ten twenty twenty-five fifty-nine eighty one hundred and sixteen thousand people die in a blink of an eye, it doesn’t take much to see that my travails don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. About the only thing I can say about that disaster is that people need your help.
Having said that, it should be noted that the times at Maison de la Casa Frankenstein have been interesting ones.
After the last final (Civ Pro: surprisingly straight-forward, despite the eight-page fact pattern), we (in the ‘exhausted law school students’ usage, not the royal nor the editorial ‘we’) decamped for a local watering hole, where much was drunk in celebration. My libation of choice that night was an old classic, a reliable fallback from my youth: Sprite. Yes, I was on the wagon (those of you who appreciate non-hipster irony should note that said watering hole was called “Off The Wagon”).
Why? For the answer, we turn the page to 6:15 the following morning, as I strolled through the sterile, Kubrickian hallways of a local hospital on my way to the “Ambulatory Surgery Unit.” Contrary to what the name might indicate, the “Ambulatory Surgery Unit” does not actually perform surgery on its patients while they’re walking; rather, it means that those who pass through those doors are supposed to be able to walk out the same day. I was there for the purposes of having a laparoscopic bilateral inguinal hernia repair. For those disinclined to to click on the link and read the very informative WebMD article, here’s a short summary:
- “Hernia” simply means “bulge” or “rupture” (this is why a herniated disc, which is why a kind of back injury uses the same basic word as my injury). I had a “inguinal hernia”, which is what happens when a hole opens in the lower abdominal wall.
- What happens in an inguinal hernia is that the large intestine can bulge out through the hole in the abdominal wall and cause (here’s a wonderfully specific medical term) “discomfort.”
- Hernias are normally not life-threatening, but they can be. If a hernia gets too large, the intestine can pop out and twist back on itself, which causes the intestine to get gangrenous. That calls for immediate emergency surgery, ‘cause otherwise, you die.
- Traditional hernia surgery involves
cutting you openmaking a large incision directly above the hernia site and patching the hole with a plug made out of polypropylene mesh.
- On the other hand, laparoscopic surgery involves making three very small incisions, sticking a video camera in one of the holes, and
playing Missile Command with my gutsstapling a mesh to the interior of the abdominal wall. The mesh bonds to the abdominal wall and the staples just stay there.
I’d like to point out that doctors, like lawyers, use very specific vocabulary; like lawyers, one of the purposes of the specialized lexicon is to confuse the non-specialist. For example, a lay person might say that “Lois kicked Clark in the balls.” A lawyer might say “Lois committed an intentional tort by assaulting Clark in the groin area.” A doctor might say that “Clark suffered soft tissue damage in the inguinal region due to blunt force trauma.” They all describe the same basic set of facts, but the specialized vocabulary is a gatekeeper of sorts (and, for those wondering, inguinal is the fancy doctor word for “groin”).
One of the reasons why I went the laparoscopic route was because I had two hernias: a large one on the left, and a smaller one on the other side. Traditional surgery only repairs one at a time; laparascopic surgery lets the surgeon repair both sides in one procedure.
After waiting about 20 minutes in the green-wallpapered ASU waiting room with my father (who had very generously volunteered to go to the hospital with me at such an ungodly hour), I was called into the pre-op/recovery room, where a nurse told me to get changed. A few minutes later, clothed in the latest and most stylish hospital gowns (two: one on in the traditional, butt-baring style; the second on backwards, like a jacket) and foam slippers, I had my blood pressure taken (result: good enough to
slice me open operate). It was at this point that I noticed that the wristband I had been tagged with misspelled my last name: “Frankesstein”. I told the nurse, and she headed off to get that fixed.
An orderly named Francisco then took me to the hallway outside the operating room where I was going to be repaired and had me lie down on a gurney. I was lying there, pondering whether or not taking a nap was advisable (it seem’d a good idea: I was going on about four hours of sleep), I noticed that the OR had a plaque next to the door. Apparently, this particular OR had been named “in memory of Jane Smith” (of course that’s not her real name; I don’t remember what the actual name on the plaque was) and thus was the “Jane Smith Memorial Operating Room”. While I was pondering the semiotics of having a operating room that also served as a memorial, the anesthesiologist arrived and promptly hooked me up to an IV. She ran through a number of standard questions, and then I signed a consent form. A pretty young med student in scrubs showed up and asked her what was on her slate. “A bilat lap hernia, long complicated-sounding medical terminology, more long complicated medical terminology, procedure done on national TV on a national TV host.” I raised my head, waved at the med student, and said “Hi! I’m the hernia.”
