Scene 1: "Nooo! I don' neeed a kidneeee!"
For those who don’t know how most operations begin (may you long cherish that small bit of ignorance) here’s a primer.
You check in to a Pre-Op room hidden deep in a hospital. You are led to a little curtained-off cot, one of half a dozen in a row. Nurses come by with papers. You sign your life away, agreeing for the third or fourth time to the same procedures that landed you in the room in the first place.
Your clothes, any dignity you might still have, and all other belongings are taken away to be returned “later”. Hearing the word “later” your mind substitutes “the other side” and tries to imagine what that might be like. You shiver uncontrollably.
More nurses come by. Some take your vitals and tell you what a nice day it is even though it’s foggy and miserable outside. More papers are produced covering things that apparently fell through the cracks of the previous volumes. No longer capable of reading, you just sign them. Eventually an IV line goes somewhere into your arm. At this point you realize this is not Wheel of Fortune (or maybe it is…) and you shiver again. Harder.
Into the stream of nurses comes your surgeon, sort of like a grown salmon overwhelming a stream of baby trout. S/he recites everything that will be done to you in lurid and unwelcome detail. S/he particularly focuses on the risks involved, as if said risks haven’t kept you sleepless for the last week. That’s for the hospital’s ample legal department – at least I like to think so. Who wants a sadistic surgeon?
Next comes the anesthesiologist who repeats the day’s narrative from their perspective scaring you even more (“In the unlikely event you don’t wake up…”). then they say they’re going to give you “a little something” to make you drowsy. What they actually mean is, you’re being sedated so you don’t rip out the IV lines and bolt while they wheel you through the halls to the OR.
And so began my own latest surgery in early November, third (and hopefully last) in a series. The purpose was to drain and prevent the reappearance of a liter-sized bubble of “fluid” sitting on my abdomen after my first hernia repair a year ago which was caused by a liver transplant a year and a half before that (got all that?).
So I get my dose of drowsy juice and the world starts spinning in a most pleasant way and a Patient Transport Specialist wheels me out of Pre-Op and deeper into the bowels of the hospital where the refrigerator units and the operating rooms are located. (ORs are cold! Nobody tells you that! Refrigerator lettuce-bin cold!) I’m not registering all the turns and floors of my little journey, but who cares? Who cares about the election or the financial meltdown or if there’s even going to be a tomorrow? Who cares about ANYTHING? Not me! I’m on Fentanyl and life is goooood.
I remember exiting the elevator and feeling the cold. As we approach the OR the doors swing open and I see a sign. Amazingly I can read it: “Kidney Transplant OR 5”. I smile benignly at the sign for a long minute. Then raw terror breaks through the happy juice.
“Nooo, ahg, nooo…!” I moan. “I don’ neeed a kiddnee!”
I look around but can’t really move my head much. There are a couple of people in OR blues hanging around. “‘S my bellllley, the bubble on my belllley… My kiddnees are good see? All the blood tesses say’d so…”
One of the OR denizens cackles.
“No worries Mr. Brownson,” a voice says. “We’re just using this room. You’re not getting a kidney.”
“Are you ssshure cause I got good kidnees just aks my doctor…”
Another voice says to the first: “I’ll take care of this.”
I am aware of some fiddling with my IV line and then I am gone from the world.
I don’t remember any of this when I wake up. Anesthesia trumps memory for quite a while, sometimes for days or even weeks. Later I’m in a regular hospital room where I pass the time trying not to strangle myself with tubes or vomit from the meds. Vomiting after abdominal surgery is just SO not fun. I’m mostly losing both struggles. Eventually those last minutes in the OR seep back into my mind. My eyes go wide. Wider. OhMyGod. What if… ??? I’d panic, but it’s hard to panic after surgery.
Ever so carefully I reach around to one side of my back and feel. Nope, no sign of cuts or bandages. I roll over and repeat the test on the other side. Hooray! No kidney work there, either! Hooray! I do a survey, and the only bandages I find are where I expected them to be going in. I sigh deeply and return to the task of Not Vomiting.
A silly worry in retrospect, but it sure seemed important at the time. My surgeon (life advice: never get to the point where you can say “my surgeon” and mean it) knows me well – too well, he’d likely tell you – and he would never ever make that kind of mistake. Still, there are all those melodramatic news reports USA Today and the Enquirer just love dragging through their pages, about mis-removed legs and wrong organs operated on, and we may dismiss them in our day-to-day life, but when it’s your turn…
I guess the bliss of pain medication does not come without its paranoias.