The story so far. I’m just about to have an operation when days before, I overhear my doctor having a crisis of faith, which leads me to feel the same way…
I had a pre-op appointment with Dr. Smith the following week. He seemed in fine spirits and didn’t mention seeing us at the restaurant. While he spoke, all I could think about were the cracks that lay beneath this man’s professional veneer. Could he keep them covered up or would they burst through at the worst possible occasion? Namely, when he was operating on me?
Whatever his personal problems were, Dr. Smith was able to separate them from his professional responsibilities. Still, I left his office with a bad case of the heebie-jeebies.
Against my better judgment, I went through with the surgery. Julie dropped me off at the hospital at an ungodly hour. She smiled and left me standing there. Dread similar to those first-day-at-school nerves filled me. I checked in and they snapped a plastic bracelet around my wrist. It was obviously there to make identification easy if everything went pear-shaped.
The admissions clerk pointed me in the direction of the ward where I needed to check in. I wandered along silent corridors, seemingly walking a distance much larger than the building’s dimensions. I never saw a soul. I expected to find a lab marked “Human Experiments.”
Eventually, having walked past it twice, I found my ward. The ward had half a dozen or so people in beds, some asleep, some not. The nurse told me to change. Of course, I had to wear the usual “show my arse to the world” gown, but they gave me some socks with grippy soles that I got to keep, so that made up for flash shots of my arse for anyone too curious. One guy walked by and I swear he was trying to smuggle a bear into the hospital, judging by the thicket of hair squirting from the rear of his hospital johnny.
On several occasions, a doctor or nurse came by to ask me what I was having done, which I found disconcerting. Didn’t they know? Well, to make doubly sure, a nurse came by and wrote “YES” on the knee to be operated on with a big black magic marker. Ah, HMOs…
Dr. Smith checked in with me and introduced me to the anesthesiologist — a serious Asian guy with a minimal command of English. When we’d spoken on the phone a few days earlier, he’d asked me to breathe for him. I’d hoped this was for medical reasons. If it wasn’t, I should have been paid.
The anesthesiologist said he needed to examine me before putting me under. He immediately realized that he didn’t have his stethoscope. Dr. Smith offered the loan of his, but the anesthesiologist turned it down. He asked me to breathe in and out a couple of times (yes, back to the breathing again). I should point out that he never came closer to me than 10 feet. After I breathed for him, he said, “That sounds okay.” Ah, HMOs…
After a couple of hours of sitting in bed, trying to ignore the ticking clock — aren’t hospital beds narrow? — they finally wheeled me down to the morgue-cold operating theater. Masked people, happy to see me (probably because my insurance approval came through), welcomed me into the operating theater. I clambered onto the even narrower operating table that was no wider than my body, with armrests out at ninety-degree angles. When they strapped me down, I must have looked very Christ-like, albeit lying down.
The anesthesiologist pounced on me. He wanted a needle in my arm before the ABBA track finished on the CD player. By the way, they did promise that ABBA would be replaced with classical music during my surgery, but for some strange reason I kept humming Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight after I left the hospital.
The best bit came when one of the nurses said I could have a blanket if I was cold. I was, so I did. The lovely lady swaddled me in two blankets that were toasty warm from some blanket oven somewhere. I felt like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but this didn’t last long.
The drip needle punctured the back of my hand and wormed its way into my vein. Its invasive touch was lost the moment the ice-cold fluid from the drip crept through my arm like a steel rod. My warm blanket nurse distracted me with some kindly words while sticking vital sign monitors to my nervous body. My other nurse exposed my leg to be operated on and took one of my grippy socks. I told him I wanted that back. The blanket nurse said that the anesthesiologist was giving me something to relax me. As she told me this, I lost control of my eyes. They kept rolling back. I tried to focus on her face and what she was saying, but at some point I blew her off and lapsed into unconsciousness.
The time travel section of my experience began. I woke up in the recovery room with another nurse next to me. She told me that everything had gone well. I checked out a wall clock. A couple of hours had passed. I would have sworn I was out less than 10 minutes. The nurse said something else, but I fell asleep again, activating my time travel hospital bed. When I woke up the next time, it was after one p.m. I was back in the hospital ward where I’d started, with my original nurses. The nurses explained some other things to me and gave me my time traveler’s meal: graham crackers and orange juice. Time fast-forwarded another 30 minutes. Then it was time to go. I remember my clothes being given to me but I don’t remember dressing. I hope no one took advantage of me.
If they did, I hope they call.
Whatever problems my doctor had, I have to admit he did a first class job. His stitching was neat and my recovery was swift.
But there was some bad news. They found my ACL (a ligament with a lot of vowels) was also torn, which means I face another op, a fairly major one. Enter the creepy stuff. I thought the doctor could fix it with some medical bondo and a staple gun or some such — but oh, no. To fix it, he has to graft ligament to it from somewhere else on my body or use a synthetic ligament or — wait for it — he can graft bone and ligament from a cadaver. Nice. I discussed my options with Dr. Smith. All the options sounded unpleasant. I wasn’t wild about fixing my knee with dead dude parts. Julie is trying to convince me to go with the cadaver option, because there may be a story in it. I’ll think about it…
As a footnote to this story, Dr. Smith left the hospital to open his own practice shortly after operating on me. Before the practice reached its first anniversary, I received a letter saying he was moving away. He recommended another doctor for further treatments. All said and done, I liked Dr. Smith. He was a nice guy and I trusted him, in spite of his problems. Now that it looks as if I need the second procedure, I wish he was still around to cut me.
Yours in one piece,
PS: Thanks to everyone who sent kind messages about the Anthony win.