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The Great Surgical Journey

Monday at 6:00 AM found me at the hospital, no breakfast, ready to have my gall bladder removed.  Darwin drove me in and waited with me in the waiting area.

I was a little nervous, but not overly terrified or anything.  I was less than thrilled at the idea of anesthesia, since that was the biggest place something could go wrong.  A bunch of other people sat in the same room, all awaiting procedures of their own.  Every few minutes, a cheerful nurse plucked one up to be whisked away into the bowels of the hospital.

I was called up pretty quick.  I had to hand over everything to Darwin, including my cell phone, and Darwin was left behind.  I thought he'd be able to come back to the initial prep area with me, but nope--he was barred.

The prep area was more like an emergency room, with cubicles and curtains instead of rooms with doors.  A Very Nice Prep Nurse got me gowned and in the bed, with an IV in my hand.  My shoes and clothes were stashed under the bed, of all places.  Then she put inflatable felt boots on my feet and calves.  These were to massage my legs with pneumatic pumps in order to decrease the chances of a blood clot.

The Very Nice Prep Nurse said my stomach would need shaving.  Should they do the whole thing, or just the little spots where the incisions would be made?  I told her to do whichever would be best for the operation.

I briefly met two anesthesiologists, and I was surprised that they just asked me how much I weighed rather than actually weighing me.  Okay.  Then I met two more nurses who were (I think) assisting the surgeon in the OR.  Just after I met them, the very first nurse announced that she was injecting the Versed, the first anesthetic.  She did so.

I didn't feel it.  The nurses did a couple other things and a moment later, the surgical team started moving the bed out of the cubicle and down the hall.  That was when I finally blacked out.

Meanwhile, the hospital staff had given Darwin my case number and sent him to a waiting area with a monitor on the wall.  It listed patient condition and location by case number (no names), so he knew when I was in the operating room and when I had left it for recovery.  Darwin told me about one particular man, who I remembered from the registration waiting area.  The man became agitated at one point and grabbed Darwin's arm.  "That's my wife," he said, pointing to the screen.  "She's going to be okay.  They were operating on her hip, and she's going to be okay."

"I'm so happy for you," Darwin told him.

"She's going to be okay!" the man repeated, and rushed off to recovery.

I woke up in the recovery room.  The nurse on duty noticed and said my name aloud.  I felt awful.  The first thing I noticed was a chancre on the right side of my mouth.

"How do you feel?" asked the nurse.

"Tired," I said, "and I have a big sore inside my mouth. I must have been biting on it while I was asleep."

"What was that?" said another nurse, who was passing by.

The first nurse repeated what I said and the two of them exchanged a look I couldn't interpret.  I little later, when my mind cleared up, I realized that the sore had erupted not because I had bitten myself; it was from the intubation.  This realization made me unhappy.  I knew I would be intubated, but I didn't like the fact that the nurse didn't tell me the source of the sore, and was instead willing to let me think I had done it to myself, when both she and the other nurse knew better.

Only much later did I learn how the procedure actually works, and I don't know why the surgeon didn't explain it to me, though I did ask him questions.  He just wasn't very good at answering them.  First, they shave and disinfect everything remotely close to the operation site.  Then they make three incisions in the abdominal area--one for the camera and two for instruments--and use one incision to inflate the abdomen with C02 so there's room to work in there.  They tilt the table head-down so the internal organs above the liver flop down out of the way.  Then the surgeon inserts a camera into the second incision and uses the third incision for the actual cholecystectomy.

For some reason, the titling and the C02 bother me enormously.  A big part of it is that I didn't know about it in advance, and I would have wanted to.  People were doing things to me that I had no part of.  It bothers me even to write about it, and writing is one of the primary ways I process this sort of thing.

Darwin, alerted by my own case number, showed up in my recovery area not long after I woke up.  It took a fair amount of time for me to actually leave the hospital, though.  Darwin went down to the hospital pharmacy for my post-op pain killers, and the nurse went over recovery care with me.  She also gave me a folder of written information.

A volunteer wheeled me out of the recovery room and down to the pharmacy, where Darwin was still getting the medications.  The volunteer, an older man, kept banging the wheelchair against the walls, which jolted my incisions, and he apparently didn't know enough to set a wheelchair brake when he stopped it, so the chair kept rolling away.  I wanted to hit him.

Finally we got to the car and home.

I kept finding weird things about the operating over the next few days--how much they had shaved, disinfectant in strange places, the steri-strips covering the incisions.  Each discovery created a new spurt of dislike or unhappiness.  I feel that I should have known going in that this would be the result.  Being shaved while I was unconscious bothers me more than if it would have happened while I was awake, for example, because I don't know who did it or how they did it or who else was there.  My stomach gets all tight, and I'm unhappy about the entire event.

I know that the surgical team was there for a necessary operation to help me, but that's still the way I feel about it.  A great deal of this bad feeling could have been circumvented by clearer communication.  I don't like surprises, and I definitely don't like them in retrospect.  I'll mention this to the surgeon at my follow-up appointment.

I've spent the last several days lying around on pain meds, often times bored.  You can only read and watch the DVR for so long.  I don't have much stamina--a two-block walk is all I can handle right now.  I don't know how long it'll be before I'm able to run again.  But the pain is steadily fading.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2016 08:36 am (UTC)
That sounds like a pretty difficult experience. I'm glad you came through it OK, but there's definitely something unnerving about things happening to you while you're unconscious, especially when you asked about what would happen and you weren't told. I'm sorry to hear that.

Hope you recover very quickly.
Ken Warnock
Nov. 26th, 2016 07:51 pm (UTC)
Wishing you the best!!
Gee, if only you had a cousin, or someone you know, who works in surgery that you could have asked such questions!! Wishing you a speedy recovery!!!
Nov. 27th, 2016 12:12 pm (UTC)
Speedy recovery!!!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
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