As a side note, it’s probably not worth the effort to try to be funny and charming when everyone around you is about spend the next hour-and-a-half standing over your semi-naked unconscious body with a tube down your throat.
In any event, the med student was apparently unimpressed by my attempt at humor in the face of
adversity an expensive medical procedure, because she buttonholed a different anesthesiologist and asked him if she could observe for the day.
A nurse showed up gurney-side, snipped off my misspelled wristband, and gave me a new one. This one had “Frankenstein” spelled properly.
My surgeon arrived, and we walked into the (memorial) OR proper. There were two large television monitors at one end of the bed. I asked if I could get a copy of the vacation video (at least the surgeon chuckled), lay down on the table, noticed that the foam slipper on my left foot had fallen off and woke up two hours later in the post-op room.
My memory from this point forward is somewhat muddled, as I was still recovering from the general anesthetic; I do remember seeing my brother materialize at the foot of the bed in post-op, and the nurse telling me that I had a visitor. At some point I had looked down and seen the three small patches of gauze dotting my belly; those were the incisions that were made for the procedure.
I’d like to take a break from the narrative to thank my brother and my sister in taking time out of their busy lives to look after their brother while he was a semi-invalid.
I was eventually wheeled back into the pre-op/recovery room, where, I am told, I decided the that most logical course of action would be to take a two-hour nap. At some point after regaining consciousness, I sat up, turned to the left, and puked into a small plastic tray that they had thoughtfully given me. Apparently nausea and vomiting is a common side-effect of general anesthesia. Who knew?
Eventually the powers that be decided that
I was just taking up space I had been sitting there too long I was well enough to go home. I was maneuvered into a wheelchair and was gently pushed out. So much for that “ambulatory” bit, eh?
The first thing I did when I got home was stagger to the bathroom and throw up again. Then I spent the next several hours sleeping off the rest of the anesthesia.
One thing they don’t tell you is that after surgery, you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck (actually, having hit a truck when I was in Bali, I can say that it feels like getting hit by several trucks). Those first three days you can’t blow your nose, sneeze, or cough. Everything hurts. Forget about watching a funny movie, because even thinking about laughing makes your gut feel like it’s about to explode.
This, of course, makes getting up in the middle of the night to pee an adventure. Which is something that you have to do every hour, because at the hospital, they pumped one-and-a-half bags of IV fluid into you and your kidneys are processing all that extra liquid as fast as they can. Every time your eyes open, you wonder: OK, how did we do this last time? What
didn’t hurt hurt less? What if I roll over—ouch—and try to just slide off? OK, the neck is saying that rolling is a bad idea. Eventually—somehow, someway—you find yourself in a sitting position, and from there, it’s a relatively straightforward, if somewhat slow, process to advance to standing. Repeat, with variations, five times the first night, four times the next.
My painkiller of choice was FDA-unapproved dosages of Advil. While it certainly didn’t make the pain go away, it certainly dulled it enough so I could leave the room and do things, say, sit down at the dining table. And other things, like, say, stand up. Or, say, lie on the couch and watch television (getting up from the couch is something that took several days to achieve unassisted). I could tell when it was time for another FDA-unauthorized dose when the pain level went from don’t-make-any-sudden-movements to don’t-make-any-movements.
Most of the general aches and pains had subsided by the fourth day after the surgery; the flip side to that is that it made the “discomfort” (there’s that word again) in the areas actually affected by the operation clearer. This was both bad and good; good because it showed that I’m healing on schedule; bad because the bits that still hurt were really tender. Tender as in “don’t touch me that hurts” tender.
And now, a week after the procedure, things are progressing nicely. I’m still a little tender and a little sore in particular places (and no, I’m not telling you where they are), and there are still three white patches that irregularly dot my midsection; I tire easily, and can’t really walk very quickly. But I pretty much feel normal, and I am out and about, if in a limited sense; yesterday I visited the New-York Historical Society and wandered through the entire museum (verdict: worth it, but don’t limit yourself to the Hamilton exhibit on the first floor). Other than that, I’ve been passing the time by watching super-long-ass version of Return of the King, surfing the web, writing up this little narrative, and making some tweaks to the website, which should be obvious if you’re looking at the main page (you probably want to hit “reload” to force the pictures to space properly). And napping. Don’t forget the napping.
Alternate titles for this post: * “What I Did on my Winter Vacation” * “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” * “Guts, No Glory” * “Eat Your Heart Out, Steve Austin” * “I Went To The Hospital And All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post” * “Searching For Sarah Conner” * “You Should See The Jokes I Took Out” * “Are We At 2,000 Words Yet?”