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Warren Gerds Extra! OUCH! The story behind last year’s UWGB commencement speech

Speaker Frederick Heide had an appendix attack days before.

PHOTO: Entertainer and academic Frederick “Doc” Heide gives the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay winter commencement address last year while recovering from appendix surgery. UWGB photo

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – An unfunny thing happened on the way to the commencement podium for Frederick “Doc” Heide last December.

Heide delivered the address all right at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, but the event took place within days of his release from the hospital after life-saving surgery.

“I had appendicitis the week before,” Heide said in an interview with me last summer. I saved running this piece until now to time it with the next winter commencement that is coming up Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts on the UWGB campus.

Heide is a UWGB graduate. The commencement gig was a big honor for him and, vice versa, someone with added luster for the university ceremony. In Heidi, UWGB had a commencement speaker from the academic world and the entertainment world at the same time. And a homegrown product. Today, Frederick J. Heide, Ph.D., teaches at Alliant International University San Francisco and does research in clinical psychology. Also, he is co-founder of Door County’s illustrious American Folklore Theatre (AFT), for which he has performed and written hit musicals. It is a strange and wondrous blending.

For a report on Heide’s commencement appearance, see http://news.uwgb.edu/log-news/news/12/15/frederick-heide-commencement-speaker/.

Here’s the story of what else was happening surrounding the event, which took place on a Saturday:

“My appendix burst when I was still out in California teaching at the end of the semester, and I didn’t realize that it had burst,” Heide said. “You know, I’m one of these hardy Nordic-German-American types. I thought I just had a stomach ache. So I went on for four days, with a burst appendix. And I actually flew out here (Wisconsin and Door County) with a burst appendix, not realizing that was the problem.

“Once we got in the hospital (in Door County), they said, ‘Oh, you need surgery immediately.’ So they threw me in there (on a Sunday). They were aware that I had the opportunity to do the commencement speech (the following Saturday), so the surgeon and anesthesiologist and everybody was working hard to get me out of there as quickly as we could. I did manage to get out Thursday night and then did the speech on Saturday morning.

“Of course, when you’re in the hospital, you’re not eating all week, you’re just being given fluids intravenously. So it was not really the way I intended to prepare for the speech – in a hospital bed trying to memorize this thing without any food in my stomach. But it was such an extraordinary privilege. I feel really honored.”

How was burst appendix discovered? Through X-ray? Ultra sound? Screaming when the spot was touched?

“That was actually it,” Heide said with a laugh. “We (he and his wife, Jody) went in there Sunday morning. The thing had burst on Thursday, the way we figured out. I started feeling sick on Thursday in California, and we flew out here Saturday night. By Sunday morning it, was really clear to my wife and me – something’s wrong.

“We go to the hospital in Sturgeon Bay. There’s no waiting. They just take you right into the little examination room. The doctor shows up. He’s, of course, an AFT fan, right? So, ‘Doc Heide, what are you doing here?’ He put his hand over that part of my body, and I flinched, and he said, ‘It’s appendicitis.’ I said, ‘Well, how do you know? You haven’t done any tests.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s obvious, right?’ He tried it again, and I flinched again. He said, ‘We’re getting you into surgery right away.’ And that was it. They took me upstairs and did it.”

Even after Heide gave the commencement speech, he still had to deal with illness.

“I was very lucky. Because my appendix had burst, all the e-coli was leaking into my system for four days. That’s why I got much sicker than you normally would, and I had to go back into the hospital two more times to drain all that stuff.

“I had to go back in on Christmas night because I got sick again. That time, I got out on Thursday night, and I got on stage the following night for our (annual) ‘Home for the Holidays’ show. So that was also a real bizarre turnaround. But it was wonderful.

“This is the great thing about the small community: The surgeon who had done my appendectomy came to the opening night of ‘Home for the Holidays,’ and I was able to thank him from the stage. That was lovely.”

Along with continued research, Heide is at work with writing partner Lee Becker for a follow-up to their popular musical “Belgians in Heaven.” Next summer, American Folklore Theatre will present their “Packer Fans from Outer Space,” along with the popular show Heide helped dream up, “Guys on Ice.”

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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