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“Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News”

October 30, 2014

It was 11:30 am on Wednesday October 8th and I was woozy with hunger and thirst. No, it wasn’t due to a hunger strike protesting the Yankees failure to make the MLB playoffs or the Buckeyes abysmal early season loss to Virginia Tech, though these disasters would have been reason enough. Instead, I was fasting before surgery and it had been 11:59:59 PM on October 7th since I had eaten my last snack or sipped my last water (I took the nurse’s commandment  “NOTHING to eat or drink after midnight” quite literally).  I tried to distract myself by reading emails and making some quick phone calls to work, but it did no good. Visions of a hot cup of coffee, and my daily bowl of shredded wheat with fresh raspberries danced in my head.  I even went into our food pantry “just to look” in the hope of getting some psychic sustenance, but it was no use. Finally, after what seemed like many hours but in fact was just another interminable 88.5 minutes, it was time to go. As Anne drove me to the surgical clinic, I stared out the window longingly at a Taco Bell (which definitely was a “first”).  

By 1:00 PM, I was being admitted into surgery for the first time in my life. No, I am not referring to procedures where I was ‘sedated” such as oral surgery when I had my gums detached from my teeth and three of my wisdom teeth removed or my first colonoscopy at age 50 (as much fun as these procedures were!). Instead, the surgery was for a hernia that I was diagnosed with three weeks prior and I was to experience the joys of “general anesthesia” and major surgery. 

General anesthesia is much stronger than sedation in that it completely relaxes ALL muscles, puts you in a “deep sleep” and ensures you do not feel pain. The doctor inserts a breathing tube down your throat  in order to control your breathing. Given how much difficulty I have had in my life with doctors using tongue depressors or throat swabs due to my apparently, very-strong gag reflex, I sincerely hoped that it would be  a VERY DEEP SLEEP. Unfortunately, anesthesia is more risky than sedation. (though I was told by the doctor that is still a statistically a “very, very small” risk). The internet medical sources I consulted (the source of ALL TRUTH!)  notes that one should “ask their doctor” about the following complications: (1)Harm to your vocal cords (2) Heart attack (3) Lung infection(4) Mental confusion(5) Stroke (6)Trauma to the teeth or tongue (7) Waking during anesthesia and of course, the old favorite (8) DEATH. I didn’t find it particularly reassuring that the terrifying complication of “waking during anesthesia” (with that breathing tube down your throat and a surgeon cutting into your body!) was ONLY the fifth worst of the potential (albeit rare) complications. Further, those telling me the risks were ” very small” had obviously never seen the movie “Coma” where a malevolent doctor puts people under “permanently” and then harvests their organs (which is not even listed among the complications above).

This all started in mid-September when I started having abdominal/groin pain which I  tried to ignore (my age and chronic back pain had convinced me that ALL pain was “normal” or more aptly that one never really feels physically “normal” when they are older) . However, the pain worsened and I grew increasingly concerned that maybe I had something much more serious. (No doubt, I thought, a product of my consumption of literally thousands of cocktails, beers and diet cokes during my adult life). So I went to see the doctor who after some uncomfortable groping and coughing (on my part), assured me that I “merely” had a hernia. (I learned later that I had an ‘inguinal’ hernia which is the most common for males, rather than a ‘femoral” hernia much more common in females. I have to admit that I was relieved to have the inguinal variety as it was one of those rare chances at age 60 to reaffirm my masculinity).

As I was being admitted into the clinic, I thought about my procedure. Fortunately, it was NOT going to be the more invasive “open hernia” repair where larger incisions are made to directly repair the hernia. Instead, I was to get ” laparoscopic” surgery  which was less invasive and faster healing (supposedly) and involved several smaller incisions where a scope with a camera was introduced beneath my skin and  moved over to my right side where it would then seemingly magically cut and stitch a plastic mesh over that hole to repair the hernia. ( I envisioned a tiny robot tunneling around my body). Nonetheless, after I agreed to the laparoscopic  procedure , I couldn’t help but think of an extremely scary scene in the sci-fi movie “Alien” which involved a small foreign alien being introduced into one character with not exactly a good outcome. But then again while “Alien” was scary enough, the alternative “open hernia” repair was more akin to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” which to this day is the most terrifying movie I have ever seen.

After I checked in and finished signing the several-inch stack of pre-surgical documents (“Sign here…and here…and here ….and here…”), I changed into a “hospital’ gown (with the odd tie strings in the back— “Why was that? Did they not realize that they were going to be operating on the “front” side of my body”). A number of practitioners visited me in my room (actually, a cubby with a curtain and a “too short” bed/recliner)–the nurse, the head nurse, the anesthesiologist and the surgeon who asked if I had any questions. ( Thankfully, the visitors did NOT include a priest.) Finally, I was wheeled into the OR and positioned on the operating table. I felt something burning in my IV and then an overwhelming wave of drowsiness. ( I remember thinking if I can JUST keep my eyes open then they CAN’T operate!)  and then …..(A MILLISECOND PASSED or two hours in real-time)….

…”The surgery went well”  Dr. Bach was telling me. (Fittingly enough, I had gotten my favorite composer as a surgeon who no doubt had used Brandenburgian contrapuntal, fugue-like symmetry in his surgical technique.) Within minutes, I was given back my clothes told to dress and go home. (I envisioned a line of patients waiting to take over my cubby while an attending nurse was ringing up a cash register.)…. BUT I was done and the recovery had begun!

From → Humor

  1. Neil permalink

    Very funny! I’m surprised you didn’t have visions of The Fantastic Voyage – one of the great surgery films of all time. Almost as scary as TCM.

  2. How could I have forgotten that? Isaac Asimov’s only book to become a movie. What is really strange is that I have no idea with where my incisions are , HOW they stitched a mesh in place on the right side of my abdomen!

    • Neil permalink

      That’s because it was done from the inside by a miniature sub that they sent in through your nose.

  3. John Q permalink

    Maybe they went through your belly button. Bruce, another fun read, a monumental achievement given the subject matter. Minor corrections (sorry): I, Robot and Bicentennial Man are also movies based on Asimov books. And nit-picking: Asimov didn’t actually write the original story for Fantastic Voyage. He wrote the novelization of the screenplay.

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