It was a Wednesday, 7:30 A.M. I lay down at the hospital bed, sleepy-eyed, oblivious of the nurse that almost indifferently shoved a thermometer at my armpit and took a reading of my blood pressure. I was sure they would operate on me, and the thought made me a little nervous, at times on the verge of panic. This can’t be happening, I thought. Not me, of all people.I had been up almost all night, working on my term paper. I had a vague notion something was wrong with my system about midnight, when I had a persistent urge to urinate. That could have been due to the salty snacks I consumed and not drinking enough water. I opened a bottle of mineral water and drank almost a liter; however, I felt like throwing up after a while. I dismissed it as one of those sicknesses that occurred and disappeared without medication. An hour later, I noted a dull ache in my loins, almost imperceptible at first, and gradually making itself known, like a distant distress call that strains to be heard above the din of a busy street. Still, there was no need to press the panic button. I made myself some coffee and settled for a long night as I worked on the bibliography of my paper.It was now 7:35. I was asked all sorts of questions: what I ate, what I drank, what I took for medicine, whether I had a history of ulcer, whether I was diabetic or not . The litany of questions had little calming effect on my nerves, as if I were a death convict listening to the priest reciting the psalm of David as I am led to the lethal injection chamber.I remembered taking a walk outside the house, feeling a little relief as the cold air slammed into me, evaporating the beads of sweat in my forehead. I was feeling nauseous. Yet, I had refused to think this was something serious. Stage one is denial, I recollected something I read about patients found to have a life-threatening disease. Well, there I awas, denying I’m sick like a beached whale, or worse.A minute passed. A doctor has come, her expressionless eyes seemingly giving me hope. I was already prepared for the worst. She rolled back my shirt up to the chest, exposing my pale belly. Here comes the bad news, I thought, like a heretic awaiting the verdict of the Inquisitor. I glanced at the wall clock. It was 7:40. An intern had taken urine and blood samples.As the doctor looked at my chart, I tried to figure out what was wrong with me. The previous night, as I went out the house to relax, the cold night air chilled me, and I had to go back inside. I had sat down before my laptop, trying to recall what I was doing. I remembered trying to figure out how to cite a work taken from the internet when I became conscious that the dull ache had seemingly decided to lodge in a definite place in my anatomy: it was now throbbing with persistent regularity in the right lower side of my abdomen. Still, no need to push the button. I calmly concentrated on my bibliography as if my life depended on it. I thought about the deadline for the paper, non-extendible, and now ticking away inexorably while I was being distracted by a trivial pain. Then, another thought from nowhere homed into my consciousness like a sniper bullet: a bodily pain is a message, an SOS signal from the brain that something has gone haywire. Nearing panic, I tried to revert to Stage One. I can’t be sick, no sir. That cannot be so. I looked at the walls and tried to gain assurance that nothing was wrong with me. The silence gave no answer, and suddenly I recalled Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat with vivid clarity, the tale about four men in a boiling sea which did not care about their peril, did not care whether they lived or died. I tried to cast off these thoughts from my mind. These random thoughts suddenly returned to me now as I lay helpless in that hospital bed, expecting the worst, recoiling before the imagined terror.The pain had now become a constant torment, like a piece of coal against exposed skin, which one wished to cast off but couldn’t. What could be wrong with me? I tried to remember the symptoms of diseases from past readings of medical journals, or rather of internet articles for laymen. Can it be a disease of the liver? Not likely. I was not a drinker, and I ate sparingly of meat. Ulcer? Could be, but I was not fond of spicy foods and I seldom went hungry. Appendicitis, then? I had a slight fever, I imagined, shivering. I felt my pulse; it seemed erratic. No need to panic, I tried to pacify my mind.That morning, at 7:00 A.M., had wakened up with a start. I had stood up, staring at my laptop. I had been asleep for sometime. I had noted with some relief that the pain had subsided, but the discomfort lingered, like the odor of smoke on a clear day. I went to the bathroom to clean up. Then, all of a sudden, I felt a new sensation: the absence of sensation. I was on the verge of panic, but not yet willing to go past Stage