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Inspirational Reads

The Ordeal, Part IV

December 20, 2006

Or, How I Got Four Holes in My Abdomen and Lived to Tell the Tale!

Thursday morning, I was in and out of sleep. I got up in the middle of the night having to piss badly, and, fortunately enough, my IV bag ran out. I rang the nurse and soon after the angelically beautiful Jamie arrived with a fresh bag of fluids just as I was laying myself back down in the bed after having whizzed. I had my glasses still on, which was a good thing since this was the last time I would see her.

I slept on and off throughout the rest of the night and then was awakened in the pre-dawn hours by my angelically-beautiful intern who came to talk to me about the surgery that would happen later that day. Since the guy I was originally scheduled to undergo the survery with was in Montana fishing (originally, I had scheduled for some time in late August but had to cancel), I would be operated on by Dr. Wilke. That was fine with me. I remember a couple of other people being in the room, most likely either trailing the intern or taking blood or my vitals. Everything was kind of a blur since I had not been sleeping well that night. The intern's take home message, though, was that today was the day. I would undergo surgery to get my gall bladder removed, but it wouldn't be until almost evening (I think the original time, after having been told that Friday was unacceptable, was around 5:00).

Morning finally came, and sadly, so did my nurse, Carolina. That meant that Lowell was dutifully servicing someone else. I was jealous, but I thought I could deal with nurse Carolina. She was, however, no Lowell, and definitely no Jamie.

The morning passed quietly. I finished my Bill Bryson book, my wife came and visited and I watched the news while she slept. I was very well-versed in the ways of the world that particular week; I was also very up-to-date on the weather around the country. The morning passed quietly until Dr. Wilke arrived, telling me that I would be moved up on the schedule and that I would get the surgery done that afternoon rather than that evening. Somewhere, I SHOULD have been excited, but that was still hours away. I was bedsore and tired and just wanting to get the thing over as soon as possible.

Midday passed and we moved on into the early afternoon. I turned to my All About Beer to entertain me, but it was such an uninspired issue that I sort of tossed it aside and watched the television for the remainder of the day. I felt like going to the peds' floor and stealing a playstation or an xbox or something, but instead I lounged about still, watching the time tick slowly away.

Carolina came in several times and took my vitals. I had good blood pressure and temperature and all. No fevers, nothing bad. I was very laid back. What the hell was I going to do? Riot? Instead, I just waited for the time to come when I would no longer have a gall bladder.

Around 12:30, a very large, very stout man came to my door. I think his name was Gary. Things were in kind of a rush, as I knew Gary was there to transport me to the OR. Since this was surgery, I knew that I would have to drop trou, and as I was preparing to do so, along came Carolina. Now, you'd think that when someone is about to go to the OR, you wouldn't need to take their vital signs as they have machines in the OR to do this. They also have nurses. Several of them. And they are competant. Unlike Carolina.

Since I was sitting up, my right arm was twisted away so she opted for my left. Now, Jamie, Lowell, Elizabeth and Jennifer all had NO problems whatsoever taking my blood pressure on my left bicep. It's not like I have rippling, tree-trunk arms, either (though I would like to think I'm not a stick-boy). In fact, in the several times Carolina had been in there that day pestering me, she had had no problems, either. Suddenly, though, I apparently grew a bicep like your average comic book hero and so, in the midst of me getting ready to go have an organ removed from my body, nurse Carolina straps the blood pressure sleeve around my left FOREARM. With the sudden adrenaline rush after being told "it's time" and the need to remove my pants (which is always a thrilling ordeal, for me at least) and the fact that the cuff was now in the WRONG POSITION, you'd think that it would sink through someone's thick skull that there was something wrong when my blood pressure read out at 530/247 or whatever the fuck inflated number it gave.

This is when I came closest to inflicting some bodily harm on someone (and it certainly wasn't Gary, who was big enough to bare-knuckle fight bears) as she asks, "Have you ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure?"

