Leeches And a Prayer

Adam Gonnerman
Jul 3 · 4 min read

On a Monday in June 2016 I woke up with a pain in my right side. Assuming it was gas, I ignored it. By Tuesday the pain had intensified, and I continued to work through it. On Wednesday I became convinced that I was constipated, and so started taking laxatives. Thursday the pain was excruciating. It was also the day of my son’s 8th grade graduation, and photos from that late morning event show me holding my side and trying to act casual.

It was agony.

Late Thursday afternoon I asked my ex-wife to drive me to the emergency room. We waited over 2 hours while I suffered the worst pain of my life. At one point I almost passed out, and while the woman working the desk cheerfully insisted I was fine, an orderly ran over and got me into a wheelchair. Minutes later I was lying on a table and crying from the pain. I screamed. A couple of quick tests later and I was mercifully given strong painkiller intravenously.

By the next night, around 7pm, I was rolled into surgery.

It turned out that not only had my gallbladder ruptured, the shreds of it had begun to rot inside of me. Necrosis had set in. Had it all not been removed and my gut cleaned out, I would have died an agonizing death.

I think about that sometimes.

Had it been 1916 instead of 2016, I could have had surgery. It would not have been as skilled, and there would have been no antibiotics for me to take after (those came along in 1928). I might well not have survived. Had it been 1816, I would have been royally screwed. You know that there must have been thousands or more throughout human history who died of gallbladder-related illness.

It’s a thought that horrifies me.

After my surgery all I could feel was gratitude to the surgeon, the surgical team, the nurses who cared for me, and the physical therapist who gave me a lesson on walking while I was healing from major surgery. A couple of weeks or so later I stopped by the office of the doctor who had performed the surgery so he could remove the staples. It was a fast procedure. As I was leaving I shook his hand and thanked him for my life.

People should be more thankful for medical science and its practitioners.

Though it would have been better to never experienced this medical crisis, and glad it did after I became a post-theist. It makes me uncomfortable to imagine profusely thanking a god for what human hands and minds had done for me. The gods had tens of thousands of years before people began working out the scientific method and applying it to human health. In all that time, they are said to have worked some miracles here and there. All unproven, these wonders were not readily available. The record shows that children died of diseases that are now preventable, infections were quite common, and severe internal disorders were typically fatal.

Divine mercy is no match for science-based diagnosis and treatment.

We live in an age when people who grew up knowing nothing of the horrors of disease before vaccination are opting to leave their children unvaccinated, putting everyone at risk. They don’t want ‘impurity’ in their children’s bodies, and they think autism and other developmental and health issues come about through vaccination. There is no connection, of course, but reason doesn’t often work with people of deep faith, like the anti-vaxxers.

Then there are those who desperately need medical treatment, but can’t afford it.

Every time I see a can next to a convenience store cash register, or read a GoFundMe about someone who needs thousands of dollars to treat their cancer or pay for life-saving surgery, I get angry. I’m not angry at the child fighting leukemia, or the woman living in fear that her congenital heart defect will kill her before she has a chance to live. I’m furious that we live in a time when a portion of our national defense budget could fund healthcare for everyone, but we prefer to make bombs or to build walls. People cry ‘socialism’ about universal healthcare while never questioning why they send their kids to the public school.

Public roads and public schools are a given. Why not public healthcare and public higher education?

There is a deep bigotry, a misguided libertarianism, and an idealistic nationalism that stands behind many of the ills of American society. We all just want a chance to live, and to see our children grow up strong and healthy so they can also pursue their dreams. There’s no reason to deny that to ourselves or our neighbors.

Without medical science, medical professionals, and the health insurance I had through my employment, I would be dead now. The last event of my life would have been my son’s 8th grade graduation.

Yes, I think about that…often.

Adam Gonnerman

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Enterprise Agilist • Unitarian Universalist • AdamGonnerman.com