A familiar companion

Posted: May 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

I wouldn’t consider myself stubborn, but I definitely prefer to take things head-on, and would rather bear the weight of something myself if I felt it was at all within my ability. This operation has only reinforced this streak in myself, but at the same time it’s helped prove the extent of my self-reliance, if only to myself.

Early Monday morning, after a fitful night of half-sleep invaded by dreams of bizarrely impractical shoulder operations, I showered, grabbed my backpack with my clothes and laptop, and went through the familiar Sydney routine of flagging down a cab because the one I’d booked completely failed to show up. My older Russian driver rambled quietly on the misplaced priorities of youth on money and drinking over health for the 10 minute ride to the hospital, where I wished him good health and went to check myself in.

As the first surgery of the day, the hospital was fairly deserted as I checked in, joking as casually as I could muster with the woman at the admissions desk and the pretty nurse who ran over my medical history before showing me to my bed and handing me the standard immodest hospital gown to change into. Various people came by to ask me the same information over and over; my name, my date of birth, was this my signature on this same piece of paper. Finally they rolled me to the door of the operating theater and paused when my surgeon suddenly appeared at my side and asked the same questions including, disconcertingly, for me to describe to him the procedure I was about to have, as if they were having a bad day with the paperwork. Everyone apparently reassured but me, the anesthesiologist put in my IV and I was wheeled in, lifted myself onto the operating table, set my arms into the supports, and suddenly found myself blearily blinking in a haze of pain and cloudy half-impressions. While I’d been put under anesthesia once before back when I had jaw surgery at 18, I was still totally unprepared for the complete lack of transition from wide awake to completely unconscious and back again.

From recovery I was rolled up the the hospital ward where I was to spend the next 24 hours before being discharged. As I was getting my wits about me again, I took stock; my shoulder was trussed up in an elaborate mix of nylon, padding, velcro, buckles, and neoprene. A thin plastic tube was taped to a spot of my shoulder where the end disappeared, the other connected to a small bulb nestled in my sling, filled with yellowish liquid. Sensation in my shoulder came and went, but it was largely not good. No great surprises, but the reality of it was still a bit of a shock, especially for such an abrupt mental transition.

Over the course of the day I was joined by two more roommates equally trussed up, while a brace of Irish nurses all conveniently named Sarah came in every hour or so to make sure we weren’t dying on their shift and give us hefty doses of pain medication. In tandem with what turned out to be a steady local anesthetic fed straight into my shoulder and a regularly replenished ice pack, I had little trouble sitting back with my netbook loaded with movies, games, books on tape, and music, and promptly falling asleep. Actually, even that night I never got more than 2 hours of sleep at a time, but with the sheer number of sleepless hours I’d logged sitting in economy on trans-oceanic flights, this was a cakewalk by comparison. I even had an in-flight drink cart plugged into me on an IV drip. Note to airlines: when recovering from surgery is easier than one of your flights, you’ve got issues.

Despite keeping myself amused with Monty Python and the elderly man next to me completely failing to understand the nurses through their accents, the following morning I was feeling a bit restless. Luckily this was just in time to get cleaned up to be discharged. Changing my soaked dressings revealed not two but five holes peppering my shoulder, like I’d been clipped by buckshot from a casually aimed 12-gauge. The most unnerving part however was the removal of the anesthetic line; as the nurse pulled, a full 4 inches of tubing snaked out, feeling for all the world like my shoulder muscles were being unraveled by an errant thread. But the best news was that, with waterproof dressings, I was free to take a much-needed shower. Relatively cleaned up and dressed, I got my run-through with the physio, yet another Irish Sarah, got my prescriptions sorted out, and was free to go.

Through the whole thing, there was a moment or two where I missed some company, but overall I was actually happiest to tackle this thing on my own. I’ve learned over time that I don’t mind pain too much if it’s telling me something, and in this case it was telling me that the only thing that would really make me feel better is time and rest. And when it comes down to it, you have to deal with those yourself anyway.

  1. Anonymous says:

    It always freaks the crap out of me, when they pull out the anaesthetic line. The last one I had, I could feel it moving as it was withdrawn… could you?

    A thread of sadness in this post, somewhere. However, that sense of personal assurance & achievement of knowing how reslient you can be in adverse situations? Definitely a good feeling.

    And pretty nurses help, too. 😉

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wait! I realised an error in my question… I assumed you had the typical butterfly in your hand/forearm too. Did you have another anaesthetic line, or just the one in your shoulder?

    • Anonymous says:

      I had a saline IV line in my good hand, which they also used for delivering antibiotics. The only anesthetic line was the one in my shoulder. But ya, when they pulled it out, it felt like it was literally unraveling my shoulder, since it came from somewhere way in the back and snaked its way out the front. Weird!

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