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Under the knife

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(Last Wednesday, I underwent surgery to remove a misbehaving gall bladder and accompanying stones. Apropos of nothing in particular here at Blogcritics, I offer up my experience. I thought some others outside my site’s readers might like to see it – I know I would have liked to have found more personal experiences about the surgery (my first of any kind) beforehand, so maybe this will help ease someone through the anxiety. By the way, this is posted under “Et Cetera – Original Fiction” simply because nothing else fits – it’s 100% non-fiction, I assure you.)

Tuesday night was the longest short night I think I’ve ever had. There have been few events in my life that I have truly dreaded with such cowering fear, and fewer still that I knew simply had to be done and that would lead to a much higher quality of living nearly immediately afterward. But Tuesday night, as bedtime approached, telling me that meant very little – all I could focus on was that in 12 hours, 11 hours, 10 hours . . . I would be sliced open and have things clamped, cut, and removed that I’d never given a thought to prior to a couple months ago, and I would face the dreaded IV, the mother of all needles (that men face, at least – and please don’t bring up the nightmare that is the epidural. It must be understood first and foremost that I am a wuss, and as such, the thought of any needle brings about in me the kind of shivering fear normally reserved for torture techniques like bamboo shoots under the finger nails, or accidents that involve sheets of metal shearing off the scalp so it lies, folded back over the skull, like a rubber mask – while the victim is still very much alive.) Truth is, once I left the relative safety of the side of good wife Alissa, my nerves were calmed by the trusty hands of the nurse I have assigned the name of “Carmen” too, because in my nervousness I completely blanked out her name. I expressed my dismay at the IV, having never had one but having come to the hospital with a Stephen King’s novel full of unique and detailed ways in which the IV could become dislodged from my vein in the most violent and bloody ways possible. “It’s a good thing you got me then,” Carmen said, “because I am one of the best.” I smiled slightly as she rubbed my arm down with alcohol, then reassuringly said, “This will be a little pinch – you ever had bloodwork done?” I answered yes, last week, “well then, no problem. This is just slightly larger. Okay?” Before I could think, I felt a sting and it was in. A few strips of tape later, she patted my arm and said, “There, see? No problem, right?” No, I guess not, I sighed. And, for a moment, the worst was over.

I had realized earlier the day before that some of my fear of the IV was what it foretold – the oncoming reality of surgery – because what it really meant was, from this point forward, I’ve given up any sense of control I thought I might have had over the situation. My fate, my future, lie at the end of the IV tube where whatever conconctions that would knock me out would be injected, shuttling me off to what I hoped would be a sleep so deep I couldn’t possibly know anything had happened.

Carmen shuffled off, ushering in my parents and Alissa after a gaggle of various hospital personnel visited me to ask the same questions repeatedly (“what’s the last thing you ate – and when?” “do you smoke?” “have you seen your surgeon today?” Have I? Is that really my issue to deal with right now?!) My parents stood nervously by and Alissa regarded me with a slight smile, knowing the whole time what kind of hellish scenarios I’d drawn up in my head for what would unfold over the next couple of hours. The anesthesiologist stopped by to explain what would happen, asked, again, what I’d eaten and when, and then finally my surgeon stopped by jovial, confident, and happy as can be. Just another day at work, I suppose. Within moments of arriving, he chatted quickly, signed a couple papers, and said, “Well, we’re ready.” My parents and Alissa kissed me goodbye and a moment later they disappeared from view as the anesthesiologist returned with a syringe, the contents of which he emptied into my IV.

“I’m giving you a little something to prep you, you’ll probably start feeling the effects soon.” He moved to the end of the bed to look over some paper work and it was then that I noticed his stylish American flag shower-cap. As I focused on that, the room wavered and I absent-mindedly blurted out, “That must be what you were talking about,” as if he had seen the room waver too. A quick snort of a laugh indicated that while he didn’t see it, he understood perfectly what I meant.

A moment later he grabbed the end of the bed and pulled it forward, then jumped behind to wheel me down the hall. “And we’re off!” he said, and before I knew it I slid into an open room just on the other side of some double doors. The threshold passed above me, then some lights, and then a bump came at the side of my bed. “Up we go, gotta slide you over to the table,” a voice said as hands grabbed at my legs. I moved what I could and got settled, then felt more hands grab my arms and splay them out from my sides, resting upon extensions from the table. Hands again grabbed at my legs and something enveloped my legs, thick, slightly warm, foamy, and I heard velco straps rip and tighten around my legs repeatedly. Before I could think to ask, a slightly yellow mask was lowered around my face. I found my right eye staring through a portion of it, making the lights and ceiling above distorted and disjointed. I heard a hiss of gas as someone said, “We’re just about ready here, Tom . . . ”

I found myself very confused next. I could hear things, but none of it made sense. My eyes wouldn’t open, either. Shufflings, clickings, drawers, feet on floors, it all started to form in my ears, but still I didn’t quite understand what was going on. I heard a voice next to my head ask “Thirsty?” and I must have responded in some way, as the next thing I knew a straw was in my mouth. I sipped and felt the parched pathway of my throat creep open, allowing a cool stream of water to coat it thoroughly. I opened my mouth to say something and found only a brief hack of a cough coming out. “Just drink some more water, hon,” the voice beside me said.

A moment later I felt a tugging at my arm and the tingling there stopped as the IV quickly slid out, then my bed was propped up a few degrees. “How are you feeling?” the voice asked. I managed to whisper “okay” but in reality I didn’t actually know how or what I was feeling. By this time I had finally grasped that the surgery was over and I was in the recovery room, but beyond that I had no idea. I asked about my gallstones, but the nurse quickly answered that the whole gall bladder was going to the lab. “I wanted to see what these things that caused so much pain looked like.” She laughed, then offered, “Just be glad they’re gone. I’ll go get your wife and parents, okay?”

The shy smile of Alissa emerged from the blurry distance, and I raised a hand as well I could to wave back that I was okay. I couldn’t tell if I even moved my arm at all. All I knew was that I was going home soon.

(Home is where the unproductivity is.)

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About Tom Johnson

  • Joe

    Get well! The only experience I’ve had with gall stones was when a guy I carpooled with started passing one on the way to work. It’s a good thing I was driving.

  • get well soon tom. i had this done a few years back. a surreal experience for sure.

    it’s interesting that you went from the little bit of mask gas to waking up. i actually got to experience about the first 15 seconds of the anesthetic taking effect (no mask, but IV)…i noticed that i felt simultaneously very heavy and ‘floating’. i said “is that the real thing?” somebody replied “yes, that’s it…have a nice nap”. i looked over at my arm and tried to lift it…no dice. then i woke up.

    at least now you’ll be able to eat something withuot worrying about your insides exploding on you.

  • Thanks guys! As for the pain of gallstones, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – and I read somewhere that women rank it as #2 just under childbirth. I can’t say whether that’s true or not, but the handful of full-blown gallstone attacks could easily rank up that high. The surgery and pain of recovery have so far been a mere fraction of what I suffered during an attack – that’s a good return on my investment, I say!

  • Isn’t that what Ashcroft had? So you’re like brothers under the skin?

    If you’ve felt a compulsion to cover up naked statues, you just might be an Ashcroft! (you can use that one in your standup act).

    Since I get the willies just going to the dentist for a cleaning, I can’t even imagine somebody rummaging round my insides.

    So good luck, and check the warranty.