The Hospital: Day 1 (Part 2)

“Are you allergic to any medications? Ever have any surgeries? Major illnesses? Recent cuts or open wounds?”

Over and over, various people wandered back and forth past my gurney and asked thse questions again while checking my wristband to make sure an alien pod person had not somehow taken my place while I escaped.

During all this, I met the anesthetist who would be taking care of me during surgery and ensuring that I didn’t do something gauche during the procedure, like swallow my tongue or die. She was very pleasant, asked me the questions again, and then asked me one more: are you in any pain right now?

As it happened, I was. I had not taken any food or drink in after midnight, nor had I had taken the medication I was on to control the pain in my mouth and ear while we went through the medical hoops. It had been about twelve hours since my last dose, in fact, and the armies were marching in my mouth and head by this time. I mumbled something to her to this effect, and she promised to come back and give me something for pain once the nurse got my IV set.

Which, all things considered, could have been worse. It almost, but not quite, felt like someone jamming a 2×4 down the back of my hand. I know she was being as gentle as possible, but I don’t imagine that it’s ever a picnic trying to force something into a vein in an area where there isn’t much skin to start. But she got it in and I only gave one yelp as she was taping it down with stuff they should probably be using on the space shuttle to keep that foam on.

As promised, the anesthetist did come back to me. She was speaking to me while adding something to my IV. Unfortunately, I have no idea what she was saying, because about five seconds after that stuff hit my veins, I was out, and I have no memory of what happened past that point.

A story: when I was in high school, I played fast pitch softball. During one game, I slid hard into third base, and managed to tear up my right leg from the ankle to the knee. Not only was it a bloody mess, it had clay and pebbles and whatnot embedded in the wound. Every day, twice a day, we had to debride the wound with Betadine and a stiff bristled brush, scrubbing the dead skin and crap out of it.

That was nothing compared to this.

I woke up in the most agonizing pain I have even encountered in my entire life. Recovery. Surgery over. Someone telling me that I had to stop moaning because that meant I was probably holding my breath, which would make it worse. Telling me they were putting morphine into my drip. Telling me this was normal and it would pass, that I should try to think calming thoughts while the drugs did their work and take deep breaths. I imagine it’s a lot easier on that side of the gurney, but of course can’t blame him for doing what he knows needs to be done.

They hooked up a PCA for me, which is just medical talk for a button the patient pushes to administer pain medication. In my case, morphine, which could be administered every 6-8 minutes by clicking a button. It’s all rather foggy, as I was also getting drips of something, but I distinctly recall being a little angry because the IV in my right hand was painful to the point where it was hard to press the button with that hand, and they had taken a piece of nerve and muscle from the left side during surgery, so it was impossible for me to click with my left. Somehow, I managed to properly give a click every now and then when I was awake enough to realize just how badly everything hurt.

They wheeled me into my room, and my family came in, but honestly I don’t remember who was there, what they said, or what I managed to get past my newly redesigned tongue. I do remember puking up blood that had gone down my throat during surgery. Several times. Black, black liquid that was not only unpleasant to look at, but which was a horribly painful process to get out, since all the muscles around my throat and neck were involved in forcefully expelling it.

I drifted off, occasionally clicking away at the morphine, with my family watching over me.

The Hospital: Day 1 (Part 1)

July 19, 2005

Check in time. My mom, aunt, and sister came to get us early this morning, about 6 AM. We took a few pictures of my neck and tongue, as a sort of “before” record – plus, the gross out factor of the tongue is good, and my sister (who used to want to go into medicine) liked that very much.

The sunrise was very beautiful, and naturally, this being Florida and all, it was already 100 degrees outside and humid. I was prepared in my sweats and t-shirt, and carried nothing at all with me. My mom took care of my id and phone, my sister took my gym bag, which had clean clothes and a toothbrush.

Once at the hospital, we checked in at admitting and then went up to the pre-op area, where we waited with the other suckers – I mean, patients – who were also there for early appointments. The check-in nurse presented me with a pager like those you get at restaurants, about the size of a large coaster. Table for one? Every so often, it would generate a high pitched single beep. I suppose that’s so they can find the damn things if someone leaves it in a chair or under a newspaper or something as they ready themselves for what lies ahead. The waiting room was very, very quiet and not uncomfortably cold or warm. Anyone who has spent time in large facilities knows what a treat this is, since there always seems to be a pocket of air where you regret not bringing your parka and another nearby where you feel like you’re on the surface of the sun.

I did not get the joy of being buzzed for the gurney that awaited me, as the check-in nurse called the waiting room and had the assistant let me know it was time. We walked back to the surgical holding area. My mom gave me one last word. “Whenever they do something, ask them what it is and make sure they check your wristband so they know you are you.” Yes, ma’am.

The holding area looks like any standard emergency room you see on television, without the chaos that is usually associated with trauma emergencies. Like the waiting room, it was quiet, with the occasional beeping of monitors and the ringing of the phone the only noise other than the murmur of staff talking to patients and one another. The nurse took me back to the last screen on the right, where I was given a bag for my belongings and told to strip to the skin. On the gurney were little paper booties for my feet, a paper hair net to keep my flowing locks (ha) out of everything, and a cloth gown that I was told opens in the back – like this wouldn’t be common knowledge from all the jokes made about peoples’ butts hanging out of the things.

Once suitably attired for my waiting table, I crawled onto the gurney and the interrogations began.