For one fleeting moment, I saw them cancelling the surgery because of this dunce's inability to use, oh, logic or the blood pressure machine or chewing gum. I hesitated, trying to control myself before I released a tirade of curse words that would leave her with jaw agape and speechless. Fortunately, my wife filled the void with, "Don't you think going into surgery might have something to do with that?"

Score one for the lovely readhead in the corner.

With Carolina summarily dismissed and Gary waiting impatiently, cracking his knuckles in anticipation of doling out his hourly ass-whooping, I dropped trou and dove onto the gurney, apparently giving the world a show of me private bits. This upset my wife, who tossed a blanket over my legs and lower midsection. I giggled like a little kid, because I'm just THAT mature.

One unpleasant side effect of going into surgery is that you have to take your glasses off and hand them to the nearest comely redhead. Fortunately, that was my wife. Unfortunately, the trip down to the OR was a series of light blurs and shadowy blurs and Gary rumbling instructions for people to get the hell out of his way or he'd eat their babies. True story.

At the entrance to the OR, I had to bid adieu to my wife, who promised that she would go and find something for her to eat. I had been on liquid diet the day before with nothing after midnight to eat or drink. I was mighty thirsty and parched, but as the doors swung back and forth behind my becovered feet, I wasn't thinking of food or drink for some reason. Naturally, I was thinking of the final installment of Harry Potter.

Okay, I threw that in there to see if anyone is still paying attention.

Upon arrival in the OR, I was granted my very own curtained partition. I was also greeted by a taller, grayer, sturdier man than Gary. I can't remember his name, so I'll call him Glen. Glen was the guy who would be making sure that I would not wake up during the course of the procedure. As I don't like pain and/or seeing instruments sticking out of my abdomen (despite my dreams of becoming a cyborg), I decided that Glen was two steps below a saint. That is, until he looked at my IV and decided that it was, and I quote, "something a 2nd grader would make."

Uh, and this was feeding me IV, antibiotics and other fluids for the past days.

I was also granted two different nurses. Well, one was a medical intern from Duke who was training to be an anasthesiologist. The other was Shirley, and I'm pretty sure Shirley could field dress any wound anywhere on the body. Had she been on the beaches of Normandy, we wouldn't have lost a single man. In fact, she would have kicked the ass of any German who got between her and the next man down. Shirley kicked ass. She was assigned the fixing of my IV. Shirley was wonderful. She patted the back of my hand as she drew forth a Viking war blade. Shirley was fantastic. She made a goofy face as she plunged it into my left wrist. Shirley was mad. As I felt cold steel sliding beneath my skin and into my veins, she said, "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

I was afraid to respond in the negative. Clearly, I was working with a master of torture here.

The anasthesio...Duke student (who was cute, by the way, at least in a brunette-blur sort of way), came back and was telling me about what they would be doing for my surgery. It was a cocktail of gasses that I can't remember, but none of them was ozone, so I felt safe. Plus, Shirley was back, and in her hands was a bag of something. She hooked it up to my IV and then plugged it in. "They say you're low on magnesium," she reported. I looked at the bag. It was a magnesium sulfate solution.

"The finest dessicant in all the land!" I proclaimed loudly. I was the chemistry king in this little curtained partition, and it was time to hold court.

Shirley shot me what I interpretted as a funny look...or at least a blurry funny look. "I'm a chemist," I responded. "I use mag sulfate to pull the water out of stuff all the time. Stuff works like a charm!"

"I see," said the-blur-that-was-Shirley. "This might burn a little." She turned on my IV.

Fire shot up my arm. On the inside.

Did I mention this was a master of torture? I could imagine her saying "Dry that, tough guy" as she walked out of my partition.

I met my doctor shortly after that. A lovely woman...or at least, blurrily lovely. She was bubbly and effervescent, which is good for alka-seltzer, but I'm not too certain it's a good quality in someone who is about to remove a part of your anatomy. I guess it's better than saying, "Hi, I'm Doctor Pickett. I'll be removing your gall bladder today. Hope you don't die!"

