I’m all always a little nervous around doctors…this gave me good reason…
Carrying on from my fall off the side of a mountain in New Zealand, I took a trip to an orthopedic surgeon to check out my damaged knee. I hadn’t been impressed with my primary care physician’s initial assessment to knock back the Motrin like it was going out of fashion, so I looked forward to a second opinion. Dr. Smith ordered an MRI. I spent a nice couple of hours inside a seven-foot-high electromagnetic donut that clanged like someone inside was trying to escape from within. I returned to Dr. Smith’s office for the results.
“Operate?” I echoed, hoping I’d misheard.
“Yes, operate,” Dr. Smith confirmed. “It’ll be purely an outpatient affair. Repairing a torn meniscus is commonplace. Nothing to worry about.”
Easy for him to say, he wasn’t being operated on. Okay, I know how wimpy that sounds, but I’d never gone under the knife before. For over 30 years, I’d managed to bend but never break anything that required anyone to check under the hood, as it were.
Dr. Smith must have seen the look on my face. He did his best to reassure me. He blew it when he raised the subject of risks—namely, the risks associated with the anesthetic.
“One in a thousand people react severely to anesthetic,” he said nonchalantly.
One in a thousand? Excuse me, but that doesn’t sound like great odds. I had visions of a deli counter ticket dispenser in the operating theater. I’d pull a ticket and hand it to the anesthesiologist and hear him cry, “Now, serving 1000. Stay sharp everyone, this one is going to be tricky.”
I quizzed the doctor on the whole “one in a thousand” matter. He tried to play down the death and vegetative state issues. I think he locked the door to his office at this point.
He ended the consultation with, “Of course, the decision to do this is yours.”
I talked the matter over with my wife. Julie said I had to have the op, but that’s Julie. She’s a scientist and she’s into this crap. I’m an engineer and I know how easy it is to break delicate machines. She justified the operation by joking that she wasn’t going to lift me off any mountains again. I mentioned the one-in-a-thousand thing and she proceeded to recount how she’d woken up during surgery and the doctors had to hit her with enough gas to floor an elephant to get her back to sleep. Apparently, she has a high tolerance to anesthetics. This did nothing to comfort me. I think I’d lost all color from my face at that point.
“Look, you’re worrying about nothing. Now, where’s your life insurance policy?”
Seeing as I hadn’t been able to kneel down in nearly two years, I agreed to the procedure.
As the days counted down to the surgery, I tried not to worry about it. I met with Dr. Smith and my primary care physician to ensure I was in good enough health to have the surgery. They gave me the green light. I was well enough to be sick.
In the last few days before the operation, Julie took me out to dinner. A last meal, if you will. We sat in a secluded booth and had a nice meal. We talked about all the usual daily stuff and whether Julie would remarry if things didn’t go well.
Our attention wandered to the person in the booth next to us. Some guy was pouring out his life story to a friend over a beer and steak. He recounted how his life was essentially in the shitter. He had no lust for life or his career and was contemplating throwing in the towel and doing something else. This overheard conversation put things into perspective for me. There are greater things to worry about in life. If you have your health, you have something. As Julie paid the check, I glanced back at the booth containing this man on the edge. I wanted to know who this person was.
There sat my surgeon, Dr. Smith, the man who was going to cut my knee open with a scalpel.
My soul drained out through my ankles. I quickly hustled Julie out of the restaurant before he saw us. I didn’t want him knowing that I knew his state of mind.
To be continued next week…
Yours in pieces,
PS: I’m in Alaska for Bouchercon. I hope it’s not too cold.