought. We then decided that the two children accompany my friend in his vehicle and I would drive with her to get her safe. When we reached out point of entry onto the beach, she thanked us and made her way off the lagoon sand. She and her kids were safe. My friend and I enjoyed a beer as we recalled what had just happened and the best of all, our long dive in the pool.

Later that night, as I lay in bed, I felt discomfort next to my Belly Button. I could feel a bump next to the two muscle on the left , between two muscles. I pushed it and it went away. Cool, I thought, whatever it was had gone. Over the next few weeks, it would pop out and I would pop it back in. Quite a party trick with my two small kids. Then one day my wife came to me telling me that my daughter was complaining about an ear ache and would I mind taking her to our family doctor in the village. We headed his way and when we sat in his consulting rooms he found that she had a small piece of wax sitting on her ear drum. He syringed it clear and she was over joyed. I then asked him what is opinion was about this bump that I managed to manipulate in and out of my stomach. He examined it and told me it was an Umbilical Hernia. As I could manipulate it, there was no immediate danger but the danger lurked if I never remember to push it back and it became strangulated. This did not sound good and even worse when he explained that if it strangulated, gangrene could set in and they would need to remove that part of my intestine. Wow, what had been a fun excursion on the beach diving in a pool and becoming a hero in one afternoon suddenly sounded pretty terrifying. I could loose part of my intestine? He recommended that I go see a specialist in one of the larger neighboring centers not far away and set up my appointment.

Up until the appointment date, I don’t think my hand left my bump. I think I even woke up every 5 minutes to push it back in, living in fear of loosing part of my stomach. The day came and I drove through to see this Surgeon, who, by the way, came highly recommended as a great heart surgeon. Hey, I thought, a great heart surgeon is going to look at my bump, who better? The news he gave me was similar to that of my doctor and advised that I have it repaired as soon as possible. Gangrene in an intestine would lead to months of discomfort and pain. In the long run, it could all be avoided. “Simple” repair, an hour’s operation, 3 hours under anesthetic and I would be fine. He likened the pain to that that a woman experiences while giving birth. Now there was something worth looking forward to. Where would I experience this pain? The entire thought of this operation sickened me to my stomach, including my bump.

We scheduled the procedure for a week later although I was ready right there and then but the whole thing about not eating beforehand and drinking water etc, put pay to that idea. If there was going to be this pain, I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. The day arrived and my wife made all the plans to have the kids delivered to a friend after school. She would also be spending the night there after dropping me off and seeing me out of surgery. All that arranged, we set off for the hospital. On arrival we followed the protocol of booking in and within minutes of settling in, the prodding and sampling and temperature taking was carried. out. Then came the little blue pill, a lovely invention that, within minutes of taking it, numbed your world and made everything that you heard and saw seemed blurred. I was asked to move from my bed to a gurney and carried this out with all the dignity that I could muster as I was wearing a surgical gown that was open at the back. I heard my wife apologizing to someone for something and later learned that I had exposed my pimpled butt to someone. The row of lights down the hospital passage seemed to smelt into one continual long light. I remember thanking someone that I was a farmer not an electrician cause there was no way I could work out how to change that 20 meter long light bulb. The next minute I saw a familiar half face. It was my surgeon whose mouth was covered by a blue mouth rag thing. I laughed as it looked strange through my daze as his mouth moved under that blue cloth. After welcoming me, he introduced me to some guy who told me to count sheep. I took so long wandering why and what a stupid thing to tell me to do that I never even started counting.

