Thursday, December 13, 2007

getting better.

It has been one month since my surgery.

Four thursdays ago, around 12:30, the nurses came into my room and took away my cranberry cocktail. They didn't bother to turn the lights on, so I watched a pair of silent silhouettes cut off my food and drink, which is the last tie to the outside world. No fluids and no food for the next twelve hours. As it happens, a steady drip of saline and morphine makes a fair substitute for juice and cereal.

From the neurology ward I descended to the OR, which I thought would be a single room, but was instead a series of chambers where nurses asked me the same set of questions. — Have you eaten? Drunk? Do you have any piercings? Metal body parts? With each station the rooms seemed larger and emptier.

My calm broke at the last door, the entrance to the operating room, the last room in which I would be conscious. — Okay, now I'm nervous, I confessed. — Oh, don't be nervous, the nurse said, you'll be fine. And pushed my bed through the swinging pale green doors.

Inside the last room, everything seemed to be the same institutional green as the doors. People in scrubs and face masks came and went, walking around the machines and complaining about the deplorable state of the OR. — Where are his CT scans? Did he even have a scan? — I had a CT scan on September 11th, I said to nobody in particular, realizing at the same time that all these people were probably going to see my ass in the next ten minutes. — Oh look at that, one of them said, look at where they put the IV, how are we going to work with that?

They sounded a bit like a film crew.

One of them pulled down his face mask, exposing a birth mark that ran along his jaw. — I'm Dr. M, your anaesthesiologist. Do you have any questions before you go to sleep?

As always in these sorts of situations, I had rehearsed the questions. I could remember none of them, so I said the first thing that was in my head.

— Do people ever have accidents under the anaesthetic?

— What do you mean?

— I mean, I know that I haven't eaten in twelve hours... but are there every any... accidents?

The doctor with the birth mark considered my question for a moment before he figured it out.

— Oh. Oh. Well, sometimes there's a little, you know, it's no big deal.

I tried to remember the important questions I had meant to ask, but suddenly I started to lose my equilibrium. Even though I was lying down, I felt as if I were falling gently backward. A nurse stuck a mask over my face.

— Breathe in and out nice and slow, she said, cradling my head (at least it felt as if she were). Breathe in... breathe out. Yoga. Yoooga.

I followed her instructions, trying to time my breathing to her voice, but the word yooooga was producing an urge to giggle. I could feel the corner of my mouth twitch out past the lip of the mask. As I continued to tip backward, I let out a quick snort and tried to ask her to stop with the yoga, but I was a second too late, awake already, lying flat on my back in a bright crowded room and covered in blankets.

Once you wake up in the recovery ward you are on the other side of surgery. From the core experience of medicine, the anaesthetic coma, you begin to dig out through the layers until you hit air. Which I will tell you about tomorrow. Because this entry has gone on pretty long. Damnit.


blackbird said...

I may start chanting that through the holidays.
Looking forward to part 2.

witchypoo said...

Yes! This was really interesting.
Funny how anaesthetic just up and steals a part of your life.

butterfly said...

Jeez, it is amazing that it has already been a month! And getting better all the time, I imagine? ;-D

I hated the waking up from a surgery (I've only been under once in my life) because I was shaking and moaning -- I think I even threw up?? Not sure -- but it is a very out of control feeling. Plus, I think the nurses were telling me to shut up (as if I had control of myself!) which was not very nice of them, but then again, that may have been a post-anesthesia hallucination...

palinode said...

blackbird - I think I may start chanting yooogahhh as a substitute for actual yoga.

witchypoo - That was two hours of my life snipped out of the timeline. Strange business.

butterfly - I'm sorry to hear that your experience of waking was so unpleasant. I was pretty lucky - no nausea, no hallucinations or uncontrolled behaviour. I was just awake all of a sudden. When they wheeled me back to my ward, I started to get a little giddy, and I kept falling asleep while I was trying to talk to my wife.

Kate said...

I think the waking-up part is kind of cool. One instant, you're lying on the operating table with the anaesthesiologist and nurse hovering over you, and the dozen or so other human beings who are necessary for surgical proceudres milling about in the background. The next instant, you are in another room, on another bed, and hours have somehow disappeared into perfect nonexistence. The whole thing makes me less afraid of death, actually. But then, I had a good experience, and not everyone does...

Lisa said...

Gosh, now I'm realizing I really am a freak because this all sounds kind of fun.

Or maybe I just love the suspense involved in surgery. Like: Oh, sometimes there's a y'know...

Sparkling Red said...

Surgery is scary stuff. I just read an article on the New York Times site about the frequency of "wrong side" surgery. All it takes is for your x-ray or CT scan films to be popped into the viewer facing the wrong way. It shouldn't be that easy to get it wrong!

palinode said...

Fortunately for me, not only was my injury was located right on the spine, it was more or less symmetrical. So even if they'd reversed the images, I'd still be okay.

I'm amazed that such a thing is possible - scans are covered in text. It should be a simple matter of checking the text for the correct orientation.