Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Drill

So operation number six is this Friday, yippee, which will be followed by decatheterization (neat word of extremely limited use), six weeks of sheep-tuberculosis chemo (I’m serious), a fair amount of bellyaching on my part, and a couple of weeks of squirmy discomfort during which I will stand up to type on an aged IBM notebook.

Here’s the drill. I get to the hospital, am asked about 60 questions four or five times each by a series of medical personnel that include but is not limited to the admissions person, the person who wheels me to a small, curtain enclosed space, a second and third admissions person, and the nursing assistant who hands me a light blue paper gown too small to be cinched and a plastic bag for my belongings. When I ask if I can keep my cell phone handy until I am wheeled away, the nursing assistant will get another person who will tell me that I can indeed, and explain to me the hospitals anti-theft and security procedures, even as she asks me to sign a release stating they are not responsible for the theft of my belongings while I am in their care.

Another nurse will ask me if I have any of about 30 ills or physical shortcomings including dentures. Also, what drugs do I take, are any of them illegal, and when did I have a drink last. I say 22 years and she looks at me strangely and shrugs.

There are a fourth and fifth person whose duties seem indeterminate--by now the uniforms have changed from light blue to green, or maybe puce. You can tell the rankings by the scrubs--the lower the status, the more likely the scrubs worn will feature cartoon animals, smiling sunflowers or dancing Fudgesicles.

Each time I am asked a question, the answer is noted on a nearby computer, and as the questions repeat themselves endlessly (last time I was asked what I am allergic to eight separate times), I wonder is somewhere nearby is a cloning center and they are, as we speak, building an ersatz Thierry with all my physical shortcomings, and why they’d bother.

Then I am left alone for anywhere from one to four hours. If I’m lucky, someone will come along and tell me the doctor will be there any minute, but they’re lying, he never is.

I can tell things are getting serious when medical personnel number nine or 10 comes to insert the IV and anesthesia needles. One goes in the crook of my arm, another on the top of my hand. The latter will leave a nasty blue bruise for a couple of weeks.

In time, Anesthesiologist Number One arrives. We talk. I say I have a system that metabolizes the stuff really fast and in the past I’ve woken up during surgery. He or she asks me if I’m allergic to anything.  I repeat my concern. Anesthesiologist Number One nods, smiles, pecks something out on the computer keyboard and leaves.

A passing nurse’s aide asks if I need a glass of water and I say yes, but I’m not allowed to drink before the procedure.

Anesthesiologist Number Two essentially does a repeat performance of his colleague. I sign a second release saying anything bad that may happen to me here is no one’s fault but my own.

The surgeon appears. He is in full surgeon garb and rubbing his hands together which for some reason always chills me. He is a short, handsome, white-haired man in his late 50s, who has operated on me twice before. I have never, ever seen him smile. He apologizes for keeping me waiting--the patient before me had the bad grace of misplacing a kidney or a lung and it took a while to find it. The surgeon says he will see me in the operating room. I want to make a joke, we have to stop meeting like this, but I don’t.

A new nurse comes and starts the flow of anesthetic. I feel nothing. The world does not go black, it merely ceases to exist…

And then I’m back. My head hurts, my mouth is dry and tasting of something unpleasantly metallic. My throat is sore from the tube inserted there and now gone.  There’s a dull ache in my groin. The surgeon, I know from past experience, has already left the building, so I won’t know if the surgery was a success until post-op in three or four days. I am both hungry and queasy.
I am hopeful that maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to go through this again.






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