What seemed like 5 minutes later, I woke up in my ward with my wife’s hair in my face. She was so happy to see me. Hugging and kissing me all over my face. She was a nurse when I met her so didn’t understand this. There was a button taped to my hand that they called PAPK. (Patient Administered Pain Killer) This is one of the most impressive gadgets that medical science came up with. Basically it is morphine in a syringe that is attached to a pump. The pump is controlled by a timer and regulates how much, you the patient, morphine you take in an hour. It has a red light, you may not have more, and a green light, help yourself. So the nurse came over and explained how this all worked and I pushed the button. I woke up the next morning feeling very good and hardly no pain at all. The nursing staff were up and about cleaning patients and making beds before the Matrons rounds at 6 o’clock. I as I was completely mobile, all my tubes and stuff was attached to a tall gurney, I took myself off for a shower. Being careful not to wet my dressings, I showered with one hand and felt a lot fresher. When I got back to the ward, standing at my bed was a frail, middle-aged Matron with her hands on her hips asking me where I had been. I told her that I felt like a shower and did not want to trouble her staff so went off and did it myself. She thanked me and ordered me back into my bed which she tucked me into. Moments later in walked my surgeon side by side with the Matron. She relayed my story to him and he said that if I felt no discomfort, I could go home. He said it was too early but I should take it easy and see him in a week to remove the stitches. Honestly speaking I never felt much pain. yes I could feel that someone had done something in the region of my belly button by a pregnancy type child delivering sensation never hit me once.

Within a month I had returned to work and was fully active 6 weeks after the procedure. All I was told was that I should not lift anything heavy.

I healed up nicely and was actively back to full duty as father and farmer within 8 weeks. roughly 12 weeks after the operation, we were loading a truck of pineapples late one afternoon when the final load came bounding behind a tractor towards to loading bay. It was winter so the sun went down pretty early and as this was the last load out the field to fill the truck, I was eager to see it loaded and off the farm. About 200 meters from the farm gate the tractor hit a series of ripples and corrugations in the dirt track and the trailer hitch came undone sending the draw arm of the trailer ploughing into the dirt road. My heart dropped as I ran to where the tractor and trailer had come to a stop. The driver had already dismounted the tractor and was looking for the draw pin. When he found it, we sat with the problem of how to re-hitch the trailer to the tractor draw pin. We couldn’t find a rock or tree stump that hieght and the closest thing that would serve the purpose was my lower leg. That is when I decided to lift the draw bar onto my leg to allow the tractor to reverse and re-hitch. I would be well positioned to lock the draw pin. Once again, don’t think that I have the strength of ten men, I don’t. The design of a pineapple trailer takes the weight off the draw arm and balances it equally over the axle of the trailer. All that was needed was for me to lift the draw bar onto my knee. We braced the trailer tires and as I lifted the draw bar, I felt my stomach wound, exactly where I had the surgery open up and tear. A somewhat weird sensation as it felt like something I had never experienced in my life. with no time to waste I called to the driver to reverse and I aimed the trailer’s hitching pin onto the hitching eyes by shaking the draw bar, another little tear. Finally I had the hitching pin positioned in place and told the driver to head to off load the pineapple. As I walked down to the load bay I felt my stomach with my hand and realized that a hole of about 5 inches had opened up around the scar of my previous operation. Fully loaded successfully, the ruck headed off the farm and I headed home with all sorts of stories I had to tell my wife how I had damaged myself again.

Arriving home to a lovely hot cup of coffee, I started to relay my story to her remembering that we had been together since high school and she always knew when I distorted the truth. I therefor told her the truth. Early next morning she called the surgeon and gave him the news, a procedure was scheduled for the next week.

And so it went on until I left South Africa in 1999, every six months to a year I would lift something, pull something and once I coughed and ripped open this hole that was trying it’s hardest to hold my intestines in place. All in all, 9 operations were carried out on the same wound over that period of time. No doctor ever advised that I loose weight, stop lifting heavy stuff or just take it easy for 6 months after any of the surgeries. I have no idea what it cost my medical insurance or my family but it never seemed to matter. It was like I had a permanent booking at the hospital.

