Act I: A Rude Awakening
Waking up from surgery sucks. I suggest you never try it. All of the doctors – the anesthesiologist, the surgeon – were careful to tell me every little thing they were doing. The put me out, then flipped me onto my stomach, performed the surgery, flipped me back and let me wake up. There’s this lapse point between the pain medication they give you during surgery and the stuff they give you once you’re awake. That part SUCKS.
And then there was: “Have you told my parents I’m okay yet? Please tell them I’m okay…” I had this vision of my mother chewing through naugahyde. “No, I know I’M okay, but do THEY know I’m okay…”
Eventually, they said they’d talked to my dad and I shut up.
Actually it was the drugs. I had this lovely self-metered morphine drip thingie which I could press once every six minutes for relief. I don’t know why they don’t make that automatic, because it took me exactly ten minutes to find out the excruciating pain resulting from missing a dose. From then on I was trained better than Pavlov’s puppy. Nary did I speak, nap, or sip for longer than five minutes for the next two days.
Act II: Enter Chorus
My mother looked about seven years older than I’d left her. Walking in with dad she was trying not to react to something. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I reassured her and Dad with smiles and weak jokes. We all strolled together (well, I rolled) to my hospital room, watched people poke me, talked about how amazing the staff had been, etc.
Eventually I was alone except for the woman in the neighboring bed. She spoke Spanish and had gray hair. That’s all I could know of her.
I drifted and woke and drifted again. The world shrank to a microcosm of my pain, my magic morphine button, tiny beeping noises and constant buzzing of electricity. And hacking coughs from the little lady, followed by, “Ay, Dios mio! Ay, Maria!”
At some point I realized my parents were in the room again. I faked sleep, too tired to acknowledge them, but then the pain grew too intolerable and I had to push my button.
Now, according to my parents, we had an hour-long, incredibly lucid and relaxed conversation about art and literature, during which I said several important things which no one recalls. I remember my parents glancing at each other in disbelief, and quietly responding with mysterious smiles. My mother later told me that she wished I was on morphine all the time: I was so at ease in myself, defenses down, pure intelligence. I think I have the key to future doctoral work.
Act III: The Great
Probably the ickiest bit of the post-op play comes when the nursing staff expects you to answer questions, drink, eat, and generally use your body, which feels pretty unusable. This was my least favorite part and I prefer not to dwell on it. Let’s just say that I was in such oblivion that I had no idea I’d been catheterized until a nurse brought it up.
I couldn’t eat or drink without extreme nausea. My surgery resulted in a tiny nick in my spinal cord, which would cause migraine-esque headaches if I tried to sit up. My left leg pain was gone, but in its place was this searing wrongness at the site of the incision, and constant muscle pain in my back. I was rendered helpless. It’s fortunate I couldn’t reach my hair to pull it out.
My parents hovered all day until they were forced out, and then came the long night. My neighbor, it turns out, was the cutest little lady anyone had ever seen, but she was restless and didn’t want to sit in her bed all day. She constantly bungled her escape plans by forgetting that her bed had an alarm on it. The nurses would rush in, none of them Spanish speakers, and coax her back into bed. Eventually, she won, and they rolled her out into the nurses station so she could see some action.
My night nurse was a sweet guy. He kept me company (mostly to get away from the Ay, Marias, I think) and we talked about all kinds of things – where he’d gone to school,
I got through that night somehow, not sleeping, trying hard not to think. The morning seemed blessed to me, like I’d made it through a long, deep tunnel. I hadn’t known I was fighting until the exhaustion swept over me with the sunrise.
Act IV: Our Heroine Emerges Victorious
Midmorning, my new nurse took me off the morphine drip and had me take a pill. She brought me breakfast (beef broth, yogurt, jell-o and tea) and encouraged me to try eating. I was confused and encouraged.
My parents appeared suddenly, happy to see me looking more lively, eating real food (kinda) and actually awake. By afternoon the catheter had been removed and I had to try to walk. It was bizarre, each little movement a huge effort. Getting out of bed was the worst part, but I was cheerful about it. My mother kept admonishing me to go slowly, not to hurry, stay in bed if it feels better. The nurse quietly shushed her and encouraged me.
A few hours later I was walking slow laps around the nurses station. My new nurse showed me how to manage stairs. I felt like a working prototype. It was time to go home.
Act V: The Homecoming
Somehow, I dressed and cleaned myself and got into a car and arrived (three minutes later) at my apartment. I managed the stairs with my parents’ help. My father ran out for necessities and my mother eased me into bed.
At some point I was up, staring into my bathroom mirror at my slackened, dry, discolored face. I looked like the undead. I realized then how I must have looked to my mother when I came out of surgery – much worse than this, surely.
My father drove back to