I give Shirley and Dr. Pickett a bad rap up here, but they were both fantastic, despite Shirley's ability to inflict such awful, excrutiating pain with laser-precision. She was good, and when you're going into surgery, you want someone who is good, rather than someone Carolina. Dr. Pickett was also awesome. She actually asked me if it was alright with me if she could remove my gall bladder (paraphrasing). I think I responded with "Sure. I mean, I'm going to be unconscious, anyway."

The good doctor and I had an instant rapport.

Not much happened while I waited my infusion. The an...Duke student came back a few times and we chatted idly while she made me remember that I was REALLY naked under that blanket. Not that anything bad happened or that I was embarassed, but your mind tends to wander shortly after being impaled upon a yard-long needle and shot full of liquid fire.

Finally, the time came and Shirley cleared the way before me as I was wheeled into the OR. No one second-guessed her. She was, after all, the hospital's own expert on torture.

I was wheeled into a bright, white room that felt antiseptic from the moment my covered feet knocked the door open. That, too, was reassuring. I'd hate to be wheeled into somewhere, moments from having my body rent assunder, thinking I was rolling in human sewage. Or any sewage. I'm not particular. Shit and disease is better off outside of my body.

More nurses descended on me. I don't remember their names, but I do remember them hooking me up to a respirator to pump "pure oxygen" to me. Glen was there, too. He was running around preparing me for the knock out. I got hooked up to more IVs. I got moved to the operating table. I got my cover removed. I got cold. And then, my eyelids began to get droopy. In a moment of clarity (because for some stupid-ass reason, I decided to fight the anasthesia all the way), I yelled out, "Hey, this isn't oxygen anymore, is it???" I saw through Glen's clever ruse. "Oh, yes, it is," assured the nurse. But I saw through them. Actually, I think my anasthesia was coming through my IV, but my mind, still like a steel trap, had latched onto the notion that they were knocking me via the air being piped down my throat. I began to slip off into a blissful sleep when suddenly my eyes snapped open.

"Oh my God!" I said, "I can't believe I didn't do this!"

"What?" the nurse asked, somewhat panicked.

"Luke...I am your father!" I offered up. However, that was the very LAST thing I remembered. So, I'm sure it came out like "Looyamurrrfavvvvvvvvvvvuhhhhhhhh"*drool*

I can't tell you about this part. I was asleep for it. And, since Glen did his job well, I don't remember even the juicy middle parts. So, I'll summarize for those of you who don't know what is involved in a gall-bladder-removal.

A long incision (about an inch, maybe two) is done in the bottom of the belly button. Another one is done just to the right of the line down the middle of my body, just under the ribcage. This is where the offending bag of bile and stones is pulled out, eventually. Another smaller, T-shaped hole is made on my right flank, about a fist's width below my ribcage and a fourth T-shaped hole is made further down, kind of in that area where you get a pain if you've been running too much (as in, anything past five steps for me). The hole in the belly button is where they stick the air hose, inflating your abdominal cavity with CO2 like a balloon. Makes everything easier to manipulate. One of the T-shaped holes is where the camera and light source go in, and I'm not sure what the fourth one is for. Symmetry, I guess. The bigger hole just south of my sternum is where the green sac leaves my personage.

Now, one great thing about this is that the hepatic artery, the common bile duct, and the gall bladder duct are all in the same area. Hit the hepatic, I think I have five minutes to live, if I'm lucky, before I bleed to death. It's big as it feeds the liver, and the liver is pretty big. Hit the common bile duct, and the scar tissue will force the bile duct closed, I'll get sirrhossis and either need a liver transplant or die. So, as you can see, there is a bit of risk involved. Fortunately, Dr. Wilson (and apparently, Dr. Wilke, as well) are very competant and have this 45-minute policy. If they can't tease everything out in 45 minutes and begin the removal of the gall bladder from my liver, they go in the old-fashioned way, which is opening a six to eight-inch hole under my rib cage and start at the top and move down, cutting away the offending organ. As Dr. Pickett works with Dr. Wilke, she has the same policy. I was in good hands. Obviously, since I'm sitting here typing this out.

