5.12.2014

The Road to Recovery, Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

With my surgery scheduled, I had nothing but time on my hands with which to freak out about it. I've had surgeries before, but I think the last one was when I was nine years old or so. I don't really remember anything about them, and back when I was nine I hadn't quite developed my constant nagging fear of death, so medical procedures weren't quite as scary. Unless there was a shot. If there were shots involved my dad had to try and hold me down while I screamed and kicked as the poor CMA tried to jab a needle in my butt. Shots were no bueno.

But I didn't have to get any shots. I just had to let them inject me with a chemical cocktail that would disconnect my brain from my body while they hacked through my vertebra and scraped a bunch of cartilage goo off the sinewy fibers of my spinal cord.

Easy as pie, right? 
I tried to maintain the illusion of calm and collected, but I was completely scared shitless. My brain went into full panic mode, worrying about the surgery failing, the surgery making things worse, and of course not waking up from the surgery at all. For some reason that was the worst one; I guess it's because anesthesia is so weird and we know so little about how it actually works or what it actually does to you.

My wife went to Japan for two weeks because hey, when you have the opportunity to visit Japan and take in the Snow Festival you do it. Meanwhile I sat at home, in agony both physically and mentally. The night before she left we were lying in bed talking about things and I just completely lost it. I sobbed and wailed huge, animal screams about not wanting to die. It was not my proudest moment and, looking back, was a bit melodramatic even for me. But I bring it up because shit like this can be scary, it's totally normal to feel scared about it, and (on the off chance someone in a similar situation reads this) even though I was really scared I came out just fine to talk about it.

I could go over again and again how terrified I was, but I figure we're best served fast-fowarding to the day of. Kat drove me to the hospital and we hung out in a pre-op area, a single shower curtain separating us from what I can only assume was a man on a mission to die in surgery. We listened to his attendants asking him about his medications (I don't know what they are or how many), his health (I'm diabetic but I do fine without doing anything about it) and repeatedly coughing horrible, phlegmy coughs of someone severely ill.

I had counted on my anxiety exploding in a volcano of panic, but the day of my surgery I was strangely calm. I made a decision that freaking out would not help me, so it was in my best interest to just try for serenity. Kat and I made smalltalk while I shifted constantly in a vain attempt to get comfortable. Any nerves I had about doing this were swayed by the electric shock pain in my legs and back. If I didn't do this, I wasn't sure I could keep on living anyway.

Two separate ladies stopped by to ask me about medications and stuff and then an attendant flung open the curtain. With no delay or hesitation he started rolling me out of the room. I kissed Kat, told her I loved her, and tried to go to a happy place while watching the ceiling tiles roll by.

We went down an elevator into the bowels of the hospital where I was passed off to another dude to wheel me into the pre-op room, which I guess made the other one the pre-pre-op room. Here a very kind older woman put a plastic sheet over me and connected it with what looked like a vacuum cleaner hose to the wall. It immediately filled with a rush of hot air. 

"Your body goes through enough stress during the surgery, and keeping people warm tends to help." 

The first 20 seconds were amazing; between my nerves, the flimsy gown, and the cold tile everywhere I didn't realize how cold I really was. But I'm also a big fat guy and like to sleep in my underwear on top of the blankets when I'm at home, so I pretty quickly started sweating in my hospital bed and had to ask her to turn it down.

While I waited for my turn under the knife, I had a couple neighbors come and go. One was a pretty surly guy who I'm guessing from his name was Samoan and was apparently getting a dialysis catheter installed against his will. He repeatedly asked the woman tending the room why he was getting this when he didn't want it.

The idea that you could make it to one room away from surgery and not know what was happening to you or why was pretty fucking terrifying, but as more doctors came in it became clearer that this dude was actually just in denial about his situation and had been consulted pretty extensively. I went in first, though, so I'll never know if he wound up getting that catheter.

Just as I was starting to wonder if the hospital had forgotten me, an incredibly attractive anesthesiologist showed up to talk to me. She went over how she would be rendering me unconscious, then ramming a tube down my esophagus so she could pump me full of air and airborne drugs during the surgery. She mentioned applying some lidocaine before sticking me for the IV.

"Wait, what? No. I'm allergic. I've had reactions to that."
"Really? Wow. Someone should've mentioned that."

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

That was as good a time as any for her to make me read and sign another waiver listing all the horrible things that could happen to me and that if something terrible did happen I certainly couldn't sue them. They started an IV and gave me the first dose of happy juice, which I didn't really feel immediately. They wheeled me into the operating theater, a huge space-age looking room full of lights and robot arms and shit. The doctors made small talk about lunch plans.

"Man," I slurred, "I thought you guys would all be talking about your affairs with each other and sexual tension and stuff. Medical drama shows have lied to me." The women in the group giggled.

"Have you seen us? No one's having an affair with me," a heavyset lady hidden behind a surgical mask chuckled. 

Before I could respond, I was waking up in recovery.

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