In 1999 I left South Africa and moved to Ghana. A a member of the United Nations Development Program, I had excellent medical insurance including medivac if needed. In 2000, I felt this damn thing go again. This time it felt like I was being unzipped from the inside. My entire profile changed and I now looked hideous with my intestine sticking out of the side of my frame. I went to the local UNDP Medical Center and was told to go and see a specialist at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. Back in 2000, the outgoing President of Ghana and the then head of the UN Kofi Anan were pushing to get Ghana to get recognized as the Hub of West Africa and paid a lot of attention to the entire infrastructure of the country in a bid to get it recognized as such. One of the main areas that enjoyed a lot of attention was the medical field and Korle Bu was upgraded and revamped to a level that deemed it suitable to play it’s role in the West African Hub. Little did I know that the specialist that I was pointed to was one of the heads of one of the Departments at the hospital and when I asked him if he could support my reasons for Medivac, he shrugged that off as being ridiculous as @his@ facility was well equipped to hand such a small and simple procedure. Hence, I was ordered to have my 10th Surgery at this local hospital.

There is only one way that I have managed to live so long in West Africa and that has been to find the humor in everything that you see. In a later Blog, I will share some of my humorous moments in Ghana but for now, allow my humor to come into my surgery at Korle Bu. First things first, I am white so according to history, we have no medical cover here that is guaranteed by the government so anything that you need to go through must be paid for in cash. Forget that you may work for the UN or be a diplomat, none of that matters. So you are called into have a meeting with the surgeon who asks you the normal questions. After this he writes a letter to the Matron of the hospital who directs you to the cashier. He in turn hands you a bill and expects you to have carried the cash on you. This can be seen by the expression on his face when you tell him that you will be back to pay, after he has warned you that the longer you take to pay, the more serious your condition will get and he promises you he will not allow any surgery on any white man who did not pay. The following day we returned with the dollars to pay him and I was told to be back at the hospital the following morning as the operation would take place the next afternoon.

To play it safe, my wife and I arrived at noon and went to where we were instructed to go. We were shown a very comfortable private ward and I was told to put on the surgical gown. This was all very familiar so far. Next was the nurses, who, one by one can to read your vitals signs and record everything for you. This was followed by the Matron who carried a large black garbage bag. She dumped it on my bed and walked out saying that all that was mine and I should take care of it. On rummaging through it all, my wife, who was a nurse recognize all that was inside. Morphine ampules, syringes, needles, two boxes of latex gloves, a bottle of Betadine all the stuff I would need. She still made a joke by saying that she had seen everything except scalpels. When the anesthetist came in and went straight into the bag, I joked and said that I had not seen scalpels in there. He swung around and shouted at the nurse who came with him to go find the scalpels. He asked if I had any crowns in my mouth and I pointed my crown out to him. He gave me my little blue pill as his nurse returned with two scalpels and a box of spare blades. Within minutes, my world again turned to jelly. Some guys came in and parked a gurney at the ward door, wheeled my bed to the doorway and asked me to move into the gurney. I had to remove the surgery gown that I was told to put on and covered with another one. My wife insisted that she accompany me as she was worried about what was about to happen to me. The same long lights, annoying bumps and a short trip in an elevator put me outside another door where I was told to change gurneys again. I also had to change gowns to. Once inside a lovely angelic woman whispered in my ear that the patient before me was nearly done and soon she would fetch me. Moments later a young lady was wheeled naked on a gurney next to me and before I could focus on her, I was wheeled away. Pinching, prodding and the usual stuff but this time my angelic voice had the most remarkable backside that I had ever seen. I focused on that as I drifted off.

I woke up sometime in the afternoon and felt over my body. I could feel all my limbs and noticed that I was now wrapped in a blanket. Army style with that rough fiber that scratches your skin. I felt over my stomach and realized that where the Southern surgeons had taken care not to make a big hole in me, these Westerners had opened me up like I did not expect. I had about a foot and a half of dressing covering my wound and I could not feel through to estimate how long the cut was. I just felt the pain and knew it was big. A nurse entered my ward and placed a thermometer under my arm. While doing this, I felt my teeth. Sure enough, the only damaged tooth in my mouth was my crown. Chipped and razor sharp. I had to smile at that. I remember lying there and shedding a tear and thanking whoever watched over me that I was alive and all I could find wrong was a chipped crown. I remember fighting sleep, too scared that I was going to be wheeled away to some other whatever. I most definitely was afraid.

