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“Appendix”

An excerpt, translated from the chinese by Allan H.Barr

Author Yu Hua


QIGONG, BEIJING, 1996, FROM THE SERIES THE CHINESE, © LIU ZHENG, COURTESY YOSSI MILO GALLERY, NY

MY FATHER USED TO BE A SURGEON. He would often stand at the operating table for 10 hours at a time. He told us that everyone had an appendix in his belly, and that every day he had to remove at least 20 appendixes. His fastest time was 15 minutes.

We asked, “What do you do with it after cutting it off ?” “We throw it away,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “An appendix isn’t worth a damn. The lungs, the stomach, the heart, as well as the duodenum, the colon, the large intestine and whatnot all have their function. Do you know what the appendix is good for?”

My brother had an answer ready. “The appendix isn’t worth a damn,” he said.

My father burst out laughing, and our mother laughed, too. He went on, “That’s right. But if the appendix gets inflamed, the stomach will ache more and more, and if the appendix is perforated, it will cause peritonitis, and that can be fatal. You understand, fatal?”

My brother nodded. “It’ll kill you.”

I gasped. My father said, “So long as there’s no perforation, there’s no danger. There was a British surgeon…” As my father spoke, he lay back. He said that one day the British surgeon arrived on a small island, one with no hospital or doctor, not even a medical kit. His appendix became inflamed, and he lay underneath a palm tree, racked with pain. He knew that if treatment were delayed, he would soon die.

“The British surgeon had no choice but to operate on himself. He had two locals hold up a large mirror, and looking at himself, in this particular spot”—he pointed at the right side of his abdomen—“he made an incision, put his hand in, searched for the caecum—you need to locate the caecum in order to find the appendix…”

This incredible story left us dumbstruck. We looked at our father excitedly and asked him if he could operate on himself, just like the British surgeon.

Our father said, “That depends on the situation. If I was on that little island and my appendix was inflamed, to save my own life I would operate on myself, too.”

Father’s reply made the blood flow hot in our veins. We had always thought him to be the strongest and the most wonderful man, and his reply further confirmed this belief. It also gave us sufficient confidence to brag to other children: “Our dad operates on himself.” My brother would point at me, and add, “The two of us hold up a big mirror…”

FROM “APPENDIX,” TRANSLATION OF “LAN WEI,” FIRST PUBLISHED IN WORDS WITHOUT BORDERS MAY 2004. © ALLAN H. BARR. FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, SEE WWW.WORDSWITHOUTBORDERS.ORG .

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