One FANTASTIC thing about the surgery is that they have to make an incision at the south end of my belly button, where, until two months ago, a very large, very nasty mole resided. This thing was like a rogue cocoa puff that had permanently attached itself to my flesh. It was embarassing, and it made it difficult to clean out the pit of Saarlacc, aka my belly button. So, when Dr. Pickett was scouting the area out, she noticed this horrible, egregious piece of my anatomy.

"Would you like me to remove this?"

Oh, Doctor. Would you marry me?

So, it's gone. I can go shirtless once more without the embarassment of that...thing...sticking out of my navel. Granted, there's the lily white flesh, predominant gut and man-boobs which keep me firmly ensconced within my cotton t-shirts, but, hey, at least it's only 3 things instead of 4. Of I have scars.

I woke up, somwhere. In recovery. My lovely wife was there. My lovely Duke student was there, I think. Again, I was a touch groggy. However, I didn't hurt as much as I thought I would. In fact, considering I had just had my gall bladder removed, I felt pretty damned good. I was returned to my room, and my wife hung out for a while, making sure I was okay. Soon enough, however, I had to piss like the proverbial racehorse. I thought I would wait around until Carolina came back to check my vitals. However, there came a time when I couldn't wait any longer. The reason why I was staying in my bed was because I was hooked to an oxygen machine AND I had these cuffs on my calves that would inflate from time to time to help prevent CVT from forming. They were annoying as fuck, and so the sooner I could get them off me the better. I was made to promise to walk around some that evening and night. But, all I wanted was to pee. Finally, my wife released me from these tortuous devices while Carolina dicked around with stuff at the end of my bed. I ran hobbled to the bathroom. It was sweet bliss.

My wife left. Carolina was dismissed. I got Kim for a nurse. Kim was no Jamie. In fact, Kim was a guy. He did explain to me why I was on oxygen (because most people, being incredible pussies, don't breathe deeply enough to fully oxygenate their blood after this surgery. However, not being a salsa-dancing pansy, I breathed fully and deeply, so I could have dropped the oxygen. My blood was at a 98% saturation, anyway, but I decided to play by the rules). He also brought me Sierra Mist, which tasted like nectar straight from the cask atop Olympus. I still had to eat soft, liquid food. I also had a heart monitor hooked up to me, to make sure I still lived and all. During the night, I had to get up and piss out my Sierra Mist, so I got up, went wee, and came back to bed. Still mostly pain free. Suddenly, seconds later Kim burst into the room.

"Mr. Jenks, we've detected an unusual spike in your heart rate. Are you okay?"

It started out cool. I thought maybe he had detected a latent mutant ability, a twin growing inside my abdomen, porn on channel 67. But no, just abnormal heart rate.

"Yeah, I don't know why it would do--oh, I just got up and went to the John. You might want to empty the piss bucket."

And so went my relationship with Kim.

I had a very hard time falling back asleep. Pure oxygen seems to do something to your brain. Colors seem brighter and the voices inside your head are more vocal. I lay there for a long time pondering my next move. I really wanted to go to sleep, but with the heart rate monitor on me, I couldn't perform my surefire trick for instant sleep. So, instead, I lay there dreaming while awake, the patterns of the capillaries in my eyes taking on shapes as they pulsed with my lifeblood, dancing before me and moving on. It was the most impressive high I've ever experienced, aside from the contact buzz I picked up at my first R.E.M. concert.

I finally fell asleep and was awakened only once when Kim came to take my blood pressure--correctly--and finally in the morning when a doctor came and told me that I would soon be cleared to go home.

Freedom loomed.


Anonymous said...

Holy crap, Matt. I hope you're okay. (I guess you are.)

I got your e-mail the other day. Sorry I haven't responded until now. I suspected that it was you commenting on BlueGraySky. Still at ND; graduating forthwith. Postdoc with the big (leaking) P in San Diego. Dave still here.

Again, I hope that you are doing well. Let's hope for a Ducks win tonight and a Irish squeaker in the Sugar Bowl. Cheers, Jim T.

Will Shannon said...

"green sac leaves my personage" sounds like a Frank Zappa song.

Ψ*Ψ said...

Didn't know they used magnesium sulfate for that.