Waking in the morning, I needed to use the toilet so I gathered the tall gurney and all my pipes and went for it. On arriving back at my bed, I was met by the largest black woman I think I have ever seen. Her arms were huge and stuck up at her sides like she had pineapples or a rash under her armpits. She scared me. She announced that she was the one that was going to bath me. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine, make up, dream up, what was about to happen.

She rummaged through my black garbage bag and my personal bag and came up with the beta dine and my face towel. I grabbed for my bath towel and she took it out of my hand saying that she would carry that. She then grabbed the blanket that I had wrapped myself in and I was now standing naked in my ward. I must have had a blank expression on my face as what to do next because she told me the bathroom was out the ward to my left. I headed towards the door and upon opening it, glanced down to my left only to see a very long corridor that see to go on for miles and miles. I looked back at her only to meet a blank, expressionless stare as if asking what the problem was.

I left the safety of my ward and pushed my gurney down to the left, as instructed. I must have passed 4 general wards with 6 beds in each along the way. My walk to the bath house seemed to be a gauntlet, rows of doors with faces inside, listening to what must have been the noisiest gurney in the hospital, faces watching my white Butt head towards the bathroom. It was almost as if they knew what was next. Eventually, after what seemed like an hour, although was probably a minute, I saw a sign that read, “bathrooms” I darted into that door like I had just got home. The clean smell, safety of the walls, great white tub in the middle of the floor was just the greatest site to me. I just stood there, awaiting my next instruction. She instructed me to stand in the bath and found a plank of wood she situated across the bath for me to sit.

Now, I am a white guy, born and raised on hot baths and showers. I expected a nice hot bath to be drawn and for me to lye back and enjoy the warmth after my surgery, oh how wrong I was. Out of nowhere she found a zink bucket that was full of water. Floating in this bucket was a brush that I remember using a similar brush to wash a horse once. Wooden handle and rough bristles. She look the brush out and lathered the bristles with my bar of soap. When she was satisfied that she had enough suds, she attacked my back, scrubbing it like there was a stubborn stain she just had to remove. This sent me writhing off the plank and into the tub. “Ah, what is this” she shouted. I was now scared to move again. I sat there as she covered every inch of my body with this brush. Fortunately she never went between my private parts and I thought my backside might have also escaped until I felt that brush go there. She added suds to my face towel and instructed me to do my bits. I was so happy that this brush was not going there. When done, I offered her the face towel and she instructed me to stand up. Of course I did. She then emptied the entire bucket of water over my head and the rest of my body. As I said before, I grew up with hot water, this sudden movement of chilled torture sent the breath out of me, made me gasp, made me sound stupid. I stood there feeling very clean and grateful that the entire ordeal had come to an end. Or had it? She then proceeded to empty the entire bottle of Betadine over my body, rubbing it in like it was a cream. I grabbed my front parts because by the feel of the callouses on her hands, they were worse than that brush. I stood there for about 5 minutes, dripping in Betadine. I was then told to get out of the bath. I was glowing, my skin from the brush ad added Beta dine glaze made it look like I was involved in a red paint war. She merely said ”GO” and I jumped out of that stupid coma and made my way back to my room. I didn’t care who saw me or what they thought of me, I just pushed that ridiculous gurney back to where I had met it. On entering my room, my wife was seated on my bed. I just asked her not to ask, I would try tell her later.