One. Appendicitis, then? Well, I thought, that means I would have to be operated upon. It’s nothing serious, I tried to assure myself. At 7:25 A.M. I found myself at the emergency ward. An intern recorded my personal circumstances. And there in that hospital ward my thirty-minute ordeal really began.The doctor was now probing with her palms at my abdomen. With stethoscope on, she listened to my heart, her eyes like a wooden statue’s. She removed the stethoscope and concentrated on probing my abdomen. Then she clasped her hands as if in prayer, her fingers stiffened, and with it made a short jabbing motion to the left side of my belly. “Does it hurt?” she asked.I shook my head. The pain was in my right side, not the left. I would be informed later that bouncing pain was a prominent symptom of appendicitis. She repeated the motion a few more times. There was no bouncing pain. “It can’t be appendicitis,” she said simply.Thank God, I thought, and was about to say it aloud when a sudden though struck home: what if it was some other disease? Instantly I conjured visions of other dreaded possibilities. I heard far-off voices that sounded like biopsy, malignant, mitosis, cancer, and I fought to fight the rising panic. The calm, expressionless face of the physician did not comfort me; on the contrary, it terrified me, as I recalled that doctors were trained to conceal emotion from their patients, so as not to alarm them. This knowledge gave me the impression she was keeping away a dreaded secret from me, that she was considering whether I could take the truth like a man.“Let’s wait for the lab test, “ she said at last. I felt my hart racing. I was a man waiting for the hangman’s verdict. Would it be the guillotine or the gas chamber? With sudden clarity I studied the charts of the human body displayed on the sterile walls, noted the circulatory and the digestive and the nervous system, so unreal and unimportant to me during those early science and health classes, but now all a matter of life and death to me. And I had a silent prayer, that if God should give me another chance, I would from here on look more carefully after the foods that I eat, drink more clean and pure water, take my vitamins, exercise regularly, and have plenty of sleep. No more hanging around like there was no tomorrow, no more fooling with one’s health.“I suspect it may be gallstones,” the doctor was saying. “That, or a severe case of indigestion. Probably the former.” I listened in fear. “We’ll find out as soon as the lab test comes through.” The doctor retired and I was left alone to contemplate my fate.In those moments I considered what it was like to be helpless in a hospital bed, helpless before the medical people who determined whether you were sick enough to be admitted to the intensive care, or allowed to go home after some prescriptions are given. I glanced at another bed where an elderly man was being wheeled, an IV sticking to his arm, oxygen tubes to his nostrils. He had a dazed look of someone who knew it was doomsday but couldn’t escape. I pictured I was him, and I almost suffocated in panic.The next moment, I found myself praying in earnest, pleading that there had been a mistake, that this was but a bad dream from which I would soon wake up. The distant sound of an ambulance siren told me, with painful clarity this was not a dream, and I lay helpless wishing it would soon be over. I looked up at the clock. It was 7:50 A.M.I thought about the coming examinations, my unfinished paper, the vacation I would enjoy that summer, away from the grind of schoolwork and deadlines. I realized that if I had to be operated on, they would shoot me up with anesthesia, loads of it up my spine, and it would make me woozy and forgetful after the operation. If the worst comes, I might become a dummy. That would be the end of my career. I felt a nauseating dread. I glanced at the nurse but there was none. I was a man at a boiling sea with no hope of escape.At 8:00 A.M., the nurse returned. She had with her the results of the lab tests. That was so quick, I noted, thinking it might have come later so I would not be forced to confront the truth. I realized my hands were shaking, but I tried to appear calm and unconcerned. I must, however, been pale, as the nurse tried to comfort me. “Relax, “ she said, and smiled. Her smile was worth a syringeload of morphine.The doctor now scanned the tests, concentrating on a few figures. “Hmmmm,” she said after an eternity. “Looks like you have some gallstones here.” She frowned. “Seems to me you’ve been feasting on burgers and chips.” I felt like an accused before an all-seeing jury. “Will you operate?” At last I asked the unthinkable. “Oh, no,” she said. “There’s some infection. You have to rest some. Watch your diet, no more salty foods. But you’ll be alright.” I exhaled like a whale returning from the abyss. It was 8:05. A.M.