An earlier version of this column first appeared on the Huffington Post.
I have been a loyal patron of the Karma Hair Salon in New Haven, Conn. for at least the past 15 years. Whenever my hair looks good, it is thanks to Karma and owner Cheryl McMahon's expert attention to my unruly head (the thickness of my hair -- a good problem, I know! -- could give a yak envy; and I have more cowlicks than several small countries). If ever my hair doesn't look too good, it's because I've gone too long between appointments.
As it turns out, there may have been an element of, well, karma, in my patronage of this particular salon.
At my most recent visit, the moment I came through the door, Cheryl -- who had been awaiting my scheduled arrival -- intercepted me. She had someone in the back, curled up with abdominal pain, stretched across the top of a washer and dryer. This young woman was hoping her pain would just resolve, and was disinclined to go to the emergency room -- out of concern for both the inconvenience and cost. But Cheryl was worried this might be appendicitis and asked me to intervene.
I got a brief history, indicating the onset of dull abdominal pain the night prior, with progression to acute pain in the morning, becoming severe only after she arrived at the salon. There had been no nausea or vomiting, but there had been a distinct loss of appetite since early morning. I was there for a haircut, so of course had no tools of the medical trade with me. In lieu of a stethoscope, I had to put my ear directly on the patient's belly -- and discerned diminished bowel sounds. I had no thermometer, but skin temperature felt about normal.
I'll spare you further details. My exam and brief history pretty reliably ruled out a heart condition, a lung condition, a gall bladder or liver problem, pancreatitis, or gastroenteritis. Abdominal tenderness was concentrated in what is known in medicine as McBurney's point, roughly midway between the umbilicus (belly button) and the right anterior superior iliac spine (pelvic bone).