The drip and all my tubes were still intact. They were going to administer all my antibiotics through them. And did they. Lying in my bed watching a television that I could not understand and a picture I could hardly see, I was interrupted by a young nurse who announced that she was there to administer my antibiotic. Simple procedure I thought as I had done this  so many times before. She prepared the mixture and I thought that she would inject the mix into the drip bottle and it would slowly drip into my arm through the needle in my bicep, how wrong was I. She shut off the drip and inserted the syringe with the mixed antibiotic into the place for it and started squeezing the syringe sending liquid into my arm. This pain was unbearable and it felt like someone was squeezing my arm at the shoulder. Internal pain as the antibiotic hit my blood stream. She seemed not worried so I tried as much as possible to sit the entire ordeal through. Finally, it was done. I watched as she prepared another syringe with the same mix. Then, as before, she squeezed the next syringe the same way into my arm. I nearly fell out the bed and all the reassurance that I received from her was that it was nearly over. I had never seen this before. When it was all over I asked her if this was the correct way to administer antibiotic. She replied that it was the only way she had been taught. I suggested that perhaps the mix had to be added to the drip bag? She replied that she had heard of that but it took too long. Who was I to question any staff member who had been trained in the top West African Medical Facility which was now recognized as the top Hospital in the West African Hub.

I told my wife about my shower and my antibiotic and she hastily made enquiries into me leaving the hospital. By noon the next day, I was packed up, she was instructed how to administer my left-over drugs and we were leaving my ward. As we got to the elevator door, my wife offered to walk down the stairs as she was petrified of elevators. I reassured her that everything would be fine as I had been in this one 3 times. We entered the elevator and requested to go to the ground floor and no sooner had the elevator moved a meter, everything went off. “Light off” was the suggestion from the operator, my exclamation was a little more severe as my wife’s nails squeezed my over burdened antibiotic arm. She almost reached panic mode as the emergency generator kick in and took over the electrical load.

A week later I was back in my ward ready to have my stitches out. I had not seen the scar yet and was eager to see how big it was. As I sat on the bed, the same nurse that administered the antibiotic came in with a tray of goods used to clean wounds and change dressings. I nearly passed out with fear. My wife was with me and reassured me that it would be fine. We both agreed that if she took out a needle and syringe, we would leave. She was actually very gentle and proceeded to remove my bandage and I then saw that the wound was about a foot long. Previous procedures had left horizontal scars but this one was vertical and looked like they had opened my entire chest cavity. What I also noticed was that I no longer had a Belly Button. I also ten noticed that they had not use the normal stitch as before but had used the more modern metal staple. She left the room saying that she was going to fetch the metal staple remover and after about 30 minutes, returned saying that someone had lost it but she would use forceps. While she was out, I counted the number of staples in me to be 52, she had the wrong tool to remove them? I could not imagine how she would do it. But it seemed that when she studied this craft, she was listening to her instructor because I hardly felt a thing as I counted them out of my body. Once again Betadine was applied and I left, grateful that the entire ordeal was now over.

Generally speaking, I did not suffer much pain after that ordeal and the ampules of morphine that I had spare, stayed with me for years to come. A gentle reminder of this ordeal and the characters that I met during it. I did ask our UNDP Manager why we had to attend local medical facilities and he replied that if Kofi Annan was prepared to go there, then we should accept it. In the 20 years that I have been in Ghana, I have, when needed, used the local doctors and clinics and have no bad reports about them. If anything, (with the exception of my Korle-Bu ordeal) I have had good experience throughout.

In 2004, I was paid off of contract on a vegetable farm that I started after the American General Manager stole all our development funds. I took the company to court in Tema and was awarded the balance of contract by the Lady Judge. I had a small hernia on my left side and was determined to have that repaired. During a trip back to my family, I went and consulted with a specialist surgeon and we set it up to carry out the repair. I had the money that I had been awarded by the judge in Tema so needed to fix myself up Nice young Surgeon who specialized in Laparoscopic Surgery was eager to take on this challenge and told me he would only be making 4 small holes through which he would have a camera and all the tools necessary for the surgery. For the first time he also wanted to install a nylon net that would hold my intestine behind my muscle wall. It all sounded interesting but the most important thing to me was whether it would work. The operating through a key hole did not excite me as I reminded him that I would be asleep through all this. Never the less, the procedure was scheduled and I arrived at the hospital on time. I was more comfortable here as it was in my country and one of the matrons was a friend of mine.

