I: Getting there
When I get home from my Spanish conversation class, there is a message on my answering machine informing me that my operation time has been changed from 7:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 25 to the same time on Friday, May 26.
I call my friends K and J, whose mission it is to drive me to the Ambulatory Surgery Center and ask if they can accommodate the change. They can.
Hospitals, medical centers, and doctors’ offices insist that a patient be driven there and driven home by a neighbor or “close friend” after any procedure that requires anesthesia. Cabs and limos are verboten. I have no living relatives and resent being obliged to impose upon friends.
One time, no one was available to drive me home. I arranged for a limousine service to deliver me and pick me up. When Overlook Hospital balked, I had my attorney call and threaten a law suit. The hospital acquiesced.
However, I’m old and tired and must select the battles I’m willing to fight. Thus, I usually give in and find a friend to drive me to and from the surgery site.
Friday morning, K picks me up at 5:25 a.m. and deposits me at the Ambulatory Surgery Center at 5:50. I am the first patient to arrive.
II: The Waiting Room
The receptionist hands me about 20 sheets of paper which I’m asked to read carefully and sign. I hand her three sheets of information that I printed out the night before about my medical history, supplements, and prescriptions—and a copy of a notarized living will.
However, I still have to sign about a dozen different forms authorizing anesthesia, surgery, sharing my confidential medical information, and agreeing to surrender every asset I own and sell my soul should my insurance companies fail to pay the bills.
I’ve brought a good book to read but forgot to bring my noise reducing headphones. Like almost every other waiting room in the world, this one has a television set tuned to a group of liars reporting the official version of the news. I ask the receptionist if she can turn the damn thing off but I don’t say, “damned thing”. She does so.
At 6:20, they summon me and the only other patient, “W”. We are escorted into a large hall where stations or booths are separated by sliding curtains. We are asked to put our clothing and belongings into large plastic bags and don those appalling hospital gowns with the opening on the back.
A nurse comes in and asks the same bloody questions I’ve already answered on the sheets given me by my doctor’s office and by the receptionist in the waiting room. Why do I have to provide the same information again and again in this age of computers? Why isn’t there some central data base where my information can be easily accessed by medical (and billing) personnel?
When the young nurse, who I like, asks me about STDs, I tell her with a straight face that several years ago I contracted anthrax from a sheep I was seeing at the time, but hadn’t included this information on the forms because I didn’t think that anthrax was a STD like syphilis or gonorrhea.
She looks at me for a moment and then moves to the next question.
Amazingly there is a small TV on a swivel inside the cordoned off area. I ask that it be turned off. Once again, it is. “Ask, and it shall be given you.”
Dr K, my orthopedic doctor and surgeon, stops by and chats. He writes some hieroglyphics on my right wrist with a purple felt marker. He says we’ll be moving to the operating room in about ten minutes. The anesthesiologist visits and assures me that I will probably awake with no permanent brain damage.
The nurse I like returns and cajoles me into signing about three dozen more forms. She expertly finds and taps a vein in my left forearm and hooks me up to an IV drip.
At 6:50, she and the anesthesiologist wheel me into the operating room.
IV. The Operating Theater
The anesthesiologist checks the IV hookup and is satisfied with the nurse’s competent work.
Several people unnecessarily assist me in moving from the cot to the operating table. The positions of the table and the patient are adjusted. My right hand is secured in a clamp and bathed with an orange liquid along with my forearm.
There are six doctors and nurses in the room. I thank them for being there and assisting with the procedure. The anesthesiologist tells me to prepare for a nap.
I like to resist the anesthesia and see how many seconds I can stay awake after the mild burning sensation in my arm indicates the initiation of the flow of the anesthesia. Once, I got to fourteen and actually watched my consciousness break into pixels on my inner TV screen. This time I get only to “three”.
V. Recovery Room
When I wake up, my nurse is beside me.
—Who’s picking you up? The sheep?
—K or J. You have their number.
—I’ve already called. What would you like to drink—cranberry juice, apple juice, or grapefruit juice?
After fifteen minutes, I get dressed and with my angel/nurse supporting me, I’m led into the waiting room. K is already there. On the way out he asks,
—Why do they have those goddamned televisions in every waiting room?
We stop at the drugstore near my house to pick up a prescription for Vicodin and a powerful antibiotic.
K asks me if I can get into the house on my own and I assure him I can. I feed the cat and nod out on the couch for several hours.
That evening I discover that I forgot to ask the pharmacist to NOT use those goddamned child-proof bottle caps for my prescriptions and that I CANNOT open the goddamned bottles with one good hand.
After releasing a torrent of obscenities in the three languages I can speak, I’m embarrassed to call on a neighbor for assistance. It’s a mild day, the windows are open, and the neighbors and their children are probably alarmed by the lunatic who lives next door to them.
I grab my claw hammer from the tool cabinet and vindictively smash the plastic vials sending twenty tablets and four capsules all over the table and the kitchen floor. Then, I collect the antibiotic capsules and Vicodin tablets in separate plastic sandwich bags and sweep up the remains of the vials.
The pain is not acute and I resist taking the painkiller. However, around 1:30 in the morning, the buzzing sensation in my palm and two of my fingers, which is keeping me from sleep, finally compels me to swallow a tablet. I sleep until 6:30 Saturday morning.
Before breakfast, I get on the treadmill for 45 minutes and take a shower. This clears my head. I am definitely ambulatory.
I vow not to take any more Vicodin.
Homemade veggie and fruit juice, oatmeal, and a couple of cortados fortify me. Next to the couch is a pile of books and magazines to distract me while I am unable to write or translate. Calliope seems to understand that I’m convalescing: she sleeps by my side for most of the day.