A little while ago, my oldest brother sent my siblings and me an article from Slate called, “Terra Infirma: The Rise and Fall of Quicksand,”  which talks about how quicksand was a common plot device at one time (primarily in the ‘60s and 70s), but how it has now gone out of vogue. It opened with this sentence, “The fourth-graders were unanimous: Quicksand doesn’t scare them, not one bit.”

The article reminded me of my childhood and how, when I was in the fourth grade or so, I became terrified of appendicitis. This wasn’t something that came out of the blue, or because anyone I knew had had their appendix removed. It happened because it seemed that there had been a rash of TV shows at that time that used appendicitis as a plot device.

And this was no ordinary fear. In my family, which is predisposed to obsessions about random topics, fear can take over someone’s life. I became so scared that any kind of discomfort in my abdomen would immediately cause me to run to my parents and ask them if they thought it could be my appendix. I then found out that my mother had had her appendix removed when she was in her twenties, and she assured me that any complaint I had was not appendicitis because she knew exactly how it felt.

I didn’t believe her.

I believed TV. Bad pain in the abdomen was a precursor to appendicitis, and that was good enough for me.

Most of these TV episodes are accompanied by a sense of panic among the other characters who don’t know what to do. The person with appendicitis is in excruciating pain, and everyone else is running around like a maniac. The patient is often helped just in the nick of time.

Then I find out that a burst appendix can potentially kill you. This put me over the edge.

I remember asking for larger-sized underwear, so it wouldn’t be too tight around my waist. A bad gas attack actually landed me in the emergency room once because I was so scared (it turned out to be gastritis).

Looking back now, I began to wonder if it was really the case that there had been an inordinate number of TV shows that showed someone getting appendicitis. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to find out.

Detective Yemana gets an attack of appendicitis on Barney Miller.

Detective Yemana gets an attack of appendicitis on Barney Miller.

I was in the fourth grade from the fall of 1977 through the spring of 1978. I distinctly remember an episode of “Barney Miller” where Jack Soo’s character gets it, and I vaguely remembered an “All in the Family” episode too. And there was one other, but it slipped my mind.

Well, thanks to www.tv.com, I was able to do an episode search for “appendicitis,” and 73 different TV show episodes came up. And look at this:

Lavern and Shirley
Season 3, Episode 10 – Aired: 12/6/1977
Shirley’s Operation

Shirley faints while rehearsing for a play and is taken to hospital where it is discovered that her appendix is about to burst. Fearful that she is going to lose her hair for the operation, Shirley hides while everyone else tries to find her before her appendix bursts.

Barney Miller
Season 4, Episode 14 – Aired: 1/19/1978
Appendicitis

Yemana is hospitalized with appendicitis; the cage is a stopping-off place for a sugar addict and an aging bounty hunter.

Fish
Season 2, Episode 20 – Aired: 5/4/1978
A Pinch of Class

Diane contracts appendicitis. Meanwhile, the house is redecorated.

And that’s not all. There were a few other shows that I could have plausibly seen as reruns during the same time:

F Troop
Season 2, Episode 11 – Aired: 11/17/1966
Miss Parmenter

Wilton’s husband-hunting sister goes after Dobbs, and also assists in Wild Eagle’s appendectomy.

All in the Family
Season 3, Episode 12 – Aired: 12/2/1972
Mike’s Appendix

Both Archie and Gloria come home in bad moods after a hard day’s work. This leads to yet another argument over women’s liberation. Meanwhile, Mike has been having a pain in the side and the doctor tells him that he needs to have an appendectomy. This leads Archie and Gloria’s argument to the proficiency of women doctors. Mike would rather have a more expensive male doctor rather than a cheaper woman doctor.

MASH
Season 3, Episode 23 – Aired: 3/11/1975
White Gold

Colonel Flagg blows into camp trying to obtain penicillin to barter for information. But Flagg comes down with appendicitis, and the only penicillin he gets is in the keister.

Not to mention these episodes that aired while I was in the third grade:

MASH
Season 5, Episode 11 – Aired: 12/7/1976
The Colonel’s Horse

While Colonel Potter goes to Tokyo on R&R, his horse develops colic. Klinger becomes chronically depressed, and Hot Lips gets appendicitis. The horse is flushed out with a hose, Hawkeye and B.J. perform an appendectomy on Hot Lips, and all is well when Potter returns, except Klinger. Potter offers Klinger a discharge for severe depression, and Klinger gets very excited, which loses him the discharge.

One Day at a Time
Season 2, Episode 18 – Aired: 2/8/1977
Julie’s Operation

With the family doctor away and Julie down with possible appendicitis, Ann accepts the services of a young resident.

And two more shows aired in 1979 while I was in the fifth grade:

All in the Family
Season 9, Episode 16 – Aired: 1/21/1979
The Appendectomy

Edith and Archie rush Stephanie to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy on the eve of her 10th birthday. Luckily, the surgery goes perfectly, so they celebrate both Stephanie’s birthday and the success of her operation.

MASH
Season 7, Episode 22 – Aired: 2/19/1979
Preventive Medicine

The 4077th is swamped with injured GIs thanks to the reckless Col. Lacy. His disregard for human life forces Hawkeye to take matters into his own hands. Slipping Lacy a mickey to mimic the symptoms of appendicitis, Hawkeye performs an unnecessary appendectomy. B.J. is outraged. On a lighter note, Klinger pretends he has become a voodoo priest so he can go home to Toledo.

While researching and writing this I’ve been trying to figure out WHY I latched on to this of all things when I was a kid. Why was I so worried about getting severely sick, not having anyone know what was going on or what to do, and being rushed to the hospital just in (or out of) the nick of time? Wait a minute. This happened to me before.

I fell down the stairs when I was in kindergarten and cracked my head open. I was screaming my head off, some members of my family went into a panic, and I was rushed to the hospital, where I was mended (though I doubt it was just in time before it killed me). Why wouldn’t it happen to me again? What did I know—I was just a kid.

Anyway, I’m glad to say that I’ve outgrown that irrational fear of appendicitis for the most part. It still lives in the back of my mind, but the fact that I live alone doesn’t help. I doubt I have one of those cats that can dial 9-1-1, and now that I think of it, it was probably a mistake to have written this just before bedtime. I may be up for a while.

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