All the staff where very professional and made me feel like I was in very good hands. Same procedure as the previous times, anesthetist, little blue tablet and the long passage lights into a clean and sterile smelling surgery. Music was playing in the background and there was a cool vibe in the theatre. Some guy asked me what I thought about him and all I can remember saying was “Um, I think…..”

The next thing I woke up in my ward crying. I had no idea why, but my wife was there holding me close. I then, for some reason started swearing and ranting and raving. I had no idea why but must have continued like this for several minutes between my sobs. Crazy reaction to anesthetic. I soon calmed down and noticed the button strapped to my hand, my morphine. I felt no pain but I pushed it anyway, that is all I remembered about that day or the rest of it.

I woke up the next morning with a burly black woman mopping the floor around my bed. She was very cheerful and I was surprised how cheerful I felt to. She just seemed to laugh and joke about everything. Such a nice surprise. She was followed by the nursing staff that came in and straightened my bed, fluffed up my pillows, took my vital signs and gave me my meds, all very cheerful. Soon I recognized the surgeon who was equally as cheerful. He informed me that everything had gone to plan and that the measure of my stay was determined by the drain that he had left in the wound. As soon as that was cleared and reduced in volume, I would be discharged. I now had a new topic to concentrate on, apart from chatting to all and everyone that walked into the ward, I used to check my bag and monitor what was going on.

Every morning, along with my meds, a nurse would come and empty my drainage bag into a flask and record what volume of fluid my wound had dripped out. Daily I watched the volume reduce down to a fraction of what it was the day after the surgery. It was the last two days where I never saw a change. Same little dribble and it never seemed to get less. The next time I saw the surgeon I asked him that surely the body could absorb such a small amount by itself, it was time to go home. Apart from being stuck in a bed, I was so bored just lying there. This hospital bed was also costing me a fortune and I was just lying in it. He disagreed and kept me there another 2 days. Finally, he agreed but made me promise that should I feel any discomfort or pain, I should go straight back and see him. Of course, I agreed and was discharged that afternoon.

The family were happy to see me back home and I assumed my position in my chair with my dog by my side. Everyday while the kids were at school and my wife was at work, I watched TV and answered the gate, collected the post, and watched more TV. I started walking more and more and believed I was on the road to recovery. My only concern was that my appetite had not returned and for the first two weeks at home, I could not eat more than you could fit in a tea cup. I tried to force more food in but couldn’t stomach it. Over 6 weeks, I grew more and more weaker and could not even look at food more than once a day. I had lost so much weight and my clothes were hanging on me. I was sleeping more and sleeping very early in the night. I just was not feeling myself. It was then that I noticed that the area situated around my wound was swollen and hot to the touch. When my wife returned from picking the kids up from school, I showed her and she was not happy with what she saw. She had the hospital’s phone number and called to set an appointment to see the surgeon the next morning.

On arriving at his rooms, he did not even let me sit down but directed me directly into his consulting and examination area. He examined the bump around my wound and squeezed it, prodded it and finally suggested that he wanted a sample of what was inside. He took a huge syringe and needle and went in through my abdomen at the wound and drew out two full syringes of blackish/red liquid. Instantly I felt better. He told me that the body had failed to drain that fluid and that it was trapped between skin and stomach muscle. He ordered me there the following day again. I felt great for about four hours after that and the fell back into the state that I was in before. The next morning, we followed the same procedure and more liquid was drawn, that same amount as the day before. A look of concern came over his face and he instructed that I return the following day.

