What Would You Do? My Day of Reckoning
My friend Frank and l arrived at the hospital admitting office around 5:30 that morning, and after some necessary paperwork which included submitting a new health care proxy naming Frank as the lead party since he was here and George was in PA, we were whisked upstairs with half a dozen other patients and their accomplices to Pre-Op where l was assigned cubicle thirteen, always a lucky number for me.
There I stripped down to nothing, put on my flimsy dishcloth gown and lay on the stretcher as a seemingly endless caravan of health professionals, all jovial and light- hearted, obviously to calm the anxieties of those of us headed for our respective carving boards, stopped to fill in their piece of the puzzle that awaited me.
My neurosurgeon, Dr. C, an American trained Columbian who at 42, had the boyish face of a twenty year old, went over once again what he would be doing to hopefully alleviate my crippling leg and ankle pain. Two three inch incisions in the center of my lower back just above the crack of my butt, where he would shave down the bone spurs that were impinging on and pinching my spine, then implanting titanium wedges to keep the spinal tube open.
From my days as a healthcare administrator, l knew that even more important than your surgeon was your anesthesiologist. After all, he or she was not only the one responsible for putting you under and keeping you there. They were also the one to bring you back from the abyss.
Dr. Happy actually came by twice. The first time he explained how after he had put me under in the OR, they would be flipping me over like a pancake since after all my procedure involved my back, so that my arms and shoulders would be outstretched the entire operation like Jesus hanging from the cross.
His second visit was much briefer. He nodded to my friend Frank who had been good enough to sit with me throughout this time that he could leave now. Doc then held up what appeared to be two small metal canisters.
“Ready for your double tequila?”
“Actually l prefer a vodka cranberry,” l replied.
Those were the last words l remember saying before l opened my eyes over seven hours later at about 3:30 that afternoon as they wheeled me out of recovery to my room on the orthopedic floor.
The first conscious act l did was to wiggle my toes. It was at that same instant that l started to silently cry. The terrible pain l had endured for almost a year in both my legs and ankles was gone.
My roommate was a tall heavy-set Latin who had received a knee replacement several days before and who was employed as an exec in some international company serving most of Latin America. It was comparing his burly frame with my slim trim body that l learned first hand the importance of being in shape for surgery. While pain relief was just a button away by intravenous infusion, l used it sparingly and from the beginning of my stay that Thursday afternoon till that Saturday when l was discharged, l experienced more of a soreness than actual penetrating pain. My surgeon who came in the following morning to see me and check my reflexes remarked several times how strong l was. I gave him a quixotic look as if to say what kind of pansies do you deal with. His raised eyebrows told the whole story. My roommate Carlos’ pain level, meanwhile, never dropped below 9.
“This is like giving birth,” he cried out as the nurse shot him up.
“Oh no it’s not,” she replied curtly back.
That first night l peed in a bag, and although the Foley catheter wasn’t irritating, it was uncomfortable. So early in the wee hours of the morning, l guess with an OK from my surgeon, the nurse came in to remove it. Aside from the slight embarrassment of a strange woman holding your shriveled up dick in her hand, its removal didn’t bother me much at all. Ah, but when she pulled off some surgical tape that had been holding it in place on my very, very furry thigh, the pain was worse than my incision. And throughout the night either she or a tech kept coming in to reattach my EKG leads that kept popping off my furry chest and abs.
“I’m your ultimate challenge,” l joked. At least they didn’t shave me. My fur at that point was about the only smidgen of self-esteem l had left.
But having the Foley catheter removed later proved to be a mistake, because by 10 the following morning l had to take the most wicked piss in my life. I had found it strange but l had been left to lay on the stretcher for over 24 hours from the time l was in Pre-Op the previously morning to Friday a.m., just after my surgeon’s visit. I kept pressing the nurse button several times though l realized it must be tough for two people, the R.N. and his or her associate L.P.N. to handle a dozen or more snivelling helpless cry babies, but l had to go bad.
Finally a small army of nurses including my day nurse, an incredibly handsome Haitian who with his short slim body reminded me of Prince (why the fuck hadn’t he been the one to pull out my Foley?), appeared at my bed side complete with a walker.
Now , remember l had been lying there virtually immobile forever. I had no idea what to expect. Would l be woozy? Would my legs give out from under me? The physical therapist had not yet visited me to instruct me how to get out of bed without fucking up my incision, but my new Haitian crush slowly rolled me on my side and as I leaned the weight of my entire upper body on my upright right arm, he helped me to lift myself up onto the bed My arms grasped the walker as l ever so slowly rose, but a moment later l realized l wouldn’t need it. I stood without assistance to the amazement of my piss team with no feeling of weakness and slowly gaited to the bathroom a few yards away, a plastic bottle in which excess fluid from my incision was draining safety pinned to my gown, and the plastic box holding my cardiac leads in my hand, and took what seemed the longest and most celebrated piss in my life. The reality that l had not wet myself before l got to the toilet meant that one of my fears, post-surgical incontinence, had not materialized.
A few minutes later the female nurses aide, damn it, came in, and stripping me of my flimsy patient gown, gave me a quick sponge bath.
“I guess you’ve seen it all,” l quipped, to which she replied, “You leave your modesty at the door when you enter a hospital.”
Friday: The Big Question