Back Surgery

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A Surgical Odyssey

Battered by back problems, I finally agreed to abide my doctor's advice and turned myself in at a local hospital. This is the embellished story of a guy who was terrified to go under the knife for a major operation for the first time in his life.

6:30 A.M.: I report to the prep room to get set up for the operation. "Why do they choose such drab colors?" I asked myself as I began to take off all my clothes. "Don't they know that my last conscious look will be of a morgue-like enclosure?" There are twelve identical beds, six along each wall; I am the only patient. I don't know if that's good or bad, as nobody feels like striking banal conversation when you are facing the unknown.

Some people probably get religion at that point if they didn't before. You know that surgery is always a risk of meeting your maker, whoever that may be. But I get lucky; a beautiful young nurse walks in. "Did I die and go to heaven?" is my first thought. She quickly dispels my fantasy by brandishing a huge needle (They don't have syringes in heaven; maybe in hell!). To hide my nervousness, I try to flirt with her by complimenting her; she answers with a huge smile and confesses that she has three kids already and a wonderful husband. So much for my fantasy; I know now that I am in hell.

7:21 A. M.: The anesthesiologist walks in; a thin man above 50, he starts right away by putting me at ease: "Hmm, your mouth cavity is very small; I may have to break a few front teeth when inserting the tube down your throat. And your lips may be affected also. But don't worry, I'll take extra precautions." Then he checks my lab results and says:" Well, I don't like those waves on your electrocardiogram. They are a little too close to the limits." Well, thanks, Doc, I should be just fine on the table! Nothing like a little pep talk to boost your morale!

Now I am seriously considering prayers, something I haven't done in many years. As they roll my bed to the OR, I mumble some requests to a higher deity, just in case he/she actually exists. The Doc's last parting words convince me that he is really Dr. No: "By the way," he adds, "we'll have to insert another tube in your urethra, just to help your bladder." I'll let you imagine which part of my anatomy they are going to use to complete the process.

8:01 A.M.: The area is bustling with activity; three nurses, two of them male, the surgeon, the sleep guy, are all over my prostrate body. Later I find out that they have these two bodybuilding aides to flip me over (I weigh 205). The guy with the scalpel approaches me and says what I expect he says to everybody: "Don't worry, everything is going to be O.K." Then somebody places a plastic mask over my nose and I lose it.

11:34 A.M.: I open my eyes, upset that somebody interrupted my lovely dream. A bunch of people around me saying that it's over; of course, I don't believe them; they are just trying to make me relax. After all, I just went under 2 minutes ago. But then I see the big ugly clock on the wall and I know it's true. My first conscious act after awakening is something I programmed myself to do, move my toes. Hey, it's a back operation; what if the surgeon cut the nerve by mistake! Fortunately, they all move nicely.

1:00 P.M.: I am still in intensive care and people are still looking at me with concern, including my two doctors. "What's going on?" I croak (sore throat obviously). The surgeon, looking upset, says they are waiting for the urologist. It seems that the urethral tube hit a snag and I am bleeding slightly down there. He adds as if to console me that it had never happened before. "Why me?" I exclaim mentally, "I came for a herniated disk and I end up with a damaged bladder".

To make a long story short, the urologist quickly detects and fixes the problem; seems that it was a freak accident. The only consequence is that I have to keep the tube inside me for 3 more days. Try walking around with a urine bag dangling on your leg; of course, I did very little walking, except the last day when I went to the urologist's office to remove the contraption. "Why is everybody staring at my leg?" I asked myself as I shuffled awkwardly to the waiting room.

2:34 P.M.: Finally, they take me to my hospital room with a view of the city. My relieved family welcomes me, not quite aware that I came close to panic (Me, the macho guy!). But why is it that everybody asks you the same dumb question? "How are you feeling?" Hello! I am lying helplessly on hospital bed where pretty nurses check my privates almost every hour on the hour. Do you think I have no modesty?

This little story is meant to help those who face a serious operation for the first time; there are things you should and should not do:

1. Make sure the surgeon explains every step beforehand and why it is necessary; you'd be surprised to know that some unethical doctors operate even when it is not needed, so they can squeeze the insurance company for more cash.
2. Get a second opinion, always, before accepting elective surgery.
3. Do not trust doctors and nurses to do everything right; check every medication every time they come to the room to change the bottle. Ask, and ask, and ask. They are there to serve you, not the other way around.
4. Get a family member to stay with you at night. Sometimes, overworked nurses will not respond in time to an emergency.
5. Check your bill carefully and dispute every suspicious item. If you brought your own water bottle, why should you pay for the one the hospital put in your room? Believe me, hospitals charge a fortune for the air you breathe!
6. Do not leave valuables lying around the room; orderlies have been known to empty wallets while the patient sleeps.
7. Once you go home to recover, you must follow the doctor's instructions to the letter. Just because you feel OK doesn't mean you can stop taking the antibiotics.

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