The next day, same thing but this time no liquid came out. The bump was the same size but nothing to draw out. As he removed the needle from the syringe, he left the needle in me, a gas escaped the needle that can only be described as smelling like a rotten carcass. It was disgusting. Suddenly I felt light headed and he instructed my wife to get me back to the hospital immediately. She asked what the problem was and he just replied, “septicemia” I saw the look on her face but did not ask any questions. I just got straight into the wheelchair that was wheeled in and was pushed behind her as she took the lead. The hospital was notified of my arrival and I was wheeled straight into a ward where I got my blue pill.

I remember waking up around 7 in the evening. My surgeon had just walked into my ward and seemed worried about me. He inquired as to how I was feeling and all I remember answering that I was starving. He asked me what I could eat and I replied two beef burgers would go down, he smiled and sent a nurse to go get them for me. I really was feeling good and while I waited for my burgers, I asked him what had happened. He said that when he smelt the gas come out of me, he was worried. In the surgery as he cut me, every stitch, nylon gauze, or anything used in all the previous repairs had become infected with rotten septicemia. The minute he started removing the rotten tissue, my heart stopped and he had no alternative but to remove everything to keep me alive. They had paddle shocked me and given a large dose of antibiotic and he was surprised when my heart started up again. He had just closed me up, not attempting another repair and hoped that I lived. When he walked in and I was sitting up asking for burgers, he was so happy and obliged to my request. Those two burgers were the best I had ever tasted and I finished both of them.

Before being discharged, they presented me with the hospital bill, almost double that of my first bill. I had no idea how I was to pay this. It was the cost of a second hand car. They released me from hospital based on the fact I was friendly with my Matron friend and she stood as guarantor for the money. My wife and I did nothing but discuss ways to get the money. The next few days at home were unbearable.

Out of the blue, I received a call from a friend of mine in Ghana inquiring as to my health. I relayed the story to him and he was shocked. He told me that he would be coming to South Africa in a few days and wanted to meet me. It was then that I told him I could not afford the hospital bill. That shortened our phone call considerably. It was a Monday evening when I received a call from that same fiend and he asked me to meet him at the airport. I thought that he wanted me to take him home so I agreed. On the day of his flight, we made our way to the airport and waited for his plane to arrive. We stood with all the other people who were there for the same reason. Finally he appeared in the doorway and before I could get to him, a woman and two young me walked up to him and greeted him. I waited for them to finish and held out my hand to shake with him. He placed an envelope into my hand and asked me to join them all for a cup of coffee. Not thinking anything of it, I gave the envelope to my wife and we followed him to a nearby coffee shop. Once settled he introduced me to his wife and two sons. I was confused and told him that I thought he had called me to the airport for me to take him somewhere. He laughed and said that he wanted to give me the envelope. He said that he had approached all my golfing buddies and drinking mates and explained my predicament to all of them. All of them contributed cash to the envelope to pay my hospital bill and get me back to Ghana. I cannot explain the emotions that swept over me at that point. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe that my friends would do that for me. After a few more minutes of small talk, my wife and I excused ourselves and left, straight to the hospital to pay my bill. The atmosphere in my house that night had returned to normal and my family was happy. That night I made the decision to return to Ghana, no matter what. I was sure that I would find another jo and I did. But, that is another story for another day.

I have lived through 13 corrective operations to try and repair this hideous stomach of mine and now I just choose to live with it. After reading this, I hope that a lot more people understand why I do. I call it my alien although it is a part of me. I want to get a large Buddha tattooed onto my arm, not for the religious reasons but for the similarity in features.

Of course there have been some very humorous times that I have lived and laughed through. About 11 years ago I went to London to meet my kids. My daughter was going to be there to celebrate her 21st and I wanted to see my son and her together so I joined in. On my trip there, I had a stop over in Geneva and changed planes. Walking through customs and immigration, I was stopped by a little short woman official who studied my stomach and was out with her metal detector wand, waving it around my stomach with one hand on my chest stopping me from walking further down the queue. “Vot is dis?” she asked in her very strong German/English accent. I looked at her and she seemed poised as she was on the brink of making a huge drug bust or was at the peak of breaking into a career in customs or something like that. I looked at her and the Interpol Policeman standing next to her and answered, “My bowling Ball”. I thought that by the way her face changed colour so quickly, she was about to pop something. She went from red, to purple to violet so fast, I never dreamed a heart could pump blood that quickly. At the same time I looked at the Interpol Policeman and he was trying his hardest not to laugh. He managed for a split second and then packed up laughing, drawing the attention of all the people around us. After a few seconds, I think the penny dropped inside her head and she too started laughing. I got away with it and they ushered me through with no further drama.

On one occasion I was at the Camdon Market and it started raining. I was with me entire family and we had all looked forward to browsing the stalls at the market. I then decided to get us some rain cover in the form of caps and hats. I made my way to an Indian who owned a stall nearby and asked him for some caps and hats for the family. He never even looked into my face and just stared at my stomach. He said, “what is in there?” My wife, who was standing next to me answered, “the 5 cats that he ate for breakfast.” Well, to see the hasty retreat that this guy made was so funny. He demolished about 3 of his display cabinets sending all the contents scattering all over the floor. I just had to laugh.

I have had kids come up to me and ask. rather innocently, what I had inside my stomach, I normally just say I am sick and they forget it. There was one rude kid in a supermarket that pointed to me and called out to his mom to look at the pregnant man. The stare that she gave me and the one that I returned to her did not compare to anything I had seen on any persons face ever. She was trying to work out something in her brain as to what she was seeing was actually possible or not. Eventually she mustered up the courage to ask me what I ate to get as big as what I am and I answered, “Rude little kids like yours but they taste a lot better done on an open fire. Fried makes them smell weird.” She grabbed her kid, left her shopping basket on the floor and I saw her running out the supermarket.

The funniest moment that I can remember was when my wife was pregnant with our little daughter and in the last trimester had to attend the clinic every Saturday for the three months. The doctor and his wife ran their own hospital and were a lovely couple. He had trained in the UK and was a great guy to talk to. We sat in reception and filled the necessary documentation for the consultation. All the local young moms and dads sitting waiting their turn were considerably uncomfortable in front of me as they worked out why I was actually there. A white pregnant man in a clinic where women go to give birth, you can imagine what went through their minds. The first time we walked into his consulting rooms, he looked at me, then at my wife and asked, “Who is first?” I just packed up laughing at his sudden wit. Sometimes when people say something, it is funny even though you are the one being targeted. I could understand his humor and laughed with him. When he had finished the ultrasound on the baby, he asked my wife to get off the table and me to get on. All very funny and acceptable.

The second time we went for the check-up, we announced our arrival at reception and took a seat. The nurse at reception drew my wife’s file and took it through to the doctor. While we sat there I smiled at the crowd as they stared back at me. Suddenly the doctors wife appeared in the doorway and announce that the doctor was ready to see me. Well, can you imagine the looks that came from my fans in reception? Not only were they annoyed that I had jumped the queue but could not understand why I was there. I then decided to play along and I acted exactly like a 9 month pregnant woman complaining about my back, battling to find my feet and taking forever to try stand up. One young guy even got up and offered me help. I waddled through the door following the Doctor’s wife and finally packed up laughing. It was at that stage that she turned around and told my wife that I had requested that she was present during the examination so she should follow us. We all packed up laughing except for my fans in reception. This blank confused look was still on their faces and they just stared after us.

No matter what deformity you have or what your physical abnormality is, you have to choose to correct it or live with it. I choose to live with mine and I choose to live with the name calling, stares and awkward situations that I find myself in. At the end of the day, it is my life, my body and my alien, I choose to live with them. There is my asked for story guys. Let me know what you think.

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